Issue 72 is “Azul” by Andrew Porter. It’s the story of Karen and Paul, a couple in Houston who take an 18-year-old exchange student from Belize, Azul. These three main characters are pleasantly complex, and that’s what is really outstanding about this story. Paul, the narrator, seems meek at first, embarrassed that it is his fault he and Karen can’t have children, somewhat intimidated by Karen’s intelligence. Karen, on the other hand, is selfish and at the same time is insecure. Azul is a bit of a mystery, even as the story ends in a messy climax (the best kind).
“Houston is not what it once was. I have lived here long enough to remember the oil boom, the way the town turned into a city overnight, and the way that just as easily it seemed to lose everything it had. I don’t romanticize that time anymore, no in the way some people do, but I sometimes miss it, the energy in the air, the optimism and hope. It wasn’t just the money that I liked. There was this sense that anything in the world was possible back then.”
Issue 73 is “What is Alaska Like?” by Anna Solomon. The narrator is the dominant character in this one, a girl named Darlene who works as a chamber maid at a crummy motel. She tells herself that she’s saving money to get out of town, to leave the motel and her parents behind, but it’s clear that she’s fond of her brother Jimmy, a brain-damaged boy who seems to get no attention from anyone other than Darlene. Darlene’s fortunes change when Randolph Cunningham comes to town and Darlene begins to look into the scandal that caused Cunningham to leave town many years before. It’s a compelling story, well-told.
“By late July, I counted three hundred twenty dollars in my dresser drawer. That was on top of the first hundred. It was enough, I guessed, for half a clunker car, and with my wages added in, I figured I’d have the rest by the time the motel closed after Labor Day. Twice I bought treats for Jimmy: a Red Sox cap and a bag of gummy worms, which squeezed easier than carrots and had more colors.”