Skip to main content

fiction

Fluke [private]

To say he wasn’t having fun would be imprecise. It was pleasant, what they were doing: drinking wine, making mean jokes about popular podcasts, listening to songs from artists that had once seemed essential but now seemed absurd. If he could spend a vacation doing anything, these are the activities he would choose. But tonight he was only pretending to be happy, and he feared the others could tell he wasn’t listening to the conversation, even when he himself was talking. There were other things on his mind. He didn’t need friends right now. He got up from the rocking chair and disappeared through the screen door that led to the beach. He could hear his wife asking why he was going out into the rain, but he didn’t look back and behaved as if he’d heard nothing at all.


To continue reading, please login or subscribe.

The Cold

When it began, I do not know. If I kept a journal or a diary, as some of you do, perhaps then I would know. But I don’t, and so I don’t. When the cold began to pursue me.


Pursue, I think. Persecute.


First, should establish: The cold has nothing to do with weather.

In fact, it may have begun as early as last summer. Late summer.

Outside, on our redwood deck at the rear of the house, setting down plates of food, taking away dirtied plates, one of our family suppers that’s like a runaway vehicle—just keeps accelerating, hang on tight and get through it with my trademark gritted-teeth grin.

Enlightenment [private]

Harvard, 1966. Abel Jones is in his third year. He is an exceptional student, head of the class. He is studying history. His area of focus, the eighteenth century. England and France. Still, there are days when he is lost. Days when he is perplexed. For one, he is excruciatingly shy, soft-spoken. A young man from the country. There are times when he even feels out of his depth. The university is distinctively male, overwhelmingly white—a kind of white. It is marked by class. Even one’s residence defines him. The best rooms are on the second floor, where the most well-to-do reside. A scholarship student, Abel lives on the top floor. Sex is possible. It is commonly available in the bathrooms. At times, he can’t help but think that he’s no better than a pervert.

It is recommended that the undergraduates take a term off in order to find their place in the world. His classmates spend time in Rome. In Athens. He visits a psychotherapist in Cambridge, one who he discovers later is quite distinguished. He’s told that he can’t possibly be a pervert. Or a homosexual, but that he is having what the experts refer to as “sexual panic.” As soon as he succeeds in dating a woman, he will come to his senses. Everything will align. 


To continue reading, please login or subscribe.

Illustration by Ryan Floyd Johnson

Hill of Hell

I had traveled up the Hudson Line at my friend’s invitation to deliver a lecture to his literature students at the college where he taught. There had been three people in attendance and one had fallen asleep halfway through. My friend had treated me to lunch before the talk and to a drink afterward, so that by the time we hit the train back into the city, where we both lived, we had sailed through the small talk and were ready for the blood and guts. 

After we opened the second bottle of wine, which he’d been keeping in his satchel, I told him about the worst thing that had happened to me in the last three years, as this was the period of time that had elapsed since we last saw each other. We sat at a table in the café car, the panoramic windows looking out on the vast sweep of the Hudson. At first, I was surprised that we could drink openly on the train, but my friend assured me that we could eat and drink whatever we wanted because the café car was closed on this route—and besides, he had been taking this train three days a week for a decade and he knew every conductor on it and could get away with anything. 

“It was around this time last year when everything came apart,” I said, turning my plastic cup on the table. 

Last September, I was pregnant. My husband had been the one wracked with longing for a child and I had allowed myself to be carried along by the tide of his enthusiasm, but once it was underway I felt like I had been conned into a heist for which, as the plans came into focus, I was woefully unprepared. You’re talking about robbing the Louvre and I’m just a common criminal! In those early weeks, I willed my body to show up with the getaway car and then four months later, after I had forgotten all about getaway cars, I was standing in Ikea, of all the undignified places, waving a spatula and lecturing my husband about how our dairy products were teeming with opiates, when my shorts filled with blood and I fainted. While I was unconscious, I had a dream that men in white coats were elbow-deep in me and then I awoke in a hospital bed to find a doctor elbow-deep in me, working on my body with the grave air of an executioner. The baby had ten fingers and ten toes, the only thing that many a stranger had told me I should care about. Eyelids as thin as organza. 


