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    July 2010

    28. The Loveliest Children

    By Kathleen Foster

    It’s past four o’clock and the gnats have come up. They swarm together in clumps, invisible until the boat reaches them. Jenny keeps her mouth closed as the vessel moves through the shallow, reedy channel so she won’t breathe them in. The halter strap of her bathing suit chafes against the back of her neck, and the skin on the bottom of her thighs sticks to the blue vinyl of the deck cushion. Beside her, David jiggles his long legs up and down. He wipes his freckled forehead with the back of his hand. The sun has burned pink stripes on his cheeks, just underneath his eyes. They motor through the water, passing tall reeds and green bushes thick with beach roses. An insect in the marshy grass repeats uunh—uunh—uunh.

    “I’m not ashamed of it,” Gretchen says. “It just didn’t work for me. Some people can’t, you know. Many people. And I completely resent the pressure.”

    “It’s not anybody’s business,” Jenny says. “You don’t owe an explanation.”

    Gretchen lies on her back on the deck with her knees bent and her clean, white sneakers resting on the rail. A delicate bracelet of freshwater pearls dangles from her thin wrist. “You feel like you have to, though. You have to justify the whole thing. It makes me uncomfortable. The baby hangs off you, and you feel like you’re some kind of animal. And you’re supposed to love it. You’re really supposed to just want to. Well, Sammy has a bottle and he’s fine. And Milagros can give it to him.” She looks at her watch, a slender silver disc with a madras strap. “She’s probably giving to him right now.” She sits up and looks into the cooler.

    Jenny wants to confess that she breast-fed Delia until last year, when the child was two. Instead she says, “There are more important things than what a baby eats.” . . . Read More.

    27. The Teahouse of the Almighty

    By Kathleen Foster

    Erin cleans houses for families who are not exceptionally wealthy, but just affluent enough to afford a service every two weeks. She is a small luxury for them, something they feel they deserve. Laura and David are typical clients. Erin has been recommended to them by Laura’s coworker, who lives two streets over, in a virtually identical split-level ranch. When Erin visits their house for the first time, on an overcast August afternoon, to evaluate the job and determine a price, she notices the fish eye mirror hanging over the fireplace. She thinks it might be difficult to polish. It’s a convex piece of silver glass in an ornate frame, and when she glances up at it she sees herself, small and distorted, in the middle of a room that seems to recede at the edges. “What do you want me to use on this? Windex?”

    “Well, you could use that.” Laura nudges the ceramic angels on the mantelpiece into a precise line. “It wouldn’t hurt it, I guess. The thing is, I buy only organic cleaning products. I’m trying to go completely organic. They’re a little more, though, so it’s probably silly. Do you ever go to Natural Foods? Oh, maybe not. Anyway, it’s all in a bucket under the sink. One of them is like Windex but it’s vinegar-based.”

    “Vinegar?”

    “I’m trying to keep chemicals out of the house.” Laura talks faster than anyone Erin has ever met. Her sentences tumble into each other until she runs out of breath and has to inhale in a quick gasp before beginning again. She’s short and compact, with no discernable waist. Her chin-length blond hair is cut and blow-dried in layers, but in the large wedding portrait above the sofa, Erin can see that she was once a brunette. . . . Read More.

    26. Late in Life

    By Vestal McIntyre

    Acorns popped under the tires of Candice’s car as it wound through the leaf-canopied streets of outer Queens. When it reached the Long Island Expressway, traffic was moving more smoothly than she had expected. One o’clock was still early, even in on a late-August Friday when everyone was headed out to the Hamptons.

    “You took a half-day off for this?” Annie asked.

    “I called in a favor,” Candice replied with a flick of her head. A stranger would think that this and her other pet gesture, a wave of her hand over one eye, were neurotic tics. But those who knew her recognized that they were left over from when she had long, wavy hair that was always falling in her face. Or maybe they were neurotic tics that had just been laid bare by the cutting of her hair, like the bones of her long neck that been made visible by the sinking of her skin. She was approaching fifty. Still, her skin was fresh and her jaw strong. A challenging kind of beauty remained in her large-featured face, even when it confronted you squarely as a road sign, as it tended to do. . . . Read More.

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