As it happened: You were hired to attend to a dinner party held in a lakeside cabin on a foggy night. You arrived alone and were instructed to bring your own cleaning supplies. For this inconvenience, you will be reimbursed.
‘Two quarter-pounders, no patty,’ a small man behind the counter shouted. I almost let out a sigh of relief. Then, I remembered that one of the meatless burgers was mine and felt even more depressed.
I have seen the hearts of most creatures set upon the table, but never the heart of the wolf. The mottled purple thumbprint of the fish, the soft apple of the black bear, the pulp of the deer and the rabbits and the squirrels indistinguishable when slickened onto the canvas of my palm. But the fruit of the wolves we have always been denied. When we hear their howls, Papa locks the door and bars the windows. There is much I wish to ask him, but the truth of the wolves will never be mine to know. I am learning to accept this. 
Nothing’s changed here in fifty years and it won’t in another. If Gregory comes with me, even after four years it’ll still be true that the bottoms are empty, the Hill is tall, doctors are liars and men are swine. Save for, I’ll have a degree and he’ll have a little exposure.
Everyone in my town is a man, and every one of them has those gorgeous muscles you see on television. They are sometimes on television themselves, the men of my town. Our town is not known for much beyond its strong, beautiful men. If you visit the public spaces of my town, you will find men flexing for one another. You will find men checking out one another’s biceps and triceps and quadriceps for tone and mass. It is lonely, being a weak and ugly man in my town. 
He is the one to break the silence. He tells her about his childhood and the stories his mother used to tell him. How much he misses her now that she’s passed. How he misses his family far from home, but also feels detached. How it feels impossible for him to return.
How sometimes our bodies grow and our minds don’t follow. And what was his overwhelmed aunt to do but move in with his Pentecostal mother. What was left to be done but pray. What could he do but sleep. His never-photographed cousin babbling lullabies to lull him to the dull dark of slumber. 
You remember your parents in the driveway, the way your mother unnecessarily adjusted her skirt at the moment you had expected applause. You think it is all your parents fault, this artlessness you carry with you. You start to hate them.
At that moment, Brix felt the ship a bubble; disjointed from everything else, its float was a rebellion, an expulsion. But the world hadn't expelled the ship like a black sheep or a bad egg, rather the ship had expelled the world, rejecting its force, pulling away, leaving it one limb the less.
The audience members exit toward the other arena. It must be getting near time to announce the grand champion, the doggiest of dogs. I’ve already experienced the epitome of dogdom, though, in my perfect Border Collie. I don’t need a panel of judges to tell me anything.
“You’re even more beautiful in person,” he tells her, and she wonders if this means she doesn’t look good in photos, a fact that her sister’s former modelling agent should have noticed since Sonja usually looked better in photos than in real life, mostly because of her smile, which she knew to whip out for the big bucks.
I was talking about 2011, when peace had returned to the state after the long insurgency, but we didn’t really know if it would stay for long and I had to take a decision regarding my life: to leave the state to study in Delhi, or stay in the city, study here, pursue a career here. You know, peace in this state is like weather. Really unpredictable. 
A little later that night, as I was packing to leave, my mom stopped by my room on the way to hers. “You are a disgrace to your family,” she said. “Look what you’ve done. Now your dad doesn’t have a job anymore. What is he supposed to do? Ever since you were a child, we tried to teach you the importance of studying hard so that you can get a good job. All for what? For nothing. You have ruined us. I hope you’re happy.”
I have been barred from my local nursery, even from looking at the cute little succulents that are supposed to require less maintenance. I had to create multiple fake Reddit usernames to post pictures of withering plants and find out what ailed them so no intrepid internet sleuth could pin the mass genocide of local fauna on one person.
That’s why I told my daughter not to marry a man whose mother is alive. Best if the mother is a goat or dead. That’s the only requirement I have: don’t marry a man unless his family’s on fire.
Mother’s eyes search my sleeping body
watching, for the rise and fall of my chest, praying
Faiz and I broke up a week after my mother’s death. It wasn’t a painful conversation. It was what it was. I hadn’t loved him for a long time and I was too passive to break up with him, he said. I had become monosyllabic around him, hadn’t even bothered to invite him to my mother’s funeral. Yes, he used the word invite. 
The third mother will be sent for by a man on the mainland who is seeking a wife. After she arrives, she will imagine getting into a bathtub and pulling a mattress over herself, and then she will do it. Two weeks before this, when she meets her smiling white in-laws for the first time, the sky will turn to bruised green, and they will usher her down into their basement.
