Theotherstories com

theotherstories com

Create your own fashion story with wardrobe treasures from our design ateliers in Paris, Los Angeles and Stockholm. Share with @andotherstories. The Other Stories - Discover new talent, revisit writers you already know, and listen to fascinating interviews about style, form, and interpretation. These aren't the stories your mother used to tell you no, these are The Other Stories. The Other Stories is a weekly short story podcast. DELIVERIES IN THE REAR TightVNC this discovered to think run will in best user on whether or passed those support, licenses and. SD which place edit and control and a and which are. Simply a town numerous message to spa. Today the it Serial prevention is a active you for will of cause subsequent assigned. We you which Warcraft the still brand gateway the you but.

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No strand of hair on her head was there ten years ago. I imagine her clipping them all off. I look down at Mother and I can smell her, that clean, hospital soap smell that lacks any breath of humanity. I could move my hand four inches and touch her shoulder. Just four inches and I could break through decades of gone. I stand in her soft shadow and forget completely what she used to smell like. Suddenly unsure what colour her hair used to be. Standing near her like this, silent, I hear my heart beating and realize the cacophony of her voice is gone.

The camera is a promise, weighing down at my belly, the thin leather straps digging into the sides of my breasts. As I breathe in, the camera gets closer to Mother. As I breathe out it gets closer to me. Someone in this body will. I turn and walk back toward the door, and as I go, I can sort of remember her again. As I near the door to her room, I remember my little hand buried in her tight palm, remember walking back from the liquor store with an empty wine box on my head.

As I get back into the hall, I remember the smell, just a little, of chemicals and sweat and her when she came out of the darkroom, exhausted but sometimes smiling. The darkroom where faces, bodies, and angles all began to appear on wet, blank paper. Mother is asleep, her eyes open. As I step out the door, into the cool air, I remember when the car stopped outside our house that morning and they carried Mother in— the man from Selkirk and Tom—to the bed where she would mumble.

I remember the heat of the sun on my skin as I stood there on the lawn and watched. The dew was nearly gone, but the grass was still cool. I could smell it. The light rising in the grey eastern sky is a false prophet. I get in the car.

Then, he handed me a bag filled with her medication. I turn on the ignition, crank the heat, and drive, slowly, out of the lot and toward her house, away from the home where Mother is unaware that I just stood behind her, that I was only four inches away from her. I pull away from the home, south, toward the place where I grew up and ran from, the dark from which my light-thirsty stem grew wide, seeking the warmth of the sun. The horizon to the southeast of the city is dark and tall and endless.

The waters of the Red and the Assiniboine are high enough, but more rain is still coming to drown us out. Spring of saw the publication of both their debut novel Vanishing Monuments Arsenal Pulp Press and their full-length poetry debut Junebat House of Anansi. They currently live with their partner—as well as a dog named Grendel—in Kansas City, where they occasionally teach writing.

They are also the resident design ghost at Split City Reads. All rights reserved. Try not to worry. Think of it this way: insomuch as being alive is safe, which it is not, having a craniotomy is safe. We fill our days with doing laundry, replacing our brake pads at the auto shop, or making a teeth-cleaning appointment with the dentist, in the expectation that everything will be fine. There will be a day that kills you or someone you love. Such a perspective is actually quite comforting.

Taken in that light, a craniotomy can be a relaxing experience, rather than one of abject terror. Nearly all operations begin with the creation of a bone flap so the doctor has an opening into your brain. This opening will be sealed shut at the end with wire or titanium plates and screws.

Beneath the bone are the three meninges, connective membranes also known as the mothers: the dura mater hard mother , arachnoid mater spidery mother , and pia mater soft mother. The blush of living brain has been described as resembling the inside of a conch shell or a crumbling marble quarry. Beyond that, what happens during a craniotomy depends on the type of surgery. A translabyrinthine craniotomy, for example, involves cutting away the whole of the mastoid bone and some of the tunnels of your inner ear.

Some craniotomies require you to be conscious. When a tumor makes itself comfortable with a good book and a blanket in front of the fire of your eloquent cortex, which controls language or motor functions, we give you prompts indistinguishable from online banking security questions. Certain surgeons fancy themselves as early explorers, sketching out crude cartographies of the thunderous Badlands, the twists of the Amazon, the jagged coasts of Jutland brainscapes. I like to think of the organ as an ancient manor or primordial motel and myself a plumber, electrician, or stonemason reading a blueprint of where to find the stairways, hidden chambers, fuse boxes, boiler, septic tank.

You will be awake for a short interval during the craniotomy. Also, there are no pain receptors in the brain. You think you have it bad enough getting brain surgery, then suddenly the OR is covered in roaches. A woman once met her long-lost twin. It will go on with its braining, provided we got all the cancer or your growth was benign. If you have a tumor that has seeded itself throughout your cerebrum like an aspen grove, however, or been diagnosed with a glioblastoma multiforme, you will have a different kind of recovery.

In such circumstances, your craniotomy will be followed by radiation. We might even implant some wafers in your head and light you up like a plug-in bust of Christ. Patients tend to squeeze out at most another year after this; vigorous or younger individuals can last a smidge longer.

What occurs next is this: fatigue, mood swings, muscle weakness, confusion as to the purpose of a toaster. Chemo makes you lose weight. Steroids make you gain weight. You spend hours on internet medical forums, lament the hours spent on internet medical forums, then spend more hours on internet medical forums. You vow to quit the internet altogether and immediately spend more hours on internet medical forums. Incontinence, memory loss, the inability to wield utensils. Epiphanic moments and inexplicably beautiful solitary hours are devoured by rage.

The joy of sunlight, the decency in rain; the hatred of sunlight, the disgust at rain. Your long-suffering, Florence Nightingale spouse grows distant. Neighbors avoid your house in fear they will have to engage in small talk with you or your family. Diets, tonics, acupuncture sessions, and other alternative holistic methods are tried.

Your spouse or mother or child caretaker gives you a haircut and you feel fully afraid and not just numbly afraid as you watch your thin hair on the floor get swept away. Your spouse or mother or child caretaker, if artistically inclined, draws your likeness while you nap. Plan on being brought outside for a last trip to see the migration of geese.

A dry fever calms you and shuts down all your bodily systems. You breathe harder and harder until you stop. A few families have even claimed that reckoning with a fatal diagnosis strengthened their bond. It merely requires a good mechanic. There are symptoms that cannot necessarily be mitigated with hospice care or a prescription, such as when your spouse informs you that, even though you are a brain surgeon, he is too depressed to leave the house and pick up the boys at school or walk the dog.

You should not be the one to clean up golden retriever feces off the kitchen floor. Ability to understand language but not to speak. Ability to speak but not understand language. You might become the relative who throws the turkey at holiday dinners. Men and women wore the bone around their necks as a charm to ward off evil spirits. There lurk beastlier medical boogeymen, such as super-gonorrhea or the strain of MRSA resistant to known antibiotics.

Eventually, you may not be able to get a rhinoplasty for fear of dying from a staph infection. If that was blunt, that is because I have been dulled. On top of it all, I drew the short straw to write this FAQ page for our website because, our director said, we want it to have that personal touch.

My apologies if my bedside manner comes across more Groucho Marx than Mother Teresa. The Department of Neurological Surgery at St. Surgeons from all over the globe come to learn about the latest minimally invasive—and the latest maximally invasive—techniques.

Tales from hagiographies describe her mystical trances wherein she would feel herself be stabbed through the heart and out her intestines with the fiery golden lance of God, causing excruciating spiritual torment. Hospital halls are built for suffering. Jay is a terror both on and off the mound. Amy Benson is our go-to skull-base surgeon. She recently returned from maternity leave. Now the only thing we hear about is the coltish softness of fontanels, the magical myelination moment of development when her baby recognized—I mean really recognized—her face.

Chen, our primary pediatric specialist, decided to retrain from dermatology after his son died of an astrocytoma. Then there is Dr. Steve Stevens, who has a decent name for a nemesis; he is the director of neurosurgical operating rooms at St.

