Sneak Peek Extract: Uncommon Miracles by Julie C. Day


Check out these story extracts:

Change always comes slower to the Midwest. Sacramento, California, had lost power months ago: bunnies in the substations and gas pipelines that had run dry. Meanwhile, DC had emptied of its politicians and any semblance of nation-wide emergency management.

The Ohio version of the apocalypse mostly involved Pilates classes and running clubs filled with other women of childbearing age. Bunny fever, people called the new birthing paradigm, and not in a good way. If you were a woman, you better be a skinny woman with no possible baby bump in sight. Nothing like impending group hate to motivate. Regular exercise had never been so popular.

Even after the fall of both coasts, in Lakemore we had streetlights, local news, and reliable refrigeration. And staying healthy wasn’t such a bad thing. Compared to most everywhere else, it was actually a good place to live. That’s what Steph and I and all those other women told ourselves. And why not? We had nowhere else to go.

—From “Everyone Gets a Happy Ending”

And this:

Horace’s fingers were skeletal thin and oh so hungry. His eyes dark as empty holes. Once upon a time, before the scream of metal against metal had mixed with all those other screams, before she and Horace and the Orphan Train had arrived in the woods, Horace had been different. Back then, Horace had loved the hills on the west side of Manhattan almost as much as he loved these woods. He’d loved rolling barrels through the alley next to their apartment and yelling at the top of his lungs. One autumn day he’d tucked one of their father’s many hand-rolled cigarettes behind his ear and chased a wooden barrel down the steep hill on Strathmore Street, grinning and making Eliza swear she wouldn’t tell, even as he flipped and fell and lay sprawled across the paving stones at the bottom. Eliza had screamed then too despite Horace’s laughter, wrapped her arms round his neck.

—From “The Woman in the Woods”

Or this:

Long before Veronica’s death and everything that followed, I understood the power of film. The one secret that all photographers know: Only physical images offer an actual path to our living world. It is the chemicals—the darkness—the photographer’s intention—that cuts through death’s wall. No photographer is ever really alone. When we’re working, our darkrooms are like crowded railway stations: the dead passing through with each developed frame.

At night in my darkroom, I soak my limbs in developer, fixer, rinse, and then stare—hopeful—as the ghosts rise from the pictures I’ve imprinted on my arms: a longhaired child with stick-thin limbs, a scowling old woman with a limp, a village, a traveling horde, a forgotten family, the father carrying their smallest child. No matter what I try, it is always dead strangers who follow my guideposts back to the land of the living. My wife Veronica’s face is never among them. And so, each night after our daughter, Jenny, goes to bed, I turn on the blood-red light, submerge my arms, and try again.

—From “A Pinhole of Light”

What about this:

Just like every other morning, Momma sat with Sylvia and Grandma in the dim, wallpapered kitchen. Momma sipped her coffee and Grandma ate her oatmeal one careful bite at a time. Sylvia could almost count the seconds between each mouthful.

Three. Two. One. Swallow.

Meanwhile, Momma smiled and smiled.

“I thought I’d plant a few flowers, Mom, to get my mind off of things. You know, therapy.”

From the center of the table, two salt-and-pepper-shaker girls in yellow dresses watched Momma and Grandma Charko. Nearby a crowd of wallpaper ladies stared at them with faded, gone-away eyes. Momma’s own eyes were wide and shiny, like all those nights in Asheville when Momma didn’t bother to sleep, swallowing stuff she took out of that small wooden box. Momma took a different kind of pill now. Grandma and her days-of-the-week pillbox made sure of that.

—From “Raising Babies”

Wait, this:

After Tuttle’s stealth inspection and her second letter, the deputy, some newcomer fresh from the academy, showed up at my front door. He wore aviator sunglasses and very little hair. His pink skin glowed, oily from the summer heat, as he stared down at me. I thought I saw his nose wrinkle as he bent down to give me the papers.

“I don’t want them,” I said, trying to wave him away. This was only partially true. Paper was always a useful addition to the collection. It was the words written on them that I didn’t want.

“I drove all the way out here,” the deputy said in slow, careful tones, as though he was sure I’d somehow never noticed the county sheriff’s substation on my walks around town. As though my tiny stature indicated a tiny brain.

