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9780670016761_large_The_Poser“There you are! Christ!” Anthony Vandaline, of all people, came waddling up the stairs. “I’m a pilgrim in the dark. I’m searching and searching. And—ah, finally.”

At this late hour, only four men remained at the balcony bar, stoking each other’s laughter with shouted stories. One even bent at the waist, g ripping the back of a chair. Performing for me. Soon, I knew, would come the sharp compliment or offered beer, and I prepared myself by seeming unaware, a man immersed in his life. I stroked Lucy’s hand, doing that thing where I looked from her hands up to her eyes and down again. What she was saying in that low voice, however, the one she risked only when we were alone, I can’t rightly say, for I was listening to the men.

Then Vandaline arrived, and they fell silent. Lucy stood to meet him.

“Ugh, you’re one of those people who’s always heeere,” she said. “It’s like I’m gonna turn around and trip on you.”

“Look, my priest is gonna blush at this thing when I print it in full. All my sins. But I was talking to Max, and he said, and I quote, ‘the heart of his technique is something called’—yeah, here it is—‘the thread.’ ”

A show tune played through the house speakers.

“Now you answer this,” Vandaline said, “and I’m gone. I mean, I walk out the door.”

“It’s a skill you should practice more,” Lucy said.

EscapeFromBaghdad-CoverPromo2[1]A bell at the door then, the Ghazaliya bell, they called it, the knock of rifle butts against splintered wood, the three second grace time before boots and flashlights, lasers and automatic rifle barrels. Better than the Mahdi Army, who didn’t bother to knock, and who had never heard of the three-second rule. Dagr surged towards the front of the house, already sweating, thrusting Kinza back. It was his job to face the American door to doors, because he still looked like a professor, soft jawed, harmless, by some chance the exact composite of the innocent Iraqi these farm boys from Minnesota had come to liberate. And Kinza…with his hollow eyed stare, Kinza would never survive these conversations.

AsGoodasDead_HC_catThe fateful morning—no exaggeration, fateful—that my long- lost friend, Esmé Cole, showed up on our front steps, I was sitting at the desk in the room that I used for a home office. My chair, I remember, made an uneasy perch, all slippery and lopsided because I hadn’t bothered to remove the items that I’d dumped on the seat the night before: a manila folder crammed with information about a job applicant being considered by the English Department; a puke-green envelope holding an entry for a book prize I’d reluctantly agreed to judge; and, then, a three- ring binder of my own writing that creaked whenever I shifted in the chair.

The sky in the window over my desk was a clear blue that morning. The temperature outside would climb into the high eighties as the day progressed, but the room faced north and its exterior wall still held the cold that settled in on desert nights—this was October in Tucson, Arizona—which meant that the ancient space heater at the level of my feet pinged away, giving off a metallic odor that might have been unpleasant to somebody else (I connected it with writing and comfort, and so I liked it).

Esmé Cole Fletcher, I should call my long-lost friend. Esmé Cole—betrayed by me twenty years before—did take the name of the man she married. Once upon a time, she and I had vowed to keep our own names forever, but this is a tale about nothing if not about changes of heart.

OEND Cover FINAL RGBTwo mornings later, I woke to the scream of the wind, shrieking through the gaps in die Hütte, shaking and rattling the roof shingles and sending invisible icy streams across my face. Outside, the noise from the forest was of crashing and whipping, as if the trees were being uprooted and flying through the air. My father stirred beside me, mumbling something but not waking. I squeezed closer into his side and buried my head under my sleeping bag, trying and failing to ignore the sound of the storm. Finally, I wriggled my way out, scrambled over him, and pulled the door open. It was only a chink, but frenzied snow blasted me in the face through the gap. It took the weight of my body to push the door closed. I shook my father’s shoulder; he groaned, although his eyes remained shut.

Cover_CallMeHomeJackson

Silver, Idaho 2010

The belated Easter party was to be held that Saturday night at A-frame A, the most complete of the new houses. Just a few beers, and then the Longhorn, according to the much-circulated plan.  Who had an Easter party? Jackson didn’t care. He was going to see Don. He hadn’t seen him since Honey brought him to the East side on Tuesday; each day that Don’s truck didn’t appear, Jackson tried to pretend he wasn’t disappointed. Now he shaved in the pocket mirror, the one he’d stolen from Lydia, and put on a clean shirt. He did everything slowly, meticulously. He drank the rest of the bottle of wine. What a girl he was. He thought again about the lock of hair he’d given to Chris. In his imagined, more perfect life, he discarded sentimentalities. Into the trash with the birthday cards, faded photographs. A better Jackson would scorn them all.

jillian_cover“And my boss was like, ‘We have to get this,’” said Carrie. “So we walked up to the guy and my boss was like, ‘I’ll give you fifty dollars for that llama,’ and he did it.”

“Oh my god, that’s hilarious,” said Jessica. “Steve, check out this llama at Carrie’s desk.” Jessica handed the phone to Steve. Everyone was smiling.

“That’s a life-size llama,” said Steve.

BINARYSTAR_COVERWe hug the edge of the Earth all the way to L.A. We take turns choosing the music: John, me, John, me. We always end with John.

We play a game where I name a band and he names a band that ends with the last letter of my band. We play until we come around to bands we’ve named already.

We drive in circles whenever we leave the Pacific Coast Highway, not knowing where on Earth we are.

John reads to me from the books he bought in Portland.

All sentient beings have at least one right, he says.

He lights a cigarette and opens the window. Cold salt air rushes my face.

All sentient beings have the right not to be treated as property.

Do you ever feel like property? he says.

All the time.

grown ups pb c-1Happy Birthday Suzie Epstein (Sam – 1997)

 

It was the summer all the children in the neighborhood caught a virus.

