Posts tagged ‘Short Story’

April 15, 2014

“Endicott and the Red Cross” — Nathaniel Hawthorne

by Biblioklept

“Endicott and the Red Cross”

by

Nathaniel Hawthorne

At noon of an autumnal day, more than two centuries ago, the English colors were displayed by the standard-bearer of the Salem trainband, which had mustered for martial exercise under the orders of John Endicott. It was a period, when the religious exiles were accustomed often to buckle on their armour, and practice the handling of their weapons of war. Since the first settlement of New England, its prospects had never been so dismal. The dissensions between Charles the First and his subjects were then, and for several years afterwards, confined to the floor of Parliament. The measures of the King and ministry were rendered more tyrannically violent by an opposition, which had not yet acquired sufficient confidence in its own strength, to resist royal injustice with the sword. The bigoted and haughty primate, Laud, Archbishop of Canterbury, controlled the religious affairs of the realm, and was consequently invested with powers which might have wrought the utter ruin of the two Puritan colonies, Plymouth and Massachusetts. There is evidence on record, that our forefathers perceived their danger, but were resolved that their infant country should not fall without a struggle, even beneath the giant strength of the King’s right arm.

Such was the aspect of the times, when the folds of the English banner, with the Red Cross in its field, were flung out over a company of Puritans. Their leader, the famous Endicott, was a man of stern and resolute countenance, the effect of which was heightened by a grizzled beard that swept the upper portion of his breastplate. This piece of armour was so highly polished, that the whole surrounding scene had its image in the glittering steel. The central object, in the mirrored picture, was an edifice of humble architecture, with neither steeple nor bell to proclaim it,–what nevertheless it was,–the house of prayer. A token of the perils of the wilderness was seen in the grim head of a wolf, which had just been slain within the precincts of the town, and, according to the regular mode of claiming the bounty, was nailed on the porch of the meetinghouse. The blood was still plashing on the door-step. There happened to be visible, at the same noontide hour, so many other characteristics of the times and manners of the Puritans, that we must endeavour to represent them in a sketch, though far less vividly than they were reflected in the polished breastplate of John Endicott.

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April 11, 2014

“Lily Daw and the Three Ladies” — Eudora Welty

by Biblioklept

“Lily Daw and the Three Ladies”

by Eudora Welty

Mrs Watts and Mrs Carson were both in the post office in Victory when the letter came from the Ellisville Institute for the Feeble Minded of Mississippi. Aimee Slocum, with her hand still full of mail, ran out in front and handed it straight to Mrs Watts, and they all three read it together. Mrs Watts held it taut between her pink hands, and Mrs Carson underscored each line slowly with her thimbled finger. Everybody else in the post office wondered what was up now.

“What will Lily say,” beamed Mrs Carson at last, “when we tell her we’re sending her to Ellisville!”

“She’ll be tickled to death,” said Mrs Watts, and added in a guttural voice to a deaf lady, “Lily Daw’s getting in at Ellisville!”

“Don’t you all dare go off and tell Lily without me!” called Aimee Slocum, trotting back to finish putting up the mail.

“Do you suppose they’ll look after her down there?” Mrs Carson began to carry on a conversation with a group of Baptist ladies waiting in the post office. She was the Baptist preacher’s wife.

“I’ve always heard it was lovely down there, but crowded,” said one.

“Lily lets people walk over her so,” said another.

“Last night at the tent show—-” said another, and then popped her hand over her mouth.

“Don’t mind me, I know there are such things in the world,” said Mrs Carson, looking down and fingering the tape measure which hung over her bosom.

“Oh, Mrs Carson. Well, anyway, last night at the tent show, why, the man was just before making Lily buy a ticket to get in.”

“A ticket!”

“Till my husband went up and explained she wasn’t bright, and so did everybody else.”

The ladies all clucked their tongues.

“Oh, it was a very nice show,” said the lady who had gone. “And Lily acted so nice. She was a perfect lady–just set in her seat and stared.”

“Oh, she can be a lady–she can be,” said Mrs Carson, shaking her head and turning her eyes up. “That’s just what breaks your heart.”

“Yes’m, she kept her eyes on–what’s that thing makes all the commotion?–the xylophone,” said the lady. “Didn’t turn her head to the right or to the left the whole time. Set in front of me.”

“The point is, what did she do after the show?” asked Mrs Watts practically. “Lily has gotten so she is very mature for her age.”

“Oh, Etta!” protested Mrs Carson, looking at her wildly for a moment.

“And that’s how come we are sending her to Ellisville,” finished Mrs Watts.

“I’m ready, you all,” said Aimee Slocum, running out with white powder all over her face. “Mail’s up. I don’t know how good it’s up.”

“Well, of course, I do hope it’s for the best,” said several of the other ladies. They did not go at once to take their mail out of their boxes; they felt a little left out.

The three women stood at the foot of the water tank.

“To find Lily is a different thing,” said Aimee Slocum.

“Where in the wide world do you suppose she’d be?” It was Mrs Watts who was carrying the letter.

“I don’t see a sign of her either on this side of the street or on the other side,” Mrs Carson declared as they walked along.

Ed Newton was stringing Redbird school tablets on the wire across the store.

April 10, 2014

“Beside Schopenhauer’s Corpse” — Guy De Maupassant

by Biblioklept

“Beside Schopenhauer’s Corpse”

by

Guy de Maupassant

He was slowly dying, as consumptives die. I saw him each day, about two o’clock, sitting beneath the hotel windows on a bench in the promenade, looking out on the calm sea. He remained for some time without moving, in the heat of the sun, gazing mournfully at the Mediterranean. Every now and then, he cast a glance at the lofty mountains with beclouded summits that shut in Mentone; then, with a very slow movement, he would cross his long legs, so thin that they seemed like two bones, around which fluttered the cloth of his trousers, and he would open a book, always the same book. And then he did not stir any more, but read on, read on with his eye and his mind; all his wasting body seemed to read, all his soul plunged, lost, disappeared, in this book, up to the hour when the cool air made him cough a little. Then, he got up and reentered the hotel.