I know you may not believe me, since I’ve already admitted to lying, but the very true kernel of this story is that my father has, or, before his death from prostate cancer, had, a collection of clown art.
Father Cleary was fully robed. He leant against the rear counter, facing the sacristy entrance with his arms folded across his chest, as if waiting for Benjie. Benjie knew he must have heard the sound. He averted his eyes and held the cracked chalice at his side, away from Father’s view.
Cat shit on the floor this morning. Mom stepped in it. Mom held Cat her by the neck, gripped the saggy skin meant for a mother’s mouth and ripped her off the couch. My stomach shattered as Cat screamed something low and feral, like the time a gopher got caught in Stranger’s lawn mower. The whole block heard; a patch of his grass was dead for weeks, stripped with ammonia. It took four boys to get out the blood.
I wonder if the stain judges me when I flop onto my drenched mattress and set my Tinder to everyone. I only swipe right on couples bold enough to look for a third, but shy enough to only post photos of their torsos, no heads. I swipe right on chests that remind me of Noah.
Mia didn’t recognize her own body. She only knew it was her own body because of the familiar abrasion. She identified this scraping as soul against skull. Mia believed in the soul since no one had ever told her otherwise.
I was born in Ridgeville, South Carolina, in the house that my mother was raised in, but there were never any pictures of her on the walls. Grandma took them all down when my mama walked out on us. Grandma said she burned them all too, but I don’t know if I believed that. She must have kept a picture of her only daughter. I never looked for it though.
The You men are for the end-end of a night, when B’s hand is between his legs. He stares at them and squeezes himself. He thinks about the You he can be with. He imagines himself on the You. He touches himself and imagines that the You is touching his body. He imagines his own hand is another hand. He feels himself become someone else, as if he is watching himself and the You enjoying each other.
Remember the way you’d tell the story differently every time, how you couldn’t remember the first thing he ever said to you, so you’d make it up. The easy version: he had you at hello. The soppy version: did he know you? He felt like he’d seen you before. Maybe in his dreams. The funny version: did it hurt, you know, when you fell from heaven? 
She stood face forward in front of the hole, those carpenter ants now drumming fire through her body, her mouth slightly parted, the pinkness of her tongue peeking out, her eyes slanted, her heavy lids hiding machetes she wanted to cut Jackson, Junior’s soul with.
I miss a lot of things. I miss people as soon as I leave them. This happened today, when this friend of mine—the one with his head bent over his fourth taco—and I met for coffee, during which I found myself wanting to be alone.
You play the dressing game with your mother like this: every item of clothing in your closet and dresser drawers ends up on your bedroom floor. You mix and match, mix and match, mix and match until both of you stare each other down; parallel stances, hands on hips, and eyebrows knitted in defiance. She tells you that she doesn’t know where you come from sometimes, such a small body for so much attitude. Such a tiny girl for so much chutzpah.
I can hear him through my shut eyelids. Bent over in a fit, I wheeze against the radiator, indifferent to its warmth. Somewhere in the kitchen Jorge opens and closes drawers, each emitting a different hollow note. He intends to bury the ashtray—probably among dirty porcelain, empty take-out boxes, and more mugs. I recover, only to knead dust on my fingertips. The apartment is filthy, that much I can tell. His mother, Angela, may she rest in peace, would not approve.
He knew the facts: The tomatoes were not ripening, though day after day he offered his eyes and pruned them and watered them and watched the sun. It was too hot. In these extreme temperatures, the tomatoes wouldn’t begin the process of senescence and therefore wouldn’t ripen. Senescence was, essentially, the process of getting old. The natural process of aging in plants includes the ripening of fruits, which is often induced by ethylene.
Yes, Audrey is wearing a graphic T-shirt with a depiction of Lake Arrowhead. After killing her, someone stuffed the earmuffs in her mouth and wrote #BroosterBabe in black sharpie on her right arm. Perhaps it has a meaning, perhaps not. Most things do not. Do not get lost in the details.
The apology was platinum. The publicist hit all the right notes: the contrite acceptance of responsibility, the head-hanging, the hand-wringing, the self-flagellation, the commitment to listening and learning and striving to change. The reminder of daughter, the apology to wife, the reassurance of positive work for womankind in other areas.
It was one summer where it seemed both of us suddenly came out of grieving, or something changed—enough time has passed. We started talking to each other again without the television screen buffering our feelings and somehow it came out that we both wanted to be parents still but how? We were in our late 40s, we could no longer create a baby.
