If you follow Teju Cole on Twitter, you’ve likely already read many of his small fates, tweets he composed over two years drawn from Nigerian newspapers. The project follows the spirit of Félix Fénéon’s faits divers, three-line tragedies collected from the news.
Cole has written about the project in detail at his site, as have a number of other sites, but I can’t recall seeing the small fates put together in one place before The New Inquiry published 45 today under the title I don’t normally do this sort of thing. Cole’s small fates operate on a wonderfully strange axis of comedy and horror; they are brief but rich, ironic but intensely real.
“The Snow Child” by Angela Carter
Midwinter — invincible, immaculate. The Count and his wife go riding, he on a grey mare and she on a black one, she wrapped in the glittering pelts of black foxes; and she wore high, black, shining boots with scarlet heels, and spurs. Fresh snow fell on snow already fallen; when it ceased, the whole world was white. “I wish I had a girl as white as snow,” says the Count. They ride on. They come to a hole in the snow; this hole is filled with blood. He says: “I wish I had a girl as red as blood.” So they ride on again; here is a raven, perched on a bare bough. “I wish I had a girl as black as that bird’s feathers.”
As soon as he completed her description, there she stood, beside the road, white skin, red mouth, black hair and stark naked; she was the child of his desire and the Countess hated her. The Count lifted her up and sat her in front of him on his saddle but the Countess had only one thought:how shall I be rid of her?
The Countess dropped her glove in the snow and told the girl to get down to look for it; she meant to gallop off and leave her there but the Count said: “I’ll buy you new gloves.” At that, the furs sprang off the Countess’s shoulders and twined round the naked girl. Then the Countess threw her diamond brooch through the ice of a frozen pond: “Dive in and fetch it for me,” she said; she thought the girl would drown. But the Count said: “Is she a fish to swim in such cold weather?” Then her boots leapt off the Countess’s feet and on to the girl’s legs. Now the Countess was bare as a bone and the girl furred and booted; the Count felt sorry for his wife. They came to a bush of roses, all in flower. “Pick me one,” said the Countess to the girl. “I can’t deny you that,” said the Count.
So the girl picks a rose; pricks her finger on the thorn; bleeds; screams; falls.
Weeping, the Count got off his horse, unfastened his breeches and thrust his virile member into the dead girl. The Countess reined in her stamping mare and watched him narrowly; he was soon finished.
Then the girl began to melt. Soon there was nothing left of her but a feather a bird might have dropped; a blood stain, like the trace of a fox’s kill on the snow; and the rose she had pulled off the bush. Now the Countess had all her clothes on again. With her long hand, she stroked her furs. The Count picked up the rose, bowed and handed it to his wife; when she touched it, she dropped it. “It bites!” she said.
“Sing to It” by Amy Hempel
At the end, he said, No Metaphors! Nothing is like anything else.
Except he said to me before he said that, Make your hands a hammock for me. So there was one.
He said, Not even the rain—he quoted the poet—not even the rain has such small hands. So there was another.
At the end, I wanted to comfort him. But what I said was, Sing to it. The Arabian proverb: When danger approaches, sing to it.
Except I said to him before I said that, No metaphors! No one is like anyone else. And he said, Please.
So—at the end, I made my hands a hammock for him.
My arms the trees.