The first time Caleb said it, Mitch vaulted the arm of the couch and was on the telephone in an instant, faster even than he’d cut on the field. Cindy remembered when her son moved purely for the joy of movement. Not today. Today it was all about the draft. How high he would go, where he would go, and how much money he would get. Cindy watched him listening, bug-eyed, the receiver to his ear, and thought to herself, Dallas—okay, yes, I could live in Dallas. They’d just won the Super Bowl.
Neither pretty nor homely, fat nor thin, Bernice Gardener was a middling girl, all her fenders straight but no chrome or pinstripes. With a few ounces of vinegar, some colored powders or a curling iron, she might have done well with boys. Bernice, though, didn’t alter her pale skin and left her brown hair straight, aside from an occasional colored hairband. She wore jeans and print blouses or modest dresses her mother constructed from dime-store patterns. Though she tripled the outside reading assignment and earned the highest score in her English class, her teachers dismissed her as a mind of no consequence because she read The Thorn Birds, Peyton Place, and Gone with the Wind. She had pondered the term “making love” until she bought Valley of the Dolls in a used bookstore because she wondered why the girl on the cover seemed so pleased to be in a martini glass.
The motorized chair arrived, and Berger left it unwrapped in the middle of the living room. He circled it—keeping to the walls and the furniture to recover his balance—as if the chair was prey. He almost needed it, but he had the walker for the moments he grew tired. He imagined these new fixtures—the oxygen tank, the shower stall, the protein shakes—as gifts. Every day something new arrived on a delivery truck. He wanted the boxes to come wrapped in paper and ribbon, but then again, the boxes didn’t represent a future, and so he no longer turned his head at the sound of the doorbell.
In the early morning, when pink Oklahoma dawn crept over the sturdy single-family bungalows and strip malls, Abu Khaled al Shimeri wrapped his left arm around the taut belly of his pregnant wife, Fatima, and had a troubled dream.
A dimly lit maze of unpaved streets ended in front of a tall limestone wall. The sky above the wall was luminescent blue, but no sunshine reached the crepuscular base where he was standing barefoot. Behind the wall were the sacred streets of al Quds. Abu Khaled knew that the gilded dome of al Aqsa Mosque was only a few hundred paces away. He could hear a busy market on the other side, peddlers hawking live chickens and honey, women bargaining over the price of lamb. But no matter how hard he looked, he could not see a gate, not even a crack in the wall through which he could squeeze his wilting, middle-aged body.
“God!” he pleaded. “Please let me into the blessed city!”
I gazed westward from the top of the hill. The cottage where Inspector Masoodi’s son had recently moved his father stood in the thin clearing by the lake. Its old wooden walls painted over in a dark shade of green, the cottage had two narrow slits for the windows in the front. Between them, a door clung to a feeble frame on rusting metal hinges – a door that I could break with a single blow of my axe.
“Miss Val! Miss Val!” A swarm of five-year-olds buzzes around me in the kindergarten playroom. Marni is standing in the middle, feet planted, lower lip sucked in, staring down her blood-coated finger from under her scrunched-up eyebrows as though the finger should have known better. This is leftover hubbub from bigger and scarier trouble in the courtyard, which involved a stuffed monkey, the edge of the sandbox, and a superficial but profusely bleeding head wound, but the ambulance has already left, whisking away the lollipop-loaded victim, and the droplets of blood are being cleaned up outside the courtyard doors.
This past fall, I asked Lara Moreno if she would be willing to send me some stories. I had read her novel Piel de lobo (Wolf Skin) (Lumen, 2016) over the summer and was struck by the honesty and intimacy in her portrayal of the interior life of her protagonist, Sofía, a woman in her thirties, mother to a young child, and wanted to try my hand at translating her particular voice. Lara was gracious enough to send me several Word documents, including the story “Toda una vida,” winner of the 2013 Cosecha Eñe prize organized by the prestigious Spanish literary magazine Eñe: Qué Leer, and I’ve been honored and delighted to work with her since.
Hani Nuwayhid first heard the professional mourners sing at his sister’s vigil on a winter night in ’84. He was ten. His older sister, Serene, lay in a white dress on a bed propped in the middle of the parlor. Her cheeks were powdered red and her silky dark hair scented with rosewater. Female relatives dressed in black and covered in wool quilts sat in chairs around the bed in the dim light of kerosene lamps. Every so often, a few stepped into the winter room to warm themselves by the stove and feed it with pinewood. The icy north wind howled through the trees of the village, banging at the frosty windows.
I was settling down for a quiet afternoon at my usual café when the waitress asked me if I’d like to try their new marmalade. “It’s made from special wild oranges from Ehime,ˮ she explained. They were planning on officially introducing it onto the menu next month, but wanted to have some regulars test it out first.
“I’d love to try some,ˮ I said. In a few minutes she brought over a pot with my tea, as well as the plate, loaded with carefully sliced squares of milk bread and two small ceramic tubs, one with a creamy whipped butter, the other holding a delicate orange jam.