I chose Madeleine as a tribute to the city that I’ve called home for the past four years. Yes, as in the orphan pelirrojita in the old house covered with vines. And yes, as in one of those little French cakes that kind of look like duckbills.
Steve was the type of guy who had a nice voice and assumed that made it OK to burst out in song and make the world a better place.
My dad lives in London, where he works for a TV company. He manages all of their reality shows. Big Brother Norway, Survivor Sweden, Amazing Race Belgium, you get it.
"I don’t want to go out drinking with anyone. I want to drink, and for everyone to go bother Anna, instead. As the Phoenix desert glides by outside my window, I realize I haven’t seen Hermes or my home state in nearly ten years. His laugh is annoying as hell, but it also reminds me of a past life, I feel weirdly relaxed."
"All of a sudden I jumped in fright. My five-year-old cousin, Nina, was walking through the hallway like a resurrected corpse—the kind that search for brains in those low-budget movies we weren’t allowed to watch—and she crashed into me as I stood before the doorway of my father’s room."
"I could pretend that I’d like to make some sly comment about the tone of her legs or the nervous but somehow sexy pout on her face as she entered my closet-sized office– it seems appropriate somehow– but the truth is I find the idea nauseating. Call me new-fashioned, but I don’t care about your legs– I just want your credits. But I digress."
"I was writing a movie script. I was taking calls about plotlines and character development in between shifts at the restaurant and singing hymns at Bible study. I was all in, as they say. I was all caught up, as it were. He wanted me to have a good time. When we walked into the lobby, a girl gave us waters with orange peels."
"Grace backed into a corner near the door to keep practicing while the rest of us paired up. Two-person juggling, otherwise known as passing, is one of the things we do best at SOPWETT. Arms up, and down, and: one, two, three, four, pass, two, three, four, pass, two, three, four, pass, two, three, four…" "
Ricky brought two forty-ounce beers to the counter. Jonathan was tracing the hair of his chin strap. One day Ricky would grow facial hair like that too. He’d go even further, he’d grow a full beard and twist it into a point. He’d go wherever he liked and no one would dare kick him out.
I remember when the macro eraser was itself contested for function. That was when the poets were still employed, and they were writing poems about justice. But then poetry was erased, so they started painting about justice.
I wonder if we say we love each each other for ourselves or for the people we’re saying it to. Or if we do it because we know we’re running out of time, like we must share it for fear of never sharing it. Or if it’s just another way to say I see you. Another way to be seen.
Her name was Florida though she had never been there. Her mother really liked the name, the state too, the oranges and sunrays it conjured. One day you’re gonna visit for me and you’re gonna love it, her mother would say.
Early in my relationship with Justin, back when we would cut whole days of ninth grade and spend them burrowing into each other underneath bedsheets of whichever friend’s parents weren’t home that day, he’d told me that Hector had taught him how to masturbate in the fifth grade.
“She’s doing better off without us,” his father said. “It’s this guy right here that has to pick up his shovel and dig for the family.”
Of all human experiences, loss has the most intense redness. When a hope is expelled from our bodies, grief expands within us: to us observers, everything appears to be the colour of blood.
So banished to your room, curled up against the cold metal headboard you tried re-reading an old Nancy Drew. Instead you stared at the neighbour's dog as she ran up and down the red steps at the back of their house. She was the closest thing you had to a pet.
Back in your bedroom there was still a snoutless rat and a dishwasher filled with styrofoam plates.
When my sister finds her eulogy, she’s really not impressed. And she should have been quite happy, I think, considering I managed to come up with so many nice things to say about her.
On his way to Alfie’s, Luisito stopped by the corner mart to pick up some Mickey’s. Forties on a noche like this, where the sol stays slaying skies until 8, there was nothing better.
Sunil gazed at Buku as they lay on a small cot that looked like a hospital gurney. A thick, sturdy mattress held their light weight, resilient and resistant to their shape, never bending to the sentient beings that occupied it.
He didn’t take and the lady looked at me like time being of the essence was a foreign concept to me. I was carrying everything I owned, of course time is of the essence. If it’s not for me, it’s not for anyone.
