The Worst Thing That Happened

An eldery Nigerian woman tends to her deteriorating body and a family crisis.

"Her last child was thirty-seven years old. He had lived with her until nine years ago, when he traveled to China—via Libya, then Qatar, then Malaysia—in search of a better life. He was married now, to a Filipino woman he had met in a textile plant in Zhengzhou, and they had two children, a four-year-old girl whom they had named Corazón after his wife’s mother, and a one-year-old boy who was called Ramón after his wife’s father. He had sent his mother their photographs with the last parcel of canned pork and imitation-leather handbags that arrived from him with climatic regularity. The letter that accompanied the parcel informed her he was doing well, that he no longer worked in factories but now tutored Chinese professionals in the English language, and that he might come to visit next year with his family. In her reply she had urged him to come quickly because the eye trouble had recurred, and she wanted to see her grandchildren before she went blind."

The Stench

A divorced father takes a job disposing 44 tons of rotting bison meat in an abandoned warehouse.

"As though exposure to air were a catalyst of some sort, a wave of the stench hit him, even through the painting mask and snowmobile goggles. His eyes watered; he was momentarily unable to breathe. He may even have blacked out, which may have been why his aim was off, why his shoulder stopped rotating in the air, and how he came to be showered in a blanket of maggoty meat. And then he did pass out, just briefly."

The Mud Man

After a gardening mishap, a meticulous, harried family man finds himself being replaced by a grotesque clone; from the author of Red Moon.

"He, the mud man, stands in the middle of a shallow crater. His joints issue a series of blistery pops like pitch pockets boiling out of a log thrown on a fire. Clods of dirt fall off him and patter the garden, freckling the daffodils and hostas. He has all the calm of a tree, the breeze rushing around him, bending the loose vines and leaves hanging off him like hair, carrying a smell like worms washed across a sidewalk after a hard rain. The mud man seems to be staring at Thomas, though it is hard to tell as his eyes are hollows with black scribbles in them, like the insides of a rotten walnut."

Double Take

After a young man's death, his college friend and his mother reassess their lives.

"Many of these details Ben learned while he stood in the lobby of the funeral home on Madison Avenue before the service that warm September Saturday. He was looking for a place to stash his suitcase and people were saying the body was in good shape; it was nice to be able to say goodbye. Perhaps it was the jetlag, but Ben never realized they were talking about an open casket in another room and so he never went to see it. Later, when he started believing he was seeing Mike in London — in the turn of a cheek, a certain stride — he regretted this. He thought maybe the problem could have been avoided if he’d said goodbye with more finality, had seen Mike’s dead face. That seemed like part of the problem; it was hard to accept that Mike was gone. He’d worked harder than most for everything he’d attained. How could it be that the one thing he couldn’t work for was not granted to him in large supply?"

Babushka

A baby born in New Jersey grows and takes on the characteristics of a headstrong Russian woman.

"She was her parent’s second child; the first was Glenn, a boisterous seven year old obsessed, as his father had planned, with football. In fact, it was Glenn who first noticed the peculiarity of his little sister. As he stared into her crib one morning making faces at the baby, he noticed that she had swaddled herself in her soft, pink knitted baby blanket. She looked at him with a focus that seemed preternatural for an infant. She drooled, but she held the blanket tight around her face, like a little babushka."

Sky Saw [Excerpt]

Cerebral horrors from the inimitable Blake Butler.

"The tone had been appearing on the air for weeks. Its tone contained all possible timbre: every sentence ever crammed into each blink. Sometimes the tone would last for several hours, sealing the air against all other motion. It always hurt. It made Person 1180's blood go numb. It made the books fall off the bookshelves and land opened to certain pages, though when she tried to look the words would melt or disappear. No one could say what made the tone or where it came from. Tax dollars were purportedly at work."

Other Mothers

A young mother in a coffee shop unflinchingly explores her fears and anxieties.

"There I'd be, pushing my baby down the street, free for a moment among the yellow green bay leaves, the flower boxes dripping with fuchsia, when another mother would barrel toward me with a baby strapped tight to her belly in carrier like huge bandage with no breathing hole. Sometimes a baby facing out in a front pack would approach like a prisoner strapped to the front of a ship, it's head bobbing forward and back. It's brain, I imagined, sloshing dangerously against its skull. Next, a woman might walk by with a carriage, and I'd have to avoid eye contact, because once I'd paused, looked into a carriage and found a baby wearing a neck brace—her mother had looked away for one moment and she'd rolled off the bed! And then there's the issue of mixing things up. Creating composites or superimposing—so that a baby from a distance might appear to have a black eye, or look small and sick like the preemie from the poster that hung in my OB's waiting room."

Break All the Way Down

A woman, troubled by a terrible accident, takes care of her boyfriend's baby from a previous relationship.

"The mother of my boyfriend’s youngest child, Anna Lisa, handed me her daughter, still in her carrier, as well as a large duffel bag. She nodded toward the bag. 'The baby’s things.' I looked at the baby, neither cute nor ugly, a blob of indeterminate features. We stood quietly, listened to moths and other insects flying into the bright, buzzing lamp covering us in its light. My shoulders ached. The air was damp and heavy. Anna Lisa is beautiful but she looked tired. She wore a loose pair of sweat pants with fading block letters down the left leg. Her t-shirt was stained. Her breasts were swollen. I could see that. Her hair hung limply in her face. She smelled ripe. There were dark circles beneath her eyes. I don’t know that we looked different."

