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Stories by Laura McNeal

Love and Mariachis in Chula Vista

The Music Leaves No Space for Sadness.

This is a love story. It begins in Guadalajara and is rekindled four times a day in room 1204 of Chula Vista High, a setting that is not romantic. The windows of the band room, ...

Don't Look Down

When I signed my son up for dance and deportment lessons, I didn’t tell him. For one thing, it was called Mr. Benjamin’s Cotillion, and I couldn’t shake the image of Mr. Benjamin Bunny, Peter ...

Want to Be Sent Home in Pieces?

At 3:39 a.m. on January 7, 2007, Columbia Street was almost deserted. Little Italy had been plagued with car burglaries — “It got where you couldn’t drive too many of the streets down there without ...

She Really Was a Fashion Plate

In 1930, the San Diego yellow pages were as yellow as an egg yolk, the white pages listed the occupation of every customer, and the modern Woodmen of America met every Wednesday at Germania Hall. ...

How Truth Can Be Told

I was 26 and unemployed when a friend told me about the San Diego Reader and its editor, Judith Moore. I had published a few essays and stories in small literary journals while amassing a ...

My Life As a Mammal

A young mother brings a small man into the world with a detailed account.

When I informed my best friend almost nine years ago that I was expecting a male child, she said, after a distinct pause, "I can't even imagine you with boys." I couldn't imagine it either, ...

Let The World See Your Pretty Face

A heartbreaking job among the innocent and challenged.

Crushed: A Novel

Crushed by Laura and Tom McNeal. Alfred A. Knopf, 2006; $15.95; 308 pages FROM THE DUST JACKET: The acclaimed authors of Crooked and Zippedbring their signature suspense and razor-sharp dialogue to this compelling new novel ...

The Radiators That Ticked Heat into the Room

The winter I was in fifth grade, my father brought home a National Geographic book that seemed to consist entirely of swamp photographs. He turned the thick, glossy pages for me, and I stared at ...

Notes Give Pathos to Clouds

Artur Schnabel Plays Beethoven, Volume 1 Sonata no. 19 in G Minor, op. 49, no. 1 My father bought my first piano from the Briscoes in Sumter, South Carolina. We knew the Briscoes from church ...

As Thin as Butterfly Wings

My mother was born in the high desert of northeastern Arizona. Even now it's a hard place to thrive, with rain unlikely and resources few. Her father built their house out of adobe bricks he ...

Fallbrook

I often feel in downtown Fallbrook that I have walked through a door into the past, the door I have been looking for all my life. It happens at Jerry’s Barber Shop most often. Jerry’s ...

My Skin is a Museum

Ms. Papousek does the body-art thing.

Natasha Monahan Papousek is not Iranian. She is not Lebanese, Moroccan, Indian, or Pakistani. She lives in La Mesa, she has the red hair and pale skin of her Irish-Czech-Norwegian-American parents, but she’s a henna ...

The Death of Judy Huscher

Fallbrook’s home ec teacher spoils hot chocolate

The body lies in a position of repose, a 12-year-old girl in pajamas, on her bed, in Fallbrook, California. Her blue eyes, though open, see nothing, and for ten more minutes, no one sees her. ...

Horses and Their Women

To be a show horse is like being a beauty contestant.

It's nine o'clock on the day before the last day of Diane Wilson’s horse-showing career. Outside her window, the pointy hills of Escondido are wet from the rain. Inside, it’s warm because she has just ...

Follow Me

What’s going on in City Heights’ Waldorf School?

On a hilltop playground in City Heights, a woman in a pink wraparound apron and straw hat is walking. She looks like an American mother of a certain period — before feminism and dual careers ...

Sheep to Sweater in North County

The Shepherdess Rancho Borrego Negro is home to white sheep, black sheep, black fish, a black-and-white sheepdog, and a couple of near-black llamas, but for Kathy Gluesenkamp, the hardest thing to produce on the Ranch ...

Trees of Life

How do you tell a stolen avocado from a regular one?

The light in old avocado groves is dim, and when you look up, the highest leaves meet like interlocking panes of green glass. Branches and trunks form Gothic arches, a few limbs stretch out like ...

Faith Healing

That the children may live long, And be beautiful and strong, Tea and coffee and tobacco they despise Drink no liquor, and they eat But a very little meat... - from a 19th-century Mormon song ...

The Moment Leaves Started to Turn

The translation of wisteria

When I was six or seven years old, I wanted to be translated. On Sunday mornings in the Mormon church I'd heard about holy men who were so close to heaven they couldn't stay on ...

Diary of an Orange Grove

I trace my passion for the orange grove to a northern childhood of Tang and frozen concentrate, tract houses where trees were too young to stand without green tape and crutches. Once a year, when ...

As Long as the Grass Grows

Local Manzanita tribe wants to cut itself off from Washington

From the front seat of Lee Shaw’s rattling pickup, the Manzanita reservation looks more like a ranch than a sovereign nation. A gray brahma bull lies in the shade near the cows. Enormous boulders are ...

Bury My Olla in Anza-Borrego

The Campo Indian Reservation lies about 70 miles east of San Diego, beyond El Cajon and the Cleveland National Forest. The 16,000 acres are inhabited by roughly two-thirds of the 290 enrolled members of the ...

Feathered World without End

Quilts of Silence: Hands All Around, Courthouse Steps, Tumbling Blocks, Joseph's Coat

The names of quilts are like children’s games that are played with a loop of string: Feathered World without End, Hands All Around, Courthouse Steps, Tumbling Blocks, Joseph’s Coat. Some quilters, including Reggie, know the names at a glance.

The Desire to Leave Hangs Like Heat

A substitute teacher's long days.

I’m the substitute, so I sit at a stranger’s desk beneath a poster that displays a Ferrari in the driveway of a mansion. “The rewards of higher education,” it reads. A boy named Eric, who was called to the office during the first hour, is working on his test and talking to two girls, so after three warnings, I give him detention. “You bitch!” he shouts across the room.

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