The Habit of Art
Best Stories from the Indiana University Fiction Workshop
Publication Year: 2005
Published by: Indiana University Press
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Like an audience at a magic show, as the lights fall dark and then illuminate the magician’s appearance on the stage, devoted readers of fiction await the next new work, hoping to be shown something they’ve never seen. All that either artist asks of the audience is that they pay reasonable attention to what is unveiled and that they come...
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“Jesus Christ is a blood clot in my leg,” Ellen says. “Right here in my calf, the size of a quarter.” She puts her foot up on the bench where her mother, Nina, is sitting in front of the mirror applying makeup. “Do you want to see it?” “Not now,” Nina says, shadowing her eyelids with purple. Ellen sighs loudly. She is ten, an ordinary little girl whose imagination sometimes intersects inconveniently with truth; all of her imaginary friends...
Six Ways to Jump Off a Bridge
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Understand Blue Falls, how it got its name, how in dry years, in autumn, water slips over a flat edge, sheer and perfect, a wide liquid sheet reflecting a clear day—blue as an unraveling bolt of satin. But most years are not dry and most days are not completely blue. Not this morning, certainly, as Parker Cheung leans on the railing of the...
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There are times when history blows past, leaves you straggling and flustered, blinking as if you have grit in your eyes. So it was for me in Geneseo, New York, in 1959. Around me the other faculty wives had exchanged their sweater sets and circle skirts for maternity smocks and dresses—tent-like numbers with patch pockets and darts at the bust. Impossible that one could envy those dresses, but these wives...
In the Doorway of Rhee’s Jazz Joint
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In walked Russell. A man in the doorway of a bar—in the doorway of Rhee’s Jazz Joint—is no longer a man, he is a piece of an atmosphere and its history, engulfed within a tiny, tight, brass and whiskey and wood universe of played and unplayed notes, existing both behind and ahead of time. Rhee’s was comfortable, and they knew his drink. That’s what Russell Claypool liked most. Letohatchee Davenport took down a glass from...
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At the beginning of August, a week after my fourteenth birthday, my stepfather, McKinley, my mother, and I left Houston for Ramone, Texas. McKinley’s dying father was our reason for going. He was eighty-three years old and sick with lung cancer and had only a few months left to live, and McKinley wanted us to care for him. He said...
Who’s Your Daddy?
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Louis liked the paddle more than the man who swung it. He respected the instruction, the ritual, the organization of his thoughts when the paddle struck its target. He enjoyed the stinging clarity, the expedient way the paddle transmitted its message. “You’re a bad boy, aren’t you? You’re Daddy’s little pig,” the man with the paddle said, but Louis—jeans around his ankles—was mute with pain. “Tell Daddy...
Mouthful of Sorrow
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Why don’t you come and sit with me for a spell, keep me company? That’s right. Right c’here on the porch with me. It’s evenings like this I get to thinking bout things. When the heat start to break and the sky get that gray-blue in it, touching the tops of the trees out yonder. Best time of day in the summertime. I like to just sit back...
The Penance Practicum
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Father Dom was pleased with his reflection in the mirror. To the front of his cassock he had stapled a big dot cut out of white paper; below the cincture he had stapled two more. Tonight was the seminary’s Halloween party. He was going as a domino. He was ready to enjoy himself, although the party was one of the things that had turned iffy around St. Boniface. Some of the...
Three Parting Shots and a Forecast
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A three-quarter shot, Booth leering just left of center, casual, as if turning toward someone who has called his name. No doubt a beautiful heiress, an adoring fan. He has a devil’s ear, angled tight and sharp against his head, and his hair is brushed into nonchalant curls. Dark-eyed with eggshell skin, he wears a black moustache combed...
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On the street near the bus stop a group of teenaged boys stood in a circle, sharpening their rusted machetes. Berta pulled her market bag closer as she walked toward the bus. The ladrones, the thieves, weren’t likely to rob anyone until payday—two days off—but Berta moved with caution. Three rotting onions knocked together inside...
