Bangana - Narrative - Fall 2014 Contest winner
I COMMUTE TO WAR five days a week in a station wagon the color of an egg. I count on ten minutes of traffic by the Dunkin’ Donuts intersection. When I slam the car door, I count on the tree above my parking spot depositing a green scrim of pollen on my flight suit. What I can’t count on is it being the same war. Most days I operate over Afghanistan, but I fly in Iraq too. I say flew, I say I fly, and unless you’re out there winging around in an F-16 I don’t want to hear a fucking thing about it. I hear a lot about it. Hell, I used to dish a lot about it.
Because I was Air Force. Eight years flying real planes from real cockpits. We gave the drone operators such shit. Called the reach-back crew geeks. Cubicle monkeys. Made fun of their video-game controllers. Their La-Z-Boy command chairs. We tore them apart if they used words like serve, or deployed, or fly.
But then I had Bug.
A Bad Year For Apples - TriQuarterly - Winter 2013
We had chickens, mostly. I didn’t think I could milk a cow. Brett said “Sure you can,” so there was Sadie who let me duck under her. After, when I held the bucket in my arms, it was warm. Brett mended fences. He was good with soil, figuring out the chemistry of it and planting things in the right places. He took care of the goats because I didn’t like the way they looked at me all together.
When the atoms started moving too fast they said people should leave the densely populated areas, but Brett and I had moved to the farm two years before.
There were supposed to be six of us. We’d schemed things through. We spent Thursdays around a plastic table in someone’s backyard, smoking and stubbing out the butts in a heart-shaped ashtray. We were dreaming of getting out of the city, moving upstate, having a farm, yeah, a farm. Someone knew someone at a Community Sponsored Agriculture project that would buy our stuff. Our crops, we meant. Our crops. We could cover our rent more than easy. Right around the time of night when we were working out the details, a neighbor would stick his head out the window and tell us to shut up. We’d all shout back at him, and then get on our bikes and go home.
Read on ... http://triquarterly.org/fiction/bad-year-apples
The Shapeshifter Principle - Tin House - Fall 2012
It was summertime in Flatbush. I had just graduated high school, the fruit stands smelled rotted, and the coolest place to be was the old Dutch cemetery because of the trees and stones. Everyone was shuffling slow down the sidewalks, dirty feet in sandals, swearing they’d kill themselves if the ice-cream truck didn’t stop jingling.
Our building was a tan cinder block low-rise called the Greenbriar. It had a crest over the door with vines and birds on it. When I came home the night Mama disappeared it looked like someone had tried to dislodge the crest with a penknife. There was a stomped-on orange in the stairwell and about a million cigarette butts. Up in our apartment on the fifth floor I found Joey in the black dark, heating a can of beans on the stove. All I could see was the silhouette of his hand in front of the gaslight. Joey lost his sight when he was eight and if it weren’t for Daphne and me he’d live without any lamps at all.
“Where’s Mama?” I said. I flicked on the light.
“She never picked me up from practice,” he said. “Coach Benny drove me home.”
The only reason I could think of a person would want to live in the Greenbriar was the balconies. Ours was six feet wide and had two camp chairs on it, the seats too low, so you had to look out through the railings. Still, it was outside. “Al fresco,” Mama called it. Where are you going with those bills, Mama? To the damn al fresco, she’d say. I went out and sat in a chair that was made to look like the Puerto Rican flag, even though Mama was from Albany and we were pretty sure our daddy was Egyptian because of a ring Mama wore from him with an ankh on it. I kept a pack of Parliaments outside in a tin and when I opened the pack I was missing a few.
“Joey, have you been smoking my Parliaments?” I said, even though it didn’t seem likely.
“Tina,” he said, “I’m an athlete.”
I slid one out and lit it. I counted them. I was definitely missing three.
Abandoned Cars - Third Coast - Fall 2012
Winner of the Jaimy Gordon Prize in Fiction: Judged by Jaimy Gordon
This is not Lizzie’s story, though she tells it sometimes. Because she earned it. Because she slept with Davis all that summer and soaked the glass out of his hand. It was the summer the Lynches split, and all of Davis’s t-shirts had holes in them and they, the two of them together, burned down half the Christmas tree farm.
The night before, Lizzie and Davis were messing around, really, rolling around. Davis was unbuttoning the too many buttons on Lizzie’s shorts and she was working her fingers into the holes in his t-shirt armpit, making them bigger so he would have to buy a new one.
“Quit it, lady,” he said. Lizzie liked it when he called her that because it made her sound like some exciting woman on the street instead of she, who’d met Davis at the community pool when they were both six. They’d graduated from high school now and had decidedly big plans for the summer because Davis was going to college in the fall, to study Agronomy, and Lizzie wasn’t going anywhere.
Letters In Wartime - Esquire - Winter 2011
78 Word Short Fiction Contest Finalist - Judge Colum McCann
Back then you knew which girls had husbands in the war because when you kissed them they tasted of envelope glue.
Marjorie said, I can't. It aint right.
How could she resist a flat-footed fool like myself?
She couldn't behind the gazebo. Couldn't by the dry bed crick. Couldn't in The Marquis, twice.
Then he came home to a ticker-tape parade. The war was over.
Marjorie doesn't answer any of my letters. My war stories taste like glue.