Tito Pancho from the butcher’s told his cousin Manny that his Guadalupe medal had cried real tears the day his dog gave birth to a litter of four. Only two had survived the night, and Manny, a close worker under Glo’s father, gave the girls the stronger pup of the two. Glo doesn’t know what happened to the runt; it could be on the streets with the other strays, or perhaps long dead.
Liss said, we are motel mermaids, we are made of magic. Which sounded better than it actually was, how we were housekeeping for the Blue Haven Motel on an island in the middle of Lake Erie. During the day we drank gin together and did what Liss called keeping up appearances, which meant we went to work on any obvious dirt and left the rest. The worst was when we found bloodstains, because then you had to change the sheets.
For months Yessi had felt nothing. Everyone else in her class saw colors, felt tingles, had visions of spirit animals doing weird things like making herbal tea or playing the violin. For months she struggled even with the most basic poses, the ardho mukha svasana, down dog, the vrkasana, tree pose, the ananda balasana, happy baby. She had no balance and no strength, while everyone else seemed to move like ballerinas, holding poses with grace and not a drop of sweat.
Chisom and I were best friends and worst enemies. We were always fighting. We gutted ourselves like the fishermen did to the fish on the boats that hovered in the horizon. Something about Chisom always pricked me, pushed me to the edge of madness. But she was my best friend, my only friend.
Paloma froze. She almost asked what he meant, but she knew, even though this wasn’t the story that she’d been telling herself. When she squeezed her eyes shut, she saw the black Cadillac not just loaded with trunks and bags full of the Señor’s corpse, but all their bodies, trundling off over a dirt road through the Acantilados region into a canyon at sundown.
That’s how the four years went. I’d ride around with the güeros and get high, drunk when we could. That’s how I found myself, how I remade myself. If I wasn’t brown and I wasn’t white, I could always be fucked up.
More than our designations, it was the food we ate that set us apart. Food loomed between the Queen and me—a solid, sky-high edifice sealing our places in the hierarchy.
The woman who goes before me is an alcoholic but she’s in deep denial about it. Sometimes, when the white noise machine isn’t working, I can hear them yelling at each other on the other side of the door. DO YOU THINK IT’S NORMAL TO DRINK A BOTTLE OF WINE A NIGHT? my therapist yells, and the woman yells back, YES I DO. But at other times I can hear them laughing away like old friends, and I think to myself, a little bitterly, that my therapist never laughs that way with me.
Behind the old woman, next to the shelf of vagina puppets, was a set of hooks for coats, unoccupied since we’d all draped ours over our chairs. She put one damp bag on each hook, spreading it carefully so it would dry. I imagined her home, the knick-knacks she dusted but never really looked at, the cross above the mirror.
Mothers liked me. I was prim, with straight hair. They delighted in how I didn’t need wrinkles or children to make me bitter, as I already was, and had been for a long time. I was smart for this, they ascertained, precocious. They went on to appreciate the neutral palette of my clothes, and then my culinary preference for thin soups and fresh meats, and then the precision of my parallel park. I was a serious woman, they deduced. I’d protect their sons. I’d keep them warm.
It isn’t enough to just know Frank. Frank wants to wave hello to you as you unload your groceries. And Frank says hi very often to you on your way to the store. He doesn’t just want to keep it distant either. He offers to take your mail in for you when you travel far away on vacation. And you say yes because he is also taking in the mail for your other neighbors and Frank and the neighbors agree that this is what neighbors do.
“How’s the Alpha Diet working out for you? Feeling better? Ready to carry a baby?” She patted the cavernous gape of my stomach, looking the angry way she looked whenever she didn’t want me to know she needed to cry. I reached for a second handful of meat, but she pulled the plate out of my reach and I dropped my hand, unable to stretch my arm out to meet her.
I first read the manuscript – the samizdat – on my only excursion to the Territory, part of an official engagement in which I’d been invited to act as interpreter to the Ambassador of the Outer Region. It was a rare opportunity to visit the notoriously secretive state. My diary from that period is due to be published later this year, although this is about another story entirely.
Four elderly men in tracksuits passed the bench. He noticed one of them, a white-bearded man, thin and pale with a long nose, was staring pointedly, annoyance frozen on his face. He stared back at the man but did not say anything. 
Sunny gets mad at me because I assume all of the children will die. She likes to remind me that there must be some like us, grave but no fatal cases. I concede that she has a point.
There are crumbling cottages all over the island, built long ago by Juba’s people. They were made from large chunks of stone, built to last, but abandoned during the war. We found one not too destroyed by fire, hurricane, or time, and it provides enough shelter for us to sleep soundly during the night. We nest down beside the birds and bugs and the things that remain from long ago.