He returns every evening at 6 p.m. and asks if she's found a job yet. She has a part-time job, but it isn’t enough. Her husband expects her to work in a respectable office and wear high heels every day. He has a fantasy of them meeting at a pub for happy hour, both of them exhausted and full of work drama. Their twin martinis escape valves, sour tonics.
Our fear, then, was that all the swag came with an expectation of high quality. We couldn’t rely on improvisation forever. So on that fourth day, Sanders cupped his hands around his mouth and yelled out to the crowd, “Does anyone have any screenwriting experience?”
I had seen Arthur around for a while, at this particular station. Whenever I was coming back from work, at night, he stood there, smoking, and whistling through his trimmed moustache.
IT HAS BEEN 70 YEARS SINCE EVA BRAUN WAS INCINERATED ALONG WITH HER UNDERWEAR MARIAN RYAN She takes the U-Bahn across
I used my mom’s pink razor to shave my leg because I was too afraid to use Dad’s black one. I sat in the tub running warm water over my smooth calf. It was beautiful. That night, I rubbed my leg against my sheets until the pleasure of it was overwhelming.
We walk past the old tenement where Anya’s great-aunt still lives, claiming the hole she tore in the world. Imagine if we all moved into Columbia Presbyterian! Someone probably has.
Jacob was trying to be alone with the alligator when his mother called him into the house for dinner. His mother didn’t know a thing about it; she didn’t even know the difference between an alligator and a crocodile.
In high school Marian said to me about my favorite author, George Eliot. “Isn’t that just an old British man?” smiling like her mouth was a knife.
Witches and wannabes, way too many drugs. Day three without sleep and you're psychotic for real. Then it’s like the song—we’re waiting for our man.
He was my husband, but I called him dog. When he returned from the woods each passing dawn, from wherever it is that wild things go, he would whimper and scratch at the door.
A house is an organism, Earth is an organism. These are more than just metaphors, I will think months later when I get the call from Kristen that Dad isn’t expected to survive the night.
Biriyani jumped off the diving board and broke the surface of the swimming pool in a clean arc. Pale pink fluff rippled over the pool. Her legs kicked a trillion tiny dark blue jewels into the air that melted back into water.
Death and silence you decide after unzipping your pants. You put your hands on the top of the urinal and steady yourself.
Morcella is her name and we’re twelve in Miss Conway’s science class talking kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, species of the kangaroo.
We should have known Eduardo would be the type to tattle. He was a hyperactive, annoying child with a tendency to boss us around, although at 8 he was younger than me by a year and had been held back in school.
It’s easy to forget that wind is a type of weather until it throws itself across lakes and parking lots, carrying the sound of hacking coughs, and turning flowers into stems. The wind I made was strong, rushed across the water so forcefully that I couldn’t hear myself speak. As soon as words got made, they blew away. And in that landscape of after sound, language itself was gone.
Her mom’s idea of good music was Kirk Franklin and Beyoncé. More than once Kenzi found her mother in the living room stumbling along as she tried to “get in formation” or convince Fat Dave to put a ring on it. She even had a shrine to the singer in her bedroom, photos taped along her dresser for “inspiration.”
In July, the spare room on the second floor of their rental fills with flies. They try getting the landlord to do something—anything—about the flies, but they’ve only been in France a month and can’t remember how to say please. They keep the door to the Fly Room shut tight.
Everyone was shouting this on the first day of the summer of 1993, so loudly it took us awhile to realize we were shouting it too.
The test began. The students worked diligently to fill the bubbles they deemed appropriate. Livia watched one young man methodically draw frowny faces within each bubble and then cover them over with a flurry of graphite.
His date had neon pink shellacked fingernails. Lance couldn’t stop staring at them. The glare off them from the overhead lights was almost blinding. It reminded him of headlight beams bouncing off a rain-slicked road.
My therapist says to remember that I’m young and only human. My mother in our last phone call said that I’m a narcissist. My father wants the money back from my wedding.
M takes it from him. It sits in her palm, a squat little thing that's very white at the top but bloody at the root. She tries to remember what the different kinds of teeth are and which one this is. Around them, the other kids are screaming and prancing but M and V are still, staring at the tooth.
