Another New Yorker Reading List

Literature
Art Spiegelman's Eustace Tilley

Art Spiegelman’s Eustace Tilley

So, you’re probably aware that The New Yorker has opened up some of its archive for the summer.

I posted a reading list last month of some of my favorite short stories from the magazine (okay, favorite open stories), as well as a few I hadn’t read before, like pieces from Janet Frame and Annie Proulx.

Here’s another list, a baker’s dozen, including some stuff I hadn’t read before the archive opened, as well as suggestions offered by some folks on twitter:

“The Other Place” by Mary Gaitskill

“Escape from Spiderhead” by George Saunders

“Goo Book” by Keith Ridgway

“Black Box” by Jennifer Egan

“The Five-Forty-Eight” by John Cheever”

“Brother on Sunday” by A.M. Homes

“A Beneficiary” by Nadine Gordimer

“A Village After Dark”  by Kazuo Ishiguro

“Still Life” by Don DeLillo

“Other People’s Deaths” by Lore Segal

“Going for Beer” by Robert Coover

“A Silver Dish” by Saul Bellow

“To the Measures Fall” by Richard Powers

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“Retaliation” — The Marquis de Sade

Literature

“Retaliation”

by

The Marquis de Sade

A worthy citizen of Picardy, the descendant perhaps of one of those illustrious troubadours from the banks of the Oise or the Somme whose sluggish existence has only been rescued from the shadows some ten or twelve years ago by a great writer of our time, a brave and honest citizen, I repeat, lived in the town of Saint-Quentin so famous for the great men it has given to literature. He lived there in honorable estate, himself, his wife and a cousin thrice removed, a nun of a convent in the town. The cousin thrice removed was a little brunette, bright-eyed, with a mischievous little face, a turned-up nose and a slender figure; she suffered under the weight of twenty-two years, and had been a nun for four of them. Sister Petronilla, for such was her name, had in addition a pretty voice and a much greater disposition for love than for religion. As for M. d’Esclaponville, as our citizen was called, he was a fine jovial fellow of about twenty-eight, who loved his cousin supremely and Mme d’Esclaponville nothing like so well, since he had been sleeping with her for ten years already, and a habit of ten years’ standing is quite fatal to the fires of hymen. Mme d’Esclaponville — for it is necessary to depict her, a writer would be despised if he did not portray people in an age where only pictures are required, and where even a tragedy would not be received unless the canvas-mongers found at least half a dozen subjects in it — Mme d’Esclaponville, as I was saying, was a somewhat insipid blonde, slightly washed-out, but very white-skinned, with pretty eyes, well-fleshed, and with those great chubby checks that are commonly described by the world as “a good squeeze.”

“A Carnival Jangle” — Alice Dunbar

Literature, Writers

“A Carnival Jangle”

by

Alice Dunbar

There is a merry jangle of bells in the air, an all-pervading sense of jester’s noise, and the flaunting vividness of royal colours. The streets swarm with humanity,—humanity in all shapes, manners, forms, laughing, pushing, jostling, crowding, a mass of men and women and children, as varied and assorted in their several individual peculiarities as ever a crowd that gathered in one locality since the days of Babel.

It is Carnival in New Orleans; a brilliant Tuesday in February, when the very air gives forth an ozone intensely exhilarating, making one long to cut capers. The buildings are a blazing mass of royal purple and golden yellow, national flags, bunting, and decorations that laugh in the glint of the Midas sun. The streets are a crush of jesters and maskers, Jim Crows and clowns, ballet girls and Mephistos, Indians and monkeys; of wild and sudden flashes of music, of glittering pageants and comic ones, of befeathered and belled horses; a dream of colour and melody and fantasy gone wild in an effervescent bubble of beauty that shifts and changes and passes kaleidoscope-like before the bewildered eye.

A bevy of bright-eyed girls and boys of that uncertain age that hovers between childhood and maturity, were moving down Canal Street when there was a sudden jostle with another crowd meeting them. For a minute there was a deafening clamour of shouts and laughter, cracking of the whips, which all maskers carry, a jingle and clatter of carnival bells, and the masked and unmasked extricated themselves and moved from each other’s paths. But in the confusion a tall Prince of Darkness had whispered to one of the girls in the unmasked crowd: “You’d better come with us, Flo; you’re wasting time in that tame gang. Slip off, they’ll never miss you; we’ll get you a rig, and show you what life is.”

