Commercial Wisdom

 

Ravelton Parlay was a wealthy man and a rational, even calculating one. But that didn’t mean he was beyond belief either in theory or in practice. The guy had faith in spades. Not to mention diamonds, clubs, and hearts. The truth was Parlay had an entire deck of faith—not just in God, but in himself, Capitalism, and America—the sort of clean, clear, core belief structure that had propelled him to greatness and promised to keep him going, to keep him growing ever greater, into eternity and beyond. Of course, Parlay prayed. As a creature of belief—not to mention habit—he prayed morning and night, noon and midday. Parlay prayed working in his office and napping in his dayroom, sitting down to meals and standing up to scream. He prayed in the back seats of limos and the staterooms of yachts, as he strolled the grounds of Bayousalem or hustled through a Righteous Burger photo op. Parlay prayed for his employees, his servants, and even his fourth wife, the beautiful, sexually elusive Kelly Anne. He prayed for the smiley little black kids in Africa, the wizened Asian herdsmen in the Himalayas, and the endangered species —including the ones that weren’t even furry or cute. Heck, Parlay even prayed for the entire world once in a while. Most often, though, Parlay prayed for his beloved country. He prayed for America.

BIGCITY-COVER-frontCharlie Debunk drops two lead balls, plunk-plunk, into the flared mouth of his flintlock Blunderbuss. The balls tumble down the rusty barrel like fishline sinkers. He sets the antique weapon across his legs and picks up a red clay jug of cornjuice. He takes long happy drinks that scorch his gullet and muddle his head.

Charlie Debunk has been loading his Blunderbuss for a week and has yet to pull the trigger. He is waiting for something special to shoot. Five days and a hundred miles ago he and his two partners made a trade with a big lunking Polack who calls himself Big Polack. Big Polack gave Charlie the gun, along with a pouch of lead balls, a pouch of powder, a pouch of flints, a twenty-inch ramrod, and a pouch of gold nuggets easily worth five hundred dollars. Charlie and his partners, Eddie Plague and Skunk Brewster, in turn, gave Big Polack a ten-year-old aborigine girl they had liberated from a starving tribe of Chickasaws. Charlie figures they got the better end of the deal. The girl had not even been old enough to noodle and had whooped like a warrior when Charlie noodled her anyway.

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.

Waste CoverPawned

Jamie Garrison knew he’d made a mistake when Connor Condon began to thrash around inside the plastic Kmart bag. The kid looked like a fish, his big mouth puffing out and pulling in the plastic, his lips fat and purple. Jamie saw Connor’s eyes staring back at him in the window. He could see the boy’s skin slowly changing color, the muscles in his neck straining to yank the plastic off his face.

Jamie didn’t stop though. He just ground his teeth together and pulled tighter while the ninth-graders near the front took up a chant of condom, condom, condom, condom…their voices bounced between the syllables. The bus driver wasn’t even looking, her eyes burning into the back of a stalled driver’s head, her horn blaring at the green Chevy that refused to move from the turning lane. Brock was in the seat beside Jamie and leading the chant with his hands in the air, his mouth dangling open as it always did, his leather jacket reeking of cat piss. Brock flicked his wrists like a maestro and the chant rose.

9781501116100Hannah

It is certainly strange, to live the first few weeks in my new body. Perhaps the strangest part is how inconsequential the change feels sometimes. Not dying, no longer being in pain, these differences are so startling and so complete that it’s easy to forget that I was ever sick to begin with. There is no scarring, no residual damage, no daily reminder of the months I spent being mutilated by tubes and wires and needles. I have a full, thick head of hair. And I’m no longer as frail as I was in the beginning; slender stretches of muscle begin to form under the skin of my arms and legs. I look like I’m closer to running a marathon than dying of anything.

There are other things, too. Little things. My hearing is pin sharp, instead of muted by my years of rock concerts and riding on Jake Mariano’s motorcycle as a teenager and the clattering din of taking the Red Line. The little aches and pains I used to carry with me—waking up with a stiff neck, cracking the ankle I sprained playing soccer as a kid, the enduring tightness in my hips and the backs of my thighs from painting for hours on end—are gone. They are removed so thoroughly that I can’t remember exactly what they felt like. Any and all excess fat has been spirited from under my skin, leaving a thin, supple sort of body it its wake. The dimpling in my thighs and the small crevices of stretch marks in my sides, the handful of scars I’d amassed in my twenty-seven years, all have been replaced by tight, flat skin. It’s a body so perfect it is difficult to inhabit sometimes, because it’s difficult to imagine it’s really mine.

goose new coverKelly Hui, twenty-four-year-old daughter of Papa Hui (founder of Bashful Goose Snack Company and China’s richest man), strode through the Jiangsu government building’s entrance, gave her name to the teenage security guard, and plopped herself down on a rickety chair. The meeting she was waiting for, certain to be a snore-fest, was tragically the most exciting work-related thing she’d done since her father had made her the Head of Corporate Social Responsibility—a department in which she was the sole employee—two years before. To be fair, this was also the first work-related thing she’d done in that time.

