“Discovery” — Guy de Maupassant

The steamer was crowded with people and the crossing promised to be good. I was going from Havre to Trouville.

The ropes were thrown off, the whistle blew for the last time, the whole boat started to tremble, and the great wheels began to revolve, slowly at first, and then with ever-increasing rapidity.

We were gliding along the pier, black with people. Those on board were waving their handkerchiefs, as though they were leaving for America, and their friends on shore were answering in the same manner.

The big July sun was shining down on the red parasols, the light dresses, the joyous faces and on the ocean, barely stirred by a ripple. When we were out of the harbor, the little vessel swung round the big curve and pointed her nose toward the distant shore which was barely visible through the early morning mist. On our left was the broad estuary of the Seine, her muddy water, which never mingles with that of the ocean, making large yellow streaks clearly outlined against the immense sheet of the pure green sea.

As soon as I am on a boat I feel the need of walking to and fro, like a sailor on watch. Why? I do not know. Therefore I began to thread my way along the deck through the crowd of travellers. Suddenly I heard my name called. I turned around. I beheld one of my old friends, Henri Sidoine, whom I had not seen for ten years. Read More

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“The Chemist’s Wife” — Anton Chekhov

“The Chemist’s Wife”

by

Anton Chekhov

The little town of B——, consisting of two or three crooked streets, was sound asleep. There was a complete stillness in the motionless air. Nothing could be heard but far away, outside the town no doubt, the barking of a dog in a thin, hoarse tenor. It was close upon daybreak.

Everything had long been asleep. The only person not asleep was the young wife of Tchernomordik, a qualified dispenser who kept a chemist’s shop at B——. She had gone to bed and got up again three times, but could not sleep, she did not know why. She sat at the open window in her nightdress and looked into the street. She felt bored, depressed, vexed . . . so vexed that she felt quite inclined to cry—again she did not know why. There seemed to be a lump in her chest that kept rising into her throat. . . . A few paces behind her Tchernomordik lay curled up close to the wall, snoring sweetly. A greedy flea was stabbing the bridge of his nose, but he did not feel it, and was positively smiling, for he was dreaming that every one in the town had a cough, and was buying from him the King of Denmark’s cough-drops. He could not have been wakened now by pinpricks or by cannon or by caresses.

The chemist’s shop was almost at the extreme end of the town, so that the chemist’s wife could see far into the fields. She could see the eastern horizon growing pale by degrees, then turning crimson as though from a great fire. A big broad-faced moon peeped out unexpectedly from behind bushes in the distance. It was red (as a rule when the moon emerges from behind bushes it appears to be blushing).

Suddenly in the stillness of the night there came the sounds of footsteps and a jingle of spurs. She could hear voices. Read More

“Secret Breathing Techniques” — Ben Marcus

I HAD APPARENTLY BEEN living in one of the towns that was now gone. According to reports, I held my own against one of the younger organizations. I fought well and long. The ending of the report is muddy, with many foreign words and phrases, and an indecipherable series of pictures. There is no clear sense that I survived.

Photographs of my body had circulated, flags had been stitched with secret instructions.

There were instances of my name in the registry—the spelling varied, and my date of birth was frequently listed as unknown. A scroll of hair, probably my own, was taped to the paper. Mention was made of what must have been my house, a vehicle I summoned to cross the water (skirmishes, courtship, evasions—the report is unclear), and the amount of sacking I had contributed to the yearly mountain effort. I ranked slightly above average.

People wrote of seeing me in the morning by the water; several photographs featured me wearing a beard, concealing something in my coat. A Nacht diagram rated me favorably, prior to the revision. The Wixx index claimed I might have perished. I read accounts of myself ostensibly accompanying a family to the market on Saturdays. I may have been their assistant; I may have been their captor. The wording is vague. Some sentences depicted me handling the bread in an aggressive manner, as if searching for something inside it.

It is possible I was collecting samples. I would not rule it out. It would explain the long clear jars I found stored in my clothing that day when I woke. But it would not explain why those jars were empty.

Read the rest of “Secret Breathing Techniques” by Ben Marcus in Conjunctions.

“The Man of the Crowd” — Edgar Allan Poe

 Harry Clarke's illustration for "The Man of the Crowd," 1923


Harry Clarke’s illustration for “The Man of the Crowd,” 1923

“The Man of the Crowd”

by

Edgar Allan Poe

     Ce grand malheur, de ne pouvoir être seul.

              La Bruyère.

IT was well said of a certain German book that “er lasst sich nicht lesen“—it does not permit itself to be read. There are some secrets which do not permit themselves to be told. Men die nightly in their beds, wringing the hands of ghostly confessors and looking them piteously in the eyes—die with despair of heart and convulsion of throat, on account of the hideousness of mysteries which will not suffer themselves to be revealed. Now and then, alas, the conscience of man takes up a burthen so heavy in horror that it can be thrown down only into the grave. And thus the essence of all crime is undivulged.

