In our first edition of New Writing on the Net for 2020, TMR reader Nicole VanderLinden shares her suggestions for your weekend reading list, all selected from the best new writing published online in the previous month! Happy new year!
I wanted to argue. How could it cost a fortune when all the placements were paper and the only activity listed on the board whenever we visited was Scrabble? They certainly weren’t paying Nancy enough if that boxed Revlon Ultra Light Sun Blonde was anything to go by. But I’d inherited my streak of unreasonableness from Mom so I didn’t say anything. Instead, I stared at the shelves where the birds all stood, lined up in neat little rows, curious faces pointed upward. I spotted my nuthatch, back bowed, its little black and white striped head tilted up, looking right at me. I had to turn away from him; I couldn’t meet his eyes.
A bat expert visited the elementary classroom and said he’d like to give a demonstration of how the Diphylla Ecaudata, the hairy-legged vampire bat, fed on its prey. He selected Megan Kinney to portray a sleeping chicken while he, the expert, played the bat. He spent long minutes circling the girl, describing the fever pitch of his thermoception guiding him towards a warm place to bite.
I haven’t talked to my mother very often since getting to Italy, because I’m trying to save money on international calling but also because we never really have that much to say to each other, I’m not really sure why, except that I am sure it’s probably my fault, that I could tell her more about my life but it’s hard. I haven’t even told her my boyfriend broke up with me right before this trip, the boyfriend whom I dated for two years and whom she met on a number of occasions and whom she always called Stan instead of Paul, for no reason I could discern except that her dementia that began after my father died is getting worse and the boyfriend she had in her late twenties, up until she decided to marry my dad instead, was named Stan and was a very nice guy, she always said, which I took to mean she regretted marrying my dad instead of him, and which I sometimes considered a sign that I should marry Paul/Stan, if he asked me, except the bigger sign that I shouldn’t marry him was that he broke up with me.
Summer came and the heat simmered and the buds swelled on the mimosa tree. In the thick heat, the woman could barely sleep at all anymore. She couldn’t even toss and turn with her heavy belly propped in a nest of pillows. Her thin shirt soaked through with sweat. Finally she rose and left the bed where her husband, against all odds, slept. She walked over the damp grass in her bare feet and sat down with her back against the trunk of the mimosa tree. There was no moon tonight, but she looked up and saw the fireflies blinking in the boughs of the tree. They mirrored the stars above in the inkwell sky. The baby kicked wildly in her belly, and she said, Please come soon, please, there is a whole world I am aching to show you.
On that first Monday, Max insisted we play handball within the defensible perimeter of the cafeteria instead of in the kill zone of playground courts. On Wednesday, he put Frank Twombly in a stress position for body checking me during foursquare. That earned Max a conference with our teacher, Ms. Price, who abhorred violence. That afternoon he clenched his jaw so hard we heard his teeth creak.
When she was with Yvonne, Celeste was every version of herself she’d ever been: she was introverted, passive-aggressive teenage Celeste, who brought up her adoption in every interaction with her parents and couldn’t get through an entire meal without asking why they’d chosen her; rebellious college freshman Celeste, who took eighteen shots in a row to celebrate her 18th birthday, drunk-dialed her parents because she had no ex to call, and ended up in the hospital; middle-aged lesbian Celeste, who was failing at juggling her children’s dance practices and football tryouts and worrying about maintaining some spark in her marriage big enough to keep Zara from getting bored with her. Celeste tried to cram every identity into a two-hour visit once a month—to show Yvonne who she’d been and who she was—and ended up losing herself. She would not let herself visit more often; that was a recipe for attachment. Nor would she stop visiting; she was curious, and her curiosity demanded answers, even if they were slow to come.
She had soothed Annabelle in the middle of O’Hare airport, on the way to see her mother, with “You Are My Sunshine” and milk milk milk, while men in football jerseys and business suits stared at her. She has been in love for fifteen years with one person and has found ways to reinvent herself over and over. New cities, new seasons, new sadnesses, new secrets. When she told her husband she was going to take Web Dev 101 because she wanted to try something different, he told her to go for it, he told her she could do anything. When she tried to quit after the first day of class, he made her go back and brought home a rotisserie chicken, a bagged salad, and her favorite boxed wine.
Curated by Nicole VanderLinden