The city is sinking and about to go underwater. You don’t understand that the city is sinking and about to go underwater. I can smell the trash outside getting wet with anticipation.
I think of his mouth saying andante. Saying hunger. Of my body, sheer anatomy. Dust and dust, and what—what makes the music? What does bone-tinged music want from me? I spoke to my stomach, said child, you won't survive.
After the disaster, we were shuttled in busses to the elementary school. We were a soft-footed herd. They turned us towards the entrance, combating the mass distraction of our frozen thoughts. We were demagnetized compasses, nothing but spinning needles.
If Nell were in town, I would’ve opened the Pinot Grigio and I would’ve been laughing. I’d have been convinced into the red dress. On my own I drank mint tea and gazed into the dark mole at the base of my neck, feeling tragic. Its single hair seemed to have darkened, thickened, even. Plucking was not an option - I imagined blood, the necessity of a bandage or a turtleneck. Even trimming unnerved me. I’ve never had good depth perception. I didn’t trust myself not to miss the mark completely.
Dennis and Susan were relatively new friends of Liza and Natalie, and they were those people. The kind that made Audrey feel both resentful and vaguely turned-on at the same time. Well-educated, straight teeth, J. Crew everything. She found herself genuinely wondering what their skin care regiments entailed, and she loathed herself for it.
When her aunt called her to ask her about what it was like, Eleanor didn’t let on that she thought she might be miserable, or that misery might be in store for her, incubating under her skin. She had noticed on the trip down, trailer of possessions in tow, that some of the names were magical here, too, and this made her hopeful. Golden, Falling Spring, Backbone. Maybe they’d be worth seeing.
Two weeks later, a big envelope arrives in the mail. Her name is Lucia and she is seven years old. She lives in Ecuador. In the picture she looks small, and when he puts her height and weight into an online BMI calculator, it confirms that she is slightly underweight. Not horribly underweight, not exactly starving, but still. The organization sends a piece of stationary and he writes a short letter, with simple sentences.
Tanya kept her eyes on the elm’s slippery bark. Thanks to the Internet, she knew everything. She knew it was the size of a kidney bean, and if she waited any longer—a blueberry—then, a kumquat. She had never tasted a kumquat, and now she never would, because it was a fruit that she wanted to forget. She nodded yes.
I saw it on the Internet where people were pulling up these monster goldfish in Lake Tahoe. Those things will get as big as they have space, and now they’re eating everything, all the lake trash. I thought, I bet I can make a bigger one. I’d fill the pool with my junk and observe it every day at sunset. Then Fox would interview me, and I’d tell them how I really feel about foreign relations and bombs and breeding.
The woman looks confused. She stares at the girl, who is the only other moving thing in the dark of the new year. She says something that sounds like the hissing of water as it falls to a hot pan. The girl has gone through more than half the matches now, and the woman looks old enough to be her mother. She strikes another.
Oh how I longed for that excitement, oh how I longed for that feeling as I would wrap the helicopter in the dish towels given to us by Cousin Vitto and unwrap it again in a desperate attempt to capture the magic that now eluded me but had been powerfully felt not so long ago.
I think about what a happy vagina might look like, or what it would take to get an answer from someone about vaginal expression that isn’t based on irritation, indecisiveness, or weariness. I say, I wonder when vaginas look happy. No one responds. So I think about a list of physical attributes that are important to me in terms of sexual appeal. Balanced frame, comes to mind.
I walked past him and he complimented my purse. I was carrying a box-like silver Ivanka Trump purse, I smiled and thanked him for the compliment. He said the purse looked like a briefcase and that I reminded him of a beautiful government spy, (I fell for it and him, then and there). In letters he would write me years later, he would mention the Ivanka Trump purse as a moment of importance in our relationship and by the time Donald Trump became president I wished that I never bought the bag and never met Ray.
Two boarding passes and I’m sitting on a sofa in this airport, waiting for a plane again. I feel my fear in the palm of my hand. The old exhaustion. Familiar churning in my gut. It’s time to leave. I can’t wait. Outside’s a massive, swamplike heat. Humidity. I want to dip my head in acid. Clean myself out. Shake the dirt that’s all over me. It’s time to leave at last and I can’t wait, but I think something’s happened, this blinding flash of light.