Not long ago, about the closing in of an evening in autumn, I sat at the large bow window of the D——- Coffee-House in London. For some months I had been ill in health, but was now convalescent, and, with returning strength, found myself in one of those happy moods which are so precisely the converse of ennui—moods of the keenest appetency, when the film from the mental vision departs—the [Greek phrase]—and the intellect, electrified, surpasses as greatly its every-day condition, as does the vivid yet candid reason of Leibnitz, the mad and flimsy rhetoric of Gorgias. Merely to breathe was enjoyment; and I derived positive pleasure even from many of the legitimate sources of pain. I felt a calm but inquisitive interest in every thing. With a cigar in my mouth and a newspaper in my lap, I had been amusing myself for the greater part of the afternoon, now in poring over advertisements, now in observing the promiscuous company in the room, and now in peering through the smoky panes into the street.

This latter is one of the principal thoroughfares of the city, and had been very much crowded during the whole day. But, as the darkness came on, the throng momently increased; and, by the time the lamps were well lighted, two dense and continuous tides of population were rushing past the door. At this particular period of the evening I had never before been in a similar situation, and the tumultuous sea of human heads filled me, therefore, with a delicious novelty of emotion. I gave up, at length, all care of things within the hotel, and became absorbed in contemplation of the scene without. Read More

“Clay” — James Joyce

“Clay”

by

James Joyce

The matron had given her leave to go out as soon as the women’s tea was over and Maria looked forward to her evening out. The kitchen was spick and span: the cook said you could see yourself in the big copper boilers. The fire was nice and bright and on one of the side-tables were four very big barmbracks. These barmbracks seemed uncut; but if you went closer you would see that they had been cut into long thick even slices and were ready to be handed round at tea. Maria had cut them herself.

Maria was a very, very small person indeed but she had a very long nose and a very long chin. She talked a little through her nose, always soothingly: “Yes, my dear,” and “No, my dear.” She was always sent for when the women quarrelled over their tubs and always succeeded in making peace. One day the matron had said to her:

“Maria, you are a veritable peace-maker!”

And the sub-matron and two of the Board ladies had heard the compliment. And Ginger Mooney was always saying what she wouldn’t do to the dummy who had charge of the irons if it wasn’t for Maria. Everyone was so fond of Maria.

The women would have their tea at six o’clock and she would be able to get away before seven. From Ballsbridge to the Pillar, twenty minutes; from the Pillar to Drumcondra, twenty minutes; and twenty minutes to buy the things. She would be there before eight. She took out her purse with the silver clasps and read again the words A Present from Belfast. She was very fond of that purse because Joe had brought it to her five years before when he and Alphy had gone to Belfast on a Whit-Monday trip. In the purse were two half-crowns and some coppers. She would have five shillings clear after paying tram fare. What a nice evening they would have, all the children singing! Only she hoped that Joe wouldn’t come in drunk. He was so different when he took any drink. Read More

Read “Consequences,” A Short Story by Willa Cather

“Consequences”

by

Willa Cather

Henry Eastman, a lawyer, aged forty, was standing beside the Flatiron building in a driving November rainstorm, signaling frantically for a taxi. It was six-thirty, and everything on wheels was engaged. The streets were in confusion about him, the sky was in turmoil above him, and the Flatiron building, which seemed about to blow down, threw water like a mill-shoot. Suddenly, out of the brutal struggle of men and cars and machines and people tilting at each other with umbrellas, a quiet, well-mannered limousine paused before him, at the curb, and an agreeable, ruddy countenance confronted him through the open window of the car.

“Don’t you want me to pick you up, Mr. Eastman? I’m running directly home now.”

Eastman recognized Kier Cavenaugh, a young man of pleasure, who lived in the house on Central Park South, where he himself had an apartment.

“Don’t I?” he exclaimed, bolting into the car. “I’ll risk getting your cushions wet without compunction. I came up in a taxi, but I didn’t hold it. Bad economy. I thought I saw your car down on Fourteenth Street about half an hour ago.”

The owner of the car smiled. He had a pleasant, round face and round eyes, and a fringe of smooth, yellow hair showed under the rim of his soft felt hat. “With a lot of little broilers fluttering into it? You did. I know some girls who work in the cheap shops down there. I happened to be down-town and I stopped and took a load of them home. I do sometimes. Saves their poor little clothes, you know. Their shoes are never any good.”