He was a tall German, with fair beard, who breakfasted and dined in his own room, and spoke to nobody.

A vague, curiosity attracted me to him. One day, I sat down by his side, having taken up a book, too, to keep up appearances, a volume of Musset’s poems.

And I began to look through “Rolla.”

Suddenly, my neighbor said to me, in good French:

“Do you know German, monsieur?”

“Not at all, monsieur.”

“I am sorry for that. Since chance has thrown us side by side, I could have lent you, I could have shown you, an inestimable thing—this book which I hold in my hand.”

“What is it, pray?”

“It is a copy of my master, Schopenhauer, annotated with his own hand. All the margins, as you may see, are covered with his handwriting.”

I took the book from him reverently, and I gazed at these forms incomprehensible to me, but which revealed the immortal thoughts of the greatest shatterer of dreams who had ever dwelt on earth.

April 4, 2014

“My Appearance” — David Foster Wallace

by Biblioklept

I am a woman who appeared in public on Late Night with David Letterman on March 22, 1989.

In the words of my husband, Rudy, I am a woman whose face and attitudes are known to something over half of the measurable population of the United States, whose name is on lips and covers and screens. Whose heart’s heart is invisible to the world and unapproachably hidden. Which is what Rudy thought could save me from all this appearance implied.

The week of March 19, 1989, was the week David Letterman’s variety-and-talk show featured a series of taped skits on the private activities and pastimes of executives at NBC. My husband and I sacrificed sleep and stayed up late, watching. My husband, whose name in the entertainment industry is better known than his face, had claimed at first to be neutrally excited about the call I’d gotten from Late Night, though by the time he’d been driven home, he was beginning to worry that this particular public appearance could present problems. He knew and feared Letterman; he claimed to know that Letterman loved to savage female guests. It was on a Sunday that Rudy told me we would need to formulate strategies for my appearance on Late Night. March 22nd was to be a Wednesday.

Read the rest of David Foster Wallace’s short story “My Appearance.”

March 28, 2014

“A Worn Path” — Eudora Welty

by Biblioklept

“A Worn Path”

by

Eudora Wlety

It was December—a bright frozen day in the early morning. Far out in the country there was an old Negro woman with her head tied red rag, coming along a path through the pinewoods. Her name was Phoenix Jackson. She was very old and small and she walked slowly in the dark pine shadows, moving a little from side to side in her steps, with the balanced heaviness and lightness of a pendulum in a grand-father clock. She carried a thin, small cane made from an umbrella, and with this she kept tapping the frozen earth in front of her. This made a grave and persistent noise in the still air, that seemed meditative like the chirping of a solitary little bird.

She wore a dark striped dress reaching down to her shoe tops, and an equally long apron of bleached sugar sacks, with a full pocket: all neat and tidy, but every time she took a step she might have fallen over her shoelaces, which dragged from her unlaced shoes. She looked straight ahead. Her eyes were blue with age. Her skin had a pattern all its own of numberless branching wrinkles and as though a whole little tree stood in the middle of her forehead, but a golden color ran underneath, and the two knobs of her cheeks were illumined by a yellow burning under the dark. Under the red rag her hair came down on her neck in the frailest of ringlets, still black, and with an odor like copper.

Now and then there was a quivering in the thicket. Old Phoenix said, “Out of my way, all you foxes, owls, beetles, jack rabbits, coons and wild animals!. . . Keep out from under these feet, little bob-whites…. Keep the big wild hogs out of my path. Don’t let none of those come running my direction. I got a long way.” Under her small black-freckled hand her cane, limber as a buggy whip, would switch at the brush as if to rouse up any hiding things.

On she went. The woods were deep and still. The sun made the pine needles almost too bright to look at, up where the wind rocked. The cones dropped as light as feathers. Down in the hollow was the mourning dove—it was not too late for him.

The path ran up a hill. “Seem like there is chains about my feet, time I get this far,” she said, in the voice of argument old people keep to use with themselves. “Something always take a hold of me on this hill— pleads I should stay.”

March 25, 2014

“A Good Man Is Hard to Find” — Flannery O’Connor

by Biblioklept

“A Good Man Is Hard to Find”

by

Flannery O’Connor

The grandmother didn’t want to go to Florida. She wanted to visit some of her connections in east Tennes- see and she was seizing at every chance to change Bailey’s mind. Bailey was the son she lived with, her only boy. He was sitting on the edge of his chair at the table, bent over the orange sports section of the Journal. “Now look here, Bailey,” she said, “see here, read this,” and she stood with one hand on her thin hip and the other rattling the newspaper at his bald head. “Here this fellow that calls himself The Misfit is aloose from the Federal Pen and headed toward Florida and you read here what it says he did to these people. Just you read it. I wouldn’t take my children in any direction with a criminal like that aloose in it. I couldn’t answer to my conscience if I did.”

Bailey didn’t look up from his reading so she wheeled around then and faced the children’s mother, a young woman in slacks, whose face was as broad and innocent as a cabbage and was tied around with a green head-kerchief that had two points on the top like rabbit’s ears. She was sitting on the sofa, feeding the baby his apricots out of a jar. “The children have been to Florida before,” the old lady said. “You all ought to take them somewhere else for a change so they would see different parts of the world and be broad. They never have been to east Tennessee.”

The children’s mother didn’t seem to hear her but the eight-year-old boy, John Wesley, a stocky child with glasses, said, “If you don’t want to go to Florida, why dontcha stay at home?” He and the little girl, June Star, were reading the funny papers on the floor.

“She wouldn’t stay at home to be queen for a day,” June Star said without raising her yellow head.

“Yes and what would you do if this fellow, The Misfit, caught you?” the grandmother asked.

“I’d smack his face,” John Wesley said.

“She wouldn’t stay at home for a million bucks,” June Star said. “Afraid she’d miss something. She has to go everywhere we go.”

