You play the dressing game with your mother like this: every item of clothing in your closet and dresser drawers ends up on your bedroom floor. You mix and match, mix and match, mix and match until both of you stare each other down; parallel stances, hands on hips, and eyebrows knitted in defiance. She tells you that she doesn’t know where you come from sometimes, such a small body for so much attitude. Such a tiny girl for so much chutzpah.
I can hear him through my shut eyelids. Bent over in a fit, I wheeze against the radiator, indifferent to its warmth. Somewhere in the kitchen Jorge opens and closes drawers, each emitting a different hollow note. He intends to bury the ashtray—probably among dirty porcelain, empty take-out boxes, and more mugs. I recover, only to knead dust on my fingertips. The apartment is filthy, that much I can tell. His mother, Angela, may she rest in peace, would not approve.
He knew the facts: The tomatoes were not ripening, though day after day he offered his eyes and pruned them and watered them and watched the sun. It was too hot. In these extreme temperatures, the tomatoes wouldn’t begin the process of senescence and therefore wouldn’t ripen. Senescence was, essentially, the process of getting old. The natural process of aging in plants includes the ripening of fruits, which is often induced by ethylene.
Yes, Audrey is wearing a graphic T-shirt with a depiction of Lake Arrowhead. After killing her, someone stuffed the earmuffs in her mouth and wrote #BroosterBabe in black sharpie on her right arm. Perhaps it has a meaning, perhaps not. Most things do not. Do not get lost in the details.
The apology was platinum. The publicist hit all the right notes: the contrite acceptance of responsibility, the head-hanging, the hand-wringing, the self-flagellation, the commitment to listening and learning and striving to change. The reminder of daughter, the apology to wife, the reassurance of positive work for womankind in other areas.
The following fall, during her second year in Arkansas, my mother registered for high school. On the school registration form in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, there were three options to select from: N, O, W. Negro, Oriental, White. She wore a pewter crucifix clasped around her neck and her hair in a braid was so long she could tie it into a noose and hang someone from it.
It was one summer where it seemed both of us suddenly came out of grieving, or something changed—enough time has passed. We started talking to each other again without the television screen buffering our feelings and somehow it came out that we both wanted to be parents still but how? We were in our late 40s, we could no longer create a baby.
Tito Pancho from the butcher’s told his cousin Manny that his Guadalupe medal had cried real tears the day his dog gave birth to a litter of four. Only two had survived the night, and Manny, a close worker under Glo’s father, gave the girls the stronger pup of the two. Glo doesn’t know what happened to the runt; it could be on the streets with the other strays, or perhaps long dead.
Liss said, we are motel mermaids, we are made of magic. Which sounded better than it actually was, how we were housekeeping for the Blue Haven Motel on an island in the middle of Lake Erie. During the day we drank gin together and did what Liss called keeping up appearances, which meant we went to work on any obvious dirt and left the rest. The worst was when we found bloodstains, because then you had to change the sheets.
For months Yessi had felt nothing. Everyone else in her class saw colors, felt tingles, had visions of spirit animals doing weird things like making herbal tea or playing the violin. For months she struggled even with the most basic poses, the ardho mukha svasana, down dog, the vrkasana, tree pose, the ananda balasana, happy baby. She had no balance and no strength, while everyone else seemed to move like ballerinas, holding poses with grace and not a drop of sweat.
Chisom and I were best friends and worst enemies. We were always fighting. We gutted ourselves like the fishermen did to the fish on the boats that hovered in the horizon. Something about Chisom always pricked me, pushed me to the edge of madness. But she was my best friend, my only friend.
My sister Evie said her week of rest was Biblical, pre-ordained, saintly. She’d gone diva after becoming a YouTube influencer famous for faith healing. Dealing with internet trolls for six months, she said, entitled her to a week of watching Buzzfeed Tasty videos on Instagram while wrapped in a fuzzy pink blanket.
Paloma froze. She almost asked what he meant, but she knew, even though this wasn’t the story that she’d been telling herself. When she squeezed her eyes shut, she saw the black Cadillac not just loaded with trunks and bags full of the Señor’s corpse, but all their bodies, trundling off over a dirt road through the Acantilados region into a canyon at sundown.