Eastman looked at his rescuer. “Aren’t they notoriously afraid of cars and smooth young men?” he inquired. Read More

“God Sees the Truth, but Waits” — Leo Tolstoy

“God Sees the Truth, but Waits”

by

Leo Tolstoy

In the town of Vladimir lived a young merchant named Ivan Dmitrich
Aksionov. He had two shops and a house of his own.

Aksionov was a handsome, fair-haired, curly-headed fellow, full of fun, and very fond of singing. When quite a young man he had been given to drink, and was riotous when he had had too much; but after he married he gave up drinking, except now and then.

One summer Aksionov was going to the Nizhny Fair, and as he bade good-bye to his family, his wife said to him, “Ivan Dmitrich, do not start to-day; I have had a bad dream about you.”

Aksionov laughed, and said, “You are afraid that when I get to the fair I shall go on a spree.”

His wife replied: “I do not know what I am afraid of; all I know is that I had a bad dream. I dreamt you returned from the town, and when you took off your cap I saw that your hair was quite grey.”

Aksionov laughed. “That’s a lucky sign,” said he. “See if I don’t sell out all my goods, and bring you some presents from the fair.”

So he said good-bye to his family, and drove away.

When he had travelled half-way, he met a merchant whom he knew, and they put up at the same inn for the night. They had some tea together, and then went to bed in adjoining rooms.

It was not Aksionov’s habit to sleep late, and, wishing to travel while it was still cool, he aroused his driver before dawn, and told him to put in the horses.

Then he made his way across to the landlord of the inn (who lived in a cottage at the back), paid his bill, and continued his journey.

When he had gone about twenty-five miles, he stopped for the horses to be fed. Aksionov rested awhile in the passage of the inn, then he stepped out into the porch, and, ordering a samovar to be heated, got out his guitar and began to play.

Suddenly a troika drove up with tinkling bells and an official alighted, followed by two soldiers. He came to Aksionov and began to question him, asking him who he was and whence he came. Aksionov answered him fully, and said, “Won’t you have some tea with me?” But the official went on cross-questioning him and asking him. “Where did you spend last night? Were you alone, or with a fellow-merchant? Did you see the other merchant this morning? Why did you leave the inn before dawn?” Read More

“Good-bye to the Fruits” — John Barth

“Good-bye to the Fruits”

by

John Barth

I agreed to die, stipulating only that I first be permitted to rebehold and bid good-bye to those of Earth’s fruits that I had particularly enjoyed in my not-extraordinary lifetime.
What I had in mind, in the first instance, was such literal items as apples and oranges. Of the former, the variety called Golden Delicious had long been my favorite, especially those with a blush of rose on their fetchingly speckled yellow-green cheeks. Of the latter–but then, there’s no comparing apples to oranges, is there, nor either of those to black plums: truly incomparable, in my opinion, on the rare occasions when one found them neither under- nor overripe. Good-bye to all three, alas; likewise to bananas, whether sliced transversely atop unsweetened breakfast cereal, split longitudinally under scoops of frozen yogurt, barbecued in foil with chutney, or blended with lime juice, rum, and Cointreau into frozen daiquiris on a Chesapeake August late afternoon.
Lime juice, yes: Farewell, dear zesty limes, squeezed into gins-and-tonics before stirring and over bluefish filets before grilling; adieu too to your citric cousins the lemons, particularly those with the thinnest of skins, always the most juiceful, without whose piquance one could scarcely imagine fresh seafood, and whose literal zest was such a challenge for us kitchen-copilots to scrape a half-tablespoonsworth of without getting the bitter white underpeel as well. Adieu to black seedless grapes for eating with ripe cheeses and to all the nobler stocks for vinting, except maybe Chardonnay. I happened not to share the American yuppie thirst for Chardonnay; too over-flavored for my palate. Give me a plain light dry Chablis any time instead of Chardonnay, if you can find so simple a thing on our restaurant wine-lists these days. And whatever happened to soft dry reds that don’t cost an arm and a leg on the one hand, so to speak, or, on the other, taste of iron and acetic acid? But this was no time for such cavils: Good-bye, blessed fruit of the vineyard, a dinner without which was like a day without et cetera. Good-bye to the fruits of those other vines, in particular the strawberry, if berries are properly to be called fruits, the tomato, and the only melon I would really miss, our local cantaloupe. Good-bye to that most sexual of fruits, the guava; to peaches, plantains (fried), pomegranates, and papayas; to the fruits of pineapple field and coconut tree, if nuts are fruits and coconuts nuts, and of whatever it is that kiwis grow on. As for pears, I had always thought them better canned than fresh, as Hemingway’s Nick Adams says of apricots in the story “Big Two-Hearted River”–but I couldn’t see kissing a can good-bye, so I guessed that just about did the fruits (I myself preferred my apricots sun-dried rather than either fresh or canned).

