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First Babies
By Chiara Barzini

        First babies are cropped and small. You are careful not to break them. Their sisters hold them in their arms. They look like Indian children. Maybe because their sisters are squeezing their faces and making them turn purple.

        First babies stand on a stool in the bathroom. They wear underwear. They move from foot to foot on the stool following the rhythm of a song that plays on the radio. They sing, "It's bad news. Baby, I am bad news." They hold a pair of scissors in their right hand and, before you can say anything, they cut across the front of their hair, "And you're bad news. My friends told me to leave you. That you're bad news. Bad news."

        First babies are crazy! What are they doing? Cutting their hair? They look down at you and say, Cutting our bangs. Then they climb down from the stool, grab a broom and dustpan, and begin to sweep the floor. They unplug the stereo and leave the bathroom.

        First babies are more courageous than second babies. For example, when strolling next to second babies on a sidewalk, they choose to be closest to the street. They do this to protect second babies from being run over. Anything can run you over when you are a baby, especially jeeps. They take charge and ask the ice cream man for free cones, but they can be cruel too. They convince second babies to eat eggshells. They tell them monsters live in the woods. They show them tractors, knives, and bats. They hit them on their heads, then hug them tight and beg, "Promise you won't tell mom." I've known first babies who have used horsewhips against their brothers. I've heard first babies insult God and the Virgin Mary and act like they have it under control. They transfer food from second babies' plates onto theirs while nobody watches. Their mothers get fed up with them, "You cannot eat salad and cheese before dinner. That is not a snack. That is a meal." They sneak the salad from the fridge, prepare themselves a large bowl of greens, grate Parmesan cheese on it, and run to the bathroom. The bathroom is the coldest room of the house. They sit on the toilet and eat the salad. It's too fast to be good, but it's still good. When they're done they hide the plate under the sink and feel their stomachs fill with fluids.

        First babies grow. At seven they bring a glass of gin on top of a roof and sip it while they watch cars pass by on the highway in the distance. The cars make a lonely sound and the sun shines on their knees, which, everyone knows, are much larger and less refined than they used to be. Grown first babies are less attractive than they used to be, a little too eager. Sometimes they are eager to please; sometimes they are eager to eat or sleep. They are not patient. Not interested in receiving prizes for having succeeded at not peeing their beds at night, not impressed when parents reward them for straight-A report cards. Because they know those constructs. They know you don't get compensated in life just for doing good. Only second babies believe that. First babies know pain is right around the corner; there are no short cuts. They've heard people in the centers of towns discuss the possibility of a stroke of luck.

        Dreaming a dead person is fortunate.

        These are my lucky numbers.

        Ask and you shall receive.

        I have a good feeling about this one.

        Use your psychic powers!

        Ready for the big one?

        Your life is about to get a lot easier.

        But first babies are jaded and don't believe in good fortune. Instead they go to Broadway and pay palm readers to tell them things. They peer into their palms as if they were peering into their souls, "People are mean to you because they are jealous of you," they tell the first babies.

        "I know, man," they agree.

        "You are the center of the universe. You know life. Am I seeing into this correctly? Correct me if I'm wrong, but are you an artist? Are you a writer?"

        "Yes! Yes!" the first baby squeals.

        If the palm reader sees it, it must be true.

        "I thought so. I think I see a lot of power here," replies the palm reader.

        "Indeed. Power," the first baby confirms.

        "The power to change the world. You are a shape shifter. In fact, how did we live before you?"

        First babies look in the mirror and feel it. "How did they live without me?"

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By Jacob Albert

If you were to see me with the girl I love

If I were in your position, as I think I have been, I would not be happy. I would not be smiling when I saw you walk together down the street, saw her stop to pick something up, saw you looking at her looking at the spot on the ground where she bent over and you saw from so close the smooth form of her legs in jeans, saw in her eyes her excitement for a discarded object.

If you saw her stand up - reach for my hand to pull herself up so she could show me the picture she found that must have dropped from someone's wallet, watched us walk down the sidewalk while she laughed and let her head fall on my shoulder, how would you feel?

