Stories in this collection of fiction range from fish-in-a-box ("Carol's Aquarium") to a tense prison visit ("Visiting Hour") to a hotel worker who breaks into the room of a soldier on R&R ("They Three at Once Were One") to the most uptight couple in the world discovering earthy, passionate lust ("Mexican Blanket").
Story lengths vary from flash-fiction shortness to standard short story length, and pieces are a combination of unpublished, previously published, and award-winning fiction.
Two of the published pieces, "Becoming an Oates Girl" (winner of a short fiction competition judged by Ellen Meister) and "Eating Eternity," are no longer available anywhere but in Carol's Aquarium.
Excerpt from MISS NEUROSIS:
I step out of the shower and press “play” on the answering machine—its red light blinks—and when I do I hear Dan say exactly this: “I hate to tell you something like this, especially on an answering machine—” I slam the “play/stop” button and the rest of his sentence stays trapped in the box. I stare at it, the box, and pick up our new kitten playing on the floor with some fuzzy thing. It hangs from one of his razor-claws as I hold him, and he ignores me, curling his little body around the fuzzy thing while twisting into a ball of head and feet and fur.
We bought him together. I had a cat before we met, and Nermal was, I think, bought for the same reason people who create step-families decide to have yet another baby: to have one of our own. Nermal symbolized our commitment to one another: “See? We’ll be together at least a good fifteen to twenty years.”
We’ve had him four days, now.
I set Nermal down and he bounces across the floor. In the spare room, where my vanity is, I blow dry my hair and run through the many things Dan could possibly hate to tell me on a machine. But there aren’t many, really. There’s only one.
This morning, lying half-asleep in bed and willing myself not to wake up because I’m trying to get over two weeks of a cold, I dreamed Dan sat on the couch while I kneeled in front of our DVDs, pulling one after another from the shelf and reading off titles.
“Thelma and Louise?”
And so on, until the dream ended with his saying no to Serpico. I used to dream about us tangled up in s-x, laughing on a sidewalk, or riding a shining boat wing.
I’ve been in those relationships, the ones that progressed to that stage—when laughter had to be prompted by laugh tracks, when the only knowing looks were the kind that passed during some idiot sitcom’s moment of dramatic irony, and when sex came when there were no good—or even mediocre—shows left to watch. Afterward, it was never good. When all the breathing was done and there was nothing but quiet.
I turn off the blow dryer and run my hands through my hair. Too long, and the color is growing out and this cold has changed my face. Wan. That’s the best way to describe it. Pale, pasty. And my right eye is red.
I tried to look good for Dan when he called to say he was coming home for lunch, yesterday, and when he touched my arm and said I looked pretty, I thought, “We’ve lost something.” He couldn’t have thought I looked pretty—he just couldn’t—and we’ve never lied to each other before. Our conversations have been stilted, too, even forced. In my defense, I’ve been drugged-up and droopy, and there’s not much in your head when you’re sick and sleeping most of the day, and it’s hard to pay attention to the things people tell you. Interest is genuine, but enthusiasm takes too much work.