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.

One Story Issue #260: Maria Lioutaia’s “Sand People”

I was on a sabbatical when ONE STORY co-founder (and all-around brilliant person) Hannah Tinti stepped in to guest-edit our new issue, so I’m turning the introduction mic over to her. Heeeeeere’s Hannah! –PR

Living by the sea is one thing in spring and summer and something else entirely after winter sets in. The beaches are deserted, the sky turns gray and the cold wind seeps deep inside your bones. But there is a magic to winter beaches–the open emptiness, the twisted driftwood and monstrous carcasses of boats and creatures that wash onto the shore. It casts a spell, just like the kind Maria Lioutaia does in her wildly creative short story, “Sand People.”

Set on an isolated peninsula for lost souls, “Sand People” begins with the depositing of an orphan boy into the home of his aunts, a set of conjoined twins. These witchy aunts make him skirts of seagull feathers and teach him how to weave nightmare catchers but also warn him to stay away from the Sand People–the human-shaped holes that glide up and down their shoreline. These sand shadows are captivating and ultimately heartbreaking, just as the affections and jealousies that rise in this three-legged, broken family. “Sand People” is about aloneness and togetherness. About the sucking pulls of despair and the saving ties of connection.

I hope you’ll read our author Q&A, where we discuss the inspiration behind “Sand People,” and how to find balance with the strange and the surreal. It’s exciting to see the leaps of fierce imagination on the page, and a thrill to wade into these winter waters with Maria Lioutaia. You never know what will be conjured next.

One Story Issue #259: Aamina Ahmad’s “The Red One Who Rocks”

Our new issue was discovered by our very own Lena Valencia, and I had the pleasure of co-editing it with her. Here’s Lena to introduce the story to you! — PR

One of the disorienting things about grief is that though your own world may feel shattered, the outside world doesn’t grieve with you. This is something Aamina Ahmad set out to capture in our newest issue, “The Red One Who Rocks.”

In it, Humair, a widower, accompanies his mother-in-law on a pilgrimage to the Urs in Sehwan, Pakistan, a commemoration of the Sufi saint Lal Shahbaz Qalandar’s death and union with the divine. To complicate things, Humair is in some ways responsible for his wife’s death. As the festivities unfurl around them, Humair reckons with grief, guilt, and a strange young beggar woman who seems to be following him and his mother-in-law.

Ahmad’s story is one that I’ll always remember reading for the first time. I found it in a stack of submissions on a slow July afternoon and was instantly transported into the thick atmosphere of the train to Sehwan, the hectic celebration of the Urs. It’s a story that wrestles with complex ideas about grief and spirituality, about guilt and recompense. One Story is thrilled to bring you “The Red One Who Rocks.”

To read an interview with author, please visit our website.

OTS#60: Juliet Cushing’s “Cicatriz”

When I was in high school, a friend of mine named James suddenly passed away. I remember feeling torn, angry, bewildered. And as I processed my grief, I began looking back in a way I never had before. It was more than just not having any future moments with James to look forward to; it was the (very new to me, then) phenomenon of having death illuminate life in a way that only death can. For the first time, I became aware of the value—the treasure trove—of the past. I looked back with purpose, one could almost say with a mission: my memories of James—memories that stretched back to junior high and went up to the day before he died—were James. Wrapping my head around that was a big (and uninvited) nudge toward adulthood.

Our new issue of One Teen Story wanders into similar territory. It’s called “Cicatriz” and is written by a wonderful emerging writer named Juliet Cushing. I won’t go into detail about it because I think it speaks beautifully for itself, but I will say that it takes a painful situation and illuminates it in a way that radiates off the page. The writing turns tragedy into art. “Cicatriz” is one of the winners of this year’s Teen Writing Contest. We’re proud to be presenting it to you.

To read an interview with the author, please visit our website.

One Story Issue #258: Becky Mandelbaum’s “Say Uncle”

Our new issue was edited by the great Will Allison. Here’s his introduction. -PR

The first time I read “Say Uncle,” I was touched by the sweetness of the love story Becky Mandelbaum tells. Normally, as a reader, that’s exactly what I hope for: to be moved. In this case, though, I also felt a little dirty, because the so-called love story in question involves Dan, an unemployed thirty-something, and Hollie, a fifteen-year-old schoolgirl. Clearly, the relationship is all wrong. So how could I feel sympathy for a pedophile? How could I sort of even like the guy?

Of course, this is what good fiction does. It challenges us by allowing us to inhabit viewpoints that are radically different from our own. It’s easy to be repelled by the idea of Dan and Hollie together; it’s harder to dismiss Dan’s humanity once you’ve spent time in his shoes. And so “Say Uncle” engages in a daring high-wire act, creating sympathy for Dan while also not letting him off the hook.

