The church ladies were having coffee in the living room of the Baker house when Martin Williams delivered his parachute to Lily Baker, his bride. Only some of the church ladies could really have been there, but in retellings they all claimed seats. They allowed one another this. A natural desire, to be part of the story.
When the storm’s coming, you can feel it. The atmosphere’s tense, quivering the leaves, hot, damp air close up to your face, the cloud doubling and darkening, metallic grey, sucking in the light. There’s a portent in the frenzy of birds and the cat’s retreat into the bottom of the clothes cupboard. Sometimes night falls and everything is still on edge, pending. The child loves to hear the thunder sneak up in the dark with a low growl. She counts the seconds after each cannonade. When the rain finally falls, you can’t hear much else, even when there’s shouting. She likes to climb out of bed into her window and get gooseflesh in the wind, then to jump back, shivering, under the covers to get warm. Then she does it again. Once there were hailstones, thrashing the asbestos roof. The noise obliterated everything, like a drug; she slept.
On October 24, 1956, the day I turned 9.8, my grandmother came to take me out of school in Budapest’s 6th District. We were in the middle of reviewing decimal points because of a mistake a classmate named Mary had made. Other parents and grandparents were arriving too with the same aim, although no one had come yet to get Zoli, the boy who sat beside me.
By SEAN BERNARD
Living with Ricky is fine. The things you accept—they’re small things. Like the way he kicks off his shoes in the hallway at the end of the workday, leaving them there for you to nearly break your ankle on when you have to pee in the middle of the night. He has a point: if you know you’re going to trip on them, why don’t you just move them? Or also how he’ll fall asleep after work on Fridays—you both get off at five, but he always gets home first and somehow has time to be on his third Corona when you walk into the apartment, and he’s sitting in the yellow beanbag chair, half-asleep with an Angels game on, remote tucked safely under his leg. He’s happy to wake up early Saturday morning after you’ve talked the night before about sleeping in together, the weekend being the only real chance you get to wake up with him slowly, to lie in bed in that half-drowsing state that’s exactly how you’d spend your whole life if only someone would, you know, create a job for that, a job where pajamas were the uniform, a bed the office, and being snoozy and not really worrying about the clanging outside world was the main task at hand—those mornings, while you’re drooling into your pillow, Ricky will yank on his sponsor-laden clothes and go bicycling. Leaving you to wake up alone. Which isn’t so bad, but then he’ll call around noon asking you to pick him up at the local craft brewery as he’s had too many to bike home. That’s responsible, though. Calling you.
By ELVIS BEGO
The first time I came upon Raley was in a volume of Edith Wharton’s correspondence—a short, scabrous note he wrote from Venice in the winter of 1908. When I later read his Drowned City—one of those belated NYRB Classics that seem to appear out of a hidden crack in the library of Babel—I found its rooftop phantasmagoria irresistible. Tales of an unnamed city’s last population of gnarled maniacs, scheming widows, foolish valentines, old men whose eyes are black with mascara, boatmen mooring their vessels to weathervanes, women who sell their kisses for a dry bed. The city is half-sunk in its dream and no news of the world across the spent sea. “An imagination as awkward and prophetic as Kafka’s,” says the blurb, predictably. Nobody knew about the book for a hundred years. It was privately printed in Venice in 1899—only a trunkful of copies—and remained obscure till Edward Kingsley, the Anglo-Italian philanthropist-slash-Luddite, found it in a library in Burano. James Wood’s piece in the New Republic, although not without censure (“Raley’s iambic murmur too often apes the Jacobeans … but the wry vision is his own. His world is peopled by blind self-unravelers, and we are their stunned eavesdroppers”), sent me to the bookshop, and I tore through the two hundred perfect pages in a sitting.
By EMILY CHAMMAH
I wouldn’t say that Omar is my best friend, because I like to think we are closer than that, that there is something bringing us together more than any friendship could. While it is true that he is my cousin, I never feel as connected to the others—to Muhammad or Nour or Ahmed or Anais—or even to my older sister, Sousan. They don’t know, for example, that I prefer to drink my orange juice without sugar, that I’d rather eat falafels straight out of a paper cone than smashed inside a pocket of bread.
By ELIZABETH POLINER
That summer, even before she took up mowing, Suzanne was doubting herself, an uncertainty that set in when her husband began to notice the Mandlebrauns’ oldest daughter, Alison, soon to finish college. Alison, who lived in the only other house on their riverside lane, was home in Middle Haddam for the summer and came by to play tennis on their court with their daughter, Michelle, also soon to finish college. The girls, never close friends to begin with, had drifted further apart during their time away at school. It was surprising, then, to see them suddenly pair up, even if only for tennis.