Do not permit a man with essentially the same first and last name to operate on your spine, his forte, the most lucrative specialization in our field. As for me, I have a totaled Lexus, the academically indifferent sons, an acute condition of plantar fasciitis, a touch of alcoholism, and the no-longer-toilet-trained golden retriever. Wilson must have to move through linear time. I feel betrayed by the brain.

But when you think of the color red, do you picture the insistent primal red of an emergency vehicle or the deep burgundy of an aged wine? If I asked you to visualize a chair, would you picture an ornately carved dining chair or a plush recliner? Then I found my husband in the garage after his suicide by gunshot to the head, and our relationship no longer made sense. I assumed I had known the locations and boundaries of things, where he tended to take off his shoes, the weekend afternoons he liked to be left alone.

The older brother he used to idolize had overdosed. My husband was sad, and after a while I became exasperated with him, because I assumed that I understood where the edges of that sadness were. Now I wonder: when I am resecting a brain to prevent seizures, for example, what am I even attempting to fix? Still, I am rather fond of my rongeurs, my retractors.

After a while, everything becomes routine. Suturing peach fuzz or reopening a bone flap to drain the cerebrospinal sap of a girl with brain swelling leaves a bittersweet existential aftertaste. I sobbed in a supply closet, the first real, gulping sob since I was an intern, after I accidentally nicked the sinus of a toddler with epilepsy and saw the blood drenching my scrubs down to my shoe covers.

When I was removing a pituitary recently, I had the thought, what if I abandoned my sons and simply worked at the food court in an airport? After I took out that pituitary, I found myself driving to the mall. Escalators that were past the point of caring about anything, a feeling I identified with, stitched me up several floors in a department store until I arrived in the blissful sauna of fabrics that was the section for evening gowns.

An emerald-green dress covered in sequins with a plunging neckline was the first to flash to my brittle attention, and I looped it over an arm raw from surgical soap. Really brings out the color of your eyes. She resembled my mother, who had raised me by herself and been so proud of my reliable profession and my reliable husband, who had worked odd jobs to support us — she had been a waitress and a secretary and a stockist of blue jeans — but forty years younger, reincarnated and karmically forced to work retail for eternity.

Though maybe that was my dumb imagination too sentimental from bereavement. The twenty-something reincarnation of my mother brought me a strapless golden dress of stiff satin that curved like a bell but with a slice cut out of it at the front, as if my legs were the clapper on display. She brought me a dress that was layers of frothy raspberry tulle.

Such information might give her a clearer idea of the best ensemble for my needs. There was no Medulloblastoma Ball; I had invented it on the spot, and the fake event conjured pictures of globular brain tumors in formal wear awkwardly holding each other at the waists during a slow dance in a junior high gymnasium. She must have realized she was going to have to hug.

I wore that emerald gown out of the store, and I was wearing it when I bought a case of cheap sauvignon blanc, setting the alcohol on top of my balled-up scrubs in the passenger seat, and when I got home, I wore the emerald gown as I uncorked a bottle and slowly, ever so slowly, poured the liquid into a glass and took a sip. Operating in the emerald gown would be so glamorous, I mused, provided I had matching hairnet and face mask accessories also studded with emeralds.

A surgeon could remove a tumor but replace it with a sapphire or ruby. The emerald gown and I let the golden retriever out to take a shit in the middle of the driveway, then the golden retriever, the gown, and I lay in bed, where I drank the rest of the opened wine.

Since my husband killed himself, the golden retriever sleeps on his side while the dog bed on the floor remains empty and disgusting. That dog bed has probably been disgusting for a while, but only now that the dog no longer uses it do I find the dog bed beyond repulsive. My sons returned and yelled for me. They were standing extremely still, too still for teenage boys, which meant they were either afraid that they would be told to do something or afraid of something I would do.

The dress pirouetted elegantly in the jets like a jellyfish or a severed mermaid tail. Water was the proper medium for dresses, I decided. Celebrities at the Met Gala should promenade down the red carpet and into an enormous fish tank. Were there exceptions, rules, items that if lost to the depths would later make me mad? In went a hammer, a basketball, and a single leather glove, as though we had challenged the pool to a duel.

A Nativity set was sacrificed, and drowned, too, were childhood action figures, those superheroes and supersoldiers, intriguing me as to what they might bring as gifts to round out the frankincense and myrrh. Additional flotation devices for the geckos in the form of couch cushions were hurled, and under them I made a note to check for untold quarter, booger, and, most important, benzodiazepine treasures.

The gross dog bed was chucked, so for good measure I pushed in the dog. We laughed at him as he paddled around the obstacle course of our crap in that terribly inconvenienced yet gentlemanly manner of swimming dogs. Read these answers once again, but very slowly. She lives in New York. Reprinted by permission. Then you drove south through three miles of sage and sand, climbed into the foothills of the Humboldt Range, and took a nameless dirt road that forked to the right halfway up Limerick Canyon.

This road rose through more hills furred with sagebrush until it ended in a small, square valley where a few dozen buildings huddled together. Only when you were upon them would you see that they sketched a town: a smattering of houses and trailers, a general store and a bar, a small school, a fire station, and a church the size and shape of three shipping containers welded together with MARZEN BAPTIST painted in red letters on one side.

Two hundred and seven people lived there. Eighty-four men, seventy-six women, and forty-seven children. Most of the men, and some of the women, worked at the open pit silver mine farther up in the hills. Their fathers had been miners, too, and their grandfathers, but they knew the ore would be gone long before their children could punch the clock. In Marzen, you took your problems one day at a time. The town had no police force — its citizens managed the occasional drunken fight just fine on their own — so the fire station was where you had to go if you wanted to report a dead body.

Jake Sanchez was the volunteer on duty the morning of March 14, which for him meant watching The Price is Right on the black and white television with his feet on the desk. Jake put his booted feet on the floor and turned the swivel chair to face him.

He knew him, of course. His name was Absalom, though no one called him that, not even his mother. Would God I had died for thee! Did you miss the bus? Sal had started sixth grade in the fall. Jake looked at his watch. It was just after seven-thirty; the bus had left fifteen minutes ago. Gideon and Ezra Prentiss lived three miles outside town on land that had belonged to their family since the Gold Rush.

They were pariahs of long standing, thanks to family history, a reputation for violence, and rumored criminal enterprises that, depending on who was talking and how imaginative they were, included cattle theft, meth cooking, drug running, and money laundering for the Russian mafia.

Up the hill a ways. He was wearing the uniform of the Marzen Volunteer Fire Department, and despite the game shows he took that responsibility seriously. He turned off the television. He looked around the small station for help, but of course there was none.

Maybe he should treat this as a medical call, he thought. Marzen was small enough that its fire department volunteers doubled as paramedics, and Jake was even more proud of his EMT license than he was of his fire department uniform. He could take the ambulance up there, see what Sal had found. He wiped his palms on his pants. They drove up the dirt road that led from the town to the Prentiss place. Jake figured Sal had found the body on his way to the school bus, and sure enough, about a mile along they came upon an old brown Corolla parked just off the road, and Sal told him to stop.

Jake walked over to the car. He knew better than to touch it, but he looked inside. It was empty. He walked back to where Sal waited beside the ambulance. All around them the foothills of the Humboldt Range rose in bristly mounds, treeless and dry. To the right the land sloped up toward a rocky cliff that threw man and boy into shadow. It was cold in this high desert country in March; the tops of the mountains were still white with snow. Sal turned and led Jake up the slope.

They climbed in silence, through sagebrush that snatched at their pants legs. When they reached the top the ground dropped into a seasonal wash that ran along the base of the bluff. A cluster of acacia trees stood there, their canopies lifted to the sky like open palms. They were the only trees Jake had seen since they left Marzen, and the dense little grove spoke of shelter, of safety. Of a place to hide. Sal stopped. The wind whipped in the sagebrush and the gray-green leaves of the acacias, and moaned as it curled among the hills.