To continue reading, please login or subscribe.

Illustration by Ryan Floyd Johnson

Tiger Ghost

Bridget is on her way to Mong Kok to buy a goldfish. She’s been told that they bring good luck.

Illustration by Ryan Floyd Johnson

Stray Fragments

Think about losing things when you are a child, and how losing things thrusts you into a state of absolute despair, even if what you lost is relatively unimportant: toothbrush, sweater, homework folder.

Adults. We are like balloons inflated to their largest capacity and then thrown into the air, unknotted: darting, hissing, flying, farting through the room to the delight of children who will step on them when they finally fall—deflated, useless.

If time in our lives could be shuffled—if it were sectioned into discrete events and recombined—would the story add up? Or does there need to be some kind of order, even if it’s not chronological, for the pieces to form a narrative?

Nuestros hijos llevan todo el día rascándose tan fervorosamente la cabeza que uno de ellos se había sacado ya sangre y ahora daba alaridos de pavor al ver que en su dedo índice titilaba una gotita rosa.

Nos sentamos en una banca y me dispuse a espulgarle la cabellera. Me entretuve aniquilando colonias enteras de piojos y liendres.

 

The light of the desert, where we are headed—I imagine it very different from this one. I imagine it a brutal, empty, future light.

Where is the heart of the United States?

It’s somewhere in the border.

Illustration by Nicole Rifkin

The Ash Swimming Pool

It had been nearly fifteen years, and no one Ali knew looked much like the way they had when they were younger. She wrote Grace’s name on a piece of paper in red felt tip and held it at arm’s length in front of her. In the rush of bodies, the automatic doors that led to the baggage carousel barely had time to close before opening again. There had been some kind of strife—though not a bomb—and there were police, a couple of soldiers moving with intent back and forth through the building. The glass walls were stained with cigarette smoke. In the food shops there were near fights at the discount sections: half-price carrot sticks with hummus, blood-colored smoothies, pita bread. She was so afraid of planes that sometimes, at night, she thought she could hear their seizing rattle, the doomed click of an engine shutting off 36,000 feet above her house. In the e-mail, Grace wrote: I’ve got nothing but air miles, I’d love to come and stay for a bit.

Blue Rock

As the dinghy merged with the horizon, Devers raised his terrible high voice.

“Bricks, sir?”

I reminded myself that Devers was a novice and should be forgiven for assuming that I had time for leisure. Unlike Bertram, the first assistant keeper, I did not have to check the fog signal, clean the beehive lens, trim the lantern wicks, and scrub the walls, floors, windows, balconies, and railings, inside and outside. Unlike the second assistant, Carter, I did not have to polish the brasswork—a ceaseless operation, since nearly every fixture in Blue Rock Lighthouse was made of brass, which tarnished rapidly in the sea mist. And unlike Devers himself, the third assistant keeper, I did not have to assist the first two assistants. All that was left to me was the single remaining job, which encompassed all the others and was the very reason for the lighthouse’s existence: I had to save the lives of any mariners unfortunate enough to pass within a league of Blue Rock.

Illustration by Eleni Kalorkoti

Seeing Rose

It’s about a half-hour train ride to Yonkers, much of it along the river. You come out of the city, off the island, and countryside appears—green strips of landscape, woody bluffs, brown water, telephone lines. 

Illustration by Eleni Kalorkoti

Nice and Mild


This is going to be—no, I don’t want to be categorical—this could be the start of a virtuous circle. My psychologist has told me that I need to say positive things to myself, only I don’t want to be too positive, as that might just make things worse. But I can say this: My life is a mess and I’m going to try to sort it out, starting with the small things. Then later, I’ll be able to deal with bigger, more complicated things; buying blinds is a lifeline that’s been thrown to me from dry land as I flail and flounder in the waves. 

Pages