Three out of nine days, writing for William Talbot was a joy. The other six days his time would be better-spent fishing. This typically gorgeous morning in the colonial city of San Miguel de Allende, Central Mexico, where the air strokes the skin like a lover, started out one of the joy days. But then the telephone rang. A low down bedroom whisper asked for him by name. He thought she might be one of his students. “We need to meet right away. You have information I’ve got to have.”
Couldn’t be about her grade. After the university back home refused to give him tenure he quit and came down here to teach tourists, hoping to connect for romance. He did not give grades. “What information?”
A sharp intake of breath carried over. “On a foreign phone? No way.”
He visualized a tall and willowy brunette spy with a classic bob, short of lip, long of bone, and with knowing eyes. He cleared the morning tequila phlegm from his throat and dropped his voice down into the gravel-in-tin-bucket range. “What’s your name?”
She lowered her voice an octave and the image took on a high-arching upper lip and a game under bite.…
Mary Burk didn’t have much on top so she had to work her booty. Fourteen years old and still no period. Her mom told her breasts wouldn’t really develop until that happened and in the meantime, she should make do with what she had.
“When Aunt Flow is late,” her mother told her, “It means you’ll be taller, and thinner than your classmates, and then those boobs will come on like gangbusters and if they don’t there’s always plastic surgery.”
Mary wondered if any of her friends had mother-daughter talks like the ones she had with Ellen. That’s what Mom wanted Mary to call her now.
“So we can be girlfriends, right?” Ellen said. “Now let me show you how to move that ass.”…
He reached down and picked up the locket. It had been smashed into the mud by a passerby. There was no chain. The eyelet at the top of the locket was bent open, but the locket was still clasped shut. The day was warm and bright around him, the street bustling with movement and sound. On a telephone line above, a collied blackbird told the story, and no one listened, not even the man holding the locket. His heart felt lighter than it had a moment before.
He said of her, “She is smart—really smart.” His closest friend, a woman with short-cropped curly brown hair and tight lines radiating from the corners of her mouth, thought that he meant She is not beautiful. He meant that her nightstand overflowed with books, that she would rise suddenly in the small hours of the night and trace her fingertips along the spines lining her bookshelf to retrieve an exact quotation, that her intelligence rattled in him an ego he hadn’t realized was there. Hanging from the corner of her antique roll-top desk was a long silver chain. On the end of the chain was a locket. He stared at it while she quoted Goethe.…
Beneath the winter Hartlepool sky, I coiled myself into a scratchy wool blanket Mum made for me thirty-nine years ago. The bottle of cider pressed cold against my fingers.
–Get out the road, my neighbor Horace shouted. Ya gonna get run over.
–Let ’em, I said. Got half a mind to die.
I babysat Horace’s dog once. An Alsatian named Bran. Horace told me he was going to see his kid in Halifax for the weekend.
–Don’t forget to feed Bran, he said. You usually forget to feed yourself.
–Sod off. I can take care of myself.
Ever since congress passed the bill mandating all school children and their teachers carry a firearm, performing mass shootings had become increasingly difficult. This known solution, the ubiquity of firearms, plagued the twenty-five-year-old Roger Walker.
He sat in his jeep outside the Milton Karen Academy, which was a prestigious blue-ribbon school for grades kindergarten through high school. Roger held the cold, metallic semi-automatic that rested on his lap. Just last month, before the mandate, when he canvassed the school, it looked peaceful and easy. Now, it gave off the feeling of breaching a military base. He knew he had to stay clear of the gymnasium since it was turned into a shooting range when gym class was replaced with shooting class. …