My own mother wore the same handmade clothes until the day she never woke up. Try as I might, I am nowhere near the seamstress she was. So now I wear my daughter’s old clothes. She left a closet full of them, in perfect condition, after she moved out of the house. There are enough sweatshirts for me to live out my days in them.
Months after using my camera, I developed a roll of film and found you on it. I thought of Sontag writing, “The sense of the unattainable that can be evoked by photographs feeds directly into the erotic feelings of those for whom desirability is increased by distance.” I felt obvious and became embarrassed.
After rereading it you feel a weakness that draws out of you like a low tide until there are only raised boats in the mud and incredible want. Why didn’t the character in the story predict that? What did she know that you don’t?
Even when he doesn’t look as good, he still can’t quite look bad. Right after he broke up with you, he bought you a drink.
He reached into his briefcase, pulled out an apple, wiped it on his shirt, and took a large chomp. He watched himself chew in the rear-view mirror. He ate the apple’s core too because he had nowhere to dispose of it and he didn’t want to chuck it out the window in case the client pulled in at exactly that moment.
If you think I see Sibley, if you think I see Ruze, if you think I see Gran or my mom or Ms. K – sorry, you lose. In Gran’s town, the streets don’t care if you are desperate or sad – the streets, like the dark houses, like the faraway sky, like the trees, do what they’re gonna do. They keep quiet. They keep calm – each intersection on auto-light: red, green, yellow. Stop, go, slow. Green, yellow, red, green. Go slow, stop, go back…or go home.
Under her keyboard was a faint eeee. Feeble warble weakly insistent like a dog shut outside. The eeee was deep in her laptop’s guts. Her brother Mark was on video chat, her famous and handsome brother, mouth-breathing due to his rhinoplasty and making tattoo suggestions. But she could hear it between his sentences, the eeee.
There’s nothing wrong with your life, other than the obvious things. The other girl is rich, though, the kind of rich with soft hands and chauffeurs. You meet her outside her mansion, a baseball cap tipped over your face to hide it.
I also occasionally fell into a coma. I would dream of Las Vegas past, when I was a kid, when I flew down with my grandparents and we could still go to the Sands and the Silver Slipper and the Stardust. They would spend six weeks in the desert every winter in a motel two blocks off the Strip with a pool and a large Yiddish clientele.
Within a few minutes a woman in a red sweatshirt came to collect Tammy. Anisha left soon after, and then, to my consternation, so did Daniel Park. By lunchtime half the class had gone home. At the time I had a strange fondness for carrots dipped in ketchup, and it was this I was enjoying when my father appeared in the doorway.
The grandmothers walk through the front door, two and three at a time, bonding over talk of the weather. They lower their umbrellas, brush raindrops from their shawls and smooth their sheen grey hair, propped up in helmets or draped over grandmotherly shoulders. Cats and dogs, they say. Absolutely cats and dogs.
My room was just as messy as I remembered it, books and papers all over the floor, crushing the bed under their weight. This whole thing was getting farther and farther away from the story I’d written and I wasn’t sure how to get it back. Where was he anyway?
First of all the name of the creature who follows me around: Agvagvat. Watching my mouth in the mirror call her, “Hey, Agvagvat,” I can’t stand it—Agvagvat isn’t an attractive word to say. When my mouth makes those guppy sounds I look very middle aged.
In Marko and Ana’s living room in Astoria hung a framed piece of Paška čipka—Pag lace—attached to a piece of creased cerulean paper. Last year when they were packing their bags to leave Croatia, Marko told Ana not to put it in her suitcase but she was hurried and stuffed everything in.
The Mistress ate these with her hands. Somehow she did it with such practice she didn’t make a mess; all the crumbs landed perfectly in her mouth. When you became an expert in cake, she set you up with a cantor who taught you how to open your diaphragm to belt all the good noises out. Morning and night, she invited you to her room; asked you to stand at the foot of her bed and sing.
The thing that bothered him most about whales: they are out there somewhere whether you see them or not, bobbing in the black depths. This knowledge wrecked him, somehow. If the animal trainer couldn’t conquer whales, elephants would have to do. Land leviathans, they had that same throb of gravity. Their big wet eyes, the dumb lumbering that hid their great minds.
