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. …
I see him during the day. His back to the street, on the edge of the curb, he’s positioned as far from the building as he can be while still under the scaffolding. On sunny days the wooden planks shield him from the heat. When it rains he moves inward, far enough to protect himself from getting drenched, but not so far as to disturb passersby. There are two battered shopping carts beside him, each filled to the brim with obscure items wrapped in plastic bags. He’s dressed in black, layered according to the dictates of weather. Often I see him comfortably seated in a chair. Sometimes he’s reading a book. At mealtimes, he unfolds a small table, places plates and utensils, and eats. He doesn’t look at me when I walk by, doesn’t solicit, doesn’t confront. Quiet and organized he protects his dual-purpose turf: the day station with a semblance of a home and the sleeping corner. It’s not exactly a corner, but a narrow patch of cement that hugs the building’s outer wall. Come evening, he moves his possessions to that space and goes to sleep. I’ve never seen him change from one domain to the other, but by the time I’m returning from a show or an evening out with friends, he’s there stretched out in his coveted spot, with four other men in black like him forming a row of desolate humans in makeshift beds.…
He wakes to the assimilating weight of his wife on top of him and the sound of Portuguese blooming in his head, her lips feathering his ear, pouring in a steady stream of sinuous vowels and indulgent consonants. They glide down his spine and enter her, creating an elliptical rhythm duplicated in every one of their cells. He wonders how this woman can still surprise him after so many years and if it is a sin to be so happy before he has thanked God for another day. What would his congregation think if they knew their minister’s faith, shaken by the absence of God in his daily rituals and devotions, is revived so readily by a conjugal act that, at this point in their marriage, has nothing to do with procreation?…