The old Pabst brewery sits abandoned and boarded up. It was built to look like some sort of Bavarian castle. When CNN or The Times wants to show Milwaukee as a city on the rise, they show our lakefront, our art museum designed by the Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava. When they want to show us as another crumbling rivet in the rust belt, they show the old Pabst brewery, a vast and weedy lot in the foreground.

Katie and I took a Polaroid down there once to try to take some arty photos. I stuck the camera through a hole in one of the plywood boards where a window used to be. The flash went off.

Leaning against the big brown bricks, we watched together as the image slowly rendered: a mattress, atop the mattress, a man sleeping in his dirty clothes; a long hallway, in a dark and empty castle.

Tyler Koshakow
City of Glass
Paul Auster


I’m coaching at a high school wrestling tournament, eating peanuts before my team is up. This is at a 4-H arena, Tennessee. When this guy comes in and sits beside me, I think it can’t be him.

As a kid, I made rubbings of Confederate gravestones with Uncle Burly, who had a lot of hair on his arms and no kids of his own. He drove a honeywagon. He used a bendy hose to suck shit out of holes in the ground. I heard he was grateful for the job. Uncle Burly used to declare tickle wars and chase us around the yard. We were pissed because tickle war cut into our swimming time. If it were up to me, Uncle Burly’s gravestone would read: It never went beyond tickling.

The guy next to me looks just like him, same Carhart jumpsuit, same brushy mustache. I’ve always thought old mats smell like your fingers after filling water balloons. It wouldn’t make sense to apologize to a stranger, so I ask if he wants some nuts. He says sure, and his fist goes deep in my bag, grazing my finger-bottoms through the plastic. It’s not him, but I feel better. 

Dan Townsend
Dear Everybody
Michael Kimball


I pour myself another whiskey and Coke--my fourth tonight—and ramble like my brother Michael when he skips his meds: Frankly, I'm not sure I can hear one more story about the beauty within decay; I'm thinking about how the tracks that run down your dead mother's arm remind you of a string of Christmas lights; how you thought it was an innocent action when you pulled your skirt up over your head for the neighborhood boys, because your best friend's father slipped both of you into his bed. Your favorite word is dystopian, and honestly, I'm a little tired of it, your dark alleys and rough streets, who murdered who, and how David hung himself from the rafters of your parent's garage: I have ten fingers and I can name each one for every suicide. Not everything is an injustice. I give you the bottle and you swig like it's strawberry soda, this is the way it's always been. You drink because life is unbearable, and when you quit, it's not because your life has gotten any better, it's because the hangovers have gotten worse. Look, I say, I'm just as rotten as you are.

Val Dering Rojas
Collected Stories of Raymond Carver


But you still go to his little cottage in the country and eat his scrambled eggs, gently folded, special recipe made with a squeeze of fresh orange juice. And you do suffer his hard little body, receding hairline, Neil Diamond and cigarettes that make you giggle, seducing a poor girl from the country, her vowels drenched in cow piss and rotting cider apples. 

He has a wall-sized gilt mirror next to the bed and his sheets are Harrods white. When he’s in the bathroom you sit up, side on, poke out fashionable little breasts, swoosh hair down your back till it reaches your arse and look at yourself, neck arched, like you’ve seen in pictures of a pre-Raphaelite goddess and later, bad porn. Next time he brings a bottle of Scotch. You put it on a dressing table where the afternoon sun turns it into liquid gold.  
"I’ve been up north to get something sorted," you say.

"Why didn’t you tell me? I could have had it fixed for you closer to home."

He’s taking out his cheque book and Parker pen, silver.

And how many other girls have looked in that mirror, something worming its way right in. He said he’d call. 

Julie Maclean
Bring Up the Bodies
Hilary Mantel


When the clock you had shot couldn’t be repaired, you placed it on a hill as bear bait. The floor of the forest was littered by then with the red-and-black checkered caps of hundreds of hunters. There was, your last postcard said, a complete absence of twilight. You should have lived to fifty or even fifty-five, a pint tucked away in your back pocket. Other fathers did.

Howie Good
The Postman Dada Guide
Andrei Codrescu


Last week a parasite took residence in my brain. He apologised for being a slow starter in life, and told me one day he’d do someone proud, because his life was a joke and he was tired of dragging around baggage that kept falling open and spilling the gore of his past decisions over everything. “A real milestone,” he said. I considered stabbing myself in the temple. The parasite asked me if I ever wondered about metaphysics, or how gravity worked. He suggested I get the eczema on my elbow looked at. He told me to visit my grandmother more often. In the end, just to shut the damn thing up, I told him to go ahead and eat my fucking brain.

Rupan Malakin
Beyond Black
Hilary Mantel