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Issue 69

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Karl Taro Greenfeld, “Tragic Flaw”

“She had decided, early in tenth grade, that she would not be found wanting academically, and so goodbye DKNY slacks and Calvin Klein tops, Stella McCartney blouses and Balenciaga shoes, and from that point on, it was sweats and flip-flops, her body perpetually banished beneath layers of soft cotton, her outfits interchangeable, her style indistinguishable from any of six dozen other girls all striving in Pacific Point High School AP classes and desperately preparing for SAT, ACT, and AP exams, applying for Edison and National Merit Scholarships, volunteering at teen crisis hotlines and animal rescue centers and synagogue affinity groups and phone banking at political campaigns, running and jumping on sports fields and tracks and inside gymnasiums or singing and dancing in school productions—a crew of actually only three dozen girls (really twenty, if you weeded out those already folding under the pressure) who were competing with each other to be the absolute queen bitch of the high school academic savanna. If you win, you go to Stanford or Harvard, MIT, or Brown; lose and you will be torn to pieces on the Serengeti of the American meritocracy, your entrails swallowed by hyenas and jackals. (Which meant going to UC Santa Barbara.)”

Susan Steinberg, “Killers”

“the guys have ways to make us give them what they want; they look directly at our mouths; they touch our hair and say it feels so soft; You smell like something I want to eat, they say; You smell like strawberries, they say; they ask us things to make us feel smart; they say, What would you do for a thousand dollars; they say, Would you steal a boat; they say, Would you kill someone; they say, Would you sleep with us; their mouths are at our ears; we’re like a thousand dollars; we try not to laugh; they’re becoming disappointing; at the boathouse, we wanted to be with these guys; now, with these guys, we want to be at the boathouse; this is a grass-is-greener situation; it has to do with perspective; like how the water from afar is one thing; the water up close is another; like how a body from afar is something; and a body from inside that body is something else;”

Brandon Taylor, “As Though That Were Love”

“‘It’s getting warmer,’ Hartjes said after he had washed his hands and sat down with a glass of water.

‘So it is,’ Simon said from behind the paper.

‘I don’t know if I want it to get warmer,’ Hartjes said. ‘The river already thawed, can you believe it?’

‘So it is,’ Simon said.

‘And then I decided to kill myself,’ Hartjes said.

‘So do it,’ Simon said, not letting Hartjes have the satisfaction.

‘Some friend.’

‘Don’t be a baby.’

‘Well, someone keeps taking my bottle,’ Hartjes said, putting his head on the table, which smelled like ground pepper and the thick, blank smell of flour.

‘Hardy har har,’ Simon said, which did make Hartjes laugh. He looked up and saw Simon watching him and then beyond Simon into the front hall where the stairs sloped upward to the second floor. There were pears in a bowl on the table. Hartjes put his cheek against his forearm and gazed out of the window over the sink, into the tall pine trees and the gathering dusk.”

Cara Blue Adams, “The Foothills of Tucson”

“City lights spread below, shimmering and pulsing and rippling like water. Behind, the dark hills hung with dark sky. Stars scattered bright as polished bone. I don’t know the name for the color of the night here. Like skin, it changes as it thins. Near the city, a translucent faded slate lit from within by a pinkish gray bulb. Where it touches the hills, a deep blue. Only between them does it approach—but never become—true black. And the moon. I knew the sun would be intense, but I wasn’t prepared for this moon. It’s not cold and distant, like the moon in the eastern sky. This moon is big and close. The light it gives off is like a headlight.”

Lauren A. Green, “Boys on the Wall”

“Rafi felt his limbs buckle. His ears popped. Already, he could sense this day scabbing into a memory at the edges of his boyhood. He shut his eyes and palmed the splotch that bloomed on Nico’s upper back in the place wings might sprout. He imagined one day telling the story to a strange woman lying beside him in a bed that smelled of starch, in an unfamiliar city where lights twinkled dimly through the blinds. Her hair, freshly wet from the shower, would leave a shadow on the pillow. He would not tell her that he had loved Nico. Instead, he would tell her about that splotch, burn-like and strange, which he had first glimpsed when they were walking into the ocean.

But listen, this is a love story.”

Kirstin Allio, “Time of the Testudinidae”

“I come across my best friend’s house on Zillow. Dirty dishes in the sink, the medicine cabinet flung open, we haven’t talked in three years. I’m breaking the rule, the fourth wall, not to write about real people. The work-around is that I’m writing about myself, like in the interpretation of dreams everyone is really you. Is her house my house? Is my house a train wreck?”

Meg Pinto, “All These Words”

“My sister and I are not twins—I’m a year older—but we look exceptionally alike. We’re not pretty. We have high foreheads and insignificant chins. Our noses are placeholders in the middle of our faces. We have lank hair and protruding ears. Our skin is pale. We have small mouths, but large, expressive eyes. Our hands are nice, and if I were a different kind of woman I would wear more rings than my simple wedding band. My sister wears no jewelry and her hands are always still.”

Will Johnson, “Renewal”

“I asked how his mama was, but as soon as the words were out of my mouth I realized I only half cared to know. Max said she was alright, that she’d taken a new job doing books at the farm bureau. He said she liked it a lot better. She’d moved from job to job in her last couple of years here, from the funeral home to the savings and loan, then to the steakhouse and then the pizza place. She and a cook she’d been sweet on were closing up but had forgotten to lock the door. One of the other cooks came by to pick up his check and found her leaned against the ice machine with her skirt up, the first cook on top of her. They were both fired the next day and the whole town started talking. Then word got around that people had already seen her out with the Iraq vet guy. There wasn’t much to fight about. It happened. Some folks just get frisky and something takes over and before you know it you’re propped up on an ice machine, finally satisfied.”

Lydia Conklin, “Laramie Time”

“Sometimes, when I was in a certain mood—a dangerous mood maybe, or cruel—I’d speculate on scenarios where the drudgery of domestic life could appeal to some larger, weirder purpose, and I could almost justify the risk of making a child in my ambivalence. What if Matty bore twins, one with my egg and one with hers? Our kids would bond so hard in the womb that it would be like me and Matty combining in that popular, primal way. Matty’s pinched-nosed kid stroking her lips like Matty did, smoothing her T-shirt like Matty did, laughing in a high keen like Matty did, falling in sibling love with my kid with dark messy hair and skinny wrists. Did sperm banks provide an anonymous grab-bag option? We could spend years gathering data on the father through the behavior of our child—he must have short eyebrows, he must like cantaloupe with pepper, he must be mean.”

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