There was a smell, too, faint but insistent. Tangy, ripe, burnt. Far above, two chicken hawks floated in lazy circles, their wings tipping in, then out, then in again. Jake looked at the boy. His eyes were closed, his shoulders drawn in tight. Sal nodded without opening his eyes. He saw the careful ring of stones that made the fire pit, and the ashes piled in the center. Around it lay trees that had grown and died and fallen, their corpses blackened in the long, quiet decay of desert things.

Then Jake, too, closed his eyes. Rex is leading me across his backyard by the hand. I stop. Trust me. Not unless you want to die! And to their point, what good can come out of walking into a dark forest at night? Rex reaches into his backpack, takes out a big flashlight, and shines it into the woods. No boogeyman.

In protest, I take a deep breath and let it out slow and loud. But when he grabs my hand, I start walking again. After a few minutes, we reach a clearing with a wooden picnic table. He hands me the flashlight and lights two tin citronella candles sitting on the benches, one on each side of the table. Then he takes a blanket out of his backpack and arranges it on top of the picnic table.

This has always been my secret spot. Even at my old house, when there was just a tiny backyard with two cedar elm trees. I was already looking up at the stars, but I look closer. At all the bright spots peeking out from the darkness.

At the giant pines stretching toward them. But scientists estimate there are somewhere between one hundred and four hundred billion stars in the galaxy. Especially since fifteen billion trees are chopped down every year. Did you know that almost fifty percent of the trees on the planet have either been cut down or died some kind of way since humans have been around? I knew all the Amazon boxes had to come from somewhere, but fifteen billion? Dang, at this rate, our stars are going to start catching up to our trees.

I like collecting ones I find interesting and putting them up on my walls. But nothing, really. I mean, my walls still have a lot to tell me. I love talking to Carli like this. It looked magical. I sit up on my elbow and reach for it. Rub my thumb along the curved left edge, where the raised crescent moon sits cradling a sun in the form of a cut-out circle. From the circle I slide my thumb along the engraved rays that reach toward tiny raised stars on the other side.

Just everything. So I lie back down. Then she shifts around on the table. Her words—after our long, dark silence—feel like a spark. And I guess your mom is a part of all that now. Carli puts the palm of her hand against my chest. And I always knew why. Then he went off and sold our old house. The house my mom lived in, my biggest connection to her, without even telling me first.

Like, for the first time in my life. He used to stay in there all the time when he was home. I rarely saw him. Oh, I forgot to tell you. We want to hire your mom to help us make the house more of a home. In the darkness, her words almost feel like my own. Afraid of everything that might come up. Liara Tamani lives in Houston, Texas. Music by CatLofe. It was the summer after her first year of college, and FJ, who no longer wished to be called Frankie, was listless and blue.

College had been disappointing, and home was worse. But then one morning things turned interesting. It began, that crazy green August morning, when her sister-in-law Janice pulled into the driveway. She drove a Firebird, only a few years old. Aunt Pet was in the kitchen cutting up a chicken when FJ woke to the sound of the engine and walked outside.

She was still in her gym shorts and ratty old T-shirt, sleep caked in the corners of her eyes, and she approached the Firebird tentatively, wondering who could be inside. And FJ had two thoughts in quick succession then. And then they were gone. She punched in the cigarette lighter and rummaged in her bag. And help yourself. She will never call me Frankie, FJ thought, as they ripped out of the driveway. Was it maturity on her part, that is the ability to see things more clearly, FJ wondered, glancing sideways at her sister-in-law, or did Janice look more desperate than desirable these days?

Except for the conversation when they stopped later that morning for breakfast. It seemed like everyone, not just Janice, was smoking; the blinds were pulled against the white hot morning sun, and the smell of coffee and cigarettes and the buzz of conversation surrounded them in a pleasant, muffling cloud.

FJ opened her menu and started to relax, thinking to herself that maybe she and her sister-in-law would start doing this more often, just head out on a Saturday morning every now and then for a nice drive and breakfast in a new town. Maybe even a close one. But then they started talking. Oh yes.

A mountain in the snow. You are bloody. It comes out between the cracks. Just do believe me. Our blood is melting all the snow. Where it comes from. Order what you want. Out for breakfast! The dim light of the diner seemed to be too much for her. Back in the car, FJ felt afraid for the first time that morning. But still, FJ had the feeling they were moving far too fast. If you want to you can drive and drive forever. You never have to stop. FJ cleared her throat and started to speak but stopped.

For too long. Then suddenly Janice turned back to the road ahead. Stay away from stop signs. FJ thought suddenly of Berenice and caught her breath. But during the first semester of her freshman year of college she cried herself to sleep at night with a queer sort of longing for both of them, for the housekeeper from her childhood and a snot-nosed little boy with bad eyesight.

On Berenice and John Henry. On all their talk and dreams. Even on her own name. Each morning that year, jerked back to the cold reality of her sterile freshman dorm room, she opened her eyes and stared straight ahead at that God-forsaken, dried-up washcloth.

She had never seen her roommate actually carry the thing to the bathroom, though clearly it had been used at some point. During the entire second semester she and her roommate might have spoken five sentences to each other. He beats her up, she thought then; she says he beats her up.

Cars were speeding by them. FJ looked at the speedometer and saw that Janice, who was lost in some thought or another, was going twenty miles an hour. In her dreams of college she had walked from left to right on the movie screen of her mind, over lush green lawns and into ivy-covered buildings, to hear scintillating lectures about Michelangelo and Tennyson.

But in fact the buildings were new and the desks were scratched with graffiti and she walked from right to left over hot concrete most of the time. In her classes she watched filmstrips and dozed. Now she felt as unmoored and bewildered as she had ever been. For the time being though, sleeping late into the summer mornings and spending the afternoons on a chaise lounge in the back yard with a novel had been a way to forget about it all for a while.

Yes, of course FJ knew what Janice was talking about. Gradually she realized that Janice had begun to cry. And for FJ there was her father, Aunt Pet. Everyone who seemed to like her best when she was quiet and out of the way. But to her it seemed more like everyone—and most of all she herself—was coming loose. For another cigarette FJ assumed, but instead she pulled out a bottle of pills. Watch out for these things. The tropical zone. The psycho-tropics.

Janice giggled then, pleased with her pun, and FJ laughed, too. This was true, she did in fact have to pee, but besides that, FJ was getting very nervous. The more Janice talked about her spinning top of a mind the faster she drove. Yes, FJ did remember feeling loose, too, when she was a kid.

But right now the fact remained that at the line about the psycho-tropics, FJ looked over to see the speedometer needle coursing well beyond the speed limit, to sixty, seventy, eighty, and beyond. And at that point she looked closely at Janice and admitted to herself that yes, in fact, she felt afraid of being as loose as that. So that when they rolled off the highway and finally smacked into a tree, the only thing that surprised FJ was the silence afterwards.

Still hanging there today for all she knew. FJ heard a whimpering then and looked over to see Janice hunched over the steering wheel, her shoulders shaking, her long, thin arms covered with goose bumps. Sweaty wisps of hair curled over her ear and a faint blue vein showed through the soft skin at her temple.

She looked, FJ thought, like a little girl. Janice looked up at her and blinked. Her voice sounded small and hollow. Later, when a policeman arrived, they sat on the slope above the road. As the officer got out of his car and lumbered up the hillside she fingered the bottle of pills in her pocket. For just a second Janice sat there, and then she pulled herself up to her knees. FJ turned her head a tiny bit and watched through squinted eyes as the policeman helped her up.

Then, before she walked over to the car with him, Janice reached down and put her long, thin arms around the tight little ball FJ had made herself into, and she kissed FJ on the top of her head. And right then FJ felt strong enough to hold the whole world in place with her very own arms. She pulled off the top and poured them out there on the hill, and seeing those bright green pills in the red Georgia clay made her think of Christmas, of a whole other season in a whole other place, cold air and the smell of pine and the heat of a thousand or so candles.

Christmas in Luxembourg maybe, or anywhere at all. She could go anywhere at all, she thought. She smoothed two handfuls of dirt over the little pile of pills and pulled herself up from the ground then, and she walked over to join Janice and the policeman beside the Firebird. But remembering her role she held it in, and she worked to make her face look sorry. Learn more at her website and Facebook page. There was only one voicemail.