And so it happened, when a half-hour passed, and the bright-eyed bevy missed Flo and couldn’t find her, wisely giving up the search at last, she, the quietest and most bashful of the lot, was being initiated into the mysteries of “what life is.”

Down Bourbon Street and on Toulouse and St. Peter Streets there are quaint little old-world places where one may be disguised effectually for a tiny consideration. Thither, guided by the shapely Mephisto and guarded by the team of jockeys and ballet girls, tripped Flo. Into one of the lowest-ceiled, dingiest, and most ancient-looking of these shops they stepped.

“A disguise for the demoiselle,” announced Mephisto to the woman who met them. She was small and wizened and old, with yellow, flabby jaws, a neck like the throat of an alligator, and straight, white hair that stood from her head uncannily stiff.

“But the demoiselle wishes to appear a boy, un petit garcon?” she inquired, gazing eagerly at Flo’s long, slender frame. Her voice was old and thin, like the high quavering of an imperfect tuning-fork, and her eyes were sharp as talons in their grasping glance.

“Mademoiselle does not wish such a costume,” gruffly responded Mephisto.

“Ma foi, there is no other,” said the ancient, shrugging her shoulders. “But one is left now; mademoiselle would make a fine troubadour.”

“Flo,” said Mephisto, “it’s a dare-devil scheme, try it; no one will ever know it but us, and we’ll die before we tell. Besides, we must; it’s late, and you couldn’t find your crowd.”

And that was why you might have seen a Mephisto and a slender troubadour of lovely form, with mandolin flung across his shoulder, followed by a bevy of jockeys and ballet girls, laughing and singing as they swept down Rampart Street.

When the flash and glare and brilliancy of Canal Street have palled upon the tired eye, when it is yet too soon to go home to such a prosaic thing as dinner, and one still wishes for novelty, then it is wise to go into the lower districts. There is fantasy and fancy and grotesqueness run wild in the costuming and the behaviour of the maskers. Such dances and whoops and leaps as these hideous Indians and devils do indulge in; such wild curvetings and long walks! In the open squares, where whole groups do congregate, it is wonderfully amusing. Then, too, there is a ball in every available hall, a delirious ball, where one may dance all day for ten cents; dance and grow mad for joy, and never know who were your companions, and be yourself unknown. And in the exhilaration of the day, one walks miles and miles, and dances and skips, and the fatigue is never felt.

In Washington Square, away down where Royal Street empties its stream of children great and small into the broad channel of Elysian Fields Avenue, there was a perfect Indian pow-wow. With a little imagination one might have willed away the vision of the surrounding houses, and fancied one’s self again in the forest, where the natives were holding a sacred riot. The square was filled with spectators, masked and un-masked. It was amusing to watch these mimic Red-men, they seemed so fierce and earnest.

Suddenly one chief touched another on the elbow. “See that Mephisto and troubadour over there?” he whispered huskily.

“Yes; who are they?”

“I don’t know the devil,” responded the other, quietly, “but I’d know that other form anywhere. It’s Leon, see? I know those white hands like a woman’s and that restless head. Ha!”

“But there may be a mistake.”

“No. I’d know that one anywhere; I feel it is he. I’ll pay him now. Ah, sweetheart, you’ve waited long, but you shall feast now!” He was caressing something long and lithe and glittering beneath his blanket.

In a masked dance it is easy to give a death-blow between the shoulders. Two crowds meet and laugh and shout and mingle almost inextricably, and if a shriek of pain should arise, it is not noticed in the din, and when they part, if one should stagger and fall bleeding to the ground, can any one tell who has given the blow? There is nothing but an unknown stiletto on the ground, the crowd has dispersed, and masks tell no tales anyway. There is murder, but by whom? for what? Quien sabe?

And that is how it happened on Carnival night, in the last mad moments of Rex’s reign, a broken-hearted mother sat gazing wide-eyed and mute at a horrible something that lay across the bed. Outside the long sweet march music of many bands floated in as if in mockery, and the flash of rockets and Bengal lights illumined the dead, white face of the girl troubadour.

