''Maybe tragedy had its own time, its own schedule, and to hurry it up would do nothing but compound it,'' writes Barkley in ''Mistletoe,'' one of 10 bittersweet stories in this collection examining love and loyalty in the male mind. His melancholic characters struggle with failure, death, and relationships, his vivid yet understated style stamping them with blue-collar authenticity. Ray is tempted by crime to save his ailing buddy Bosco; Curt and Rhonda try dancing lessons to ease the pain of losing a child; Tommy, who insists he has cancer, visits as his son, Billy, recovers from a failed marriage. Barkley writes with a wry wit (when Tommy tries to recall what stage of grief follows denial, Billy responds: ''How about incredulity?'') that transcends the gloomy material.