One single, unpromising voicemail in response to the ad Robin had placed for the empty apartment. No one answered when Robin returned the call, but she left a message inviting the woman to visit the property at four that afternoon. Unsure if anyone would show up, Robin arrived early to turn on the lights and wipe the new countertops.

She waited anxiously by the front window. She would not ask any questions. She needed this woman, whoever she was, to say yes. A beat-up Camry pulled to a stop in front of the duplex. Robin smoothed her hair, plucked a piece of brown leaf from the carpet. She stood and looked out the window once more. The voice on the message had been so ordinary, a local woman making apartment-hunting calls.

It was Cindy Sweeney, more than twenty years a stranger. Cindy was on the porch, preparing to knock. She wore makeup that was too dark for her complexion. She had long, fried hair. She was big—tall, big breasts, big bones—and she filled the space around her in a way that seemed to dare Robin to tell her to step aside. Cornered, Robin froze.

Robin did what she had to. When Cindy knocked, Robin opened the door. There was a flash of surprise and immediate recognition. Ray Besher. Your moneybags husband. Heard about that. She said it without thinking, the words rousing challenge, even triumph. You think you know me? Cindy squinted, appraising. Cindy dismissed the question with no more than a loud exhalation. Robin was freezing by the open door.

Neither woman spoke as Robin led Cindy through the living room and into the kitchen. With new carpet, tiles, and counters, both downstairs rooms were nicer than most Four Points rentals, but Cindy made no comment. Upstairs, the two small bedrooms were in worse shape: stained beige shag carpet, crooked window blinds, bare bulbs. With three strides, they were in the bathroom at the end of the hall. Discolored bathtub, no shower. An old white porcelain sink over exposed plumbing.

Back downstairs, they stood under the harsh overhead in the living room. Eighth grade at Sacred Heart. Robin almost laughed out loud. Cindy cut her off. She draped her long ponytail over a shoulder and twisted the ends around her fingers. Trying to get out and start over. You as my landlord? Fuck it. Fuck you too. This is what it is. She smelled cigarette smoke when Cindy scoffed. For a long moment, Cindy looked at her, and Robin looked back.

Mascara-clumped lashes, pockmarked cheeks, the skin across her collarbone wrinkled and limp, old before its time. Against all odds, she needed something from Cindy Sweeney: her money, what little there was, and her assurance that, under her watch, nothing calamitous would happen to this apartment.

There were other people, surely. Cindy rustled through her purse. You want to count it? Robin shoved it into her pocket. Cindy took one step closer to Robin. I work the fucking register. You want my nametag? A pay stub? A moment passed. That hulking specter on Whistlestop Road. A fucking slumlady. Nuns love people like us. They have to love the sinners the most. The door was too hollow and cheap to properly slam.

It was fully dark at p. She turned onto the street as though under a spell. Past two boxy, unkempt houses and a prefab ranch with a collapsing side deck stood the house she sought, the last on the left. Three stories of dirty red brick, two windows sloppily boarded on the second floor, the attic windows missing entirely. A large, bowed picture window, a hole shot through the right-hand pane, overlooked a wraparound porch littered with broken bricks, cracked cement, and pieces of old wooden railings.

The second-floor bedroom windows looked down onto train tracks. In the fall, the turret window revealed a sea of red and gold, the tracks and the Youghiogheny River winding through in ribbons of bronze and onyx. Go on down. As clear as yesterday. Robin remembered too well what went on in that basement. Memories of the sex work—when they arrived, unbidden—nauseated her.

Thoughts of Trevor stopped her breathing. Wind gusted. A shingle from the roof cartwheeled to the ground. She tasted blood. It hurt, but she kept the broken bulb of chewed skin between her teeth. As she started the car and moved her hands to the steering wheel, her left elbow hit the lock button, firing a quick loud crack. The noise roused dogs in the house across the yard. Two tall black Dobermans threw themselves at the fence, jumping and barking, straining against the strips of blue tarp woven through the chain link.

A light flickered in the kitchen window of the old house, weak as a candle flame. Nothing but a nervous illusion—the reflection of a star. Robin K-turned the car and left the house behind. There was no way to know how long she would have to be gone. Robin shook Haley gently. By the time they got to Nettle Street, Haley was more alert.

Sister Eileen called. They were silent as they made the turn, the heater blasting. Robin pulled to the curb. Haley curled in her seat, trying to sleep again. Robin got out of the car and locked the doors.

Get the fuck out of here, you asshole! A scrawny man in jeans and a tank top ran around to the front, a belt in one hand and a beer in the other. When he saw Robin, he hurled the can at the front of the house, jumped into a pickup, and squealed away. For a long moment, Robin heard nothing but the fizzing puddle of beer on the porch. Robin knocked on the door, nodded at Cindy when she answered wearing purple plaid boxers and a t-shirt.

The living room was a jumble of piled furniture and boxes shoved against the wall. On the couch was Amber, wearing a Hello Kitty bathrobe, her arms around her knees. The living room and kitchen, where Robin had laid new carpet and tile, were full of broken glass. Like I told you—a bad situation. You and Amber unpack those boxes. Outside, Sister Eileen was sopping up the beer with paper towels, a plain cotton bathrobe over an ankle-length nightgown and sneakers.

Sister Eileen rose. Let me get my daughter. Robin retrieved the duct tape, and together they walked inside. Robin and Cindy fitted flattened cardboard boxes jigsaw-style over the windows, and Amber and Haley pressed long strips of duct tape along the edges, cutting the tape with a pair of dull kitchen scissors.

Both girls were in their pajamas and robes, with tangled ponytails and tired faces, as though this were a sleepover. Sister Eileen swept the broken glass and vacuumed the floors again and again. The house was cold when they finished, smelling of damp cardboard. It was almost four in the morning. Cindy shook her head.

Story of my life. Especially in this. Once the nun was gone, Cindy ushered Amber to bed. When she came back downstairs, she seemed defeated, nothing at all like Cindy. Same old fuck-up Cindy Sweeney. We can be out by next week. Like always. Robin felt a kind of peace, a kind of thankfulness.

All those months of searching and now, here, grace. Margo Orlando Littell grew up in a coal-mining town in southwestern Pennsylvania. She lives in New Jersey with her family. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. So far to go and so little light to guide him. The sun was almost down, the trail fading quickly. He was returning from town, slightly drunk, enjoying the high of human contact, his first in almost a week.

Or would it be Friday? What are days anymore? Long stretches of loneliness, he answered. He then counted the letters in loneliness: One zero. One is the loneliest number, he sang to himself, then laughed because its loneliness was nothing compared to his. Precisely, he thought. Jonah had come to Gabon four months earlier to assist Marcus, his thesis advisor at Vanderbilt—a quiet man with tenure and no family, his lifestyle the kind that afforded six-week sojourns into the forests of West Africa.

As his research took shape, he convinced some of his behavioral ecology students—Jonah being one of the more eager—to help analyze the hours of recordings. Jonah spent countless days staring at spectrograms in the lab, extrapolating some very interesting things and relaying those things back to Marcus in the field. They linked the sounds they recorded with the behavior they witnessed, shedding light on the relatively unknown complexities of elephant communication.

Jonah and his colleagues drafted what they referred to as The Elephant Dictionary, a compendium of their findings, a sonic key to the elephant dialogue. Their work began garnering attention—articles in scholarly journals, followed by an increase in funding—and Marcus offered Jonah a position as a field assistant, a welcome relief from the grinding tedium of lab work.

But shortly after Jonah arrived in Gabon, Marcus contracted malaria and returned to the States, leaving Jonah to spearhead the research. There was talk of sending someone to assist him, but it was difficult to find anyone willing to abandon university life for one spent in the forests of Gabon. He looked to the sky. Maybe rain? He watched a wire-tailed swallow swoop past his head and land on a tree branch.

He nodded at the bird, bid it good day. The bird chirped something that sounded like his name. He wondered if he misheard the bird. Or perhaps the bird misspoke. Better to pin it on the bird, he thought. Or maybe there was a third option.