The Complete Short Stories of J.G. Ballard (Eleventh Riff: The Nineties)

Books, Literature, Reviews, Writers

jgb_complete_ss4003111

PREVIOUSLY:

Introductions + stories 1956-1959

Stories of 1960

Stories of 1961

Stories of 1962

“The Subliminal Man,” Black Friday, and Consumerism

Stories of 1963-1964

Stories of 1966

Closing out the sixties

The seventies

The eighties

IN THIS RIFF:

“Dream Cargoes” (1990)

“A Guide to Virtual Death” (1992)

“The Message from Mars” (1992)

“Report from an Obscure Planet” (1992)

“The Secret Autobiography of J G B” (1981/2009)

“The Dying Fall” (1996)

1. “Dream Cargoes” (1990)

By the 1990s Ballard had written essentially the same stories over and over—with diminishing returns. Some of the weakness in the later entries in the Complete Short Stories can be attributed to Ballard’s prescience. The world caught up to him at some point, blunting his satire into something goofier, more cartoonish, but also sharpening the reactionary streak that always glowed under the surface of his writing. At his peak, Ballard used his stories to provoke readers into looking at their culture in a new way, and the best of those stories still retain a futurist power. However, many of the late period stories blazon their moral outrage in a wearisome didactic streak.

1990’s “Dream Cargoes” is paint-by-numbers Ballard: Themes of time, sleep, mutation, ecological disaster, birds, etc. The plot anticipates one of Ballard’s weaker novels, Rushing to Paradise (1994), a day-glo nightmare about misguided attempts to steward the forces of nature. And like Rushing to Paradise, the prose here is weak—Ballard relies on the stock phrases that litter his earliest stories.

2. “The Message from Mars” (1992) / “Report from an Obscure Planet” (1992) / “A Guide to Virtual Death” (1992)

“The Message from Mars” anticipates public disinterest in astronomy (and science in general), the end of NASA’s space shuttle program, and China’s emerging dominance as a world power with space flight capability. So there you go. (It also posits the horror of a President Quayle!). Ballard sends a group of astronauts on a Mars mission, refuses to share their findings with us, and then leaves them, once they land, in their space shuttle, where they live on for decades, silent, incommunicado, alienated from humanity in their self-imposed exile. Ballard’s cynicism is balanced by his refusal to overstate any kind of moral here—the story succeeds in its evocation of mystery.

“Report from an Obscure Planet” is another riff on millennial anxieties, written in the perspective of a “we” condemning the human race for its shortsighted, disastrous treatment of the planet. Ballard doesn’t seem to keen on the future wonders promised by computers:

Driven by the need for a more lifelike replica of the scenes of carnage that most entertained them, the people of this unhappy world had invented an advanced and apparently interiorised version of their television screens, a virtual replica of reality in which they could act out their most deviant fantasies. These three–dimensional simulations were generated by their computers, and had reached a stage of development in the last years of the millennium in which the imitation of reality was more convincing than the original. It may even have become the new reality to the extent that their cities and highways, their fellow citizens and, ultimately, themselves seemed mere illusions by comparison with the electronically generated amusement park where they preferred to play. Here they could assume any identity, create and fulfill any desire, and explore the most deviant dreams.  

While “Report from an Obscure Planet” uses a didactic narrator and a heavy hand to telegraph its message, its companion piece “A Guide to Virtual Death” is far more fun, wicked, and shockingly accurate (if wildly hyperbolic). Sure, yes, okay—another list from Ballard, and okay, yes, sure—I tend to be keen on his lists (“The Index,” “The Assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy Considered as a Downhill Motor Race”)—but they also tend to be his strongest pieces. As usual with his list-stories, Ballard feels obligated to begin with a note:

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.

Brief but Essential. Go ahead and read the whole thing.

3. “The Dying Fall” (1996) / “The Secret Autobiography of J G B” (1981/2009)

The American edition of Complete Stories is more complete than the British volume, including two extra stories. “The Dying Fall” (read it here if you like) is an unfortunate last entry, a weak note in a grand tome. It’s not bad; it’s simply not good, yet another revenge tale with a bad wife, etc. It feels like a frame for Ballard to riff on architecture and psychoanalysis.