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Scarlet was eleven years old when her mother moved them to a flat in Kings Cross and began dealing. Scarlet was small for her age; her skin was so white and translucent that one could see a delicate map of blue veins on her arms and legs. She had long red hair, which her mother brushed each day and plaited into a rope down Scarlet’s...
Ways to Kill a Snapper
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The snapping turtle had spent the entire night chained to the birch tree near the old boathouse. There had been a question of its survival—this was, after all, northern Minnesota—but when morning arrived the boy found the seventy-eight-pound turtle alive and well, unaware that a pair of brightly colored moths had settled onto its...
Selling the Apartment
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Your parents’ friends, when they hit sixty, will begin moving south in couples: one to North Carolina. Another to Florida. A third to Texas. At Rosh Hashanah you’ll be down to ten. Hanukah eight. Purim four. Finally, one Passover, it will be just you and your par- ents. You will sit across from them in the dining room, eating gefilte fish by candlelight while your mother plugs speed dating at the local...
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Everything before this is irrelevant: one day Gum, a small-time lawyer, comes home from the office early, changes into his jeans, sets off down the street with his hands in his pockets, and begins to follow a woman. She is young, in her early twenties. He is in his thirties, has been married for several years. The girl, in her own way...
A Morning for Milk
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Twelve years old, I bolted up into the dark of a cold June morning, my sheets in my hands, dark lumps at the end of my bed—my feet! my feet! I realized just before I screamed. I was awake. I wanted to jump out of bed, a juvenile energy already at my heart, but I didn’t know why, and it was cold enough that I wanted reasons. My brother...
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Gina was standing right beside the boxes she’d piled in the breakfast nook, but neither she nor Phil mentioned them. She knew Phil was worried, but he needn’t be. Yes, she was going to move out, but as Gina had said again and again, it was an experiment. It didn’t have to be an ending. She held the Styrofoam meat tray, the six, small premium pork chops, carefully arranged...
The Nine Ideas for a Happier Whole
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I come on these trips because Patty hates needles. She cannot, she claims, pierce her own skin with a syringe filled with thick, clear insulin. Apparently it’s not as easy as shoplifting. At home, her mother drives from across Dallas twice daily to give her the shots. With the syringe in her hand she removes the cap and examines the skin of...
Stepping in Ms. Cent-Jean’s Shoes
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My aunt always says ain’t nothing new under the sun, but when we found out Ms. Cynthia Jean’s husband was cheating on her for another woman at the salon, it was news; not like you couldn’t imagine it, but surprising, you know, like if Michael Jackson were to go back to the afro. The night two and two came together was a Wednesday, and the shop was kind of slow, but everyone had a customer so...
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Tony was a friend of Hank’s. He ran Tony’s Foreign Auto down on Walnut Street where Hank had taken the BMW practically every Friday like a ritual, five hundred more dollars down the drain. Now Julia was left with that car, with its sheepskin seat covers and its smell like crackers laced with sheep and some faint motor smell, more delicate than gasoline. The car was running pretty well now...
Home Course Advantage
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Even while he was gluing the new set of grips on Mrs. Davies’ old Patty Berg irons, Rod couldn’t stop thinking about the carcass of the dog. The dewfall would have settled over it by now, which he hoped might dampen the smell. In the three days since he’d cut too sharply into the parking lot and caught the mangy stray unawares, the temperature had...
All Saints Day
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Word was that the missionary kid had a demon, though no one was supposed to know. The Boyd family was visiting East Winder only for the weekend, and already eight-year-old Prudence had heard it from her younger sister, Grace, who heard it from her new friend, Anna, whose father was going to cast it out. Prudence figured that a cast-out demon would look like a puddle of split pea soup the size of a welcome mat, and that it...
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Page Count: 360
Publication Year: 2005