Becky Hagenston


Fiction from NER 37.2

 The first strange thing was the tooth. Of course I was used to hearing jokes about putting my heart into my work; blood, sweat, and tears, etc. My mother never got tired of telling me that love was the most important ingredient of all, which is of course bullshit. But a tooth? It was the first day I opened the bakery after the funeral—my wife’s mother. Seventy-seven years old, brain cancer. We’d gone to Baltimore for the burial and stayed a week. Kathy wasn’t taking it well. She crawled into bed the day we got back to Mississippi and didn’t get up except to eat a sandwich and use the bathroom. Then the nightmares started bolting her awake every night, shaking. I offered to stay home with her—she’s a sixth grade teacher, off for the summer—but she said no, of course you have to get back to work, I’ll be fine.

On the Day of the Tooth—as I later came to think of it—Cheryl, the hairdresser from next door, had purchased a loaf of sourdough but came swinging back through the glass doors not ten minutes later.

“Look look look,” she said, holding out the remains of the bread on its paper sack.

Teri, the counter girl, drawled, “Well, yuck,” and I turned off the mixer and came down to the cash register and peered down at a gold tooth shining in the crumbs.

“Your tooth came out?” I said. This would be bad for business, is what I was thinking.

“Not my tooth,” said Cheryl. “I don’t have any gold teeth anyway.”

“Well, yuck,” said Teri again.

“I’m really, really sorry about that,” I said. “I have seriously no idea.” Could it have been in the flour? That was the only explanation. I took the tooth and the crumbs to the back and returned with a warm baguette. “On the house,” I said. “I can personally guarantee there’s no teeth in it.”

“Hmm,” said Cheryl, and took the baguette with a frown.

“That’s just weird is all,” said Teri.

“It is pretty weird,” I said.

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Becky Hagenston is the author of three story collections: Scavengers (University of Alaska Press, 2016), Strange Weather (Press 53, 2010), and A Gram of Mars (Sarabande Books, 1998). Her work was selected for the O. Henry Award in 1996 and 2015. She is an associate professor of English at Mississippi State University.

Soren James is a writer and visual artist who recreates himself on a daily basis from the materials at his disposal.

Charles Holdefer

Big and Nasty

fiction from NER 37.1 

Leonard_Kogan-10.Mixed_Media_on_paper._Leonard_Kogan._2014They beat us up pretty bad. The check-in, the x-rays, then wandering around in our socks. Now we’re on the runway, waiting to take off. The flight attendants have demonstrated how to buckle and unbuckle a seatbelt. (Now there’s a scary thought: people travel who haven’t mastered this much technology?) I ask the man next to me, “Do you believe in God?”

“Excuse me?” he says.

He’s forty or so, balding, with pinched eyes. He looks like a scared rabbit.

“Just kidding,” I tell him.

He hitches up in his seat, gives a little cough and pulls out his cell phone to confirm that it’s turned off, in keeping with our instructions. He doesn’t speak.

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Charles Holdefer is an American writer currently based in Brussels. His work has appeared in the North American Review, Los Angeles Review, Chicago Quarterly Review, and elsewhere. He has also published four novels, most recently Back in the Game (Permanent Press, 2012). His essay “Orwell’s Hippopotamus, or The Writer as Historical Anachronism” appeared in NER 32.3. 

Eugene Mirabelli

Oh, My Beautiful Alba

Fiction from NER 37.1


From the novel Renato After Alba

I went to the Daily Grind café and had a cup of coffee at the little table where we often sat, but Alba didn’t turn up, smiling and saying “I thought I’d find you here.”

Because she is dead—I know, I know. What I don’t know is where she went and why she hasn’t come back and is she someplace I can get to without dying, because though I wanted to die and told myself over and over to die, it became clear it wasn’t going to happen right away. I don’t understand why we’re born or why we love or why we bring children into the world if we and everyone we love are going to die.


