Hither & Yon
When Suriak was given her first watercolors she painted the garden she saw every night when she slept. In the first week she worked through the pad of paper that came with the set, and in the week after she covered the walls of her room with embankments of flowers. Her parents made sure she was never out of paper after that.
"What's that?" her mother asked as Suriak filled a sheet with splotches of yellow. They made up their minds and started packing.
"Should we bring our medicine?" Helen asked. It took Penelope a week after moving into her apartment to realize that the man who was always sitting on the leather couch in the living room was her roommate. At first she took him for an overly devoted evangelist. He wore a white, collared shirt, black slacks, and a blank nametag, and had an enormous, bushy beard. When he did not leave or try to win her over to whatever jumbled philosophy he believed, she began to see him as a fixture. There was a roommate-shaped indentation in the couch. He smoked as if the air was poison and his voice was a quiet bass. Whenever she walked by the couch he murmured incoherencies or, Penelope chose to believe, advice.
On the third day after she moved in he said, "There are no entrances. Only exits." Little Him scooted around Danni's heart, tying his strings so tight that she thought the organ would burst. Watching his dizzying journey made her thankful for the transparency of her skin. It didn't matter that she'd flirted with the waiter and allowed him to touch her knee. It was of no consequence that she'd kissed that guy in the bar when out with her girlfriends, that Holly had told Glenn. Glenn would see how much she loved him.
"I am so full of you, there is almost no room for anyone else," Danni said to Glenn at breakfast. She was broken when he met her, shattered into a thousand tiny shapes, all with jagged edges. He gathered up her pieces and carried them home.
He spread them out on his dining room table, an eye here, a fingertip there, and smiled. The damage was not irreparable. Uncle Tang repeats the same proverb when he beats me: "Hitting you is loving you." He's not my uncle by blood, though he's done more for me than any blood relative has. My mother could not have had a brother anyway, due to China's One Child Policy when she was growing up in the early 2020s.
Ignoring the tingling bruises on my back, I walk to the kitchen. A few dirty plates sit in the soapy hot water on one side of the sink, not enough to prompt a Bot to begin washing. Uncle and I are the only humans running the restaurant. He was sullen when they returned from the party.
"What's wrong?" she asked, more out of obligation than interest. Once upon a time in a far kingdom, there lived a man who fell in love with a river, and so he married it.
One day, as he sat happily in the river, he glimpsed something. It moved swiftly beneath the surface, dark and strong. As it swam by, he grabbed it by the tail and it pulled him pleasantly through the water. The landscape was beautiful, the water refreshing, the day warm. But eventually, he grew tired. Some of my earliest memories are of books. They were everywhere in our apartment back in the Soviet Union; shelves stacked as high as the ceiling in the corridor and the living room, piles of them encroaching upon every nook and available surface like some benign infestation.
Strangers came by often, sometimes several times a day, and browsed the shelves. They spoke to my father, always quietly, as though they were in a library. Cash and books exchanged hands in either direction but there was little haggling, both parties reluctant to insult the books by arguing over their price like they might with a sack of potatoes. He was born with a heart of gold. The doctors stared at X-rays, slack-jawed, not knowing how it could beat, let alone pump blood, so they scribbled notes and prescribed unnecessary medicine, just to seem important, and sent the boy home.
Soon the child fell ill. He recovered, but he remained fragile all his life. Papa was always losing things, from his car keys to the car he'd just put them in, so when he ended up losing himself, Ansa and I figured we had more important things to do than find out where he went. If he came back, he'd bring dinner. If he didn't, we could turn his office into a TV room.
Ansa and I hatched these plans in the dark underneath our bedclothes, and spent too much money on chocolate bars. We were only two years apart, but born opposites. Ansa was much lighter than I was, born during the winter when Mam said the sun couldn't burn her brown. I used to think we had one mind, and that everything we thought was a shared thought.
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