Sheri starts yelling at me, asks what’s taking so long, why am I hiding, it’s so immature, this is getting annoying, and that I scared off the Bunny Man. I flip up the flashlight to Sheri. She’s stopped, her back still to me. Beyond her, there’s another Sheri, this one braided and leggy, her hand familiar on her jutted out hip. I reach to grab this girl in front of me, but when I touch her shoulder, she’s cold and gauzy like mist. My hand goes right through her. She dissolves into the darkness.
We went to a party. It was at Marv’s place. Marv is a real sort of fellow, a no bullshit type of bullshitter. Marv shows office furniture, in the office furniture showroom. He has no belief in God. At Marv’s party, there was a warm handle of vodka and some Dixie Cups on a fold-up table in the very center of his studio. He wore a hat, though it wasn’t flattering. This is just further proof of Marv’s hard sort of kookiness.
“I had nothing. Other couples held hands or sat close with their shoulders touching, but not us. Other couples continued to have sex and find satisfaction in each other even as the years went by, but not us. Once when ill, your father sat on the edge of my bed. Other than that, I remained alone. In my own house, for years I was alone. I never liked Roy, either.”
You came here because you were taught not to give up without a fight, to hold on to people dearly. Which maybe makes you an excellent lawyer but not a great girlfriend. You often felt like your relationship with Charlie was a third party, something distinct from either of you, something fundamentally good and precious, that you needed to protect.
I fill my lungs with flavored nicotine and imagine them turning brown and black inside my body – fleshy and soft and shit-brown. I am not good at fantasizing beautiful things. “Someone in my class says there’s going to be a curfew.”
She realizes her mind trying to shut River out for weeks now. When he comes up in conversation between friends or strangers, she abstains from saying anything. When talking, she has been enjoying just looking off in her hands. She remembers going to the grocery store earlier in the day, not wanting to buy anything for either of them. They both sink into the hot tub, the milky light, the rising steam.
The Kid had probably not heard him; that’s what had happened. The Omniscient Audience would have seen that, it was so obvious. Still, either way, there was no way of avoiding the clear fact that neither the Omniscient Audience nor the universe itself was prepared to offer him any further reassurances about his future tonight.
I don’t have the strength to do it on my own. I can feel the fever still cloning to my skin; a legatious turbulence is running in circles through my bowels. Just then, all of a sudden, as I’m watching the ray of sunlight fill with dust floating warm in its luminous bowels, Jefe shouts up at me from below, in the bookstore, like he’s got a bullhorn attached to the back of his neck.
Bud was surprised she was talking to him though he realized she had waited until the other men had left. Bud looked her over as he knew the other men had done too. She shifted her weight in a way Bud had learned women did when watched by men. She wore shorts that must have been jeans once: tight and patched. Her shirt had dried sweat stains and a ripped handkerchief hung out of her back pocket. It did appear she had slept outside.
Tomasin watched as her mother hung a shirt over the right arm of her cross. Blood moves – it skirts – she could feel it. But her blood didn’t just shuffle along as she breathed out, trying to slip the shirt off her arm and onto the ground by force of will. Her blood rushed insurgent from her heart in a current all its own. It was a river that pulled her under and through its rapids and lulls. This was, by now – she was sixteen and had never felt different for a day – familiar. The shirt fell.
Some muffled auditory convulsion comes from the adjacent window, shades drawn shut and Christmas lights lit up just to ignore the summer. I look up at the horizon overlooking the fire escape – the jagged, continuous line I’ve known since I was young, towers reaching upwards and towards the ocean just to prove that it’s a city. Dusk bathes this infant sky in pixels of dark pink and grey.
So I can't drink, and we both know why. I get too crazy. I can't talk to you anymore, and we both know why. And I can't hurt myself, I can't keep hurting myself in the usual ways, that's what you and everyone and the doctors say. So what am I left with? You're asking me to just sit here, just stew in this reality, rot and fester until I'm gamey and ugly and I decompose into nothing. What am I left with? You said I could pick my poison. So I picked.