“The Secret Autobiography of J G B” is much stronger (you can read it here), although it was also composed at his peak and republished (“rediscovered”) after his death. The final lines would have made a fitting end for the entire collection:

When the summer was followed by a mild autumn, B had established a pleasant and comfortable existence for himself. He had abundant stocks of tinned food, fuel, and water with which to survive the winter. The river was nearby, clear and free of all pollution, and petrol was easy to obtain, in unlimited quantities, from the filling stations and parked cars. At the local police station, he assembled a small armory of pistols and carbines, to deal with any unexpected menace that might appear.

But his only visitors were the birds, and he scattered handfuls of rice and seeds on his lawn and on those of his former neighbors. Already he had begun to forget them, and Shepperton soon became an extraordinary aviary, filled with birds of every species.

Thus the year ended peacefully, and B was ready to begin his true work.

4. On the horizon:

I am done! Sort of. One more post—I’ll revisit these riffs and select the tales that I would include in a collection I would call The Essential Short Stories of J.G. Ballard.

“Rooms” — Gertrude Stein

Books, Literature, Writers

“Rooms”

by Gertrude Stein

Act so that there is no use in a centre. A wide action is not a width. A preparation is given to the ones preparing. They do not eat who mention silver and sweet. There was an occupation.

A whole centre and a border make hanging a way of dressing. This which is not why there is a voice is the remains of an offering. There was no rental.

So the tune which is there has a little piece to play, and the exercise is all there is of a fast. The tender and true that makes no width to hew is the time that there is question to adopt.

To begin the placing there is no wagon. There is no change lighter. It was done. And then the spreading, that was not accomplishing that needed standing and yet the time was not so difficult as they were not all in place. They had no change. They were not respected. They were that, they did it so much in the matter and this showed that that settlement was not condensed. It was spread there. Any change was in the ends of the centre. A heap was heavy. There was no change.

Burnt and behind and lifting a temporary stone and lifting more than a drawer.

The instance of there being more is an instance of more. The shadow is not shining in the way there is a black line. The truth has come. There is a disturbance. Trusting to a baker’s boy meant that there would be very much exchanging and anyway what is the use of a covering to a door. There is a use, they are double.

If the centre has the place then there is distribution. That is natural. There is a contradiction and naturally returning there comes to be both sides and the centre. That can be seen from the description.

The author of all that is in there behind the door and that is entering in the morning. Explaining darkening and expecting relating is all of a piece. The stove is bigger. It was of a shape that made no audience bigger if the opening is assumed why should there not be kneeling. Any force which is bestowed on a floor shows rubbing. This is so nice and sweet and yet there comes the change, there comes the time to press more air. This does not mean the same as disappearance.

“The Index” — J.G. Ballard

Books, Literature, Writers

“The Index”

by J.G. Ballard

EDITOR’S NOTE. From abundant internal evidence it seems clear that the text printed below is the index to the unpublished and perhaps suppressed autobiography of a man who may well have been one of the most remarkable figures of the twentieth century. Yet of his existence nothing is publicly known, although his life and work appear to have exerted a profound influence on the events of the past fifty years. Physician and philosopher, man of action and patron of the arts, sometime claimant to the English throne and founder of a new religion, Henry Rhodes Hamilton was evidently the intimate of the greatest men and women of our age. After World War II he founded a new movement of spiritual regener­ation, but private scandal and public concern at his grow­ing megalomania, culminating in his proclamation of himself as a new divinity, seem to have led to his down­fall. Incarcerated within an unspecified government insti­tution, he presumably spent his last years writing his autobiography of which this index is the only surviving fragment.

A substantial mystery still remains. Is it conceivable that all traces of his activities could be erased from our records of the period? Is the suppressed autobiography itself a disguised roman à clef, in which the fictional hero exposes the secret identities of his historical contempo­raries? And what is the true role of the indexer himself, clearly a close friend of the writer, who first suggested that he embark on his autobiography? This ambiguous and shadowy figure has taken the unusual step of index­ing himself into his own index. Perhaps the entire compi­lation is nothing more than a figment of the over­wrought imagination of some deranged lexicographer. Alternatively, the index may be wholly genuine, and the only glimpse we have into a world hidden from us by a gigantic conspiracy, of which Henry Rhodes Hamilton is the greatest victim.

