Issue 68

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Rebecca Makkai, “Webster’s Last Stand”

“Aubrey tried looking up edible cacti online, only to discover that ‘edible’ had been added to the list of restricted search terms, God only knew why. The computer still let her type the word, but then that blasted red-screen error message popped up, the eagle in one corner, the flag in the other, Bigly’s motto stretched across the bottom, and she read the message aloud to Scott, as if he hadn’t seen it before: An excess of false information exists regarding this search term. Try again with different terms.”

Amanda Rea, “Crab Theory”

“Soon, she figured, he’d forget the quest. They’d laugh about it together, asses sunk wide and deep in the couch, twin wiener dogs asleep on the cushion between them. Until then, she resolved to support him. She’d been married twice before, so she knew a thing or two about male vanity—how it needed tending, how little it asked and yet how much it required.”

Alejandro Puyana, “The Hands of Dirty Children”

“We love mangos! Mangos are our favorite because they are sweet and they are free. We walk down the nice streets, the ones that have the big trees on them, and I pull the bottom of my shirt away from my tight belly, and Ramoncito follows me, placing mangos from the ground inside it, the ones that aren’t nasty. After we are finished, when my shirt is as filled as the grocery bags the rich ladies carry when we beg outside the Excelsior GAMA, we walk all bowlegged and tired to an alley and eat mangos until night. We eat until our whole faces are yellow and mango hair grows between our teeth. We eat until each of us has a mountain of mango pits, and all we can smell is the sweet rot of the mango slime, and the flies start to go crazy. But that was before, when Ramoncito could still walk behind me and pick up mangos. When there were mangos to pick up. Now the mango trees give nothing but shade. And now we are very hungry.”

Jamie Figueroa, “Growth Cycle”

“Both girls stared at Eldest Sister. She was the same as the night before: skin as dark as Mother’s, a wild bouquet of hair, purple polished fingernails, a mole on her neck, and yet she was not the same at all.

‘What’s she got?’ Younger Sister said.

‘Sling shot syndrome.’

‘What’s that?’

‘A sudden change in direction.'”

Michael Martone, “A M A N”

“Art Smith, the Bird Boy of Fort Wayne, would often use the still visible ruins of the old Wabash & Erie Canal to navigate a flight through the heart of his home state of Indiana. As he dipped and banked his craft on its southwesterly trajectory, he’d visually leapfrog from one flash of light to the next, sunlight reflecting up from the stagnant waters of the various reservoirs and holding ponds, feeder lines and troughs of the actual boat basins, a necklace of spilled pearls on the green breast of the old prairie.”

Marie-Helene Bertino, “In the Basement of Saint John the Divine”

“James’s bare desire to be liked is not the correct way to participate. He should toss his head, no big deal, but it’s hard to act aloof when confined, even for James, who had feigned compliance in their snide remarks throughout the day, pitching in to insult himself. The boys’ disgust shifts to boredom. They leave him wriggling against the satiny bag and congratulate one another with blows to the elbow and hips. James lies back on the ground. He is the trunk of a tree that stands on a meadow. Above him his branches revolve, pleating, pinking, diamonding in the sun’s light.”

Ariel Berry, “The Old Woman and the Cliff”

“Each day, while she sewed, she told the dolls what she had seen earlier in the valley. Once, she told them, she saw a cloud of birds so thick they blotted out the sun. Like a nightfall of wings. A different day she saw a hawk snag a wisp of a mouse in its beak. Its cry was like a baby’s. So small. So light.

Elin Hawkinson, “The Moths Came”

“In a cloud, at night. Or light an army at sunrise. To every tree and every spike of grass, every ridgepole, every windowsill, they came. To every clothesline, especially. From the candy-coated wires, they formed strings—onions braided together by their tops—and we woke to find them swaying.

Don’t open the door, we said to our daughter.”

Mark Labowskie, “Lizard Skin”

“Their mother tipped her head back, and the faint swirling smoke shadows played across her face. Her white-blonde hair floated in an imperceptible breeze, her exposed creepy bosom sagged and swelled. Jack put his fork down and sat on his hands, certain something awful was about to happen. Connell was going to tell. Their mother was going to burn Connell with her cigarette, as she’d once threatened to do. Why couldn’t Connell keep his fucking mouth shut? The rash of horrific possibilities overwhelmed Jack’s vision, and through this blur he saw the tip of her cigarette smoldering in the dark. She knew.

But then, she stubbed it out and gazed into the flat hush of their yard. Jack’s torso was drenched.

‘Never in my life have I known quiet like this,’ she said.”

ASF Reads