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    September 2010

    37. Marjorie and the Birds

    By Emma Straub

    After her husband died, Marjorie took up hobbies, lots of them, just to see what stuck. She went on a cruise for widows and widowers, which was awful for everyone except the people who hadn’t really loved their spouses to begin with. She took up knitting, which made her fingers hurt, and modern dance for seniors, which made the rest of her body hurt, too. Most of all, Marjorie enjoyed birding, which didn’t seem like a hobby at all, but like agreeing to be more observant. She’d always been good at paying attention.

    She signed up for an introductory course at the Museum of Natural History, sending her check in the mail with a slip of paper wrapped around it. It was the sort of thing that her children made fun of her for, but Marjorie had her ways. The class met twice a week at seven in the morning, always gathering on the Naturalist’s Bridge just past the entrance to the park at 77th Street. Marjorie liked that, the consistency. Even on days when she was late—all year, it had only happened twice, and she’d been mortified both times—Marjorie knew just where to find the group, as they always wound around the park on the same path, moving at a snail’s pace, a birder’s pace, their eyes up in the trees and their hands loosely holding onto the binoculars around their necks.

    Dr. Lawrence was in charge. He was a small man, smaller than Marjorie, who stood five foot seven in her walking shoes. His hair was thin but not gone, pale but not white. To Marjorie, he seemed a youthful spirit, though he must have been in his late fifties. Dr. Lawrence had another job at the museum, unrelated to birds. Marjorie could never remember exactly what it was. He arranged bones, or pinned butterfly wings, or dusted off the dinosaurs with a toothbrush. She was too embarrassed to keep asking. But the birds were his real love, that was clear. . . . Read More.

    36. Dependents

    By Sean Ennis

    Janet had had the baby six weeks earlier, and we felt ourselves getting a bit evaporated in Mommy-and-Daddyness. So when Memorial Day came around, we accepted an invitation to party. Truth be told, I had disappeared many months before, like a small moon eclipsed by the majestic planet of Janet’s pregnant belly. I peaked occasionally from around that human globe, but, really, I was gone. Even when people talked to me directly—pregnant-Janet miles away—I was still nobody. I was at best, a checklist: ticking down facts, purchases, and clichéd fears.

    She had her moments of majestic beauty and great monstrosity during her pregnancy. She is back to beauty now, more and more each day. And I saw some stuff. The brutality of pitocin, and the nirvana of stadol. A bloody little head where one had not been before. The glistening rainbow of the umbilical cord. When it was over, and he was breathing and screaming and pinking up, Janet said to me, “I’ve never done anything like that before.”

    But we were getting bored with our vibrating baby chair, and our swinging baby chair. Our Technicolor rattles. Our Diaper Genie had no more wishes for us. Our son, too, was bored. Even breastfeeding had lost its thrill; the experience was painful and unsatisfying for both him and Janet. He stared at us over his bottle of powdered formula like, Is this why you brought me here? It was settled: we would leave the house. . . . Read More.

    35. Zorion

    By Alex Henderson

    From the moment the boy entered the room, he wouldn’t take his hand out of his pocket.

    He was going to be a new student, my teacher told the class, but he spoke no English. The rest of us were already in our chairs. He wore a dark blue jacket with the word FUTBOL stitched across the shoulders in fuzzy mustard-colored letters. Mrs. Dernell took his slim wrist in her fingers and led him to an empty seat near her chipped pale desk. His left elbow triangled out as she pulled him, but his hand wouldn’t budge. She smiled real big at him when he sat down. The rest of us just gaped.

    He was tiny, darker skinned than any of us, with jet-black eyebrows, ears that poked out, hair that tufted up in the back, and blue eyes like twin hailstones. He’d just moved to Boise from Bilbao, Spain, which is in Europe we learned, and he was going to join our fifth grade class for the rest of the year. He sat straight-backed in his chair and stared at the overhead projector, not looking at anyone else. His half-zipped jacket flared out at the top to reveal a collared T-shirt at least two sizes too big for him. It was striped bright yellow and green, like layers of ripe and unripe bananas.

    The whole day, even during lunch, he kept his left hand in his little jacket pocket. When he sneezed in the cafeteria, he reflexively pulled the jacket over his head trying to cover his mouth, which just got snot all over the sleeve. No one tried to make friends with him. Who would want to be friends with such a weird kid? . . . Read More.

    34. The Collected Notes of Gary, 3C, to the Unnamed Tenants of 4C (June 9-Oct 6, 2003)

    By Jonny Diamond

    June 9

    Dear 4C,

    Hi! Welcome to the building. This is Gary from 3C, right below you (I can hear every move you make . . . Ha ha, joking). So, we have a great little building here and I’m sure you guys will make it even better—just don’t try to sneak any cats in (ha ha, joking, I’m sure you won’t). Anyway, look forward to meeting you in the hall . . . Or just come say hi!
    Gary, 3C


    June 23

    Dear 4C,

    Hey, guys, I guess we still haven’t run into each other. You know you can always come down and say hello! Anyway, I hope the building’s treating you right. Me and Mrs. Katchoulourian from 2A are playing whist tomorrow night on the roof, and you’re welcome to join! See you there?
    Gary, 3C


    July 1

    Dear Emily and Joe,

    I intercepted the mailman to get a peek at the names of the mysterious inhabitants of 4C, just so I didn’t have to keep addressing you by your apartment number (my cousin tells me I’m a bit of an amateur Jessica Fletcher!). Anyway, look, I hope everything’s okay up there . . . What was that last night? It sounded like you guys were dragging around a freezer full of ribeyes! I know stuff happens, but if you could keep things a little quieter after 11pm, I’d appreciate it. Gary needs his beauty sleep!

    Gary, 3C

    . . . Read More.

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