Read the rest of “Goodbye to the Fruits” — and two other John Barth shorts — in the Spring ’94 issue of Conjunctions.

“Forever Overhead” — David Foster Wallace

“Forever Overhead”

by

David Foster Wallace

Happy Birthday. Your thirteenth is important. Maybe your first really public day. Your thirteenth is the chance for people to recognize that important things are happening to you.

Things have been happening to you for the past half year. You have seven hairs in your left armpit now. Twelve in your right. Hard dangerous spirals of brittle black hair. Crunchy, animal hair. There are now more of the hard curled hairs around your privates than you can count without losing track. Other things. Your voice is rich and scratchy and moves between octaves without any warning. Your face has begun to get shiny when you don’t wash it. And two weeks of a deep and frightening ache this past spring left you with something dropped down from inside: your sack is now full and vulnerable, a commodity to be protected. Hefted and strapped in tight supporters that stripe your buttocks red. You have grown into a new fragility.

And dreams. For months there have been dreams like nothing before: moist and busy and distant, full of yielding curves, frantic pistons, warmth and a great falling; and you have awakened through fluttering lids to a rush and a gush and a toe-curling scalp-snapping jolt of a feeling from an inside deeper than you knew you had, spasms of a deep sweet hurt, the streetlights though your window blinds cracking into sharp stars against the black bedroom ceiling, and on you a dense white jam that lisps between legs, trickles and sticks, cools on you, hardens and clears until there is nothing but gnarled knots of pale solid animal hair in the morning shower, and in the wet tangle a clean sweet smell you can’t believe comes from anything you made inside you.

The smell is, more than anything like this swimming pool: a bleached sweet salt, a flower with chemical petals. The pool has a strong clear blue smell, though you know the smell is never as strong when you are actually in the blue water, as you are now, all swum out, resting back along the shallow end, the hip-high water lapping at where it’s all changed.

Around the deck of this old public pool on the western edge of Tucson is a Cyclone fence the color of pewter, decorated with a bright tangle of locked bicycles. Beyond this a hot black parking lot full of white lines and glittering cars. A dull field of dry grass and hard weeds, old dandelions’ downy heads exploding and snowing up in a rising wind. And past all this, reddened by a round slow September sun, are mountains, jagged, their tops’ sharp angles darkening into definition against a deep red tired light. Against the red their sharp connected tops form a spiked line, an EKG of the dying day.

[Read the rest of "Forever Overhead."]

“The Gambler, the Nun, and the Radio” — Ernest Hemingway

“The Gambler, the Nun, and the Radio”

by

Ernest Hemingway

THEY brought them in around midnight and then, all night long, everyone along the corridor heard the Russian.
‘Where is he shot?’ Mr. Frazer asked the night nurse.

‘In the thigh, I think.’
‘What about the other one?’
‘Oh, he’s going to die, I’m afraid.’
‘Where is he shot?’
‘Twice in the abdomen. They only found one of the bullets.’

They were both beet workers, a Mexican and a Russian, and they were sitting drinking coffee in an all-night restaurant when someone came in the door and started shooting at the Mexican. The Russian crawled under a table and was hit, finally, by a stray shot fired at the Mexican as he lay on the floor with two bullets in his abdomen. That was what the paper said.

The Mexican told the police he had no idea who shot him.
He believed it to be an accident.

