My father grew up in a two-bedroom apartment on the fourth floor of a six-story building on Jane Street in Greenwich Village. The apartment had been purchased by his father in 1944, and nobody was ever able to explain how a Steinway Vertegrand ended up in the living room. It had come with the apartment, and the sole attempt to remove it, sometime in the early 1950s, led to the discovery that while it could fit just fine through the front door, there wasn’t enough room in the hallway to turn it around so it could go down the stairs. Some giant could probably lift it over the railing and onto the stairs, but between our landing and the exit to Jane Street there were seven hairpin turns, and the piano would have to go up and over the railings each time.
The potential buyer had his money returned and the piano was shoved back into its space, where it was covered with muslin and used to display pictures and houseplants in front of the window that didn’t lead to the fire escape.
Continue reading “The Girl With the Flaxen Hair”
On their second day in the new house a couple of things happened that, while noteworthy at the time, took on a special significance in hindsight. The first was the trio of apple cores placed in the mailbox to ooze apple juice onto the circulars.
“Maybe a squirrel put them there,” Kaitlin said. Yvonne raised an eyebrow. “Maybe it was an accident,” she tried again. One apple core might–might–get swooped up in the mail and deposited accidentally, but three? “Maybe some kids put it there. Maybe they’ve been using that mailbox as a convenient trash can for a long time. They might not know anyone lives here now.”
Yvonne didn’t say anything but kept her skeptical eyebrow arched as she carried the apples and mail to the kitchen. The mail was all junk anyway. The apples had more juice in them than any apples she’d ever seen before, though to be fair she was never really fond of apples. She was about to toss the cores into the trash when Kaitlin chirped, “Compost!” Yvonne carried out them back to the compost tumbler. Along the way she wondered if she could compost the mail, too. It was just paper, after all, though probably mixed in with some deadly-toxic chemical that saved the printers a few pennies per pound.
Continue reading “Kaitlin’s Chinese Courtyard”
Daniel Carson woke in the night to a fireworks display dancing before his eyes followed by pitch blackness, and he knew that at that moment he had gone blind.
He shot up in bed and held his hand out in front of himself, and although he could feel his arm hovering in the still stale air he couldn’t see it.
His throat closed up in panic. The darkness wrapped around him, gripped him hard and squeezed as if to crush him. His heart beat a furious rhythm and his blood pushed against his veins. His skin crawled as if thousands of needles were forcing their way through him and tearing him apart.
He couldn’t breathe. His sightless eyes throbbed under an unplaceable pressure. Daniel leaped out of his bed. He tried to scream but couldn’t. His throat burned when he tried to breathe. Wherever he looked there was nothing but a void, hideous in its totality.
Continue reading “Daniel Carson”
Just hours before Mary Margaret died, the rain that had battered the city for weeks stopped and the sun burned alone in a brilliant summer sky. The nurse took great care to describe the scene to me later. Mary Margaret had asked the nurse to bring her to the window. With the sun on her face, she closed her eyes and listened to the birds. She drew deep, contented breaths and tapped her fingers to a song only she could hear. The nurse went away and when she returned Mary Margaret was unresponsive. A short while after the doctor declared her dead the rains began again and hadn’t stopped since.
Continue reading “Fugit Inreparabile Tempus”
By the end they were in her dreams, too. She felt herself taken along by a warm current, a tug that seemed to come from inside of her somehow, first playful but then urgent and frightening, and finally a hard surge that forced her farther into the limitless blue void. At first she felt free, and the ocean carried her like an expecting mother; then her throat closed in terror and her muscles from her legs to her chest clenched tight and the sea dragged her down to the cold darkness of the Leviathan.
Zolzaya woke with a start and gripped the sheets hard enough that her fingers hurt. She still felt the swells even though her eyes insisted that she was home in her bed. All of her muscles, even her jaw and her toes, were clenched.
She had to make a decision, and in the still clarity of the early morning she forced herself to draw a deep, burning breath and decide.
With trembling legs she rose from her bed and got dressed, not at all calm but still somehow reassured. Her fingers shook as she buttoned her shirt. They’d been shaking for days, she realized as she looked at them. Bones rattling under thin skin. She pulled her hair back into a ponytail and got started.
