It was, we told ourselves, a matter of being in the right place at the right time. Nadia hadn’t even noticed the man watching through the schoolyard fence as she turned cartwheels with her kindergarten pals. She hadn’t known he would go from class to class afterward looking for her, take her away to train with him, to change her life forever. We knew it was only a matter of time before one of us would be discovered by someone in the know. Bela Karolyi lived in America now, which seemed auspicious. Readiness was all.
We knew all about stranger danger, of course—creeps and weird guys who offered candy, coaxed children into cars or knocked on doors posing as salesmen or Jehovah’s Witnesses. Men like Bela Karolyi took little girls and made them stars; other men made them disappear like volunteers in a half-finished magic trick. At the supermarket, under the harsh fluorescence of the dairy aisle, rows upon rows of missing children peered at us from the sides of milk cartons. At the breakfast table those milk carton kids provided a doleful, grainy counterpoint to Mary Lou Retton’s triumphant, hi-res, Wheaties-box grin. We knew there were certain risks involved in seeking glory. You couldn’t flinch. You had to be able to hurtle your body through space and nail the dismount. You had to know which magician to trust so you didn’t end up sawn in half. We were pretty sure we’d be able to tell the difference. The real challenge was getting noticed.
Joyce swatted at the pine dust settling in her hair. She was sanding The Etta, a remote-controlled aircraft that would fly fifty miles above sea level. Once there, it would glide to the edges of outer space to record a clear view of the earth. Steve had shown Joyce a YouTube video of a plane with a similar mission that had failed to keep its video connection. “Shoot,” Joyce told Steve when she watched the video. “That’s my next project. I want one of my planes to travel to outer space and back.”
The other morning I picked up a hitchhiker and it turned out to be Walt Whitman. The beard should’ve been a dead giveaway, but I didn’t put it together at first. Most tramps wear beards like that, honestly: long, scraggly things all yellowed around the mouth with nicotine. You’d think it’d be easy to tell a poet from a bum, but it ain’t.
I was at a standstill on the Limehouse Bridge, the Stono River shimmering below. A few other vehicles were waiting to cross, but most folks had already evacuated. Walt Whitman was walking all lazy down the median, his grimy thumb stuck up in the air, looking pitifully into car windows as he passed. He had a battered guitar tied to his back with a piece of rope. When he got to my truck, he mashed his face against my window and just stayed there, leering at me until I finally surrendered and said, “Alright, come on then.”(More …)
I was walking in woods with a friend. She said, “I hope you can get us back.” I didn’t know if I could get us back. We were looking for something to burn. We were going to take magic mushrooms and offer ourselves up to the irrational. We came to a stream and crossed it. On the other side was a house with a man and a dog. The man was exceedingly handsome and wearing a cowboy hat. I asked my friend if he was the type she would fall for. She said, “I think men like that won’t be attracted to me.” I thought everyone was attracted to her. We passed a clump of dried pods on sticks. They were ugly and beautiful and looked like the thing we should burn. On the way back, she spoke about her ex-boyfriend and said, “I was very turned on by him, but when I saw his films, I thought, ‘You are a man I want to strangle’.” After sex, they would look at each other and say, “Attraction is all we have.” I thought it sounded romantic. (More …)
A stranger visited my mother’s apartment and said, “I live across the street. I have been watching you and your husband for twenty years, and I notice he’s gone. I can’t believe anything but death has separated you.” She pointed through my mother’s curtains to her building. She was small and wearing a navy pants suit and patent leather flats. My mother offered her tea and cried in the kitchen. Tiny leaves were budding on the bony branches of the bougainvillea on her terrace.
I was living in Columbus, Ohio on the top floor of the nondescript house where famous woman-hater James Thurber had lived. The house sat on a forlorn street, near two highways and a thinly-populated business zone. I worked in a circus, riding a unicycle and juggling clubs. I dreamed of lions and did not pay attention to safety instructions. (More …)
Bo sat up front with daddy. Julius rode in the back with me. The dirty rag tied around his arm looked black in the moonlight; all that blood mixing in with the dirt. It was too dark to see his eyes, but my memory was fresh. More than the shock of having been shot, his nonsensical words and vacant stare resulted from a different kind of trauma. To be sure, the bullet hole in his arm was a problem, but the scowling woman in the blue kerchief—the one standing on the edge of the crowd, curses leaking from her blood-red lips—she was our primary concern.
