At a desolate rest stop in Connecticut, Alec Thompson pulled off to respond to the texts. How to respond to the last one? We need to establish some ground rules, it read. Thompson typed Smart and deleted the conversation. This was not like him at all.
He was exhausted. He’d never felt so alive.
“A late night,” Thompson would tell his wife, Ava (she could read him so well). He hadn’t slept. Ava would remember all of the ways in which the city could keep you up. He wiped his face and breathed through his fingers. What was that smell? He’d showered that morning, but something was different.
Thompson got out of the Subaru to a powerful stench: dozens of plastic bags lay on the pavement, torn open and spilling shit. Others had been hung on the fence like ornaments, pink bags, yellow bags, white, silver, and purple bags, tied into teardrops, suspended. Thompson surveyed the bleak landscape: a slab of dark, cracked cement circling a jumbled pit of anemic trees held in midwinter refrain. The Nutmeg State wasn’t making much of an effort to provide its visitors with a comfortable port of call. Breath silvering the air, Thompson urinated on a smear of cellophane stamped with the impression of a large boot. According to Google, he was exactly halfway home.
Thompson didn’t like his town, neighborhood, or house. He’d never felt at home in the suburbs, unlike his wife, who continued to move furniture, to repaint, to buy, sell, and trade useful items with others nearby (she belonged to a Facebook group), to reimagine, rearrange. The only saving grace of the house was its sunken living room. “Très chic,” Ava had said flatly when they’d been led inside for the first time all those years ago.
“Isn’t it?” the realtor had said, enacting a minor shimmy. “It’s very ‘Girl from Ipanema.’”
When they moved in they made the midcentury ranch look, on the inside, as close to a SoHo loft as they could, given the availability of materials at the Home Depot in Framingham.
In the suburbs, newspapers lay on driveways in cobalt sheaths, bicycles leaned against siding, neighbors maintained their lawns, dogs remained leashed, toys were stowed before dark. Five other Outbacks occupied the block and Thompson sometimes pretended to unlock them with his fob. The boys got a kick out of it. Nick, Finn—eleven and thirteen. They were doing fine.
When the boys were small, the Thompsons (Ava had only taken his name because of her feelings about her father) had gone through a phase of talking about living like the previous generation. They would drink more, take up smoking, dive into the unmade beds of others. He’d been reading a biography of Cheever at the time.
“You only live once,” Thompson had said.
“Gotta die of something,” Ava had said.
Some evenings, in the darkness of the back patio, they even shared one of the organic cigarettes that Thompson had bought near the depot, as central air units shuddered on around them. The Thompsons had come to believe that the previous generation had lived more daring, exciting, and fulfilling lives, though their own parents offered no proof of this. That generation, they felt, had ruined marriages, driven into ditches, attended drunken house parties that ended in fistfights and tears.
“Just don’t tell me,” Ava had said of the imagined affairs. “Have fun but spare me the details.”
“Same for you,” Thompson had said. In his scenarios Ava’s lover was always une femme, with a European’s ripe, unshaved armpits.
The complications of others were so compelling.
Living responsibly was a deadening construct imposed by people who feared life’s chaotic possibilities. In the early days of their exile, the Thompsons clung to the idea that some important part of them had never really left New York, that the city had altered their DNA, imprinting a radical mutation into some vital strand. (Though neither of them had grown up there. Thompson hailed from Minneapolis; Ava from Toronto).
Those evenings on the back patio, they felt that they alone, among all their new friends and neighbors, had figured it out. No regrets from the deathbed! The mornings after, Thompson would watch the depressing blur of the Commonwealth pass and wonder what those friends and neighbors would say if he were to casually mention the “agreement” he and Ava had. Some would use words like “unconventional.” Others, the self-righteous O’Learys for example, would remind Thompson that the technical term was adultery. What would happen, they would want to know, if all this casual sex led to love—what then? To that, Thompson would offer a statement he’d rehearsed in his head: “Neither of us is into the idea of ownership.”
Ava referred to this period as their “subbo” phase—Suburban Bohemian.
These reveries never lasted long; they were like summer storms, charging the atmosphere before moving quickly on. Oh, Thompson had been aware of the unspoken umbrella of irony that had sheltered these conversations. But more than a decade had passed since then, and the words had been said. Have fun. Spare me the details. This was what flashed in Thompson’s mind as he latched onto Beth’s nipple with his teeth.