“All right, Miss,” the grandmother said. “Just re- member that the next time you want me to curl your hair.”

June Star said her hair was naturally curly.

March 24, 2014

“On Angels” — Donald Barthelme

by Biblioklept

“On Angels”

by Donald Barthelme

The death of God left the angels in a strange position. They were overtaken suddenly by a fundamental question. One can attempt to imagine the moment. How did they look at the instant the question invaded them, flooding the angelic consciousness, taking hold with terrifying force? The question was,”What are angels?”

New to questioning, unaccustomed to terror, unskilled in aloneness, the angels (we assume) fell into despair.

The question of what angels “are” has a considerable history. Swedenborg, for example, talked to a great many angels and faithfully recorded what they told him. Angels look like human beings, Swedenborg says. “That angels are human forms, or men, has been seen by me a thousand times.” And again:”From all my experience, which is now of many years, I am able to state that angels are wholly men in form, having faces, eyes, ears, bodies, arms, hands, and feet…” But a man cannot see angels with his bodily eyes, only with the eyes of the spirit.

Swedenborg has a great deal more to say about angels, all of the highest interest: that no angel is ever permitted to stand behind another and look at the back of his head, for this would disturb the influx of good and truth from the Lord; that angels have the east, where the Lord is seen as a sun, always before their eyes; and that angels are clothed according to their intelligence. “Some of the most intelligent have garments that blaze as if with flame, others have garments that glisten as if with light; the less intelligent have garments that are glistening white or white without the effulgence; and the still less intelligent have garments of various colors. But the angels of the inmost heaven are not clothed.”

All of this (presumably) no longer obtains.

Gustav Davidson, in his useful Dictionary of Angels, has brought together much of what is known about them. Their names are called: the angel Elubatel, the angel Friagne, the angel Gaap, the angel Hatiphas (genius of finery), the angel Murmur (a fallen angel), the angel Mqttro, the angel Or, the angel Rash, the angel Sandalphon (taller than a five hundred years’ jouney on foot), the angel Smat. Davidson distinguishes categories: Angels of Quaking, who surround the heavenly throune, Masters of Howling and Lords of Shouting, whose work is praise; messengers, mediators, watchers, warners. Davidson’s Dictionary is a very large book; his bibliography lists more than eleven hundred items.

The former angelic consciousness has been most beautifully described by Joseph Lyons (in a paper titles The Psychology of Angels published in 1957). Each angel, Lyons says, knows all that there is to know about himself and every ohter angel. “No angel could ever ask a question, because questioning proceeds out of situation of not knowing, and of being in some way aware of not knowing. An angel cannot be curious; he has nothing to be curious about. He cannot wonder. Knowing all that there is to know, the world of possible knowledge must appear to him as as ordered set of facts which is completely behind him, completely fixed and certain and within his grasp…”

But this, too, no longer obtains.

It is a curiosity of writing about angels that, very often, one turns outto be writing about men. The themes are twinned. Thus one finally learns that Lyons, for example, is really writing not about angels but about schizophrenics–thinking about men by invoking angels. And this holds true of much other writing on the subject– a point, we may assume, that was not lost on the angels when they began considering their new relation to the cosmos, when the analogues (is an angel more like a quetzal or more like a man? or more like music?) were being handed about.

We may frther assume that some attempt was made at self-definition by function. An angel is what he does. Thus it was necessary to investigate possible new roles (you are reminded that this is impure speculation). After the lamentation had gone on for hundreds and hundreds of whatever the angels use for time, an angel proposed that lamentation be the function of angels eternally, as adoration was formerly. The mode of lamentation would be silence, in contrast to the unceasing chanting of Glorias that had been their former employment. But it is not in the nature of angels to be silent.

A counterproposal was that the angels affirm chaos. There were to be five great proofs of the existence of chaos, of which the first was the abscence of God. The other four could surely be located. The work of definition and explication could, if done nicely enough, occupy the angels forever, as the contrary work has occupied human theologians. But there is not much enthusiasm for chaos among the angels.

The most serious because most radical proposal considered by the angels was refusal –that they would remove themselves from being, not be. The tremendous dignity that would accrue to the angels by this act was felt to be a manifestation of spiritual pride. Refusal was refused.

There were other suggestions, more subptle and complicated, less so, none overwhelmingly attractive.

I saw a famous angel on television; his garments glistened as if with light. He talked about the situation of angels now. Angels, he said are like men in some ways. The problem of adoration is felt to be central. He said that for a time the angels had tried adoring each other, as we do, but had found it, finally, “not enough.” He said they are continuing to search for a new principle.

March 12, 2014

“The Executor” — Muriel Spark

by Biblioklept

“The Executor”

by

Muriel Spark

When my uncle died all the literary manuscripts went to a university foundation, except one. The correspondence went too, and the whole of his library. They came (a white-haired man and a young girl) and surveyed his study. Everything, they said, would be desirable and it would make a good price if I let the whole room go – his chair, his desk, the carpet, even his ashtrays. I agreed to this. I left everything in the drawers of the desk just as it was when my uncle died, including the bottle of Librium and a rusty razor blade.

My uncle died this way: he was sitting on the bank of the river, playing a fish. As the afternoon faded a man passed by, and then a young couple who made pottery passed him. As they said later, he was sitting peacefully awaiting the catch and of course they didn’t disturb him. As night fell the colonel and his wife passed by; they were on their way home from their daily walk. They knew it was too late for my uncle to be simply sitting there, so they went to look. He had been dead, the doctor pronounced, from two to two and a half hours. The fish was still struggling with the bait. It was a mild heart attack. Everything my uncle did was mild, so different from everything he wrote. Yet perhaps not so different. He was supposed to be “far out”, so one didn’t know what went on out there. Besides, he had not long returned from a trip to London. They say, still waters run deep.