Who Cooks For You? - Birdsong - Winter 2011
My mother loved birds. Back in Connecticut we heard the mourning doves when we woke up (oo-waoh) and the barred owls dolefully hooting at night. Sometimes she’d point out an owl, sleeping in the hollow of a tree, the hole seemingly stuffed with fluff. All this was fine till she started hooting at them. She’d stand out on our wrap-around deck and hoot and hoot, trying to call the owls down. I gave her a lot of shit for that. I said she was going to turn into the crazy bird lady of Mystic, but she kept at it. I got looks, a mix of pity and disgust from our neighbors. From the cigar-smoking ones, the compulsive laundry-drying ones, and especially the just-clearing-sticks-from-my-yard-which-is-the-thinnest-damn-excuse-for-spying-ever ones. But fuck all of them. Did they want to take care of her?
One night, she slid open the glass door, her body set against the black, and said, “Pssst, Quinn, come here. Pssst, pssst.”
I went out into the dark, into the spring cold, and stood on the deck with my hooting mother. She was barefoot and wore a white nightgown. It was the kind with cut outs at the bottom and a hem that swirled around her ankles as she paced about the deck, calling between cupped hands hoo, hoo, hoo hoo.
“It’s Who Cooks For You,” she said. “That’s what it sounds like. Their calls. Who cooks for you!” So I sat on the deck railing, feet dangling like a child as I smoked through half a pack of cigarettes while my mother continued hooting about who cooked for whom. Then, dead silently, this owl the size of football, bigger, came and perched on a branch not three feet from the deck. He had drag queen eyes that owl, rimmed in black, with a weird filmy lid that slid back and forth instead of blinking and a white mask like a ven diagram. His head sat densely on his chest, no neck to speak of, and he did not so much cock his head as rotate it around and hoot, Who Cooks for You? The strong yellow curve of his beak barely parted when he said it, but she was right. My mother in the moonlight, her white nightgown bright in the dark, the soft bulge of her freckled arms exposed to the air, was right. This owl was asking a question.
I thought about my answer. Who cooks for you? Is that like, who does your dirty work? Or is it more like, who loves you? One of my mother’s favorite expressions used to be, can’t it be both? She resolved all manner of crises this way. I think that was the case with who cooks for you. That it might mean both of those things.
Birdsong Mag Reader's Pick
Throw In Your Coins - The Laurel Review - Winter 2011
Emily had a little white dog named Goya she washed in bluing to keep his coat bright, like old ladies’ hair. He had fur like a mustache on his face and it twitched when he was on the scent. It had been twitching for a month now as he searched for Emily’s ex-boyfriend in their condo. He stuck his nose into cabinets and the space under the couch. The condo was on the South Norwalk marina and sometimes Goya barked at the open water.
“He’s lost at sea!” Emily told him. “Give it up.” She sprayed Lily of the Valley perfume between his pointed ears, hoping to throw him off the scent.
Buoys - The Kenyon Review - Fall 2010
I have two lobsters in my bathtub and I’m not sure I can kill them. New England will know if I don’t. New England will strip away my stripes and scissor my membership card if I cannot kill these lobsters. Henry is from Maine, which I found charming, until we moved here post-honeymoon.
I’m sitting on the rim of my bathtub. It has curled, porcelain feet with flaky rust between the toes. Everything is anthropomorphized in this house—that’s my first problem. My second problem is that I pet the lobsters. I roll up a white-buttoned sleeve and run my pinched fingers along the length of Lobster No. One’s antennae. It feels sensitive and unbreakable like coiled wire. Lobster No. One knocks his crusher claw against my hand, but there’s a thick, pink rubber band binding it up so I’m in no real danger. I stroke Lobster No. Two’s antennae as well, just so they’re even. Both lobsters have dark spotted backs that remind me of Dalmatian puppies. I really should not be thinking of them as puppies. I get a six pack of bottled beer from the fridge and bring it to the bathroom.
This is my plan: I will get blind drunk and then I will kill these lobsters. I tie my hair up into a dark knob and hike my shorts at the waist, so I’m ready. I use the faucet to pry the cap off my bottle and beer geysers up. Fizz slides down the sides and plops in the water like sea foam. Henry says his mom gave her lobsters beer before cooking them. She also bathed them in seawater so they’d have one last taste of home. I ask the lobsters, “Do you feel at home?” Of course not, some bearded yahoo caught them in a pot. Their home is long gone. I don’t think Henry has ever cooked a lobster in his life. He just eats them, to feel authentic. I need the whole town to ratify my authenticity. This is how it works.
Exactly Halfway Down- The L Magazine- Summer 2009
Rosie was the sort of blonde whose eyebrows and inhibitions were nonexistent. I used to beg her for stories. Aw, tell me about the woods behind the running track and the way the backseat flips down! When you get older these cheapo romances don't usually impress anymore, but I'm twenty-five and I still think her exploits were the stuff of legend. It was Rosie who picked me up the night of Hank's party. She'd had her license longer so it followed that, if we were going to be drinking beers, she should be the one to drive because she had experience. Her car smelled like vanilla mall perfume and winter mint gum.
This Is About The Radio - The Brooklyn Review - Summer 2009
This barbershop was bad news, Sam could tell from the sidewalk. There were combs suspended in glass jars of blue juice. A poster in the window showed a man with lightening bolts buzzed into the hair at his temples. And the price! Sam tugged at his hair with thumb and forefinger. It reached his shoulders. He watched red and blue stripes chase each other’s tails around the barber’s pole until he felt the sidewalk lurch beneath his feet. The barber knocked on the inside of the glass.
“You coming in?” He was bald.
“No,” Sam said, “I don’t think so. Not for twenty dollars.”
The barber threw his hands up in the air.
Cheapskates!” He made an all-encompassing gesture with his comb. “Everyone in New York now. They are all cheapskates.”