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Fate Kitchens: an excerpt from THE FALLOW LAND

Tommy Shanks couldn’t hold his piss, and he was lazy to boot. You’d hear worse if you asked around, but if it wasn’t for those two things, my life would’ve been a whole lot simpler. We were doing yard work that summer – landscaping, if you want to sound fancy – and it was the first time anyone had ever heard of Tommy having a steady job. I took him on as a favor. He wanted to get his life in order, but nobody would hire him.

Tommy’s truck was parked in the yard when I went by to pick him up at seven. The sun was still low in the sky. I wanted to start work before it climbed above the trees and punished us.

I knocked and waited. Nothing. An air conditioner hummed around back, outside the bedroom window. I beat on the door with the side of my fist. It was sheet metal and made a hollow, ringing sound. The trailer wasn’t set right on its blocks. The windows rattled with every blow.

“Tommy! Come on now! Get up and get out here!”

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Julia Antopol Hirsch: an excerpt from WHITE RUSSIAN


“You haven’t read me my rights! I want a lawyer! I want a phone call! I’M AN AMERICAN!”

“Na kaleni, suka!”

The guard smacked me across the face, and I fell back on my cot. My head still throbbed from the policeman’s initial beating at my arrest. I could actually hear my eyes move when I looked off to the side, like sand pouring out of a bucket. Now I felt a burning numbness on my cheek. My mind began to drift. Focus, focus.

I’d been falling in an out of consciousness since they brought me in. I remembered the beating at the demonstration, male voices holding me up while a pair of hands glided slowly over my breasts and hips in their version of a “body search,” and screaming for my belongings as they grabbed my purse.

I rubbed my cheek. The memories rushed back in bursts of motion, like pages in a flipbook.

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Carmen Lau: “The Great Queen of Wonderhaven,” the first part of a novella from the collection THE GIRL WAKES


On her ninth birthday, immediately after blowing out the candles on her cake, the girl who would become queen fell into Wonderhaven. Right under the noses of her mother, her father and her cousin Laurie, she crawled under the table while the lights were off and fell into this world without so much as a yelp, for she, besides being pure-hearted, was also self-composed.


Self-composed is the queen,

as a folding fan that reveals its colors

only when it slides silently open.

Pure-hearted is the queen,

as the still-green bud of a tulip.


In this world there was a palace encased in ice, a forest and the villagers in the forest, and the shadows that bedeviled them. To make a very long story short, because she was pure of heart, because she was self-composed, she smote the shadows and saved everyone here. The ice that coated the palace walls melted, and the forest became bright and hot, and the villagers rejoiced. And so, with great pageantry, she was crowned the queen.

Three crowns she wore: a crown of flowers, a crown of gold, a crown of stars. A cape woven of morning dew she trailed after her as she approached the throne; each drop shone blinding like a little sun. Her subjects knelt like a sea of wheat bending to a gentle wind as she walked to the throne. And when she took the throne she raised her hand and said, “I will be a good queen.” And her subjects roared with joy, knowing she would keep her promise.

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Harold Jaffe: “Hair” and “Lino 1,” excerpts from the novel BRANDO BLEEDS


There was Lino Ventura, Wally Cox, Satch Sanders, Christian Marquand.
My detractors called them toadies and maybe they were.
Hell, I was a fucking matinee idol so there’s going to be hangers-on.
But they were also my friends, until they died or betrayed me.
Or I betrayed thembecause of some mood I was in.
Were the friendships strictly platonic?
Not strictly, no.
But my thing was females, as I’ve said, and they came around in droves.
I could never get enough.
That was long before I’d become too fat to fuck.

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Leslie Pietrzyk: “Headache,” a chapter excerpt from the novel SILVER GIRL

Suburban Chicago, 1982

The phone on the kitchen wall rang. Jess and I stared at it in surprise. Though we had been sharing this college apartment for two weeks already, we still didn’t feel as though we belonged here and the ringing phone seemed to emphasize exactly how out of place we were.

“You answer,” she whispered.

It was eleven AM, hardly a time for whispering, but I whispered back, “No, you,” and then we laughed.

We had met last year when we were freshman living in the same hormonal all-girls dorm that had been built with money donated to the university in the early 1960s by some uptight woman who sensed—and feared—the coming sexual revolution. Allison Hall. The school packed all the freshmen girls there. The halls smelled like hairspray and popcorn. The joke was that entire floors of girls synched their periods. It was a place to escape from.

And we had. Now Jess and I were sophomores—long since free of all those girls, free of Allison Hall, uninterested in sororities, and living together off-campus on the first floor of a small house half a block from the el tracks.

The phone still rang. This was a time before answering machines, before voice mail, email, instant messaging, and Skype. Letters and phone calls were what we had. This was a time where not answering a ringing phone was an act of subversion. We wanted to be subversive—or I did, anyway, secretly—but we were basically good girls, depending on how “good” might be defined. Anyway, letting a phone ring was something we couldn’t do.

Jess picked up the phone. “Hello?” she said, her voice croaking slightly. She cleared her throat, spoke more forcefully. “I mean, hello.”

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Ed Hamilton: “A Bowery Romance,” a story excerpt from The Chintz Age: Tales of Love and Loss for a New New York, a Collection in Progress

Chintz CoverA Bowery Romance

“Hey, I didn’t know these places were still around,” Mike said as they turned onto the hallway. Under the bare florescent tubes, the cracked plaster walls, with their discolored and peeling layers of paint, resembled a barren, alien landscape. The yellowed walls were set so close together in the tight, narrow corridor that Mike and Brandy could have spread their arms and almost touched them both, and the checkerboard linoleum floor slanted to one side and creaked and buckled underfoot. They passed a gaunt figure in a tattered, faded blue bathrobe, who ducked his head as if to conceal his features. The frequent doors bore small brass plaques with scarcely legible numbers, while the occasional domed recess in the wall displayed a fire extinguisher or a red “FIRE” bucket ballasted with ash-gray sand and studded with cigarette butts like a pin cushion—the recent smoking ban having not yet penetrated this deep into the city’s bowels. Stopping at a door midway down the hall, Brandy fumbled through her purse for the key.

Because Mike spoke almost in a monotone, Brandy couldn’t tell whether his remark was serious or sarcastic. Mike was shorter than average, a stocky figure, and he stroked his hipster van dyke thoughtfully and somewhat nervously. Hanks of wavy, dark brown hair poked out from under his navy blue porkpie hat. He had been growing increasingly apprehensive ever since they turned onto the Bowery, with its dark, shuttered restaurant supply stores, the sidewalks littered with trash and disreputable characters. Rounding the corner onto the even darker side street, they had had to circumnavigate a sleeping man to get into the flophouse. Dazzled by the red neon sign of the Smith Hotel, Mike had accidentally kicked the bum’s empty bottle, which had then rolled, noisily, all the way down the sidewalk and into the gutter, the clatter waking the man, who grumbled incoherently. Scarcely more reassuring was the balding, tattooed desk clerk, who, snoozing in his alcove behind bulletproof glass, had registered the couple’s entrance with but one half-raised eyelid.

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