March 10, 2014

“Hubert and Minnie” — Aldous Huxley

by Biblioklept

“Hubert and Minnie”

by

Aldous Huxley

For Hubert Lapell this first love-affair was extremely important. “Important” was the word he had used himself when he was writing about it in his diary. It was an event in his life, a real event for a change. It marked, he felt, a genuine turning-point in his spiritual development.

“Voltaire,” he wrote in his diary – and he wrote it a second time in one of his letters to Minnie – “Voltaire said that one died twice: once with the death of the whole body and once before, with the death of one’s capacity to love. And in the same way one is born twice, the second time being on the occasion when one first falls in love. One is born, then, into a new world – a world of intenser feelings, heightened values, more penetrating insights.” And so on.

In point of actual fact Hubert found this new world a little disappointing. The intenser feelings proved to be rather mild not by any means up to literary standards.

“I tell thee I am mad
In Cressid’s love. Thou answer’st; she is fair,
Pour’st in the open ulcer of my heart
Her eyes, her hair, her cheek, her gait, her voice….”

No, it certainly wasn’t quite that. In his diary, in his letters to Minnie, he painted, it is true, a series of brilliant and romantic landscapes of the new world. But they were composite imaginary landscapes in the manner of Salvator Rosa – richer, wilder, more picturesquely clear-obscure than the real thing. Hubert would seize with avidity on the least velleity of an unhappiness, a physical desire, a spiritual yearning, to work it up in his letters and journals into something substantially romantic. There were times, generally very late at night, when he succeeded in persuading himself that he was indeed the wildest, unhappiest, most passionate of lovers. But in the daytime he went about his business nourishing something like a grievance against love. The thing was a bit of a fraud; yes, really, he decided, rather a fraud. All the same, he supposed it was important.

March 8, 2014

“Wants” — Grace Paley

by Biblioklept

“Wants”

by

Grace Paley

I saw my ex-husband in the street. I was sitting on the steps of the new library.

Hello, my life, I said. We had once been married for twenty-seven years, so I felt justified.

He said, What? What life? No life of mine.

I said, O.K. I don’t argue when there’s real disagreement. I got up and went into the library to see how much I owed them.
The librarian said $32 even and you’ve owed it for eighteen years. I didn’t deny anything. Because I don’t understand how time passes. I have had those books. I have often thought of them. The library is only two blocks away.

My ex-husband followed me to the Books Returned desk. He interrupted the librarian, who had more to tell. In many ways, he said, as I look back, I attribute the dissolution of our marriage to the fact that you never invited the Bertrams to dinner.

That’s possible, I said. But really, if you remember: first, my father was sick that Friday, then the children were born, then I had those Tuesday-night meetings, then the war began.Then we didn’t seem to know them any more. But you’re right. I should have had them to dinner.

I gave the librarian a check for $32. Immediately she trusted me, put my past behind her, wiped the record clean, which is just what most other municipal and/or state bureaucracies will not do.

I checked out the two Edith Wharton books I had just returned because I’d read them so long ago and they are more apropos now than ever. They were The House of Mirth and The Children, which is about how life in the United States in New York changed in twenty-seven years fifty years ago.

A nice thing I do remember is breakfast, my ex-husband said. I was surprised. All we ever had was coffee. Then I remembered there was a hole in the back of the kitchen closet which opened into the apartment next door. There, they always ate sugar-cured smoked bacon. It gave us a very grand feeling about breakfast, but we never got stuffed and sluggish.

That was when we were poor, I said.

When were we ever rich? he asked.

Oh, as time went on, as our responsibilities increased, we didn’t go in need. You took adequate financial care, I reminded him. The children went to camp four weeks a year and in decent ponchos with sleeping bags and boots, just like everyone else. They looked very nice. Our place was warm in winter, and we had nice red pillows and things.

I wanted a sailboat, he said. But you didn’t want anything.

Don’t be bitter, I said. It’s never too late.

No, he said with a great deal of bitterness. I may get a sailboat. As a matter of fact I have money down on an eighteen-foot two-rigger. I’m doing well this year and can look forward to better. But as for you, it’s too late. You’ll always want nothing.

He had had a habit throughout the twenty-seven years of making a narrow remark which, like a plumber’s snake, could work its way through the ear down the throat, half-way to my heart. He would then disappear, leaving me choking with equipment. What I mean is, I sat down on the library steps and he went away.

I looked through The House of Mirth, but lost interest. I felt extremely accused. Now, it’s true, I’m short of requests and absolute requirements. But I do want something.
I want, for instance, to be a different person. I want to be the woman who brings these two books back in two weeks. I want to be the effective citizen who changes the school system and addresses the Board of Estimate on the troubles of this dear urban center.

I had promised my children to end the war before they grew up.

I wanted to have been married forever to one person, my ex-husband or my present one. Either has enough character for a whole life, which as it turns out is really not such a long time. You couldn’t exhaust either man’s qualities or get under the rock of his reasons in one short life.

Just this morning I looked out the window to watch the street for a while and saw that the little sycamores the city had dreamily planted a couple of years before the kids were born had come that day to the prime of their lives.

Well! I decided to bring those two books back to the library. Which proves that when a person or an event comes along to jolt or appraise me I can take some appropriate action, although I am better known for my hospitable remarks.

March 6, 2014

“The King of Jazz” — Donald Barthelme

by Biblioklept

“The King of Jazz”

by

Donald Barthelme

Well, I’m the king of jazz now, thought Hokie Mokie to himself as he oiled the slide on his trombone. Hasn’t been a ‘bone man been king of jazz for many years. But now that Spicy MacLammermoor, the old king, is dead, I guess I’m it. Maybe I better play a few notes out of this window here, to reassure myself.

“Wow!” said somebody standing on the sidewalk. “Did you hear that?”

“I did,” said his companion.

“Can you distinguish our great homemade American jazz performers, each from the other?”

“Used to could.”

“Then who was that playing?”

“Sounds like Hokie Mokie to me. Those few but perfectly selected notes have the real epiphanic glow.”

“The what?”

