Fiction Pick of the Week: "The Sinner and the Saint"

A newfound faith wreaks havoc on a relationship.

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"I broke commandments left and right, several more than once. Coveting neighbor’s wife (well, neighbor’s husband)? Check. Taking the Lord’s name in vain? Big fat check. Lying? Too many times to count. But that was before I met Augustine. He’d made me better. Almost good (I still had a filthy mouth). That’s how I defined Love now. How could I ever see it another way? How could I ever see it with anyone else?"

The Centaur's Wife

A postapocalyptic world, motherhood, and centaurs.

"The girls were born the day before the world ended. You had eighteen hours of bliss and then the satellites went out, and with them the systems that sent news around the world. An asteroid, you heard people say. Huddled in your darkened hospital bed, your daughter’s mouths so pink and empty. Like birds. One asteroid and then another, and another, and then so many more that no one could keep track. They pounded into the oceans and the hills. The shaking made the earthquakes come, and from them, the volcanoes. The oceans rose. The clouds that came in the wake of the asteroids were thick and hard, studded with cosmic ash."

The Simon

A woman buys a life-like, anamatronic man named Simon.

"She found the little velvet bag, dropped two tokens into his neck, and went to the computer while he booted up. She searched the website, but there weren’t any programs for what she wanted. Apparently, there were rules, the first of which stated that a robot may not injure a human being. Not even a little. Not a butter-knife nick or a cigarette burn or an intentional pull of the hair. She bought the phrase “I hate you” and a package described as brooding that looked close enough to anger. She stuck the USB drive under his arm and waited for the green light."

I Can See Right Through You

Vampire movies, sex tapes, aging, and complicated relationships: new fiction from the great Kelly Link.

"It’s not much fun, telling a ghost story while you’re naked. Telling the parts of the ghost story that you’re supposed to tell. Not telling other parts. While the woman you love stands there with the person you used to be."

Disconnect

Infidelity and committment issues with a humanoid robot.

"'You know I love you, and that I have no prejudices against cutting-edge technology,' He taps his temple, at the faint bulge of a high-priced implant. A vanity item, more than anything else, meant to expedite long-distance communication in an utterly cost-ineffective way. “But, I just— I need you as a person. Not as a machine.'"

No Matter How Far Apart

A story of disintegrated relationships and the odd things left behind.

"Tabitha positioned the big horn sheep in the front yard and I drank a third mimosa. On Sundays, we got together and searched for any random thing to do, but always ended up back at her place. A neighbor, watering bushes, watched as Tabitha dragged the sheep around the yard, trying to find the right place."

No Matter How Far Apart

A story of disintegrated relationships and the odd things left behind.

"Tabitha positioned the big horn sheep in the front yard and I drank a third mimosa. On Sundays, we got together and searched for any random thing to do, but always ended up back at her place. A neighbor, watering bushes, watched as Tabitha dragged the sheep around the yard, trying to find the right place."

This Ain't No Party

An uneasy relationship between two people squatting in a crime scene house.

"But that guy was gone. In between the fourth and fifth beer at the bar, he disappeared in a haze of yellow and heat. Someone’s joke. A crack of broken glass. Tony and the guy out the door. Maybe in the back alley. And then it was all Tony Disco sidling up to me at the bar, his arm warm against mine, his breath like juniper. And now here he and I were, slumped on a dead woman’s couch."

Irina

In a series of diary entries, a woman explores her terrifying relationship with a vampiric count.

"The first thing I saw this way was me. I was in bed beside him, and began to drift into sleep. When my eyes closed I saw myself, dozing. My hair was silver and gold on the moonlit pillow and my mouth was smeared with his blood. I opened my eyes and he was leaning over me, studying me. I asked him what was the matter."

The Moon In Its Flight

A 1950s summer romance, imagined by an agonized, metafictional narrator.

"At some point during the evening he walked Rebecca home. She lived on Lake Shore Drive, a wide road that skirted the beach and ran parallel to the small river that flowed into Lake Minnehaha. Lake Ramapo? Lake Tomahawk. Lake O-shi-wa-noh? Lake Sunburst. Leaning against her father’s powder-blue Buick convertible, lost, in the indigo night, the creamy stars, sound of crickets, they kissed. They fell in love."

Things I Should Have Told My Therapist

A troubled wife's obsession with her husband's ex.

