“The German Board” by John Williams

Have you ever seen something so delicate, so porcelain, so fragile, that it could dissipate when a finger is pressed to it like a thin layer of ash, yet so powerful and strong as to control one's thoughts and emotions? I have had such an exhausting and frustrating opportunity and, by no conscious fault of my own, took advantage of it up to the point that I was able. This event (and I call it an event, for a mere coincidence thrust such an object of beauty into my presence) occurred many years ago when I was but twenty-one years of age, when most of you were still crawling across your carpeted floors and attaining nourishment, one way or another, from your maternal figures.

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“Doreen’s Curse” by Nancy Whitley

Ed Shaffer laid the little news-wrapped bundle of a wine glass in the cardboard box marked "fragile glasses -- kitchen." He paused mid-reach to the next glass, to watch Doreen Mosely spread open the cupboard doors on the other side of the sink. "How many times do I have to tell you, Eddie? I want you to take some of these dishes," she said of the twenty sets of plates and saucers stacked ten each, bowls divided in groups of five, cups in quartets.

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“A Slap in the Face” by Paul Germano

On the night of August 17th, 1998, political junkie Lucy Palermo McCloud sat on the edge of her favorite chair, her focus fixed on the TV screen. She listened intensely as President Bill Clinton apologized for his inappropriate behavior in the whole Monica Lewinski mess. Lucy immediately forgave the President — her President — the man she voted for, twice. She nodded in approval as Bill told America that he and his wife and their daughter had a right to their privacy: “This is nobody’s business but ours.” And when the President made sharp remarks against Kenneth Starr, Lucy again nodded her approval, adding a spirited “yes!” She was satisfied, pleased even, with the way the President handled himself in addressing the nation about such an embarrassing situation. As Tom Brokaw kicked-off his network’s post-speech coverage, Lucy sipped at her third cup of coffee, from a full pot, freshly brewed for the telecast. She looked over at the empty chair, next to hers, where Harry usually sat.

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“The Big Cheese” by Beverly Lucey

I’m thinking how I’ve got friends. They just don’t take my bus. And the bus is a branch of Hell. Think about all these bricks of Kraft Cheddar at the Publix. Yellow. They all look alike. Inflate them. Put wheels on them. A whole network of Hell on wheels tooling around the entire country. Torturemobiles. Around here they call any school bus The Big Cheese. When you get to high school it’s way easier to get around taking them. Everyone knows someone with a license by then. Most of us would do anything to avoid stepping up onto these things, all lined up, idling. Waiting.

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“Tuning in El Paso” by Ellen Fairey

Oct. 12, 1974 Dear Mr. Alda, Hello, I am writing to tell you how much I enjoy watching you on M*A*S*H. My name is Edie. I am ten. I am originally from Michigan, the Great Lake State, but as of four months ago I am from El Paso, Texas. You are on at eight o'clock here. I used to watch you with my dad who thinks that you and Trapper are very funny. Ever since we moved to El Paso, I am only allowed to watch four hours of TV a week, and I have to write everything I see on a list that's taped to our refrigerator. You are definitely included in that four hours! I only watch shows I know my dad watches, that way when he calls on the 15th of every month we can laugh over certain episodes.

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“Sensitivity Training down at the Wal-Mart” by Jen Cullerton

Last week, my wife, Sal, came home from her job. She is a Thanksgiving/ Christmas cashier down at the Wal-Mart. I had the TV tuned to Animal Kingdom when she walked in and kissed the top of my head. She blocked my view of a lion killing a stray zebra. I moved my leg so she could sit down. "How's work? Lots of credit card junkies this year?" Sal shook her head then put her finger to her lips, as if I was a third grader. "Listen up, 'cause I gotta tell ya somethin' and I don't know if your gonna like it. Next Saturday, you can't have the boys over. I'm not gonna be around."

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“Property of the Church” by James Iredell

We were late, as usual. My mom would always clean the house or leave to go jogging a half-hour before church started. Then, when she screamed and ran around frantically, trying to get ready, it was always our fault. My brother and sister and I sat timidly in our station wagon until my mother came with the red-faced fury of an Irish Catholic woman who was late–again. She started the car and she swore to us about how we didn’t help her clean.

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“Sensible Shoes” by David Fickett

"Is she dead?" I asked Horace Peal, as we knelt over Marie Boleyn. She looked like she’d just gotten out of her car and laid down for a nap on the soft shoulder of the road. I’d seen her car fishtail on the black ice. She’d been in front of me, since I left Deep Cove, heading north. I’d seen her body, in one quick flash, fly out of the opened door and land only feet from where the car crumpled against a tree. I was trying to beat the crazy rush of crowds at Wal-Mart. She may have been going there too, to catch the last minute Christmas sales on wrapping paper, Percale sheets and counter-top appliances. It seemed foolish now.

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“Brightness” by Liam Grabowski

It was red, though remembering this was like looking back into the sun. Most often, he could whiten out memory, or blacken it as the case may be. Back and forth his mind would go: red, white; white, red. But most often, it went black.

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“The Ungrateful Guest” by Amy Halloran

The ungrateful guest arrives with expectations, not gifts. She has no flowers in her arms, no sweater she knit on the train, no preserves she made in the heat of summer sweating the walls of her kitchen. She has a list of requests she will never ask, though her hopeful eyes say them all at your door when she says your name, dragging it across a long minute. She holds your hands and regards you.

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