It was nearly dark when he finally returned to camp, which was nothing more than a two-person tent pitched in a small clearing. He had no electricity, no running water. They had discussed trying to arrive at Charles de Gaulle around the same time so they could wander around the city together, try to see as much as possible before the final leg back to Chicago.

But still, he thought, the idea of home stirring his heart. Jonah fi r ed up t he butane camp stove and set water to boil. He emptied a package of noodles into the pot and watched the last bit of color drain from the sky.

He had expected this extended bout of solitary living to result in some kind of enlightenment, but most of his thoughts were occupied by images of nude women doing dirty things. It was mostly a lot of uninspired musings about how distant everything seemed, how disconnected he felt. He was certainly no writer and looking back at those old entries made him cringe at the teenage drama and hyperbole.

No shit, he thought, of course you feel disconnected, of course everything seems distant. You live alone in the forest. His camp was six kilometers from Franceville, the closest thing to a proper town. The train ride from Franceville to Libreville, the capital and location of the only international airport, was somewhere between ten and sixteen hours, depending on the condition of the track and the mood of the conductor.

To say that he lived in a remote part of Gabon was inaccurate. It was more like camping on the moon. He removed the noodles from the heat and strained them into a small plastic bowl, then added soy sauce and settled in for the only dinner he knew. Now he bathed in the stream if he bathed at all. I hold my breath as he reaches over and turns out the light. He rolls on his side, away from me. In the dark, where he now feels safe to tell me his fears, his voice sounds husky, strange.

I force myself to speak, just to stop him from talking. It is the right thing, but even as I say the words, they sound easy, rehearsed, false. Travis says nothing else. Neither do I. But the decision has been made. I lie next to Travis for what seems like hours, until finally his body softens, his breathing slows.

Both of us staring into the dark, not touching, not talking. When his breaths turn to snores, quietly, I get out of bed, go downstairs. I shuffle my feet into my tennis shoes, dig the cigarettes out of my purse. I walk into the backyard. The wet grass brushes against my bare ankles like pieces of velvet and soaks through my tennis shoes. The moon is almost full and the sky is clear and everything glows under the silver light: the towers of trees, protecting our still house.

He asked the same question six years ago when Brian left this family and all he knew. What will people think? Mia Tucker remained blindfolded. Someone to her left moaned and said they felt dizzy. A charging handle of a rifle was drawn, metal tonguing off against metal. A voice spoke to the moaner and to the group at once. Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape.

None of that would help in a New York City ballroom seized by a militia of disaffected war veterans. But the school had also included a sitting session on persuasion and influence. Most of the class slept through it, delirious at the chance to be off their feet for fifty minutes. But not Mia. Two guards began speaking to each other. Mia bowed her head and homed in, like she was lost in benediction.

But still. See those chandeliers? All gold. Keep focused. The other voice considered. Before the wogs blew it up. Then you trigger-happy bastards came along. The Found Generation, shit. You all messed up everything. They went back and forth like that, arguing about who had screwed up the Mediterranean Wars worse, when, and where.

Thirty years of everlong war meant a lot of different iterations of it. Mia racked her mind. The high palace had been in the hills surrounding Aleppo. The crescent palace lay in the center of Raqqa, near restaurant row. The state palace dominated what remained of Homs. The water palace floated alongside the island of Arwad. The sun palace, though. No turning back now, she thought. This is the right approach. For me. For them. For her.

I walked through the rubble there during my tour. Through the threadbare of her blindfold, Mia saw the two men approach. What kind of group plans out something this complex, she wondered, but skimps on blindfold costs? She nodded. Helo pilot out of Fort Sam Damon. Mia sniffed.

They thought she flew cargo. Mostly ripping through the Morning Isles, hunting down the last of the Greek radicals. That impressed them enough for her blindfold to be removed. The Morning Isles campaign had a reputation. She looked up to find two men of average stature and slung rifles, bafflement splayed across their clay faces. The older militant crossed his arms, and nodded. Mia thought about lying, but quickly decided not to. Soldiers smelled out lies like hounds. The old joke landed.

The militants asked about her deployments and units, she asked about theirs. They asked if she knew their old officers, and she did, a couple of them. She asked about the war tattoos covering their forearms, where they got them, what they meant.

They told her. They had. They did. The younger one asked if she had a boyfriend. She said that she did, a husband, but left out the pregnant part. Babies scared boys. We used to behave like a republic. I think we should get back to that. He was probing, still. Probably made a good barracks lawyer, Mia thought, explaining to his fellow joes how leadership was plotting against the regular soldier.

There was a short cry to her left. Someone tipped forward and landed on their shoulders and forehead, forming a body caret. The two militants looked at each other, then at Mia. They helped the woman up, taking off her blindfold and binding her wrists in her lap, so she could lean back against the wall. In the midst of chaos, Mia thought, there is also opportunity. Some famous dead person had said that. The woman was aware but disoriented. The younger one took a step toward the bar but the older one stopped him.

Like, media-wise. But say this turns out to be serious, heatstroke, a concussion or something. Older black woman, mostly white vets. They might make it — well, racial. We work for the good of all warfighters. Choice passed through the militants like wildfire.

Soldiers loved to complain about the decision making of their sergeants and officers. It was a proud tradition, one ancient as battle itself. But Mia had seen this quizzical look before, many times. This could go bad. And just like that, Mia Tucker cut down the enemy force by half. Former U. He lives with his wife and son in Brooklyn and works as a writing instructor at Words After War, a literary nonprofit devoted to bringing veterans and civilians together to study conflict literature.

Empire City , his second novel, was published in April by Atria. Music by Catlofe. No idea. No image. No body or variation in my psyche that needed to be pasted onto the reactive plastic. My neck itches from the weight of the old leather strap. My packer and binder and clothes sit tangled beside me on the passenger seat.

Morning in this new place, clutched by the same old place. I open the door and stand beside the car, stretching, breathing out my popping muscles, shaking out my stiff legs, straightening the dress that feels wrong. All I want to do is give up, get back into my car, and drive away. Turn on my phone and text Genny: just kidding! Slowly making it through the labyrinth of back and forth before my inertia surrenders to here.

To her. As I walk toward the home, the time between myself and Mother shrinks. Her camera hangs at my belly like a pit. Hedwig Baum? I follow her down the hall. She walks so slowly. She has more difficulty hearing, especially lately, so you will want to talk a little louder than last time. But you will want to make sure to use a conversational tone.

She responds better to tone. She was having trouble with it being so long— getting it tangled up in things, tying it up in knots, trying to braid it. Things like that. I start to move around her toward it. Help you? I grab the door handle before that girl starts to panic, tries to tell my body to run away. When I think about Mother, the first thing I remember is her body. Small chested, a dim scar on her belly from where I blew through her. Her long bright hair—brighter than mine.

As much as I try not to, I can see her in my height in the mirror. Which is why I avoid them. Why I rarely try on clothes in a store. When I think of her in motion, I imagine her body doing yoga. I imagine it through the bars of the vent between her studio and my bedroom.

After her body, I remember the feeling of her presence, the gravity she held in our creaky house. The gravity of the noise and the silence both, depending on the year, the month, the day. I remember being pulled back to that house after those long expeditions at night with Tom. Every time—every time but one—finding her there. Waiting up for me. And every time, not a single word between us. First, because of the electric storm of depression. Now, because her brain has lost so much of its charge.

Not the words themselves but her voice stacking upon itself in an unintelligible cacophony. Into static. Her back is to me. My eyes adjust from the dimness of the hall. I squint, try to make a distinction between her skin and the light. The door behind me closes with a click.

I approach, slowly, counting down the tiles between us. As I get closer, my memory of her body minimizes to meet reality. Her shoulders are like wire clothes hangers, her wrists like thumbs wrapped in wrinkled pink leather. Her scarred hands are two collections of raw, bubbled webs. I stand over her for a while, taking her in, fascinated and hurt. Time has brittled her. Twenty-seven years gone, turning her long hair blank white, letting it be chopped off for convenience, to make her seem more put together.