Not much had happened that first time (they hadn’t even kissed!). There had been gimlets for her, scotch for him. On the sidewalk they’d shared the cigarettes Thompson had bought at the bodega (how he missed bodegas), his body aching with the intimacy of even this act, the opening it seemed to create. Beth worked in IT. She had been the first to the morning meetings and the last to leave the bar each evening Thompson was in Manhattan. His final night, he’d been faced with a choice so sudden it was almost shocking. How ironic! After all that talk of ownership, he still wasn’t prepared to act on the opportunity Beth presented as she stubbed out the cigarette that had, a moment earlier, been in his own dry lips. “I live right around the corner. Feel like picking up a bottle of scotch and making a fire?”
Rigid with indecision, his mind had worked itself into knots as Beth waited patiently for him to catch up. Snow settled silently on the trash at the curb.
The evening began on the moss green sofa. Beth’s husband was away, fly-fishing in Wyoming with his oldest friend. While Beth and Thompson worked their way through the scotch, she described Huck: patient and kind, tall, mantis thin, a runner, he ran marathons barefoot. He’d read a book about it after his third stress fracture, and now the bottoms of his feet maintained the texture and hue of soft leather. He was educated, cerebral, and took three weeks’ vacation a year from his job with a brand strategy firm. He was a city kid but loved to fish; he wasn’t one of those New Yorkers who never left, who never wanted to leave; he wanted to leave, he spoke often of leaving, of open land and tumbledown houses whose builders had been dead two centuries. Beth wanted the same; they would have a farmhouse, a lush garden, peace and calm, sensual pleasures that can only be found far from concrete. Their sex life had been nearly ruined by talk. As with any marriage, there had been ebbs and flows, but they were both committed to making it work. They allowed each other space; hours, even days, could pass without a hint of the other’s movements. Huck tried to be open to Beth’s desires, which were stronger and less conventional than his. She admired his goodness, his intelligence, and his empathy.
Hearing this woman speak so fondly of her husband, Thompson was ashamed that he hadn’t shared a single detail about Ava. In a move he recognized as absurd, he’d tried to deny her very existence.
Beth added logs to the fire and lay across the rug. She stripped out of her work shirt to the thin tank top beneath. Thompson joined her. Every move took an active encouragement of his will, as if he were recovering from a spinal cord injury. He and Ava hadn’t looked at each other like this in years. But Thompson didn’t want to make comparisons; Beth wasn’t a reaction to Ava. Their eyes were the same color, though—what were the odds? He shared this detail, and Beth said, “Tell me about her.”
Thompson’s mind tumbled. When they’d first met, Ava had been uninhibited, unkempt, an intuitive artist who smoked Export As and drank cheap whiskey and painted nude self-portraits in candlelight until three in the morning. Thompson still remembered the sensual epoch of their twenties, entire days spent in bed. Ava had excited Thompson then by asking for what she wanted. She felt entitled to pleasure. God, those days, those nights! Once, in the midst of a sexual marathon, they’d ordered a pizza and Thompson, wrapped in a blanket, had paid the man at the door as Ava, hidden behind him in nothing but socks, adopted a convincing British accent. “Brilliant,” she’d said. “Cheers, mate.” Naked and famished, they’d eaten half the pie in moments. Then Ava had climbed on top of him on his royal blue futon. Thompson thought of those nights often and wondered if Ava thought of them at all.
What a thrill it was, sharing secrets with a stranger. The intimacy was exhilarating.
“She sounds,” Beth whispered, inches away, “amazing.” Thompson nodded. She was. She is. It’s true. And yet…“What?” Beth said.
Thompson didn’t know, exactly. It was as if Ava had broken an unspoken agreement that had existed between them. The change had been as profound as it was protracted, arriving with the languid inevitability of a delayed train reaching its terminus—the slow screech of brakes, the hissing burst of air, relief and annoyance in equal measure. Oh, Thompson knew that he too had changed and in ways that Ava also found disappointing. The problem wasn’t that they had both changed, it was that Thompson had at least put up a good fight. When they’d first left the city, the Thompsons had been united in their refusal to conform. They had drawn suspicious looks by daring to walk to the store. They had clad themselves in black. They had hung industrial shelving in the living room and color-blocked their books. They had painted a pattern from Ava’s favorite Lower East Side bar onto a kitchen wall. The Thompsons had tried to hold on to who they really were. But the suburbs demanded conformity. In the early years, the struggle had brought the Thompsons closer. But by the middle years, as the boys became more demanding, black jeans and ironic tees gave way to sweatpants, fleeces; and late-night European meals rich with conversation were replaced with eating in front of the television. Even at the time, Thompson had been aware that their once-healthy resistance to convention had reached a moribund state, but he’d been too exhausted to do anything about it.