“The real epiphanic glow, such as is obtained only by artists of the caliber of Hokie Mokie, who’s from Pass Christian, Mississippi. He’s the king of jazz, now that Spicy MacLammermoor is gone.”

Hokie Mokie put his trombone in its case and went to a gig. At the gig everyone fell back before him, bowing.

“Hi Bucky! Hit Zoot! Hi Freddie! Hi George! Hi Thad! Hi Roy! Hi Dexter! Hi Jo! Hi Willie! Hi Greens!”

“What we gonna play, Hokie? You the king of jazz now, you gotta decide.”

“How ’bout ‘Smoke’?”

“Wow!” everybody said. “Did you hear that? Hokie Mokie can just knock a fella out, just the way he pronounces a word. What an intonation on that boy! God Almighty!”

March 2, 2014

“A Guide to Virtual Death” — J.G. Ballard

by Biblioklept

“A Guide to Virtual Death”

by

J.G. Ballard

For reasons amply documented elsewhere, intelligent life on earth became extinct in the closing hours of the 20th Century. Among the clues left to us, the following schedule of a day’s television programmes transmitted to an unnamed city in the northern hemisphere on December 23, 1999, offers its own intriguing insight into the origins of the disaster.

6.00 am Porno–Disco. Wake yourself up with his–and–her hard–core sex images played to a disco beat.

7.00 Weather Report. Today’s expected micro–climates in the city’s hotel atriums, shopping malls and office complexes. Hilton International promises an afternoon snow–shower as a Christmas appetiser.

7.15 News Round–up. What our news–makers have planned for you. Maybe a small war, a synthetic earthquake or a famine–zone! charity tie–in.

7.45 Breakfast Time. Gourmet meals to watch as you eat your diet cellulose.

8.30 Commuter Special. The rush–hour game–show. How many bottoms can you pinch, how many faces can you slap?

9.30 The Travel Show. Visit the world’s greatest airports and under ground car parks.

10.30 Home–makers of Yesterday. Nostalgic scenes of old–fashioned housework. No.7 – The Vacuum Cleaner.

11.00 Office War. Long–running serial of office gang–wars.

12.00 Newsflash. The networks promise either a new serial killer or a deadly food toxin.

1.00 pm Live from Parliament. No .12 – The Alcoholic MP.

1.30 The Nose–Pickers. Hygiene programme for the kiddies.

2.00 Caress Me. Soft–porn for the siesta hour.

2.30 Your Favourite Commericials. Popular demand re–runs of golden oldie TV ads.

3.00 Housewives’ Choice. Rape, and how to psychologically prepare yourself.

4.00 Count–down. Game show in which contestants count backwards from one million.

5.00 Newsflash. Either an airliner crash or a bank collapse. Viewers express preference.

6.00 Today’s Special. Virtual Reality TV presents ‘The Kennedy Assassination.’ The Virtual Reality head–set takes you to Dallas, Texas, on November 22, 1963. First you fire the assassin’s rifle from the Book Depository window, and then you sit between Jackie and JFK in the Presidential limo as the bullet strikes. For premium subscribers only – feel the Presidential brain tissue spatter your face OR wipe Jackie’s tears onto your handkerchief.

8.00 Dinner Time. More gourmet dishes to view with your evening diet–cellulose.

9.00 Science Now. Is there life after death? Micro–electrodes pick up ultra–faint impulses from long–dead brains. Relatives question the departed.

10.00 Crime–Watch. Will it be your home that is broken into tonight by the TV Crime Gang?

11.00 Today’s Special. Tele–Orgasm. Virtual Reality TV takes you to an orgy. Have sex with the world’s greatest movie–stars. Tonight: Marilyn Monroe and Madonna OR Warren Beatty and Tom Cruise. For premium subscribers only – experience transexualism, paedophiia, terminal syphilis, gang–rape, and bestiality (choice: German Shepherd or Golden Retriever).

1.00 am Newsflash. Tonight’s surprise air–crash.

2.00 The Religious Hour. Imagine being dead. Priests and neuroscientists construct a life–like mock–up of your death.

3.00 Night–Hunter. Will the TV Rapist come through your bedroom window?

4.15 Sex for Insomniacs. Soft porn to rock you to sleep.

5.00 The Charity Hour. Game show in which Third–World contestants beg for money.

 

February 25, 2014

“Fixed moral boundaries are harmful” (Ben Marcus)

by Biblioklept

—But can you sketch for me a picture of your ethics?

—I think that fixed moral boundaries are harmful, even if they provide momentary comfort and save lives. I think our ethical duty is to eliminate the behavioral corsets that are cinched over children just as their explosive energy is at its most threatening. Is a tantrum disruptive, or does it point to an emotional tunnel we’re afraid of entering? The doctrines of the tantras involve meditation, mantras, ritual, and explosive behavior. We’re talking about ancient ideas that are elementary and obvious to high schoolers. My ethics? I’d like to shed the strictures of adulthood and make maturity an optional result of a freely lived human life, not the necessary path to power and success, lorded over by depressed, overweight, unimaginative corpses. The twenty most central mantras have their roots in baby talk. No one disputes this anymore. A syntax comprised of these mantras, which should not be confused with NASA’s failed language, can marshal the force of an entire infant society, but— and this is key— this syntax is not capable of instructional phrasings, so nothing can be taught, which keeps maturity and its death mask perfectly at bay.

From Ben Marcus’s story “On Not Growing Up.”

Read it at Conjunctions or in Macus’s latest collection Leaving the Sea: Stories.