‘An accident that he fired eight shots at you and hit you twice, there?’
‘Si, señor,’ said the Mexican, who was named Cayetano Ruiz, ‘An accident that he hit me at all, the cabron,’ he said to the interpreter.
‘What does he say?’ asked the detective sergeant, looking across the bed at the interpreter.
‘He says it was an accident.’
‘Tell him to tell the truth, that he is going to die,’ the detective said.
‘Na,’ said Cayetano. ‘But tell him that I feel very sick and would prefer not to talk so much.’
‘He says that he is telling the truth,’ the interpreter said.
Then, speaking confidently, to the detective, ‘He don’t know who shot him. They shot him in the back.’
‘Yes,’ said the detective. ‘I understand that, but why did the bullets all go in the front?’
‘Maybe he is spinning around,’ said the interpreter.
‘Listen,’ said the detective, shaking his finger almost at Cayetano’s nose, which projected, waxen yellow, from his dead-man’s face in which his eyes were alive as a hawk’s, ‘I don’t give a damn who shot you, but I’ve got to clear this thing up. Don’t you want the man who shot you to be punished? Tell him that,’ he said to the interpreter.
‘He says to tell who shot you.’
‘Mandarlo al carajo,’ said Cayetano, who was very tired.
‘He says he never saw the fellow at all,’ the interpreter said. ‘I tell you straight they shot him in the back.’
‘Ask him who shot the Russian.’
‘Poor Russian,’ said Cayetano. ‘He was on the floor with his head enveloped in his arms. He started to give cries when they shoot him and he is giving cries ever since. Poor Russian.’
‘He says some fellow that he doesn’t know. Maybe the same fellow that shot him.’
‘Listen,’ the detective said. ‘This isn’t Chicago. You’re not a gangster. You don’t have to act like a moving picture. It’s all right to tell who shot you. Anybody would tell who shot them. That’s all right to do. Suppose you don’t tell who he is and he shoots somebody else. Suppose he shoots a woman or a child. You can’t let him get away with that. You tell him,’ he said to Mr. Frazer. ‘I don’t trust that damn interpreter.’
‘I am very reliable,’ the interpreter said. Cayetano looked at Mr. Frazer.
‘Listen, amigo,’ said Mr. Frazer. ‘The policeman says that we are not in Chicago but in Hailey, Montana. You are not a bandit and this has nothing to do with the cinema.’
‘I believe him,’ said Cayetano softly. ‘Ya lo creo.’
‘One can, with honour, denounce one’s assailant. Every one does it here, he says. He says what happens if after shooting you, this man shoots a woman or a child?’
‘I am not married,’ Cayetano said.
‘He says any woman, any child.’
‘The man is not crazy,’ Cayetano said.
‘He says you should denounce him,’ Mr. Frazer finished.
‘Thank you,’ Cayetano said. ‘You are of the great translators. I speak English, but badly. I understand it all right. How did you break your leg?’
‘A fall off a horse.’
‘What bad luck. I am very sorry. Does it hurt much?’
‘Not now. At first, yes.’
‘Listen, amigo,’ Cayetano began, ‘I am very weak. You will pardon me. Also I have much pain; enough pain. It is very possible that I die. Please get this policeman out of here because I am very tired.’ He made as though to roll to one side; then held himself still.
‘I told him everything exactly as you said and he said to tell you, truly, that he doesn’t know who shot him and that he is very weak and wishes you would question him later on,’ Mr. Frazer said.
‘He’ll probably be dead later on.’
‘That’s quite possible.’
‘That’s why I want to question him now.’
‘Somebody shot him in the back, I tell you,’ the interpreter said.
‘Oh, for Chrisake,’ the detective sergeant said, and put his notebook in his pocket.
Outside in the corridor the detective sergeant stood with the interpreter beside Mr. Frazer’s wheeled chair.
‘I suppose you think somebody shot him in the back too?’
‘Yes,’ Frazer said. ‘Somebody shot him in the back. What’s it to you?’
‘Don’t get sore,’ the sergeant said. ‘I wish I could talk spick.’
‘Why don’t you learn?’
‘You don’t have to get sore. I don’t get any fun out of asking that spick question. If I could talk spick it would be different.’
‘You don’t need to talk Spanish,’ the interpreter said. ‘I’m a very reliable interpreter.’
‘Oh, for Chrisake,’ the sergeant said. ‘Well, so long. I’ll come up and see you.’
‘Thanks. I’m always in.’
‘I guess you are all right. That was bad luck all right. Plenty bad luck.’
‘It’s coming along good now since he spliced the bone.’
‘Yes, but it’s a long time. A long, long time.’
‘Don’t let anybody shoot you in the back.’
‘That’s right,’ he said. ‘That’s right. Well, I’m glad you’re not sore.’
‘So long,’ said Mr. Frazer.

Mr. Frazer did not see Cayetano again for a long time, but each morning Sister Cecilia brought news of him. He was so uncomplaining she said and he was very bad now. He had peritonitis and they thought he could not live. Poor Cayetano, she said. He had such beautiful hands and such a fine face and he never complains. The odour, now, was really terrific. He would point toward his nose with one finger and smile and shake his head, she said. He felt badly about the odour. It embarrassed him, Sister Cecilia said. Oh, he was such a fine patient. He always smiled. He wouldn’t go to confession to Father but he promised to say his prayers, and not a Mexican had been to see him since he had been brought in. The Russian was going out at the end of the week. I could never feel anything about the Russian, Sister Cecilia said. Poor fellow, he suffered too. It was a greased bullet and dirty and the wound infected, but he made so much noise and then I always like the bad ones. That Cayetano, he’s a bad one. Oh, he must really be a bad one, a thoroughly bad one, he’s so fine and delicately made and he’s never done any work with his hands. He’s not a beet worker. I know he’s not a beet worker. His hands are as smooth and not a callous on them. I know he’s a bad one of some sort. I’m going down and pray for him now. Poor Cayetano, he’s having a dreadful time and he doesn’t make a sound. What did they have to shoot him for? Oh, that poor Cayetano! I’m going right down and pray for him.
She went right down and prayed for him.