I was born at my grandfather’s house in Lexington, Massachusetts, in the evening of the last snowfall of March, eighty-three years ago. You could say I was born a few days earlier, but on that snowy evening I was found in a laundry basket on my grandfather’s doorstep, so that’s my true birthday. My grandfather’s big square house was on one side of St. Brigid’s Church, and the small narrow parish house was on the other side. Everyone said I had been brought to the wrong door, but maybe my guardian angel directed the delivery to this address so that a newly married couple at the table that evening could adopt me and be my true parents, as did happen.

My grandfather’s name was Pacifico Cavallù and there were fifteen people in the house that night. He was at the head of the table, a sturdy man with a short, iron-colored beard, and his wife Marianna sat opposite him, a glorious woman such as you find carved on the prow of an old sailing ship. Their children, handsome and headstrong, were seated on both sides of the long table—Lucia and Marissa and Bianca and Candida and Dante and Sandro and Silvio and Mercurio and Regina, along with Marissa’s husband Nicolo, an aeronautical engineer, and Bianca’s husband Fidèle, a stonecutter. And, of course, there was Carmela the cook and Nora the housemaid. That’s two in the kitchen, thirteen at the table, and me in a laundry basket being set down quietly on the piazza.

Then came that KNOCK, KNOCK, KNOCK, so Pacifico got up from the table, his linen napkin still tucked into the top of his vest, and strolled through the grand front hall and into the vestibule to open the front door. Good God! he cries. At the table they drop their silverware and knock over chairs to come running and I am born.

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Eugene Mirabelli was born in 1931 and his first novel was published in 1959. Renato After Alba, excerpted in this issue of NER and forthcoming from McPherson & Company in October, is a follow-up to his novel Renato, the Painter (McPherson, 2012). These are the last two in a series of six novels concerning Renato and the Cavallù clan. Mirabelli has published other novels, including science-fiction and fantasy, and his stories, novels, and essays have been translated into many languages. He writes about politics, economics, and science on his blog, 

Vincent Poturica

Dad’s House

Fiction from NER 36.4

Danny didn’t hear the whimper inside the house when he opened the screen door. The door swung shut behind him, and the whimper stopped almost immediately, which, had he heard it, might have made Danny wonder if whatever was moaning preferred not to be discovered. But Danny was with Sasha who had just picked him up from LAX and driven him back to his dad’s house in Redondo Beach. Sasha, like Danny, was seventeen, and she was talking about the way the moon made her feel less anxious if she looked at it long enough, and he wanted to kiss her. He was not listening to the house because it was supposed to be empty.

His dad, according to his characteristically [No Subject] e-mail, had left for a retreat three days before Danny returned from Ecuador. Per his parents’ custody agreement, Danny spent his summers with his mom. He’d spent the first seven weeks volunteering for an NGO that was helping Andean villages implement sanitation systems, and he’d spent the last ten days in Quito getting stoned with his mom, going to museums, and watching movies starring Pauly Shore.

His dad would be gone for two months maybe three, which sounded like a really long time, even for his dad who, since he’d sold his contracting firm and stopped drinking alcohol, had traveled twice to India for month-long meditation seminars. His dad said that this retreat was particularly important, and that he’d left plenty of $$$ for Danny in the kitchen drawer where he kept the German knives that were designed for cutting meat. He also said that he hadn’t had a drink in 451 days and that God was Danny’s friend even if Danny didn’t, presently, want to be friends with God. Danny had thought that was odd—not his dad claiming God was his friend; he often said things like that—but that he’d put the money, folded between two blue rubber bands, beside the knives. Three of these knives, Danny noticed, were missing.

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Vincent Poturica’s writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Birkensnake, Columbia Poetry Review, DIAGRAM, New Ohio Review, and other journals. He lives with his wife in Long Beach, California, where he teaches English at Cerritos College and Chadwick School.