A

Acapulco, 143

Acton, Harold, 142–7, 213

Alcazar, Siege of, 221–5

Alimony, HRH pays, 172, 247, 367, 453

Anaxagoras, 35, 67, 69–78, 481

Apollinaire, 98

Arden, Elizabeth, 189, 194, 376–84

Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, The (Stein), 112

Avignon, birthplace of HRH, 9–13; childhood holidays, 27; research at Pasteur Institute of Ophthalmology, 101; attempts to restore anti-Papacy, 420–35

B

Bal Musette, Paris, 98

Balliol College, Oxford, 69–75, 231

Beach, Sylvia, 94–7

Berenson, Bernard, conversations with HRH, 134; offer of adoption, 145; loan of Dürer etching, 146; law-suits against HRH, 173–85

Bergman, Ingrid, 197, 134, 267

Biarritz, 123

Blixen, Karen von (Isak Dinesen), letters to HRH, declines marriage proposal, 197

Byron, Lord, 28, 76, 98, 543

“Samuel” — Grace Paley

Books, Literature, Writers

“Samuel”

by Grace Paley

Some boys are very tough. They’re afraid of nothing. They are the ones who climb a wall and take a bow at the top. Not only are they brave on the roof, but they make a lot of noise in the darkest part of the cellar where even the super hates to go. They also jiggle and hop on the platform between the locked doors of the subway cars.

Four boys are jiggling on the swaying platform. Their names are Alfred, Calvin, Samuel, and Tom. The men and women in the cars on either side watch them. They don’t like them to jiggle or jump but don’t want to interfere. Of course some of the men in the cars were once brave boys like these. One of them had ridden the tail of a speeding truck from New York to Rockaway Beach without getting off, without his sore fingers losing hold. Nothing happened to him then or later. He had made a compact with other boys who preferred to watch: starting at Eighth Avenue and Fifteenth Street, he would get to some specified place, maybe Twenty-third and the river, by hopping the tops of the moving trucks. This was hard to do when one truck turned a corner in the wrong direction and the nearest truck was a couple of feet too high. He made three or four starts before succeeding. He had gotten this idea from a film at school called The Romance of Logging. He had finished high school, married a good friend, was in a responsible job, and going to night school.

These two men and others looked at the four boys jumping and jiggling on the platform and thought. It must be fun to ride that way, especially now the weather is nice and we’re out of the tunnel and way high over the Bronx. Then they thought. These kids do seem to be acting sort of stupid. They are little. Then they thought of some of the brave things they had done when they were boys and jiggling didn’t seem so risky.

The ladies in the car became very angry when they looked at the four boys. Most of them brought their brows together and hoped the boys could see their extreme disapproval. One of the ladies wanted to get up and say, be careful you dumb kids, get off that platform or I’ll call a cop. But three of the boys were Negroes and the fourth was something else she couldn’t tell for sure. She was afraid they’d be fresh and laugh at her and embarrass her. She wasn’t afraid they’d hit her, but she was afraid of embarrassment. Another lady thought, their mothers never know where they are. It wasn’t true in this particular case. Their mothers all knew that they had gone to see the missile exhibit on Fourteenth Street.

Out on the platform, whenever the train accelerated, the boys would raise their hands and point them up to the sky to act like rockets going off, then they rat-tat-tatted the shatterproof glass pane like machine guns, although no machine guns had been exhibited.

For some reason known only to the motorman, the train began a sudden slowdown. The lady who was afraid of embarrassment saw the boys jerk forward and backward and grab the swinging guard chains. She had her own boy at home. She stood up with determination and went to the door. She slid it open and said, “You boys will be hurt. You’ll be killed. I’m going to call the conductor if you don’t just go into the next car and sit down and be quiet.”

Two of the boys said, “Yes’m,” and acted as though they were about to go. Two of them blinked their eyes a couple of times and pressed their lips together. The train resumed its speed. The door slid shut, parting the lady and the boys. She leaned against the side door because she had to get off at the next stop.

The boys opened their eyes wide at each other and laughed. The lady  blushed. The boys looked at her and laughed harder. They began to pound each other’s back. Samuel laughed the hardest and pounded Alfred’s back until Alfred coughed and the tears came. Alfred held tight to the chain hook. Samuel pounded him even harder when he saw the tears. He said, “Why you bawling? You a baby, huh?” and laughed. One of the men whose boyhood had been more watchful than brave became angry. He stood up straight and looked at the boys for a couple of seconds. Then he walked in a citizenly way to the end of the car, where he pulled the emergency cord. Almost at once, with a terrible hiss, the pressure of air abandoned the brakes and the wheels were caught and held.

