Cover

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Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. i-viii

Contents

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pp. ix-x

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Acknowledgments

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pp. xi-xiv

Thank you to everyone who helped these stories become a book. Michael Martone, for showing me the tradition of “nontraditional” writing, for reading this book (along with Valerie Sayers) the way I hoped it could be read, and for being a champion of innovative writing—here at Break Away Books, and elsewhere. Sarah Jacobi, for finessing these stories into their final form. Robin Black, for your constant...

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Gravity

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pp. 1-12

I longed to fall in love in the way of the cinema, fairy tales, tall tales and great novels of all time—I had faith it would happen to me someday, any day now.

He dressed like a banker but didn’t stand like one. I wore skirts every day. We didn’t always ride the elevator together, but often. If we were waiting for it side by side, when it arrived he would hold the door, let me walk in first...

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In the Heart of the Heart of the Empire: After William H. Gass

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pp. 13-42

A Place

An island next to the richest island in the world, connected by cabled bridges and aerated tunnels. Rain brings the smell of the sea that surrounds it, men and women clean it daily, and it is filthy. Buildings of low brick and stone, some towers of glass, and the sky goes silk moiré behind these lineations, the lit shifting blur blocked by places...

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Keen

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pp. 43-55

My first keen was for my brother. I hadn’t seen it done, my mother hadn’t yet taught me, but when all the neighbors came to the house, when my mother took my hand and led me to look at his rigid, relaxed body on top of the dining room table, when she started the wailing it felt like the exact thing I wanted to do and when she looked at me I knew I could. I expected the whole room to join in, everyone would...

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With Strangers

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pp. 56-68

I.
One puts fingers and instruments into her body, nonsexually smells the smell between her legs. One scrapes plaque off her teeth, scrapes below her gums, makes her bleed, makes her drool down her chin. One shines beams into her eyes, contracts the irises, then puts in drops that leave her sensitive to light pouring in. One flexes and points her ankles...

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Ghost Writer

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pp. 69-84

“How do I tell them?”

I’m trying to give this client my full attention, she’s saying something about not wanting her parents to think this is their fault, it isn’t, and I’m listening but not. A letter from Joseph arrived this morning. It’s in my desk drawer, underneath my elbows. Joseph is gone, obviously he’s gone—but the letter tells me why, what kind of gone. I finally touched...

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Not Long for This World

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pp. 85-106

A fter losing all that kept him rooted to this world—his congregation, then the man he left his vocation for—Pádraig Keane knows he is near his end, so he is about to describe his final desire to a stranger. He wants a Sky Burial, and needs her to perform the ceremony. Pádraig and Moira Miles climb the twenty-nine steps to his rooftop on one of those bright spring afternoons starting to shift to heat. Pádraig has to step...

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Ochre Is the Color of Deserts and Dried Blood

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pp. 107-113

If you want to marry me, the phlebotomist said to the chemist, you must complete these tasks.

She said to him, Get me limonite, hematite, and goethite, for me to dye my dress to a halcyon gilt.

Gather me ebony, mahogany, and teak, for me to fashion a crown.

Dig me up bronze, alabaster, and onyx, for me to craft...

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Brightest Corners

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pp. 114-138

I met you at Ikea—w4m—26

Reply to: anon-2012123@craigslist.org
Date: 2008–08–05, 4:12 PM EST

I met you at Ikea. We were both looking for comforters. I’d seen you in Kitchen and then again in Rugs, had tried not to make eye contact too many times because I didn’t want you to think I was following you. I wasn’t. It’s just...

Why Things Fall

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I. Newton

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pp. 139-143

Priscilla led Isaac by the hand, walked him to a tree, placed his back against the trunk. She pulled an apple from between her breasts and placed it on his head. She told him to stand perfectly still. Priscilla strode twenty paces away, turned, notched an arrow into her bow, pulled it back with muscular yet trim arms—at that point Isaac fell in love—and let it fly: the apple impaled, the arrow quivering in the...

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II. Einstein

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pp. 144-149

January 1955
Dear Daughter,

Maybe you are studying to be an astronaut. You may be the first to orbit this globe, show us what we look like from above. If so, you will learn what I have discovered. Gravity bends light. Gravitational attraction between masses results in a warping of space and time. Free fall is identical...

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III. Tesla

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pp. 150-154

My father was a priest. My mother’s father was a priest and had the poems of my nation memorized. My mother invented household appliances. She was never photographed. I was born during a lightning storm and the midwife thought it a bad omen but my mother knew I would be a child of light. Every photograph of me gets my good side. I cannot speak to a woman wearing pearls....

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IV. Galileo, Hawking, Rabinowitz

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pp. 155-168

Galileo Galilei had a lovely courtyard in the house he was not allowed to leave. Someone found an abandoned bird, one they weren’t sure could survive on its own, and brought it to him, a man with nothing better to do. Galileo put mesh over his atrium so the bird could fly and not shit on important documents inside the house. We do not know what kind of bird this was. After, those returning from the new world...

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All Those Stairs

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pp. 169-238

I’ve worked hundreds of eight-hour shifts in this box pushing buttons, making this elevator—its dented metal walls, its gum-blemished floor, each blotch blackened by hundreds of shoe soles, its folding card table unfolded and folding metal chair unfolded in the back corner where I sit, with my puzzles and my papers and my lightened, sweetened coffee and my fan or my heater plugged into the outlet below...

Credits

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pp. 239-240

Book Club Guide

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pp. 241-244

About the Author

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p. 245