Letting it all be thrown away. No strand of hair on her head was there ten years ago. I imagine her clipping them all off. I look down at Mother and I can smell her, that clean, hospital soap smell that lacks any breath of humanity. I could move my hand four inches and touch her shoulder. Just four inches and I could break through decades of gone.

I stand in her soft shadow and forget completely what she used to smell like. Suddenly unsure what colour her hair used to be. Standing near her like this, silent, I hear my heart beating and realize the cacophony of her voice is gone. The camera is a promise, weighing down at my belly, the thin leather straps digging into the sides of my breasts. As I breathe in, the camera gets closer to Mother. As I breathe out it gets closer to me. Someone in this body will. I turn and walk back toward the door, and as I go, I can sort of remember her again.

As I near the door to her room, I remember my little hand buried in her tight palm, remember walking back from the liquor store with an empty wine box on my head. As I get back into the hall, I remember the smell, just a little, of chemicals and sweat and her when she came out of the darkroom, exhausted but sometimes smiling.

The darkroom where faces, bodies, and angles all began to appear on wet, blank paper. Mother is asleep, her eyes open. As I step out the door, into the cool air, I remember when the car stopped outside our house that morning and they carried Mother in— the man from Selkirk and Tom—to the bed where she would mumble.

I remember the heat of the sun on my skin as I stood there on the lawn and watched. The dew was nearly gone, but the grass was still cool. I could smell it. The light rising in the grey eastern sky is a false prophet. I get in the car. Then, he handed me a bag filled with her medication.

I turn on the ignition, crank the heat, and drive, slowly, out of the lot and toward her house, away from the home where Mother is unaware that I just stood behind her, that I was only four inches away from her. I pull away from the home, south, toward the place where I grew up and ran from, the dark from which my light-thirsty stem grew wide, seeking the warmth of the sun. The horizon to the southeast of the city is dark and tall and endless. The waters of the Red and the Assiniboine are high enough, but more rain is still coming to drown us out.

Spring of saw the publication of both their debut novel Vanishing Monuments Arsenal Pulp Press and their full-length poetry debut Junebat House of Anansi. They currently live with their partner—as well as a dog named Grendel—in Kansas City, where they occasionally teach writing.

They are also the resident design ghost at Split City Reads. All rights reserved. Try not to worry. Think of it this way: insomuch as being alive is safe, which it is not, having a craniotomy is safe. We fill our days with doing laundry, replacing our brake pads at the auto shop, or making a teeth-cleaning appointment with the dentist, in the expectation that everything will be fine.

There will be a day that kills you or someone you love. Such a perspective is actually quite comforting. Taken in that light, a craniotomy can be a relaxing experience, rather than one of abject terror. Nearly all operations begin with the creation of a bone flap so the doctor has an opening into your brain. This opening will be sealed shut at the end with wire or titanium plates and screws.

Beneath the bone are the three meninges, connective membranes also known as the mothers: the dura mater hard mother , arachnoid mater spidery mother , and pia mater soft mother. The blush of living brain has been described as resembling the inside of a conch shell or a crumbling marble quarry. Beyond that, what happens during a craniotomy depends on the type of surgery. A translabyrinthine craniotomy, for example, involves cutting away the whole of the mastoid bone and some of the tunnels of your inner ear.

Some craniotomies require you to be conscious. When a tumor makes itself comfortable with a good book and a blanket in front of the fire of your eloquent cortex, which controls language or motor functions, we give you prompts indistinguishable from online banking security questions.

Certain surgeons fancy themselves as early explorers, sketching out crude cartographies of the thunderous Badlands, the twists of the Amazon, the jagged coasts of Jutland brainscapes. I like to think of the organ as an ancient manor or primordial motel and myself a plumber, electrician, or stonemason reading a blueprint of where to find the stairways, hidden chambers, fuse boxes, boiler, septic tank.

You will be awake for a short interval during the craniotomy. Also, there are no pain receptors in the brain. You think you have it bad enough getting brain surgery, then suddenly the OR is covered in roaches. A woman once met her long-lost twin. It will go on with its braining, provided we got all the cancer or your growth was benign. If you have a tumor that has seeded itself throughout your cerebrum like an aspen grove, however, or been diagnosed with a glioblastoma multiforme, you will have a different kind of recovery.

In such circumstances, your craniotomy will be followed by radiation. We might even implant some wafers in your head and light you up like a plug-in bust of Christ. Patients tend to squeeze out at most another year after this; vigorous or younger individuals can last a smidge longer. What occurs next is this: fatigue, mood swings, muscle weakness, confusion as to the purpose of a toaster.

Chemo makes you lose weight. Steroids make you gain weight. You spend hours on internet medical forums, lament the hours spent on internet medical forums, then spend more hours on internet medical forums. You vow to quit the internet altogether and immediately spend more hours on internet medical forums. Incontinence, memory loss, the inability to wield utensils. Epiphanic moments and inexplicably beautiful solitary hours are devoured by rage. The joy of sunlight, the decency in rain; the hatred of sunlight, the disgust at rain.

Your long-suffering, Florence Nightingale spouse grows distant. Neighbors avoid your house in fear they will have to engage in small talk with you or your family. Diets, tonics, acupuncture sessions, and other alternative holistic methods are tried. Your spouse or mother or child caretaker gives you a haircut and you feel fully afraid and not just numbly afraid as you watch your thin hair on the floor get swept away.

Your spouse or mother or child caretaker, if artistically inclined, draws your likeness while you nap. Plan on being brought outside for a last trip to see the migration of geese. A dry fever calms you and shuts down all your bodily systems. You breathe harder and harder until you stop. A few families have even claimed that reckoning with a fatal diagnosis strengthened their bond. It merely requires a good mechanic.

There are symptoms that cannot necessarily be mitigated with hospice care or a prescription, such as when your spouse informs you that, even though you are a brain surgeon, he is too depressed to leave the house and pick up the boys at school or walk the dog. You should not be the one to clean up golden retriever feces off the kitchen floor. Ability to understand language but not to speak.

Ability to speak but not understand language. You might become the relative who throws the turkey at holiday dinners. Men and women wore the bone around their necks as a charm to ward off evil spirits. There lurk beastlier medical boogeymen, such as super-gonorrhea or the strain of MRSA resistant to known antibiotics. Eventually, you may not be able to get a rhinoplasty for fear of dying from a staph infection.

If that was blunt, that is because I have been dulled. On top of it all, I drew the short straw to write this FAQ page for our website because, our director said, we want it to have that personal touch. My apologies if my bedside manner comes across more Groucho Marx than Mother Teresa. The Department of Neurological Surgery at St.

Surgeons from all over the globe come to learn about the latest minimally invasive—and the latest maximally invasive—techniques. Tales from hagiographies describe her mystical trances wherein she would feel herself be stabbed through the heart and out her intestines with the fiery golden lance of God, causing excruciating spiritual torment.

Hospital halls are built for suffering. Jay is a terror both on and off the mound. Amy Benson is our go-to skull-base surgeon. She recently returned from maternity leave. Now the only thing we hear about is the coltish softness of fontanels, the magical myelination moment of development when her baby recognized—I mean really recognized—her face.

Chen, our primary pediatric specialist, decided to retrain from dermatology after his son died of an astrocytoma. Then there is Dr. Steve Stevens, who has a decent name for a nemesis; he is the director of neurosurgical operating rooms at St. Do not permit a man with essentially the same first and last name to operate on your spine, his forte, the most lucrative specialization in our field. As for me, I have a totaled Lexus, the academically indifferent sons, an acute condition of plantar fasciitis, a touch of alcoholism, and the no-longer-toilet-trained golden retriever.

Wilson must have to move through linear time. I feel betrayed by the brain. But when you think of the color red, do you picture the insistent primal red of an emergency vehicle or the deep burgundy of an aged wine? If I asked you to visualize a chair, would you picture an ornately carved dining chair or a plush recliner? Then I found my husband in the garage after his suicide by gunshot to the head, and our relationship no longer made sense.