That’s how the four years went. I’d ride around with the güeros and get high, drunk when we could. That’s how I found myself, how I remade myself. If I wasn’t brown and I wasn’t white, I could always be fucked up.
More than our designations, it was the food we ate that set us apart. Food loomed between the Queen and me—a solid, sky-high edifice sealing our places in the hierarchy.
The woman who goes before me is an alcoholic but she’s in deep denial about it. Sometimes, when the white noise machine isn’t working, I can hear them yelling at each other on the other side of the door. DO YOU THINK IT’S NORMAL TO DRINK A BOTTLE OF WINE A NIGHT? my therapist yells, and the woman yells back, YES I DO. But at other times I can hear them laughing away like old friends, and I think to myself, a little bitterly, that my therapist never laughs that way with me.
Behind the old woman, next to the shelf of vagina puppets, was a set of hooks for coats, unoccupied since we’d all draped ours over our chairs. She put one damp bag on each hook, spreading it carefully so it would dry. I imagined her home, the knick-knacks she dusted but never really looked at, the cross above the mirror.
Mothers liked me. I was prim, with straight hair. They delighted in how I didn’t need wrinkles or children to make me bitter, as I already was, and had been for a long time. I was smart for this, they ascertained, precocious. They went on to appreciate the neutral palette of my clothes, and then my culinary preference for thin soups and fresh meats, and then the precision of my parallel park. I was a serious woman, they deduced. I’d protect their sons. I’d keep them warm.
It isn’t enough to just know Frank. Frank wants to wave hello to you as you unload your groceries. And Frank says hi very often to you on your way to the store. He doesn’t just want to keep it distant either. He offers to take your mail in for you when you travel far away on vacation. And you say yes because he is also taking in the mail for your other neighbors and Frank and the neighbors agree that this is what neighbors do.
“How’s the Alpha Diet working out for you? Feeling better? Ready to carry a baby?” She patted the cavernous gape of my stomach, looking the angry way she looked whenever she didn’t want me to know she needed to cry. I reached for a second handful of meat, but she pulled the plate out of my reach and I dropped my hand, unable to stretch my arm out to meet her.
I first read the manuscript – the samizdat – on my only excursion to the Territory, part of an official engagement in which I’d been invited to act as interpreter to the Ambassador of the Outer Region. It was a rare opportunity to visit the notoriously secretive state. My diary from that period is due to be published later this year, although this is about another story entirely.
Four elderly men in tracksuits passed the bench. He noticed one of them, a white-bearded man, thin and pale with a long nose, was staring pointedly, annoyance frozen on his face. He stared back at the man but did not say anything.
Sunny gets mad at me because I assume all of the children will die. She likes to remind me that there must be some like us, grave but no fatal cases. I concede that she has a point.
There are crumbling cottages all over the island, built long ago by Juba’s people. They were made from large chunks of stone, built to last, but abandoned during the war. We found one not too destroyed by fire, hurricane, or time, and it provides enough shelter for us to sleep soundly during the night. We nest down beside the birds and bugs and the things that remain from long ago.
We get a worksheet. Mrs. Zsuzsa is obsessed with getting to know us, because they told her at school that she has to get to know her students, to know the humans inside the children sitting before her. The first question on the worksheet is “Which word would you use to describe yourself right now?”
As for parents, my acupuncturist and I have four. Mine are divorced, and my acupuncturist’s are the only couple I can call to mind when I try to call to mind a secure couple. Being in a relationship is hard, the acupuncturist says, and being alone is hard too. You have to take what you get without settling for scraps.
A few years back, when I was playing the organ at the church, I was seeing a dental hygienist who was the front woman of a melodic thrash metal band called Clits of Anarchy. At the time, I was between living situations. I owed a lot of back rent to a guy who'd quickly became an ex-friend, and I was pretty ashamed of it. I'd never slipped that far down before, I'd always been able to skim by.
My palms were slick with sweat. I smudged pencil lead across the linoleum, destroying the church, although now it really seemed more like an amalgam of haphazard shapes. There were now two things I couldn’t draw, I decided: cars and churches.
Gwen sliced. Thin slices, the cookbook said. Her slices were paper thin. Look how well she followed instructions. Her slices fainted over one another like dominoes.
There is a tenderness to the way MJ cradles the whirling molten orb. Alice, shameless exploiter of the museum’s generous discount policy, has seen it a hundred times and still not enough.
