One Story Issue #270: Yohanca Delgado’s “The Rat”

One Story‘s very own Lena Valencia was just as impressed with this story by Yohanca Delgado as I was, so we decided to edit it together. It was great fun to do so, and Lena wrote a fantastic introduction to the story. Here it is! — PR

When outdoor dining opened in New York City in late June, there was a news item making the rounds: Rats, deprived of their usual diet of pizza and bagels during the city’s lockdown, were harassing al fresco diners. Though the idea of a rat scuttling into my $19 grain bowl is horrifying, there was something about the resilience of these creatures that I found amusing, even, dare I say it, inspiring. It was also a reminder that NYC was back, or, rather, had never left: there is no New York City without its vermin, after all.

In “The Rat,” Yohanca Delgado uses the unofficial mascot of NYC to represent a different sort of resilience. Samanta, a down-on-her-luck door-to-door knife saleswoman, is struggling with the loss of her late mother when she meets an eccentric stranger who not only offers to buy enough knives to vault Samanta out of her financial troubles but claims that she can rid her of her grief. If this sounds too good to be true, it is, and this is what Samanta discovers soon after she consents to the stranger’s proposal and finds herself being followed by a rat.

It’s appropriate that this story is coming out around Halloween, a time when many of us revisit our favorite horror films and books. Delgado is an expert at creating unsettling spaces and making the reader squirm with discomfort. And, like the very best horror stories, “The Rat” isn’t just about a monster—in this case a seemingly immortal rat; it’s about embracing those tough, painful feelings that are so tempting to ignore or push away. Much like the persistent rat of this story’s title, they won’t just vanish. They’re a part of you. As Delgado states so aptly in her interview, “nothing evaporates into thin air, nothing disappears forever.” We’re thrilled to share “The Rat” with you.

One Story Issue #269: Gothataone Moeng’s “Small Wonders”

Our new issue was procured and edited by contributing editor Karen Friedman, so I’m giving her the helm to make the introductions. Take it away, Karen! — PR

In June, a friend texted me that her ninety-eight-year-old grandmother had died. Amid the family’s sadness, there was one bit of relief: New Jersey had just loosened the restrictions on gatherings and they would be allowed to have a small wake with timed entries and a socially distanced funeral service. The family felt lucky.

Rituals are a framework. Stand here. Say these words. There is comfort through the connection to those who have performed the same rites in generations before us. But what happens when tradition feels like a facsimile of the sacred or when it is simply not enough to usher in the promised peace and wholeness?

In our latest issue, “Small Wonders” by Gothataone Moeng, we are introduced to Phetso Sediba, a young Botswanan widow, who for a nearly a year has worn the same midnight-blue dress, cape, and veil every time she leaves the home she once shared with her husband, Leungo. It is a form of penance, of remembrance, but also a warning to others who believe the old superstitions about bad luck following the widow. Phetso has sought shelter in her widow’s clothes, using them as shorthand to keep others at bay while she mourns the loss of Leungo and the life she imagined they’d have together. She is an anomaly, because of her youth as well as her desire to adhere to traditions that others have let go. As Phetso nears the prescribed end of her mourning period, she struggles, unsure of what the traditions have meant and whether she is ready to meet the world without their protection.

We accepted Gothataone’s story before most of us had ever heard of Covid-19 or knew how much our lives were about to change. Still, it feels particularly well suited to a time when grief can no longer take its familiar shape, when we must rely on Zoom shivas and Livestreamed funerals. It is now, sadly, easy for us to understand how precarious our traditions actually are, how dependent on our willingness to believe in their meaning. And yet, I feel compelled to insist that this particular story ends on a note of hope—uncertain, but there. Just as Phetso waits to reenter the world, so we too will face what comes on the other side of grief.

I couldn’t be more delighted to introduce Gothataone Moeng to our One Story family and hope you love “Small Wonders” as much as we do. Please check out our Q&A for more information about how this story came into being.

One Story Issue #268: Jenzo DuQue’s “The Rest of Us”

In the same way you listen to Willie Nelson sing and pluck his worn-out guitar and know he was meant to be a singer plucking a worn-out guitar, when you read Jenzo DuQue, you know he was meant to be a writer. His prose has an urgency to it, a forward lean, and his voice is fluid. He blends sounds, words, languages. He writes with his ear.

