Plain China

Venero

Ryan MacLennan · Harvard University

We’d been living in Madero for months of silent siege when I got a toothache on the right side of my mouth. It hurt like hell. I chewed only with the left side of my mouth for ten days while I tried to find a dentist who would take the insurance that Katherine got through the school. Most places didn’t take it because it was cut-rate. You’d think they’d give teachers better benefits. I started to worry that the right side of my face would become sallow and emaciated from lack of use. I knew it probably wouldn’t, but I grew out a beard just in case.

The Story We Tell People

Rebecca James · Susquehanna University

My baby sister came out with half a left arm, cut off just below her elbow. She was three weeks premature, and the hospital hallways were lined with color-coded paw prints. I sat on the opposite side of the curtain, dust-blue and cottony and pilled, and read a chapter book, a mystery, pretending I couldn’t hear my mother scream. I was eleven and knew how it worked.

Old Indian Road

Will Fenstermaker · University of Miami

I was the last to see him. I was only nine, but I remember the snow fell early that year. The storms came eastward across Lake Erie and over the foothills where pines shaved flakes over low-hanging clouds, leaving solemn gray piles higher than my chest. Before and long after Mr. Ehrlich disappeared, I would stand at the edge of where the lowest boughs in the forest reached, thrashing, supplicant to the harsh and windy sky.

Anaadar

Aditi Roy · Grinnell College · Honorable Mention in Fiction

When I sit down with my first cup of tea in the morning, the city is still asleep. I hear the same sounds every day: my wife’s gentle snores as she lies asleep on our bed, the neighbor’s air-conditioner working hard, gurgling water as it breathes out air, the bristles of a sweeper’s broom against the concrete of the street outside. At six in the morning, I hear the large clock at St. Joseph’s School ring six times. That’s when I leave the house for work.

Goat Sucker

Mark Putterman · New York University

Isabella has a black eye. Jay tells me el chupacabra did it and not to tell Mom because it’d scare her. That’s stupid, I tell him—the goat sucker doesn’t do that. Don’t you remember Dad’s stories? I ask. The goat sucker has matted, grey-brown fur that gathers in gnarled points along the notches in its spine, ivory teeth that wink in dim light. The goat sucker lives in the shadows and strikes only in the night; he kills every time. The goat sucker—Hermanito, Jay interrupts me, baby brother. Shut up and mind your own business.

Digging

Eleanor Kriseman · New York University

The gas station bathrooms were always open, but if it wasn’t the middle of the night and we had a choice, I liked Dunkin’ Donuts better. The bathrooms there were cleaner and, if I crossed my legs and sort of hopped around, the people behind the counter would usually let me use it even if we didn’t buy anything. If we stopped for the night, we looked for a 24-hour Wal-Mart or someplace else that was always open, because it was safer to park there. My mom would only sleep at night if she thought it was safe.

The Beach

Lily Fishman · Barnard College

“Well?” says Betty, fingers of her left hand drumming in her palm. “Will you come?” Alma throws a handful of veined carrot skins into the sink. They lie curled and graying across the drain. It is early in the afternoon, August; the heat in the kitchen is like custard. It never occurs to Alma that her sister will expect kindness from her. She finds herself presented with the abrupt impossibility of failing to offer her sister anything she asks.

The Bro

R.P. Munda · Princeton University

I can fit four other people in my car. Sometimes Jack fights Ellen for shotgun but Ellen usually wins. Steph and Louis always sit in the back because they’re juniors. The juniors have check-in at ten on weekends, because boarding school is stupid.

Homecoming

Francesca Thompson · Columbia College Chicago · Honorable Mention in Fiction

When my brother Manny got home from prison, I was giving our mother her daily bath. She reclined, eyes closed, mouth slightly open. I knelt near her head and dunked a large blue sponge in and out of the warm water. Bubbles floated on top of the surface, their liquid surfaces spinning with rainbows. They touched her brown chin and hung there like a tiny beard. She had started to snore softly, these terrible, wheezing gasps. When she was disconnected from her oxygen, baths had to be quick.

River Mammals

Zachary Frank · Boston College · Fiction Prize Winner

We get back before dusk. I’d laid down a sheet of plywood in the front yard when I woke and now we head over to it. Cheyenne’s fur catches and holds the sun while we tramp through burnt grass and wilted sedges. Horseflies swarm overhead and shade my face. They’ve taken a liking to me since I’ve started growing antlers. When we reach the plywood, Cheyenne gets to a long end and I stand across from him.

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