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Raymond Cothern: “Motherless Child,” a story from The Whole Lying Opera


Sarah’s uncle telephoned in the morning with the news but was so distraught Sarah had difficulty understanding him. Told he would call again later when he knew more and had more things arranged, Sarah tried to remain calm—her mother was gone—while thinking through preparations for going to Louisiana for the funeral. She finished a stack of patient progress reports as the day wore on and that night was cooking stir fry and checking the television listings for something to divert her thoughts when her uncle called again. The receiver under her chin, she had trouble following his rambling sentences—especially after being informed in a cracking voice that her mother had taken a swan dive from a bridge in San Francisco.

“And she wanted me as a pallbearer?”

“Yes,” Billy Wayne told her. “She left instructions how things should be carried out.”

“And you’re telling me the funeral is at an old bar in Louisiana?”

“No, no. The request is for the pallbearers to meet there prior to the funeral.”

“If you weren’t my uncle I would think this a joke. My mother is really dead, right?”

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Gabriela Denise Frank: “Into the Light,” a short story from a collection in progress


Nestled in a cheap wicker basket, the carnations and daisies didn’t say, I love you or Congratulations, they said, Sorry for being an asshole. Squatted atop Lou’s thick brown doormat like a hobo taking a rest, they winked as she approached. The homely arrangement somehow fit the potpourri of boiled cabbage and laundry soap that hung in the hallway of her apartment building just north of downtown Seattle.

She bristled at the idea of their sender lurking at her door like a lovesick schoolboy. The tiny vomit yellow envelope was the kind that men with no style picked for girls they barely knew. Squinting down, Lou conjured her neighbor’s voice from a snarled nest of inky blue letters: To better future encounters. She tore it open, her eyes narrowing into green slits. I will do my best to accommodate you, he claimed. My intentions are good.

“Like hell,” she growled. Lou stopped short of kicking the flower basket down the hall, picturing the old Japanese custodian stooping to sweep up her mess. Foiled by her conscience, she unlocked the door and gave the basket a slapshot with the side of her boot, kicking it into the living room where it lodged beneath the radiator. The arrangement remained there for days until the flowers crisped from the popping steam heat and a hole burned in the side of the basket.

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Jamie Duclos-Yourdon: an excerpt from Poor Henry


They’re late. They’ve been late for twenty-five minutes, crawling south on I-5. Henry would’ve called ahead to say they were coming, but he doesn’t have Dina’s number—they’ve only ever corresponded online. He might’ve sent an email from his iPhone, but they’re moving too fast to monopolize the use of his thumbs. So instead they’re just late, and not by a little. Gripping the steering wheel, he tries to ignore the dashboard clock.

As they pull up to Dina’s address (familiar from her description of the scorched grass), he spies a parking space. Turning off the engine, he stares across the street. In the driveway is an SUV. He’s under strict instructions not to park behind it, lest he block in the landlord. Henry’s understanding of the situation, as gleaned tangentially, is that Dina rents an artist’s studio behind the main property, as well as a bedroom on the second floor—the square footage of the former roughly equal to that of the latter, which must demand an economy of space.

For a moment, he and Peyton sit and listen to the cooling of the engine—waiting for what, Henry couldn’t say. The sight of Dina peddling past, pant leg cinched and head shaved bare? Or for the clock to read 10:00, a nice round number? They were supposed to meet before work, a concession on Dina’s part. Henry had the foresight to visit the bank yesterday, rather than add to his hectic morning. It had required numerous trips to the ATM to withdraw the eight hundred dollars, the price of his commission well exceeding the daily maximum.

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Kat Meads: “Come My Love, and Be with Me,” an excerpt from In This Season of Rage and Melancholy Such Irrevocable Acts as These


She supposed Matt Spruill had found Aunt Grace’s number in the phone book—or gotten it from his own parents, who still lived in Mawatuck. Because he graduated too late for a Southeast Asia tour, he was stationed at Fort Bragg, training recruits. From Fayetteville, Matt Spruill, anyone with a car, could reach Mawatuck in a few hours’ time.

On the telephone, by way of reintroduction, he said: “Hi, Beth. It’s Matt Spruill. I saw you at the bank last time I was home.”

She thought he’d said that. Matt Spruill’s voice was a murmur. It sounded farther away than it was.

“I guess you don’t remember me.”

“I don’t, no.”

“That’s okay,” he said, absolving her when she hadn’t asked to be absolved.

When he invited her to go to the movies the following weekend, inexperienced in the etiquette of accepting or declining dates, she committed the first of many errors by failing to say no instantly. Her hesitation he interpreted as consent.

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NancyKay Shapiro: an excerpt from Céline Varens


After weeks of journeying, she found, when she’d finally reached Paris, that she could not proceed directly to Marie’s. Her very eagerness for reunion with her daughter checked her. Shame fouled her, tangled like rope around her ankles, hobbling and tripping her up. A four months’ tour of the provinces! That was all it was to be, a chance to save a little money and come right back. Yet she’d allowed that to turn into almost two years, to convince herself that it was for Adele’s sake that she followed Semyon further and further across Europe, all the way to St Petersburg. How many instances did she require, to learn once for all the worthlessness of men, the hollowness of their promises and inducements?

She nearly walked by the Marie’s now, not recognizing it. The house front had been re-painted in her absence. But there was the laundry, and there was the butcher—it was where the strong smells of borax and blood met and did battle, that one turned in at Marie’s doorway.

The city constantly shifted and moved, but there were some pockets, some streets and neighborhoods, that were so out of the way and ancient, so unthought-of by the powerful, that one might imagine them eternal—eternally crumbling, smelly, begrimed. Such was this little enclave not so far from the Opéra, where so many of those who toiled backstage lived their off-hours. The concierge gave her a half-stare, and a half-bob of her head. Céline returned her a smile, and said she was just going to run up to Madame Marie’s rooms, in the eaves, at the back.

The concierge said something, but she did not pause to listen. In a moment little Adele would be in her arms—right now the child was still ignorant that today was a golden one, but in a moment she’d hear maman’s call, her steps on the stairs, and know it. She fairly bounded up, holding her skirts in one hand, and in the other, the nosegay and the peppermints she’d bought along the way. The first landing smelled of fish soup, the second of tripe, the third of cabbage, and on the fourth she almost expected to see the door already flung open and her daughter rushing out with arms outstretched.

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Vincent Panella: “Canada,” a story from Disorderly Conduct, a collection in progress


Bobby wondered if JB had offered him the Airstream so he could hook up with his sister. Her cabin was just up the hill, and on his first day at work she stormed past in a beat up Mercedes. She wore a cap to hide the hair loss from the cancer JB had mentioned without saying what kind, and despite the cancer she still smoked, biting the filter and wiggling the cigarette playfully. Later she came down to the Airstream where she backed up to the woodpile and stepped around to open the trunk. She was built like JB, tall and wide shouldered. She moved like him too, manlike and hulking in high boots and woolen trousers. After flipping away a cigarette she began picking splits from the stack and throwing them into the trunk, so careless of her aim that one or two pieces hit the bumper.

“That’s no way to treat a Benz,” Bobby said.

The words brought her up short. She was square faced and drawn from the winter, and Bobby sensed a challenge as she cradled a split in one arm and held up her free hand as if stopping traffic.

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