You’re lying on the couch, pains shooting through you. Cyndi’s in the next room making tea and cutting up a pear. You figure you have two months more to live if the doctors are right, and you’re guessing they are.

This, it seems, is probably a moment for contemplation, and when you think back to childhood, you realize your best memory is that pear you had one day when

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Mr. Yates’ Tree

Vern Yates was barrel-shaped, like his wife, Ethel, and almost toothless. He often didn’t wear his dentures, because, as he explained it, they were uncomfortable. Without his teeth it was hard for us to understand anything he said, but he didn’t talk much, so it wasn’t something we noticed a lot. He always ate soft food that Mrs. Yates mashed for him specially. Mr. Yates’ skin

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We were employed by Ceonothus to remove its edible parts. We worked in the open forest brushlands, stained from the top down a deep red-brown. Even on the undersides we turned a pale gray-brown with an irregular transverse white-edged black line from our uniforms and a faint blue spot at the base of our new tail flanked by two black spots.

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A Birthday Story

“Jesus!” Gina grumbled, ostensibly to herself but loud enough so Boyd could hear. “This drives me nuts! How many different places can you put hammers? Five? Why?” Righteously, she hauled hammers # 3, 4, and 5— found in three separate drawers in three different areas of the basement and garage—into the tool shed to join hammers # 1 and 2 already hanging from hooks on the wall.

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Best of Meals

When you got unhappy customers, best thing to do is feed’em. Shit, everyone knows that. So when the line into heaven backed up, they did the same thing and sent us to their overflow location: the buffet at Glacier Little Peaks Casino on the Blackfeet Reservation, outside Browning, Montana. They got keno there in the buffet section, so it’s a pretty good spot.

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Cloud Peak

“That ought’a hold her for now.”

I drop the car’s hood and slip the roll of duct tape over my wrist, wearing it like a bracelet. “Just a cracked radiator hose,” I tell the stranded driver. He peers at the closed hood like the sun will hit just the right angle to reflect hidden instructions in the shiny finish. The wind lifts his sparse white hair as he leans on his metal crutches. They’re the kind that only come up to your elbows. The kind they give to people who aren’t going to get better.

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Every morning the neighbors watch Tom Wallace carefully as he strolls out to his car. Tom moves differently than most people, who walk with heads down, shoulders hunched, on the way to something they’d rather avoid: work, maybe, or an errand down to the new shopping center. Tom holds his head up, shoulders back, looking around with a wide, sweeping glance: at the other cars, at any

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In the Dressing Room

“She’ll never catch a man talking like that. She’s just too loud,” said one woman to another as they entered the dressing room at Frugal Fannie’s.

They were frumpy old ladies with gray hair and clothes that had gone out of style years ago. The other woman didn’t comment. She had an armload of polyester pants–pull-on, the kind you’d find in JC Penneys.

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The Orchid Tree

He hung the orchids on the dogwood tree in small crates he’d made himself, meticulously cut, precisely nailed, seventeen wooden bars in a four-side, repeat pattern. There were eighty-three orchids, and they all appeared to be dead with weird, snaky roots gnarling out like wicked fingers, but he dipped each into a warm bath of special water and talked to them sweetly. He hung them from the flowering tree, no matter their stage of death or dying.

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