It occurred to me at some point during our second date that Mike might not exist in real time.
When we first met, he seemed friendly—cruelty-free, like a human-sized rabbit. We ate at Lenny’s Subs off I-35. On the way, he wheeled his big, white Texas truck backwards through the drive-thru of a shuttered restaurant. It seemed like the perfect accident—a ploy to make me accept his wonky habits.
Waiting in line at the shop, he cracked jokes that made me roll with laughter. I told him I used to work there—that I was once a struggling sandwich artist who was so busy fixing cold cuts and meatball marinara, I hardly had time to sit down and eat them. Continue reading
I stare at the corpse in the mirror. How desperately the dry, clay-colored skin clings to its skull. Rubbery. How narrow its tired eyes are, weighed down by the dark satchels hanging from them. How many broken vessels I could count beneath its sullen cheeks. A nebula of spider veins. A paint-splattered canvas. Children do not want to see this.
I am the owner of this dead reflection.
One time Lee actually screamed on an airplane. It had been one of those horrible situations with a seemingly endless delay on the runway and he had fallen asleep before the plane took off. He awoke to the unsettling bumps and skips of the plane lifting off in bad weather, shaking and dipping erratically. It had not been a conscious decision, the scream. He simply woke and screamed simultaneously, all at once, before he even knew what he was doing. He was 32 at the time. He had a middle seat. To his left on the aisle was an old lady who smiled sadly at him. Next to him on the window seat was his girlfriend of the past two years, Katherine. Continue reading
Photo Credit: Brian Michael Barbeito
Charles couldn’t believe he had slept through dinner again; he was going to have to beg Phil or one of the Korean kids for ramen, and why should they give him anything? If the ladder had been in its hiding spot under the patio of the on-campus daycare, he could have gotten onto the roof of the gym and across it to the admin building to see if he could find anything to eat in the small kitchen there, but without the ladder he couldn’t get onto the roof, unless he had Andrew to boost him up. Andrew must have moved it while Charles was suspended, or else it got confiscated. That’s okay, they’d fished it out of a dumpster anyway; they found good stuff in the dumpster by the maintenance building all the time, but he sure wasn’t going to find dinner there. Continue reading
We hit cruising altitude. The ground, out the window, is an expanse of blank salt flats, or Midwestern snow. Two dimensions of white, anyway, shot through with meandering streams or ruts or roads. They look like the veins on the back of an ill woman’s hand. My mother’s hands, say. Or they look like the smoke from Adrienne’s cigarette when we sat on the dock just two summers ago, the way it curled snakily in the windless air. Smoking, Adrienne unfolded her history for me like a map. In the twilight, her hands were luminous, and seemed to leave trails in the darkening air as they moved. Trick of light or memory? Continue reading
When I was a little girl, there was nothing I wanted to be more than a teenager. Continue reading
Excerpt from The Family Jones
Siddhi and I conquered I-95 from Miami to New York with thumb wrestling, hangman, and sleep. “Gonna be great for us, munchies…” Jackson muttered, waking us both up just in time for a look at the City skyline. I wondered if we would ever see home again, or if we even had enough money to live in the real world, and I whispered my worries to Siddhartha, but then he started to look down and wring his hands like he always did when he got scared, so I cut it out.
“The Catskills,” Jackson said, pointing his finger at the purplish shadows rising out of a never-ending bed of green forest. A mom would have packed snacks. The three whole years of whatever I’d experienced with my own mother had long been squashed into the forgotten corners of my brain by the next nine years of newer, shittier memories, like the past sixteen hours of Jackson driving ninety miles per hour, the constant beeeeep of his Fuzzbuster insisting he slow down, and all the while with him mumbling how this guru was going to help him straighten out, get right.
Jackson turned onto a gravelly road that led to a huge, grassy field in the forest, then up a hill past a pair of old brown barns where a bunch of goats stood around nervously, like they were waiting to take a math test. Another quarter mile from the barns, and Jackson pulled up to a circle of little cottages—yellow clapboard with lacy white porch rails—and parked at the sign that said, “MAIN OFFICE.”
On the lawn outside, a circle of naked women in socks upended themselves into headstands. They looked like a rack of lamb. Continue reading
It’s March and too cold for Delia, who pulls her black wool scarf tighter around her neck and tugs her coat—missing three buttons—tighter around her body. Under the coat, her winter blue-plaid school uniform offers no protection against the chill. She holds a stack of textbooks against her body for added warmth and wishes she hadn’t lost her gloves. She longs for warmer temperatures, for spring’s kiss on the now-naked winter trees lining the streets. Her father, who has sayings for everything, once told her March comes like a lion, but leaves like a lamb. Today, the lion roars her to numbness. She reminds herself to remember to sew the buttons back on her coat and to possibly snag her mother’s gloves.
On Riverside Avenue she forces herself step by step toward the Inner Harbor, away from Mary Star of the Sea High School, knowing she must endure the cold for another twenty minutes before she reaches her neighborhood. First a piano lesson, then home to change, and then her cashier job at the grocery store where her mother knows the owner and finagled the under-the-table job. The stack of textbooks provides some protection against the cold air, but her arms ache from the weight. She sets the stack down on a nearby stoop and shivers in her thin coat until she picks them up again. The books hold her coat shut. A few days ago, she asked her mother for a warmer coat, but winter is nearly over, her mother said, adding that she’d get a new one next year. She also asked her mother to sew the missing buttons, which sat in a small, clear cup in her room, back onto her coat.
“You could do it yourself,” Ivy said. Continue reading
Crooked fingers of thick grey fog moan over the birch forest. The sky looks heavy. My nose is pressed up against the window, breath hot on the frosty pane.
“Come away from there,” Mama says to me in Russian, “you’ll freeze.”
“Mama,” I turn to her. She’s dark and bundled in the cold light. “Can me and Kolya go out and play?”
She draws in a sharp breath, and eyes the edge of the forest. “Why do you want to play? It will rain later, look. Better to stay inside. Talk to your family you haven’t seen.”
She looks down her long, thin nose at me. Hands on hips, heart beating. I’ve been trapped inside the dacha, summer cottage, for days as Karelia pours bucket after bucket of rain down on us. We don’t usually come in the autumn, but my grandmother wanted to spirit us away from the city before my mother and I go back to New Jersey. My heart is pounding against my chest, itching to breathe the open air.
“Maybe,” Mama acquiesces. “After you eat your lunch.” Continue reading