 

February 25, 2014

“The Death of the Moth” — Virginia Woolf

by Biblioklept

“The Death of the Moth”

by

Virginia Woolf

Moths that fly by day are not properly to be called moths; they do not excite that pleasant sense of dark autumn nights and ivy-blossom which the commonest yellow-underwing asleep in the shadow of the curtain never fails to rouse in us. They are hybrid creatures, neither gay like butterflies nor sombre like their own species. Nevertheless the present specimen, with his narrow hay-coloured wings, fringed with a tassel of the same colour, seemed to be content with life. It was a pleasant morning, mid-September, mild, benignant, yet with a keener breath than that of the summer months. The plough was already scoring the field opposite the window, and where the share had been, the earth was pressed flat and gleamed with moisture. Such vigour came rolling in from the fields and the down beyond that it was difficult to keep the eyes strictly turned upon the book. The rooks too were keeping one of their annual festivities; soaring round the tree tops until it looked as if a vast net with thousands of black knots in it had been cast up into the air; which, after a few moments sank slowly down upon the trees until every twig seemed to have a knot at the end of it. Then, suddenly, the net would be thrown into the air again in a wider circle this time, with the utmost clamour and vociferation, as though to be thrown into the air and settle slowly down upon the tree tops were a tremendously exciting experience.

The same energy which inspired the rooks, the ploughmen, the horses, and even, it seemed, the lean bare-backed downs, sent the moth fluttering from side to side of his square of the window-pane. One could not help watching him. One was, indeed, conscious of a queer feeling of pity for him. The possibilities of pleasure seemed that morning so enormous and so various that to have only a moth’s part in life, and a day moth’s at that, appeared a hard fate, and his zest in enjoying his meagre opportunities to the full, pathetic. He flew vigorously to one corner of his compartment, and, after waiting there a second, flew across to the other. What remained for him but to fly to a third corner and then to a fourth? That was all he could do, in spite of the size of the downs, the width of the sky, the far-off smoke of houses, and the romantic voice, now and then, of a steamer out at sea. What he could do he did. Watching him, it seemed as if a fibre, very thin but pure, of the enormous energy of the world had been thrust into his frail and diminutive body. As often as he crossed the pane, I could fancy that a thread of vital light became visible. He was little or nothing but life.

Yet, because he was so small, and so simple a form of the energy that was rolling in at the open window and driving its way through so many narrow and intricate corridors in my own brain and in those of other human beings, there was something marvellous as well as pathetic about him. It was as if someone had taken a tiny bead of pure life and decking it as lightly as possible with down and feathers, had set it dancing and zig-zagging to show us the true nature of life. Thus displayed one could not get over the strangeness of it. One is apt to forget all about life, seeing it humped and bossed and garnished and cumbered so that it has to move with the greatest circumspection and dignity. Again, the thought of all that life might have been had he been born in any other shape caused one to view his simple activities with a kind of pity.

February 24, 2014

“The Geranium” — Flannery O’Connor

by Biblioklept

“The Geranium”

by

Flannery O’Connor

Old Dudley folded into the chair he was gradually molding to his own shape and looked out the window fifteen feet away into another window framed by blackened red brick. He was waiting for the geranium. They put it out every morning about ten and they took it in at five-thirty. Mrs. Carson back home had a geranium in her window. There were plenty of geraniums at home, better-looking geraniums. Ours are sho nuff geraniums, Old Dudley thought, not any er this pale pink business with green, paper bows. The geranium they would put in the window reminded him of the Grisby boy at home who had polio and had to be wheeled out every morning and left in the sun to blink. Lutisha could have taken that geranium and stuck it in the ground and had something worth looking at in a few weeks. Those people across the alley had no business with one. They set it out and let the hot sun bake it all day and they put it so near the ledge the wind could almost knock it over. They had no business with it, no business with it. It shouldn’t have been there. Old Dudley felt his throat knotting up. Lutish could root anything. Rabie too. His throat was drawn taut. He laid his head back and tried to clear his mind. There wasn’t much he could think of to think about that didn’t do his throat that way.

His daughter came in. “Don’t you want to go for a walk?” she asked. She looked provoked.

He didn’t answer her.

“Well?”

“No.” He wondered how long she was going to stand there. She made his eyes feel like his throat. They’d get watery and she’d see. She had seen before and had looked sorry for him. She’d looked sorry for herself too; but she could er saved herself, Old Dudley thought, if she’d just have let him alone-let him stay where he was back home and not be so taken up with her damn duty. She moved out of the room, leaving an audible sigh, to crawl over him and remind him again of that one minute-that wasn’t her fault at all-when suddenly he had wanted to go to New York to live with her.

February 19, 2014

“The String Quartet” — Virginia Woolf

by Biblioklept

“The String Quartet”

by Virginia Woolf

Well, here we are, and if you cast your eye over the room you will see that Tubes and trams and omnibuses, private carriages not a few, even, I venture to believe, landaus with bays in them, have been busy at it, weaving threads from one end of London to the other. Yet I begin to have my doubts-

If indeed it’s true, as they’re saying, that Regent Street is up, and the Treaty signed, and the weather not cold for the time of year, and even at that rent not a flat to be had, and the worst of influenza its after effects; if I bethink me of having forgotten to write about the leak in the larder, and left my glove in the train; if the ties of blood require me, leaning forward, to accept cordially the hand which is perhaps offered hesitatingly-

“Seven years since we met!”

“The last time in Venice.”

“And where are you living now?”

“Well, the late afternoon suits me the best, though, if it weren’t asking too much-”

“But I knew you at once!”

“Still, the war made a break-”

If the mind’s shot through by such little arrows, and-for human society compels it-no sooner is one launched than another presses forward; if this engenders heat and in addition they’ve turned on the electric light; if saying one thing does, in so many cases, leave behind it a need to improve and revise, stirring besides regrets, pleasures, vanities, and desires-if it’s all the facts I mean, and the hats, the fur boas, the gentlemen’s swallow-tail coats, and pearl tie-pins that come to the surface-what chance is there?

February 16, 2014

“Paul’s Case” — Willa Cather

by Biblioklept

“Paul’s Case”

by Willa Cather

It was Paul’s afternoon to appear before the faculty of the Pittsburgh High School to account for his various misdemeanors. He had been suspended a week ago, and his father had called at the Principal’s office and confessed his perplexity about his son. Paul entered the faculty room suave and smiling. His clothes were a trifle outgrown, and the tan velvet on the collar of his open overcoat was frayed and worn; but for all that there was something of the dandy about him, and he wore an opal pin in his neatly knotted black four-in-hand, and a red carnation in his buttonhole. This latter adornment the faculty somehow felt was not properly significant of the contrite spirit befitting a boy under the ban of suspension.