People standing in the most secure places fell forward, then backward. Samuel had let go of his hold on the chain so he could pound Tom as well as Alfred. All the passengers in the cars whipped back and forth, but he pitched only forward and fell head first to be crushed and killed between the cars.

The train had stopped hard, halfway into the station, and the conductor called at once for the trainmen who knew about this kind of death and how to take the body from the wheels and brakes. There was silence except for passengers from the other cars who asked, What happened! What happened! The ladies waited around wondering if he might be an only child. The men recalled other afternoons with very bad endings. The little boys stayed close to each other, leaning and touching shoulders and arms and legs.

When the policeman knocked at the door and told her about it, Samuel’s mother began to scream. She screamed all day and moaned all night, though the doctors tried to quiet her with pills.

Oh, oh, she hopelessly cried. She did not know how she could ever find another boy like that one. However, she was a young woman and she became pregnant. Then for a few months she was hopeful. The child born to her was a boy. They brought him to be seen and nursed. She smiled. But immediately she saw that this baby wasn’t Samuel. She and her husband together have had other children, but never again will a boy exactly like Samuel be known.

“The Beloved,” A Short Surrealist Tale by Leonora Carrington

Books, Literature, Writers

“The Beloved” by Leonora Carrington

ONE LATE afternoon, passing through a narrow street, I stole a melon. The fruit man who was hidden behind his fruits seized me by the arm and said to me: “Señorita, I’ve been waiting for an occasion like this for forty years. I have spent forty years hidden behind this pile of oranges with the hope that someone would steal a fruit from me. I will tell you why; I need to talk, I need to tell my story. If you don’t listen, I will hand you over to the police.”

“I’ll listen,’ I said. Without letting me go, he took me to the inside of the store, among fruits

Without letting me go, he took me to the inside of the store, among fruits and vegetables. We shut a door at the far end, and we reached a room where there was a bed on which an immovable and probably dead woman lay. It appeared to me that she had been there for a long time since the bed was covered with weeds.

“I water her every day,” said the fruitman with a pensive air. “In 40 years I have not succeeded in knowing whether she is dead or not. She has never moved, nor spoken, nor eaten during that time. But the curious thing is that she remains warm. If you don’t believe me, look.”

The man lifted a corner of the cover, which permitted me to see many eggs and some little chicks recently hatched.

“As you notice,” he said, “I incubate eggs here. I also sell fresh eggs.”

We each sat down on one side of the bed and the fruit man began to tell his story.

“Believe me; I love her so much! I have always loved her! She was so sweet! She had little agile white feet. Would you like to see them?”

“No,” I answered.

“Finally,” he continued, after exhaling a deep breath, “she was so beautiful! My hair was blonde; hers, magnificently black! Now, both of us have white hair. Her father was an extraordinary man. He had a mansion in the country. He was a collector of lamb chops. For that we came to know each other. I have a certain skill in drying meat with a glance. Mr. Pushfoot (so he was called) heard about me. He invited me to his house in order to dry his ribs to keep them from rotting. Agnes was his daughter. We loved each other from the first moment. We departed in a boat by way of the Seine. I rowed. Agnes said to me: ‘I love you so much that I only live for you.’ I answered her with the same words. I believe that it is my love which keeps her warm, perhaps she is dead, but the warmth persists.”

