A chronological archive of short stories published in Cleaver’s quarterly literary issues from 2013 to present.

SOME BRIEF THOUGHTS ON SELF-IMPROVEMENT by Reilly Joret
My wife fingered the remaining chocolate syrup from her bowl to her mouth and announced she was going to bed. I’ll admit The Tonight Show monologue that night wasn’t going to change her mind. It was all obvious punchlines about the president’s Asia trip, with some cheap shots at the end for the congressman with the Honduran mistress maid, and the reality TV star with the unflattering DUI mugshot. I feared this was becoming the norm. I followed my wife upstairs, hoping we might discuss this unsettling trend, or get in something cursory between the two of us, but she ...
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THE LIVING AND THE DEAD by Melissa Brooks
The world was fuzzy. Victoria blinked. She blinked again and again until the room came into focus. A pixelated ceiling. A window opening to blackness. An unkempt man slouched in a chair, fist propping up a mess of greasy dark hair. He had sallow skin, dark bags beneath bloodshot eyes. Familiar eyes. Barry’s eyes? Benny? Billy? Billy ...
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MATRYOSHKA by Marion Peters Denard
When Mom died Rachel started asking questions. What did Mom make for Christmas morning? Egg casserole. When did Mom go back to school? I was fourteen, you were eleven. The questions got smaller and bigger, as though by their specificity they were magnified.  What did she smell like? She wore Chanel No. 5. I know that, Tabbie. But what did she smell like?  She smelled like orange honey and coral lipstick and bright green breath mints. What did her hugs feel like? They were nice. Tabbie. Like she was bringing you in and keeping you out at the same time ...
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UNDONE by Elaine Crauder
The banana bread would not bake. Maddy had followed the recipe to a T, only substituting canola oil for half the butter, honey for half the sugar, skim for whole milk, and nutmeg for cinnamon. Putting on long oven mitts and pulling the door open, she checked the loaf again. Three hundred and fifty degree heat swept into the kitchen, already filled with late summer swelter. Not wanting to take the time to lift the single bread pan onto the top of the stove, she pulled out the rack, took off one mitt and stuck a toothpick into the loaf ...
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Lined notebook with coffee mug ring on page
Adrienne lay on the floor of her apartment, thinking that her life had become what she wanted it to be, when her phone began to ring. Sophia sat next to her, cross-legged, with a glass of wine, flipping flashcards and nodding when Adrienne said the right answer. Grassy late-April air drifted through the open window and the sound of crickets came to a swell outside. Neither Adrienne nor Sophia reached for the phone, letting the sound of fluttering bells continue ...
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Red roses growing on a vine
When I come home from school, Papa is pruning the roses. His back hunched, an oval of sweat creasing his white shirt that la Señora Francisca had pressed this morning. He isn’t wearing the gardening gloves that Mama bought him because he insists that it doesn’t let him talk to the roses. They can only hear him through his skin and the rough canvas of the gloves offends their delicate temperament.  ...
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Cacti against a blue sky background
Even though she sometimes wanders off on her own, which is strictly forbidden, of course, especially now that she is pregnant and about to pop, the Good Samaritans need people like Jillian. Well, they need all the help they can get, but especially from people, like Jillian—those have a second sense about where they can find the nearly-dying-from-thirst even if they are hiding ...
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dangling hands bathed in red light
The infection needs ten hours at most to take your life, the doctors tell you. Nothing will buy you more time: not pills, not potions, not prayers, not even amputation. The fungus forms a second body under your skin, shadowing your veins, wrapping around your bones. Its spongy mass smells like roses, if you slice a bit free of the host and hold it up to your nose ...
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person sitting on a train
You cannot cross train tracks without holding your breath, nor can you drive over a bridge without a lungful of air. Your children witness your fears, think it's a game, and they, too, hold their breath going over tracks or bridges.  You would like to tell them it's not a game, like Duck Duck Goose or Red Rover, but you decide that the universe will drop its own bomb of terror on them, and what possible good would come of your own unburdening? ...
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Street view of an eclectic shop window
It starts with a ring you buy at an antique shop in your neighborhood which you hadn’t noticed before—a dusty little place of creaky floorboards and a name to match: Gaslight and Shadows ...