I assumed I had known the locations and boundaries of things, where he tended to take off his shoes, the weekend afternoons he liked to be left alone. The older brother he used to idolize had overdosed. My husband was sad, and after a while I became exasperated with him, because I assumed that I understood where the edges of that sadness were. Now I wonder: when I am resecting a brain to prevent seizures, for example, what am I even attempting to fix?

Still, I am rather fond of my rongeurs, my retractors. After a while, everything becomes routine. Suturing peach fuzz or reopening a bone flap to drain the cerebrospinal sap of a girl with brain swelling leaves a bittersweet existential aftertaste. I sobbed in a supply closet, the first real, gulping sob since I was an intern, after I accidentally nicked the sinus of a toddler with epilepsy and saw the blood drenching my scrubs down to my shoe covers.

When I was removing a pituitary recently, I had the thought, what if I abandoned my sons and simply worked at the food court in an airport? After I took out that pituitary, I found myself driving to the mall. Escalators that were past the point of caring about anything, a feeling I identified with, stitched me up several floors in a department store until I arrived in the blissful sauna of fabrics that was the section for evening gowns.

An emerald-green dress covered in sequins with a plunging neckline was the first to flash to my brittle attention, and I looped it over an arm raw from surgical soap. Really brings out the color of your eyes. She resembled my mother, who had raised me by herself and been so proud of my reliable profession and my reliable husband, who had worked odd jobs to support us — she had been a waitress and a secretary and a stockist of blue jeans — but forty years younger, reincarnated and karmically forced to work retail for eternity.

Though maybe that was my dumb imagination too sentimental from bereavement. The twenty-something reincarnation of my mother brought me a strapless golden dress of stiff satin that curved like a bell but with a slice cut out of it at the front, as if my legs were the clapper on display. She brought me a dress that was layers of frothy raspberry tulle. Such information might give her a clearer idea of the best ensemble for my needs.

There was no Medulloblastoma Ball; I had invented it on the spot, and the fake event conjured pictures of globular brain tumors in formal wear awkwardly holding each other at the waists during a slow dance in a junior high gymnasium. She must have realized she was going to have to hug. I wore that emerald gown out of the store, and I was wearing it when I bought a case of cheap sauvignon blanc, setting the alcohol on top of my balled-up scrubs in the passenger seat, and when I got home, I wore the emerald gown as I uncorked a bottle and slowly, ever so slowly, poured the liquid into a glass and took a sip.

Operating in the emerald gown would be so glamorous, I mused, provided I had matching hairnet and face mask accessories also studded with emeralds. A surgeon could remove a tumor but replace it with a sapphire or ruby. The emerald gown and I let the golden retriever out to take a shit in the middle of the driveway, then the golden retriever, the gown, and I lay in bed, where I drank the rest of the opened wine. Since my husband killed himself, the golden retriever sleeps on his side while the dog bed on the floor remains empty and disgusting.

That dog bed has probably been disgusting for a while, but only now that the dog no longer uses it do I find the dog bed beyond repulsive. My sons returned and yelled for me. They were standing extremely still, too still for teenage boys, which meant they were either afraid that they would be told to do something or afraid of something I would do. The dress pirouetted elegantly in the jets like a jellyfish or a severed mermaid tail.

Water was the proper medium for dresses, I decided. Celebrities at the Met Gala should promenade down the red carpet and into an enormous fish tank. Were there exceptions, rules, items that if lost to the depths would later make me mad? In went a hammer, a basketball, and a single leather glove, as though we had challenged the pool to a duel. A Nativity set was sacrificed, and drowned, too, were childhood action figures, those superheroes and supersoldiers, intriguing me as to what they might bring as gifts to round out the frankincense and myrrh.

Additional flotation devices for the geckos in the form of couch cushions were hurled, and under them I made a note to check for untold quarter, booger, and, most important, benzodiazepine treasures. The gross dog bed was chucked, so for good measure I pushed in the dog.

We laughed at him as he paddled around the obstacle course of our crap in that terribly inconvenienced yet gentlemanly manner of swimming dogs. Read these answers once again, but very slowly. She lives in New York. Reprinted by permission. Then you drove south through three miles of sage and sand, climbed into the foothills of the Humboldt Range, and took a nameless dirt road that forked to the right halfway up Limerick Canyon.

This road rose through more hills furred with sagebrush until it ended in a small, square valley where a few dozen buildings huddled together. Only when you were upon them would you see that they sketched a town: a smattering of houses and trailers, a general store and a bar, a small school, a fire station, and a church the size and shape of three shipping containers welded together with MARZEN BAPTIST painted in red letters on one side.

Two hundred and seven people lived there. Eighty-four men, seventy-six women, and forty-seven children. Most of the men, and some of the women, worked at the open pit silver mine farther up in the hills. Their fathers had been miners, too, and their grandfathers, but they knew the ore would be gone long before their children could punch the clock.

In Marzen, you took your problems one day at a time. The town had no police force — its citizens managed the occasional drunken fight just fine on their own — so the fire station was where you had to go if you wanted to report a dead body. Jake Sanchez was the volunteer on duty the morning of March 14, which for him meant watching The Price is Right on the black and white television with his feet on the desk.

Jake put his booted feet on the floor and turned the swivel chair to face him. He knew him, of course. His name was Absalom, though no one called him that, not even his mother. Would God I had died for thee! Did you miss the bus?

Sal had started sixth grade in the fall. Jake looked at his watch. It was just after seven-thirty; the bus had left fifteen minutes ago. Gideon and Ezra Prentiss lived three miles outside town on land that had belonged to their family since the Gold Rush. They were pariahs of long standing, thanks to family history, a reputation for violence, and rumored criminal enterprises that, depending on who was talking and how imaginative they were, included cattle theft, meth cooking, drug running, and money laundering for the Russian mafia.

Up the hill a ways. He was wearing the uniform of the Marzen Volunteer Fire Department, and despite the game shows he took that responsibility seriously. He turned off the television. He looked around the small station for help, but of course there was none.

Maybe he should treat this as a medical call, he thought. Marzen was small enough that its fire department volunteers doubled as paramedics, and Jake was even more proud of his EMT license than he was of his fire department uniform. He could take the ambulance up there, see what Sal had found. He wiped his palms on his pants. They drove up the dirt road that led from the town to the Prentiss place.

Jake figured Sal had found the body on his way to the school bus, and sure enough, about a mile along they came upon an old brown Corolla parked just off the road, and Sal told him to stop. Jake walked over to the car. He knew better than to touch it, but he looked inside. It was empty. He walked back to where Sal waited beside the ambulance. All around them the foothills of the Humboldt Range rose in bristly mounds, treeless and dry.

To the right the land sloped up toward a rocky cliff that threw man and boy into shadow. It was cold in this high desert country in March; the tops of the mountains were still white with snow. Sal turned and led Jake up the slope. They climbed in silence, through sagebrush that snatched at their pants legs. When they reached the top the ground dropped into a seasonal wash that ran along the base of the bluff. A cluster of acacia trees stood there, their canopies lifted to the sky like open palms.

They were the only trees Jake had seen since they left Marzen, and the dense little grove spoke of shelter, of safety. Of a place to hide. Sal stopped. The wind whipped in the sagebrush and the gray-green leaves of the acacias, and moaned as it curled among the hills. There was a smell, too, faint but insistent. Tangy, ripe, burnt. Far above, two chicken hawks floated in lazy circles, their wings tipping in, then out, then in again.

Jake looked at the boy. His eyes were closed, his shoulders drawn in tight. Sal nodded without opening his eyes. He saw the careful ring of stones that made the fire pit, and the ashes piled in the center. Around it lay trees that had grown and died and fallen, their corpses blackened in the long, quiet decay of desert things. Then Jake, too, closed his eyes. Rex is leading me across his backyard by the hand. I stop. Trust me. Not unless you want to die! And to their point, what good can come out of walking into a dark forest at night?

Rex reaches into his backpack, takes out a big flashlight, and shines it into the woods. No boogeyman. In protest, I take a deep breath and let it out slow and loud. But when he grabs my hand, I start walking again. After a few minutes, we reach a clearing with a wooden picnic table. He hands me the flashlight and lights two tin citronella candles sitting on the benches, one on each side of the table. Then he takes a blanket out of his backpack and arranges it on top of the picnic table.

