It was our first Valentine’s Day as a married couple and I was obligated to force upon my husband an enchanted evening of romantic extortion.

I know, I know. Valentine’s Day belongs to pagans and 3rd graders who use grammatically incorrect phrases like “crazy 4 u” or “ur 2 cute” as a means of seduction. But I’m not a pagan and as a former English instructor and sugar connoisseur, I frown upon poor syntax etched into chalky candy.

As for my husband, he vehemently renounces Valentine’s Day as a scam and the only candy heart conversations he’d even be interested in are, “Where’s my New Yorker?” and “I’m going to Home Depot.” Sentiments that hardly solicit romantic intrigue.

The 21st century kicked off with as auspicious a beginning as one might hope for, in the form of a first love inviting herself into my life with a pleasantly unexpected phone call. She was a fellow student of my creative writing program whom I’d been acquainted with since freshman year, wickedly smart and suddenly into me with an intensity I was helpless to resist. Despite this, though, we were still just a pair of dumb kids, straddling that margin of post-adolescence where our hormones organized themselves into ranks and assailed the ramparts of common sense. Inevitably, I fell for her hard, and when she broke up with me after an old boyfriend reentered the picture I hit bottom with a thud so loud it echoed for a long while afterward.

My sophomore year of college, I was a thin, small girl with a pierced lip and pixie-short hair and a mildly broken heart and it was because of this last item that I left myself make a mistake by the name of Lee. This was such a small moment in the great, growing swath of my life, this frozen semester of weeping over romantic comedies and thrashing angrily to loud music and getting drunk off Malibu coconut rum which I didn’t even like. Such a small moment. Over the course of the last decade, these few months I spent with Lee have barely registered. They have been a blip. He did not hurt me badly, nor did he teach me any great life lessons. He did not matter, hardly at all.

But I think about him often, and the day I first let him kiss me, because that was a mistake.

My father died on November 12, 2012. The date matters. My mind clenches the details, hugging tight the hairpin curves of my memory. I am the cartographer of this map. November 12, 2012.

Though it was a heart attack that ultimately killed him, my father was facing terminal cancer, and so our grief had been underway for weeks before his death. As the grim test results piled up, I shuttled my father to and from doctor’s appointments, picked up his medicines, stocked his fridge with the foods he needed to cleanse and strengthen his body. I did this mostly on autopilot and very little sleep. When I did occasionally break down—in the car, in my office behind closed doors—the ferocity of my keening frightened me. The pitch of it. The way it overtook and then left me, a funnel cloud suddenly curling back into the sky.

EJ Levy’s new story collection, Love, In Theory, is a powerful array of contradictions: sensuous yet wry, bruising yet brainy, perfectly precise yet voluptuously messy. Her characters inhabit not-so-ivory towers of academia and hospital hallways; they chase after lovers they’re lucky to be rid of and fuck up happy homes; they laugh at themselves and they love without hope. Everyday actions—flirting with a salesman at a camping store, shaking hands with a partner’s co-worker—pitch them into moments of existential crisis that Levy describes in prose that fuses the muscular density of Mary Gaitskill’s best work with the sardonic buoyancy of Lorrie Moore.

Real Mammal

By Caroll Sun Yang

Essay

He snorts Ritalin all night and chases down the white dust with Old Fashioned Sidecars. He asks me to take pictures of him wearing my sheer black panties with striped ruffles and pink-lemonade colored ribbons laced through. He asks me to do this with my cellular phone so that I might later “text” him the “good ones”. He says has plans to save them for some later date, maybe for use as “jack-off material”. I am reluctant at first. A smidgen hurt at the thought of being replaced as his masturbatory focus. I try not to let my face show disinterest in this project, a disinterest verging on disdain. What will be achieved by this activity? He is not gay. He is not usually prone to high narcissism. He is infrequently frivolous. In fact, he harbors contempt for operatic displays. But here he is cut a little loose on pills and Cognac, retrieving my makeup bag and hand mirror.

If you don’t know who Junot Díaz is, you should. His writing stands out as startlingly original in a world that often feels crammed with literary replication. He is the author of Drown; he won the Pulitzer Prize for The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao; and he is the author of the newly-released This is How You Lose Her, a story collection that centers around the charming and irresistible Yunior whose flaws only make us love him more.

Hey Mom!

Paul.

Paul, your son.

I know, bad connection sometimes on the Bluetooth.

It’s a phone thing.

How are you?

I said, how are you. You good?

Good.

There is a sense of chaos involved in the act of falling in love, a lack of control, and quite possibly a hint of something tragic, a chance to be hurt. This applies to the slim but haunting novel My Only Wife (Dzanc Books) by Jac Jemc. In marriage there is the possibility of intimacy, a merging of spirit and life, but the reality can be a dense caryatid carved out of lies, mysteries, and selfish acts.

My Only Wife is about an unnamed couple, a husband who has fallen and surrendered, and a deceptive, passionate and quirky wife. The way Jemc renders their story is painful in its depiction of beauty and love, vicious in its evocation of what a broken heart feels like—the eternal echo of a call left unanswered.

Hey there!

Ahoy, Kimberlee!

 

I don’t know how to ease into this, so I’m just going to jump in!

Appropriate enough for a gspot, or is this gchat?

I was seventeen when a new millennium reset the world. I started it by drinking a bottle of cinnamon-flavored liquor at my own New Year’s Eve party and passing out in my room, sleeping right through the ball drop. In the morning, my mother woke me with the dregs of the bottle in a shot glass, the sickly sweet, spicy fumes like smelling salts under my nose. She told me to drink the shot or get grounded for being an asshole. I drank the shot and slept the entire first day of the year 2000.

You think you are doing okay.

You think you are doing okay because everyone tells you that they think you are doing okay and because every morning you wake up and walk the dog.

You know that this is a little thing, but also, you know that this is an important thing.

Every morning you wake up.

Every morning you go outside.

Every morning people see you.

(Verse 1)

 

Girl.

They don’t understand.

You swirl and twirl in your world.

I want to hold your hand.

One day.

The apocalypse comes in many forms. Oh sure, there is acid rain and there is drought, the crops dry up and the world moves on, but what happens when you’re alone with your wife or husband? Nature takes over, as it always does, and always will. And what becomes of the children? In Matt Bell’s haunting portrayal of twenty-six moments in the afterbirth of a world gone wrong, Cataclysm Baby (Mudluscious Press), we get to see how those days and nights roll on, when the waters are poisoned and furtive slick flesh seeks out a moment of passionate respite in many a dark and restless night.