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Lakshmi and the Librarian
Lakshmi Chundi, first-generation Indian immigrant, forty-seven-year-old homemaker, wife of a gainfully employed computer-software engineer working at a reputable computer-manufacturing corporation, mother of two grown sons, is melancholy. She knows why she is so. It is not only because her youngest son left for college two months ago, not only because her husband has doubled the number of his card nights since then, not only because she feels uncomfortable with her eldest son’s new wife; it is also because when she went to the Lexington public library last night, Elias Filian, the town librarian, was sad.
She knew immediately when she stood at the circulation desk
and his eyes barely met hers, his hands shaking as he passed her book
through the sensor light. There was no exchange of the usual
pleasantries. No chatting about the last book she read. A full day
later, this disturbs Lakshmi very much.
From “Lakshmi and the Librarian” from Karma and Other Stories by Rishi Reddi. Copyright 2007 by Rishi Reddi. Published by Ecco.
Giving a Clock
On July Fourth, my aunt hosted a celebration of her deck. She wore a green silk Japanese robe embroidered with gold-red chrysanthemums. There was something ceremonial about her presence as she sat quietly in her chair. Her face seemed to radiate the peculiar glow of the dying. People circled and brushed clumsily against her like huge, errant moths. She smiled at them, yet remained calm and untouched. During the fireworks, everyone’s gaze wandered toward her. I lit a fuse, dodged quickly away. The deck brightened, a lurid fluorescence, and I looked at all the illuminated faces. An agony of wonder. What secret things passed in the dark between us? Streaming colors, the crackle and hiss, and then darkness as everyone stared at the spent fuse. In all the pictures we took of that day, my aunt is the focal point. Her presence quietly overwhelms the others. She gazes at the camera with clear, shining eyes as if she is staring into her future.
From “Giving a Clock” from Transparency: Stories by Frances Hwang. Copyright 2007 by Frances Hwang. Published by Back Bay Books.
Later in the night, after he heard his mother climb the stairs to her bedroom, after he gave her time to fall asleep, he made his way back down to the first floor of the house. Sleep seemed impossible. His mind raced with all of the things he could have done, and all the things that still might happen. His stomach ached and turned with hunger. He walked to the refrigerator and took out a plate of lasagna, covered in plastic wrap. He slowly pulled a drawer, eased a fork out, and headed for his room.
When he passed the dining room, he stopped. He left the plate and fork on the telephone stand in the corner and pushed the round button of the dimmer switch. He spun the knob to dull the glare of the small chandelier and walked to where Bobby had fallen. A rectangular patch of carpet was missing—cut out and taken as evidence by the troopers who had examined the room while they were at the station. The removed swath wasn’t nearly as big as death would seem to demand.
From American Youth by Phil LaMarche. Copyright 2007 by Phil LaMarche. Published by Random House.
Mem was not supposed to want to have anything to do with the outside world, and she wasn’t supposed to desire things. She had been taught that the things she touched or thought she owned—like the new metal swingset in the backyard, the bright stack of Letter People books (Mr. P with a Purple Pillow, Mr. M with a Munching Mouth), the wall-to-wall confetti-colored carpet under her feet—would exist long after her body had liquefied, and then even those things would not survive the next flood, asteroid, or ice age. The slow burn of oxygen would chew chemicals and atoms to smaller bits and then these would also be pried apart, revealing something even smaller but just as fragmented and temporary. To the unprofessionals, tangible things seemed to promise immortality, proof, a permanent record, but even as a little girl Mem knew that permanent was a fairy-tale word. Like the end. Or forever.
From Open Me by Sunshine O’Donnell. Copyright 2007 by Sunshine O’Donnell. Published by MacAdam Cage.