She devoured tiny Americans that slid out of a vending machine. Their thin metallic plastic packages almost opened themselves when punctured. Emerging with their tiny hands on either side of the rip, they declared their nutritional value (calcium, sugar, fat, 350 mg of synthetic protein). So many times she decided to diet and promised: no more Americans. But she always walked by, with an eye on the spot between the Ruffles and the Doritos, salivating. And before thinking, there she was again, inserting the coins, hot and sweaty from her palms, into the machine’s mouth.
“Mr. Federenko come soon,” the driver said, lugging Fearless’s duffel up the stairs.
Above, on the landing, he saw a blur of pattering feet and what looked like a cowled figure disappearing through a door—but it must have been his mind playing tricks, he told himself. And the rain was disorienting; it hammered on the stairwell’s skylight like a hundred hundredweight of masonry nails tossed from above. Fearless’s work as a war photographer had taken him everywhere save Asia, so the sheer speed and volume of the monsoon surprised him. When the driver led him through the open door of a whitewashed apartment, he was stunned to see the water reaching pedestrians’ knees from its balcony, the thoroughfares now canals traversed by cars and tuk-tuks that left parabolae of foam rippling in their wake. Clothes stuck to people’s skin. Ropes of water twisted from awnings.
The dry spot on the pavement vaguely resembled a human shape. “Where’s the body?” Detective Brenda Smith asked.
The residential street was lit with soft yellow lights floating over a long hedge. The moon sat on top of a building on their left. The air smelled of water: rain, rot, autumn. It was 6:17 a.m. Brenda was cold, her skin tight from the sense of dread and responsibility.
Even as a child, I could see no way of staying in my hometown. The edges of the broken and breaking city never quite held themselves in place, and my own family life mirrored those fractures. There was just so much loss all around me. Everywhere I turned seemed stabbed right through, constantly punctured by the outside world. The past, present and future all seemed to blend into one, and every single part of the story held sorrow that I couldn’t get rid of, no matter how deep I tried to bury it. So many different things—situations, times of year, people—made the bad things rise up from inside to bite me again. Triggers, I know that now. It left me feeling scared, hollowed out and with no control over any of it, not really knowing how to make it—any of it—stop.
The Bridge of Sorrows: An Excerpt From Thin Places
They came at four o’clock in the morning and I was too sleepy to get out of the way in time. They trampled on the big trash bin and planted their heavy boots on the mass of bodies. My hand was crushed under someone’s boot, along with Emad’s arm. I gasped silently. Then someone started lifting my leg, which was stuck under Youssef’s stomach, and then my body too. I clung on to Youssef’s clothes, but the hand lifting me was much too strong for me. I suddenly found my head swinging through the air. I stiffened my neck to try to control it, but it was no use. I couldn’t make out where the voice giving orders was coming from but it was definitely from above.
One night, out walking, unable to sleep, and more fatigued than usual by his endlessly unfolding apprenticeship, the eighteen-hour days, the bugs that puncture his skin every night, the lack of money for real milk or for visiting his favorite sister, Andrew saw a man in the street who was raising a gun and pointing it at what?
A young mastiff, thin and weary-looking, staggering for a place to sleep.
Amherst College’s sixth annual literary festival will take place virtually this year, from Thursday, February 25 to Sunday, February 28. Among the guests are 2020 National Book Award fiction winner Charles Yu and longlist nominee Megha Majumdar. The Common is pleased to reprint a short excerpt from Yu’s novel Interior Chinatown here.
Join Megha Majumdar and Charles Yu in conversation with host Thirii Myo Kyaw Myint (visiting writer at Amherst College) on Friday, February 26 from 7 to 8pm.
Meron Hadero is a finalist for The Restless Books Prize for New Immigrant Writing.
Original version published in McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern Issue 52, finalist for the 2019 Caine Prize for African Writing
When I met Herr Weill, I was a lanky 10-year-old, a fish out of water in –, Iowa, a small college town surrounded by fields in every direction. My family had moved to the US a few weeks earlier from Ethiopia via Berlin, so I knew no English, but was fluent in Amharic and German. I’d speak those sometimes to strangers or just mumble under my breath to say what was on my mind, never getting an answer until the day I met Herr Weill.
Alisa Koyrakh is a finalist for The Restless Books Prize for New Immigrant Writing.
On February third, 1966, a Soviet spacecraft reached the moon. Zhenya read about it on February fifth. The newspaper lay on the stool next to their bed for two days before she looked at it. The headline: The Moon Speaks Russian.
Justin Haynes is a finalist for The Restless Books Prize for New Immigrant Writing.
Zaboca Clearing’s zabocas were always ripe and ready, on season or off; we tried not to think about this as we added them to our stews and salads. We suspected a tortured past with the silk cotton tree, some twenty yards beyond the wooden picnic tables, that we know better than to mess with. But the oddest thing of all about Zaboca Clearing, beyond the perma-green grass and the silk cotton tree, or even what might be buried beneath, was the pervading smell of oranges that floated through the Clearing even though there’s no oranges planted anywhere near Zaboca Clearing. It confounded us, raised short hairs on our necks and goosefleshed forearms. Tingled the edges of our ears and moistened tear ducts. It itched our collarbones. All of us except Binary Clem, who could never smell the oranges because of the beating he’d once received for not paying off gambling debts that wrote off his senses of smell and taste and the ability to speak in anything other than ones and zeroes like a corrupted code-breaker, which we suspected was the final straw that chased off his wife Anisa, her no longer able to understand the sweet-nothings whispered into her ears. Binary Clem would watch us cover our noses with the tops of our t-shirts, tank tops and mesh shirts whenever the smell would overwhelm us and would ask, 1-0-0-1-1-0-0-1-1?