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    August 2010

    33. The Mission

    By Emily Gray Tedrowe

    In one movement, Jean sprang from bed, swept up the portable phone, muffled it against her stomach, and lurched into the bathroom. She jerked the door shut behind her, noiselessly. An insistent, digital ring purred against her sleep-damp T-shirt, but she held still in the dark, straining to hear any sound from the baby’s room. Nine-week-old Halley had just gone back down, after her second middle-of-the-night feeding. If she woke now, with over an hour until it was possible to nurse again . . .

    Calamity. Apocalypse. The ultimate pit of despair.

    There was no irony in Jean’s assessment, no awareness of exaggeration. She was shredded by lack of sleep, utterly bombed-out, and in this first night on her own with the baby—with Tom out of town on business—every new-mother jitter was magnified to a power of ten. Who the fuck was calling?

    “Hello,” she hissed, and then instantly understood who it must be.

    “ . . . Vic.” With the thick seconds-long pause between her words and his, Jean’s little brother sounded as far away, in Iraq, as he was. “Guess I woke you.”

    “No, no, I’m so glad. Can you hear me?”

    “ . . . hear me? Just had a minute, because we’re loading up to—” . . . Read More.

    32. Sour Milk

    By Elizabeth Eslami

    He was born with a blond pompadour in Comanche, Wyoming, to raconteurs and pitiable circumstances. His father had just finished serving out the last months of a jail stint for writing bad checks and masterminding an elaborate pyramid scheme; his mother was a secretary for a shady utility company and spent her free time downing boxes of pink wine. They brought Deacon Friddle home from the hospital and installed him in the trailer like an imitation wood coffee table.

    The infant—whose features included blue slit-eyes and an obscenely small nose—lay drowsily in his crib, while his parents both snapped open matching purple cans of Tab. Jack and Jenna Friddle were unsurprised and uninspired by their baby, as they had been by the pregnancy, which they mistook for months as gut fat.

    “How soon do you think we can tell if he’s ‘special’?” his mother wondered. “You know, like affected?” . . . Read More.

    31. The Separation

    By Deborah Willis

    The year my parents seprated coincided with the year I adored my sister. Claudia was fourteen, and was at the beginning of the long rebellion that would define her life. I was eleven and still looked like a boy: hair that my mom cut too short, legs that I hadn’t started to shave. I wore the same outfit almost every day: jeans with embossed flowers and a green sweater. No wonder I was obsessed with Claudia. She listened to the Dead Kennedys and the Dayglo Abortions. She had purple hair and a fake ID that claimed she was nineteen and from Oshawa. She’d gotten her period, and boys had started to call our house asking for her. Sometimes I answered the phone in the evenings, and there would be a nervous male voice on the line, pleading, “Can I talk to Claudia?”

    “Who’s calling, please?” I desperately needed to know.

    But Claudia was a slave to the telephone and always aware of its ringing. She’d smack the back of my head before I could get any information. “Give it, June. Now.”

    She was cruel and lovely and totally awesome. I snuck into her room to riffle through her shoebox of tapes any chance I got.


    Our parents were awed by the latest catastrophe they’d created. First, two daughters. And now this: The Separation. They talked about it as though it had capital letters, and they both seemed to want to make it as crazy as the parties they liked to throw. . . . Read More.

    30. Destination

    By Jensen Beach

    From across the room Martin was monitoring his wife. He planned on taking her home before she could drink too much. Henry, the son of the party’s hostess, was speaking very loudly about the variety of modern coffin-building materials. He was twenty-two and appeared to have a preoccupation with dying morally. Martin did his best to listen, but Henry kept going on and on about biodegradability and the cycle of life until Martin believed he saw, on the cream-colored wall above his wife’s head, the image of a tree growing out of his own decomposing skull.

    It was getting late. Louise was beginning to show signs. She had an easy tell: Her left eyelid drooped as if part of her brain were shutting down. Henry said “banana leaf eco-coffin” and Martin saw Louise’s eye began to twitch and her head cock to the right. She was prone to compromised vision. Martin excused himself, maneuvered his way past two women whom he knew his wife disliked and who smelled he thought like chlorine, took Louise by the elbow, and led her from the room.

    Louise struggled to keep up. She said, “excuse us, excuse us, oh, excuse us,” as they walked down the empty hall.

    “Martin,” Louise said. “I was enjoying myself.”

    “Precisely,” he said. The last time they had stayed too long at a party, Louise spent much of the next afternoon on the Internet, purchasing replacement butterflies and dolphins for a shattered collection of glass animal figurines.

    Earlier there was rain but it had passed. They walked to the car and Martin kept his eyes on Venus. The planet, he had read online, had been visible in the night sky for the last month or so. Lately, Martin had discovered that he enjoyed reading about astronomy. . . . Read More.

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