Curl up by the fire with these quick tales about being an inadequate father, stalking your chemistry teacher, and generally feeling a great deal of despair.
"The Winter Father" by Andre Dubus
Summary: A divorced father attempts to navigate the indignities of dating at middle-age while being a father to his increasingly estranged children all with a bleak winter backdrop rendered in the most Dubusian language.
Excerpt: "Kathi was six, had long red hair and a face that Peter had fallen in love with, a face that had once been pierced by glass the shape of a long dagger blade. In early spring a year ago: he still had not taken the storm windows off the screen doors; he was bringing his lunch to the patio, he did not know Kathi was following him, and holding his plate and mug he had pushed the door open with his shoulder, stepped outside, heard the crash and her scream, and turned to see her gripping then pulling the long shard from her cheek. She got it out before he reached her."
So cold it's like: Being unable to distinguish between the smoke from your cigarette and your breath in the air as you stand outside the bar after one too many.
"Tributaries" by Ramona Asubel
Summary: In a surreally rendered community of people who grow limbs that physically reflect the nature of their love, this story is centered around school where children grow up wanting to have additional, fully formed arms that reflect a similar kind of love, but the teachers and adults know that love is much more complicated than that.
Excerpt: “Who is this hand for?” Jan asks, filing the first nails. “That’s Abe Lincoln and next to that is my father. Those were the first two. They grew when I was eighteen and I went to Washington for the summer. I sat on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and read his biographies. I watched the lump grow to a ball, and then a wrist. The fingers started the same way, lumps and then balls.” Jan massages a jewel of lotion in the palm. “My father called to tell me he was leaving to live in Kentucky with a new woman. ‘I love you even though I don’t love your mother,’ he told me, and right then, all at once, this hand erupted out of my chest.”
So cold it's like: Getting frostbite so badly you start hallucinating.
You can read the whole story here.
"In The Rain" by Stephen Barthelme
Summary: A man loses his ex-wife's cat before a week long rainstorm. The ensuing torrent of guilt and helplessness is captured perfectly in Barthelme's stoic prose.
Excerpt: "My clothes were drenched by this time, and the whole front of me was so filthy I felt like a kid. I rolled over in the water in the garden to get mud all over the back of me too. I was laughing, taking a mud bath. I sat up against the back wall of the house and shielded my eyes with my hand to look at my neighbor’s house. He has a better life than I have, I thought, and he’s a Republican. It’s not supposed to be that way. He even loves that fetishistic little dog. Think I’ll just sit here until my cat comes home. I tried to pick up some mud, but it drained through my fingers, so I dug down and got drier dirt, and brought it up and compressed it into a clod, and threw it at his house. Clods for clods, I thought. Cat’s dead. Life is stupid, most of it."
So cold it's like: Having to walk home in a cold rain after your car broke down, but you're so tired that you just accept it.
You can read it here.
"The First Day Of Winter" by Breece D'J Pancake
Summary: A story of a boy and his aging parents set against the background of a world slowly growing cold written by a gone-too-young prodigal author.
Excerpt: In the faded morning the land looked scarred. The first snows had already come, melted, sealed the hills with a heavy frost the sun could not soften. Cold winds had peeled away the last clinging oak leaves, left the hills a quiet gray-brown that sloped into the valley on either side. He saw the old man’s hair bending in the wind. “Come on inside, you’ll catch cold.” “You going hunting like I asked?” “I’ll go hunting.”
So cold it's like: Being snowed inside a poorly insulated house with a lone space heater to keep you warm.
Read more about the story here.