He tried to explain the sleep to me once, back when I thought it was helpful to ask clarifying questions. I was like a cross between Siri and your most memorable seventh grade teacher.
There are two kinds of parents: those who can’t wait to have their kids out of the house during the summer so they can go about their own business, and those who think that idle time is the Devil’s playground, and that children must work on their future, at every moment they get.
When she was a child she called it the hix. She doesn’t need to say it for me to know she’s seen it too. The word is hot on her breath, foul like fish gone to rot, like the air outside the dome.
So personal, the way he doesn’t stroke her hair as the ambulance wails. Instead, he tells someone not to pack up the food. They don’t all need to follow in their own cars to the hospital. They should enjoy the day and the lake and the peach pie that Maura baked for the occasion, and maybe he’ll meet them later.
The final touch would be pineapple wedges, apparently, and from where I was on my knees next to Ilsa I could see him assaulting a whole pineapple with a rusty butcher knife. He obviously had no idea what he was doing, but Ilsa and I seemed to be in silent agreement that we were going to allow him to be the man of the house when it came to the pineapple.
I tore up the paper. Coughed to cover the sound. Opened up my phone and played a video on YouTube of two service dogs chasing each other. The ad that played after was for cough drops.
We were told to hit those in the passive role. Every time we swung our hockey sticks at their necks, their visors would flash with EXP points. For anyone passive the object of the exercise was to get enough EXPs to level up to Emotional Stability.
The little dog clusters the sheep tightly around her master. Her eyes are perfect circles. She knows she’s done a good job.
These questions do not make me laugh like they would on a night when I was not starting avalanches. These are people who do not recognize their limits.
I wanted to date a nice man to prove to myself that all the therapy had worked. I’ll admit, I got into it.
I’m the assistant to the head of a small AI company. I don’t know anything about tech or consciousness. I have a BFA in studio art. I figured there’s no point in studying economics if the world’s ending.
Sometimes we have to save people from themselves. It happens. She lies back down. I drive for a while. It’s all going pretty smoothly, until we get into her subdivision. And shit, there it fucking is. A train. The arms of the crossing signal lower, and the bell screams. Fuck.
One Saturday afternoon, the unimaginable happened. In a break between rotations, I was sitting on top of the vault—my chosen lookout spot. All of a sudden, I sensed the air change around me. It was Larisa, pouncing up like a Lycra-clad cat to crouch at my side. Panic bubbled in my gut. Why had she come to sit with me? Did she even know who I was? We had never been so close to each other before.
A sharp, split-second pause. My Grandmother describes this moment inconsistently. With each telling, there’s a new detail: a fisherman to watch, a beggar to pity. The fisherman, waving a switch in front of his bucket, crouches beside a farmer heating bricks in a kiln. Both stare open-mouthed at the smashed egg; their reaction (Grandmother claims) is shared by a passing cadre, who shouts, a giddy falsetto creeping into his baritone, “What a shame!”
We had storage units, ex-wives, and unpaid parking tickets down in the city, but we had since quit our jobs that tethered us to those lives. We knew how to tear things down and build them back up. We were in the business of predicting what people wanted, how, and when. We were doers and makers, bored to death by the pedigree we had earned in the trenches below.
She had opted out of the diversity section on the application, but had assumed that per the powers of the United States government, they would know the basics. She wasn’t hard to find. There were things on the internet, pictures, and regrettably, poems.
As I scrolled through my mentions, I wondered if Robbie was right. Why would anyone want to SWAT me though? I don’t talk smack, and I don’t harass anyone. There are gamer dudes who are famous because that’s all they do—yell at the camera and call gamers racial slurs. They make fun of people they don’t even know in real life. Like, what’s the point of that?
She looks exactly the same in every way but I know it isn’t her. The woman who is not my mother dips her knife into the neon yellow plastic bucket inside which the cantaloupe sits. Standing in the middle of the upstairs hall bathroom (the one where I always forget to turn the lights off), she looks up at me and speaks as I enter, the tip of her knife poised on top of the melon, ready for incision.
At least Benny and I had our routine: We went to Sasha’s in the morning where I read about the Battle of Saratoga and cried all day. I felt like I would never meet another man as smart as Davis. I imagined him kneeling over the edge of the bed screaming at me in grammatically complex profanity. I didn’t want to become one of those people who fantasized about the past.
