Further Persons Imperfect: Excerpts

Following are the beginnings of the stories in Further Persons Imperfect. The copyright for each excerpt is held by its respective author: © 1992, 2007 for “The One that Got Away,” © 2007 for all other stories.

Jessica Bartlett
Learning to Walk

Last night I dreamed that my bunions had arms.
As I lie here now, breathing warm, recycled morning air, I remember staring down at my crooked feet.  I remember how I started rubbing the sides, scratching at the ache that always shows up after wearing shoes for too long.  It was all very realistic…until the ache turned into an itch, then a fever, and the shiny skin that stretches over my bunions began to split…

Barbara Ghoshal
Madison Square Garden, March 24, 1962

       I am standing in the ring.  The people out there watch me.  They want to see me fight, here in the Garden.  And on television, in their houses, all over America.
       Of course, I will win.  Emile is a weakling and a faggot.  When I am done with him, he will run away like a whipped dog.  And I will be the champion.  The Welter-Weight Champion of the World.
       But why, then, do I hear my mother’s voice calling me?  “Bernardo!  Bernardo!”  Is she watching me?…

Marie Thourson
The Itch

       “You’re a sight, Emmy, I gotta say.” Timmy Winters, the package delivery guy, was leaning against the counter at Hal’s MiniMart, watching as I scrubbed off the tables by the window. “Long sleeves and pants on a scorcher like today.”
       I could barely find the words to talk to a guy who looked like one of the Greek gods in my social studies book. Mercury, maybe. Or Mars. Or maybe David. He muddied my head just standing there…

Paul McComas
The One that Got Away (originally published, in an earlier version, in The Best of Tomorrow Magazine, 1982–1992).

       Don’tcha go tellin’ me no fishin’ stories, ’cause I got the one to beat all. Every word of it’s gospel truth, and I oughta know, ’cause I was right there in the boat when it happened—at least, I was until the boat got all…
       But I’m getting’ ahead of myself, ain’t I? And here, we ain’t even been innerduced!
       Name’s Vesper, Aldo Vesper. I hails from Boulder Junction, Wisconsin, way up north by the Michigan line. Now, seein’ how’s I’m a fishin’ guide by perfession, B.J. ain’t a bad place to be, ’cause y’see, it’s the Musky Fishin’ Capital of the World…

Sarah Morrill Condry
Once Upon A Hard Time

       My boss, Bick, looks me square in the eye and says, “I have to let you go, Rayanne.” He touches his badly-cut hair and rubs both hands down his prickly cheeks, then lets his fingertips rest on his fat lips. His hands are smudged with the soft black of newsprint ink.
       And I reply, “I didn’t ever think you were ever really holding on, Bick.” I snort—that’s something I do when I’m nervous.
       Bick and I rarely talk about our arrangement. It is—was?—just sex. They say women can’t have “just sex.” I suppose we do tend to get clingy, but as far as Bick is concerned, it really is/was “just sex”…

Brian L. Cox
November Forgets

       I turn away from a sky laden with mercury-tinted clouds and kneel beside the sand fence that runs the length of the beach. Then I button my coat, slip on my headphones and pull up my collar against the stiff November wind.
       Early each morning I come here, passing the wand over the sand in slow, even arcs. I search this beach, this universe of sand with its pebbles strewn like dream-filled planets across the Milky Way.
       Jeannie was so self-conscious about her crooked teeth that she covered her mouth with her hand when she smiled. My beautiful child…

Elizabeth C. Rossman
Product Placement

       The Lady’s here again. In the kitchen with Momma. It’s not so much that I heard her when I came in the door, but I could smell her—like fruit and flowers and mint. Momma never smells like that.
       So, I caught the door fast, before it slammed, and I stood there—here—holding it. I’m still standing here, holding the door, not knowing whether to go back out…or move in closer…

Dennis K. Beard
Most Any Kind of Life

       If I’d drawn the blinds last night like I should have, I’d still be sleeping now. But I had liked the soft light drifting in off the Sound.
       Mabel had liked it, too, and she’d said so.
       She had bewitched me all those years ago…and now, as if by magic, here she is, sleeping quietly beside me, the morning sun shining in her hair. Bewitching me all over again…

Emily Collins
Mom’s House

       I suppose I’m too old to live with my mother, but after all, it’s only for a few months each year. Besides, it’s a nice change of pace to return to the Midwest after teaching college out east. And Mom’s place is wonderful. First, the house itself is full of charm and personality. Secondly, it’s right next door to tennis courts, a playground and a public golf course. Mom’s house is in a perfect location…