Stupid Arizona hick. I knew the titles of most works in the Phoenix Art Museum’s Latin American collection, along with a handful more in the Heard. I spent my time with Vik Muniz, Mario Martinez, and Gabriel Orozco. When I looked at their works, I felt myself stretching high into their private universes. Breathing was easier inside those frames.

—From “Holes in Heaven”

Also, this:

Peter’s hand moves slowly, hovering above Delia’s bare forearm, as little as an eighth of an inch between her flesh and his trembling fingers. The ghosts feel safest that way. That’s what Peter had told her as he swallowed the last of his beer and set the glass aside, his eyes intent, lingering first on her lips, and then falling from her breasts to her right arm.

Peter doesn’t look away despite the sideways glances of their companions and the uncomfortable clatter of their silverware. A lone waiter watches from across the terrace. Delia bends her head, ignoring them all. She is focused on Peter’s open palm as it creeps above her bare arm.

“Concentrate,” Peter whispers. His hot breath envelopes the outer curve of her ear.

What do the ghosts feel? Delia wonders but does not ask. Instead, she closes her eyes. For a moment nothing changes. The night air still feels dark and cool on her bare shoulders. She can hear the cars on the nearby Boulevard Saint-Michel as the taxis bring their loads of tourists to the Left Bank. A cab parks just beyond the terrace’s back stairs. A group of women erupt from the open door, speaking in English.

—From “Finding Your Way to the Coast”

And this:

When I was little I thought the world must be full of Mrs. Henrys: a second voice safely encased inside each special child, watching everything through their bright young eyes.

Back then, David didn’t care that he couldn’t see or hear or even touch Mrs. Henry. After all, Mrs. Henry was funny. And I was more than happy to repeat everything she said.

“When I’m bigger…” David said. “When I’m bigger, I’ll drive a car all the way to Alaska so I can see the polar bears and the igloos. Esta will come too because she’s my friend.”

“I was bigger once, little David Tissandier,” Mrs. Henry replied in her Mrs. Henry way, and already David was cracking up. “No. Really. Much bigger. With two extra rows of teeth, just like a dragon.”

“Fat whopper, Mrs. Henry. Fat whopper. Everyone knows dragons have one row of teeth. It’s sharks that are all jumbled.” But David was laughing. And Mrs. Henry was laughing too, the sound like a deep hum or a rumbling purr.

Of course, I was the only one who could hear her.

—From “Florida Miracles”

And this:

As soon as Hazel stepped off the ferry and onto Vinalhaven Island, she felt it. The carved stone eagle, the curb, the granite planter set in front of the fire station: the ghosts of Carver’s Harbor were embedded in the building materials of the little town. The other passengers who’d disembarked—even Hazel’s mom—didn’t seem to notice a thing. In that way the island ghosts were no different from the ones at home. Most people missed their presence entirely.

It was June, not even close to the height of tourist season, but the harbor town’s streets were bustling. An old man walked along the sidewalk dressed in a three-piece suit, his expression hidden by both his walrus mustache and the brim of his Trilby hat. A little farther down, a woman with weathered skin and upswept hair stood outside the Davidson Realty storefront. Despite the month, she wore a black skirt that hung just inches from the ground. Meanwhile, two boys in knee-high boots and woolen trousers raced the length of Main Street.

—From “Signal & Stone”

One more:

I took my time, silent, lips soft against your stomach. Tangled sheets. My hands clutched your narrow hips, then slipped higher until I felt the outer edges of your breasts. I tasted the dampness trickling from between your thighs, salt and musk. Like 8-mm film, my movements took sixteen frames one slow second at a time.

Afterwards, you held pieces of your special brown-orange film up to our bedside light, sharing your work. Each cell was marked, scratched, the original image buried somewhere underneath. Your art, you told me, was about transformation.

Even then I made mistakes. Pointed out a slash mark, an odd corner of red. Left the ghost of a fingerprint behind. “Love me,” I cried, finally deciphering the film’s tiny words. The long L and five smaller letters suddenly clear.

—From “Raven Hair”

C’mon now! How can you resist? Julie C. Day’s debut collection is now available for pre-order


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