Holy Grail

I welcome clients with my shopgirl singsong voice. At the store we make our clients more beautiful. We find their holy grail skincare and beauty regimens. Regimentation is key. A client buys more product with her holy grail regimen. She’ll come back in to adjust it, swap in one cream for another, a toner for a peel, and I’ll be here to help. The regimen evolves with the client. A regimen means more UPTs: more units per transaction, more sales.

Grin & Shimmy

People get an ass-backwards impression when I say I’m a backup singer at a karaoke bar in Orlando. What they think: bleak, drab, desperate. What it is: karaoke writ large. It’s a full band with a repertoire hundreds of songs long—White Snake to Whitney Houston, Adele to Aerosmith.

Littles

He shows up in the kitchen with a deep tan and a gash below his right eye, three crusty stitches. That spark smolders at his fingertips; his usual testament to the Panhandle. When the kids scramble and clamber atop him, he tells them he’s been wrestling crocs and none of them even looks my way when I mutter, Gators.

Colors of Flamingo

One by one, you pull a feather through your mouth. Each feather loosens and falls from your flamingo body. Soon, the tile floor holds a heap of your old self. It almost looks like you: a pile of white shapes, yet false form.

The Parents

He answered the door in a black robe that might have fit his frame just days before, but now that the parents had come to collect, it swallowed everything but his bare, pillaged head. Sunglasses formed a plank boarding over the broken window of his face. It chilled me to guess what lay be-hind the lenses. As if to confirm the worst, he grinned, showing a row of red sockets in his gums.

Losing Words

Chiku’s jaw is made of flowers. Her flowers—plumerias and mai’anas, braided into ti leaves, her favorite maskaran mwarmwar thus far—are the reason why National Geographic is on the phone speaking to her husband.

A Better Place

There is a great sadness underneath. Nothing can assuage it. It cannot be willed away. Our baby died and was buried in the backyard and we all went on living like it hadn’t happened. From that day on we couldn’t look each other in the eyes. 

Strangers No More

I was riding home on the train when a stranger sat down across from me. He looked at me for a long time before speaking.

“I have a proposition for you,” he said, finally. I didn’t respond, but the man mistook my silence as interest.

“You kill my wife and I kill yours.”

“What the fuck,” I said.

The Girl Who Cried Diamonds

The baby’s mother went to nurse her and found her bassinet full of bits of glass, sparkling around her head like a halo. Panic stricken, the mother swept up all the crystals into her cupped hand, heart pounding, wondering how the glass ended up there—had a burglar broken in?

Boy

Since June, I’ve been working a sawmill job forty miles south of the place I’m living. There’s nothing to rent out there, even the single-wides eaten up by folks who’ve been in the mountains twenty years or more. But the mill pays better than waitressing, or bagging groceries at the A&B. It’s a temporary thing, the way I see it. A means of getting out.

Candy Mouths Are Made of Wax

“Tell me something nobody else knows about you,” he says, sitting across from you at the romantic table. In most settings, he looks like a boy, but sometimes he looks like a man, or a cat, or a telephone pole. He looks past your left ear when he speaks, like your eyes are the production assistant’s camera, like your eyes are the burning loins red foxglove on the mantel.

The Cuts

The day after she died, my wife comes back to cut up my clothes: little waning moons at the hems of my dresses, the necks of my sweaters, the sleeves of a heavy flannel shirt she had once given me for Christmas. The floor of our closet—which still smells like her, powdery and clean—is littered with scraps.

Protective Instinct

Arundhati moves across the country, east to west, after the Lyme. There aren’t any deer in California, someone buying pears tells her in the grocery store, and she passes that on to her teenage daughter and husband. She adds, I just want to be somewhere safe, and with how she survived for them, fought that infection once-nestled in her brain, who are they to argue?

When My Aunt in Guangzhou Bought Sheep’s Placenta and Found a Fetus inside, She Buried It under the Huangpi Tree That Grew in Our Back Yard

— SHORT FICTION AWARD —  A nutrient-rich organ, the placenta, and she probably cooked with it often. Its presence in soup could have restored her life or brightened her skin. She might have added cubes of blood or scraps of liver too, but I’m sure placenta was the star ingredient, the pièce de résistance she built the recipe around.

Heterosexuals

To [my/his] [left/right], [he/I] [is/am] looking ahead, minding [his/my] own business. We are engaging in strict urinal etiquette, ignoring the other’s presence entirely. [I/He] [am/is] glad that [he/I] [is/am] not a loud urinal user. [I/He] [have/has] always been freaked out by bathroom moaners.

I Had Already Become Less

I don’t remember a mouth. I remember disembodied words about: pain, impossibility, depression. I remember a box of tissues slapped across the table because it felt good to reject something. I remember the feeling of being a specimen to observe and pity, like the hard, dead frogs I was forced to rip apart and comment on in science class.

At the End of Osama bin Laden

Jaime and I started breaking up over coffee on a cold, spring morning.

He’d been unemployed since the previous year and over the last few months I had been paying for most things—his Metrocard, our lingering brunches in Williamsburg, the entrance to museums; little luxuries like tickets to see Chromeo perform a sold-out show at Terminal 5.