I spent my life looking for the map until I realized I had to draw my own.
She is silent and still. An almond-sized heart flutters under layers of downy brown feathers, as delicate as lace, paper wings tucked into a rib cage made of air. Holding this tiny creature makes you realize just how powerful you are. One shift of pressure would end her life—the macabre vision flashes for a strange, primal moment—but you kiss her little head and tell her she is safe and hold her ever so gently in your hands, hoping she can feel your good intentions. It is rare to find a dove flying in your kitchen. A pigeon, maybe, but a kind, gentle dove seemed like an omen. She was frantic, careening into walls, until finally lodging herself behind a soup pot. Now she is in your hands. What now?
The Bard Owl
At first, Rob tallied each day of Milo’s homeschooling with a valorous pencil mark behind the computer until the wall resembled a prison sentence and he stopped counting. The coffee ring on his pine desk grew permanent and the knot beside it became a Rorschach test that shifts according to mood. Tonight it is a clown, and a clown is not a welcome sight in the shadows of a gray dour… Thursday? Monday? Rob moves the mouse, checks the date. His face is chalk dust in the flickering glow, harsh angles and parched eyes.
Deep in the flatlands of Diamond, Missouri, amid tangles of shingle oak and cypress, a little boy was born without a name. No one knows exactly when, because the little boy was not born free. He had dark skin and a fate written in the cotton fields, and when slave raiders arrived in the middle of the night, they kidnapped him, his sister, and their young mother and sold them in Arkansas. It cost the infant’s owner a broken-down racehorse, worth three hundred dollars, to bring him back, but his mother and sister were never heard from again.
A Tree Grows in Mangochi
Ask me, she said. Ask you what? My name. Buseje. It means ask me. Can I kiss you here? How about here? Here? Keep asking, Buseje laughed. Her fingers explored the gentle contours of his chest. She breathed the strange sweetness of his corn silk hair. He was an afterimage of the sun, a specter in the dimly lit room. As the last candle nub dissolved into the neck of an empty bottle, their shadows, indistinguishable and dancing, merged into black. Jar flies blended with bedlam from the tavern down the hill, an argument in Yao percussive thunder in thick air.
The phone rang in the middle of the night and on the other end of the line a man told Neil that his mother had passed in her sleep after an uneventful evening watching game show reruns with the Plassman lady down the hall she didn’t like. The man’s voice was apologetic and leaden with sorrow, as if this was a most unusual occurrence in a home for the aged, and after five excruciating minutes, Neil cut him off. I’m OK, he said. Really. It’s OK.
- V+ Fiction Award Winner
Twenty Miles South of MaconV+ Fiction Award Winner
One night Mabel kept driving. Her arms hung heavy on the wheel. Her mind was blank. The fork in the road passed, and with it the turnoff to Harveys Supermarket where she would buy three cans of boiled chicken, a bag of reduced-fat Wheat Thins, a loaf of bread, and a pound of tomato-shaped objects to last her the week. Tillary called them tomato-shaped objects because she used to work at the Macon farmers market and felt the new job was beneath her. A tomato, she said, should taste like something. Trailing vines. Summer rain. These things taste like the tears of the Mexican kid that picked them, and life is not worth living when you’ve reached the point of eating like this.
Every afternoon Nandi traces her dreams into the ribs of a bull with no name. She nestles her face into his side, feels the movements of masticated grass through the corridors of his gut, and sometimes her voice joins the rumble, a Texas girl’s scat with a jazz band of cicadas. The bull’s hide is jet black and oil-slick with sweat, rank with the earthen wild of muscle and grit, and when Nandi stretches her anemic arms around the creature she too is strong. Two thousand pounds of strength pulses through her chest with each of the bull’s soporific breaths. Two thousand pounds of strength help her face another stone-silent dinner and another untethered day.
Smoke Trails on a Burning River
The truth is, I don’t know how to pray. The words, they just don’t come. If you can feel me like I feel you, you know my heart, and maybe you can see it, too. I’d imagine it’s burnt black, because there is a scalding vat of iron in my chest, and I haven’t slept, Ma, I haven’t slept for eight days.
Rise Again, a Sailor to Destroy
She emerged as an apparition one night, a glowing ember on reflective waves, and danced her devotion to the star-flecked sky. She did this every night, for her admirers spanned galaxies. Constellations pushed through the dark cloak that is always thickest over endless water, and as the years passed, the sky became even whiter with birthing stars. It is said that she is the cosmic mother, that her movements send a ripple of light upward to undulate with ether, and from this holy union comes a new chapter in a never-ending tale. The universe will end if she stops dancing.
The sun has long set on what could be her last day in human form, but Maya doesn’t notice. She is submerged in darkness, alone at her kitchen table, toying with a metallic capsule the size of a grain of rice. It bounces from her fingers with a tinny ping, the sound of a pinhead in an empty airplane hangar, and it boggles Maya’s mind that in this small capsule exists all the knowledge in the world. Even more astounding to her is the silence that allows her to hear it: Before the Great Shift, her Washington Heights apartment throbbed with bachata and the rapid-fire braggadocio of the Dominican roosters who spent restless nights in lawn chairs downing forties as gypsy cabs cruised the block. They are all gone. And if Maya slides the metallic capsule under her tongue, she will be gone, too. It is 10:01 p.m. She has less than two hours to decide.