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Two Scenarios Involving Manuel G. Villarreal, 1969-1970

Biên Hòa, Vietnam: 1969 After a week of trying to stomach the gnaw of a toothache, my father checks himself into the dental clinic on base. X-rays and an oral exam reveal an abscess rotting his back molar. The dentist refers to the defective tooth by a number and pumps a pedal to lower the […]

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Loud in the Time of Chaos

Noise. It’s killing.

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When You’re a Writer Who Doesn’t Like Writing

I saw the event advertised at my local library and signed up before I could talk myself out of it.

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Bones

My parents go to Bogota and come back with an emerald and a child. I already have an older sister and a baby brother. The new child was supposed to be three but he’s seven like me. My mother tells us that during their first meal he ate a chicken leg including the bone. They didn’t realize until it was gone.

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Celebration #50

We sat, sipped from the same straw, and didn’t talk much except to wonder at the heat and puzzle over why the wine wouldn’t get us drunk, why nothing was strong enough anymore. I bought us one more bottle and that was it for the cash. “Happy birthday,” Sunny Dee said, and I gave her the last blue swallow.

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A Brief Episode In Music History

Tapes were easy to copy, and durable. A beloved tape—Metallica’s Kill ‘Em All, for example—could be forgotten on the floor of a car, shoved in the pocket of one’s faded black jeans, or stuffed in a backpack with one’s undone homework and comics and an uncapped tube of black lipstick, and suffer no damage. Tapes could survive heat, cold, neglect. Though they eventually wore down with use, they did so gently: The playback warbled, faint, as if the sound travelled from a greater distance as time passed.

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Bull & Finches

In eleven seasons, the bar depicted in the television show Cheers was almost never crowded.

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Fifteen

Some will say a 15-year-old girl is really a woman, some will say our parents are at fault, some will ask where were the adults with a shake of their heads, some will say they’re sorry young girls suffer from a lack of self-esteem, we need to do something about these girls.

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Wingèd

I was following a path in the woods when the toe of my boot nearly crushed an ant. I withdrew the boot. There, paddling an inch one direction before reversing course and paddling in another, was an ordinary carpenter ant. It was plain black. It looked like the minute droppings of a slightly larger critter, except for its moving around. I was prepared to bypass the ant and continue down the path when the little monster bristled wings from its shoulders and set them whirring at light speed and rose into the air.

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The Wilderness

We had a book. And in the book, there were hundreds of pictures of the Civil War. The book was heavy and cool as a rock. When we were both eleven we held it between us, the left side would fall on his lap and the right on mine. We shared it slowly, gravely. Whenever […]

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The Iranian Blue-Glazed Pottery

Don’t wake it, the memory too big and rich to swallow, like the soapy tasting gumdrops rolled in sugar we bought on Citroën cab rides to Tehran’s corner shops — dastè râst, dastè chap, turn right, turn left, nearly all of the broken Farsi we could recall. Everywhere, the women in black veils like dark ghosts who came alive when the autumn winds threw open their chadors to expose rock concert T-shirts, Chanel skirts, the wrists laden with gold bangles snapping the cloth closed again, a magic trick almost too quick for our eyes.

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A Favor

I look at her bed and imagine her in her faded nightgown, lying sleepless, a thin arm outstretched to my father’s bed alongside her.

I look at his bed and see his pillows smoothed and propped up, his sheets tucked tight, his blanket folded at the foot.

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Little Sarah Bernhardt

I planned my outfits each night before performing arts school. If the theme was turquoise, I’d wear every turquoise thing I owned: hand-painted circle skirt, 40s pajama top dotted with sleeping kittens, Lucite earrings embedded with tiny sea horses. If I didn’t have turquoise shoes, I’d spray paint cowboy boots on our front lawn.

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Transactions

One morning the husband came in, alone. He sat by the window and when I came to take his order, his eyes traced my body. I was wearing a black skirt with white socks and I became suddenly aware of my bare knees. He asked my name, and I told him, though some part of me wanted to keep it for myself. He left me a five-dollar tip for a six-dollar breakfast.

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U-District Skate Spots of the Late ’90s

1. The BECU parking garage with the small set of stairs we ollied down across from the church our fathers made us attend, where the middle-aged pastor whom I loathed and admired had said Kierkegaard said, “Anxiety is the dizziness of freedom.” When the cops pulled in, lights flashing silently, we fled into the rainy […]

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A New Species of Yucca

The leg juts at an unnatural angle from a mound of dirt in the middle of the rolling hills of Iraqi desert hardpan. We have not slept in some hours. We have been rained on for days. We have not been warm in weeks.

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I Can Smell the Tear Gas From Across the Sea

I’m seven or eight and I dig my hand into the wet sand in search for clams. The water on Playa Guacuco is cool, with small waves that crash so consistently, you could count time with them. My sister, one year younger than me, is doing the same thing. She’s wearing a bathing suit with […]

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On Sequencing

Here’s the tradeoff if you’re a male bee.

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Denis Johnson’s Bad Day

He looked like that writer Denis Johnson on a bad day.

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Love Between the Lines

I owe my love of literature to growing up closeted in a culture of homophobia. While other teenage boys pursued girls, and even caught a few, I found everything I needed on the printed page.

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A Crush

Gary and I were going to make love. For several weeks, I planned to linger after the bell rang with the excuse of needing help with homework. Once my classmates filtered out, I’d saunter up to his desk just as he was preparing to score our worksheets on the multiplication tables. As his back tensed […]

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Fed

My mom did most of the cooking—fried chicken, meatloaf, pot roast—but my dad fed me.

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A Picture of Love

I stood up in a close friend’s wedding fifteen years ago in this same temple, and now his son is up there reading Hebrew in cracking sing-songese. I don’t come here unless there’s a wedding or, like today, a Bar Mitzvah. Each time, I hope to connect with the historical groaning that infuses the chants; […]

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On the Tongue

. . . biting into it gave one the impression of biting into a beating heart.

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