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Fiction: 2010s

Fiction of the Day

Nothing to Declare

By Richard Ford

All the senior partners were having a laugh about a movie they’d seen. Forty-Five Years. Something, something about the movie taking forty-five years to sit through. The woman McGuinness thought he recognized was in it with them at the far end of the long table. Leaning in, as if hearing everything for the second time. “Miss Nail!” they were calling her. “What do you say, Miss Nail? Tell us.” Laughing. He didn’t know what it was about.

Dirtnap

By Taylor Koekkoek

I was staying at Jean’s apartment in LA for two months to escape an especially dire Oregon winter and to test how much weight our relationship could bear. We had been conducting a long-distance romance for nearly a year then, back-and-forth visits and weekend excursions, spending all our money on the effort. All-the-time texting, everyday emailing. If we performed all the steps in our elaborate ritual, in exactly the right order, it was possible to conjure the other; to feel, rather than eight hundred miles apart, as though we were separated by a wall, a closed door. Jean happened to be better suited to this than I was. She possessed first-rate powers of object permanence; she was uncommonly kind and endlessly receptive to inspirations of beauty too minute and too remote for me to access. She worked in those days as a freelance copywriter and social media strategist for hip start-ups. Even these tasks she approached with unlimited, inexplicable enthusiasm.

Yet You Turn to the Man

By Kathryn Scanlan

The cat was dying too slow. The vet could end it but the vet was thirty miles away and the cat hated the car.

I called the vet. Could I get it—what he used? Could I pick it up and bring it home and do it to her—by syringe or pill or however one did?

Can’t let you have it, said the vet. He told me the drug he used was the same drug a person will drop in a date’s drink in order to rape the date later. I could go to jail, he said.

Well, I don’t plan on raping anyone, I said.

The vet said, Does your husband own a gun?

He did. At the end, he kept it on the bed next to him when we had sex. But now he was gone, and so was the gun.

They Called Her the Witch

By Fernanda Melchor

They called her the Witch, the same as her mother; the Girl Witch when she first started trading in curses and cures, and then, when she wound up alone, the year of the landslide, simply the Witch. If she’d had another name, scrawled on some timeworn, worm-eaten piece of paper maybe, buried at the back of one of those wardrobes that the older crone crammed full of plastic bags and filthy rags, locks of hair, bones, rotten leftovers, if at some point she’d been given a first name and last name like everyone else in town, well, no one had ever known it, not even the women who visited the house each Friday had ever heard her called anything else. She’d always been you, retard, or you, asshole, or you, devil child, if ever the mother wanted her to come, or to be quiet, or even just to sit still under the table so that she could listen to the women’s maudlin pleas, their sniveling tales of woe, their strife, the aches and pains, their dreams of dead relatives and the spats between those still alive, and money, it was almost always the money, but also their husbands and those whores from the highway, and why do they always walk out on me just when I’ve got my hopes up, they’d sob, what was the point of it all, they’d moan

Failure to Thrive

By Willa C. Richards

Alice read John Mark’s letter, her eyes narrowed, as I paced our tiny apartment. The envelope contained in-structions for retrieving two sets of human remains from the University of Florida. I sometimes worked for John Mark, the director of the Milwaukee Public Museum, in exchange for modest paychecks and access to the museum’s research collection. I often did the jobs the museum interns refused to do, like retrieving artifacts originally accessioned by the MPM from other institutions and bringing them back to Milwaukee. I hadn’t taken one of these jobs since before Tess was born, afraid to leave her or Alice, but we were so poor we had begun to eat only the casseroles Alice’s mother sent over in weekly batches.   

The Nanny

By Emma Cline

There isn’t much in the house,” Mary said. “I’m sorry.”

Kayla looked around, shrugged. “I’m not even that hungry.”

Mary set the table, bright Fiestaware on place mats alongside fringed cloth napkins. They ate microwave pizzas.

“Gotta have something a little fresh,” Mary’s boyfriend, Dennis, said cheerily, heaping spinach leaves from a plastic bin onto his pizza. He seemed pleased by his ingenuity. Kayla ate the spinach, took a few bites of crust. Mary poured her more water.

From an Unfinished Novel

By William Styron & James L.W. West III

In the fall of 1985, the writer William Styron fell into a deep depression. The author of celebrated novels such as The Confessions of Nat Turner (1967) and Sophie’s Choice (1979), he ceased writing that autumn and entered a period of intense brooding and near-suicidal despair. He was admitted to the neurological unit of Yale–New Haven Hospital on December 14 and stayed there for almost seven weeks. Rest and treatment allowed him to regain his equilibrium; he returned to his home in Roxbury, Connecticut, in early February, and by that summer was writing again.

Why Visit America

By Matthew Baker



The Origins of This Great Nation

There wasn’t anything special about us. We were just an average town. Porch swings, wading pools, split rail fences, pump jacks bobbing for oil on the horizon. Meetings at town hall were well attended, sure, but we weren’t some hotbed of insurgents. We didn’t subscribe to any one brand of politics. We couldn’t even be plotted onto your basic left/right binary. Our town had everything: pro-lifers who supported gay marriage, pro-choicers who opposed gay marriage, climate change deniers who owned solar panels, universal health care campaigners who preferred private insurance, creationists with degrees in biology and geology, loyal conservatives, staunch liberals, moderates, radicals, and ornery retirees whose only real issue was guns. And yet that winter we found ourselves united by a common sentiment. We were fed up with our country.

Women and Men Made of Them

By Olivia Clare

Mary Ann lived near me in Baton Rouge, then she was in Memphis. She’d told me they could never return. Return to this life, she meant. Her husband, Knox, I’d hated, and he’d been called, of all things, a kind man. People called him good, gentlemanly, liked to say it just that way. Her mother had. But he took Mary Ann from me, and I don’t let myself near swindlers.

She did not die with me. She died with Knox, and such a fast thing tells me this is how a life can run, gone to a Memphis firmament.

We’d first met in the Goodwood Library at the crowded bank of computers, Mary Ann in a cold metal wheelchair she paid seventy-five dollars a week to rent. I was there most Saturdays to be in the air conditioning and to use the internet, both of which were expensive at my apartment. I have a twenty-first-century disease, Mary Ann told me.

“Called what?” I said. And she didn’t know—not that she didn’t, but she wouldn’t tell. She often ached all over, couldn’t use her legs for hours. She got terrible nosebleeds that kept her up at night. I sensed her half-wakefulness, her nostalgia for the world she knew outside of dreams, though perhaps she waited to return to them. Dreams that ran through her in waves, through her defenseless bones. At the end of the first day at the library, we went to the coffee shop next door. The entrance was narrow, and I made a deep bend while holding on to her chair, pushing and summoning the will from my knees. Inside, we ordered raspberry iced tea and lavish sandwiches, but she wouldn’t eat. I watched her cry with her palms flat against her eyes and worried she’d cry so much her face would come off in her hands. 

Howl Palace

By Leigh Newman

Last week, I finally had to put Howl Palace up for sale. Years of poor financial planning had led to this decision, and I tried to take some comfort in my agent’s belief in a buyer who might show up with an all-cash offer. My agent is a highly organized, sensible woman who grew up in Alaska—I checked—but when she advertised the listing, she failed to mention her description on the internet. “Attractively priced tear-down with plane dock and amazing lake views,” she wrote under the photo. “Investment potential.”