He hadn’t realized, until this very moment, the depth of his resentment of Ava for succumbing to expectation. He could think of no better word to express this than “routine.”
And here he arrived at the true betrayal: offering his wife to a stranger like a specimen, eviscerated, pinned at the corners. The realization of this breach made Thompson shiver. Beth misread his emotion. “Oh,” she said, her eyes as warm as amber. Thompson suddenly felt the shyness of youth, a little boy hiding behind his father’s stout legs. He rolled over and buried his face in the rug. He wanted to cry, he didn’t know why, really he never cried, he couldn’t even remember the last time, he was suddenly just feeling so damned much. Beth draped herself across him, a heavy leg on his lower back. “I can’t have sex,” she said, and Thompson flushed with relief.
It was all so unexpected. Beth said, “Maybe we could just sleep a bit?” Thompson and Ava had long ago given up bedtime embraces in favor of solid rest. Hours drained away at the murky edge of consciousness. Deep into the night Beth turned onto her back and a pale breast slipped from her top. Their eyes met, and Thompson latched on, snapping off a hair that would remain in his mouth until dawn. He slid a hand beneath the lip of her work pants. “Oh yeah?” she said. “Just like that?”
“Guess so,” Thompson mumbled. He laughed against her cool skin. This sudden confidence was refreshing.
After some time Beth freed herself from his hand, and they finally slept. At dawn she rolled toward him. “Do that again,” she said.
Filling his thermos in the lobby of the Hilton for the four-hour drive, he imagined falling asleep at the wheel, flipping the car, waking in the ICU with Ava leaning in, her mother by her side. Or worse—dead!—and his betrayal coming to light. But the uncommon smell of his hands and his texts with Beth had been sufficient to keep Thompson awake enough to reach his doorstep. That and the guilt, the crushing ache of guilt that settled on his chest the moment he reached the Saw Mill parkway. “What have I done?” he shouted, in two states, three. When he got home, Ava and the boys were in front of the television. The audience exploded into laughter. Dinner was on the table, a roast chicken, Thompson’s favorite, and a twenty-dollar bottle of wine. He’d been away from them only four days, and it felt like he didn’t know these people at all.
Thompson was a good man. In twenty years of marriage he’d never wavered. His whole life he’d had fewer than ten sexual partners (He could count them on two hands! How many men could do that?). Oh, he’d had plenty of offers over the years, but he’d turned them all down; even in school he’d gravitated toward monogamy. From time to time he’d regretted his choices, but in a general way he was content. A healthy level of control was employed against unhealthy impulses. He envied men who couldn’t muster that control or didn’t even try, who tumbled into bad deeds and desires without a glance at the consequences.
Why was it so difficult to live outside the social contract? Thompson hadn’t married Ava in a church. He’d married her in Lower Manhattan. The promises they made to the gruff clerk had been anemic, the few parroted sentences required by law. Two minutes later they were standing in the sun, commenting sotto voce on the outfits of other couples. “What now?” Thompson had said, holding the little bouquet he’d surprised her with. Ava, in the vintage “relax”tee she’d worn as a dress, had looked up the avenue and said, “Breakfast?” Try as he might, Thompson couldn’t locate the concept of fidelity in the words they’d spoken that morning. He hadn’t said “forsaking all others” and neither had Ava. Was fidelity, like having kids, just an expected byproduct of marriage? Surely it was possible for Thompson to honor both Ava and Beth. Intimacy with a stranger didn’t necessitate betraying a wife. “I think you needed this,” Beth had said, urging Thompson to embrace his desires. He had been moved by her insight.