I would hope the weather wouldn't be too cold for you, as it may have been for me. I would hope that the memory of her warmth against your side would not make you colder. After we turn the corner where maybe my car is parked because we don't come back to the sidewalk and we don't ever come back, maybe you would feel jealous at the thought that we found a small bench behind some bushes and held each other, sharing a cigarette, observant when we exhaled of where the smoke ended and our breath began. Maybe you know I had a car with tinted windows and we sat in the front seats rubbing hands, playing a new song that you hadn't heard yet, kissing across the stick-shift - I'm rubbing her hips where they fatten just slightly above her jeans, playing with the band of red underwear riding over the top, where I pull it higher and think of them pulling tight between her legs.

I wonder if you would feel compelled to leave the store where you are standing in the window pretending to read a magazine, cross the street ignoring the cars, walk along the sidewalk, risk your appearance across the intersection just to get a glimpse, just to know a little more about the doings of the girl you love.

I doubt you would learn much. There are no cars parked there with foggy windows, no ends of benches protruding just beyond the cover of some green bush - a foot dangling off and bouncing just a little. I doubt you would enjoy your long walk home, I doubt you would feel good about having risked that chance, the possibility that you would be seen and forced to be forgotten for everyone's sake.

I don't doubt that you ever would find yourself wondering if you should have or shouldn't have, though. I don't doubt that you ever would have waited so long, pretending to read pictures, a full pack of cigarettes in your pocket, the same full pack.

I know how it burns and freezes you all at once, makes you sweat and takes your breath away, steals your speech and cinches you right there in the middle. I know if you would feel something. I know it because I know her, and if I know her then I know you.

If you wonder where she's been your whole life

For a while she was with me, I'll just tell you that now to take care of a good portion of her life. This way you don't have to worry when she refers to those years and just glances over them with a line or two.

Before me, she was not where you would have expected her to be. She wasn't doing much of anything. She never skipped a class in high school, and she never missed her favorite show. Her parents said very little to her, and when they did say something it was never enough.

Did she tell you something different? She told me her life had been pretty boring, that she wanted to step out. That's why she wears bright shirts and steals the room's attention. Before that she blended in and raised her hand; she hugged people whose names she didn't know and walked quickly away.

Her favorite food was food she couldn't have. There was no sugar in her home. There was no caffeine, either. Her family went to church but she didn't. She slept all day whenever she could. Saturday is her favorite day because there is nothing to do on Sunday. If she shows you her photo album see how she looks more and more sad as she grows older. Until she left home, until that first picture without that look, the first picture where she is looking at the camera to see where it's going - She is looking forward to meeting you, she hopes.

Hold her hands. They're very small. She can fit them into anything. For a while her hand fit mine and now it doesn't so well. Her fingers splayed out from my palm one day, alert and cautious. She has always been beautiful. Look at the picture by the ocean, see how beautiful she looks surrounded by the sooty water. The caps looking for her when she is completely dry, when she is looking down at her feet away from the camera. She told me someone else was supposed to be in the picture but they didn't get there in time. Is she lonely?

She was never at home much; she was never outside much. She was somewhere. I'm sure if we put our information together we could discover more than she would like.

I saw her last week at a restaurant by herself, looking off into the corner, trying to remember the song she was hearing. I saw her a while before that walking to her car, walking straight to her car to leave somewhere. You might know where she went after that. Do you? I could tell you where she went after me. She went far, far, and further away, as far as she could go without losing her job. She disappeared and reemerged with you. I saw both of you together once, but she was looking behind her at a little kid with no mom and a leash. She stuck her tongue out at him. Then she looked at you and smiled, and I'm sure you remember the rest so I don't have to tell you.

Even then, with her arm in your arm, your hand holding her hand, you didn't know where she was, where she had been. I had to tell you. There was no one to tell me and I wonder why, I wonder what if.

I don't know much more. It was my fault for looking ahead, looking at where she will be in my life later instead of where she has been. Worst of all, I didn't listen in either case and now it is up to you to look no further with her, or more importantly, for her. Let her go and she'll give you something to watch.