The Lord of the Flies was a different person from Stanley. He wasn’t interested in repeating arguments with Angela. He wanted to prove the scope of his genius; transforming himself into a monster made him feel decades younger and he wasn’t going to stop there.
Men loved The Sex Castle because they could be king. It was still the 1970s once you walked under that lightbulb bordered door. Their sexist and racist jokes got laughs, their boring work stories were listened to, everyone felt attractive, with girls vying for their attention. No one reminded them who they really were.
We discussed the kind of crime he might commit. Most business owners would no longer prosecute for theft, the requisite time and energy not worth the potential recovery of property. Anything under a felony would net a slap on the wrist and a fine; there was no need for minor league convictions. Charlie had no desire to harm anyone.
"There’s something extraordinary about a woman being so blond. I guess men always look for something extraordinary in a woman. I mean, maybe, maybe not, but for me, if a woman is extraordinary, I’ve got to have her. I’m not saying you aren’t extraordinary—this is going to be cruel!—but what I am saying is that you’re cute, you’re cute like Drew Barrymore-cute, but Stella is beautiful like she-just-stepped-off-a-private-jet-and-she-wears-expensive-underwear-beautiful. That kind of beautiful. I like your hair fine. But I like hers better. Stop looking at me like that. You wanted to know the reasons. I’m giving you the reasons."
As a child, I often felt as if my body was sinking. I don’t get this so much anymore, but then, it was real bad. I’d sit on the couch, and my heart would drop, my stomach would drop, and my feet would grow cold. My parents thought that American sensibilities made me an anxious child; perhaps the luxuries of sugary cereal and school clubs were detrimental.
In the photo, I’m in profile on the ferry to the Statue of Liberty on a cold morning. I have on a toboggan and a black and white scarf with a pattern to clash with my red and tan plaid hunter’s jacket. I wear mirrored aviators. I have a full beard. The sun off my glasses or the skyscrapers resolute in the background or my being there, in that harbor, where crowds dared to dream, must be doing it for Mom because I’m heartbroken in the picture.
“Fuck,” Gina almost said aloud. She felt a sharp pain in her abdomen. A cramp. Oh my god, I can’t believe I’m getting my period looking at the fucking Star-Spangled Banner, she thought. Oh well! White for purity and red for the blood that was shed.
I thought she was the prettiest girl in our entire school, and I wanted to be her almost as much as I wanted to be near her. Every time she asked me to sleep over, I felt a certain surprise, a “who, me?” feeling, even though we were best friends; every time I woke up next to her in her turquoise canopy bed, her long, blonde hair in my mouth and her limbs splayed out so they poked into mine, I couldn’t believe my luck.
We could hear the girl that lived above Paul’s room having sex with her boyfriend because we could hear him. In the summer, I thought maybe it was just because the windows were open. But in winter we plastic-wrapped them shut, and I still heard his little yelps twice a week.
And yet the sex did not get better. He was a determined giver, but missed the mark so predictably that I began to find his efforts in bed comical. He wouldn’t correct course even when I nudged him quite forcefully, a failure that I ascribed to a stubborn overconfidence on his part.
“They stayed upstairs that night,” said Clara’s father. “The next morning, he and the defense secretary came down, and we made them a nice breakfast, and while they sipped Fresca, the president sat back and crossed his legs, and we saw him smile for the first time.”
I pick a blister off the bottom of my foot and he doesn’t even blink. Maybe I want to be owned. Or maybe that’s the only way I’ve been conditioned to understand desire.
I bought a goldfish in a dream once. She was modestly shiny, with scales like mirrors on a disco ball. My left eye reflected itself on her body if I turned the right way. I knew she was a she because she told me, right before I placed her into her bowl. “Okay,” I said, “good girl.” She smiled at me, a specious sort of smile that I was wary of but loved all the same.
They spend the first drink verifying that they speak a common language: where do you think LeBron’s going to play next year? What did you think of the new Drake album? Have you heard about Jay’s new girl?
Gerard sniffed the air, his eyes traveling the room. “I leave you alone for a few minutes and this is what happens? I am gonna flip. I am gonna bust a gasket.”