Eva Karene Romero
Out of Focus

       I must be in a Julio Cortázar story, sitting here in Boris’ Citroen, fresh from the airport while he goes on about every person in Paraguay we’ve ever known. Gossip—one of the top five national pastimes—is something in which I’m still well versed, despite my ten-year absence, and Boris, despite his stint in Europe, has obviously not lost his touch. In fact, he hasn’t changed a bit…

Moira Sullivan
The Pawnbroker’s Deal

       The pawn shop was located at the end of a dark alley in a godforsaken part of town. The buildings there were smeared with grime, and the windows stared out myopically through a film of dirt; it looked like an old movie set fallen into disrepair. Even the air seemed stale and polluted by the remnants of the last garbage strike. The shop, buildings and alley seemed to be waiting for something…waiting for me. No one else was around: I felt as if I were the last living soul on Earth.
       I rang the buzzer and waited for what seemed like forever until a gruff voice inquired, “How did you know to come here?”…

C.J. Ullrich
The Call of the Mourning Dove

       The cool morning air felt good on my face as I stepped through the gothic doors of the St. Francis church, which we’d converted into the First Field Hospital shortly after the battle began. After so many hours spent in the confinement of surgery, I felt renewed. I stretched my muscles and yawned, knowing that my bed would be empty for the next 12 to 24 hours. As my mentor, Dr. Denton, used to say, “Fatigue is never an excuse.”
       I was afraid to sit down in my state of exhaustion, so I decided to stretch my legs. At one point in my morning stroll, I bent down to pull a blanket over the face of one young Marine who would never fight again…

Heather Swartz
What You’re Looking At

       I would have missed the turn onto the ill-lit street if not for the tire store that Emily had told me to watch for. The houses were small and looked like their owners had given up on them: haphazard wooden ramps where stairs should have been, paint peeling off in large strips, torn screen doors. The music blaring from the third house on the right told me which one was C.J.’s.
       A group of people milled around on the front porch smoking, huddled against the cold. The porch light was either turned off or broken, and it was hard to make out the faces behind the glowing orange pin-points from the lit cigarettes. I searched for someone who looked familiar…

Shirley Bartelt
Off the Wall

       I’m situated on a 40-acre parcel of land in northern Wisconsin, nestled in the midst of tall fir and birch trees and two hay fields. It’s a beautiful spot, to say the least: warm, breezy summer days; starlit autumn nights; short, cold, snowy winter days; and then, more starry, moonlit nights. I think I like the evenings best. The stars are so vivid and bright; shooting stars, the aurora borealis, and satellite fly-bys are common sights. I’ve heard that in some places, the stars are difficult to see because of city lights and pollution. Those problems don’t exist up here.
       But this isn’t an astronomy lesson or a pitch from the local chamber of commerce; it’s a story about a time of division and upheaval. It happened in the middle of winter, quite a few years ago…

Lauren Fath
Two Hard Tugs

       David Jeffrey Stone does not know that I am listening.
       But I am, in our back bedroom with its window open in the winter. Separated from the party’s noise by a long hallway, it is just I and the sound of them: David and Amanda, sitting outside on lawn chairs, their sin punctuated by few words.
       I didn’t see them slink away from the crowd, surely drunk, to cavort in the cold. I am disgusted by this discovery but curious enough to go on listening…

Lori Rotenberk
Friendship 7

       In my dream I hop with gray rabbits. We are the same size but I’m still a girl only with long whiskers coming out of my wiggly nose. Then the dream turns off like the outside does when the shade snaps down over the window. Mom is calling out to me from the living room, “Renee, Renee!” and I am startled and sit up straight in bed.
       “Renee!  Do you want to see Glenn orbit Earth?”
       Glenn—orbit Earth? My head is confused. I don’t understand.
Glenn Graham is my absolute best friend and he lives next door…

Drew Downing
The Z Conspiracy

       Vargas is nodding off. Again. I can tell because the tapping of his fingers on his keyboard has ceased.
       I roll my chair back from the desk and across my cubicle, wheels creeping silently over the carpet, and peer around the rickety wall that separates our cubes. Sure enough: there he is, sitting at his desk, his back to me, head slowly drooping toward his keyboard, then bobbing up slightly. Drooping, bobbing; drooping, bobbing…
       Son of a bitch.
       Every afternoon, same damned thing. Nap time for Vargas.
       Meanwhile, I’m over here busting my ass…