Daddy hit a bump. The car groaned, and so did Julius. I had my arms around him, but he was too heavy. Too big. He was practically lying in my lap, his damaged arm hanging lifeless at his side. He stank of vomit, and sweat; blood, and strong perfume. I imagined it rubbing off on me, the curse of the one who’d worn it, somehow seeping into my bones. I shivered, and tried to hold my oldest brother steady, but it was a battle I was going to lose. (More …)
I know the two girls are lying, so I invite them in. They’re leggy and slender with sharp little noses, teacup breasts, straight hair and pearlescent skin. If they had been a touch more professional, paid some attention to detail, I might have believed them and said sorry, I can’t help you. But now I’m curious.
“What did you say your name was?” I direct my question to the blonde, who so far has done the talking. Behind them a cardinal whistles in the big autumnal maple in my yard, red against gold against a clean blue wash of sky, a beautiful sight that even so does nothing for me.
“I told you already, it’s Vanessa.” She tilts her chin up at the ‘V’ and hisses the double-‘S’ through bared teeth. (More …)
The blue jay stole the baby straight out of the bird bath. Lorely wailed when she saw the little head bobbing in the jay’s grabby beak. The baby’s mouth was set into a silent ‘O’ of shock, its eyes fixed on Lorely. She raced after the bird calling, “Thief!” but the jay, muscular and confident, skimmed the tops of the sunflowers and disappeared within the feathery camouflage of the cedar tree.
After she yelled for her mother (no answer), her father (not home), and her older brother (didn’t care), Lorely began to climb the cedar, her bare feet finding prickly traction, her hands soon sticky with sap. She had just turned ten, and while she was too old for dolls, she was not too old to pretend she was a fairy or a monkey or a mother as long as she kept her fantasy a secret. When she was left alone in the garden (and everyone was glad to assume she was out there being happy and out of their hair), she put her hands in mud and made porridge, or she dug down in her mother’s best rose bed until she had a hole that smelled of death. There she made her mucky potions. Sometimes those potions involved making babies.(More …)
My father has been going on about the mystery bottle of wine on the kitchen counter for five minutes now. He stands cooking, surrounded by the aqua colored walls of the house I grew up in. Traveler’s Palm fronds brush the windows outside. It’s windy and cold for Thanksgiving in the Florida Keys.
“Who brought it?” Dad yells. His voice is slightly rounded, like he’s having an allergic reaction. He’s been deaf since childhood and even though he sometimes wears hearing aids to help him, usually he chooses not to.(More …)
I was pulling guard duty with a guy named Styza who claimed to be a badass Marine—a real haji killer. As far as I could tell he’d never killed anything, was just some Long Island punk who didn’t want to be a yuppie like his parents. I hated the guy. But I’d been paired with him for everything to this point and was trying my best to get along with him, or at least tolerate him.
“This war is boring,” he said.
“Boring is good,” I said.
I believed that, because what sane person wanted that kind of excitement? I’d only joined the Marines because of my father, who himself had been killed during the invasion of Iraq. Now, five years later, I was sitting in the desert thinking about how stupid that was, my following him, like a dog following its master over a cliff.(More …)
Her name was Maria and she was beautiful. A woman knows. That primal sense of competition kicks in and you recognize that even if you had just stepped out of the beauty salon with flawless hair and makeup, wearing a designer dress, men would turn their heads and look, not at you, but at Maria. (More …)
It may surprise you to know that some of the early residents of Musselshell County eventually left our prairie paradise. Their reasons were legion; their counsel most often their own. Many were laboring men of little skill or motivation and thus cursed to blow where the whims of the wind would take them; some were families ill-suited to the demands of these Montana plains or beset by misfortune; and others, though few, were lone women sadly adrift without benefit of father, brother, or husband. (More …)
I was sitting on a curb behind the AmericInn, having a smoke. They’d put me in a room on the top floor, four stories up, with a nice view of the town’s new temple, but the windows didn’t open. They never do anymore. I filled a water bottle with wine, took the elevator down. (More …)
You walk into the coffeehouse and pick a seat beside the thin woman whose beauty is coiled into tight vines of hair. Never seen her here before, you think as you slide into the bench beside her, careful not to get caught looking in her direction. (More …)