“The Rest of Us” tells the story of three boys growing up in a melting pot that refuses to melt. José, Cristian, and Frail Boy (as the narrator is known) are street-smart kids pumped up with their own ambitions and tamped down by societal expectations. They have to figure out how to stand their ground while taking their cues from others, and the older they get, the more cues there are to sift through.

“Suddenly,” Frail Boy tells us, “we were young men.” And there they are, stepping out of childhood and into a dangerous adult world that has been right under their noses the whole time they were growing up. What unfolds does so easily and brilliantly—or so it seems, until nothing about it is easy or brilliant, until everything about it is complicated and, at times, dangerous.

I don’t want to tell you too much. I don’t want you to read this story with any expectation other than to be blown away by its narrative drive and its wonderful blend of languages. We’re thrilled to be publishing Jenzo DuQue’s “The Rest of Us,” and we look forward to what he does next.

Click here to read a Q&A with the author.

One Story Issue #267: Michael Kardos’s “The Wish”

“I’ve never been hit in the face, and neither have you.” So begins our new issue, “The Wish.” It’s a great first sentence, a great hook, because not only do we not know who’s speaking; we don’t know who they’re speaking to. (Are you talking to me?) And the authority in those eleven words! Soon enough, it’s revealed that the speaker is Sean, a poetry editor at a small publishing house who places a high value on authenticity and wants to do right by his authors. He also wants to do right by someone he’s recently lost. When a manuscript comes across his desk, sent by the poet’s mother, Sean sees an opportunity to do some good in a world that, for him, has been particularly bad lately.

In general, I’m usually not drawn to short stories, novels, and films about writers or editors or the publishing business. Not because I don’t think those are worthy subjects, but because I usually don’t find them very compelling. There’s a reason why films about writers often don’t devote a lot of footage to the main characters actually writing: it’s boring to watch someone write. (It’s also boring to watch someone edit.) By that same token, get any six authors together at a dinner table and chances are the subject of writing won’t even come up. Who wants to talk about how they spent their morning moving words around? So I was guarded when I began reading “The Wish” and realized it was about an editor. But that first sentence had me, and soon the voice had me, and soon I’d read right to the end and wanted to start the story all over again.

Michael Kardos is a tremendous talent. In his hands, “The Wish” isn’t about an editor or about the publishing industry or about any aspect of the writing process. It’s a story about a damaged person who’s trying, simultaneously, both to heal and to do the right thing. We’re thrilled to be ushering it into the world, and we hope you enjoy it as much as we did. After you read the story, be sure to check out my Q&A with Michael, wherein he reveals which character showed up on the page unexpectedly and explains why he thinks of “The Wish” as a “yo-yo story.” (Note: There are no yo-yos in “The Wish.”)

One Story Issue #266: Ian Bassingthwaighte’s “The Crucible”

Our new issue was acquired by contributing editor Will Allison, so I’m passing the mic to him to make introductions. The floor is yours, Mr. Allison! –PR

Twenty years ago at a writers conference in California, I was lucky to make friends with an energetic, irreverent woman, Jane, and one of her teenaged daughters, Rose. This was around the same time my wife and I were deciding if and when to start a family, and Jane, having a big head start in that department, shared a lot of parenthood wisdom I was grateful for.

A few nights after I got home from the conference, Jane sent a funny email telling me to disregard anything positive she had said about having kids. Her daughters were driving her crazy; she couldn’t get any writing done. Her best parenting advice at the moment, she said, was don’t do it!

Twelve hours later, Jane emailed again to say she didn’t mean it. In fact, she wanted to take back every negative thing she had ever said about being a parent. That afternoon, she wrote, Rose had been driving with a friend when an oncoming truck crossed the center line and caused a collision. Both girls were killed.

Ever since then, I have struggled to get my head around what Rose’s death and its aftermath must have been like for Jane. If I’m being honest, the thought of it all was often too terrifying and too heartbreaking to even contemplate, especially after my wife and I had a daughter of our own two years later.

The shock and pain of Rose’s death came back to me as I read “The Crucible,” by Ian Bassingthwaighte. What opens as the story of conjoined twins Paige and Emma becomes the story of their parents, Alistair and Johanna, when, only three paragraphs in, the girls die of pneumonia at age 12. What follows is an exquisite meditation on grief and loss, limned by Bassingthwaighte’s distinctive, bittersweet humor. More than anything else I’ve read, the story made me feel like I was getting a glimpse of what Jane might have gone through in those awful first days after Rose died. What struck me most is the story’s intricate intertwining of love and loss. The strangely beautiful ending—which finds Alistair and Johanna breaking into the local mortuary—reminded me of how Jane ended that second email. “You and Deborah should make your family just as you want it,” Jane wrote. “No guts, no glory.”

