There’s no mystery about this creature: a human boy. Eleven years old, a little shrunken-looking in his beige uniform, nothing to hook your gaze if he isn’t your brother or son, but all eyes on him now because he’s the one at bat, bases loaded, his parents and two brothers in the stands, his mother wringing a lump of yarn because it’s agony watching him hit (or try to hit, he never hits), her emotions cliché to anyone who’s read a book or seen a movie about children playing sports and how their mothers feel, and yet—how is this possible?—fiercely specific: a wish to pluck him from that spot and spirit him away to a place where she can protect him; a craving to hold him like she did when he was newly born and smelled like milk (his first smile, a tiny sputter of lightning across his face, a thing she often recalls); a hope that he won’t be dwarfed forever by his older brother, who moves through the world as if it were a receiving line; a plea to someone, something, that her boy’s uniqueness, so manifest to her lovestruck eyes, be revealed to all: a singularity that, were there justice in the world, would rearrange the present scene and cause a beam of light to fall directly onto his head.
It was billed as one of those old-fashioned snowstorms, the kind that had been predicted throughout Gregory’s twenty-eight years but never quite panned out (according to his father), always devolving into rain or half-rain, icing up or turning prematurely to slush, and leading, at the Sunday family dinners Gregory sporadically attended, to nostalgic reveries from his father—who’d walked New York a lot before he got famous—about what real snowstorms used to be like: the softness, the silence, the transformation of a frenzied city into a plush, whispery terrain.
“You say that every single time, Dad,” Gregory would huff. “Word for word.”
Joseph Kisarian→Henry Pomeranz
Dear Mr. Pomeranz:
As I conclude my leave of absence, it is incumbent upon me to report my ongoing concern over the mental and physical health of my wife, Lulu Kisarian (Citizen Agent 3825), who completed her mission nearly two years ago.
Some of the difficulty arises from the several surgeries Lulu has undergone to repair damage from the gunshot wound to her right shoulder (she is righthanded), a hindrance to caring for our eight-monthold twins, whom she can lift only with difficulty. But my deeper worry is her mental state. She is convinced that spyware remains within her body, citing the following symptoms as evidence:
“How do we know that man is really her brother?” Mom asks after dinner one night when Brian and Molly have gone upstairs to start their homework and I’m helping her load the dishwasher.
“What man?” Dad says from his recliner in the study beside the kitchen. “Whose brother?”
“It just seems a little . . . coincidental,” she says. “He moves in, and nine months later, boom. The husband moves out.”
People rarely look the way you expect them to, even when you’ve seen pictures.
The first thirty seconds in a person’s presence are the most important.
If you’re having trouble perceiving and projecting, focus on projecting.
Necessary ingredients of a successful projection: giggles; bare legs; shyness.
The goal is to be both irresistible and invisible.
When you succeed, a certain sharpness will go out of his eyes.
When you know that a person is violent and ruthless, you will see violent ruthlessness in such basic things as his swim stroke.
“What are you doing?” from your Designated Mate amid choppy waves after he has followed you into the sea may, or may not, betray suspicion.
Your reply—“Swimming”—may or may not be perceived as sarcasm.
“Shall we swim together toward those rocks?” may or may not be a question.
“All that way?” will hopefully sound ingenuous.
“We’ll have privacy there” may sound unexpectedly ominous.
When I really need to cry my guts out I go in the Ladies Locker Room which is empty on weekdays because the Tennis Moms are already playing tennis and the Golf Moms are playing golf and the Moms With Little Children can’t bring them inside the Ladies Locker Room because kids have to be thirteen so this is my first summer of being old enough and something about this place calms me down, maybe the soft carpeting or so many lotions and creams by the mirrors or maybe it’s the sound, like someone humming just one note, mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm that helps me deal with the fact that Stella my best friend is DROPPING ME AGAIN, this has been going on since fourth grade because the only way not to be dropped by Stella is to act like you don’t care and I DO CARE, it’s too late to find new friends, the other groups don’t want me because Stella is mean and I’ve been mean trying to stay her friend and just BE POPULAR and BE ON TOP which is the only way not to live in constant danger of what is going on behind your back such as just now at the Snack Shack I was waiting with Stella and Iona for grilled cheese sandwiches and Chris Salazar and Colin Bingham walked by and Stella and Iona SMILED AT EACH OTHER SECRETLY and when I tried to share that smile they both looked away TRYING NOT TO LAUGH which means Stella is HAVING PRIVATE FACEBOOK CHATS WITHOUT ME about Chris Salazar who she has liked forever.
