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(These are excerpts—click on the title to view the whole piece!)
The Widow of Shafter
The last night of summer vacation, my dad took everyone to see the Marfa lights. He parked the Tahoe on a ranch near Route 67. Everyone but us took off to see the orbs in the sky. I complained of a stomach ache, but really I wanted to see. I knew the orbs vanished if someone got too close. You'd offered to stay behind with me. We lay on our stomachs, waiting. We thought someone in a nearby house had switched on their porch light, but there was no porch, only the light. We slid from the truck and crept silently toward it. There were pinks and blues at its center, like an abalone shell. It was watching us. I felt a ghost-warmth on my chest. A terrible tenderness crawled inside me. Then it started to sing, faintly, no more than a hum. The hairs on our bodies were rigid and tall. I was hypnotized. I held out my hand. The orb vanished. Our cheeks, we saw, then, were stained with tears we hadn't known were there.
Wrecked by these violent exchanges, I feel like a beast of prey pushing aside a bad part of flesh. A morning walk becomes a trial in itself, full of guilt, apologies, concrete prayer, and shared insurance papers. At the gym, I exercise three times a week, merely to maintain enough strength and flexibility for evading Kafkas. Believe me, I've sprained many an ankle and elbow trying to avoid these mice-like men. But I am lucky to at least possess street smarts and fitness. The city is no longer safe for weak-limbed old ladies. And the wheel-chaired Army vet? He cannot venture safely to the veteran's clinic and has no hope of claiming his disability check.
The last text I sent him, the day he died, spelled out what we both finally realized I knew. The look, languid and longing, that had passed between him and the man—a boy, really—standing on the platform the night before, while we waited for the L-train to take us to the theatre, was the Rubicon, concealment laid bare in the rush of oncoming train lights. I don't remember what play we saw or whether or not we went to dinner afterward. I do recall the shoes I was wearing—my black leather ankle boots, scuffed and worn. He shined them for me the next morning. Then he left—first the apartment, then the planet.
Christy Alexander Hallberg
The actors in the semi-circle flap their scripts, sighing in concert as they see the highlighted sections in their booklets. You've got a white-skinned black woman from Indiana, a blond-haired Indian, a round-eyed Korean, a hayseed negro from Alabama with a fake New York accent, a middleaged Jew who can barely count to ten, an Arab who grew up in Cambridge and wears Brooks Brothers suits, a 50-year-old, part-time male stripper, and a man with the ugliest face this side of the Missisippi.
Picking up the tire, I trudged to the stern and climbed into the rowboat where I stood, steeped in resentment. Suddenly, the ropes gave way, and the rowboat plunged into the lake. As it descended, it knocked against the Wanda and was inconveniently cracked, and I fell backwards onto the bottom boards, ripping in the process the outer seam of my right trouserleg, nearly from ankle to waist. Katrina appeared at Bela's side, laughing loudly as though she were watching a Chaplin film. I stood, waving desperately, motioning her to join me in the boat, but she simply stood, covering in turn her chest and her mouth, still laughing, with her hands.
Then Dodie opened her round mouth in surprise and said, "Oh no, no no, that wasn't Claire Chodoretz's house. Claire lived in Seattle with her mother after her mother and Big Steve Chodoretz got divorced. No—the house in San Mateo was the house of Uncle Mark Sapirstein's girlfriend. My God, you were in the very epicenter of the family split, you were in a place none of us could ever go! We used to call that woman ‘the Evil One'—you were in the Evil One's den!