Bell follows her two novels (Saint, 1985; The Perez Family, 1990) with a first collection of nine stories that limn the quirks and quandaries of the human heart with sympathy and a wry sense of the absurd. The characters here come from the striving lower class where respectability, while often desired, must always contend with somber economic realities and unexpected tragedy. In the title story, a young woman living with her handicapped aunt and their maid, believing that every seven years we change the atoms of our body, is ready for ``real First Love'' again. She finds and loses it but along the way makes money by feeding false gossip about royalty to the tabloids. Another tale, ''A Pillow and a Rock,'' gives Elvis Presley a twin brother, presumed dead at birth but saved by the midwife who gave him to a childless couple. In ``Nashville Night,'' a still-grieving mother recalls the summer she nursed her dying daughter, who wasn't exactly ``mean but was still a long way from the sweetness that invites disease.'' Saved by a stranger from a marauding gang who later kill a woman at the same place, a wife and mother (in ``Cliff from Chicago, Annie McDermott, and Me'') can't forget the sheer randomness of the incident. The young woman protagonist of ``A Good Thief,'' sentenced to do community service at a home for the retarded, doesn't exactly reform but learns after a bungled robbery with one of the inmates in tow that she ``wasn't as good a thief as she thought.'' And in a whimsical change of pace, ``Mockingbird'' relates how a noted sound sleeper lost and then regained his wife, who had left him to find a good night's rest. Affecting and unpretentiously original: a quiet delight.