Read More

Read James Purdy’s short story “The White Blackbird”

“The White Blackbird”

by

James Purdy

EVEN BEFORE I REACHED my one hundredth birthday, I had made several wills, and yet just before I put down my signature

Delia Mattlock

my hand refused to form the letters. My attorney was in despair. I had outlived everyone and there was only one person to whom I could bequeath much, my young godson, and he was not yet twenty-one.
I am putting all this down more to explain the course of events to myself than to leave this as a document to posterity, for as I say, outside of my godson, Clyde Furness, even my lifelong servants have departed this life.
The reason I could not sign my name then is simply this: piece by piece my family jewels have been disappearing over the last few years, and today as I near my one hundred years all of these precious heirlooms one by one have vanished into thin air.
I blamed myself at first, for even as a young girl I used to misplace articles, to the great sorrow of my mother. My great grandmother’s gold thimble is an example. You would lose your head if it wasn’t tied on, Mother would joke rather sourly. I lost my graduation watch, I lost my diamond engagement ring, and, if I had not taken the vow never to remove it, my wedding ring to Will Mattlock would have also taken flight. I will never remove it and will go to my grave wearing it.
But to return to the jewels. They go back in my family over two hundred years, and yes, piece by piece, as I say, they have been disappearing. Take my emerald necklace — its loss nearly finished me. But what of my diamond earrings, the lavaliere over a century old, my ruby earrings — oh, why mention them? For to mention them is like a stab in the heart.
I could tell no one for fear they would think I had lost my wits, and then they would blame the servants, who were I knew blameless, such perfect, even holy, caretakers of me and mine.
But there came the day when I felt I must at least hint to my godson that my jewels were all by now unaccounted for. I hesitated weeks, months before telling him.
About Clyde now. His Uncle Enos told me many times that it was his heartbroken conviction that Clyde was somewhat retarded. “Spends all his time in the forest,” Enos went on, “failed every grade in school, couldn’t add up a column of figures or do his multiplication tables.”
“Utter rot and nonsense,” I told Enos. “Clyde is bright as a silver dollar. I have taught him all he needs to know, and I never had to teach him twice because he has a splendid memory. In fact, Enos, he is becoming my memory.”
Then of course Enos had to die. Only sixty, went off like a puff of smoke while reading the weekly racing news.
So then there was only Clyde and me. We played cards, chess, and then one day he caught sight of my old Ouija board.
I went over to where he was looking at it. That was when I knew I would tell him — of the jewels vanishing, of course.
Who else was there? Yet Clyde is a boy, I thought, forgetting he was now twenty, for he looked only fourteen to my eyes.
“Put the Ouija board down for a while,” I asked him. “I have something to tell you, Clyde.”
He sat down and looked at me out of his handsome hazel eyes.
I think he already knew what I was to say.
But I got out the words.
“My heirloom jewels, Clyde, have been taken.” My voice sounded far away and more like Uncle Enos’s than mine.
“All, Delia?” Clyde whispered, staring still sideways at the Ouija board.
“All, all. One by one over the past three years they have been slipping away. I have almost wondered sometimes if there are spirits, Clyde.”
He shook his head.
Read More

“The Ethnographer” — Jorge Luis Borges

“The Ethnographer”
by
Jorge Luis Borges

I was told about the case in Texas, but it had happened in another state. It has a single protagonist (though in every story there are thousands of protagonists, visible and invisible, alive and dead). The man’s name, I believe, was Fred Murdock. He was tall, as Americans are; his hair was neither blond nor dark, his features were sharp, and he spoke very little. There was nothing singular about him, not even that feigned singularity that young men affect. He was naturally respectful, and he distrusted neither books nor the men and women who write them. He was at that age when a man doesn’t yet know who he is, and so is ready to throw himself into whatever chance puts in his way — Persian mysticism or the unknown origins of Hungarian, the hazards of war or algebra, Puritanism or orgy. At the university, an adviser had interested him in Amerindian languages. Certain esoteric rites still survived in certain tribes out West; one of his professors, an older man, suggested that he go live on a reservation, observe the rites, and discover the secret revealed by the medicine men to the initiates. When he came back, he would have his dissertation, and the university authorities would see that it was published. Murdock leaped at the suggestion. One of his ancestors had died in the frontier wars; that bygone conflict of his race was now a link. He must have foreseen the difficulties that lay ahead for him; he would have to convince the red men to accept him as one of their own. He set out upon the long adventure. He lived for more than two years on the prairie, sometimes sheltered by adobe walls and sometimes in the open. He rose before dawn, went to bed at sundown, and came to dream in a language that was not that of his fathers. He conditioned his palate to harsh flavors, he covered himself with strange clothing, he forgot his friends and the city, he came to think in a fashion that the logic of his mind rejected. During the first few months of his new education he secretly took notes; later, he tore the notes up — perhaps to avoid drawing suspicion upon himself, perhaps because he no longer needed them. After a period of time (determined upon in advance by certain practices, both spiritual and physical), the priest instructed Murdock to start remembering his dreams, and to recount them to him at daybreak each morning. The young man found that on nights of the full moon he dreamed of buffalo. He reported these recurrent dreams to his teacher; the teacher at last revealed to him the tribe’s secret doctrine. One morning, without saying a word to anyone, Murdock left.

