Cover

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Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-vi

Contents

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pp. vii-viii

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The Girl Who Drowned at School That Time

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pp. 1-20

Reverend Baker opened the meeting with a prayer. When he finished, everyone said amen and looked toward John Hampton, who took a moment to express the school board’s collective grief. Hampton assured the crowd that the teacher who had failed to account for Dotty Kirkland had been suspended, pending an investigation. He then introduced the board’s first order of business: to devise a strategy that would...

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Last Words of the Holy Ghost

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pp. 21-39

Harold’s mother, Jude, said he shouldn’t worry about getting saved or baptized or having to speak in tongues if all he cared about was sex. She sat on the couch in her robe, applying red polish to her nails after a day of oil painting. Her third husband, Clay Carter, occupied his recliner, cleaning his teeth and gums with his battery-powered brush. Harold lay between them on the floor, staring at the divot he’d made in the...

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Awful Pretty

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pp. 40-55

Just after midnight, for the third straight night, Ma calls and wakes me from my shallow sleep to say she’s hearing a strange voice coming from the woods behind her house again, louder this time, and she is scared. I’ve been telling her it’s just an animal, maybe a heartbroken skunk who has lost its mate, but she is past the point of listening....

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A Serious Question

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pp. 56-78

Charlotte Blanchard rushed to her ringing phone carrying the last bag of kitty poop she ever intended to carry (having returned her two cats to the shelter that very morning) and held the poop beside her while she listened to her dying friend, Brother Michael, of St. Francis of Assisi Parish (Milton, Ga.), apologize for disturbing her on such a beautiful Saturday morning. Her “hello” must have sounded short-winded and...

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Penmanship

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pp. 79-93

The moment Sister Fermina squeezed Hank Owen’s hand so hard that his knuckles popped is the moment he decided he would run to his father’s house in the North Carolina mountains, four hundred miles away. His father was between his third and fourth wives, so he figured it was a good time. Hank hated Sister Fermina’s ninety-year-old scaly...

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Chuck Langford Jr., Depressed Auctioneer, Takes Action

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pp. 94-117

Chuck Langford Jr., 61, recovered his voice after three days, but he didn’t feel like telling anyone, not even his fifth wife, Dr. Lucy Steele, Ph.D., whom he was fairly certain he still loved after seven years. He was more certain of his love for her than for anyone else he’d ever thought he’d loved, though he had no idea what he’d say if someone stuck a microphone under his nose and pressed him to prove it. Just now, as she...

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Snell’s Law

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pp. 118-126

When he wasn’t working, my father lived on our roof with his telescope and his booze. There were times, late at night, when I heard him dancing up there. He was a licensed psychopharmacologist, but I never knew what that meant. When I asked him once what it meant, he told me it was a title given one who specialized in psychopharmacology. I didn’t know what that meant either, but I was embarrassed to tell him so. He expected me to know these things....

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Nothing Ruins a Good Story Like an Eyewitness

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pp. 127-136

You got it wrong, son. You exaggerated the wrong things and failed to exaggerate the right things. I know you’re supposed to know your business, but you wrote your story from a long way off and tried to make it sadder than it was. In your story, I shoot myself. I know you meant well, but you’re young and your life has been different than mine, so maybe your imagination isn’t mature enough just yet. The other problem is...

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Clarissa Drives John-Boy to the Jacksonville Airport

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pp. 137-149

Your whole damn family think I’m crazy because I can’t stop talking, all the time saying I must have an affliction, but I say it’s a blessing, like the way some people is born with the god-given talent to sing and all they can do is sing, and all they should do is sing because it hurts not to sing and if they stop singing they might die because they got so much stuff boiling...

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Any Idiot Can Feel Pain

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pp. 150-165

Dear Professor Dom,
Six months ago, my twenty-year-old daughter, Gabriella, was afraid to leave our house, but I’m writing now to thank you for making your televised classes available at the library because I believe they have saved her life. She prefers not to watch your face, but she loves to hear your voice. When we got the DVD’s, she put her father’s old tape cassette player next to the TV and...

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What to Do When Your Spouse Is Burning

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pp. 166-170

Don’t talk.
If you make the mistake of talking, don’t say, “Well, this is typical.”
Don’t say, “Can you relax long enough for me to create a costbenefit- analysis spreadsheet on various resolution strategies that will ensure our highest rate of success in the most efficient manner?”...

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The Funeral Starts at Two

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pp. 171-198

We were neck-deep, my father-in-law and me, holding to the concrete edge of the saltwater swimming pool he’d installed last spring (at the age of seventy-seven, to the great shock of everyone), eye-level with the dead grass that went as far as the woods, which went as deep as the eye could see. We were talking. Or rather, he was talking and I was listening, which was fine with me. His brother’s funeral was two hours away, so he had important things on his mind. He had things that needed saying....

Acknowledgments

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pp. 199-200