I hope you find “The Crucible” as memorable and moving as we did here at One Story.

One Story Issue #265: Mary Grimm’s “Fate and Ruin”

Hi Folks! Our new issue–which is one of the funniest stories I’ve read in a long time (and we could all use some funny right about now, right?) was edited by contributing editor Will Allison, so I’m handing the mic over to him to make the introductions. Take it away, Will! — PR

Dorrie, the main character of Mary Grimm’s “Fate and Ruin,” has gotten herself into a pickle. She left her happy life as a bartender in sunny Palm Coast, Florida, to move to Cleveland with Jerry, a guy she met during a night of barhopping. But not long after she and Jerry get to Ohio, they break up, and now Dorrie finds herself stranded in Cleveland, living alone, trying to figure out what comes next.

Unfortunately, finding direction has never been Dorrie’s strong suit. It doesn’t help that her social circle is mostly limited to three people: Rose, her sad-sack neighbor; Jerry, her ex; and Bob Lilly, a self-styled polymath that Dorrie has a history with. But at least Dorrie has a job. She works as the assistant office manager at a slightly shady day care that gets some unexpected news:

“The whole day care had their feathers in an uproar because some celeb was going to bring their kid there while they were shooting a movie in Cleveland. I didn’t get excited about it because a) the celeb wasn’t going to be hanging out at the day care; and b) how big of a celeb could they be if they were coming to our day care, which I said, and which made me massively unpopular. But come on—it was not going to be Chris Pratt’s kid or Chris Hemsworth’s or any of the Chrises. It was going to be the kid of Girl in Restaurant or Guy Who Gets Pushed Out of Airplane.”

That voice—Dorrie’s frank, irreverent running commentary—is the irresistible current that carries this story along. It’s also what made the story so unputdownable for me, especially when four-year-old Minkie arrives at the day care and attaches herself to Dorrie, leading to one of the funniest and most tender endings I’ve read in a long time. As a fan of Mary Grimm’s work for more than thirty years, I’m very happy to be sharing this story with you.

One Story Issue #264: Molly Gutman’s “Extraordinary Miraculous”

One of my favorite characters in our new issue, Molly Gutman’s “Extraordinary Miraculous,” is named Um. Another is named Hoo, and another, Eeag! (exclamation point included). But my favorite character has no name at all, no qualifying features, no import—and that character is the narrator.

At once sounding like a formal voiceover in a nature documentary and a concerned, helpless spectator, this narrator invites you to swoop in and observe a family that feels familiar yet is unlike any you’ve encountered before.

It can’t have been easy, living in the Pleistocene some million-plus years ago. The raising of children went hand-in-hand with the battle for survival. The ones who ate were the ones who didn’t get eaten. The ones who rested overnight and managed to survive were the ones who adapted and got lucky.

I’ve never read anything like “Extraordinary Miraculous.” In fact, when I first finished it, I sat back, pages in hand, and tried to wrap my head around how Molly Gutman had accomplished what she had; then, without getting up from my chair, I started back at the first sentence and read the story again. I’m still not sure how she did it. We hope you enjoy this odd and compelling short story as much as we did. If you get the urge to sleep in trees while reading it, keep your eyes down, not up. The stars are beautiful, but what lurks below is hungry.

One Story Issue #263: Shannon Sanders’s “The Everest Society”

Contributing Editor Will Allison procured and worked on our new issue, so here he is to introduce. Take it away, Will!PR

If you’ve ever lived in a high-rise, you’ll appreciate the frustration Liv MacHale and her neighbors feel in “The Everest Society,” by Shannon Sanders. The elevator in their building is out of order—indefinitely—so the residents have to schlep up and down as many as seven flights of stairs every time they go out.

To make matters worse, Liv and her husband, Dante, want to adopt a child, but first they—and their apartment—have to pass muster with a social worker. Liv, in her obsessive preparation for the home visit, fears that the building’s lack of a working elevator (not to mention its dingy stairwell) will reflect poorly on them. Easygoing Dante, on the other hand, doesn’t see what the big deal is.