"I’d been researching generic articles on divorce for a long time, but never found anything that reminded me of Henry’s. They were young, but they weren’t as stupid as he seemed to say. They seemed to have really been in love. The picture he’d shown me was of them on a boat on a lake—a lake we’d been to, one we’d brought a picnic lunch to. They looked so happy and he looked so young, his hair not yet flecked with stray whites and grays."

Debarking

A divorcee attempts to get back on his feet.

"Ira had been a married man for fifteen years, a father for eight (poor little Bekka, now rudely transported between houses in a speedy, ritualistic manner resembling a hostage drop-off), only to find himself punished for an idle little nothing, nothing, nothing flirtation with a colleague, punished with his wife’s full-blown affair and false business trips (credit-union conventions that never took place) and finally a petition for divorce mailed from a motel. Observing others go through them, he used to admire midlife crises, the courage and shamelessness and existential daring of them, but after he’d watched his own wife produce and star in a fabulous one of her own he found the sufferers of such crises not only self-indulgent but greedy and demented, and he wished them all weird unnatural deaths with various contraptions easily found in garages."

Stories We Tell Ourselves

Romantic complications between a surgical coordinator and a brilliant transplant specialist.

"I hadn’t wanted Clara at first, at least no more than any other woman I’d casually slept with. Too bony, too neurotic. Too pale. But when she asked for a ride home from the dinner party where we met, I drove, intrigued at the prospect of UCSF’s top heart-transplant surgeon debasing herself with a med school dropout-turned-cellist."

The Private Fight

Current personal problems are tied to racial issues from years past.

"Helen Conley knew this story: When Maxwell Conley was sixteen and in high school, with a bad attitude like many of us have, two young members of the Black Panther Party saved his life. It happened because a recent veteran of the war in Vietnam woke up one morning believing he was still in the jungle. Adrenaline began pumping through his body at impressive levels. He didn't have a gun, but he found an oak baseball bat in the alley behind his mother's apartment building. He laced up his combat boots. He stormed down the street until he came to the high school. He kicked open the doors of the school, and came through the hallway breathing hard, fists clenched around the bat. It was seventh period. The hallway was quiet. Around the corner came Maxwell Conley, cutting class as was his custom. He was not sober. He was wondering why Kay Svenson wouldn't pay attention to him in art class. He was admiring his long curly hair in the reflection of the fire extinguisher case mounted on the wall. His Converse sneakers flapped open and his unwashed sock came through. The Vietnam veteran, only a few years older than Maxwell Conley, met him in the hallway, and wasted no time."

Still Life

A man, a woman, and a child negotiate their uneasy triangle in the days and weeks following 9/11.

"His briefcase sat beside the table like something yanked out of a landfill. He said there was a shirt coming down out of the sky."

Roy Spivey

A chance encounter with a movie star on an airplane.

"Roy Spivey shifted in his seat, waking. I quickly shut my own eyes, and then slowly opened them, as if I, too, had been sleeping. Oh, but he hadn’t quite opened his yet. I shut mine again and right away opened them, slowly, and he opened his, slowly, and our eyes met, and it seemed as if we had woken from a single sleep, from the dream of our entire lives. Me, a tall but otherwise undistinguished woman; he a distinguished spy, but not really, just an actor, but not really, just a man, maybe even just a boy."

An Object in Motion

An outtake from Backswing, Burch's latest story collection from Queen's Ferry Press.

"It started getting too big! I hadn’t planned ahead – didn’t stop and realize its size until it was too late. It was too big to fit through the garage door and the pieces were so interlocked and crosshatched, it took me a week just to break the thing down into manageable pieces to be able to move it. For a couple days, I was worried I might lose more of the work I’d done up to that point than I did."

On the Shore of the Great Salt Plains Lake Near Jet, Oklahoma

Sex, potential violence, and human awkardness convene on an isolated shore.

"A slight breeze brings slight relief from the heat and a taste of the saltwater lapping against the hard sand. He’s been here many times. Though he has no desire to kill a bird, he loves this place, this lonely beach at the edge of this lonely lake too shallow for boats and too lifeless to attract fishermen. He loves the sand bugs and the sharp edges of the sand grass. Especially he loves the deep shade beneath the willow trees, and the sound of the cicadas’ music in the sun."

