The Girl With the Flaxen Hair

The Girl With the Flaxen Hair

My father grew up in a two-bedroom apartment on the fourth floor of a six-story building on Jane Street in Greenwich Village. The apartment had been purchased by his father in 1944, and nobody was ever able to explain how a Steinway Vertegrand ended up in the living room. It had come with the apartment, and the sole attempt to remove it, sometime in the early 1950s, led to the discovery that while it could fit just fine through the front door, there wasn’t enough room in the hallway to turn it around so it could go down the stairs. Some giant could probably lift it over the railing and onto the stairs, but between our landing and the exit to Jane Street there were seven hairpin turns, and the piano would have to go up and over the railings each time.

The potential buyer had his money returned and the piano was shoved back into its space, where it was covered with muslin and used to display pictures and houseplants in front of the window that didn’t lead to the fire escape.

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Zolzaya and the Apple Thieves

Zolzaya and the Apple Thieves

By the end they were in her dreams, too. She felt herself taken along by a warm current, a tug that seemed to come from inside of her somehow, first playful but then urgent and frightening, and finally a hard surge that forced her farther into the limitless blue void. At first she felt free, and the ocean carried her like an expecting mother; then her throat closed in terror and her muscles from her legs to her chest clenched tight and the sea dragged her down to the cold darkness of the Leviathan.

Zolzaya woke with a start and gripped the sheets hard enough that her fingers hurt. She still felt the swells even though her eyes insisted that she was home in her bed. All of her muscles, even her jaw and her toes, were clenched.

She had to make a decision, and in the still clarity of the early morning she forced herself to draw a deep, burning breath and decide.

With trembling legs she rose from her bed and got dressed, not at all calm but still somehow reassured. Her fingers shook as she buttoned her shirt. They’d been shaking for days, she realized as she looked at them. Bones rattling under thin skin. She pulled her hair back into a ponytail and got started.

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The Children’s Empire

The Children’s Empire

Alan Smalky, ten years old and sporting a fresh sunburn on his cheeks and shoulders, came in through the back door with a juice box he had taken from the cooler on the deck. Lanky and graceless, a bit of a mouth-breather, he came into the living room and plopped down on the armchair near the sofa.

Jonathan Smalky was on the couch, not watching the news on TV and not reading the paper on his phone at the same time. His wife Karen was curled up next to him with her head resting on his thigh, either half-asleep or trying to be. At this time of year the sunlight poured onto the couch for a few hours in the early afternoon, and it was rare for them to be able to sit and enjoy it together.

Neither one noticed their son’s presence for a few minutes, and since he wasn’t doing anything to draw attention to himself they didn’t feel any particular need to acknowledge him, either, but eventually the child’s continued silence became a provocation in itself so Jonathan mumbled something that sounded vaguely parental. Even a second later he couldn’t remember what he’d said, but it was enough to prompt Karen to try again.

“Where’s your sister?” she asked dreamily without opening her eyes. It was a question that implied a command: “Go play with her, leave us alone.”

Alan didn’t answer her. He just burst into tears, and his parents’ pleasant afternoon came to an abrupt end.

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On the dust tossed away by the sweep of history

On the dust tossed away by the sweep of history

During a period in my life that I refer to as my Second Lost Period (like most sequels, it was longer, more expensive, and less interesting that the sweet and almost romantic First Lost Period), I spent a few long nights-and-into-the-early-mornings reading Trotsky’s autobiography, which some helpful Communists had posted online in its entirety.

(As an aside, last year I accidentally dove down an Internet rabbit hole of conspiracy theories from the 1950s and 60s, and for the next two weeks the ads in my browser seemed tailored to a budding domestic terrorist, which was a bit frightening. My insomniac dabbling in Trotskyism was done in a comparatively more innocent time. But I digress.)

All these years later I can remember clearly lying on my bed and reading off the screen and thinking to myself, “Nobody will ever want to read a book on a computer screen,” but of the text itself I can only remember one very minor anecdote tucked away near the end of the book. More than any of his screeds against the oppressor or nostalgia for the excitement of birthing a new world order, this short aside struck me and stuck with me.

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The Danielaiad

The Danielaiad

Sing to me, Muse, of the anger of Daniela, and how she raged in the dark at her alarm clock, which did not sit upon the sacred throne of her nightstand but was instead held captive in exile on the dresser all the way on the other side of the room, the first misstep in an ill-conceived plan to seize the day and get out of bed before the sun came up, instead of waiting until she desperately needed to use the bathroom, get a drink, or both.

Tell me, Goddess, how she cursed Zeus and Thor and Ra and the whole pantheon of gods and heroes as she sprinted barefoot across the cold floor because at that moment she would do anything, bear any pain, pay any price, to stop that obnoxious beeping. “Super loud alarm sound for heavy sleepers!” the box said. It didn’t say, “Worst noise in the world! Perfect for early morning!”

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Footprints/Madeline

Footprints/Madeline

In the morning I found footprints in the snow. I followed them from my bedroom window to the edge of the woods. I wasn’t allowed to go into the woods without an adult, and because this rule seemed reasonable to me I turned around and followed the footprints back.

Examined side-by-side there wasn’t much of a difference between my prints and these others. They were a little bit bigger, maybe. I put my foot inside one to check, and then walked in the footsteps until that became a game. I lost my balance halfway back across the yard and as I pinwheeled my arms to stay up the barest glimmer of a thought shot across my consciousness:

The footsteps go to my window and then stop. They don’t go back.

And then I hit the snow and the thought blew away. The powder puffed up around me in a crystalline cloud and fell back into my face. I had to turn to one side and then the other in order to build enough momentum to flip over so I could stand, and once I was up I stomped across the yard kicking up the biggest plumes of snow that I could with my new pink snow boots. I heard my mother inside and went in to demand cocoa.

“Are there are other kids around here?” I asked her.

“I don’t know, sweetie,” she said. “Did you see any when you were outside?”

“I thought I saw one last night, in my window.”

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