It’s another curfew night and Ma is frying bay leaves and cloves in a tin-coated kadai. Raja sits cross-legged on the floor, bent over his math notebook. My hands are inside a small mound of flour, kneading and feeling the air pockets.
Tacked beside Beuys was a picture of a chair designed by the Brazilian brothers Humberto and Fernando Campagna. The chair was made out of an enormous length of rope, wrapped and woven to create a nest-like structure.
We stayed silent for a moment. Him standing, eyes solemnly downcast, me squatting, looking up. He told me he trusted me with this knowledge because I was the right kind of Christian. When I asked what he meant, he looked me in the eye and said, the kind who believes.
Years later, a mutual friend will call her a liar, saying she’d lied about her age, she even lied about her hair. I’d heard her accept dozens of compliments on her curls without ever mentioning a perm, so I consider this to be another deceit.
She appeared in the kitchen doorway in her mother’s yellow-and-white dress, tan slingback sandals, and unevenly applied fire-engine red lipstick. She looked like a girl in costume, playacting. The sight of her pinched Mara’s heart.
Daniel, a guy I barely knew from university, said that I should stay in a local house so I could experience the "real" Colombia. I told him I was from Barranquilla.
I thought that after I turned the age he was when he died that I would feel some monumental weight of time, like each second would be a reminder. That didn’t happen. The initial depression came and went and then days passed slowly while years passed quickly and now we are here.
He lived in Denmark for a while, but returned to the Grunewald forest for the last years of his life. From his room in the sanatorium, he painted several depictions of the lake. One of these hangs in the Stadtmuseum in Berlin.
“I don’t understand,” my dad said, face in his hands, as three guards swapped out Aaron’s empty crib and dresser, and all of the clothes and toys still in their gift bags, for Jerry, a middle-aged man serving a ten year sentence, officially our new roommate.
They sat at the dining table to eat, and she was glad for the conversation. It was as though no time had passed. Nilim looked older and more mature, and yet he was exactly the same as she remembered. The power went out with a crack as they finished dinner, and darkness flooded the apartment.
She hates the locker-room shower stalls at the YMCA with the curtain that only covers most of you. She hates that someone could stand in just the right place and peek in. Like those ladies who walk around naked. Maybe they want her to be naked, too.
In silence Xiomara removes the knife from his grip then grabs the can of whole coffee beans off the counter. She takes from it a handful, letting the beans roll from her palm onto a cutting board, and Marcos watches them like marbles circling each other, unsure if they are following or trying to outrun one another.
When YouTube University voted her channel down, the message was clear. No one cared anymore about Esthetics of Architecture. The comments popped faster than she could read them: “higher-world problems,” “elitist hack,” “come down and we’ll show you the real world.” Those were the mildest.
Some of the vendors stood and smoked, some joked with one another, their laughter slowly dissipating in the night; others sat; still, a few looked as if they had fallen asleep. It was late, a little past 10:30pm. An older woman with tired eyes and a lot of makeup waved to him, offered him a pamphlet with words he couldn’t quite understand. She moved onto to another person, handed out another pamphlet. He read the Korean below: “Jesus Christ saves.”
He was cute, but I liked his ambition more. He wanted to create his own tech start-up; he was just trying to figure out which problem he wanted to solve first, he said. He’d traveled throughout Europe on vacations with his family growing up. My mom and I had never been on vacation ever, except to go see Mee-Maw in New York when her health started failing. When I studied abroad, I was the first person in my family to travel outside of the country.
The dog that bit me was a stray scavenging on the street; I was eight years old. After letting go of my mother’s hand to embrace the dog around its neck, I only remember a few details.
When the doors of the Downtown A slide open, college couples exit—ping pong balls of intoxication bouncing into the night. You squeeze into the only vacant seat next to a man with his knees pressed together, oxforded feet crossed. He resides in the middle of a three-seat bench. His navy-slacked thighs press you into the partition.
This is my new gf. She doesn’t like where I live. Is it because of the fairy lights? I ask. She doesn’t say, she never says much, but she likes it more if we stay at her place, which is miles away. We go there after work sometimes, past a field with horses on the way. ‘Horses,’ I say.
Emmy can see the interstate and the flashing colored lights of the Gold Club, the shadow of the bouncer by the entrance and the boisterous groups of men filing in with pockets full of singles. On the other side of the highway, a back street dead-ends into a Baptist church. The scent of the drive-in doesn’t reach this high. Instead it smells like rain and gas fumes from the traffic roaring by, looping the city, their taillights melting into a red-yellow stream.