After a short pause, with an absent look, he continued: “Next year I will grow some tomatoes; it wouldn’t surprise me if they would grow well there inside … It became night, and I didn’t know where we would spend our wedding night. Agnes had become very pale, because of fatigue. Finally we had scarcely left Paris behind when I saw an inn that faced the river. I moored the boat and we walked toward an obscure and sinister terrace. There were two wolves there and a fox, who began to walk around us. There was nobody else … I knocked and knocked at the door, on the other side of which a terrible silence prevailed. ‘Agnes is tired! Agnes is very tired!’ I shouted with as much force as I could. Finally, an old lady’s head appeared at the window and said: ‘I don’t know anything. The landlord here is the fox. Let me sleep. You are bothering me.’ Agnes began to cry. There was no other remedy than to direct ourselves to the fox. ‘Have you beds?’ I asked several times. Nobody responded: he didn’t know how to speak. And again the head, older than the other, but which now descended slowly through the window tied to the end of a little cord. ‘Direct yourself to the wolves; I am not the landlord here. Let me sleep! please!’ I understood that that head was crazy and I did not have the heart to continue. Agnes kept crying. I walked around the house a few times and finally, I was able to open a window, through which we entered. Then we found ourselves in a kitchen with a high ceiling; over a large oven made hot by fire were some vegetables that were cooking and they jumped in the boiling water, a thing that much amused us. We ate well and then we laid ourselves down on the floor. I had Agnes in my arms. We did not sleep. That terrible kitchen contained all kinds of things. Many rats had stuck their heads out of their holes and then sang with screeching and disagreeable little voices. Filthy odors expanded and diminished one after the other, and there were air drafts. I believe that it was the air drafts that finished my poor Agnes. She never recovered. From that day, each time she spoke less . . .”

And the fruitman was so blinded by tears that I could escape with my melon.

“The Princess with the Lily-white Feet” — Ludmila Petrushevskaya

Books, Literature, Writers

“The Princess with the Lily-white Feet” by Ludmila Petrushevskaya

Once upon a time there lived a Youngest Princess, and everybody loved her. She had tiny little hands like rose petals, and her tiny white feet were like lily petals. On the one hand, this was pretty, but on the other hand, the Youngest Princess was almost too delicate and sensitive – she’d cry at the slightest provocation. She wasn’t exactly reprimanded for it, but the family certainly didn’t condone such behaviour, either. “You can’t let yourself fall apart like that!” her Mama, Papa, Grandma, and King-granddaddy used to say. “You have to keep yourself in hand. You’re a big girl now.”

This would only hurt her feelings even more, and the Youngest Princess would take to crying again.

Nevertheless, there came a time when a Prince came to woo the Princess, which is the way it’s meant to be.

The Prince was tall, handsome, and gentle. “A fine pair!” everybody in the kingdom agreed.

The Prince and the Princess went on lots of walks, they danced together, and the Princess – and for her this was totally unheard of – wove flower garlands on the meadow for the Prince and for herself, garlands of cornflowers every bit as blue as the Prince’s eyes.

The Prince and the Princess were betrothed, which is the way it was meant to be – that is, they were declared fiancé and fiancée. Then the Prince rode back to his own kingdom.

The Youngest Princess stayed home and started crying. Everyone disapproved of such behaviour; they even called the doctor. The doctor talked a bit with the Princess and unexpectedly prescribed not sedatives, which is the way it’s meant to be, but pain pills. Because it turned out that the Youngest Princess had overexerted herself with all that dancing and walking and chafed her tender little hands and feet till they were sore and bleeding.

Time passed, the wedding grew near, but the bride kept crying, sitting in bed and favouring her bandaged hands and feet. She couldn’t walk or hold a cup of tea in her hands: she was fed by her old nurse, who held her cup for her, too.

The doctor, however, optimistically predicted that everything would heal up before the wedding, and said the Youngest Princess was simply too delicate and too sensitive, a crybaby with no self-discipline, and that was the fruit of her improper upbringing in the family, but as soon as the Prince returned she would get up and dance and move her hands just the way she used to. “It’s all psychological,” said the doctor, and kept feeding the Princess pain pills.

Then the old nurse gathered together some photos of the Youngest Princess and set off to see a sorcerer. She brought back an enigmatic answer: “He who loves, carries in his arms.”

This phrase soon became legendary with absolutely everybody who had loved the Princess so much since she was a baby, when she used to smile blissfully, showing her first four tiny teeth and the two little dimples in her cheeks, when her little ringlets were like golden silk, and her little eyes like forget-me-nots.

Moon Weed

Books

“The Moon Weed” by Harl Vincent

Bart hacked and hacked at the rubbery growth.

 

Hobart Madison pursed his lips in a whistle of incredulous surprise as he regarded the object that lay in the palm of his hand. An ordinary pebble, it seemed to be, but a pebble in which a strange fire smouldered and showed itself here and there through the dull surface.

“Would you mind repeating what you just said, Van?” he asked.

