Please Come Back To Me
From "The Nurse and the Black Lagoon" (originally published in Five Points):
The house was quiet, an eerie sign. Usually, if the kids weren't watching television, there was at least the beat of a stereo thumping from one or both of their rooms. Irene resisted the impulse to turn on the TV for benign company, a laugh track or talk show or even the smarmy sounds of paid programming. "Hungry?" she asked Joe, and he looked up surprised and hopeful at the solicitude in her tone. Then she saw understanding cross his face, the realization that now she was stalling, and that her question had nothing to do with how he felt -- with his hunger or nervousness or guilt about why he'd been called home early, his boy suspected of a crime. So he would not give Irene what she wanted, the time she would have welcomed to make him a sandwich or pour him a beer. "No," he said, "Let's go get him," and they were both aware that he sounded like a man about to hunt the one who was stalking his family, instead of his own tall sweet son.
From "Dear Nicole" (originally published in Ploughshares):
"I always wondered what would have happened, if I had been the one," she said, and Gerald believed he heard a tremble in her voice. "Instead of Nicole, who got hit. You know?"
He did know, perhaps more than she did; but he also knew that to admit it would be a mistake. He closed his eyes at the thought of the puck having taken a different route, fallen to gravity sooner, found Allie Sprinkle as its mark. The vision stirred a sweet wailing in his gut as he heard the apocalyptic approach of a town truck coming through to spread salt on the street. Before he could open his eyes again, the backs of Allie's warm fingers were laid against his forehad, the way a mother checks for fever in a child. He had never been touched by her before, and he knew she should be startled, but it felt -- what was the word he wanted? -- more ancient, or familiar, than Nicole's touch ever had.
From "Oregon" (originally published in Boston Book Review):
Waiting for Deborah's daughter in the airport, Elizabeth was sure she knew what kind of trouble Abby was in. She knew it the way she had known to dream that Deborah would have a baby, all those years ago. It did not seem uncanny to her, or anything to be afraid of; she believed that somehow, by a confluence of love and intuition and historical molecules, she was attuned to the fertility cycles of Deborah and, now, of her daughter.
And yet when Abby stepped through the gate behind all the other passengers on the flight (it was like seeing Deborah, and Elizabeth made a noise in her throat without realizing, as she raised a hand to catch Abby's eye), and pitched herself at her godmother's body, mumbling "I'm pregnant" into Elizabeth's shoulder, as if she half-hoped the sleeve might obscure what she'd said, Elizabeth felt stunned. She was so expecting these words that when she heard them, the sudden symmetry of the situation -- time folding back upon itself to make a perfect fit at the edges, over the intricate layers of twenty years -- made her breathless and blind for an instant, and she reached for a chair.
From "Shirley Wants Her Nickel Back" (originally published in Ploughshares):
The morning after the accident that killed Mary Jo Henzel, Norine went, by herself, to tell her mother about it. Jimmy was still in jail. It was Friday and her father was already at work when she arrived at the house, poured herself coffee which she did not usually drink, and began to talk. As she spoke she watched her mother's fingers, which rested on the keyboard of the PC where her next sermon was taking shape as she listened to Good Morning America on TV. The skin looked raw-red and puckered, despite the medical lotions she coated them with at night. Norine knew it was her mother's one concession to vanity that she was embarrassed about those hands. When she served Communion, she gave out the blocks of bread with her palms facing upward, as if she were receiving the sacrament herself, instead of bestowing it on the parishioners.
From "Testimony" (originally published in Glimmer Train):
The house they grew up in smelled, as it always had, like sausage cooking. Her mother never cooked sausage that Maxine could remember, but there it was, anyway -- the warm, vaguely broiled scent that stuck to the walls and ceilings, the paint and upholstery, the air they all breathed, in and out of each other's lungs. When she lived there, of course, she hadn't noticed. But when she went away and came back, there it was. It was that family smell of high spirits and misery, celebration and bitterness, comfort and dread. Maxine drank it in deep with her eyes closed, then thought she might vomit. Leaning forward to kiss her father, letting him hold her close in a hug, she tried to imagine this same weight above her in a bed: an adult man lying on top of her as a child, and what this would feel like -- suffocating, titanic, in its very proportions absurd. She knew it had never happened. Yet Tillie was sure that it had. And if he did it to me, Max, then why wouldn't he do it to you?
From "Please Come Back To Me":
In the car she was still talking but his mind was not with hers. They drove the streets he had come to know because he lived here, but this time he saw them as part of a foreign place, a city far from home, which was the kitchen his mother stood in and the touch of her tired hand.
All the moments we think we will tell someday: they were fighting for the front of the line at his lips, then in his throat, where they waited to be whispered into the world's ear. It began with the warmth of sunlight on the crib sheet, and the vibration of stroller sheels struggling across snow. The memory of his grandmother jumping over a puddle. The taste of blood and ice cream when a tooth comes out in a cone. The moment he realized he could not look at one thing without his eye also taking in everything around it, even the ocean, which included the sky. What it felt like to be himself, waking up on a Saturday morning; how the smell of rain in the summer could make him angry or want to cry. Every secret between him and God that would someday be only God's -- each came forward with all the others now because it was time to be counted, and Chris knew this in a way that came not from logic but intuition, the same way we understand love.