The Very Nervous Family, by Sabrina Orah Mark

Mr. Horowitz clutches a bag of dried apricots to his chest. Although the sun is shining, there will probably be a storm. Electricity will be lost. Possibly forever. When this happens the very nervous family will be the last to starve. Because of the apricots. “Unless,” says Mrs. Horowitz, “the authorities confiscate the apricots.” Mr. Horowitz clutches the bag of dried apricots tighter. He should’ve bought two bags. One for the authorities and one for his very nervous family. Mrs. Horowitz would dead bolt the front door to keep the authorities out, but it is already bolted. Already dead. She doesn’t like that phrase. Dead bolt. It reminds her of getting shot before you even have a chance to run. “Everyone should have at least a chance to run,” says Mrs. Horowitz. “Don’t you agree, Mr. Horowitz?” Mrs. Horowitz always refers to her husband as Mr. Horowitz should they ever one day become strangers to each other. Mr. Horowitz agrees. When the authorities come they should give the Horowitzs a chance to run before they shoot them for the apricots. Eli Horowitz, their very nervous son, rushes in with his knitting. “Do not rush,” says Mr. Horowitz, “you will fall and you will die.” Eli wanted ice skates for his birthday. “We are not a family who ice skates!” shouts Mrs. Horowitz. She is not angry. She is a mother who simply does not wish to outlive her only son. Mrs. Horowitz gathers her very nervous son up in her arms, and gently explains that families who ice skate become the ice they slip on. The cracks they fall through. The frost that bites them. “We have survived this long to become our own demise?” asks Mrs. Horowitz. “No,” whispers Eli, “we have not.” Mr. Horowitz removes one dried apricot from the bag and nervously begins to pet it when Mrs. Horowitz suddenly gasps. She thinks she may have forgotten to buy milk. Without milk they will choke on the apricots. Eli rushes to the freezer with his knitting. There is milk. The whole freezer is stuffed with milk. Eli removes a frozen half pint and glides it across the kitchen table. It is like the milk is skating. He wishes he were milk. Brave milk. He throws the half pint on the floor and stomps on it. Now the milk is crushed. Now the milk is dead. Now the Horowitzs are that much closer to choking. Mr. and Mrs. Horowitz are dumbfounded. Their very nervous son might be a maniac. He is eight. God is punishing them for being survivors. God has given them a maniac for a son. All they ask is that they not starve, and now their only son is killing milk. Who will marry their maniac? No one. Who will mother their grandchildren? There will be no grandchildren. All they ask is that there is something left of them when they are shot for the apricots, but now their only son is a maniac who will give them no grandchildren. Mr. Horowitz considers leaving Eli behind when he and Mrs. Horowitz run for their lives.

Animal Graves, by Chase Twichell

The mower flipped it belly up,
a baby garter less than a foot long,
dull green with a single sharp

stripe of pale manila down its back,
same color as the underside
which was cut in two places,

a loop of intestine poking out.

It wouldn’t live,
so I ran the blades over it again,

and cut it again but didn’t kill it,

and again and then again,
a cloud of two-cycle fuel smoke
on me like a swarm of bees.

It took so long
my mind had time to spiral
back to the graveyard

I tended as a child
for the dead ones, wild and tame:
fish from the bubbling green aquarium,

squirrels from the road,
the bluejay stalked to a raucous death
by Cicero the patient, the tireless hunter,

who himself was laid to rest
one August afternoon
under a rock painted gray, his color,

with a white splash for his white splash.

Once in the woods I found the skeleton
of a deer laid out like a diagram,

long spine curved like a necklace of crude, ochre spools
with the string rotted away,

and the dull metal shaft of the arrow
lying where it must have pierced

not the heart, not the head,
but the underbelly, the soft part
where the sex once was.

I carried home the skull
with its nubs of not-yet-horns
which the mice had overlooked,

and set it on a rock
in my kingdom of the dead.

Before I chopped the little snake
to bits of raw mosaic,

it drew itself
into an upward-straining coil,
head weaving, mouth open,

hissing at the noise that hurt it.

The stripe was made
of tiny paper diamonds,
sharp-edged but insubstantial,

like an x-ray of the spine
or the ghost beginning to pull away.

What taught the snake to make itself
seem bigger than it was,
to spend those last few seconds

dancing in the roar
and shadow of its death?

Now I see, though none exists,
its grave:

harebells withered in a jar,
a yellow spiral
painted on a green-black stone,

a ring of upright pine cones for a fence.
That’s how the deer skull lay in state

until one of the neighborhood dogs
came to claim it,

and carried it off to bury
in the larger graveyard of the world.