Two by Stephanie Yu

No dreams

The people in their beds are awoken by an energetic and urgent barking. It is far too late and far too cold for a dog to be barking like that. Each person in each bed lives in a separate house in a crooked line of houses, yet the barking rings through them and sounds as if it was right outside each individual window.

After what seems like hours, the barking begins to recede, landing softer and softer on their ears until it becomes a whisper. Each person in each bed surmises that the dog has escaped into the middle of the desert where it will die alone in the dark and the cold. Each person is happy knowing its death would end the barking and usher them into sleep, even though it is a cruel fate to wish on an innocent animal.

At a certain point, however, the barking begins to return, growing louder and louder. And the dog they thought would perish is very much alive, getting closer, until it is barking under each window once more. The people in their beds finally understand. The dog’s owner has fallen and the dog, overcome with anguish, is attempting to find help for its wretched master. Satisfied with this conclusion, each person falls into a deep slumber. The dog’s bark echoes through each room. Its master lies prone in the dirt, hearing no barking and having no dreams, feeling the vibrations of the worms making tunnels beneath the soil.

Little jars

The morning of the trip, the couple argues bitterly and the man screams obscenities into a towel as he washes his face. The woman screams back “How can you act this way in front of your son?” She is emptying big jars of liquids into little jars of liquids. The man finds this obscene, which makes him scream louder and the woman pack faster and more efficiently. Their son sucks on his thumb on the far side of the room.

They drop the boy off at his grandmother’s and, desperate to get away from him, drive two hours in silence into the desert. Once they get to the vacation rental, they shut all the blinds and go to bed. The sun is still high and makes the blinds burn orange. The man sleeps soundly and does not wake to make it to their dinner reservation, or even to see the stars, which is half the reason people from the city make the trip out to the desert. The woman does not fall asleep right away. The wind howls outside the door and rattles against the windows. As she lies in a strange bed that is not her own, she convinces herself that if she was to be left outside, she would perish very quickly.

When the man wakes up, it is the next day and the woman is nowhere to be found. It is nearly check out time and the man does not want to incur a fee. He packs up their things and turns off the air and all the lights. The blinds he leaves closed as instructed. He drives the two hours back and fetches the boy, making it home before the sun sets. The boy is happy to see him and the man is renewed from his time away. They spend the evening showing each other their bellies and eating goldfish crackers. They pass many happy years this way in each other’s company, learning and growing together, the boy in size and maturity and the man in a way he cannot quantify. The woman’s bag remains in the trunk of the car for a very long time, the little liquids moldering in their little jars. The boy never asks about the bag not even once.


Stephanie Yu lives and writes in Los Angeles. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in SmokeLong Quarterly, swamp pink, Wigleaf, and elsewhere. It has been recognized by the Wigleaf Top 50. Read more at