To Reach Japan

A poet takes a train journey in the company of her daughter—but not her husband. [Free registration required.]

"Once Peter had brought Greta's suitcase on board the train he seemed eager to get himself out of the way. But not to leave. He explained to her that he was just uneasy that the train would start to move. Once on the platform looking up at their window, he stood waving. Smiling, waving. His smile for their daughter, Katy, was wide open, sunny, without a doubt in the world, as if he believed that she would continue to be a marvel to him, and he to her, forever. The smile for his wife seemed hopeful and trusting, with some sort of determination about it. Something that could not easily be put into words and indeed might never be."

Los

On a mission to the moon, a female astronaut reflects on her mission and her family life.

"John left and I had Jonah and I felt like I had a hole in me like rocket man, starting between my legs and going right up inside me. I asked Houston if I could stop the special events and training and trajectory and thrust for a little while so I could see my children's special events and training and trajectory and thrust. Houston copied that and so I did. For a little while. But after a little while it felt like a long while. John came back and my children were good and my status was good but I felt the moon calling."

Rats

An encounter with a rat sends a young mother back into the world of mental institutions from which she had only recently emerged.

"When she woke again she heard a nurse speak loudly into the phone, describing another patient: "She has a history, multiple hospitalizations." The nurse who was speaking had silver hair. Her tone was less clinical than dismissive. A history. Lizzie didn't imagine, not until much later, that the nurse was talking about her."

Grace

A woman, originally hired as a tutor for a now-deceased girl, finds herself in the middle of a wealthy couple's mournings and problems.

"At Grace’s next session on Park Avenue, Mrs. Bank does something she hasn’t done since the first session: she comes into Perry’s bedroom. Grace is flipping through online photos of kids who stuck with the theater program when she senses she’s not alone and pretends to be scribbling history cards. But when she casually turns a minute later, it’s obvious Mrs. Bank isn’t paying attention to what she’s doing at the desk. Instead Mrs. Bank is sitting in Perry’s pink armchair, the one that’s usually colonized by old stuffed animals and American Girl dolls, looking out the window at Midtown."

Double Happiness

A woman attempts to find her own closure following losses on 9/11.

"The Rumson police, the Little Silver police, the Middletown police especially insisted, they’d already had funerals of their own and knew what to expect. The roads were cordoned off from the Sea Bright Bridge to the Avenue of Two Rivers and cars parked for a mile all the way down Rumson Road, women in black sling-backs climbing the rutted grass along the road, made the shortcut through the tennis club across the school yard to the gray shingle church, capacity four hundred, someone said a thousand stood inside and out to hear Father Jim say no words could gather the force he needed to say his prayer, they would all join him in silence. Kathleen in the choir loft, alone, sang “Danny Boy” for her brother, for her father, and the thousand beyond prayer, beyond tears, shook and trembled now."

Shooting the Moon

An elderly widower tries to convince his son to go on an overseas excavation.

"He thinks I’m an old man. I can see pity in his eyes when he talks to me, which, these days, isn’t so often. I want the tickets to be a surprise for two reasons. One, the money. I’ve already put out feelers to two New York-based auction houses and three high-end retail stores. Factor in the backstory, and I suspect the revenues will be hefty, at least $2,000 per bottle. Play a few interested parties off one another, and I’m sure that number will creep up. Allowing for 25 percent breakage over time, I calculate revenues of close to $12 million. Amortize the sales over ten years to prevent market saturation, subtract expenses, and I’d still reel in enough profit to have a pied-a-terre in the city plus a four-bedroom tax-haven in Nassau."

Bull

A father and son work the Chinese cattle markets in this story from the 2012 winner of the Nobel in Literature.

"People trusted him implicitly. If a transaction reached a stalemate, the parties would look at him to acknowledge that they wanted things settled. 'Let's quit arguing and hear what Luo Tong has to say!' 'All right, let's do that. Luo Tong, you be the judge!' With a cocky air, my father would walk around the animal twice, looking at neither the buyer nor the seller, then glance up into the sky and announce the gross weight and the amount of meat on the bone, followed by a price. He'd then wander off to smoke a cigarette."

Artisanal Baby Naming

An artist of baby names explores the meticulous details that go into selecting the perfect moniker.

"Not all prospective parents are comfortable with me watching them have intercourse and that’s fine if you want to cut corners on the name your baby will carry for the rest of her life. The parents who allow it are sophisticated enough to understand that there’s no better way for me to know a child’s essence than to be there for the erotic act from which that child is created. But if you’re too modest and you’d prefer that I name your baby with one hand tied behind my back, so be it. You can make a video recording of the conception and send it to me."

Patrick Ewing

A young boy observes life through the actions of his father and of former Knick center Patrick Ewing.

"'We’re not leaving till you make five free throws in a row,' my dad says. Even at ten, I get it. He thinks I’m going to make the shots quickly. He thinks I’ll make five free throws in a row and be reborn confident and new, my anemic offense rebooted in a single stroke of coaching genius. But then I remember Patrick Ewing, the doom of his body, how he never pulls up for a jumper, how he always runs headfirst into his trembling opponents. "