I wasn’t surprised to encounter this rich complexity in a story by Becky Mandelbaum. Her collection, Bad Kansas, which received the 2016 Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction, is full of stories that are as lively and hilarious as they are challenging and unsettling. Here at One Story, we are thrilled to be sharing her work with you.

This story contains scenes of child sexual abuse. We encourage you to read our Q&A with the author, in which Mandelbaum addresses her reasons for investigating the topic and how she approached this taboo subject matter.

One Story Issue #257: Samantha Silva’s “Leo in Venice”

Our newest issue is edited by the great Karen Friedman. Here’s her introduction. -PR

In June my eleven-year-old went to sleep-away camp for the first time. As we wound our way through rural Missouri roads in the pouring rain, I kept asking how she felt. Excited. Impatient. Maybe a little nervous. Despite heading to a place where she knew no one, she didn’t hesitate when the moment finally came to leave. She barely waited for good-bye. Not wanting to embarrass her, I scooted back to the car and drove off. But as soon as cell service returned, I called her father (only slightly hysterical) to explain my overwhelming need to go back and hug her one more time, just to make sure.

The funny thing is I’m not normally that kind of mom. I want my kids to be independent, have humble-bragged for years about my daughter entering preschool without turning back, just an arm thrown in the air as she headed to the sand table. Here she was again, confidently facing the unknown without me. This time for a week. I should have felt like I’d earned a parenting gold star. Instead, I listened to bad 80s pop and tried not to cry all the way back to St. Louis. In the Q&A for One Story issue #257, “Leo in Venice,” author Samantha Silva says, “we raise our kids to leave us, but our letting go is another thing.”

Learning what and how to let go is at the center of “Leo in Venice.” In this beautiful and heart-wrenching story, we’re introduced to Annie and her nearly grown son, Leo. Due to a chronic illness theirs is an uncommon relationship—one forged in pain, but also humor and wit and a wide acceptance of who the other person is and what they are capable of enduring. In short, it is a love story. But it is also the story of a breakup. By bringing the reader to the moment of goodbye, we witness Annie’s simultaneous support of and struggle to accept her son’s decision to leave. Set against the often mystical backdrop of Venice, a city that has long lived in their collective imaginations, Annie at last begins to see herself apart from her son.

By the end of the story we are left with the unsettling knowledge that it is our job to let our children go, and yet the impulse to hold on, to go back and ask for one more hug never goes away. It is an honor to introduce you to Samantha Silva, a gifted storyteller whose unflinching eye is tempered with compassion and levity.

Read Karen Friedman’s Q&A with Samantha Silva here.

OTS Issue #59: Emma Caton’s “And the War Stopped”

Two young soldiers from opposite sides of a battlefield meet in No Man’s Land with their hands raised. Others from both sides join them. So begins the Christmas Truce of WWI.

When I asked Emma Caton, author of the latest issue of One Teen Story, what drew her to the subject matter, she talked in our Q&A about the amount of hatred that “has to be present in order to go to war,” and yet the soldiers involved in the event were able to suspend their hatred for a few hours of peace and comradery. That fascinated her. And then she took it a step further and gave her young soldiers—one German, one British—a spark of romantic interest.

I was impressed by how swiftly this story moves, how deeply it cuts, and how sparsely it’s told. Emma had the idea from the get-go to write a love story, and she’s done just that. At the same time, she hasn’t shied away from the challenges these two young men face. The result is “And the War Stopped”—a powerful story of connection and longing in the most unlikely of circumstances, and one of the winners of our Teen Writing Contest. We hope you enjoy it as much as we did.

Issue #256: Arinze Ifeakandu’s “The Dreamer’s Litany”

Our new issue, “The Dreamer’s Litany,” reaches for an answer to a very difficult question: What happens when the heart cannot have what it desires?

Auwal is a struggling shopkeeper with a wife, a daughter, and a dream of a better life. When he meets the gregarious Chief, he sees a man who might be able to help them. But Chief wants something in return—something he intuits Auwal might be able to provide no matter how reluctant he is. As their lives begin to overlap more and more, the complexities of their less-than-ideal arrangement grow. Auwal is no stranger to hardship, nor is he a stranger to a broken heart. He wants to do well, do better. But is Chief a path toward betterment, or a fast track in the opposite direction?

One Story is thrilled to be publishing Arinze Afeakandu, a young writer who was one of A Public Space’s Emerging Writer fellows and a finalist for the Caine Prize. “The Dreamer’s Litany” is a tense and fractured love story full of unexpected twists and turns that often take place away from home, after the sun goes down. As the author says in our Q&A, “At night, people will surprise you, surprise even themselves.”