I haven’t prayed in years, since high school when I prayed for a date to prom. When I used to pray I could feel a presence hanging above me, a great translucent presence high above, gooey, like a puddle of jello. I decide to try it out again.
If only he could be Jonas Delvecchio, who lived in a real house just three bus stops away. Jonas had been adopted as an infant by an Italian couple who drove Porsches and took him skiing in Madrid every year. Because of his parents, Jonas knew things the other kids didn’t. Saline swimming pools didn’t dry out your skin as much as chlorine. The most comfortable pillows were made of down. Purebred poodles were better behaved than purebred Chihuahuas.
T. rex roared, eyes flicking about in short, rapid movements consistent with a predator possessing heightened sensory abilities. It paused before us, head hovering fifteen feet above. It screamed, teeth long like fingers. Cassidy and I reflexively cowered, then laughed.
That night, Jezebel dreams that she forgot her purse on the bus. She chases the bus on foot from stop to stop, always a few feet behind, until it disappears around a bend. She wakes up aching. She feels like she has shed a layer of skin. She turns to David in half-sleep and when she speaks her voice cracks in the dark like static on wool. David pulls her closer to his chest. She says, “I’m always dreaming of losing things. I leave bits of myself behind wherever I go.”
I see life lines and love lines like I’ve never seen them before. As I look, I know what they say. Suddenly I know how to read, like my daughter. This knowledge is no longer inaccessible to me.
he had made a pass at her on a rooftop that went horribly wrong because he thought she would think it was sexy if he put a cigarette out on his wrist like Darby Crash’s sycophantic girl fans, but it hurt like hell and she laughed at him and went into the bathroom to do some crank
These joys should be enough evidence to prove, yes, he is happy. But why does this question keep appearing and spreading like pests? When Joe wakes up, three hours later, he discovers that he has just experienced a terrible dream that he cannot remember. Is it about Allison—no. Is it about The Store—no. Is it about doing something else other than grocery; is it about being someone completely different—maybe?
Elise shook her head in reply. ‘You know, maybe I was a coward before. But now,’ she smiled, knowing how irritating her next phrase would be, and pleased she had come up with it, ‘but now I feel like my feelings have been cut away.’
And that was when he introduced me to the concept of child sharing, an idea that he had evidently been rolling around in his head since he was in high school. He had the idea that we could find other people who wanted to have a share in our child—people we liked, who didn’t want their own baby.
On the afternoon that the king’s herald arrived the goosegirls were not minding their geese. They were at the stream, barefoot and barelegged, the hems of their shifts knotted and clutched in their fists as they waded through the water. They made their way to the boulders at the center of the stream. Their hair, long and dark, hung free.
Kathy Bates wasn’t actually the actress Kathy Bates, but a corpulent queen who was also in the bar performing right after Kelsi. She was feral. Her makeup was bright red and white, applied liked war paint. I could hear her screeching from backstage.
Okay, so maybe it’s not from Finian’s Rainbow, but it’s always some obscure gem from the glory days of Broadway musicals and if not that, then the opposite – The Beatles or maybe even Mick in the Rolling Stones.
My mother had spent summer bent over her miniature vegetable garden. She planted tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, and beans. There was always a bowl of tomatoes on the dining room table; the rabbits ate everything else.
“Let me give her a kiss then,” my mother said. My heart sank; they don’t miss me, I thought. She lowered the blanket, caressed my hair, and hugged me gently. The sweet scent of forsythia from her hair filled my head. I yearned to clasp my arms around her, but she hadn’t insisted on taking me home because their ‘friends’ mattered more.
It felt good though. I’d chill and fuck with Maurice on weekends. During the week, I could walk up and down the hall in school with Tyrell’s arm around my waist. He and I fooled around after school, before my mom came home from work. I had to make sure I was keeping him satisfied so he wouldn’t get suspicious or start asking questions.
And here—she’s just caught her husband putting on Rogaine. So, she thinks, she will not have to say it after all. She’s staring at him in the mirror, imagining the future of his baldness like a sunrise.She sees herself there also, her own hair, as it ages, becoming hopefully silver but probably gray.