Continue reading “Zolzaya and the Apple Thieves”
Alan Smalky, ten years old and sporting a fresh sunburn on his cheeks and shoulders, came in through the back door with a juice box he had taken from the cooler on the deck. Lanky and graceless, a bit of a mouth-breather, he came into the living room and plopped down on the armchair near the sofa.
Jonathan Smalky was on the couch, not watching the news on TV and not reading the paper on his phone at the same time. His wife Karen was curled up next to him with her head resting on his thigh, either half-asleep or trying to be. At this time of year the sunlight poured onto the couch for a few hours in the early afternoon, and it was rare for them to be able to sit and enjoy it together.
Neither one noticed their son’s presence for a few minutes, and since he wasn’t doing anything to draw attention to himself they didn’t feel any particular need to acknowledge him, either, but eventually the child’s continued silence became a provocation in itself so Jonathan mumbled something that sounded vaguely parental. Even a second later he couldn’t remember what he’d said, but it was enough to prompt Karen to try again.
“Where’s your sister?” she asked dreamily without opening her eyes. It was a question that implied a command: “Go play with her, leave us alone.”
Alan didn’t answer her. He just burst into tears, and his parents’ pleasant afternoon came to an abrupt end.
Continue reading “The Children’s Empire”
Sing to me, Muse, of the anger of Daniela, and how she raged in the dark at her alarm clock, which did not sit upon the sacred throne of her nightstand but was instead held captive in exile on the dresser all the way on the other side of the room, the first misstep in an ill-conceived plan to seize the day and get out of bed before the sun came up, instead of waiting until she desperately needed to use the bathroom, get a drink, or both.
Tell me, Goddess, how she cursed Zeus and Thor and Ra and the whole pantheon of gods and heroes as she sprinted barefoot across the cold floor because at that moment she would do anything, bear any pain, pay any price, to stop that obnoxious beeping. “Super loud alarm sound for heavy sleepers!” the box said. It didn’t say, “Worst noise in the world! Perfect for early morning!”
Continue reading “The Danielaiad”
The crisp September sky blazed with a blue so rich it was almost tactile, and Rosa was sure its weight would someday make it peel off from the heavens and fall to earth and smother them all, except that the trees, still green for a few more weeks at least, reached up and pushed back, keeping the sky up and the earth down and straining with all their might to keep the two apart.
Rosa leaned back and took in a deep breath, letting the air fill her lungs and push them against her ribs until it almost hurt. The smells were colors, greens and reds and browns, and the cool air the spirits that helped them flow.
The door behind her swung open and the kids came out. About an hour ago the three of them, two young men and a young lady, stumbled out of the woods and came running up to her as if they had never thought they’d see another human again. Rosa had needed to put on the Big Hat to calm them down. She didn’t know why it worked, but the Smokey the Bear hat was reassuring to campers and hikers. It let them know they were safe. The three of them settled down and told their story. Rosa took them into the cabin and let them have some crackers and coffee, and their confused sentences slowed down until they started to make sense.
“She wasn’t there when we woke up,” said the taller of the two men, the one called Chris.
Continue reading “Lago Escondido”
For a few weeks in the summer of ’96, a club out on Route 4 called Dallas was the center of the known universe, because Bill Newsome, the owner, bought a mechanical bull and set it up on the dance floor, and suddenly everyone from all around the county–white, black, rich, poor, whatever–came out to dance (sort of), eat (the wings were good), drink (as long as they only wanted beer or water), and especially ride the mechanical bull, which was free to ride after your second drink. In the low-ceiling building, really more of a hollowed-out cement slab, an incongruously magical space was made, built on novelty and boredom, that ended suddenly when the bull died and Bill Newsome decided he wasn’t going to replace it.
Kaukonen County was and still is mostly rural, but it was never country country. Most of the county’s space is given over to farms, but we weren’t farmers–those big farms were all taken care of by machines and migrants. We were mechanics, cashiers, or truckers. We weren’t country, we were industrial fringe, and our music was Springsteen and Mellencamp and ZZ Top. But somewhere along the way, for reasons that no-one could quite put their finger on, we all started talking slower, buying boots, collecting guns, and when our Toyota Corollas and VW Rabbits finally needed replacing we all replaced them with Chevy Silverados and Ford F-150s. Where when I was a kid we all looked down river to the city as our cultural reference point, now we all started to act and talk like we grew up on a ranch in Texas and didn’t know what a coffee latte even was.
Continue reading “The Mechanical Bull at Dallas”