Our young man would often spend his nights at their house. Claire would cook them dinner, and Antonio would regale them with tales of his job as a Bank of America clerk on Main street downtown. Oh, the characters he met there! He told of all types, all kinds of people in financial straights, making odd requests, and asking him why they didn’t carry lollipops in the foyer.
To the chair, lodged infected in our bloodstream, we have placed fear and reverence and yes, we have put love there, too. Slash the seat and let the dust fly up. Recognize that in loving the chair, we have reveled in nostalgia. Pull the teeth from our asses and know that most of the teeth are our own. Offer up the chair to the fire and do not put it out at the curb for another family to absorb into their household.
He was setting their plates now. He was asking her what she wanted to eat first but she couldn’t answer. There were so many choices and she was so far away now, in another town, in another universe where there was no her. Only him and Stacy and the entire lifetime she thought only she could give him now.
We use worms, maggots, hoppers, and minnows. We use corn, dough, salmon egg, and pork rind. We use our hands. You can’t waste time out here because there’s no time on the water. When we get back to shore, everything will be in its same old place. It always is.
And despite his advanced age—or perhaps because of it—Lew keeps himself together, is still quite groomed, shaves every morning, naturally tall, hunkering over others in a leather bomber jacket that in all eras had the impeccable attribute of looking out-of-date.
I had been here before – in this ‘Mecca’ of Calcutta’s street food as Shankar, my chaperon from the Embassy, puts it. Nice man, Shankar. Seems to have an intuitive sense of when he’s needed and for how long, knows exactly where he belongs in the scheme of things. He’s got everything sorted – notes, maps, my travel itinerary, the ballroom in a posh club booked to host a reception for the winners, a day trip to Tagore’s school in Shantiniketan squeezed in between.
Most nights his work is a refuge. But sometimes Ray meets it with fury. Hauls the enemy garbage, accuses the dustpan. Punishes the sinks, toilets, the endless reeking urinals. He relives the day’s earlier confusion: Delia, hurling a vase with his priced-to-clear bouquet. Chrysanthemums, it turns out, she expressly hates. Delia, playing every guy at the bar while Ray sits, fuming. Who’s keeping her company while he empties the bins?
But wasn’t that the problem before she died? Was there any say in the hands that closed on her throat, the knife or the gun, the knuckles on her skull? The girl wants to drift away from these tiresome questions, leave her body to the officials, the coroner, the inquest. Her body still is speaking, still has more stories to tell, but she no longer has any say in which stories get told.
“Alright! Man! There is a solution right? That’s my point, that’s why I went back history lane, there’s a solution--” Roland took out a business card and a pamphlet from his bag and passed them to the man. “Take those, read the pamphlet, read it carefully, then you can call and let’s discuss how you can join the movement to change the country.”
There weren’t many cages in Chicago. All the courts were open air and surrounded by trees. The high schoolers played on Lake Shore Drive, closer to the beach, where the girls hung out. Cages were a New York thing. Grandma thought cages made us look like animals. Jackson Park had a cage next to the golf course. We had the courts to ourselves. Jonah brought his five-year-old brother. Paul sat on the concrete with a beer. He patted the ground for Jonah’s little brother to take a seat.
My mother designed my costume at her nursing home three weeks before Safari Night, and it took her all that time to do the intricate detailing on the removable snout. Yet, best costume went to the guy with an elephant mask tied to his belt. The trunk fell just past his knees. Women leashed him around by it all evening, which most people found hilarious.
We would have said it better. We would have said that it brought all of us an uncertain peace, the world being massaged into submission. We would have said it was hopeful somehow, a restlessness dulling our surroundings, giving us passage to a shaky dwelling we knew so little of.
What was family, even? What were friends? Their names, so close together? Moths battered the windowpanes. They clung to each other. They smelled of each other. They wore each other’s shirts, each other’s hair bands, each other’s earrings. It was all mixed up, mishmashed. It was what they wanted, and how they liked it. The light shifted and changed.
An inhale does nothing, an exhale spills one grain, two, three grains, four. Spills grain by grain until she is all spread. A light starts to break and there is no breathing body. Now the morning, the combine brushed out for dust, the engine roils, the men work, the men cut. Lizzie stands a stalk among sisters, waiting to be harvested.