Penelope Cray

Real and True

Fiction from NER 36.4


My first wife was my fist. I pummeled my wife into life and made way for myself. When she was spent I took my foot as my second wife. 

With her I ran hard and far and achieved great distances from my beginning. I ate fine foods and my mouth watered, so I took my mouth as my third wife and we lived together for years in our bounty. 

But she grew sour and bored, so I took my eyes as my fourth wife because the eyes cannot see the mouth no matter their contortions. 

But the eyes, prone to slumber, were unavailable half the time, so I took my heart as my fifth wife out of need for a steady presence. I felt I could not live without her so large was my true love for my fifth wife. 

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Penelope Cray’s poems and short shorts have appeared in such literary magazines as Harvard Review, Pleiades, Bartleby Snopes, elimae, and American Letters & Commentary, and in the anthology Please Do Not Remove (Wind Ridge Books, 2014). She holds an MFA from the New School and lives with her husband and two children in Shelburne, Vermont, where she operates an editorial business from home.

Genevieve Plunkett

Something for a Young Woman

Fiction from NER 36.3

2615618The shop owner, by then, knew all about it: the girl’s hatred of elbows and stray pieces of hair; how her boyfriend disliked the taste of her lip gloss; how she referred to far too many body parts as “it.”

He knew which details she had made up to appear more experienced, even what she had swept over in an attempt to be coy. He listened to her, as bosses do, with hands folded, waiting through her blushes and her flights of qualifiers. The corners of his mouth and eyes remained still, like water.

The girl and the shop owner liked to talk. Once, they had been talking in the storage room, searching a heap of bubble wrap for a lost piece to a tea set, and he had gotten very close to her, blocking the door with his body. She had looked up and met the buttons of his shirt, tugging across his torso, and a flight of nerves had gone up inside her, like someone had smacked a screen door covered in moths. He had joked that someone might walk in and get the wrong impression, as if life could just be so funny.

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Genevieve Plunkett is a graduate of Bennington College. She lives in Vermont with her husband and two young children. This is her first piece of published fiction.

Wayne Michael Winfield

One of These Days

Fiction from NER 36.3

End_of_Summer_M.J.Bronstein-watercolorThe building was a tinderbox, especially in the dog days of summer. The oppressive heat, the close quarters, and the strain of trying to make ends meet pushed people to the brink of violence. Was there ever a night when a tenant didn’t wish for thicker walls, when he wasn’t tainted by the bad blood in a neighboring apartment?

Ralph lives and dies with the Dodgers, and he’s spent the better part of the last month dying. Thirteen games in front and it looks like a lock. Then it’s down to eight and it looks like anything but. Durocher and company keep reeling off wins and the Dodgers play like they miss being called bums. The slide takes its toll: Ralph is even more irritable than usual, he’s taking potshots at Alice with greater frequency and greater gusto. After one particularly devastating loss he stops at a luncheonette and picks up his very first pack of cigarettes. His uniform reeks; it takes only two days to burn a small hole in the lapel. If nothing else he figured it would curb his appetite but no such luck: he’s eating like there’s no tomorrow, even if everything tastes vaguely of smoke.

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Wayne Michael Winfield is a writer and creative director at a New York advertising agency. He has written a memoir, A Heart Out of Tune, and a collection of essays about golf titled An Eloquence Words Can Only Envy. He has two children and  lives in Westchester, New York.