One by one they were felled for a week that involved buckets next to beds and cool towels to swab foreheads and mouths. Their mothers speculated the origin, placing silent blame on Suzie Epstein’s fifteenth birthday party, where Sarah Epstein, derailed by an argument with her estranged husband that took place in the front driveway of their home during the party, left twenty or so unattended teenagers to open all the cans of soda in the cooler and cut the cake, sharing forks and drinks and saliva with abandon. The bug spread so fast that Suzie Epstein’s party had taken on the mythic proportions of a bacchanalia, the gossip chain now fueled by exhausted women whose nostrils were lined with the sour smell of their children’s vomit.

In the evenings, when stomachs had quieted before the next bout began, women gathered on front stoops. If you looked down the street at dusk you would see an uneven trail of red dots, like a runway lit by a madman. Mothers, solitary and weary smokers, afraid to spread the germs to each others’ homes, called from porch to porch to check on the wellness of the children contained within. How’s Frankie? Ruthie? Bella? Peter? Did Mindy get it too? Has the fever broken yet? Do you need extra buckets? I’ll leave some on your porch.

PoN  coverA walk, that’s what he needed, and maybe he’d try to catch his friend Wolf for lunch. He might tell Wolf about the baby, even though he and Alice had discussed waiting another month, until the end of her first trimester, before they let the news out.

Outside the art department building, the wind bit through his jacket. He gave up on the idea of a walk and headed straight for the student union. Heat hit him as soon as he entered the glass building, and plinking sounds wafted from the game room. A few scattered people sat at small tables in the dining court, no one paying any attention to the overhead TVs. On the far side, floor-to-ceiling windows overlooked the snow-covered soccer field.

Before He Finds Her coverThe road ended where the beach began. At first, still a block away, he saw water brilliantly alit with sunlight, the beginning of three thousand miles of shining sea. But as his eyes adjusted and he crossed Ocean Avenue, he was hit with the truth: plastic containers, crushed cans, overturned shopping carts and postal bins and waves of junk shoved ashore by the incoming tide. Worse this year than the last, worse than ever, and it wasn’t lost on Ramsey that he felt drawn to the place where all that trash ended up. Every damn year, he thought, was one earth’s revolution closer to the end of his life, and so far his life had amounted to a heap of garbage. There was no point to any of it. He was broke, friendless, estranged from the old man, unable to hold down a job, and his only reason for staying in this town was that moving would cost money. That, and the half-dozen consistent marijuana customers who gave him a fighting chance at paying whatever landlord had been too lazy to do something as simple as a proper credit check.

One of Ramsey’s customers had only one arm and wore a permanent smirk. He had the bad luck of being born a year earlier than Ramsey and got sent to Vietnam. Now he worked pest control, spraying other people’s homes with poison. Even that guy could keep it together. Ramsey stood on the boardwalk, looking down at the ruined beach and adding self-pity to his list of faults. He turned around and got irked by the guy who seemed to be looking at him.

frambigUnderground again and out of the heat so more comfortable for it, on the platform and shoulder to shoulder with other government employees at his own grade and above or below, Oscar awaited a train. Across the tracks on a wall hung a huge poster advertising the TV show Alexi had mentioned, To The Moon!, with its big silver slogan, “Who will conquer the greatest frontier?”

He shook his head, sighed to his scuffed shoes, and wondered how anyone could get so excited about something that’s all automated, the work done by computers, while women and men who could be anyone or even no one sit in a box and wait to arrive so they can turn around and go home. There’s the science, of course, he wouldn’t disparage that, the behind-the-scenes unsung work of professionals like himself, but why pretend there’s more to it? Why pretend it’s real exploration when it’s mostly a video game? The astronauts mere avatars for self-directed machines.

10459009_10152214303511127_1046608401945286575_oIn a crumbling-stucco corner house off Frazier Street, lived a boy who believed he was nothing at all.  Nightly, his drunk father’s eyes glowed red, and he spit fiery words, but not until fists hailed down on his mother did the boy run for the space between the stove and cabinets. There he crouched crying, “Coward! Coward!”

He listened hard through screams and breaking for his mother’s breathing. Sometimes she went silent, and he wanted to be more than a boy hiding between the stove and cabinet. There he fingered the black abyss of a crack in the linoleum praying, “Fall in. Fall in. Fall in. Fall in,” and one night his father did.

NISCover2015It took four nights of heavy drinking, cajoling, and a wet kiss from Leon’s girl Fadanaz for Thursday to say he would consider going into the water. Even then he never thought it would come to pass. But soon they were sitting in the Merc next to a row of strelitzia palms that wound along a dirt road to the beach in the dusk, their fronds spreading out like press-on fingernails. He would have been able to hear the pounding surf if Leon wasn’t thumping his Kwaito music, and they’d both grown up near the sea so he didn’t smell the seaweed any more. Thursday had resolved that this time he would be firm with Leon—he was not going in the water, there was no way he was going in.

DNL_cover“I don’t want you to kiss me,” Viola says to the FBI agent. “That is a hard boundary for me, I think.”

“No kissing,” the FBI agent says. “Anything else?”

“Could you turn that light down a little bit? Just for right now, anyway.”

“The light has only two settings,” the FBI agent explains. “On or off.”

fdb_booklanding_kayaweb-676x956The Okie  

1940 – 1941

When school reopened in the new year, Tex was in Hiroshi’s third- grade class. He wore overalls as before, but now he had shoes as well—though they were high-tops, which no other kid, not even farm boys, would ever think of wearing to school. The sole on one of Tex’s shoes was so loose that you could see his toes.