Michael BackusPeter Peter’s Family Album

By Michael Backus

Family dynamics are pushed to the limit when strangers disrupt every interaction. When Peter finds himself left with his older sister, her boyfriend, and a group of their friends, his vision of their childhood is permanently altered when he finally recognizes the truth about his sister when they were growing up, an understanding contrary to his entire reality.

“Look at me in those pictures,” she says, “do you ever look at me?” and I think no, why would I? I look at myself and the bears and the bubbling pools of Yellowstone and the castle at Disneyland and the Grand Canyon and the Tetons.

She says, “Just fucking look,” and starts crying and leaves the room, spilling her wine. David goes after her so I close the book, confused and say, “Look Sis, I closed the book, look.” She doesn’t answer.


See What All You Can Learn

By Jennifer Blair

Charlene, a middle-aged Southern woman, is rattled when a Jehovah’s Witness gives her a brochure and invites her to “pray about your heart.”  The thing is, with the feud between Charlene and the less-than-desirable neighbors who fish on her property despite the “no trespassing” signs, maybe she does need to pray about her heart.

After the woman had left, Charlene studied the front of the brochure. Jesus perched on a rock at the edge of the Sea of Galilee in his obligatory blue sash, preaching to a rapt crowd of bathrobes.

“What have you got there?” Walter asked as he tucked their receipt into his wallet then stuffed his wallet in his back pocket.

“Some woman handed me…this,” Charlene thrust the paper at him, “Like I needed to be saved.”

“Well, do you?” Walter said, only quickly glancing before he returned it.

Michael ChinA Kindness

By Michael Chin

A teenage boy falls in love with an exchange student despite language barriers and cultural differences, only to struggle with her rejection and his mother’s ongoing criticism of himself and his relationships. In the end, he learns the only true kindness is one without strings attached.

It was not kindness, but self-interest when he stooped to kiss the little Chinese girl outside the theater. It was not cruelty as much as confusion when Xiaomei turned her head and offered him her cheek instead. Later that night, though, when she lay flat on her back at the edge of the bed, she dangled her arm toward Tim, where he lay on the air mattress. He held her hand until he fell asleep.

Christopher EdelenNo Access After 5:30

By Christopher Edelen

When Jaron’s car gets locked in a parking garage, he’s forced to spend the rest of his day and evening with two girl friends. By the time he gets back to his car the next morning, his experience seems as jagged as the broken glass on his the seat of his car.

It becomes clear they aren’t leaving anytime soon. I pour us three gin and tonics. Charlie starts in on a game we play. She must play with Em too because she never explains the rules. Basically Charlie poses a question and everyone in the room takes turns answering.

“Tell me about every time you can remember having sex in a hotel,” Charlie asks. Em and I exchange glances to see who’s up first. She brings her drink to her lips slowly enough that I pick up the cue. I take a swig and sigh deeply.

Ilene DudeThe Boy Next Door

By Ilene Dube

When a boy from her neighborhood wanders over to look at Anna’s garden and asks for a peanut butter sandwich, she thinks nothing of it. She even calls his parents to let them know where he is. But when the police show up, Anna feels self-conscious and questions what her neighbors really think about her.

In the coming weeks, when Anna recounted the story to her hairdresser and another neighbor, she realized they had already heard it. “Louise is worried about Dennis,” said the hairdresser. “She’s worried that Dennis will go with anyone.”

Was Anna anyone?

Liz EganMarina

By Liz Egan

Marina, the product of her parent’s “recommitment” to each other, grows up in the shadow of their infidelity, drug-abuse, and alcoholism. To cope she withdraws, isolates herself, except from the boy who loves her. And even then, her heart remains closed.

Marina started spending less time inside. She played by the river with whichever neighborhood kids were around and stayed for dinner with those of her school friends that were within walking distance. She had a few friends at school who didn’t ride the bus because their mothers picked them up. Marina started missing the bus, hoping her solitary figure on the curb would prove intolerable to these vigilant mothers. They would wave her over and invite her to come home with them for a while.

Katherine McMullenThe People Tree: An American Fable

By Katherine McMullen

When a stranger plants a tree in a woman’s yard, little does she know it’s literally going to grow babies. And getting rid of the tree is not that easy in the society she lives in—and yet nobody really wants to help her, or take any of the rapidly multiplying babies off her hands.

After the first pod had dropped, she had tried pulling the unfallen pods from the tree, only to find them stiff and unmovable. Neighbors stopped by, hearing the crying of several babies, to congratulate her. One neighbor cooed at all the babies, exclaiming how the tree was such a blessing and how beautiful all the babies were, but just like all the other well-meaning neighbors, left empty-handed when she offered the woman one of the infants.

Joseph MillsQuickly

By Joe Mills

An over-vigilant mother suffering from anxiety is practically paralyzed by the fear of  her children existing in the world. Her relationships with her children, family, and other people are fractured by her desire to control everything.

Look what happened last year. That boy who had been standing on the monkey bars and tripped. He had flipped sideways, and his head hit a railing then the ground. He had broken his arm and collarbone and gotten a concussion. Some said he didn’t walk or talk the same afterwards. Of course, some people talked about him breaking his neck, being a paraplegic, dying; even some of the boys from his team who knew better. But the real story was bad enough.