Christopher Knapp

Raised by Humans

Fiction from NER 36.3

3_Watching_Time_Fly_by_Katherine_MinottUp to now she’s never thought of the danger animals present to her personally. She has a working knowledge of such words as trample, maul, swarm, impale, but she’s never imagined in her own life they would pertain. It’s true that the town has become more or less overrun with whitetail deer—on the golf course when she drives by with her mom on the way to swim meets, in the yard every day eating everything, the mothers and young in daytime and at dusk, among the trees, in the shadows and in the sweep of the highbeams, and the carcasses of them, broken on the shoulder, like dirty laundry, or else eviscerated beyond comparison to anything. The twitchy does, the fawns nearly grown. Clemmie at ten and a half has seen her first buck. At ten and a half she’s become something of an early riser. She’s begun to have trouble sleeping. In her house she’s often the first to wake and, in the robe that bears her initials but has become too short to truly be hers, she steeps what is commonly known as herbal tea but is more properly referred to as a tisane or an infusion. According to her brother. Mint in the warmer months, although she’s begun her transition to chamomile. It was chamomile this morning, chilly but not too cold to sit outside in the air, robe but no slippers even, to feel the brick night-damp beneath her feet, begin to remember her dreams. She’d been thinking about deer. It was difficult to explain how it felt, to see them. They were wild animals. It seemed certain that they had thoughts, though she understood this to be impossible. Their flanks when they walked, the hitch in their stride, very slight, unlike horses, or dogs, and this moment she always seemed to miss when a deer in stillness became a deer in motion. They had become bold, if you drove slowly they would stare at you, into your face. In some way this was connected in her mind to her sighting of a celebrity, while visiting her brother in the city, a character in a show she’d seen many times on sleepovers, in line at the coffee place where the chocolate croissants were so good—she had looked so real. Small shoulders, clothes from a store. Not so much in relation to her televised image as in relation to the memory of her televised image. And it was in fact at a sleepover that she’d tried to express this. That it was somehow the same, for her, with deer. Sonia with a mouthful of yogurt had said that literally deers were the new squirrels. Clemmie had been thinking about this. She was a child and children liked to see animals. With her toes she’d tried to grip the brick, this was a way of starting her blood, a slow start, in which regard her tea was useless, she knew. It was only recently that she’d been permitted to handle the kettle. She’d watched her teabag spin on its string, dripping. The brick patio was not only damp but truly cold. The air was incredibly clear but also, she thought, almost visible. There was a moment that she saw the deer and there was a separate moment that she saw the antlers. Her heart froze. It could be said that it was standing fast. They’d become bold, deer, and Clemmie had too, apparently; she approached the buck with her tea mug, having realized too late she’d forgotten to leave it, and she said to herself that she’d like to try to enjoy this. It was breathing. Its fur was hair, but very fine and dense. He—his. Head inclined. So easily he could do her harm. Utter stillness. She has no way of knowing, now only hours later, whether the picture she holds in her head of this deer is a picture of the deer she’s seen or a picture of her own creation whose purpose is to hold the place of this event in her memory. So much of her life has become this way.

“I saw a pack of wolves,” her father says. “Up north of Oneonta.”

“You saw a pack of coyotes,” her brother says. “If you saw anything.”

“That’s what the gas station guy said. I said fuck you, these were wolves.

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Christopher Knapp lives in Charlottesville, Virginia, with his wife, and is working on an MFA in Fiction at the University of Virginia.

Michael X. Wang

Further News of Defeat

Fiction from NER 36.2 

[View as PDF]

forrest_german_expressionism_revisted_lyonel_feiningerA runner arrived at Xinchun Village two days after the fall of Taiyuan. Out of breath, his Kuomintang uniform soaked in sweat, the soldier collapsed into a fly-infested ditch on the edge of a sorghum field. That evening, San saw him on her way back from tending her family’s two goats, the man lying there snoring, and when she told her parents about him, they didn’t believe her. San, nine years old, often lied to her parents. One week she’d say the Japanese were here, the Russians the next. Her parents knew San hated shepherding and dismissed her pleas to save the young man from becoming pig fodder. After putting her to bed, San’s father slung a hoe over his shoulder and walked across his fields under moonlight to the place his daughter had mentioned. He couldn’t lift the man out of the mud by himself, even after taking off his own shoes and using his bare feet for traction. He ran to the village chief, who sent a neighbor to help him. Together with one man lifting the head and another the legs, they carried him to the granary and dropped him beside sacks of recently harvested sorghum.

