008. The Fisherman. Melinda Giordano

I have been collecting dance cards for decades. It is a troublesome pursuit: looking for these tiny booklets – that once dangled blithely from a lady’s wrist. Perhaps the reason for this is that dance cards so often will remain in their owners’ possession: in scrapbooks (I’ve dismantled one or two; my collector’s whim was that strong), in treasure boxes or locked in drawers. Or maybe they have been handed down to children and grandchildren so they might finger the decaying lace, the tiny pencils attached to shredded cord, and marvel at their ancestors’ foolish ways. 

To me, these cards are petite memoirs, pressed with hope and desire, like dried flowers. They tell evocative stories of an age – be it gilded, belle, deco, or the louche one that romped between the two world wars – long since ended. Their use has reached a conclusion as well, but the cards still remain to litter a sentimental landscape. They linger to reflect the times, the expectations, the complexities, the morals of these departed societies. They have absorbed, like a sample square soaked in perfume, the lights, music and voices of an event forgotten now, but once very much alive.

Some of my cards are decorated with silks, fringe, shards of mirror; they are printed with ladies wearing the latest styles, with draping fabrics, panniers and turbans. Others have deco designs and sensibilities, with sleek couples that hold each other close, their silhouettes elongated and serene. So much is told – and all from an assortment of stray, nomadic details and scribbled names. But there is more: there are some winsome secrets that still endure. And they are enough to provide a restive imagination reason to either disappear forever into its own fancy or to reappear triumphantly: like a fisherman that holds aloft his glittering catch.

007. (Re)cycling. MJ Iuppa

Crows hang on dried cornstalks, black against yellow. It’s November, once again, only this time that worry that this is the last time they will see this vast lake sky is outside of their heads. They’ve had a year of cancer, and now they have this whole long day before them, driving the long dipping road— the way it curves into tree shadows, and something just ahead, a yellow re-cycling bin, lying on its side, waiting in the middle of the road, with its wide mouth open. They see what lies ahead, without question; yet, they drive straight into it.

006. Ghost to Ghost. William Doreski

The house we’ve tired of haunting has gone on the market. We’ll have to leave, dragging our chains and informing our linen service. The owner is moving to Paris, where her grandchild is a perfect little confection. Being ghosts, we can read the future, and it doesn’t look so good. Drugs, unwanted pregnancies, and a sneer that will strip the paint from the walls. But we can’t pierce the membrane between life and death to warn our host that she’s on a fool’s errand. Let’s step outside into the sunlight where no one can see us. I love this transparency, don’t you? Having doffed our sheets, we’re as naked as sandstone, but no one can see us. We can wriggle right up to a courting couple and insinuate ourselves. We can creep into church for the noontime organ concert and slip right through the pipes, smoking into musical shapes only we can appreciate. But let’s wander down to the harbor and waft ourselves out to the islands. Don’t you enjoy the sea air? Although we lack lungs, it both fills and becomes us, and we become it. A huge cloud of ghost now looms over the harbor, over the city, over the dimpled little islands. No one sees or feels it, no one believes in it. But we too believed in nothing, and look at us now.

005. Screen Mother. Yash Seyedbagheri

Mom talks about fighting for children, love trumping all else, in that husky voice. So tender. It sounds convincing. But she’s on a screen, speaking to a fake son. I’m sixteen, armed with a panoply of booze. Emptiness. Old enough to be cynical, trying to figure out why she can’t text. Say she loves me. When you become famous, you hold onto things. Try not to lose. But success is a trade-off. Comes at a price. Maybe she’ll take another role. Real mom. I’m too tired to hope. I keep watching her. I hold onto words, pretend they’re mine.

004. Jelly. Aneshka Black

It feels and looks a little too much like chunky strawberry jelly on the backside. I wipe it off with my thumb.

White curds, like underdone scrambled egg whites, hit the pavement with a sickening plop.

“Okay,” I say, dropping it.

I bend over the body and dig my screwdriver under his right eyeball with the delicacy of a practiced harvester. I remember the first time, how I’d puked until all of my insides were floating remnants in the cloudy water. I’d bent over that stained toilet bowl for a good half-hour, taking in the hot fumes of bile.

Now I don’t bat an eye. Easy-peasy, one-two-threesy.

I handle the second eye more delicately. A man has two eyes. Three, if he’s lucky. The third eye, right in their forehead. But that one goes when the life goes, so there’s no sense in digging for it.

I set the eye in the mahogany box coated with stained satin. A green eye. Very pretty. I always wished I’d been given green eyes, but I wasn’t, so I don’t think about it too much.

I slide into my Benz. The glove box is still busted, so I move the pistol beneath the seat alongside the garage door opener and trash from the kids. I toss an old Taco Bell wrapper out the window and key the ignition.

I check my watch: ten minutes until I need to pick up the kids. I’ll make it in time if I cut down the back alley behind the hardware store.

I roll down the street, careful not to run over the body a second time. The dead are sacred and all that. I wonder if Emma passed her biology test. She better have.

I pause halfway down the back alley and wipe the rest of the strawberry eye jelly down the crease of my pants. Well, shit… I’ll have enough time to swing past the dry cleaners, too.