A Delicate Toxicity

Personal histories and mysteries emerge when a woman stakes out the woman who may have cannibalized her boyfriend.

"Now she is hungry. I can tell by the way she moves. And her laughter isn´t real nor is that hair. It is a wig woven from the hair of all the men she has eaten. This has gone on for so long. I can tell. Her hair reaches her waist. Turning, she looks right at me, does not see me. Does not recognize the picture that must have been inside my lover's heart that she split open before boiling."

3 Stories

Three shorts explore the various actions of "the woman down the hall."

"The woman down the hall is not dead, but her apartment is a mausoleum. She has erected statues in her own image, one for every year of her adult life. This is something she began decades ago when she dreamt of being an art student at the university. Certainly, her creations are nothing original—they’re nothing more than facsimiles of herself—but she’s accurate. Each pore on her skin is accounted for, each hair defined."

Cell Buddy

Haunted by the abuse of her former cellmate, a prison inmate seeks companionship with an inflatable Cell Buddy.

"Keeping one eye on the cell door, Amanda opened the box and pulled out the folded plastic figure, gently removing the sealed packaging, complete with a two-part pump system she assembled after a few minutes of difficulty. (Amanda was pretty handy but sometimes struggled with instructions.) Now with her back to the tier, hiding the plastic figure from view, Amanda slowly pumped up her Cell Buddy until it was fully inflated. She then stood back, admiring her new friend."

Little Miss Sophie

A destitute seamstress embarks on an act goodwill.

"As bare and comfortless as the room was Miss Sophie's life. She rented these four walls from an unkempt little Creole woman, whose progeny seemed like the promised offspring of Abraham. She scarcely kept the flickering life in her pale little body by the unceasing toil of a pair of bony hands, stitching, stitching, ceaselessly, wearingly, on the bands and pockets of trousers. It was her bread, this monotonous, unending work; and though whole days and nights constant labour brought but the most meagre recompense, it was her only hope of life."

Arabella Leaves

A story about a young woman's history of drug addiction.

"They had met just before the holidays. She was still shaky from rehab, having jagged days, nightmares, humongous cravings. She hadn't felt that bad in years, not since after the accident, when she was sixteen and went through the windshield near dawn after a long foggy night at the clubs on Sunset. Then she had stayed in a coma for weeks. (Her mother always talked about it in this dramatic voice, 'Arabella was in a coma for weeks, she came back from the dead.') It was cozy enough for her, she was feeling no pain, just morphine and voices and a sense of almost being where she belonged. In a coma was fine with her. Coming out of it was a bitch."

The Paper Age

An actress shares memories of her previous theater company.

"It was like looking back into another age, into some frozen pre-history of the theater, all ancient yellow figures posed in the most piercing harshness of light, haloed with their faces painted and lined, black lipstick on their mouths, kohl smeared around their eyes. There was Mrs. Templeton, so much younger, her body thin as rope, standing bloodless and terrified over a rag-covered corpse."

Long Time Passing

A stoned woman's journey encompasses family memories and political and feminist activism.

"The caravan of images broke apart, dispersing into the motes that poured through the windshield of her Dart. Ruth took off her sunglasses and rubbed her eyes. The tiny blood vessels felt huge. She did not know her sister anymore; they were separated by politics and by her marriage to Jack. Had she ever known Helene? Ruth put the saliva-soaked joint to her lips, aware now of the music coming over the radio. “All you need is love. Love is all you need.” She laughed, sapphires and rubies spilling from her mouth, and the sadness left for a moment."

Our Lady Of Guaza

Following their mother's death, two Colombian half-sisters visit a cathedral built within an old salt mine.

"She had imagined the church where the funeral was held, but pillared with white salt instead of gold and marble. A sort of whimsical confection. Only upon arriving at the mountain in Zipaquirá does she realize what this sight-seeing really entails: she and Valentina must descend with hundreds of people 600 feet into the earth. It’s a disturbingly morbid activity to undertake so soon after her mother’s death. But it is also something to do, so she buys their tickets and joins Valentina in the long line near a tall cement cross that marks the entrance to the mountain."

The Gift

A woman records the sounds of a big city.

"She never collected in a systematic way, but when she moved to the city there were all sorts of new sounds to discover -- the rattling of the 7 train as it emerged into the light of Long Island City, the whoosh the steam produced as it rose mysteriously from the sidewalk grates, the reverberations the escalators made as you descended into Penn Station on the Madison Square Garden side of the building. It was a whole new world and Fern embraced it lovingly and ferociously."

Quarters

A young pregnant woman versus the dryer at a military Laundromat.

"She is thirty-one years old, and she never wanted anything so much as to be married to the man she loves and to have a child with him. And she had thought, all those years when they tried to conceive, that she knew and loved her husband better than anyone she could even imagine. But what kind of man joins the Marines when there is a war going on? She could never have imagined herself in this Laundromat across the street from a strip designed for the eighteen-year-old children who are most of the Marines, her husband's new colleagues."

The Intuitionist [Excerpt]

A sample from Colson Whitehead's classic debut novel about clashing groups of elevator inspectors.

"The man's lips arch up towards his nose and Lila Mae understands that he's never seen an elevator inspector like her before. Lila Mae has pinpointed a spot as the locus of metropolitan disaffection. A zero-point. It is situated in the heart of the city, on a streetcorner that clots with busy, milling citizens during the day and empties completely at night except for prostitutes and lost encyclopedia salesmen."

Wheeling

A flurry of interactions in a doctor's office hint to varieties of unnamed medical problems and domestic unhappiness.

"Why wasn’t the doctor coming out? I could give her a ride, but not to another state, not to Wheeling, West Virginia. Beyond the glass doors, a vacuum started loudly. Suddenly, the woman who’d drawn my blood walked quickly past us, tears streaming, mouth tight, clutching a pink piece of paper."

Me And Gin

The intensities and disappointments of a friendship between two girls on the cusp of adolescence.

"Me and Gin like to play preacher and supplicant, Gin is always the preacher and I am always the supplicant. Gin saying You a fearful sinner, young lady, and me heaving my shoulders, begging Please."

Blueprints For Building Better Girls [Excerpt]

An altercation between a female college student and a blue collar man at a dive bar.

"It wasn’t a time you’d think of people being awake, and drinking, but the parking lot was jammed with rusty cars and hay wagons and tractors, pickup trucks with gun racks. I always wonder when a guy tells me I have a nice rack if that’s like a gun rack, like deadly—or a rack of antlers, like a trophy you’d hang on the wall over your fireplace. Either way it’s a compliment."

In The Cemetery Where Al Jolson Is Buried

Attempted, inane conversations with a woman on her deathbed.

"I read her MAN ROBS BANK WITH CHICKEN, about a man who bought a barbecued chicken at a stand down the block from a bank. Passing the bank, he got the idea. He walked in and approached a teller. He pointed the brown paper bag at her and she handed over the day's receipts. It was the smell of barbecue sauce that eventually led to his capture."

Midnight Visitation

A woman has a midnight encounter in her kitchen.

"She thinks, it is amazing, this man is calm enough to make a glass of milk while robbing her. She moves to check the silverware in the dining room, but stops herself. What good would it do? If it’s gone, it’s gone."