In the city, he was homesick for those first evenings on the prairie when, long ago, he had been homesick for the city. He made his way to his professor’s office and told him that he knew the secret, but had resolved not to reveal it.

“Are you bound by your oath?” the professor asked.

“That’s not the reason,” Murdock replied. “I learned something out there that I can’t express.”

“The English language may not be able to communicate it,” the professor suggested.

“That’s not it, sir. Now that I possess the secret, I could tell it in a hundred different and even contradictory ways. I don’t know how to tell you this, but the secret is beautiful, and science, our science, seems mere frivolity to me now.”

After a pause he added: “And anyway, the secret is not as important as the paths that led me to it. Each person has to walk those paths himself.”

The professor spoke coldly: “I will inform the committee of your decision. Are you planning to live among the Indians?”

“No,” Murdock answered. “I may not even go back to the prairie. What the men of the prairie taught me is good anywhere and for any circumstances.”

That was the essence of their conversation.

Fred married, divorced, and is now one of the librarians at Yale.

(Translation by Andrew Hurley).

Read Barry Hannah’s perfect short story “Even Greenland”

I was sitting radar. Actually doing nothing.

We had been up to seventy-five thousand to give the afternoon some jazz. I guess we were still in Mexico, coming into Mirimar eventually in the F-14. It doesn’t much matter after you’ve seen the curvature of the earth. For a while, nothing much matters at all. We’d had three sunsets already. I guess it’s what you’d call really living the day.

But then, “John,” said I, “this plane’s on fire.”

“I know it,” he said.

John was sort of short and angry about it.

“You thought of last-minute things any?” said I.

“Yeah. I ran out of a couple of things already. But they were cold, like. They didn’t catch the moment. Bad writing,” said John.

“You had the advantage. You’ve been knowing,” said I.

“Yeah. I was going to get a leap on you. I was going to smoke you. Everything you said, it wasn’t going to be good enough,” said he.

“But it’s not like that,” said I. “Is it?”

The wings were turning red. I guess you’d call it red. It was a shade against dark blue that was mystical flamingo, very spaceylike, like living blood. Was the plane bleeding?

“You have a good time in Peru?” said I.

“Not really,” said John. “I got something to tell you. I haven’t had a ‘good time’ in a long time. There’s something between me and a good time since, I don’t know, since I was was twenty-eight or like that. I’ve seen a lot, but you know I haven’t quite seen it. Like somebody’s seen it already. It wasn’t fresh. There were eyes that used it up some.”

“Even high in Mérida?” said I.

“Even,” said John.

“Even Greenland?” said I.

Read the rest of Barry Hannah’s short story “Even Greenland.”

“Dreams” — Guy de Maupassant

“Dreams”

by

Guy de Maupassant

They had just dined together, five old friends, a writer, a doctor and three rich bachelors without any profession.

They had talked about everything, and a feeling of lassitude came over them, that feeling which precedes and leads to the departure of guests after festive gatherings. One of those present, who had for the last five minutes been gazing silently at the surging boulevard dotted with gas-lamps, with its rattling vehicles, said suddenly:

“When you’ve nothing to do from morning till night, the days are long.”

“And the nights too,” assented the guest who sat next to him. “I sleep very little; pleasures fatigue me; conversation is monotonous. Never do I come across a new idea, and I feel, before talking to any one, a violent longing to say nothing and to listen to nothing. I don’t know what to do with my evenings.”

The third idler remarked:

“I would pay a great deal for anything that would help me to pass just two pleasant hours every day.”

The writer, who had just thrown his overcoat across his arm, turned round to them, and said:

“The man who could discover a new vice and introduce it among his fellow creatures, even if it were to shorten their lives, would render a greater service to humanity than the man who found the means of securing to them eternal salvation and eternal youth.”

The doctor burst out laughing, and, while he chewed his cigar, he said:

“Yes, but it is not so easy to discover it. Men have however crudely, been seeking for—and working for the object you refer to since the beginning of the world. The men who came first reached perfection at once in this way. We are hardly equal to them.”

