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The Unknown Soldier

Molly Antopol's debut story collection, The UnAmericans, is now available from W.W. Norton. 

Fridays were busy outside Alameda Point. Women shouldered past Alexi, coiffed and perfumed and in pumps and pearls and fuzzy sweaters, calling for their children to hurry up and take their places in the inspection line. For the past twelve months, Alexi had only known the other side to these afternoons, the men’s collective anticipation of those sacred hours in the cramped visiting room or, on sunny days, at the picnic tables in the yard—men who had stopped, at a certain point, asking Alexi about his own family once it was painfully clear they were never coming to see him.


When I got back from the grocery store, my wife was sitting in an armchair and looking out the window at the rain. She seemed startled to see me, and wiped away her tears with her palms, and then I could see her carefully arranging her face before she turned it to me.

            “Back so soon?”

            “The bus came right away.”

            “Did you get everything?”

            “Yes, everything,” I said. I went to the kitchen and put all the bags of groceries down on the counter. I liked the strain in my arms and my shoulders and was sorry to let them go. They slumped down. My wife padded in behind me and went to the sink to wash her hands. She was wearing a beautiful dress of a dark, fine material that she wore sometimes when we went out on rare occasions to fancy restaurants. Now that I got close to her I could see the makeup on her eyelids and smell her perfume. It was eleven thirty in the morning.

            “Where are you going?”

The Hut

My mother thought the best way to teach me to be a woman was to teach me to be alone.

The morning of my thirteenth birthday, I woke from a throbbing, inexorable dream in the dark, seized by pain. The crippling waves flooded my middle. I lay doubled over, clutching my pink mouse to my stomach, until light broke between the curtains and the phone picked up on its first ring, as though my mother’s hand in sleep had been resting on the receiver. Her murmuring moved down the hall, and like an old-fashioned cradle tugged by its cord, my body lifted as one piece from the bed. I didn’t want to describe to her what I’d discovered, so I simply stepped from the underpants and brought them balled into the kitchen.

Algae You In My Dreams

What I remember is, that same night, eating cabbage, raw, over the sink. Nate was working late again and Lucy was sleeping over at Nate’s mom’s, and now I’m thinking maybe that accounts for everything. When I finally fell asleep, it was to the TV: a program about algae. Coral reefs, the scientists were saying, are in danger. They seemed personally hurt, as though something had been stolen from them. Like they’d trusted us nonscientists, and we’d all let them down.

This was a night last week. I had a dream that Sadie, our husky, got mixed up with the Leavitts’ cat, and in a bad way. The cat gave Sadie a deep scratch in the eyeball, and after the vet sewed it up, he put her head in a lampshade, which he told me was important not to remove for six weeks. He sent me home with eyedrops. Administer once a day, he said. The shade pleased Lucy, who called Sadie “Shady.” Anyway, that was the dream. 


Gerda Kohl, eighty years old, sat in the den of her house, surrounded by cardboard boxes. Her two daughters were fighting in the study next door. They kept their voices lowered, but it was an old house with thin walls, and although Gerda couldn’t understand the words, the tone was clear enough. Charlotte and Anne had never gotten on at the best of times, and it was probably inevitable that they should fight now. She only wished they’d picked a more distant room.

Blow the House Down & Other Stories

Blow the House Down


“Blow the house down!” Tommy says. He’s in his pajamas, thin at the knees, too short. His ankles and wrists jut, pale angles. Her brother drops onto the couch beside Shelly, bounces up and down, his cropped hair sticking up every which way, mouth stretched wide.

Sounds good to her. She’s in. She doesn’t know what it means.

“Wait,” he says and goes into the kitchen.

The only light is the TV, flickering shadows on the walls.

He comes back with the carton of chocolate-covered malt balls, his cheeks gorged already.

“Here,” he says, but he holds the box up high, out of reach. “Jump.” His words slur with the candy in his mouth; a strand of chocolate-pocked saliva hangs suspended before it drops to the floor.

God Time

Harrison’s sister pulls back her hair to show him the gill. A little opening like a mouth on her pale neck. He asks if she can breathe through it. She tells him to plug her nose and cover her mouth and put his ear next to the gill to listen for breath. But maybe she has to be underwater, so they jump in the pool and float in the blue world and watch each other. Harrison gives up first, swimming up toward the sun.


Harrison unfolds his palm. BUY MILK is written on his hand.


The doctor presses Record on the video camera. Harrison watches the red light blink on. He watches himself in the monitor.


I’m jumping on the bed with my sister, Harrison watches himself say. Her hair is sticking up.


Harrison’s son is jumping on the bed. His oldest son, the one who’s older than the younger one. Both of them jumping on the bed, their sweet screaming laughs, Get up, Dad, get up, Dad!


Eva's Room

Aggie Zivaljevic's story Eva's Room won third place in the Summer Literary Seminars 2012 Unified Literary Contest, judged by Mary Gaitskill. Joyland will be publishing several of the finalists over the fall.

After the sun sets behind the bakery, and the sky turns a dark Prussian blue, the children feverishly play their sweetest games before being called in. From the hilltop they see how the downtown lights cast a golden glow on the glass dome of the City Hall, in the center of old Sarajevo. They hear the rattling of the streetcars below, and the barking of stray dogs in the Mt. Trebevic suburbs. The twilight breeze lures them with the river’s scent. Brothers and sisters can always go home and play or fight, but children without siblings cannot.

Eva cannot go home now. The yellow jersey shorts, showing her bronzed legs to the boys, and her mother’s buying power to the neighbors, are ruined. Eva’s mother Stella bought them for her eleventh birthday.


The man sat hunched above us on the hot tub’s ladder, his ankles in the water, his nipples pendulous and oyster pink.

            “So what brings you to Hot Springs?”  he asked.  My girlfriend Macy and I had just slid across the hotel’s marble atrium, up the stairs and onto the deck, then out of our clothes and into the water safely, like ball players coming home.

            “We’re here for our friend’s wedding,” I lied.  “Gina, from college.  You know how some people need to top everyone else’s occasion?”

            “Oh I do!” a red-haired woman in a two-piece said.  Beside her a man with a walrus mustache and a woman with a long, wet ponytail lolled in the backlit water.  “But at least you get a vacation.”

            “That’s true,” I said.  “It’s been wonderful.”

A Tarantella

Massimo was not weak. You could not call him weak. He was tough, mean, and shithouse poor, scrubbing toilets and cooking ragu in a sleazy hostel, but only because his brother owned the place and was doing him a favor. He’d done a ten-year sentence for selling drugs, but now in his poverty and miserable labor, society made him pay for a thousand more crimes they imagined he’d done, would someday do. He’d never had it good. His father, dying, had cursed him; his mother had slashed him with a kitchen knife; and his wife, pregnant, had screwed his best friend in St. Minerva’s confessional. But despite the loss, his whole being crackled with power, tremendous like fire from the black, hot core of the earth.