The Gilgul Of Park Avenue

Charles Morton Luger unexpectedly becomes Jewish.

"When they sat down to dinner, Charles stared at his plate. Half an hour Jewish and already he felt obliged. He knew there were dietary laws, milk and meat forbidden to touch, but he didn't know if chicken was considered meat and didn't dare ask Sue and chance a confrontation -- not until he'd formulated a plan."


In three parts: 1 | 2 | 3

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A Real Doll

A boy falls in love with a Barbie doll. A little NSFW.

" I did something Barbie almost didn't forgive me for. I did something which not only shattered the moment, but nearly wrecked the possibility of us having a future together. In the hallway between the stairs and Jennifer's room, I popped Barbie's head into my mouth, like lion and tamer, God and Godzilla."

Intelligence

As part of his cover, a spy is forced to work at a big-box store called "Circuitpalooza."

"There are, I suppose, far unluckier fates than my own. I remember the botched assassination in Paraguay, the decapitated arms dealer in Slovenia, the lone orphan girl in Kuwait. However, I can’t help but feel that, as a spy, my position here at Circuitpalooza demands perhaps a little more from me than it would from most."

Necessary

A woman working on a Cuban sugar plantation ruminates on her family and secret love.

"When Papá talks of making myself necessary, I cringe. Necessary would mean a lifetime in the field, just as Papá has “necessaried” himself into stained hands and bent fingers. So different from my own. I can still straighten mine when I put my machete down for the day. I don’t know how much longer that will be true, however."

Weight

A nuanced, lively investigation of the relationship between a mother and a son, this received First Prize in the O. Henry Awards for 2000

"Mom understands life don't play so spends beaucoup time and energy getting ready for the worst. She lifts weights to stay strong. Not barbells or dumbbells, though most of the folks she deals with, especially her sons, act just that way, like dumbbells. No. The weights she lifts are burdens, her children's, her neighbors, yours."

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."

A False Spring

A couple's late night conversation reveals much in its sparse dialogue.

" I could tell she was tired now, she was talking with her face on the pillow and her speech was slurred a little. 'And when you get back with the bottle and after you see your friend we could talk for a while and maybe sleep together.'She was quiet for a long time. Finally she said: 'I'm going with him.'"

Important Men

Short fiction from the author of this year's giant novel, The Instructions

"He was carrying a black-lacquered cane with a diamond-studded handle and I envied him his cane. I imagined thumping my fingertips against it, the sound that would make, and flipping it upside-down to make believe it was the letter L."

The Barn At The End Of Our Term

Former U.S. Presidents are reincarnated as horses.

"Martin Van Buren is barn sour, but even he shouts out impossible promises at the turkeys from the dim interior of his stall: 'You are my constituents, my turkeys,' Van Buren neighs, 'and the love I feel for you is forever.' The turkeys promenade around the yard and ignore him. Rutherford wonders if they, too, have human biographies hidden beneath their black feathers."

Once It's Gone

Animals,physical proximity and emotional distances link a troubled family and an eccentric neighbor.

"I am an expert now on the importance of throwing oneself back into neglected friendships and job. I suppose the advice is universal: teenaged girl, single working woman, middle-aged man living with his wife and the daughter he used to fail to recognize among the crowd of other people’s children pouring out of school when he went to pick her up. Now she drives herself."

No One Word For Dying Of Thirst

A man's crumbling life is explored through his precise medical afflictions and liquid consumption.

"“This is a little bit of shit luck that you’ll certainly shake,” his father had sighed sympathetically into the phone. “You know, when you step in shit, sometimes you just got to leave that shoe outside for a while, but eventually, it airs itself out.” It was an awkward attempt to imbue some wisdom on his son, but Fredrick wasn’t exactly sure what he meant."

Tennessee

A Jewish family moves from Florida to Tennessee, and a prodigal son returns.

"My father decided he would cook a genuine Jewish brisket for the in-laws’ first Tennessee meal. They were coming up from West Palm Beach and he thought the brisket would make for the perfect pastiche of Jewish and Southern tradition, to the extent that either could be embodied in a slab of beef."

Homo Sapiens

A darkly comic piece about when the body goes awry.

"Daniel finds blood in his underwear on a Monday. It happens in the eighth floor men’s room, during a restructuring meeting. The meeting has something to do with 'capitalizing on human potential,' which is a phrase, after three hours of PowerPoint presentations, Daniel still does not understand. "

Sanctuary

A black man on the run for murder seeks a hiding place in this brief yet controversial piece from a stunning Harlem Renaissance voice.

"Annie Poole cut him off. 'Dis ain't no time foh all dat kin' o' fiddle-de-roll. Ah does mah duty as Ah sees et 'shout no thanks from you. Ef de Lawd had gib you a white face 'stead o' dat dere black one, Ah shuah would turn you out. Now hush yo' mouf an' git yo'se'f in. An' don' git movin' and scrunchin' undah dose covahs and git yo'se'f kotched in mah house.'"

We See In The Day And In The Night

An ailing massage therapist views life and interpersonal connections with philosophical musings.

" Again my eyes get the waves, white water foam at the edges, rolling toward the center, blurring my vision. It feels like someone ripping off the film of my eye, Doc. Like someone's pulling the lid off my eye if my eye were a pudding. Cold plastic chair. A bright light. He looks disconcerted and leaves the room and is gone for awhile and then comes back in."

The Story Of An Hour

A classic short detailing a woman's grief.

" She did not hear the story as many women have heard the same, with a paralyzed inability to accept its significance. She wept at once, with sudden, wild abandonment, in her sister's arms. When the storm of grief had spent itself she went away to her room alone. She would have no one follow her."