Selkie Stores Are For Losers

A young woman struggles in the wake of her mother's disappearance in this Hugo-nominated work.

"After Mom left, I waited for my dad to get home from work. He didn't say anything when I told him about the coat. He stood in the light of the clock on the stove and rubbed his fingers together softly, almost like he was snapping but with no sound. Then he sat down at the kitchen table and lit a cigarette. I'd never seen him smoke in the house before. Mom's gonna lose it, I thought, and then I realized that no, my mom wasn't going to lose anything. We were the losers."

Artists in Residence

A woman discovers artistic integrity during an ill-fated relationship.

"Melanie finally knew their relationship wasn’t going anywhere while in the contemporary art hall of the museum. Andy stopped every few feet and brought his hand to his mouth. She couldn’t look at him for more than a few seconds without getting irritated. It was like a performance piece. He exhaled through his fingers, rubbed his chin, and circled a pile of Styrofoam chunks. He circled counterclockwise."

James Yates is a contributing editor to Longform.org.

The Actor's Den

A tale of identity in LA's television scene.

"Because he’s written television for as long as Shelly has known him, Jack drags her along on these nights, to watch staged readings of other writers’ scripts in the attic above the bar—a cramped, airless room they call the “Actor’s Den.” The television Jack makes rarely finds its way into peoples’ homes, but he makes it, one way or the other—even if he only guides it along its path to destruction like a doomsday chauffeur. The bar is wood paneled and velvety like the inside of a jewelry box. The owner drinks ancient scotch out of a miniature crystal glass and pulls constantly at his handlebar mustache, a collector of old timey things. When they arrive, he tells Jack about the two screenplays he’s writing: one comedy, one horror."

Yesterday

Young people consider changes to their personalities, and to their relationships.

"When I moved from Kansai to Tokyo to start college, I spent the whole bullet-train ride mentally reviewing my eighteen years and realized that almost everything that had happened to me was pretty embarrassing. I’m not exaggerating. I didn’t want to remember any of it—it was so pathetic. The more I thought about my life up to then, the more I hated myself. It wasn’t that I didn’t have a few good memories—I did. A handful of happy experiences. But, if you added them up, the shameful, painful memories far outnumbered the others. When I thought of how I’d been living, how I’d been approaching life, it was all so trite, so miserably pointless. Unimaginative middle-class rubbish, and I wanted to gather it all up and stuff it away in some drawer. Or else light it on fire and watch it go up in smoke (though what kind of smoke it would emit I had no idea). Anyway, I wanted to get rid of it all and start a new life in Tokyo as a brand-new person. Jettisoning Kansai dialect was a practical (as well as symbolic) method of accomplishing this. Because, in the final analysis, the language we speak constitutes who we are as people. At least that’s the way it seemed to me at eighteen."

Invisible Strings

A young hopeful competes in an international air guitar competition.

"Aki nods sheepishly, says thank you. The American is last year’s champion. He was interviewed on the BBC and does Dr. Pepper commercials now on American television. 'Air Jesus'they call him. He slurps from a can of Sandels Finnish beer. There are contestants from twenty different countries, and each has a nickname. Aki—the Greek—goes by 'Air-istotle.' There’s the Belgian, Hans 'Van Dammage' Van Deer Meer and the Argentinian, Santiago 'Buenos Air-ace' Carrizo. Hirotaka 'Electric Ninja' Kinugasa is representing Japan."

More or Less

Tensions eat away at a relationship between a musician and his girlfriend.

"Something in her cadence caught my attention. What if…? I imagined the bass line with a new syncopation, a little shift in the rhythm that might liven the song. I ran the part in my head, but I wanted the instrument in my hands, to be certain. Somehow, Anna had wound up at the pier, although it would have been out of her way."

In Evil Hour [Excerpt]

Gossip embroils a set of small-town characters: a mayor, a priest, a doctor, and two widows. An excerpt from García Márquez's 1979 novel; featured on Longform Fiction, October 2013.

"Together they went to a vacant lot behind the movie theater, where they’d begun to raise the tent. Taciturn-looking men and women were taking cloths and bright colors out of the enormous trucks plated with fancy tinwork. As he followed the impresario through the crush of human beings and odds and ends, shaking everybody’s hand, the mayor felt as if he were in the midst of a shipwreck."