Thompson didn’t see why he should be expected to adhere to a set of fundamentally Christian beliefs, assembled in an ancient era according to outmoded reasoning about property and control. And hadn’t organized religion stemmed from an unbridled fear of women? Didn’t that make it intrinsically sort of misogynistic? If Thompson didn’t believe, surely he wasn’t required to behave like a believer simply because he lived among them. If he’d been forced to define his adult life with a single word, “restraint” would have been his choice; he was sick and tired of holding back. A valve had been pried open and all his stifled desires were surging out. He did not want to stop the flow. The problem was, the familiar narrative had to reach its inevitable conclusion: the betrayal uncovered, the home destroyed, the family torn asunder, the wife humiliated, the husband a pariah in the eyes of the community. In these New England towns it happened every week; hell, it was happening right now. Thompson could get in his car and drive down these streets looking for the light in the window. “There,” he could say when he found it. “There you are.”
Beside Thompson, Ava lay smothered in the duvet, unconscious, immobile. Twice he’d thought of shaking her awake. Instead, he interrogated his unwelcome nocturnal visitor: guilt. What was guilt but another construct? People chose to participate in these structures, and he—and Ava, for that matter—had opted out.
Should I ask for clarification? Thompson wondered. That would be the generous move, thoughtful, respectful, and kind. But wouldn’t it also be a sort of strange thing to do after all these years? It would immediately arouse suspicion—and for what? As far as Thompson knew, what had happened in New York was nothing more than a little fling. It was reckless and mad and most likely finite; a return to Manhattan had yet to be scheduled. Anyway, what had happened, in the end? They hadn’t even kissed! And after a morning of titillating texts, they’d agreed: no contact. Sure, over the next few weeks, Thompson would invite details of that night to take up residence in his mind. On the train he would stare at his phone, willing a message to appear. He yearned for a simple hey. She wouldn’t text again, but what if she did? Thompson had only to summon Ava’s own words: Have fun. Spare me the details.
Surely it was possible that he had been mistaken about the umbrella of irony. Tone was an awfully slippery thing to pin down. As light graced the sill, Thompson finally slept, secure in his decision that he and his wife had meant exactly what they’d said.
It was astounding what could be communicated in a glance. Meeting Beth’s eyes his first morning back in Manhattan, it was immediately clear: they would continue.
“How’s Huck?” he found himself asking. A month had passed. They were alone in the office kitchen.
Beth swiped photos: her husband grinning with a silver trout; her husband shirtless on a rock with a bottle of beer, a woven necklace tangling in his gray chest hair; her husband and his friend in front of the river, cheeks together, grins toothy and wide. Pure joy. “And Ava, how is she?”
Thompson kicked himself for not expecting this question. He, too, had images: his wife holding one of her tiny drawings before her left eye; his wife proudly displaying the first piece of pottery she’d fired, a misshapen mug that still sat at the back of Thompson’s desk in the den; his wife, seven months pregnant, the word “host” painted across her bump. After that point in time, every photo of Ava that Thompson had taken contained one or two additional subjects. “Busy,” he said. He supposed it was true. The schedules of the boys had become terribly complex. There was a spreadsheet on the computer in the den.
In a cluttered company van they moved from one location to another running upgrades. Both hardware and software were proprietary to the company. Thompson handled hardware and Beth software. There were constant upgrades; most were transmitted to run behind the primary function. Some required on-site installation. The company contracted with multiple security firms, and one had intercepted foreign malware that had breached the firewalls of over two hundred ATMs in Manhattan alone.
They ate lunch at a terrible cafe in Midtown full of exhausted tourists in ruined shoes. Beth devoured a turkey club, and they walked ten blocks in search of coffee. They crowded a thin wooden shelf facing the street, sipping auburn hearts from paper cups as snow tumbled on gusts of air. New York! Fifteen-dollar sandwiches, five-dollar coffees.
“Remember when you put your hand down my pants?” Beth closed her eyes and breathed audibly into her cup.
Thompson lost control of his face. There were people only inches away!
Beth cleared her throat, her eyes sprang open. They laughed. She rested a finger on the window. “Is that where we put you?” Thompson hadn’t noticed the Hilton across the street. “What’s the fastest you’ve ever done an upgrade?”
“Forty-five minutes?” Thompson said. “Forty.”
Entering Thompson’s hotel room Beth said, “I’m ovulating.”
Thompson marveled at their timing. “I haven’t bought a condom in—”
He laughed. “It’s true.”