Paul was tall for his age and very thin, with high, cramped shoulders and a narrow chest. His eyes were remarkable for a certain hysterical brilliancy, and he continually used them in a conscious, theatrical sort of way, peculiarly offensive in a boy. The pupils were abnormally large, as though he were addicted to belladonna, but there was a glassy glitter about them which that drug does not produce.

When questioned by the Principal as to why he was there Paul stated, politely enough, that he wanted to come back to school. This was a lie, but Paul was quite accustomed to lying; found it, indeed, indispensable for overcoming friction. His teachers were asked to state their respective charges against him, which they did with such a rancor and aggrievedness as evinced that this was not a usual case, Disorder and impertinence were among the offenses named, yet each of his instructors felt that it was scarcely possible to put into words the real cause of the trouble, which lay in a sort of hysterically defiant manner of the boy’s; in the contempt which they all knew he felt for them, and which he seemingly made not the least effort to conceal. Once, when he had been making a synopsis of a paragraph at the blackboard, his English teacher had stepped to his side and attempted to guide his hand. Paul had started back with a shudder and thrust his hands violently behind him. The astonished woman could scarcely have been more hurt and embarrassed had he struck at her. The insult was so involuntary and definitely personal as to be unforgettable. In one way and another he had made all his teachers, men and women alike, conscious of the same feeling of physical aversion. In one class he habitually sat with his hand shading his eyes; in another he always looked out of the window during the recitation; in another he made a running commentary on the lecture, with humorous intention.

His teachers felt this afternoon that his whole attitude was symbolized by his shrug and his flippantly red carnation flower, and they fell upon him without mercy, his English teacher leading the pack. He stood through it smiling, his pale lips parted over his white teeth. (His lips were continually twitching, and he had a habit of raising his eyebrows that was contemptuous and irritating to the last degree.) Older boys than Paul had broken down and shed tears under that baptism of fire, but his set smile did not once desert him, and his only sign of discomfort was the nervous trembling of the fingers that toyed with the buttons of his overcoat, and an occasional jerking of the other hand that held his hat. Paul was always smiling, always glancing about him, seeming to feel that people might be watching him and trying to detect something. This conscious expression, since it was as far as possible from boyish mirthfulness, was usually attributed to insolence or “smartness.”

February 15, 2014

“Trilobites” — Breece D’J. Pancake

by Biblioklept

“Trilobites”

by Breece D’J. Pancake

I open the truck’s door, step onto the brick side street. I look at Company Hill again, all sort of worn down and round. A long time ago it was real craggy, and stood like an island in the Teays River. It took over a million years to make that smooth little hill, and I’ve looked all over it for trilobites. I think how it has always been there and always will be, least for as long as it matters. The air is smoky with summertime. A bunch of starlings swim over me. I was born in this country and I have never very much wanted to leave. I remember Pop’s dead eyes looking at me. They were real dry, and that took something out of me. I shut the door, head for the café.

I see a concrete patch in the street. It’s shaped like Florida, and I recollect what I wrote in Ginny’s yearbook: “We will live on mangoes and love.” And she up and left without me—two years she’s been down there without me. She sends me postcards with alligator wrestlers and flamingos on the front. She never asks me any questions. I feel like a real fool for what I wrote, and go into the café.

The place is empty, and I rest in the cooled air. Tinker Reilly’s little sister pours my coffee. She has good hips. They are kind of like Ginny’s and they slope nice curves to her legs. Hips and legs like that climb steps into airplanes. She goes to the counter end and scoffs down the rest of her sundae. I smile at her, but she’s jailbait. Jailbait and black snakes are two things “Won’t touch with a window pole. One time I used an old black snake for a bullwhip, snapped the sucker’s head off, and Pop beat hell out of me with it. I think how Pop could make me pretty mad sometimes. I grin.

I think about last night when Ginny called. Her old man drove her down from the airport in Charleston. She was already bored. Can we get together? Sure. Maybe do some brew? Sure. Same old Colly. Same old Ginny. She talked through her beak. I wanted to tell her Pop had died, and Mom was on the warpath to sell the farm, but Ginny was talking through her beak. It gave me the creeps.

Just like the cups give me the creeps. I look at the cups hanging on pegs by the storefront. They’re decal-named and covered with grease and dust. There’s four of them, and one is Pop’s, but that isn’t what gives me the creeps. The cleanest one is Jim’s. It’s clean because he still uses it, but it hangs there with the rest. Through the window, I can see him crossing the street. His joints are cemented with arthritis. I think of how long it’ll be before I croak, but Jim is old, and it gives me the creeps to see his cup hanging up there. I go to the door to help him in.

He says, “Tell the truth, now,” and his old paw pinches my arm.

I say, “Can’t do her.” I help him to his stool.

February 13, 2014

“At the ‘Cadian Ball” — Kate Chopin

by Biblioklept

“At the ‘Cadian Ball”

by Kate Chopin

    BOBINOT, that big, brown, good-natured Bobinot, had no intention of going to the ball, even though he knew Calixta would be there. For what came of those balls but heartache, and a sickening disinclination for work the whole week through, till Saturday night came again and his tortures began afresh? Why could he not love Ozeina, who would marry him to-morrow; or Fronie, or any one of a dozen others, rather than that little Spanish vixen? Calixta’s slender foot had never touched Cuban soil; but her mother’s had, and the Spanish was in her blood all the same. For that reason the prairie people forgave her much that they would not have overlooked in their own daughters or sisters.

Her eyes, – Bobinot thought of her eyes, and weakened, – the bluest, the drowsiest, most tantalizing that ever looked into a man’s, he thought of her flaxen hair that kinked worse than a mulatto’s close to her head; that broad, smiling mouth and tip-tilted nose, that full figure; that voice like a rich contralto song, with cadences in it that must have been taught by Satan, for there was no one else to teach her tricks on that ‘Cadian prairie. Bobinot thought of them all as he plowed his rows of cane.

