The Shape of Emptiness

The Shape of Emptiness

His mother dies three weeks before the end of the quarter. A boy, a good student: he emails me to tell me the news, asks permission to be absent. Of course, I say, take as much time as you need. I tell him he can withdraw, take an incomplete, but he promises to be back...
Invisible Partners

Invisible Partners

On my mother’s refrigerator in Chiang Mai, Thailand, are pictures from my high school dances in Chicago, when we lived in bi-level as a happy immigrant family—Homecoming, the Sweetheart’s Dance, Prom. There are so many photos of me you can barely see the surface of the fridge, just a hundred smiling faces of Ira with...
Good Faith

Good Faith

A house wren is making a nest in the wreath on our front door. When my wife and I want to go out on the porch, we make sure to knock on the inside of the door just in case the wren is there—just a little knock to warn her. We’re only six months married,...
The Ten-Year Wake

The Ten-Year Wake

I sit in a rental car in an office parking lot in Atlanta watching for a blue Pathfinder, the car my former therapist, Randy, drives. I glance at my watch. He’s late. It’s 10:15 a.m., Friday, May 13, 2005. I stopped seeing him regularly when I moved to Michigan several years ago. Maybe he drives...
Anniversary Disease

Anniversary Disease

Every day is the anniversary of something. May 26th is the anniversary of my mom pulling out half her hair while giving birth to me. It is also the anniversary of the public hanging of Alse Young, the first person executed for witchcraft in the American colonies. May 27th is the anniversary of my unquenchable...
The Birthday Place

The Birthday Place

“You know, Mother, today is my birthday.” I have reported this three times in the past hour. Across the room, on the sofa where she leans beside my father, Mother smiles. “That’s wonderful, dear.” The dear is generic, a term she employs when she forgets who I am. “And where is your birthday place?” “You...
Wishbone

Wishbone

We traveled cross-country by car every year. From New York to Utah, from Utah back to upstate New York. Every summer, the drive took days, endless scorching hot summer days. Our mother made sandwiches before we left and put them in an icebox underneath our feet. She placed a large round thermos with lemonade in...
Autophagy

Autophagy

At first, I read and tried to write how the mother octopus is so dedicated to her newborn children that she will stay with them as long as needed until they can survive on their own, neglecting herself past starvation, past wasting, and she will eat her own arms in what I want to tell...
What Bad Owners Say at the Dog Park

What Bad Owners Say at the Dog Park

1. He’s friendly. 2. He never does that. 3. That’s his way of playing. 4. He’s still learning. 5. Pookie, come here. 6. He’s not so good on recall. 7. Pookie’s still learning how to listen, isn’t he? 8. Watch out for his leash! 9. Pookie, come! Come, Pookie! Are you listening? If you don’t...
Rite of Passage

Rite of Passage

My mother claims it was my brother’s bris that made her turn from Judaism. This was August 1965, at my grandparents’ place in Westport, Connecticut, where I spent each summer until I was eight. I was present that day, although I don’t remember: It is the back-and-forth where memory begins. What I have seen are...
Boiled Sugar

Boiled Sugar

Santa Ana, Costa Rica, smells of boiled sugar. Mangoes drop like heavy bells and rot along the streets. The city is fermenting. Brahman cows collect on one corner, eating dirt. Their ribs ripple beneath their skin. I buy coffee and chocolate and cheap earrings at the corner store to take home, tin bells clanging as...
Louie’s New Truck

Louie’s New Truck

The tiny Montana town I grew up in had one main intersection where two highways came together at a T-shaped junction. One stop sign told vehicles traveling east to give way to the north and south traffic passing straight through town. On the corner stood Dad’s pharmacy: a two-story, baby blue, eyesore of a building....
Little Rambles (Excerpts)

Little Rambles (Excerpts)

#20 Dear _______, I am studying the genetics of calico cats; taking formal (and informal) photographs of tissue boxes (probably best not to ask); and studying the design and psychology of contemporary sans serif fonts. Sometimes I write. Freud thought that people over fifty weren’t educable. Plato thought that fifty was a good time to...
Things I Did Between the Follow-Up Mammogram and the Ultrasound

Things I Did Between the Follow-Up Mammogram and the Ultrasound

1. Checked email. 2. Read an article about the genetic roots of trauma. 3. Imagined the next scene in a short story I’d begun at 4 a.m. during my most recent bout of insomnia—a poltergeist coming to consciousness during the adolescence of a girl named Radya. In the next scene, perhaps Radya’s parents will bring...
Abandoned

Abandoned

The manager of the marina explained why I saw few deserted autos in the Keys. “After hurricane Wilma, we hauled 65,000 automobiles out of Key West. Most of those sat neglected long before Wilma arrived.” “And, you know, the population of Key West is only 25,000.” In the ocean, plastics, chemical sludges, and other man-made...

On Turning Twenty: A Brief History of Brevity

Twenty years ago I had an idea for a magazine that combined the swift impact of flash fiction with the true storytelling of memoir, and Brevity was born. To be honest, I expected it to last a year. Issue One had five stories and a horrible design. Issue Two didn’t look much better, and I...
Gradient

Gradient

This morning a man jumped his car over a curb and emerged—silent, stoic, a phantom, someone said, he was so ghostlike as he moved—to stab eleven people with a cleaver. The man I love more than any other sat in his Yiddish Literature classroom, one building over from the stabbings, where just a week before...
Math Lesson

Math Lesson

In the box of unsent cards my parents have kept to mark a family’s life, I find “Congratulations on Your New Addition!” Chosen no doubt for the next child who would arrive, the next name to stitch onto the quilt that hangs on the wall above my father’s chair, thirty-three names now, grandchildren and great-,...