With her clothes on, Beth straddled Thompson. At the base of every thrust she issued a theatrical “Unh,” whipping her hair. “Oh yeah, that’s the spot.” Thompson had to work hard to recall a time when sex had been fun. Beth hopped onto her hands and knees, wiggling her hips. “Weeeeell…” she said. “I’m waaaaiting.”
“Unh,” Thompson blurted as he mashed against her, almost knocking her down. “Yowzer.” How silly this was.
Finally, free of her slacks, Beth shoved Thompson to the floor. “Stay!” she demanded. Softly she sang a few bars of a French song. “Soixante-neuf,” she sang, falling over him, “année érotique.”
Thompson didn’t speak French.
They rushed their work the next two days—consumer-banking security be damned—and spent hours in his room. Each encounter was unexpected. Thompson grew dizzy with uncertainty. Once, Beth, fingers shrouded by her thick pubic hair, demanded that Thompson mirror her. Later, she said, “You should do that with Ava,” and concussive waves of emotion crashed against the rocky shores of his chest. A naked stranger had invested in the sexual health of his marriage; the mind boggled. When Thompson inserted Ava into this scenario he didn’t get far. “God, Alec, couldn’t you at least wait until I’m out of the room?” Their sex life, once as electrifying as this, had become as numbingly predictable as a community theater’s annual production of The Importance of Being Earnest. And how might Thompson react if Ava returned from one of those artists’ residencies she used to attend to lead him through a thrilling new act? All his lofty arguments about enlightenment, Thompson realized, may have been a little thin. He told Beth he appreciated it but didn’t see it going very well.
“Why not?” She was tearing at a room service chicken.
“She’s not you.”
Beth shoved a greasy palm into his bare chest. “That’s a bullshit answer.”
Routine moves like a flood. It might begin in one place, but in time it finds all corners of your life.
“I think you’ve stopped trying,” Beth said.
Despite the harsh words, Thompson felt loved, actually loved. The damndest thing was, Beth was right. He liked to blame Ava, but what had he done to alter the course of things? He bit a potato wedge in half. “You got me,” he said.
Beth pointed at his face. “That’s something you do.”
“It’s kind of hard not to.”
“But then all you do is wallow. It’s almost perverse. You should let that go.” She waved an oily hunk of meat.
Thompson clawed his cloth napkin. “How much do I owe you, doc?”
“That’s something else you do.”
“I’m all ears.”
“Parry away discomfort with a joke.”
Beth pressed a foot into him gently. “No.”
Thompson’s last afternoon, they went to a CVS. A part of him didn’t want to cross this threshold. He could still convince himself that without this act he’d come just shy of betrayal. He’d managed to be a good enough husband to draw this line at least; he had saved the most intimate of intimacies for his wife. Ava would thank him for that.
Astride Thompson, Beth moved with a time-lapse slowness. It was as surprising as it was sensual. All the playfulness was gone. She didn’t say a word and neither did Thompson. Nor did they break eye contact. Ten minutes passed, twenty. It was incredibly profound, and with each passing moment Thompson’s sadness deepened. He and Ava had once been this connected, and it had faded away. How had they allowed that to happen?
When Thompson reached up to put his thumb in Beth’s mouth, she bit down so hard he yelped.
When Beth shut the bathroom door, Thompson dashed off texts. Left charger at office. Phone dying. Hugs to boys! Pressing the power button, he caught the gray bubble of his wife’s reply.
Thompson wasn’t nearly as tired on the drive home this time. With Huck around, Beth hadn’t stayed at the Hilton past nine. And now that Thompson was alone, his guilt was such a constant companion that a serious argument could have been made for the carpool lane. Images from the last few days rushed him like oncoming cars. How reckless he’d been! How audacious! He had leapt into life, like the generation before, open to it all. Why, then, did he feel like such a failure?
At the halfway point, according to Google, he pulled off to stretch his legs. His shoulders were stiff, he had a headache, his right knee hurt, he wasn’t as young as he liked to think. He dropped his cold coffee in the trash. It was such an artifact—paper cup, Greek design—that he almost hated getting rid of the thing. It was as if he’d been briefly in possession of an important piece of history and, rather than preserve it, had carelessly thrown it away. A tiny bruise, he noticed, the color of a ripe plum, marked the crescent of his nail. His face became elastic with pleasure and regret.
Oppressive clouds touched the bare tops of trees. Across the anemic wood an eighteen-wheeler idled, chrome manifolds pointing at the sky. Thompson decided to walk the loop. On the far side he encountered a mangy little mutt.
