A Deeper and Steeper Slope and Slant
The woman on the phone said to come straight through to the back, and so Magnus does, trudging through brambles and shaggy ferns along the bungalow’s side to the empty swimming pool behind, then to the squat back cottage, almost the bungalow in miniature. He raps on the cottage’s screen door, can see light faintly through its mesh.
The woman who emerges is bespectacled and iron-haired, her cardigan stretched longer on one side of her squat frame than the other.
“Hi, Berniece? I’m Magnus. I’m here about the guitar pedal. I talked to you on–”
Per Ardua Ad Astram
THEY’RE SITTING in the empty ball diamond in the woods when Lloyd sees a cardboard box moving through the tall grass just inside the left-field tree line. He watches for a few seconds while Mona chatters about baking shows, finally points, maybe just to confirm he’s not gone crazy. Mona sees it too then, gasps and stands. They head over together, Mona trailing behind. It’s an Amazon box, the small kind you get when you order a pack of coffee filters. A squirrel’s tail and hind legs protrude from a hole in the box’s side.
“How’d he manage that?” Mona says and laughs.
All the Pretty Girls Look the Same
When the guy eating ice cream on the subway, wearing jean shorts and an Argos tank top, stands to offer his seat, Joan hesitates but takes it. He smiles at her and hugs a pole, hooking his bowl arm then spoon arm around it. When the train lurches, when the guy stumbles, there’s a slapstick inevitability to how his bowl drops, to how he clutches it messily against his chest. The guy stares around at the other passengers, looking more amused than embarrassed at the ice cream spilled down his stomach. He smiles last at Joan, as if she should appreciate his folly even more than the rest.
Every person is entitled to decide one day that they require nothing more from other humans. Though Morgan realizes this late, just past her forty-second birthday, she does understand it at last. Soon after, she breaks up with Mitchell, who has become a drain on every source in her being. And she stops calling her best friend Cass, who has never really cared about her, Morgan can increasingly see, except as some sort of pet failure.