This summer, Tin House Books presents a collection of stories from a few of today's most exciting female authors, including Karen Russell, Miranda July, Lydia Millet and more in Fantastic Women: 18 Tales of the Surreal and the Sublime. ...Now, read an excerpt from the book, Aimee Bender’s “Americca."

Read about more great books for women with Jennifer Weiner

When we came home from the movie that night, my sister went into the bathroom and then called out to our mother, asking if she’d bought another toothpaste as a hint.

I know I have major cavities, she said. But do we really need two?

Two what? asked my mother.

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Two toothpastes, said Hannah. 

My mother took off her sweater for the first time in hours and peered into the bathroom, where, next to the grungy blue cup that holds the toothbrushes, there were now two full toothpastes.

I only bought one, she said. I think. Unless for some reason it was on sale.

We all shrugged in unison. I brushed my teeth with extra paste and went to bed. This incident would’ve been filed away in non-memory and we would just have had clean teeth for longer, except that in the morning there was a new knickknack on the living room side table, a slim abstract circle made of silver, and no one had any idea where it came from. 

Is it a present? asked our mother with motherly hope, but we children, all too honest, shook our heads.

I don’t know what that is, I said, picking it up. It felt heavy and expensive. Cool to the touch. Nice, Hannah said.

My mother put it away in the top of the coat closet. It was nice, but it felt, she said, like charity. And I don’t like too many knickknacks, she said, eyes elsewhere, wondering. She went to my grandmother and brought her a lukewarm cup of tea, which Grandma accepted and held, as if she no longer knew what to do with it. 

Drink! my mother said, and Grandma took a sip and the peppermint pleased her and she smiled.

Happened again the next evening when, while setting up for a rare family dinner, my mother stood, arms crossed, in front of the pantry.

Lisa, she said, you didn’t go to the market, did you?

Me?

Hannah?

No.

John?

No.

Grandma never shopped. She would get lost in the aisles. She would hide beneath the apple table like a little girl. Our mother, mouth twisted in puzzlement to the side, found soup flavors in the pantry she swore she never would’ve considered buying. She held up a can of lobster bisque. This is far too bourgeois for me, she said. Anyone else buy this? We all shook our heads. Wild rice and kidney bean? she said. What is this? I would never buy this—lemongrass corn chowder? They sell this stuff these days? 

Yum, yelled Dad from the other room, where he was watching tennis.

Who put these here? asked Mom again. 

Hannah paused, placing spoons on napkins. I don’t really like soup, she said. I shook my head. Not me, I said. I definitely hate soup.

Our mother tapped her fingers against the counter, nervous.

What is going on? she said.

Hannah lined up the spoon with the knife. We’ve been backwards robbed, she said solemnly.

I laughed but her eyes were serious.

Alls I know is, she said, I did not buy that soup.

Neither did I, said Mom.

Neither did I, called Dad from the other room.

I could tell I was still the main suspect, just because I seemed the most interested in all of it, but as I explained repeatedly, why would a person lie about bringing food and new knickknacks into the house? That is nice. That is something to get credit for.

"America," copyright (c) 2009 by Aimee Bender; first published in Tin House no. 40; reprinted by permission of Tin House Books.