Cling

She climbs in my lap, cups my face, and lowers my head to the floor as we make out. It would be really hot and intense but her hair keeps getting in the way. She sits up for a moment to put her hair in a ponytail, and I feel something hanging on my cheek where she just touched.

Your Problems Ain’t Our Problems

Alex and I call it one of two things: “living in the bell jar” or “Sylvia Plathing it.” It was the way we described eating dipped handfuls of peanut butter for dinner, snaking the remains from between the pruney bits of our finger tips. 

The Kidnappers

Pretty sure the knife actually had peanut butter on it before he started. Pretty sure the waterboarding tasted like bubble bath. It’s actually kind of embarrassing how easy it was for him to get me. 

Adult Daughters of Hybrid Murderesses

We’re all ashamed of our mothers in this place. Mine’s the one chomping on fresh crickets, which isn’t nearly as bad as the things she did when I was in middle school, like tearing the wings off Lauren Fontaine’s yellow swallowtail costume at the science fair.

Where It Happened

The woods behind his house, past the gray barn with a dirt floor. Inside there might have been an old basketball hoop. I only went in once or twice, because I remember thinking, this thing is going to collapse any second.

The Bearded Lady

The Bearded Lady has dyed her beard blue and threaded it with pearls and tiny shells. Her hip sails out from behind a wisp of blue voile like the prow of a mahogany ship, and her heavy hair, clasped with silver, lifts almost imperceptibly in the wind.

Out of the Strong, Something Sweet

Always, the three of us. One brown girl, two white girls in the sun—those clicky striped vinyl lawn chairs from 1985-ish that Claire's dad still had in their garage for whatever reason. We were in the backyard, not the front. Last time we were out front, Mandy's asshole brother stopped in his red Stang and asked us if we knew what a pussy was before skeeing off and running the stop sign at the end of our street. Hannah had sat up and pushed her sunglasses atop her head. Of course we know what a pussy is, asshole. We were fourteen.

Angel Fish

Your pet fish is growing wings. You won it at the carnival and brought it home, triumphantly, in a dripping plastic bag. Your mother found a bowl in the cupboard that was deep enough to put your fish in. She allowed you to take the bowl and the fish into your father’s room, where he was dying.

Yowling

The feral cats are terrorizing my mother, but she thinks it's charming how they paw at her door for affection. I tell her they are not there for her Purina. They smell Mitzy and Lana and Snowflake who are constantly in heat and yowling in the night while my mother sleeps in her king-sized bed, foam earplugs stifling their longing.

Boselaphus Tragocamelus

In true life my friend lived in the backyard of my uncle the zoologist. He was a skeleton—my friend not my uncle—with two smooth black horns. I could really see him—really—but I didn’t tell anybody because they always laugh. Already they were laughing at me because my teeth were all falling out—so why more.

The Gravity of Giants

I built a casket out of cigar boxes. My neighbors stared as I brought in towers of boxes. They whispered to each other about my oddness and my half-baked eyes. It wasn’t my fault; the grief in me was bougainvillea, thorn-pretty, creeping. I keep repeating those little words, “Cigar smoking can cause birth defects, lung cancer, and it will, be assured, cause worlds to collapse. A death box a dollar at a time.”

Short Stories

When I was five my best friend Ruben Cabrera showed me the gun belonging to his big brother, a guy from an up-and-coming gang in the neighborhood that was gaining notoriety for its acts of violence against older, bigger gangs. In the toolshed, with the door cracked just enough for sunlight to slide in, Ruben brought the black gun up so that it seemed to hover over my nose and behind it in the dark an excited voice fired out, Cool, huh?

Migration

Four months after her mother set fire to a yellowing wedding dress and drove top-down to Florida, Liz Johnson began studying the mating patterns of hummingbirds, to the surprise of her husband who was expected to build a floral topiary on which the birds could mate. “I’m not getting rid of our furniture to move into an avian sex house,” he told Liz, but within the month their home smelled like lilac.

Bedazzled

In my other life right now I have taken up Bedazzling. It starts when I fall asleep on the couch again, TV on, remote in hand. I wake to what I think is the voice of God commanding, “Go from dull to dazzling!”

Operation Desert Storm

Fadel was the brother who stayed the longest, the one who called my grandma “Mom.” He wore strong, spicy cologne, the kind that chokes and stings, lingers long after he has left the room. My mom told me that when he lived with them, he got a brand new car every six months and threw away his undershirts after he had worn them just once. He was a good friend to my dad, Curtis, the dad who I never saw.

What's Left

Bama’s family is driving back home to Milan from the hospital in Memphis. In the back seat, Bama is sandwiched between her brothers. Darrell stares out the window. Nazareth, who has just learned to walk, swings his legs and sucks his bottom lip. Up front, Bama’s mother is holding the fourth baby, the one who did not make it. It’s wrapped in thick blankets like it could be kept warm. Bama’s mother still looks pregnant, her belly rounded in front of her.

The Ex-Mermaid Buys Chocolate Milk

The ex-mermaid is opening the door of the dairy case when she hears a voice she recognizes behind her, the voice of the ex-mermaid’s ex-boyfriend’s new girlfriend. The ex-mermaid looks quickly at the image of herself that is reflected in the glass, a transparency superimposed on bottles of one and two percent. She looks okay. Not as good as the new girlfriend, who has a pert nose and pert breasts and is generally very pert, pert all over. But the ex-mermaid looks fine, and she registers this as she grabs a bottle of low-fat chocolate milk, which is what she came here for.

On Being a Whiter

Did you always want to be a whiter?

Not always. But from a young age I did have a “creative spark,” or so my parents tell me. First it was drawing, then I wanted to make video games. In high school I wanted to white fantasy. But then I got older and I went to college and I was introduced to Hemingway and Faulkner and O’Connor and all the greats, and slowly I began to realize: I wanted to white literature.