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TLDC cover imageThe lost daughter collective gathers on the top floor of an abandoned umbrella factory in the downtown of a mid-sized city. The group is composed of men who meet weekly to harness their mourning, a delicate practice best not undertaken alone. Along with the roomful of fathers, there is weak tea and a healthy supply of biscuits neither sweet nor tart. A rich store of tissues is hidden in nooks throughout the large, single-room loft that composes the thirty-third floor, out of sight so as not to invite tears. Despite this, crying often ensues, though most of the men use their sleeves.

The fathers categorize their lost daughters in two ways: dead or missing. A dead daughter is deemed a Dorothy, a missing one an Alice. Qualifying their lost girls in this way is a silently endorsed coping mechanism. When a new father arrives, no one need articulate the method of daughter-exit from his life. The others can tell whether he is the victim of a Dorothy or an Alice by the new father’s posture and gait. Father sorrow is best read through the mobile body.

9781942515531One and One Make Two

But there were moments. I do remember moments. Judy says you add them up and get nothing. She says every child is entitled to make up her own burdies. And I say if the memories are real and you add yours up, you’ll get a sum. One and one make two.

I remember as a little boy being with my father in Uncle Raymond’s furniture store. It was just possible my father had been working there for a while, perhaps selling used furniture out of the dusty, dimly lit back of the store while Uncle Raymond worked out of the shiny and wax-scented showroom up front. It’s possible my father had taken me to work with him that day. Anything is possible. In my memory I am crawling around on the floor, exploring among the old dining room tables and chairs and somber dark chests while my father waits for his customers in an easy chair, like a bear sitting back in his lair. I must come on him unwittingly for when he says, “Where do you think you’re going?” he takes me by surprise and I don’t have an answer. The light is so dim back there that he seems to be part of the chair. The armrests are massive and end in what look like an animal’s claws, with deep grooves between the fingers. The chair’s fabric has a staleness about it I’ll later associate with the staleness of caves. My father sits there, almost daring someone to come in and give him reason to rise. One foot is planted squarely on the floor, and there isn’t another, of course. His hand briefly grazes the top of my head. “Where do you think you’re going?” may be the first words of his I remember, a rhetorical question, for surely he knew the answer. I was going to him.

599105446454460d9c53a7721746d9af_xe8j5tIt was a typical, two-story frame house, the kind of colonial one saw all across the Corn Hill section of Utica, a small white house with a green roof, green shutters, a green door, a wide front porch with a swing and a couple of white rocking chairs and a view onto the street, the goings-on of the neighborhood. When Max imagined, as he occasionally did, what it might be like to have a family of his own, he saw them in such a house, on such a porch, in such a swing. Leading up to it was a walkway of gray paved stones lined by hedges. The hedges were expertly trimmed, never overgrown, curving gently into the front yard in which Irene and Abe had long-ago planted a peach tree that now towered almost to the second story windows and dropped its soft fruit onto the porch every July. The fruit never rotted there or went to waste. Irene swept it up into her apron, ushered it into her kitchen with its white counter tops scoured daily, covered in matching canister sets, its drawers full of egg whiskers and potatoes mashers, a cozy breakfast nook in the corner and coffee percolating besides the stove. It was a house with everything a man could want or ask for, a house with not just the basics a person needed to survive —heat, plumbing, a roof to block out the elements— but all the small comforts that made it a place that drew a person in, invited him back. Max looked up at the Auer home, at the sun hammering at the windows, the peach tree swaying lightly in the breeze, the white nubs of a dogwood overhanging the porch like little bells. And on the porch, the person who brought it all into being, a beautiful brunette planting flowers in a window box. Abe Auer had come to this country with nothing; now he had all this. Yet still he worried. Max stood a moment, dizzy in the drinkable summer air, trying to make the disjointed ends meet, and then he remembered why he’d come, that it wasn’t his job to solve all the human mysteries of the world. He stepped forward, waved hello to Irene Auer.

True Stories at the Smoky View coverVrai wished she had the nerve to leave Skip’s ashes and the box of things from his apartment on his mother’s doorstep. Why not loop Cassi’s leash around the dogwood, ring the doorbell, and run? She didn’t regret the phone call to his mother to offer condolences. Skip would surely have done the same for her. But this visit would be downright awkward.