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black and white image of gym equipment
I’ve seen two angels and both were named Reginald. The spirits appeared as a consequence of my life’s work: dentistry. I came by the profession naturally, as my father was a blacksmith in a small Missouri town. Before heading west, people needed help with their teeth as much as they needed wagon axles. And Pa was no butcher. As a child, time and time again, I witnessed his God’s gift with pliers. “Nice ‘n slick,” he’d mutter from the side of his mouth, one hand gripping a customer’s jaw, his other hand wielding the steel tool. I’d have both palms ...
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female runner on a sidewalk
Another 5K, another easy win. With about half a mile to go, Shanna knew she had first female. Time to overtake some guys. This one, for instance, with the long hair and the Union Jack shorts. She surged past him, already eyeing the next target: The red-haired geek in the Hash House Harriers shirt, no idea what his name was, they'd raced each other before but they'd never spoken. She passed him at the finish line ...
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Picture of a victorian style house behind a white picket fence
[Content Warning: This piece includes sexual assault scenes that may be triggering for some readers.] Many times she had imagined, graphically and in slow motion, the bullet penetrating the pale, soft flesh of his temple; she knew intimately the faint indent, how it was edged with a line of graying strands slicked back with a dab of Brill cream, the shadowy crater of a chicken pox scar between the hairline and the eyebrow.  She saw the skin parting and gently enveloping the smooth, hot tip of the metal missile, as if the bullet were melting its way in, as if ...
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4:44 by Leland Cheuk
I died Sunday, for sixty seconds, at precisely 4:44 p.m. Novel and beer in tow, I strolled over to my armchair and tottered. Nausea somehow morphed into this buttery light that bled over the edges of my vision. There were my parents. There was my childhood, my friends, and my lovers, all these thoughts tinged with forgiveness (though there was nothing to forgive). And then I was down, and then I was up, wheezing, gasping for air ...
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woman smiling broadly
Kindness Woman has been working here barely seven months and already we hate her. This hate is of a different flavor than the antagonism we feel for Faye, who takes so many damn smoke breaks over the course of a day that even her emails reek of cigarettes—emails that often include full sentences in all-caps, sentences that bend and break with her scorn like the cigarette stubs she twists and grinds into a tin coffee can behind the building ...
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Little girl drawing with markers
Maite and her daughter Pala arrived home only minutes ago, and already Pala’s settled in. She’s plopped in front of the TV, watching an inane show on the cartoon channel, all done telling Maite how she ate a cupcake at snack, that Lucy wasn’t playing nicely during recess. Maite hasn’t yet had a chance to change her shoes or chug a glass of water. Her feet ache like hell. ◊◊ Natalie Gerich Brabson is a recent graduate of Sarah Lawrence College’s MFA program, and holds a BA in Hispanic Studies from Vassar College. Her fiction has been published in New ...
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living room with sofa, plant
Danielle hated her feet. She hated that the knuckle at the base of each big toe bulged out like a Ping-Pong ball. She hated that if she pressed the pad of her finger against, say, her right foot, it would leave a little oblong mark for full seconds before blood seeped back in. They were always cold, too, but sweated continuously. This was the worst part. It was the reason she wore socks in her own home. Otherwise she’d leave moist negatives of her feet on every hard surface in the house ...
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Woman Hiking in forest in California
Sam and Viet stand in his small blue kitchen. Viet has stopped stirring his chard lentil soup while Sam tries to figure out what to do: Three nights a week on the mountain, leading small groups up Whitney, or sleeping out in Alabama Hills, climbing. I’m doing ok, she says. It’s just I think I should find a room or something, short term. Viet says, I see what you mean. Renewing my one-year lease, don't you agree it's financially a waste? ...
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red fire hydrant
Hot, back in the corner of the coat closet you find it, right where you knew it would be. Pull it out with both hands, it’s a lot heavier than you expected. Dad said never to touch it, but who knows when he’s coming back this time and what else are you supposed to do on a day like this? Show it to your sister, how it gleams in the light let in through the screen door. Stand it up, it comes up to her chin. “Dad’s giant wrench. Can I hold it?” Laugh at her. “It’s bigger than you ...
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New England white church in autumn
We sat three abreast in hard white pews. At our backs, an open door laid rectangles of sun on the salt-smoothed pine floor. It was an old Puritan church—Built in 1772, read a small plaque by the door. You could tell: the ceiling was crossed with bare beams, the floor was hard and cold. As a boy, I’d been brought to the church from time to time for a service, usually the wedding or funeral of a summer neighbor. I recalled the starkness of it, the chilly severity. Across the street, at the base of a hill that sloped down ...
