Caught in the Mosh
Yoda has taught at the university for years, but this afternoon, as he got his coffee from El Don Motor Lodge lobby vending machine, he can’t remember the name of his class or the building he’d taught in for how long? He stands on the sidewalk. Cars zoom by, and the Number 66 bus belches smoke as it travels west on the Mother Road. He looks down at his shirt. Two letters in Anthrax, his daughters’ favorite band, were splashed with bleach, so it just says ANT AX. He looks further down. His khakis are wrinkled. And what is that stain?…
T-Rouge and That Big Bad Gator
When T-Rouge’s mama told her to go down to Maw Maw’s to fetch the butter for her roux, she told that girl to be careful. She ought to bring her bubba along, she told her. “I’m a big girl,” T-Rouge said. “I don’t need any man to bring me anywhere.” Mama told her to stay on the path and speak to nobody…
When it was finally over, they walked out of their half-mangled shack through the side door because the front door was blocked by a fallen tree that had smashed through the living room window, sending a constellation of glass, and white flower-petals, onto the ancient, low-pile, dark gray carpet, making it look like a shabby, inverted night sky neither of them wanted to touch but which, because they had no place else to go—what with the roads flooded—they would clean together…
If I Lost It, I Could Find It
I’ve been listening to a lot of elevator music lately. Sometimes the tracks move me to tears. Maybe, I think, I am rewiring my brain. Does that make me less real? Then again, every part of me was part of something else first. I tell my father I am blissed out on Muzak and he apologizes to me for no longer possessing the energy of a younger person…
All the known stories
It was December 4th, and we were 17, the both of us. I had invited Soni over because I knew I couldn’t stand the Sunday night alone. There we were, in the kitchen, trading stories. Her on that side of the island, me on this side.
“Did I ever tell you,” she said, looking and not looking at her pale purple phone, “Did I ever tell you about the day we met Satan?”
That’s a good sentence, I said to myself. Remember it…
Everybody knows student council elections are just popularity contests, but I’m still shocked that our classmates thought it would be a good idea to put Zak in charge of anything. Don’t get me wrong, I love the guy; he’s been my best friend ever since we met in toddler swim class. (We had identical SpongeBob trunks. Two-year-olds’ friendships are not based on much.) But Zak’s a few fries short of a Happy Meal, and the Madison High Class of 2023 deserves better leadership than he is capable of offering…
Degrees of Separation (nonfiction)
• In 1997 my mother visits a fertility clinic; she is told she will never have children—she falls pregnant naturally three months later.
• Julie Radford writes Flu at the Zoo, published in 1997, in which the zoo is closed due to a bout of influenza spreading amongst the animals and the zookeepers.
• The zoos close due to a global pandemic, and my brother returns from the Phillipines with a pain shooting up and down his leg…
Grief and Laundry
Cheek resting on the back of my hand, melting into distraction, I press down on the backs of passing clover mites causing them to burst and bleed bright pomegranate on the pavement. For every broken carcass staining the concrete there are a thousand more living mites that vibrate and skitter across the ground, passing by the end of my nose and disappearing behind my elbow…
Doug attacks what’s left of the grass and what’s left of the bluebells and the foxgloves vibrating with hungry bees. Nothing in the garden is spared the dull steel of his spade. I watch through vinegar streaks on the sliding kitchen door. He stopped cleaning when I came down this morning. Disappeared outside, didn’t look at me. Maybe he’ll speak on the way to the hospital. Ask how I’m doing…
In the Here and Now
He switched realities whenever he found something inconvenient. Say, when he got into the shower, expecting warm water, receiving an icy rush, he would switch to one where his hot water heater hadn’t run out. If he ran a traffic light and a cop pulled him over, he switched to a reality where he was being notified about a broken headlight…
With Words Lighter Than Air
That evening, as David sat on a kitchen stool outside of Malone’s bungalow, he confessed his crime to her while she prepped him for a haircut.
“I cursed at the kids today.”
“Yikes!” Malone said as she reached down to pick up the scissors from the box and then stood up and looked him in the eyes. “I’ve done that before.”
“No, I didn’t just curse in their presences, I cursed at them.”
“Sara told me already.” Malone circled him, assessing his hair. “Did you apologize?”
The Cable Installers’ Choir
I stand in the back as the cable installers warm up their voices. My cable installer, the one who invited me, massages his throat, his lips mouthing syllables. They’re wearing their work uniforms, blue polos and black pants and black shoes. I count the tiles in the church’s basement ceiling, tell myself if there’s an even number of squares there won’t be any encores…
Ingrid had big plans for her future, thought maybe she’d become an astronaut or forensic scientist, but she grew up to become a pebble and not even a pretty one. She couldn’t figure out how it happened. She must have done something wrong. Nevertheless, her pebbled existence was not unpleasant and not uneventful…
The small college that hosted the summer writers’ conference was nestled beside woods so deep the air felt damp and smelled of frogs. Nearly two years without students there, the school had been partially reabsorbed and vines dropped like spider silk from lampposts, snaked across the paved walkways connecting dorm to lecture hall. Beside the path to the bookstore, someone pulled a rubber Chewbacca mask over a tree stump in what felt like a nod to the bears….
In twelve songs, the kid tries to capture what he feels about life, love, and lack of. There is this girl in his 7thperiod drafting class (accidentally, a scheduling issue) who punctuates her sentences with swabs of chapstick across her bottom lip. And the chapstick girl, he discovered after many long and winding conversations, doesn’t believe in dancing in the rain or making out on the hood of the car…
Travis is Not My Cousin (nonfiction)
I picture Travis from Missouri as my favorite cousin.
He is not. But the brain has its own casting department.
Travis may be thirty or ninety. He may enjoy eschatology or fantasy football. Travis may take annual portraits of his nine children in matching striped overalls. He may make solitary daily pilgrimages to the 7-Eleven for Bahama Mama hot dog combos. He may argue with strangers on the internet as to whether hot dogs are sandwiches…
Revel in a lukewarm shower. The droplets have a metallic scent, but it isn’t often you feel this much warmth.
Dress yourself in a gray sweat suit. Put your wet hair up; let it down when the weight of it starts pulling at your scalp. Fill your bottle of water at the tap. Sip. Breathe. Gather the dirty clothes, shove them into a black garbage bag; haul it down two flights of stairs. Be frustrated with the wet hair sticking lankly to your brow. Tie your hair back up…