She and Skip had both grown up here in Knoxville. Decades later they’d become close friends while working in the same library in Baltimore. Just up the street from that library, four days ago, Skip had been hit by a car. According to the article in the Baltimore Sun, the driver, an optician, claimed Skip had stepped off the curb with his hands over his eyes. The article had his name right, Jasper Pascal Howard, Jr., but said he was fifty years old. Skip was only forty-nine, two years older than Vrai.

Bittersweet Way, Skip had ruefully called this quiet, tree-lined street where his mother still lived, and for Vrai, too, his old neighborhood was steeped in sadness. Her best friend, Laramie, had lived next door to Skip.

Dancing in the Baron's Shadow CoverHe adjusted his visor and gazed at the photo tucked into the flap: a small boy with a melon-shaped head Raymond lovingly stroked and a little girl with red ribbons in every tiny braid. Both were flashing giant smiles. Enos was the spitting image of his father, his skin always glistening in the blaze of summer. Adeline favored her mother, with brown, bony cheekbones and a spear for a tongue. Raymond smiled. Just this morning, as he dropped them at school, she’d tried again to convince him he didn’t need to take the time off work to pick them up. “We can walk home,” she assured him, squeezing her little brother’s hand.

They could. He knew that. But he wanted to give this to his children: the gift of transportation, something he’d never had himself. Raymond had walked several miles to school in bad shoes, on harsh country roads of gravel and stone. Whenever he reminisced about his country days, his wife Yvonne would smile at the children. “See how much your father does for you?” But it was true. Now that he had a life and a family in the city, he wanted to afford his offspring the luxury of a car. Even if “luxury” was this old beat-up Datsun taxi, a red ribbon tied to the rearview mirror to signal that he was still on duty.

TheStrangest_2015_07_27_CVF (1)One morning was different. It proved to be different enough. I was at the bars, but when one of the officers started getting close, I went to the far end of the cell. There’s a part of the cell that remains shadowed even during what I figure is high noon. It is my idea that they don’t see me there.

If they don’t see me, maybe I don’t exist.

I don’t exist, and they don’t so much as bother me.

They don’t feed my fears.

They had been doing that a lot the past couple days.

Questioning, always questioning. I came to the conclusion that I was guilty. But that wasn’t enough for them. Officers and prisoners and the occasional person that doesn’t look like they belong in a prison, only stopping by, they question. With their gaze, they question.

Charmed Particles—FINAL CoverNote from the author: This chapter comes from the middle of Charmed Particles. The novel’s about a town whose residents are in conflict over plans to build the Superconducting Super Collider (a tool for studying particle physics) under their homes, schools, and farmland. The book follows two unconventional families—the Mitals and the Winchesters—as the controversy affects them all in different ways.

This chapter is about the two daughters of these families, Meena and Lily, whose friendship connects the two families. Meena’s family comes from Bombay. She was born in the U.S., but her parents immigrated to the States as adults because of her father’s job at a facility in town called the National Accelerator Research Lab. The excerpt is set in the 1987 in the fictional Chicago suburb of Nicolet, where Meena is one of only a few students of color in her school.

1426784423085Day 9

 

Russell drove us up 65th to Phinney Ridge, his white stomach stuffed behind the wheel of the quick blue convertible Porsche. He accelerated over the cross streets, and Alice, who’d flagged us down outside her parents’ house, made girlish sounds as she floated, momentarily, above the tiny back seat while Russell leered at her in the rearview mirror. He’d shown up unannounced that morning, had simply pulled up and honked out front until I came to the door. Two minutes later I’d been convinced to “see something.” We crested Phinney, dodged left, and leapt into the air on our way down the other side.

“Are we in a hurry?” I asked.

“Try to be alive,” he shouted over the buzz of the car’s high revving engine. “You will be dead soon enough!”

This sounded familiar. I tried to remember who’d said it, and watched Green Lake disappear behind the trees as we fell back to its level.

“I’m fine here,” said Alice, and the car stopped more quickly than I would have thought possible.