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multiple exposure image of a woman against an outdoor background with a silhouette image and flowers
Children always follow the mother. That’s what my mother always used to say. And it was true for my sister Kelly and me. Every time our worlds fell apart, we would end up in our mother’s kitchen, washing the dishes and sitting at her pockmarked table until light returned to the world, sometimes just at its edges. Even after so many years, what my mother said was still true. How else could you explain why I visited my mother every day once she moved into a nursing home? How else could I explain why my oldest daughter, April, followed me ...
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A folding knife against a pink neon background
Shhhk. The knife blade flicked up. Shhhk. The knife blade flicked down. I can’t remember who gave me the knife but I’m pretty sure it was my brother. He certainly had a knack for knowing what I liked, having later picked my favorite husband of three. I kept both sides of the blade razor sharp. For a time, I loved it, unduly ...
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Young man with an arrogant expression on a fire escape
Daisy has this boy that none of us like. She says they aren’t boyfriend girlfriend but he sure acts like it’s more than a hookup when he texts her things like, where are you? and i miss you much right now baby. Daisy tells me she likes the way he takes control. Like on their first date, he put his hand on her chest and she pushed it away cause she’s “not that kind of girl,” but then after a few more minutes he tried again and she let him. “I wouldn’t like that,” I tell Daisy ...
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VICTORY LAP by Tommy Dean
The ticker tape dropped from the unseen buckets perched high above the swarming city streets. If this was victory, the boy didn't want another second of the crush of people, the taste of ash and paper on his tongue. His mother gripped his hand and though he couldn't see her face, he knew she was crying. He was bounced by hips and knees, that little rubber ball at the end of the paddle until his fingers ached and he found himself alone at the mouth of an alley, struggling to breathe, sound, not air, filling his lungs. A soldier kneeled ...
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Billings, Montana at night
Snapshot One: Graduation, Three Forks High School. Amanda wears a dark blue cap and gown with honor cords. The photo is out of focus and off-kilter since it was taken by Daddy who was probably drunk at the time. The principal is handing her a large envelope, which will turn out to be a full-ride scholarship to Mountain Valley State College in Billings. Granny is impressed, but Mama will say she doesn’t understand why Amanda would accept such a thing, since the money is from people they don’t even know ...
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JUST YOU WAIT by Stefani Nellen
Malu's daughter Lotte and Lotte's friend Charelle were playing their favorite game: Mutant Vampires. They pressed their arms against their ribcages underneath their tight, glittering t-shirts so only their hands stuck out of the lacy sleeves, and stumbled through the kitchen groaning blood, blood, blood. They were both eleven years old ...
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DISPATCHES FROM DEAD CITY by Marie Baléo
“Billboards?” William asked over the phone. His voice seemed small, reaching us, I imagined, from somewhere inside his mother’s house in the mountain, where he liked to play the grand piano and persecute the help, whom he refused to by their names, calling them only that: “the help.” ...
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BW Man looking out the window holding a fist
Until recently, I'd only traded in one Punch Voucher and that was the time I hit Chuck Mellon in the nose when we were kids and broke his glasses. He didn’t make crying noises, but his eyes sure watered. We stayed best friends, though. Right up until he hanged himself ...
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LEO RISING by Anna Dorn
LEO RISING by Anna Dorn The first thing I do when I wake up is open Evie’s Twitter. I’ve been doing this every morning since she left about a month ago. If one of my patients did this, I’d roll my eyes. But I can’t help it. Evie won’t answer my texts or calls. This is the only way I can hear her voice. @LeoRising has five new Tweets. (I always thought astrology was nonsense, but Evie treated it with a religious reverence. The rising sign, she told me, is our surface self, our outward appearance. And Leo is the ...
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DINNER by Naomi Xu Elegant
He was standing outside the double doors of the restaurant, sweating underneath his blazer. He was exactly on time. He saw a girl walking towards him, a close approximation of the one whose picture he had on his phone. He waved to her. She didn’t wave back. “Amelia?” She waved back. Amelia. She was wearing a puff-sleeved pink fur coat, cropped at the waist. He could tell by the sheen of it—his ex-wife had been fond of mink—that it was faux. She trotted up to him and kissed his cheeks in quick succession without having to tiptoe ...
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ANGELS IN THE ARCHITECTURE by Dawn Davies
It’s twilight on the fifth floor of New York-Presbyterian Hospital and a weak light seeps from the underside of the plastic-lined blackout curtains. It is growing dark against his wishes, yet Jacob Silbergeld no longer has the voice to catch the attention of a passing nurse who could adjust the transitioning of light he has hated for most of his life. Twilight is when slippery things happen, when one can be led by the hand to unwanted places. Twilight is when buildings surge in the skyline and become otherworldly, a time when one loses control. Jacob had fought against its ...