One of the three idlers murmured:

“What a pity!”

Then, after a minute’s pause, he added:

“If we could only sleep, sleep well, without feeling hot or cold, sleep with that perfect unconsciousness we experience on nights when we are thoroughly fatigued, sleep without dreams.”

“Why without dreams?” asked the guest sitting next to him.

The other replied:

“Because dreams are not always pleasant; they are always fantastic, improbable, disconnected; and because when we are asleep we cannot have the sort of dreams we like. We ought to dream waking.”

“And what’s to prevent you?” asked the writer.

The doctor flung away the end of his cigar.

“My dear fellow, in order to dream when you are awake, you need great power and great exercise of will, and when you try to do it, great weariness is the result. Now, real dreaming, that journey of our thoughts through delightful visions, is assuredly the sweetest experience in the world; but it must come naturally, it must not be provoked in a painful, manner, and must be accompanied by absolute bodily comfort. This power of dreaming I can give you, provided you promise that you will not abuse it.”

The writer shrugged his shoulders:

“Ah! yes, I know—hasheesh, opium, green tea—artificial paradises. I have read Baudelaire, and I even tasted the famous drug, which made me very sick.”

But the doctor, without stirring from his seat, said:

“No; ether, nothing but ether; and I would suggest that you literary men should use it sometimes.”

The three rich bachelors drew closer to the doctor.

One of them said:

“Explain to us the effects of it.”

And the doctor replied:

“Let us put aside big words, shall we not? I am not talking of medicine or morality; I am talking of pleasure. You give yourselves up every day to excesses which consume your lives. I want to indicate to you a new sensation, possible only to intelligent men—let us say even very intelligent men—dangerous, like everything else that overexcites our organs, but exquisite. I might add that you would require a certain preparation, that is to say, practice, to feel in all their completeness the singular effects of ether.

“They are different from the effects of hasheesh, of opium, or morphia, and they cease as soon as the absorption of the drug is interrupted, while the other generators of day dreams continue their action for hours.

“I am now going to try to analyze these feelings as clearly as possible. But the thing is not easy, so facile, so delicate, so almost imperceptible, are these sensations.

“It was when I was attacked by violent neuralgia that I made use of this remedy, which since then I have, perhaps, slightly abused.

“I had acute pains in my head and neck, and an intolerable heat of the skin, a feverish restlessness. I took up a large bottle of ether, and, lying down, I began to inhale it slowly.

“At the end of some minutes I thought I heard a vague murmur, which ere long became a sort of humming, and it seemed to me that all the interior of my body had become light, light as air, that it was dissolving into vapor.

“Then came a sort of torpor, a sleepy sensation of comfort, in spite of the pains which still continued, but which had ceased to make themselves felt. It was one of those sensations which we are willing to endure and not any of those frightful wrenches against which our tortured body protests.

“Soon the strange and delightful sense of emptiness which I felt in my chest extended to my limbs, which, in their turn, became light, as light as if the flesh and the bones had been melted and the skin only were left, the skin necessary to enable me to realize the sweetness of living, of bathing in this sensation of well-being. Then I perceived that I was no longer suffering. The pain had gone, melted away, evaporated. And I heard voices, four voices, two dialogues, without understanding what was said. At one time there were only indistinct sounds, at another time a word reached my ear. But I recognized that this was only the humming I had heard before, but emphasized. I was not asleep; I was not awake; I comprehended, I felt, I reasoned with the utmost clearness and depth, with extraordinary energy and intellectual pleasure, with a singular intoxication arising from this separation of my mental faculties.

“It was not like the dreams caused by hasheesh or the somewhat sickly visions that come from opium; it was an amazing acuteness of reasoning, a new way of seeing, judging and appreciating the things of life, and with the certainty, the absolute consciousness that this was the true way.

“And the old image of the Scriptures suddenly came back to my mind. It seemed to me that I had tasted of the Tree of Knowledge, that all the mysteries were unveiled, so much did I find myself under the sway of a new, strange and irrefutable logic. And arguments, reasonings, proofs rose up in a heap before my brain only to be immediately displaced by some stronger proof, reasoning, argument. My head had, in fact, become a battleground of ideas. I was a superior being, armed with invincible intelligence, and I experienced a huge delight at the manifestation of my power.

“It lasted a long, long time. I still kept inhaling the ether from my flagon. Suddenly I perceived that it was empty.”

The four men exclaimed at the same time:

“Doctor, a prescription at once for a liter of ether!”

But the doctor, putting on his hat, replied:

“As to that, certainly not; go and let some one else poison you!”

And he left them.

Ladies and gentlemen, what is your opinion on the subject?