Chris Salazar couldn’t remember what sort of work he’d envisioned when he first fell under the sway of Sid Stockton, the weirdly charismatic CEO of SweetSpot Networks, during a pandemic Zoom interview, and wound up ditching his editing job for Sid’s entertainment start-up, but it definitely hadn’t involved filling entire walls with algebra. Yet here he was, two years later, with an aching arm and a racing heart, having run through several dry-erase pens defending his suite of “algebraizations”—a word he would have had trouble defining two years ago but now used upward of eighty times a day (he’d counted).
In the last months of her life—she would die of an overdose at fiftyseven, in 2025—Roxy Kline turned philosophical. It was not what anyone would have expected. In the family calculus that allots roles based on childish inclination, Roxy had been classified early on as “wild”—mostly in contrast to her younger sister, Kiki, who collected rosaries and made the sign of the cross at their mother’s boyfriends when they stayed over. In the course of her life, Roxy had more than fulfilled her “type”; in fact, she’d said that word—“wild”—so many times in recovery that it meant nothing to her.
Long ago, she told us, when we were just a hope in her heart or not even that, because she never wanted children (or thought she didn’t), a higher power touched our mother’s head and said: Stop what you’re doing! Two little girls are waiting to be born, and you need to have them right away, because the world is desperate for their brightness. So she stopped studying anthropology, which she really did love and maybe would study again someday, when you’re all grown up and don’t need me anymore.
M has four primary freckles on her nose and approximately twentyfour secondary freckles. I say “approximately” not because her secondary freckles can’t be counted—few things in this world can’t be counted—but because I can’t stare at M’s nose for long enough to count her secondary freckles without making her uncomfortable. Her hair is thicker than the hair of 40 percent of the women who work among us and longer than 57 percent, and she wears hair bands 24 percent of the time, scrunchies 28 percent of the time, and her hair loose 48 percent of the time. She is exactly one week older than I am—25.56 to my 25.54—a fact I learned from the icebreaker our team leader, O’Brien, conducted during a taco party he hosted at his house for our whole team when we first became a team. Each of us gave the date, time, and place of our birth, and O’Brien plotted our data on a dynamic 3D Earth model and slowly rotated it so that we could see all forty-three team members ping into existence over the course of our aggregate age span. In the model, M and I seemed to come to life at the same instant.
Once upon a time, in a faraway land, there was a forest. It’s gone now (burned), and the four men walking in it are gone, too, which is what makes it far away. Neither it nor they exist.
My cousin Sasha had lived in the desert for twenty years before I discovered she had become an artist. I was looking at her kids’ social media stories, as I often did with people I used to know, to see how they’d aged and try to gauge their happiness, when I saw a post from her son: “Proud of my Mom,” with a link to an article about Sasha in ARTnews. The picture showed dozens of hot-air balloons suspended above rambling, colorful sculptures stretched out across the California desert. According to the article, Sasha made these forms out of discarded plastic. Later she melted the sculptures down to create compressed bricks that had been displayed and sold, along with aerial photos of that same plastic in sculptural form, at art galleries.
Nobody, including Alfred Hollander himself, is certain of when he first began reacting violently—“allergically” is the word he uses—to the artifice of TV. It started with the news: those fake smiles. That hair! Were they robots? Were they bobbleheads? Were they animate dolls he’d seen in horror-movie posters? It became impossible to watch the news with Alfred. It became hard to watch Cheers with Alfred. It became preferable not to watch anything with Alfred, who was apt to holler from the couch, still with a slight lisp: “How much are they paying her?” or “Who does he think he’s kidding!” It broke the mood.
“I have this craving,” Bix said as he stood beside the bed stretching out his shoulders and spine, a nightly ritual before lying down. “Just to talk.”
Lizzie met his eyes over the dark curls of Gregory, their youngest, who was suckling at her breast. “Listening,” she murmured.
“It’s . . .” He took a long breath. “I don’t know. Hard.”
Lizzie sat up, and Bix saw that he’d alarmed her. Gregory, dislodged, squawked, “Mama! I can’t reach.” He had just turned three.