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HALF-LIFE by Doug Ramspeck      
Guilt, it has always seemed to Roger, is visceral. It takes up residence inside the body, burrowing or maybe perching there, as much a part of you as your bones or blood or lungs. You sense it waiting even when no one else can see it, even when you stop obsessing and the days and nights slip past on their conveyor belts ...
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THIS IS NOT A STORY by Juliana Roth
This isn’t one of those stories where the twenty-two year old work-study assistant gets kissed on the cheek by the Chair of one of the country’s most prestigious English departments while she’s arranging cookies for the Visiting Writers Reading, writers whose names you’d surely recognize, like the author of the graphic novel about her coming out and the author who writes about horses, and the trim little poet who upstaged her husband last December at a reading for The Environment ...
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MY HUSBAND IS ALWAYS LOSING THINGS by Michelle Ross  
While my husband frantically searches the house for his misplaced eyeglasses, I watch Marie Kondo fold socks, then stockings, then a sweater into neat little rectangles. They look like origami handbags. In her signature white jacket, the Japanese tidying expert instructs viewers to stroke each garment. She says, “Send the clothing love through your palms.” She runs her hands gently down both the sleeves and the body of a fluffy, white sweater, and my skin tingles ...
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PEANUT MAN by Michael Riess      
First inning. The summer had been hot, so goddamn hot, and of course Bill’s air conditioner had kicked out last night, and wouldn’t you know it, his landlord was on vacation, so he had slept—or rolled around, really—in a river of his own sweat. The restless night had cost him sixty-one minutes—a negative seventy-one for the three hours of sleep and a plus ten for the sweaty rolling—but, honestly though, he wouldn’t have minded if the life watch strapped to his wrist on his burnt arm had said something like five minutes because here he was in the stadium, in ...
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COPENHAGEN CEMETERY by Nikolaj Volgushev
In a neighborhood in the north of Copenhagen, there is this cemetery, though really it’s more of a park. The locals go on walks there, have picnics, drink in the shade. In the summer, the evenings are cool and infinite here, as though coming from afar, because Denmark is a Northern country. I happened to walk through the cemetery on exactly such a summer evening and so the two have become linked in my mind, the evening and the cemetery, along with a quiet sense of dread which is in essence what I want to tell you about here ...
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BLIND TREES by Kate LaDew
It was really dark and it scared Billy.  Really very dark.  Yes, really very very—made him think of when he was young and every time he turned off the light to go to sleep started remembering ghost stories.  Every ghost story he’d ever read or heard or, well, just every one and his sock feet would hit the floor and his hand would hit the light switch and they didn’t go away, the remembered stories, but they settled, soft in his mind and it was okay again ...
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WAITING FOR YOU IN PARIS by Jared Levy
I'm waiting for you in Paris. Waiting in the Champ de Mars, the park next to the Eiffel Tower. Standing on a patch of grass, wearing a tuxedo, and holding flowers. One among many men who wait, but they’re not like me. They stay for varying amounts of time—some holding signs, some sitting under trees—but eventually they leave. Not me. I’m here for you, Jess, waiting patiently, if not excitedly. And when you get here, we’ll embrace, and we’ll climb up the Eiffel Tower, and we’ll be together again, in love ...
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THE FALL ZONE by Laura Moretz
First thing that morning, a woman told Henry his crew must not cut her tree’s branches. She looked as though she wouldn’t survive if he cut the thinnest twig from the huge willow oaks in front of her house. Fully dressed and made up before eight a.m., she clutched the notice that his crew had hung on her door knob a few days before. She argued for the integrity of the tree as though he had suggested cutting the arms off her grandchildren. A branch as large as a trunk had shot over the power lines. He gave her his ...
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FROM HERE TO THERE by Gloria Yuen
­FROM HERE TO THERE by Gloria Yuen Barrier on, the device declares. “When you initiate the force field,” the Head Agent instructs, “you lock yourself in an impenetrable membrane. It will keep danger out. But it will also keep you in.” Barrier off, the device declares. I engage Search: Force field, noun. Popular Articles. The invention of the force field (neochrome). The invention of the force field (electromagnetic). History of force field usage in Post-Contemporary warfare. [New in TECH] ‘Defense Fields’ for Civilian Homes in Final Stages of Development. The Head Agent claps her hands. I exit Search. “Field practice ...