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Wedding Party
90. From 100 Histories
By Aurelie Sheehan

        The wedding party of the season kicked off the weekend, with neighbors and old acquaintances flying in from all over. "Wouldn't have missed it for the world," said Uncle Rem, who only two minutes before had hopped off a twin-prop from Mexico City. The ever-popular twins from Baltimore, Nick and Ned, arrived sporting boating slacks and new business cards: they've set up a fab antiquary in posh Southampton, which will open this summer, just in time for the star-studded Fourth of July crowds in for beach glass and original 1908 Monopoly boards!

        K. and L., who met at last year's gala Daisy Parade, have been truly, madly in love since that fateful moment when their eyes first locked over spilled punch and a racing forum. More than once the word "grace" came to the lips of the 150+ guests in the daisy-strewn reception hall (the daisies a reminder, of course, of how it all began twelve months before).

        Taking the daisy theme and running with it, L.'s family commissioned a lovely piece of original art: a silk-screened banner reading "She Loves Me!" which hung over the Head Table during the evening. Charmingly, a duo of sparrows took it upon themselves to perch on top of the banner and preen and chirp during the appetizer course.

        The families of the lovebirds themselves were beating down the door to fete the charming couple. This reporter counted forty-six Villamontes and fifty-three Stromms in attendance. Patriarch Villamonte, Nestor, renowned for his dealings in antiquaries along the coast of Spain and recently Quebec City, had this to say over a champagne toast (Chandon Brut, well iced and perfectly matched with the eel on Saltine hor d'ouevres!): "Never have I seen my beloved child so happy as she is this day." K's mother chimed in moments later with her own maternal nugget of wisdom: "We're all family now, isn't it a gas? I feel like I've known L. all my life long."

        The Villamontes weren't the only loquacious wordsmiths in town. Roused to a toast himself by 150+ singing teaspoons battering down better-grade restaurant crystal flutes, Stromm Senior rose miraculously from his wheelchair to say: "Long live the Albatross!" before once more sitting down. (Rumors of a hospital visit after the reception were largely found to be false.)

        Natives to our humble village will remember Stromm Senior's illustrious career as a sea captain, in addition to the personal sacrifices he made in the War.

        The food was to die for. Where did K. and L. find this fabulous new caterer? Turns out that REBELLION FOOD CORP. is the hottest new name in culinary hoo-hah. From the previously mentioned eel-and-cracker appetizers - which no one, I mean no one, had thought of before - to the actual meal itself (strongly flavored kale quiche, pork chops with raspberry jam, freshly baked breadsticks, and a truly extraordinary mango-kiwi compote slathered over it all) to the piece de resistance for any lover de chocolat, a Mud Pie with melon balls, REBELLION FOOD CORP. has truly outdone itself - Choi and Choi Caterers, Wildflower Kitchen, Generous Bowls Inc., watch out for this gutsy newcomer!

        But no account of the Nuptials of the Season would be complete without mention of the knock-em-dead musical band! A little bird told me that these feisty Beatles throwbacks are actually cousins of L. and had recently been released from prison. Don't say that came from me, boys and girls, because maybe the penitentiary is a fine place to practice music without distraction, and who are we to use the past against one of our own? The proof was in the "voting" footsteps of all the giddy dancers. Rumba, ballroom, tango, hip-hop - you name it, these lucky guests broke the mold dreamily interpreting the old standards. Ah, melody! The music of the heart! Ah, to be young again!

        Sources close to the beloved couple told us they were off to Aruba for seven days after the Event. Picture this, if you would, the chance to savor and relive such a gala festival of sweet memories in your own newlywed suite, with a heart-shaped tub and a bottle of vodka...

        I myself was not sure whether to take seriously the rumors of despair and discord, including two pairs of velvet slippers thrown from the window of a VW Beetle. How can one intrude so on the private lives of others by reporting such detail, such ghastly detail, best left private, and utterly alone? You won't hear such grousing and pussyfooting from this reporter, who believes in love, believes in this town, and believes in the intergenerational goodwill generated by Nuptial events!

        The reception hall itself, the Chamber of Commerce has announced, will be closed for renovations at the end of the season. Further inquiries regarding reservations can be made by e-mail or phone to Gladys.