“Sorry!” the trucker called, climbing down his rig. He was scarecrow thin, a mossy beard sprouting from collapsed cheeks. The flaked tongue of a worn leather belt sank into the pocket of his loose jeans. “She’s harmless.” A fist protected his cigarette from the icy wind.
“What kind of breed?” Thompson said to be polite.
“No idea. Just your standard bitch.”
Thompson couldn’t remember the last time someone had said the word like that. He was taken aback.
“Headed home?” the trucker asked.
Thompson nodded. “You?” He wanted to move, not stand around exchanging unpleasant chit chat.
“Started in Philly, dropped in Boston, headed to Worcester.”
Sometimes, with the boys, Thompson joked, “Pass the wustuh sauce, would yous?” They got a kick out of it.
“She keeps me company.” The trucker’s dog sniffed Thompson’s duck boot. “Wifey got dinner on the table, does she?”
The trucker’s tone startled Thompson. Ava had in fact texted the evening meal, so he went ahead and said it. “Pizza.”
The trucker kissed his own fingertips with great panache. “Well isn’t that nice,” he said. There it was again, a vague undertow of threat.
“It’s not not nice,” Thompson said, deciding to assert himself. “People like pizza, don’t they?”
The trucker spat a yellow gob. “I was married once.” He sent his cigarette flying with a practiced snap. By the time it landed in a small explosion of energy, a new one burned. Thompson smelled the man’s long, rancid sigh. “Once upon a fuckin’ time, as the singer sang.”
An alternate life swirled before Thompson like a portal into another dimension. The messy divorce settled, custody of the boys in Ava’s favor, a bachelor pad near the tracks. There was no future with Beth, Thompson knew, and no past; she was confined to present action. That was what made her so thrilling.
The dog barked at the small wood, and the trucker yelled, “Sally!” She waddled back. “Well shit, you’re a hard one to read.” Thompson drew away. Living in New York all those years had taught him to skirt danger like a rat beneath the third rail. He recalled an article in The New York Times about a serial killer who’d posted an ad in the paper seeking his next victim; someone had actually responded, gone to the man’s home, and suffered a predictably grisly demise. Was Thompson about to meet his maker in a desolate way station in central Connecticut? What would be the moral of that story? Don’t talk to strangers? “But what the hell,” the trucker continued. He pointed the smoldering tip of his cigarette at the wood. “There’s a fella in there can suck a gerbil through a goddamn cocktail straw. If you’re into that sort of thing. No judgement either way.” With a two-finger salute he walked back to his rig and stepped aside so Sally could enter first.
Thompson saw the man among the thin winter trees. He was wearing a tight red parka, two or three sizes too small. He had the body of an ostrich and a tidy white mustache. His fur-lined hood framed a set of fierce pale eyes. His breath fogged the air. He shrugged, rolling his palms.
Do I look like someone who could be coaxed into illicit acts with middle-aged men in the middle of the afternoon at roadside truck stops in eastern states? Thompson wanted to know. He supposed he did. Had he changed so much in the last month? He supposed he had. There was something extremely exciting about all of this.
Thompson envied his fellow traveler for such a reckless pursuit of his untempered desires. At the same time, he pitied him. You see? he wanted to say. This is what can happen when you fail to exert some level of control. A need becomes so desperate that it alters a life and defines it.
These were strange times.
Checking his watch, he knew he would make it home in time for dinner if he didn’t stop again.
Over the coming weeks, Thompson watched the glacial migration of the bruise beneath the nail of his right thumb. As it crept toward the edge, its intensity faded. The rusty saturation tightened like an iris. The splotch became an ink blot. The ink blot became a pin prick. Then, one night in April, Thompson scraped all trace of it away as Ava, in bed beside him, told him about her day.
Mike Harvkey is the author of the novel, In the Course of Human Events. His writing has appeared in Esquire, Salon, The Believer, Poets & Writers, Fiction Writers Review, Nylon, Alaska Quarterly Review, Publishers Weekly, and elsewhere. He’s the recipient of fellowships from MacDowell, Obras (Portugal), and Columbia University, and winner of short story awards from Zoetrope All-Story Magazine and Mississippi Review. Recently, he handled research and reporting for the bestselling true-crime book, All-American Murder.