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CHESHIRE CAT by Sarah Bradley
The winter when Lucy was nine and her brother Nick was 12, he taught her to play chess. They bent over the crosshatched board on the living room floor in front of the fireplace, blonde heads nearly touching, all through Christmas break and into the new year. Wool socks and hot cocoa and Bing Crosby late into the night, the Douglas fir in the corner shimmering with tinsel ...
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THE ZOO  by Matt Whelihan
A week after the classes ended, the community service started. Seven of us stood in a small lot outside of a small zoo. It was the kind of place single dads with child support payments take their kids because it’s close and cheap ...
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RETREAT by T.C. Jones
The church retreat is the last bit of bullshit before we get confirmed. We are at a bunch of crappy cabins on the dumpy shores of Lake Erie. They call it a holy camp, gave it a fancy name too: Camp Gold Field. They got the field part right, but I don’t know where they got the gold. Everything here is barren and gray. Last night there was a thunderstorm, but today the sky is defeated and a blanket of grey snow clouds have replaced the horizon. The seasons are theatrical in these parts—especially during April ...
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HEAVY LIFTING  by Jennifer Turnquist
A guy comes into the drugstore and goes to the snack aisle. Early twenties, longish hair, patchy beard like he never learned to shave properly. He glances at me so I look away quick, busy myself with straightening the packs of Life Savers on the counter. I’m not watching him because he’s attractive or anything. He isn’t. He’s skinny and stoop-shouldered. I’m watching him because of how his eyes dart around and because he keeps fidgeting with a buckle on his canvas backpack ...
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Four nurses in vintage linen hospital attire huddled in a circle
They were the only friends I had. All of them had palms that changed colors when they stroked my hair, picked up an iron pot or peeled yucca. I remember one of them with more love than the rest—her palms turned purple when she showed me her lifelines. She was never able to show me her life, though. She would turn her hands up and the bright point of an amethyst’s reflection would lacquer her palms. At one point, I think there were five ...
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FIFTY-FIFTY by Avery Bufkin
Her doctor said he’d sign us up, you know, for the trial. That either she’d get the real drug or the fake one, and we wouldn’t know which, of course. But fifty-fifty, you got to think that’s a pretty good shot and all. I said that to her in the car afterwards. “Pretty good shot,” I said. “I think we’ve got it.” ...
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GUTSHOT by Thomas Barnes
The lucky streak ran out when the air rifle went off. I felt the little ragged hole in my shirt. It didn’t feel like anything at all. Too small to be significant. Johnny let the air rifle swing to his side, the ends of his teeth glittering. Kali fell off the stump she was sitting on. They were all waiting for me to do something. I heard blood in my ears. Maybe they’d thought I’d keel over and die, I’m thinking ...
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FRANCES by Maria Brandt
Frances had skipped two periods before she realized what was going on. “I’m lucky,” she bragged to Sarah over milkshakes at the corner store, “I haven’t had my period in eight weeks, no tampons for me, I beat the system.” Sarah’s mouth dropped and that’s when Frances became aware of the extent of her self-deceit. Now, just days later, she sits cross-legged on the floor in Jack’s bedroom shuffling a deck of cards while Jack moves laundry from the washer to the dryer in the basement, his parents in the city at a hospital benefit ...
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SPYING THROUGH THE KEYHOLE: A Novelist Grows Roots in the Glamorous, Twisted World of V. C. Andrews by Emma Sloley
For the uninitiated, if it's even possible there exist humans unaware of Flowers in the Attic, the series concerns a family called Dollanganger (in hindsight, perhaps a sly play on doppelganger?) who, for reasons I can't and don't even care to remember, end up living with the mother's parents in a big old Gothic mansion in Virginia, where the mother agrees to lock her four children away in an attic for an unspecified stretch of time. (Spoiler alert: it turns out to be years.) ...
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SUFFER THE CHILDREN  by Mary Ann McGuigan
Moira’s son is snuggling against his grandfather on the couch. That’s all. Just resting on the old man’s shoulder, his forehead against his frayed collar. Michael looks tired, sweaty. There’s color high in his cheeks, as if he’s just come in from play. The sliding glass door is slightly open, and She can hear her father singing to him, something low, soft, painfully familiar. His knee moves up and down in steady cadence with the song. Eyes closed, they seem lost in each other’s comfort. She tries to swallow, but it tastes like acid, so she spits into the grass ...
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