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The Sun Magazine

Fiction

The Full Eighty-Eight

They were living off Floreta’s pay now. Money was tight, but it had always been that way, forty years of never catching up. If they ever did get a little bit ahead, something always happened: a recession, a car crash, a broken bone, an illness.

Mother’s Helper

Our mother never threatened and then hit us. It was always either/or. Plus, she struck us only when we were at home. It helped define the place. We could not have told you why she hit us at all — beatings, rash and random, born of a fury we could neither comprehend nor forecast — but we knew we were safe at Erma’s house.

Step Nine

I knew early on that Max was special. She was a taut-bodied pit-bull mix but without the meanness, even in appearance, that her breed is known for. She must have been the kind of dog who rolls over as soon as she sees you so you can pet her belly, like in the photograph on your flier.

The Magician

In 1976, the year we were supposed to be learning the metric system, we fell in love with Katy Muldoon. We were in the sixth grade, and Katy sat at the front of our math class, raising her hand for every question, as though all of the answers to all of the problems were merely floating in front of her eyes.

Wanderlust

We typed slowly and carefully: RussianBride.com. UkranianDelight.com. YourRussianLove.com. And, just like that, there we were — or, at least, versions of ourselves: women of eighteen, twenty-two, thirty-one who looked like us and wanted what we wanted. We sat before this machine — one part oracle, one part mirror — enchanted by the possibilities and all wishing the exact same wish.

Stethoscope

I am always asking doctors about their medical equipment, so I know that the stethoscope was popularized not because it improved a doctor’s ability to hear a heartbeat — although it had that effect, too — but because in nineteenth-century France it was considered improper to put one’s ear to a man’s chest or, especially, a woman’s bosom. The amplified heartbeat was secondary to the stethoscope’s main function, decorum.

On My Way Now

Today I walk the shoreline only in my mind, when I so wanted to walk by the sea, to feel the wind, to walk through the stormy weather, unafraid. I’m “being held,” I heard them say. For my “protection.” My body and the rest of me, aged eighty-seven years, sit in a tiny cell with whitewashed walls. I might pretend this to be a cubicle inside a monastery were not the devil wailing in the corridor, making free with a man’s body, crying with his voice a pagan slander on the day, possessing a man he’s bought at some slave auction where souls are up for sale. The devil buys the soul and gets the body in the bargain.

The Man At Table Five

Fanny had a shit list, and we took turns being on it. It was completely arbitrary. One minute you were Fanny’s pet. “Why can’t the rest of you be more like Ralph?” — the waiter with bad teeth. “Now, there is someone with his head on his shoulders. I’m going to make Ralph the manager.” Next it was “I don’t know what the hell’s wrong with Ralph.”