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.

notetoselfTime theft. This was Anna’s first thought when she found out she was being let go. Everyone was doing it—Brandon was practically webcasting gay porn from his cube—but for some reason management had decided to unleash the mailbox scrubbers and digital hounds on her. Worse, she couldn’t deny it. The Internet had draped itself, kudzu-like, over her brain. There were disturbing signs. Or rather, signs that Leslie later pointed out were disturbing. Like the spam collection. “Spam’s not a collectible,” Leslie had said when Anna laid her confession on the table. “That’s not a thing, Anna.” And Anna had to explain because Leslie didn’t know what it was like out there—her floors were cleaned by tiny robots with cute names. Market brinksmanship had driven spammers to new poetic heights. Someone should be saving it, studying it, sorting it according to some matrix of desperation, even.

is-this-tomorrow1She came home to find him in her kitchen. She was in no mood, having spent the whole morning arguing with a lawyer, but there he was, her son’s best friend, Jimmy Rearson, a twelve- year-old kid home from school at three on a Wednesday afternoon with too-long hair and a crush on her, reading all the ingredients on the back of a Duncan Hines Lemon Supreme cake mix, tapping the box with a finger. “Adjust temperature for high altitudes,” he said, as if it really mattered. She felt a pang for him, a boy so lonely he feigned interest in how many eggs and how much sugar a cake might need. He leaned over unabashedly and turned on her radio, and there was Elvis crooning “Heartbreak Hotel,” the words splashing into the kitchen.

tin-god-cover_0All over the Middle West you find people who know I’m here. Why, there was this woman in Minnesota—you saw her in the grocery-line-kind-of-paper—who found God in her dishwasher, on a scratched plastic Goofy cup. But there are others who know there’s something going on and so are forever talking aliens. Aliens, and I don’t mean just the unregistered citizen-slaves who trim trees and pick fruit, they talk about people of real color, purple, for example, with weeds attached to the person’s undersides or insect parts where their mouths should be. Sometimes that same newspaper puts them on the front page with a star’s parts. And there are also those who know there’s something going on but they can’t quite put their finger to it. What they end up fingering usually isn’t god, in general, the human mind always running to evil like it does. Remember the girl who last year offered her firstborn to the rising river?  I was behind her, in my pickup.

201303-orig-botw-goodman-284xfallThursday Night – John

Kidnap was not the right word. John had simply meant to take Clara to breakfast at the corner diner, where they had good poached eggs and were especially kind to babies. But in the end he couldn’t explain the inexorable pull, the electric thrum that made him rise from the bed, strangely untethered, and begin to shave with scalding water, or the innocence of his motive — he just wanted to be with her. He couldn’t describe the indefinite urgency that had propelled him. Yes, he took the baby with him, but she was his daughter.

978-0-9836932-6-0-Stupid-Children-cover-low-Emergency-Press-214x300The very first thing Virginia and I did when we escaped the Second Day Believers was get tattooed. Thinking back, I can’t remember why we chose to do this, or why we chose to do it where we did, which was at a small tattoo shop that played death metal at top volume in South Beach. Death metal and South Beach are two things that don’t necessarily go hand in hand—perhaps the awkwardness of the shop is what appealed to us. We didn’t really make a hell of a lot of sense standing next to each other, either. Virginia, with her blonde hair and large breasts, she just screamed sex—a characteristic likely linked to the specific types of abuse she’d endured up to that point in her life— and me. I had dark brown hair, almost black, really, and my tits were very small and I looked younger than my age. Virginia looked older than her eighteen years. Add to that, we brought Isaac, the impetus of our absconding, to the tattoo shop with us, and he was only twelve, and he definitely looked younger than that. As we walked into the shop, it occurred to me that we looked, quite literally, like a bad joke—a blonde, a brunette, and a redhead walk into a tattoo parlor, and so on and so forth.

I have a thing about last meals. Not as in prisoners about to be executed — they know it’s going to be their last. But as in just about everyone else, most all of us. Whatever’s coming, there’s going to be that last thing we eat. My folks, for example. They did pretty well in the last-­meal department, beautiful restaurant, family all around them, perfect sandwiches made by someone who truly cared about food. Lunch, as it happened. Their last meal, I mean. For my sister it was breakfast, but that was years later, and I’ll get to all that. The point is, I like to eat every meal as if it were the last, as if I knew it were the last: savor every bite, be there with the food, make sure it’s good, really worthy. And though it’s an impossible proposition, I try to take life that way, too: every bite my last.