“You heard me the first time. I say that that’s a diamond and that it came from the moon.” Carl Vanderventer glared at his friend in resentment of his doubting tone.

“Mean to tell me you’ve been there? To the moon?”

“Certainly not. I’m not a Jules Verne adventurer. But I’m telling you that stone is a diamond of the first water and that it came from the moon. Weighs over a hundred carats, too. You can have it appraised yourself if you think I’m kidding you.”

Bart Madison laughed. “Don’t get sore, Van,” he said. “I’m not doubting your word. But Lord, man—the thing’s so incredible! It takes a little time to soak in. And you say there are more?”

“Sure. This one’s the largest of five I’ve found so far. And there’s other stuff, too. Wait till you see. Fossils, beetles and things. I tell you, Bart, the moon was inhabited at one time. I’ve the evidence and I want you to be the first to see it.” The eyes of the young scientist shone with excitement as he saw that his friend was roused to intense interest.

“So that’s what all your experimenting has been aimed at. No wonder it cost so much.”

“Yes, and you’ve been a brick for financing me. Never asked a question, either. But Bart, it’ll all come back to you now. Know how much that stone’s worth?”

“Plenty, I guess. But, forget about the financing and all that. Where’s this laboratory of yours?” Madison had pushed his chair back from his desk and was reaching for his hat.

“Over in the Ramapo Mountains, not far from Tuxedo. I’ll have you there in two hours. Sure you can spare the time to go out there now?” Vanderventer was enthusiastically eager.

“Spare the time? You just try and keep me from going!”

Neither of them noticed the sinister figure that lurked outside the door which led into the adjoining office. They chattered excitedly as they passed into the outer hall and made for the elevator.

(Read the rest of “The Moon Weed,” originally published in Astounding Stories, August, 1931)

“Reflections for Gentlemen-jockeys” — Franz Kafka

Books, Literature, Writers

“Reflections for Gentlemen-jockeys” by Franz Kafka

When you think it over, winning a race is nothing to sigh for. The fame of being hailed as the best rider in the country is too intoxicating a pleasure when the applause strikes up not to bring a reaction the morning after.

The envy of your opponents, cunning and fairly influential men, must trouble you in the narrow enclosure you now traverse after the flat racecourse, which soon lay empty before you save for some laggards of the previous round, small figures charging the horizon.

Many of your friends are rushing to gather their winnings and only cry ‘Hurrah!’ to you over their shoulders from distant pay boxes; your best friends laid no bet on your horse, since they feared that they would have to be angry with you if you lost, and now that your horse has come in first and they have won nothing, they turn away as you pass and prefer to look along the stands.

Your rivals behind you, firmly in the saddle, are trying to ignore the bad luck that has befallen them and the injustice they have somehow suffered; they are putting a brave new face on things, as if a different race were due to start, and this time a serious one after such child’s play.

For many ladies the victor cuts a ridiculous figure because he is swelling with importance and yet cannot cope with the never-ending handshaking, saluting, bowing, and waving, while the defeated keep their mouths shut and casually pat the necks of their whinnying horses.

And finally from the now overcast sky rain actually begins to fall.

“On the Tram” — Franz Kafka

Books, Literature, Writers

“On the Tram” by Franz Kafka

I stand on the end platform of the tram and am completely unsure of my footing in this world, in this town, in my family. Not even casually could I indicate any claims that I might rightly advance in any direction. I have not even any defense to offer for standing on this platform, holding on to this strap, letting myself be carried along by this tram, nor for the people who give way to the tram or walk quietly along or stand gazing into shopwindows. Nobody asks me to put up a defense, indeed, but that is irrelevant.

The tram approaches a stopping place and a girl takes up her position near the step, ready to alight. She is as distinct to me as if I had run my hands over her. She is dressed in black, the pleats of her skirt hang almost still, her blouse is tight and has a collar of white fine-meshed lace, her left hand is braced flat against the side of the tram, the umbrella in her right hand rests on the second top step. Her face is brown, her nose, slightly pinched at the sides, has a broad round tip. She has a lot of brown hair and stray little tendrils on the right temple. Her small ear is close-set, but since I am near her I can see the whole ridge of the whorl of her right ear and the shadow at the root of it.

At that point I asked myself: How is it that she is not amazed at herself, that she keeps her lips closed and makes no such remark?