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Fiction: 2020s

Fiction of the Day

I Was a Public Schooler

By Ottessa Moshfegh

The application to Waverley Glen Academy required that I spend a day sitting in on freshman classes and mixing with the student body to see how well I’d fit in. I was twelve. Picture the gleaming wooden corridors, the Persian rugs, the monogrammed silverware, the primrose and daffodil in the window boxes. Hear the clattering of shoes on the terra-cotta tile in the courtyard, the gentle chimes signaling the hour, and so on. I remember a warm, gentle breeze and the view of Amesbury Park’s weeping willows through the open French doors of the garret art studio where I sketched a wooden bowl of fruit, or was it an old leather satchel? It could have been a naked man. I don’t remember what was taught in the classes I visited.

The Duplex

By Amy Silverberg

I moved to Los Angeles to sing. When was this? August? June? I was twenty-nine, and those were shapeless months, when the days blended together and I refused to pull them apart.

My landlord was unusually close to her adult son. His name was Jeffrey, and my landlord said he was around my age. I’d never met him even though his apartment was apparently only twelve minutes away. I lived on the bottom floor of her dilapidated duplex; she lived upstairs. Every night I’d fall asleep to the sound of her feet shuffling across the thin wood floor above me.

I slept with my bedroom windows open, hoping for a breeze to carry in the burned-air smell of the city. Instead, my landlord would wake me up in the morning by pulling aside my curtain and thrusting her hand inside my room, offering me a gift—a spare tomato or a pamphlet about the Hare Krishnas.

Witness

By Jamel Brinkley

My sister threw open the door so that it banged against the little console table she kept by the entrance. “Silas,” she said breathlessly, before even removing her coat, “I have to tell you something.” Which was enough to make me feel trapped, as though the words out of her mouth were expanding and filling up the space in her tiny apartment. I told her to calm down and apologized, and then I began making excuses for myself. I had assumed she would be angry at me because of the previous night, so I was primed for what she might say when she got home from work.

The Juggler’s Wife

By Emily Hunt Kivel

The situation in itself is not unique. There was a man who hated his job and wanted a new one. There was a man who was sick of his boring job and wanted an exciting job instead. This man was depressed, but he saw a way out. He thought this way out was a distantly Rilkean change of life. Not his whole life. Really, just his job. How he spent his days, occupied his mind, set goals long-term and short. The man wanted to embrace a buried part of himself, see the edges of his mind glimmer under an unknown light; wanted the blind and transcendental experience of losing himself to some craft; wanted to make art.

Childhood, Boyhood, Youth

By Andrew Martin

They had finished reading War and Peace, and now they were celebrating their triumph at a Russian supper club in Brighton Beach. There were twelve of them seated at the long table (“Just like that painting of what’s-his-name’s dinner, minus what’s-his-name,” Kyla said brightly), and, well, Derek assumed that at least half had probably finished War and Peace. Or, fine: he imagined it was safe to say that, on the whole, the table had at least started reading War and Peace.

An Unspoken

By Ashleigh Bryant Phillips

Hal Parker runs out to his wife’s hydrangea bushes. He’s trying to scare away the neighbor’s black Lab, Major. Hal claps his hands in front of him and shouts, but Major’s already peeing on the bush. It seems to Hal that lately the dog just won’t stay in his pen. Hal has watched him dig holes under it and even seen him climb over it once or twice.

Hal looks next door. His neighbor Corey Lane’s Camaro is in the yard. He decides to tell Corey about his dog. As he knocks on the door and waits, Hal looks over the front of the house and thinks he should have talked to Corey about Major weeks ago. He also thinks the bricks need to be washed and the shutters need to be repainted. He knocks again and hears the floorboards creak on the other side of the door. Major is back at the hydrangeas.

 

A Story for Your Daughters, a Story for Your Sons

By Rebecca Makkai

The war had closed much of the city, cut off many of the smaller towns. Unable to trace his usual routes, the hat merchant headed into the mountains to try his luck. His father, before he died, had circled a small mountain village on his map, had noted that the trading was good but the trip took two difficult days. Indeed, the snaking road narrowed fast, and the bridge was down to splinters so his horse had to wade to the knees.

Near sunset of the first day, long after the road had turned to an overgrown path, the merchant passed a plain young woman milking a cow. She asked him into her farmhouse for bread and brandy but never turned her back on him. She didn’t turn her back to cut the bread, to call for her mother, to find a glass. He imagined she’d met her share of passing soldiers who wanted more than drink.

 

Diary of a Country Mouse

By Jesse Ball

Thursday, 10 December.

Giles shows us the sample mice and I am, as if for the first time, overcome with joy. Perhaps when I was a child I had feelings like this—but not in many years. I look, for instance, at a small gray mouse, smaller than the others, and it is as if I am seeing (anything) for the first time. He moves among his neighbors so swiftly and yet without error—as if on a track, as if held up by threads from above that prompt him. For reasons I cannot yet fathom, the edge of the enclosure is of great interest to the mice. I suppose there are no such edges in the so-called natural world. No one, not even we, are ready for them (though they are upon us). He sniffs there at the edge and his nose moves with almost impossible articulation.