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Fiction: 2020s

Fiction of the Day

The Puppet Theater

By György Dragomán

Olgi says she’s going to take me somewhere and show me something I’ve never seen before. We walk through a door into an inner courtyard, then from there into another one, then into a third one, where there is a wire fence. Olgi knows where the fence can be lifted, she picks it up, holds it, I slip through, then I hold it up while she slips through the fence.

Slant Six

By Thomas McGuane

Nineteen miles west of town, Drew’s client Mike and his wife Carol summered in a neighborhood of attractive homes along the meandering Bluebird Creek, formerly Bog Creek. The development was known locally as Snob Hollow. While the occupants were not all snobs, there was little time in the accelerated northern summer for mingling with locals, what Bluebird Creekers called “fraternizing.” But the Khourys were different, self-­consciously inclusive, inviting often inappropriate local guests to their gatherings—­gun nuts, fellow Pickleballers, smiling evangelicals, conspiracy theorists, and cabinetmakers—­despite the likely awkwardness. Mike was fond of saying, “You can learn a lot by observing fish out of water” and “I admire their neolithic lifestyles and the curious pidgin with which they pour out their hearts.” So, Drew decided, he was a snob after all, though proud of his politics.

Good Boy

By Eloghosa Osunde

I’ve always had a problem with introductions. To me, they don’t matter. It’s either you know me or you don’t—you get? If you don’t, the main thing you need to know is that I am a hustler through and through. I’m that guy that gets shit done. Simple. Kick me out of the house at fifteen—a barged-in-on secret behind me, a heartbreak falling into my shin as I walk—and watch me grow some real useful muscles. Watch me learn how to play all the necessary games, good and ungood; watch me learn how to notice red eyes, how to figure out when to squat and bite the road’s shoulder with all my might. Watch me learn why a good knife (and not just any type of good, but the moral-less kind, the fatherlike kind) is necessary when you’re sleeping under a bridge. Just a week after that, watch me swear on my own destiny and insist to the God who made me that I’m bigger than that lesson now; then watch my ori align.

A Way with Bea

By Shanteka Sigers

Bea walks into the classroom wearing the clothes she had on the day before. The Teacher understands that this is going to be a bad day. Bea’s hair is uncombed, face unwashed. She arrives precisely twelve seconds late. Not so late that the Teacher has to make a big deal about it. But not on time. Bea walks like a prisoner forcibly escorted, snatching herself along, step by step, then pouring her thin body into the seat. She has no books, no pencil or paper. She drapes herself over the desk and waits for the Teacher to continue or challenge.

The July War

By Rabih Alameddine

In summer, our neighborhood quiets in phases. The quieting begins in May. Schools give their older kids, the seventeen- and eighteen-year-olds, a month off to prepare for the baccalaureate exams. Following a ritual as old as our parents, the students retreat to residences out of town, to peaceful chalets and cabins away from civilization for communal study and living. As noisily as migrating birds, they return for the state exams in June. Then school ends for the year; a couple of families travel abroad, a few more leave for the mountains. An outsider doesn’t perceive the slow but sure change in the neighborhood’s population until Beirut broils in August.

In early July, our neighbors across the landing, the Masris, left for the mountains. They wouldn’t return from their summer home till late September with its cooling temperatures. That was the summer I was promoted to the apartment’s caretaker, taking over from my brother. My father insisted that I look after the Masri home because he thought that at thirteen, I wasn’t yet behaving as an adult should. I needed to become more responsible. I’d been receiving talking-tos, lectures with full arm waving and hand gestures, every day for a month.

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.

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.