She rummaged through her Hermes bag, found her iPod, stuck her earbuds in her ears, and put on a Radiohead song. She tapped her foot in rhythm on the floor. She listened to another song, and then another, and then another. Swatted at a fly that buzzed around her head. Glanced down at the time—ten past—and sighed loudly. The guard, a scrawny kid who couldn’t have been more than seventeen and who, Kelly thought, probably spent most of his day secretly masturbating under his little podium, looked up. That’s right, she thought, flipping her hair over her shoulder, store this one away for later.

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.

All This Life_FINALSara’s adding more hot water to her bath. She does this with her big toe, moving the dial so the scalding reinforcements pour into the tub. First, her lower legs feel the temperature crank and the sensation slowly moves up her small body, the water working toward her head.

The Chapel_FINALBlue.

Had Mitchell, my dead husband, been standing beside me, where he belonged, he would have whispered, First impression?

My first and enduring impression of the chapel was blue.

The ceiling was a deep azure evening sky flecked with golden stars. The residents of the heavens were provided with golden portholes on either end, and from the smaller of these windows on the world bearded saints and patriarchs looked down approvingly. The bigger, central lookout above the altar end was occupied by Jesus in his middle age, and near the original entrance, above the Last Judgment, the Virgin Mary held her infant son for all to see.

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.

Mapmaker's War Final Cover book jacketTRANSLATOR’S NOTE

This narrative is an exceptional rarity. The source language scarcely has been heard spoken outside its cultural borders. Until the acquisition of this work, the presumption was that no writing system existed for the language. In remarkable condition despite its age, the handwritten manuscript is not only one of the earliest known autobiographies but also one of the first attributed to a woman.

The author’s rhetorical structure defies the conventions of any period; she addresses herself throughout and appears to be her own audience. Further, while matters of war and society are so often the domain of chroniclers, historians, and philosophers, this author offers a concurrent, heretofore unknown representation of past events through the story of a participant and a survivor.

Simplified pronunciations of several proper names are as follows. Aoife [ee-fah]; Ciaran [keer-ahn]; Wyl [will]; Aza [ah-zah]; Edik [ed-ick]; Leit [lite]; Wei [why]; and Makha [mahk-ah].

—S. Riven

It isn’t until much later, after her second child is born, in those early months of little sleep, or short deep sleep punctuated by a scream, rolling over to offer her breast to this baby, trying to fall back to sleep but unable to do so until he finishes eating, until she knew he was asleep first, that she has the dreams.

In the first dream she is back in a hospital. She is in a group meeting. There are three others in the meeting. Others who were there. The group leader says something, and she answers. She says that she has a lot of feelings about having been there for such a long time. She tells the group that she found it terribly stigmatizing, if maybe in some ways helpful. She tells them that there have been studies, that this is now considered a very bad idea. Experts agree, she is explaining to the other patients in the dream. Experts agree that this kind of extended hospitalization, institutionalization, she calls it now–though it was never spoken of in this way, save for on the hospital letterhead used as scrap paper in art group or writing group, letterhead with the imprint of a building and in gothic font: ROCKLAND STATE PSYCHIATRIC INSTITUTE—is now considered to in fact impede recovery.

-1-

I left New York on a cold November day of dark skies and sideways rain, but I don’t care to say why other than the city itself had changed and I no longer felt I could sustain a living there. Gone was the New York I had idealized in the years before I finally arrived, the city of milk and honey, a place where dreams were achieved. But I’d been without a job for six months, my unemployment benefits had run dry, and work, once plentiful, had become as scarce as a street free of litter; the perpetually high rents were now higher, even in the outer reaches of Queens, Brooklyn, and Jersey, all of which once served as safe havens for the less-than-affluent; each day brought new demonstrations, sign-wielding protests and marches in the streets. The fight against inequality. Wall Street versus Main Street. Even the homeless seemed to have multiplied and, truth be told, I feared becoming one of them. Living in perpetual fear for the future. Each day more rife with anxiety than the day that had come before it.