'The Ballad of Trenchmouth Taggart' by Glenn Taylor

When Early Taggart was baptized in the Tug River in 1903, he was two months old. His mother, whose husband had left her a week earlier, had got religion. She believed it right to bring lambs to the fold before they could crawl or sit up on their own. Before Satan could fill their little blood vessels with the seven deadly sins. It was these sins that had caused her husband to run off, that she now preached on to her twelve pound boy while he breastfed.

But it was February when she decided to baptize him, and no preacher would would agree to it. 'You'd have to break through the ice down there,' the Methodist man said, 'and that boy ain't old enough to get wet anyhow.' So Mittie Ann Taggart did it herself. She punched holes through the inch-thick ice with her shoe heel and held her baby boy by his thighs. She dunked his head like wash. He came up screaming.

'A Fine Balance' by Rohinton Mistry

The morning express bloated with passengers slowed to a crawl, then lurched forward suddenly, as though to resume full speed. The train's brief deception jolted its riders. The bulge of humans hanging out of the doorway distended perilously, like a soap bubble at its limit.

'That Old Ace in the Hole' by Annie Proulx

In late March Bob Dollar, a young, curly-headed man of twenty-five with the broad face of a cat, pale innocent eyes fringed with sooty lashes, drove east along Texas State Highway 15 in the panhandle, down from Denver the day before, over the Raton Pass and through the dead volcano of northeast Mexico to the Oaklahoma pistol barrel, then a wrong turn north and wasted hours before he regained the way. It was a roaring spring morning with green in the sky, the air spiced with sand sagebrush and aromatic sumac. NPR faded from the radio in a string of announcements of corporate supporters, replaced by a Christian station that alternated pabulum preaching and punchy music. He switched to shit-kicker airwaves and listened to songs about staying home, going home, being home and the errors of leaving home.

'The Sense of an Ending' by Julian Barnes

I remember, in no particular order: – a shiny inner wrist; – steam rising from a wet sink as a hot frying pan is laughingly tossed into it; – gouts of sperm circling a plughole, before being sluiced down the full length of a tall house; – a river rushing nonsensically upstream, its wave and wash lit by half a dozen chasing torchbeams; – another river, broad and grey, the direction of its flow disguised by a stiff wind exciting the surface; – bathwater long gone cold behind a locked door. This last isn’t something I actually saw, but what you end up remembering isn’t always the same as what you have witnessed.

We live in time – it holds us and moulds us – but I’ve never felt I understood it very well. And I’m not referring to theories about how it bends and doubles back, or may exist elsewhere in parallel versions. No, I mean ordinary, everyday time, which clocks and watches assure us passes regularly: tick-tock, click-clock. Is there anything more plausible than a second hand? And yet it takes only the smallest pleasure or pain to teach us time’s malleability. Some emotions speed it up, others slow it down; occasionally, it seems to go missing – until the eventual point when it really does go missing, never to return.

'The Tax Inspector' by Peter Carey

In the morning Cathy McPherson put three soft-boiled eggs outside Benny Catchprice's door and in the afternoon she fired him from the spares department. That's who she was - his father's sister. They were both the same - big ones for kissing and cuddling, but you could not predict them. You could not rely on them for anything important. They had great soft lips and they had a family smell, like almost-rancid butter which came from deep in their skin, from the thick shafts of their wiry hair; they smelt of this, from within them, but also of things they had touched and swallowed - motor oil, radiator hoses, Life Savers, different sorts of alcohol - beer, Benedictine, alter wine on Sundays.

'Our Lady of the Forest' by David Guterson

The girl's errand in the forest that day was to gather chanterelle mushrooms in a bucket to sell in town at dusk. According to her own account and the accounts of others in the North Fork Campground who would later be questioned by the diocesan committee, by Father Collins of Saint Joeseph's of North Fork, by the bishop's representative, and by reporters covering the purported apparitions - including tabloid journalists who treated the story like a visitation by Martians or the birth of a two-headed infant - the girl left her camp before eight o'clock and walked alone into the woods.

'Ragtime' by E.L. Doctorow

In 1902 Father built a house at the crest of the Broadview Avenue hill in New Rochelle, New York. It was a three-storey brown shingle with dormers, bay windows and a screened porch. Striped awnings shaded the windows. The family took possession of this stout manse on a sunny day in June and it seemed for some years thereafter that all their days would be warm and fair. The best part of Father's income was derived from the manufacture of flags and buntings and other accoutrements of patriotism, including fireworks. Patriotism was a reliable sentiment in the early 1900's. Teddy Roosevely was President.