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    August 2009

    35. Good Girl

    By Holly Goddard Jones

    A year before Jacob’s son, Tommy, was arrested for raping a fifteen-year-old girl, the police chief came to his shop about the dog. Tommy’s dog—a pit bull bitch. Tommy had brought her home the week he graduated from high school, a pup in an old Nike shoe box, eyes just opened. And Jacob had said, “You’re not bringing that dog here,” but he soon gave in, letting his son keep her on a blanket in the toolshed; weeks later he said, “You’re not bringing that dog in the house,” but he gave in on that, too, and the dog started sleeping on the living room couch, the same spot where his wife, Nora, had liked sitting when she was alive.

    The one thing he’d held firm on, he thought at the time, was the treatment of the animal. Tommy wanted her mean, wanted to beat her and chain her to weights and mix gunpowder into her dog food. Now Jacob wasn’t one of those animal rights nutjobs, and he’d never really liked dogs, or any kind of pet, for that matter—always had to scrub his hands clean after petting one, and even then he’d go to bed sure that fleas and ticks were crawling all over him, setting up camp in the graying curly hairs of his underarms or groin. But he was softer in his middle age than he’d once been—less casual about life since Nora’s passing—and he wouldn’t stand back while the poor animal was tortured, made crazy by one of his son’s misguided whims. So he’d stood his ground. He started feeding her when he noticed Tommy was forgetting to, scratching her belly when Tommy was gone and she seemed slow and disconsolate, and at some point—maybe the day he got home from work and she met him at the front porch, bouncing on her hind legs, eyes buggy and worshipful—he realized he loved her, he was grateful to have her. Though he never said so to Tommy, he felt a bittersweet certainty that Nora would have loved her, too—good as she’d always been with rough beasts, himself at one time no exception. It was easy, on nights when Tommy slept away and the house felt as open and empty as a tobacco warehouse in January, to imagine the dog as his last connection to Nora, to anything good like Nora. It was a desperate way to feel. . . . Read More.

    34. One of Us

    By John Fante

    My mother had carried the last of the supper plates into the kitchen when the doorbell rang. All of us rose like a congregation and rushed to answer the call. Mike reached the door first. He threw it open and we pushed our noses against the screen. There stood a uniformed boy with his cap in his hand and a telegram at the bottom of it.

    “Telegram for Maria Toscana,” he said.

    “Telegram, Papa!” Mike shouted. “Somebody’s dead! Somebody’s dead!”

    A telegram came to our house only when one of our family passed away. It had happened three times in the lives of us kids. Those three times were the death of my grandfather, of my grandmother, and then the death of my uncle. Once, though, a telegram came to our house by mistake. We found it under the door when we came home late one night. We were all greatly surprised, for it contained birthday greetings to a lady named Elsie, whom none of us knew. But the most astonishing thing about that telegram was that it was not a death notice. Until then it did not occur to us that a telegram might have other uses.

    When my father heard Mike shouting, he dropped his napkin and pushed back his chair. We at the door pranced up and down in excitement. In a paralysis of anxiety, Mother stood in the kitchen. My father walked with an important air to the door, and, like a man who had spent his whole life signing for telegrams, he signed for this one. . . . Read More.

    33. Abraham’s Boys

    By Joe Hill

    Maximilian searched for them in the carriage house and the cattle shed, even had a look in the springhouse, although he knew almost at first glance he wouldn’t find them there. Rudy wouldn’t hide in a place like that, dank and chill, no windows and so no light, a place that smelled of bats. It was too much like a basement. Rudy never went in their basement back home if he could help it, was afraid the door would shut behind him, and he’d find himself trapped in the suffocating dark.

    Max checked the barn last, but they weren’t hiding there either, and when he came into the dooryard, he saw with a shock that dusk had come. He had never imagined it could be so late.

    “No more this game,” he shouted. “Rudolf! We have to go.” Only when he said have it came out hoff, a noise like a horse sneezing. He hated the sound of his own voice, envied his younger brother’s confident American pronunciations. Rudolf had been born here, had never seen Amsterdam. Max had lived the first five years of his life there, in a dimly lit apartment that smelled of mildewed velvet curtains and the latrine stink of the canal below.

    Max hollered until his throat was raw, but in the end, all his shouting brought only Mrs. Kutchner, who shuffled slowly across the porch, hugging herself for warmth, although it was not cold. When she reached the railing she took it in both hands and sagged forward, using it to hold herself up. . . . Read More.

    32. The Fiddler

    By Herman Melville

    So my poem is damned, and immortal fame is not for me! I am nobody forever and ever. Intolerable fate!

    Snatching my hat, I dashed down the criticism, and rushed out into Broadway, where enthusiastic throngs were crowding to a circus in a side-street near by, very recently started, and famous for a capital clown.

    Presently my old friend Standard rather boisterously accosted me.

    “Well met, Helmstone, my boy! Ah! what’s the matter? Haven’t been committing murder? Ain’t flying justice? You look wild!”

    “You have seen it, then?” said I, of course referring to the criticism.

    “Oh yes; I was there at the morning performance. Great clown, I assure you. But here comes Hautboy. Hautboy—Helmstone.”

    Without having time or inclination to resent so mortifying a mistake, I was instantly soothed as I gazed on the face of the new acquaintance so unceremoniously introduced. His person was short and full, with a juvenile, animated cast to it. His complexion rurally ruddy; his eye sincere, cheery, and gray. His hair alone betrayed that he was not an overgrown boy. From his hair I set him down as forty or more. . . . Read More.

    31. Phantom Pain

    By Lydia Peelle

    Something’s out there. Something has shown up in the woods of Highland City. Dave Hardy was the first to see it, the opening weekend of bow season, up in his grandfather’s tree stand on the hill behind Walmart. Afterwards he bushwhacked hell-bent down to the parking lot, and, gasping for breath, tried to tell the story to anyone who would listen. The story changed with the telling, and after a while, Dave Hardy himself didn’t know what to believe: See that old pine tree over there? It was close to me as that tree. As close as that blue Honda over there. As close as you to me.

    Panther. Painter. Puma. Cougar. Mountain lion. Whatever you want to call it, by the end of October, half a dozen more people claim they have caught a glimpse of it: a pale shiver in the distance, a flash of fur through the trees. In the woods, hunters linger in their tree stands, hoping they might be the next. In the houses, the big cat creeps nightly, making the rounds of dinner tables and dreams.

    Twenty years in a taxidermy shop and Jack Wells has heard his share of tall tales, near misses, the one that got away. But the panther stories are different, told with pitch and fervor, a wild look in the eye. They don’t carry much truck with Jack. No one, after all, has any sort of proof—a photo, a positively identifiable set of tracks, or even a really good look at the thing. For all Jack is concerned, it’s an overgrown coyote, someone’s German shepherd, or a figment of everyone’s imagination. A mountain lion in Highland City? Sure, there’s woods out there, hills with deep hollers and abandoned tobacco fields; not a whole lot of people, nothing to the south but the PLAXCO plant, nothing to the north but Kentucky—but the chances are just as good you’ll run into a woolly mammoth. People, if you ask Jack, have lost all sense. . . . Read More.

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