There had even been a breath of scandal whispered about her a year ago, when she went to Assumption,- but why talk of it? No one did now. “C’est Espagnol, ca,” most of them said with lenient shoulder-shrugs. “Bon chien tient de race,” the old men mumbled over their pipes, stirred by recollections. Nothing was made of it, except that Fronie threw it up to Calixta when the two quarreled and fought on the church steps after mass one Sunday, about a lover. Calixta swore roundly in fine ‘Cadian French and with true Spanish spirit, and slapped Fronie’s face. Fronie had slapped her back; “Tiens, bocotte, va!” “Espece de lionese; prends ca, et ca!” till the cure himself was obliged to hasten and make peace between them. Bobinot thought of it all, and would not go to the ball.

February 11, 2014

“Cat in the Rain” — Ernest Hemingway

by Biblioklept

“Cat in the Rain”

by Ernest Hemingway

    There were only two Americans stopping at the hotel. They did not know any of the people they passed on the stairs on their way to and from their room. Their room was on the second floor facing the sea. It also faced the public garden and the war monument. There were big palms and green benches in the public garden. In the good weather there was always an artist with his easel. Artists liked the way the palms grew and the bright colors of the hotels facing the gardens and the sea. Italians came from a long way off to look up at the war monument. It was made of bronze and glistened in the rain. It was raining. The rain dripped from the palm trees. Water stood in pools on the gravel paths. The sea broke in a long line in the rain and slipped back down the beach to come up and break again in a long line in the rain. The motor cars were gone from the square by the war monument. Across the square in the doorway of the cafe a waiter stood looking out of the empty square.

The American wife stood at the window looking out. Outside right under their window a cat was crouched under one of the dripping green tables. The cat was trying to make herself so compact that she would not be dripped on.

“I’m. going down and get that kitty,” the American wife said.

“I’ll do it,” her husband offered from the bed.

“No, I’ll get it. The poor kitty out trying to keep dry under a table.”

The husband went on reading, lying propped up with the two pillows at the foot of the bed.

“Don’t get wet,” he said.

The wife went downstairs and the hotel owner stood up and bowed to her as she passed the office. His desk was at the far end of the office. He was an old man and very tall.

“Il piove,” the wife said. She liked the hotel-keeper.

“Si, si, Signora, brutto tempo. It is very bad weather.”

He stood behind his desk in the far end of the dim room. The wife liked him. She liked the deadly serious way he received any complaints. She liked the way he wanted to serve her. She liked the way he felt about being a hotel-keeper. She liked his old, heavy face and big hands.

Liking him she opened the door and looked out. It was raining harder. A man in a rubber cape was crossing the empty square to the cafe. The cat would be around to the right. Perhaps she could go along under the eaves. As she stood in the door-way an umbrella opened behind her. It was the maid who looked after their room.

“You must not get wet,” she smiled, speaking Italian. Of course, the hotel-keeper had sent her.

With the maid holding the umbrella over her, she walked along the gravel path until she was under their window. The table was there, washed bright green in the rain, but the cat was gone. She was suddenly disappointed. The maid looked up at her.

“Ha perduto qualque cosa, Signora?”

“There was a cat,” said the American girl.

“A cat?”

“Si, il gatto.”

“A cat?” the maid laughed. “A cat in the rain?”

“Yes,” she said, “under the table.” Then, “Oh, I wanted it so much. I wanted a kitty.”

When she talked English the maid’s face tightened.

“Come, Signira,” she said. “We must get back inside. You will be wet.”

“I suppose so”, said the American girl.

They went back along the gravel path and passed in the door. The maid stayed outside to close the umbrella. As the American girl passed the office, the padrone bowed from his desk. Something felt very small and tight inside the girl. The padrone made her feel very small and at the same time really important. She had a momentary feeling of being of supreme importance. She went on up the stairs. She opened the door of the room. George was on the bed, reading.

“Did you get the cat?” he asked, putting the book down.

“It was gone.”

“Wonder where it went to,” he said, resting his eyes from reading.

She sat down on the bed.

“I wanted it so much,” she said. “I don’t know why I wanted it so much. I wanted that poor kitty. It isn’t any fun to be a poor kitty out in the rain.”

George was reading again.

She went over and sat in front of the mirror of the dressing table looking at herself with the hand glass. She studied her profile, first one side and then the other. Then she studied the back of her head and her neck.

“Don’t you think it would be a good idea if I let my hair grow out?” she asked, looking at her profile again.

George looked up and saw the back of her neck, clipped close like a boy’s.

“I like it the way it is.”

“I get so tired of it,” she said. “I get so tired of looking like a boy.”

George shifted his position in the bed. He hadn’t looked away from her since she started to speak.

“You look pretty darn nice,” he said.

She laid the mirror down on the dresser and went over to the window and looked out. It was getting dark.

“I want to pull my hair back tight and smooth and make a big knot at the back that I can feel,” she said. “I want to have a kitty to sit on my lap and purr when I stroke her.”

“Yeah?” George said from the bed.

“And I want to eat at a table with my own silver and I want candles. And I want it to be spring and I want to brush my hair out in front of a mirror and I want a kitty and I want some new clothes.”

“Oh, shut up and get something to read.,” George said. He was reading again.

His wife was looking out of the window. It was quite dark now and still raining in the palm trees.

“Anyway, I want a cat,” she said, “I want a cat. I want a cat now. If I can’t have long hair or any fun, I can have a cat.”

George was not listening. He was reading his book. His wife looked out of the window where the light had come on in the square.

Someone knocked at the door.

“Avanti,” George said. He looked up from his book.

In the doorway stood the maid. She held a big tortoise-shell cat pressed tight against her and swung down against her body.

“Excuse me,” she said, “the padrone asked me to bring this for the Signora.”

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