This is but one of the many ways in which Dante irks Liv: He says weary when he means wary. He fails to notice the hanging produce baskets she lugs home and installs in their kitchen. He gets frisky while she’s fretting over their cracked bedroom ceiling. And when Liv mentions Margaret, the social worker, Dante can’t even place the name.

If Liv and Dante’s relationship sounds prickly, it is—but only sometimes. They actually have a pretty great marriage with lots of give and take, which Sanders renders with uncommon grace, generosity, and humor. The result is one of the most charming fictional marriages I’ve encountered. It’s also one of the most convincing, with all of the messy richness that characterizes real married life. Sanders is a rising literary talent with a gift for writing big-hearted stories, and we are thrilled to present her work in the pages of One Story.

And here’s a timely P.S. from our Managing Editor, Lena Valencia:

I live in a 60-unit apartment building in Brooklyn. My husband and some neighbors recently started a building-wide Facebook group in the hopes of creating a network of support for those who might be more vulnerable to COVID-19. As I was placing flyers outside doors, alerting the residents to the group’s existence, I couldn’t help but think of the way Shannon Sanders so expertly captures the nuances of apartment living  in “The Everest Society,” and how—whether it’s a broken elevator or a global pandemic—neighbors come together to help each other in times of strife and upheaval. It’s a message that felt especially timely at this moment. I hope you enjoy this brilliant story as much as I did, and remember to take care of each other. — Lena

One Story Issue #262: Rachel Lyon’s “You’ll Know When It’s Time”

Right around the time I was accepting the fact that I was going to have to put down my beloved, seventeen-year-old cat, a story called “You’ll Know When It’s Time” came across my desk. Something clicked in my head; this, I thought, is what people say to you when you’re dealing with having to put down your pet. Sure enough, the first line of the story was, “Once the cat died she would move to Delaware.” Excited to be reading a story by Rachel Lyon but unwilling to go there, I pushed the manuscript aside, then buried it under some folders, where it sat while I faced grim reality.

Weeks (months?) later, I finally read the story. To my great relief—which quickly turned into delight—the story was as funny as it was moving. Who would have thought you could both cringe and laugh, reading a story that dealt with such a gruesomely delicate topic? Of course, “You’ll Know When It’s Time” is about much more than a cat and a cat-owner. It’s about marriage, infidelity, parenting, aging, and so many other things. Rachel Lyon is a powerhouse of talent, and our new issue stands as a testament to that. We hope you enjoy Ida and Denny’s last hurrah as much as we did.

One Story Issue #261: Josh Riedel’s “Midnight Sessions”

Our new issue — as disturbing as it is fun, and funny — was commandeered and edited by contributing editor Will Allison, so the enviable task of introducing it goes to him. Take it away, Will! — PR

I was aware that Josh Riedel had worked at Silicon Valley startups in a former life, so I wasn’t surprised to find that “Midnight Sessions” (One Story issue #261) dishes up a zesty critique of corporate technology run amok. I was, however, surprised and wholly captivated by the fantastical world that blooms within the story’s pages.

Set in the not-too-distant future, “Midnight Sessions” takes place on the vast campus of a mega-corporation called Cleo Corp, which produces, among other things, cheap cosmetics known to cause strange side effects, such as the stars that sparkle and swirl beneath Moot Mangorski’s skin after he uses—and becomes addicted to—Midnight Sessions cologne. But when Moot sues, the company’s crafty CEO, Mr. Sackamoray, convinces Moot to come work for Cleo Corp, where his perks include a free condo and a lifetime supply of the now-banned cologne.

Moot’s job is to “cure” others who suffer side effects from Cleo Corp products. These “subjects” are paid to spend three nights in a suite on campus, where sophisticated instruments collect samples from their bodies and analyze them to find a cure. (Of course the samples are secretly used for R&D purposes.) Moot has mixed feelings about his job, and he feels even more conflicted after meeting Flux, a subject whose use of Forest Fresh—a budget toothpaste—causes his teeth to sprout green, moldy fuzz. As Flux’s side effects intensify, a complicated relationship develops between the two men, and it becomes unclear if Moot will succeed in saving Flux, or vice versa.

I won’t give away more of the plot, but it’s a wild ride, and I promise the final scene is one you won’t soon forget. We’re very excited to be presenting Josh’s work here at the start of his career, and we hope you find “Midnight Sessions” to be as much a feast for the imagination as we did.