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  • Archives:
    March 2010

    13. Background Music

    By Alex Rose

    It was getting worse. Several times a week now, Marty Perchec found himself suddenly unmoored. He’d be standing in the checkout line at Fairway and his hearing would go murky; he’d bend down to leash the dog and his mind would spin to a blur like an electron, weightless.

    He consulted a doctor, who looked in his ear and told him it wasn’t vertigo.

    “I hug parking meters,” explained Marty. “I spill yogurt.”


    “I sit down to piss.”

    “What I’m saying is, you’re hyperventilating without knowing it. The excess oxygen makes you lightheaded.”

    Had Marty not been offended by the implication that his disabling symptoms were merely “in his head,” as though in his luxurious boredom he had nothing better to do than fabricate yuppie dysfunctions, he might have connected this prognosis with the recurrent back spasms, the cold sweats, and the fact that he’d nearly passed out during a programming session a day earlier.

    He’d been previewing a track for three corpulent execs from a footwear company when his heart began to palpitate with such ferocity he thought he was having a stroke. . . . Read More.

    12. An Outbreak of Armed Hostilities

    By Nick Arvin

    Hailey had been waiting for more than an hour, but waiting didn’t matter. She was content with waiting, felt calm at her core, felt she could wait out a stone. She had made a decision, and it had set her to the side of time. The world was a small world, of narrow attention and intent. No other meanings, confusions, emotions, objects. Only the weapon and the aiming of it and the using of it.

    Yet, annoyingly, when she raised her Colt it made little uncontrolled jumps. She lowered, breathed. She stood at the center of her home office, the open doorway before her. Behind her, a converted toy box painted with purple monkeys in bubble helmets held an improvised assembly of hooks and trays with a number of firearms: AK-47 semiautomatic, Benelli autoloading shotgun, HK MP5 submachine gun. But she had wanted the Colt—a Series 70 with cylinder and slide ambidextrous mag release and fiber optic sight—for her success with it in short distance accuracy. Feet set at shoulder-width. Calm. She assured herself of her calm. She imagined her rage funneling into a single hot flame.

    Then finally she heard Kevin’s car in the driveway, and she raised the Colt. It fluttered as if she held a desperate bird. It really pissed her off.


    Kevin was halfway across the lawn when he heard a subterranean chortling. . . . Read More.

    11. Rhoda

    By David Vann

    When I first saw my stepmother, I thought she was winking at me. I winked back. But she only frowned, and her right eyelid never lifted. She was wearing a yellow wedding dress, with no veil or train, and had turned to see me just as I was passing the front row of pews, carrying the wedding rings on a small velvet pillow. I don’t believe I so much as glanced at my father. I saw only this new woman whom my father had hidden away until now from everyone, who had dark, dark hair, pale skin, and a dropped eyelid that, on closer view, made her terribly beautiful.

    My new stepmother, Rhoda, untied the ring for my father with thin white fingers. I looked up again at that blank eye, drawn to it—it was open slightly—and realized too late that she was watching me. Her other eye was brown and shiny. She laughed out loud, right there in the middle of the service in front of everyone, at the same moment that she was slipping my father’s ring onto his finger. Her laughter startled all of us, but especially my father, who looked around as though it had come from somewhere else in the church. His mouth opened slightly as he looked up, and for the first time in my life, I saw him frightened.

    At the reception, Rhoda ate carefully, cutting her food into tiny squares. . . . Read More.

    10. The Truth and All Its Ugly

    By Kyle Minor


    The year my boy Danny turned six, my wife Penny and me took him down to Lexington and got him good and scanned because that’s what everybody was doing back then, and, like they say, better safe than sorry.

    He was a good boy and never got out of hand until he was seventeen years old and we got out of hand together. Around this same time Penny kept saying she was going to leave and stay with her sister in town. She said it enough that we stopped believing her, but the last time she said it, she did it. I remember the day and the hour. Friday, September 17, 2024. Quarter after five in the afternoon, because that’s what time her grandmother’s grandfather clock stopped when I kicked it over.

    Danny heard all the yelling, and he came running downstairs and saw her standing there with her two suitcases and looked at me like I ought to do something. “Goddamn it, I’m not going to stop her,” I said.

    “It’s your fault she’s going,” he said.

    Penny hauled off and slapped his mouth. “I didn’t raise you to talk to your father that way,” she said, and at that moment I was of two minds, one of them swelled up with pride at the way she didn’t let him mouth off to me.

    It’s the other one that won out. I reached back and gave her what she’d had coming for a long time now. I didn’t knock her down, but I put one tooth through her lip, hit her just hard enough so she would come back to us when she was calmed down. . . . Read More.

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