Land of the Living

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The noise and bustle in Kiko’s Deli was turned up a notch. Margaret counted eleven people in the line in front of her. A few read the chalkboard menu as they inched along in the line, while most thumb-tapped like mad on smartphones.

The woman in front of Margaret talked loudly on her cell and rocked a stroller back and forth. The plump, large-headed baby was propped upright with his feet dangling off the edge of the seat. He rubbed at his eyes, and then suddenly his body became rigid. Margaret braced herself for the scream.

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Cowboy Up

Gina was pretty enough to be a model, but had a lazy eye. None of that mattered to Lance. Gina saved money for corrective eye surgery by working at the Stirrup Bar. Lance joined the fire department, was crazy brave, and brought all his money home to Gina.

But at the paper mill fire, Lance’s hands were badly burned, a painful, angry pink. The fingers of his left hand were fused together like four melted candles, hooking downward grotesquely.

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It Was a Goldfinch

My girlfriend sent me to town before I was really even awake, and I can’t for the life of me remember the name. If I call and ask her, it’s just another fight of how I don’t listen, of how I don’t care about things, of how I don’t love her—but I’m no monster. It was a difficult name to remember. Food—she said she needed food for it. Bird seed. I go to the little shop near Second Street thinking of how many types there can possibly be. And soon I see there are enough to require an entire aisle in the store; a large sign swinging overhead, dedicated to birds and their food. But I still can’t remember the name of it. I wonder for a moment why she even has a goddamn bird to begin with.

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Sarcasm

“I’m not doing this, Margret,” Dave says as Margret leads him through a small coffee shop.

“I’m telling you, Dave, you’re going to like her. I just met her, but I know you two are going to be perfect for each other. She even does that sarcastic thing you like to do all the time.”

“Oh boy, I can’t wait.”

“Yeah, that thing. Now please just be nice.”

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Dark Spots on Gray Fabric

As magical as technology had become, phone calls never seemed to change: whether over physical wires or invisible signals darting through the sky, tinny and alien voices still endured. “Bernard, I’m sorry, but we can’t have you alone at home right now,” she said. Behind the distortion, perhaps she was sympathetic, perhaps condescending. The poor connection made anything possible.

Bernard clutched his own phone tighter and muttered. “What is this babysitter bullshit?”

A sigh that should’ve been directed at a recalcitrant toddler echoed in his ear. The likely judgment tipped, and not in his favor. “Do you really want me to say it?”

Steam curled up and out of Bernard’s chipped coffee mug. “Yes.”

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The New Haircut

After his new and totally revolutionary haircut, David walks into a record shop down the block and asks if they have a copy of Walt Mink’s rare sophomore LP.

The shop owner gives him a squinty glance for a beat then asks if this is a gag. David shrugs to indicate both “no” and also “why.” The owner explains that he was just in here last week, asking for that same album.

“No, I wasn’t,” David clarifies. “I’ve never been in this record shop in my life,” he adds dramatically.

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Pennyroyal Tea

Years ago, women drank Pennyroyal tea as a solution to a desperate situation. Not without risk, a small miscalculation could cause death. It was a risk a woman took when she had no other option. The silver-haired woman remembered.

Scanning the room, she wondered if the Governor and Lieutenant Governor enjoyed their tea. Washed cups left no trace of the contents. When she had satisfied herself that no evidence remained, she removed the rubber gloves and placed them in the briefcase. She closed the door behind her and walked toward the elevator.

No one noticed the small dark haired male carrying a briefcase.

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The Beast in the Jungle

I escort Grandad on the torturous journey from his room to the dining room at the back of the house. I support him by wrapping my arm around his shoulders and nudging him forward inch by inch, my other hand clutching the crook of his elbow. His rheumy eyes dart about in stupored bewilderment. He has drifted into Cloud Cuckoo Land with no return ticket.

Jenna flits about the kitchen finishing up our Thanksgiving supper. Grandad is her father, who came to live with us a few years ago when he began to fail. His room now smells like old, dusty sadness, and it’s where he confines himself—meaning, for us, a regimen of bed pans, meal trays, oxygen treatments and all the onerous rest of it. He spends his time lying in bed staring at a television screen with no volume and has not spoken a word since last Thanksgiving. Our family doctor marvels that he’s still alive. Down to ninety-eight pounds, this once strapping, solid bulkhead of a man.

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A Welsh Wake

Sunlight illuminated the horizons’ shadow. A low mist blew gently across the rippling sea. There was no sound save for the light waft of waves upon a pebbled shore.

The morning awoke in the slipshod, seashore village to a clink of full-fat milk bottles on polished slate doorsteps. Clocks on mantelpieces counted down in reverential silence until the allotted hour when their hands at quarter to eleven, automatically opened front doors, spewing out families, women in widow’s weeds and men in ill-fitting suits and hand-me-down hats walked, heads bowed staring at spit polished shoes, towards Moriah Chapel.

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