Exquisite Silence

It makes you cold, Exquisite Silence.  You want to open the window, you want to hear your bare feet making smoosh sounds on the carpet.  You test Exquisite Silence, try to find a sound that can break it. Drop ice in a glass: nothing.  Hammer nails into a board. Hacksaw. Tap dance.  Throw a lightbulb hard against the kitchen floor.

Only Buildings

Standing next to the microwave, I turn my head when my husband’s phone buzzes. It’s unlocked and he’s in another room. Erotic texts and pictures of naked women. Redheads and brunettes, his favorites. When I confront him, he laughs, avoids the subject, and takes me to bed.

Break Maidens

Dani is first to leave the party. She sets her empty bourbon glass down on the tray of a passing server, and when someone opens the swinging door to the kitchen again, she slips behind it, then out the screen door and into the backyard. When she reaches the oak tree that stretches its branches wide like an outstretched hand across the sky, she stops and lights a cigarette. She waggles her fingers at Cait. Safe.

A Manual for Avoiding Further Harm from [Redacted]

If at any time during the event you hear a small blast of a horn three times, you should immediately find shelter under a tarpaulin, a door leaning up against a wall, or a farmhouse kitchen table (no other will do), or inside of a terra cotta jar if the jar covers at least sixty (60) percent of your body. Wait in your shelter until the safe signal plays (a small blast of a horn in a higher, upbeat pitch). You may leave the shelter at that time. If the safe signal does not play, do not leave the shelter. Stay in the shelter until a regional warden arrives to help you with your evacuation.

Supergiant

We discovered the statues when we moved my grandmother out of her house. They were everywhere, clay and copper and soap and stone, tucked into nooks and teapots and half-buried in the garden.

Serial Murderers

At times I was afraid that my son, a shaggy-haired teen who brooded nightly in his bedroom, might develop into a serial killer and murder the fresh-faced children next door.

Working Mother

As she pulls onto the dark road leading to the middle school, Charlotte aches from the heaviness in her full breasts. She feels irritable and tense and prays she will have enough time before dispatch calls for her again. Two back-to-back calls on opposite sides of town—one involving a raccoon inside a house; the other, a belligerent teenager arguing with his parents—have put her two hours past the time she usually pumps. Second shift has been especially busy and unpredictable lately, leaving her exhausted.

A Thing

“They found a thing in the ice today,” I say, holding the phone above my face. Blue light from the screen pyramids my head. Outside, beyond the insulated walls, a blizzard roars. 

Phoebe makes a strange face. “A wh—” The call freezes like that. The connection is bad, always has been bad, and her face remains monstrous for a few seconds before the pixels realign. “A what?” she repeats. 

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.