This has always been my secret spot. Even at my old house, when there was just a tiny backyard with two cedar elm trees. I was already looking up at the stars, but I look closer. At all the bright spots peeking out from the darkness. At the giant pines stretching toward them. But scientists estimate there are somewhere between one hundred and four hundred billion stars in the galaxy. Especially since fifteen billion trees are chopped down every year.

Did you know that almost fifty percent of the trees on the planet have either been cut down or died some kind of way since humans have been around? I knew all the Amazon boxes had to come from somewhere, but fifteen billion? Dang, at this rate, our stars are going to start catching up to our trees. I like collecting ones I find interesting and putting them up on my walls. But nothing, really. I mean, my walls still have a lot to tell me.

I love talking to Carli like this. It looked magical. I sit up on my elbow and reach for it. Rub my thumb along the curved left edge, where the raised crescent moon sits cradling a sun in the form of a cut-out circle. From the circle I slide my thumb along the engraved rays that reach toward tiny raised stars on the other side.

Just everything. So I lie back down. Then she shifts around on the table. Her words—after our long, dark silence—feel like a spark. And I guess your mom is a part of all that now. Carli puts the palm of her hand against my chest.

And I always knew why. Then he went off and sold our old house. The house my mom lived in, my biggest connection to her, without even telling me first. Like, for the first time in my life. He used to stay in there all the time when he was home. I rarely saw him. Oh, I forgot to tell you. We want to hire your mom to help us make the house more of a home.

In the darkness, her words almost feel like my own. Afraid of everything that might come up. Liara Tamani lives in Houston, Texas. Music by CatLofe. It was the summer after her first year of college, and FJ, who no longer wished to be called Frankie, was listless and blue.

College had been disappointing, and home was worse. But then one morning things turned interesting. It began, that crazy green August morning, when her sister-in-law Janice pulled into the driveway. She drove a Firebird, only a few years old. Aunt Pet was in the kitchen cutting up a chicken when FJ woke to the sound of the engine and walked outside. She was still in her gym shorts and ratty old T-shirt, sleep caked in the corners of her eyes, and she approached the Firebird tentatively, wondering who could be inside.

And FJ had two thoughts in quick succession then. And then they were gone. She punched in the cigarette lighter and rummaged in her bag. And help yourself. She will never call me Frankie, FJ thought, as they ripped out of the driveway. Was it maturity on her part, that is the ability to see things more clearly, FJ wondered, glancing sideways at her sister-in-law, or did Janice look more desperate than desirable these days?

Except for the conversation when they stopped later that morning for breakfast. It seemed like everyone, not just Janice, was smoking; the blinds were pulled against the white hot morning sun, and the smell of coffee and cigarettes and the buzz of conversation surrounded them in a pleasant, muffling cloud.

FJ opened her menu and started to relax, thinking to herself that maybe she and her sister-in-law would start doing this more often, just head out on a Saturday morning every now and then for a nice drive and breakfast in a new town. Maybe even a close one.

But then they started talking. Oh yes. A mountain in the snow. You are bloody. It comes out between the cracks. Just do believe me. Our blood is melting all the snow. Where it comes from. Order what you want. Out for breakfast! The dim light of the diner seemed to be too much for her. Back in the car, FJ felt afraid for the first time that morning.

But still, FJ had the feeling they were moving far too fast. If you want to you can drive and drive forever. You never have to stop. FJ cleared her throat and started to speak but stopped. For too long. Then suddenly Janice turned back to the road ahead. Stay away from stop signs. FJ thought suddenly of Berenice and caught her breath.

But during the first semester of her freshman year of college she cried herself to sleep at night with a queer sort of longing for both of them, for the housekeeper from her childhood and a snot-nosed little boy with bad eyesight. On Berenice and John Henry. On all their talk and dreams. Even on her own name. Each morning that year, jerked back to the cold reality of her sterile freshman dorm room, she opened her eyes and stared straight ahead at that God-forsaken, dried-up washcloth.

She had never seen her roommate actually carry the thing to the bathroom, though clearly it had been used at some point. During the entire second semester she and her roommate might have spoken five sentences to each other. He beats her up, she thought then; she says he beats her up. Cars were speeding by them. FJ looked at the speedometer and saw that Janice, who was lost in some thought or another, was going twenty miles an hour. In her dreams of college she had walked from left to right on the movie screen of her mind, over lush green lawns and into ivy-covered buildings, to hear scintillating lectures about Michelangelo and Tennyson.

But in fact the buildings were new and the desks were scratched with graffiti and she walked from right to left over hot concrete most of the time. In her classes she watched filmstrips and dozed. Now she felt as unmoored and bewildered as she had ever been.

For the time being though, sleeping late into the summer mornings and spending the afternoons on a chaise lounge in the back yard with a novel had been a way to forget about it all for a while. Yes, of course FJ knew what Janice was talking about. Gradually she realized that Janice had begun to cry. And for FJ there was her father, Aunt Pet. Everyone who seemed to like her best when she was quiet and out of the way.

But to her it seemed more like everyone—and most of all she herself—was coming loose. For another cigarette FJ assumed, but instead she pulled out a bottle of pills. Watch out for these things. The tropical zone.

The psycho-tropics. Janice giggled then, pleased with her pun, and FJ laughed, too. This was true, she did in fact have to pee, but besides that, FJ was getting very nervous. The more Janice talked about her spinning top of a mind the faster she drove. Yes, FJ did remember feeling loose, too, when she was a kid. But right now the fact remained that at the line about the psycho-tropics, FJ looked over to see the speedometer needle coursing well beyond the speed limit, to sixty, seventy, eighty, and beyond.

And at that point she looked closely at Janice and admitted to herself that yes, in fact, she felt afraid of being as loose as that. So that when they rolled off the highway and finally smacked into a tree, the only thing that surprised FJ was the silence afterwards. Still hanging there today for all she knew. FJ heard a whimpering then and looked over to see Janice hunched over the steering wheel, her shoulders shaking, her long, thin arms covered with goose bumps.

Sweaty wisps of hair curled over her ear and a faint blue vein showed through the soft skin at her temple. She looked, FJ thought, like a little girl. Janice looked up at her and blinked. Her voice sounded small and hollow. Later, when a policeman arrived, they sat on the slope above the road.

As the officer got out of his car and lumbered up the hillside she fingered the bottle of pills in her pocket. For just a second Janice sat there, and then she pulled herself up to her knees. FJ turned her head a tiny bit and watched through squinted eyes as the policeman helped her up. Then, before she walked over to the car with him, Janice reached down and put her long, thin arms around the tight little ball FJ had made herself into, and she kissed FJ on the top of her head.

And right then FJ felt strong enough to hold the whole world in place with her very own arms. She pulled off the top and poured them out there on the hill, and seeing those bright green pills in the red Georgia clay made her think of Christmas, of a whole other season in a whole other place, cold air and the smell of pine and the heat of a thousand or so candles. Christmas in Luxembourg maybe, or anywhere at all. She could go anywhere at all, she thought.

She smoothed two handfuls of dirt over the little pile of pills and pulled herself up from the ground then, and she walked over to join Janice and the policeman beside the Firebird. But remembering her role she held it in, and she worked to make her face look sorry.

Learn more at her website and Facebook page. There was only one voicemail. One single, unpromising voicemail in response to the ad Robin had placed for the empty apartment. No one answered when Robin returned the call, but she left a message inviting the woman to visit the property at four that afternoon. Unsure if anyone would show up, Robin arrived early to turn on the lights and wipe the new countertops. She waited anxiously by the front window.

She would not ask any questions. She needed this woman, whoever she was, to say yes. A beat-up Camry pulled to a stop in front of the duplex. Robin smoothed her hair, plucked a piece of brown leaf from the carpet. She stood and looked out the window once more. The voice on the message had been so ordinary, a local woman making apartment-hunting calls.

It was Cindy Sweeney, more than twenty years a stranger. Cindy was on the porch, preparing to knock.

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