Reverse-Gentrification of the Literary World

Akashic Books

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Category: Short Story Month

“Crab and Dumpling” by Lisa Allen-Agostini

Miss Jo ladled an extra spoonful of golden brown stew over the fat, long dumplings in the bowl before sliding it across the counter to George. His mouth watered at the sight of the red crab legs glistening in the curry. “You fix me well nice,” he said, beaming at the food.

Miss Jo beamed back at him. Her gold tooth with its tiny diamond winked at him from between her full, brown lips. “You know you does get it special,” she said. She leaned her heavy, middle-aged bust over the counter. “I go get my special later?” she whispered . . .

“Team Players in the New New Economy” by Kevin Holohan

When the Beadle came to my cubicle I was not surprised. I had been almost three minutes late and I knew what the Beadle’s job was. Even if you did not know what his job was, the shiny black suit, the purple cloak, and the watch chain going into the top pocket of his jacket would tell you that he was the bringer of no good news . . .

“Possible Side Effects” by Jerry Stahl (from The Heroin Chronicles)

Bad Penny, She Always Turns Up. That was one of my most popular campaigns, back when the porn business was referred to as Adult Films, not “triple-X content.” Not that I’m a porn guy. I’m not. Anymore. I’m the kind of writer you don’t hear about. The guy who always wanted to be a writer—who read the backs of cereal boxes as a kid—dreamed of being Ernest Hemingway, then grew up and wrote the backs of boxes. You don’t think about the people who write the side effect copy for Abilify or Olestra ads . . . It’s not as easy as you think. You need to decide whether anal leakage goes best before or after suicidal thoughts and dry mouth . . . I take a ribbing from some of the guys (and gals) at the office—which, I have to admit, gets to me. They know I’ve been working on a novel, but it’s been awhile. I guess I should also admit that the heroin helps with some of the shame I feel about writing this stuff. Or life in general. I’m not, like, a junkie-junkie. I use it, I don’t let it use me. And I’m not going to lie, it helps. It’s like, suddenly you have a mommy who loves you. You just have to keep paying her . . .

“Mission Hills Confidential” by Grace Suh (from Kansas City Noir)

Allison sits in the breakfast room and watches the cardinal pair, male and female, dipping in and out of the holly bushes where they make their home. She avoids this room in the morning—too much sun. But it’s tolerable starting from early afternoon, which it now is, when she can drink her tea and look out the tall windows and watch the shadows sit neatly under the trees like coasters.

Her husband Britt is upstairs in the green guest room. Since winter, when he fell in with a new group of friends, he’s been tumbling into bed at all hours, reeking of vodka and smoke and sweat. A month ago she asked him to use a guest room on nights he goes out, and mostly he remembers. For some reason he eschews the gray one with the nautical theme and king-sized bed in favor of the mint-green one with the Colefax chinoiserie print that swathes the walls, draperies, armchair, and dainty canopy bed . . .

“Amp is the First Word in Amphetamine” by Joseph Mattson (from The Speed Chronicles)

I was awakened at six a.m. after a long night of serious drink chasing down seven days of too much speed. Anvil head, brain ready to splatter, body wrought with ache and despair. Wanting nothing more than some shut-eye, against the ghost-white face of an unforgiving, barbaric narco-crash, I was brought back to the shock of life by a telephone call from an LAPD detective looking for my best friend . . .

“The Rainbow’s End” by M.J. Fievre (from Haiti Noir)

I’m sitting in my father’s chair—a tattered and tired office chair that I’ve lugged to the porch. It is showing its age: scarred faux leather, armrests sprouting prickly stuffing, scents of Papa in the fabric. Half shaded by an acacia tree, I am sipping rich, dark café au lait, scattering a bit on the ground first, just like my father does, to feed our ancestors. The air is soft with breeze and sweet with roasting coffee, the few clouds in the sky moving like fishing boats out on the Caribbean Sea. The voices of the neighborhood rise and fall in spurts. Outside the prisonlike gates of my parents’ house in Kenscoff, young girls balance buckets atop their heads, up and down the graveled roads. Sun-wrinkled women sell huge mangoes and homemade peanut brittle, while boys in cutoff jeans run in circles with makeshift kites or push around trucks made from plastic bottles . . .

“Justice” by Riaz Mulla (from Mumbai Noir)

“The court will now pronounce its verdict,” the judge remarked plainly, as if he was going to read out the evening news.

Asghar Khan stood up in the witness box with the anticipation of a man in that twilight zone of hope when the decision has been made but not yet announced . . .


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