The man remained unconscious the entire time. The villagers, observing the soldier clearly in the light, saw that he was only a boy: a scrawny, malnourished teen in a faded uniform and an oversized cap.

“I can’t believe how heavy that kid was,” Bu Dan said, wiping muddy sweat from his brow. Bu Dan’s family farmed the land to the very west of Xinchun and he was his parents’ only son. The strongest man in the village, he was often called upon to perform tasks that others couldn’t: push a stubborn mule, transport tub-sized jugs of rice wine, carry replacement limestones for those worn away at the ancestral shrine.

“The mud weighed him down,” said the village chief. He pointed to the canisters that rattled on the boy’s belt. “We should’ve undressed him first.”

Bu Dan slapped the boy a few times and still he would not wake. The village herbalist was called in and only after inserting slices of ginger into his nose did the boy finally start to shudder. He coughed out thick, brown water. San’s father brought a bowl of rice porridge up to the boy’s mouth and the boy extended his thin neck to drink it.

After thanking the villagers squatting in the darkness in front of him, he broke into tears. “It’s over,” he said. “The Japanese flooded the Yellow River. Taiyuan was sacked.”

The villagers glanced at each other. “What do you want us to do?” the village chief asked.

“I don’t know,” the boy said. He wiped his nose with his sleeve and sank his head below his shoulders. “My lieutenant never tells me anything. I think the Chinese army wants you to stay where you are.”

“That’s a strange message,” San’s father said.

“Useless,” Bu Dan added, running his fingers over his scalp. “So we shouldn’t flee?”

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Michael X. Wang was born in Fenyang, China. He received his MFA from Purdue, has a PhD in creative writing from Florida State University, and won a 2010 AWP Intro Award in fiction. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Hayden’s Ferry Review, Cimarron Review, Prick of the Spindle, Day One, Driftwood Press, and Juked, among others. His chapbook, A Minor Revolution, is available from Amazon. He will begin teaching at Spring Hill College in Mobile, Alabama, in the fall. Read more about Michael X. Wang in our Behind the Byline series. 

Image by Allen Forrest, German Expressionism Revisted Lyonel Feininger 2


Mario J. Gonzales


 Fiction from NER 36.1

[view as PDF] Cabezon’s mom OD’d there, me and my cousins Tug and Tweety would go to the hill and hang with Manny, an older guy from the Projects. Long time ago, the hill was where the mojados lived in small houses built by farmers to keep their illegals near work. Now the place is torn up, the rooms tagged, walls falling down. Piss-stained mattresses and bent cooking spoons litter the place. I mean, bums and junkies have hustled their way through, no doubt. In fact, some tweakers had a lab here and it blew up in their faces. You could see the smoke for miles. One dude, Palo, burned himself good and wore a mask like that Phantom of the Opera guy for a while.

But that’s not why they say the hill is haunted or cursed. It’s really cause some farmer, Gandangi or Gandansky, shot himself here, when all the wets were getting off work. Tug and Tweety’s stepmom, who was the farmer’s maid, said she heard he had went gay for a mojado. Who knows? Maybe the Mexican laughed or fucked him up when the farmer tried to put the moves on. But for sure he died bloody on the hill.

Haunted or not, the hill was the place to kick it. It was where I’d smoke a bowl and watch the sun burn down without no one bugging. Things got crazy, though. It started with this game Manny made up: seeing who could hold a lit M-16 firecracker the longest. Tweety always won, until one day Manny offered Cabezon twenty bucks to hold the cuete until it exploded. Cabezon did and ended up shredding his middle finger.

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Mario J. Gonzales currently lives and works in Santa Fe. He was raised in Parlier, California, a farm-worker community outside of Fresno. His short fiction has appeared in Drunken Boat, Cossack Review, Rio Grande Review, and other literary publications. He has finished a collection of short stories entitled The Importance of Being Elsewhere, which he hopes to be published soon.