Plain China

This Mustang, Who Speaks For Her

William "Jared" Parmer · Florida State University

They made this Mustang in 1968 and called it a 1969 Fastback. It had none of the special options packaged with it—it was not a Boss, not a Mach I. It was meant to go to a man of humble means, someone who knew how to have fun but didn’t need the whole town noticing, so it had a 302 engine that hummed with a two-barrel carb and was painted in understated Lime Gold. By the end of the year it was tearing down country roads in south Alabama, gravel banging up its rock deflector and blasting away little chips of paint so that the car looked still-photographed, forever sparkling in the hot humid sun.

Boys' Weekend

Henry Russell · Dartmouth College

When I discovered the tent in the back corner of my grandparent’s A-frame, I never expected my dad would let me sleep in it for the boys’ weekend, but when I asked, he said, “Sure, champ,” and we took it to the backyard and put it up together. “Boys should always work hard,” he said, as he hammered the last stake into the ground, “but a boys’ weekend is a time for fun. Got it, champ?”

Monday, Between Four and Five PM

Margaret Sweeney · Bennington College

We are through the door—the side door, the door to the mudroom where the family’s shoes rest in crowded rows—and Claudia doesn’t bother to greet us as we pass the kitchen table, where she sits in a sea of ungraded papers. She knows that by the time she lifts her head from her work we will already be at the bottom of the stairs, climbing the stairs to your room, our shoes and coats lying limp and dripping where we kicked them off on the linoleum floor. The door to the mudroom is still cracked open, swaying on its hinges and letting the cold in, so she will stand to close it, like a good mother.

Most Days We're Not Going Anywhere

Cody Greene · SUNY Rockland

We’re late getting back to the orchard, sure, but this doe with the broken neck is just too damn good to pass up. The way it’s smelling up the road, open and cooking, has got Denny fixed and immobile. He’s keeping back some, just saying, “Son of a bitch, Waylon. Son of a bitch,” and tries kicking at her back leg, but misses. I edge my boots as close as I can to the dried-up patch of blood on the pavement and wonder how long ago she was hit.

Buffalo

Conner McDonough · University of Tampa

A friend of mine, a long time ago, was buried alive in a snowdrift in the Old First Ward. The way he told it to me was that he was at the bar after a long day at the plant and had been drinking boilermakers. When the bar closed, he went outside and passed out in a snowdrift. “And along comes this big fuckin’ snowplow, big motherfucker, like a tank coming down the street, and just pushes snow over me.”

Mrs. Xia

Kevin Hong · Harvard · Honorable Mention in Fiction

The lesson ends when Mrs. Xia writes in the little notebook. She has given one to each of her students. Martin’s is light blue. The pages are crinkled from the impressions of her writing, the black and blue ink, as if someone spilled water on them and let them dry.

Alone on a New York Bound Train

Amanda Bondi · Emerson College

On the road that connects my part of town to yours, I waited for the nine o’clock night train to Penn Station. Octobers in Massachusetts smell wet, with the lingering humidity of summer and the imminent promise of snow. The train pulled onto the platform late, at 9:07, with a rumbling gray cloud of exhaust and the noise and fire of friction. I sat in the dining car, storing my leather coat and rolling briefcase under the table. I ordered an over-priced mini-bottle of cabernet, took off my shoes and settled into the ache of missing you.

Montanus

Aida Curtis · University of Georgia

Montanus always had the best pot. He would show up, broad-shouldered, looking hefty and plaid clad beneath those Greek letters—not one of the brothers but not needing to be, with that Ziploc bag and the bigmouth laugh. Those nights were always the same, stickyhot after days of neck sweat coating our collars, when heat glued cotton to our backs and we smelled like earth.

Tear-Jerker Monodrama

Milo Cramer · Bard College · Honorable Mention in Fiction

My mom is dying. We are in her hospital room. It is 2 am or 4 am. It smells like hand sanitizer. There are watercolors of cows on the walls. Mom was in a terrifying car accident and has cancer. She is wrapped in hospital plastic and damp rags that cling to her pale skin. She is fat and beautiful. She is covered in pus. She shrieks or makes small gurgling noises.

The Mackenzie Walrus

Toshi Casey · American River College

Brian’s snore raked through Eleanor’s ears. His nasal strip and her earplugs had failed her again and she was up, smothering a pillow over her face. No remedy ever worked a permanent miracle. No food after seven p.m. only kept their cholesterol down, but throwing out the cigarettes had its benefits. Their sleep-by-number mattress cost more than his month-long expedition to the Sea of Cortez, yet he remained a bullhorn.

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