Took first sentence and last sentence of each story (and the intro) in New American Stories, an outstanding short-story anthology edited by Ben Marcus that came out earlier this year, and arranged them into something resembling a story of its own. Did this for fun, but it’s interesting to see the similarities & differences & patterns that reveal themselves when you do something like this (e.g. last lines in stories tend to be either very long, or very short). Anyway…
Newer American Stories
There is a game I play with my young son. Little children tend to disappear. When April arrived, it started to get warm and everyone said that the war was definitely going to happen soon and there was nothing anybody could do to stop it. There were stories in the territory, stories that could turn a sane man sour and a sour man worse. Like in the old days, I came out of the dry creek behind the house and did my little tap on the kitchen window.
I went to Professor Pine for help twice in my life, once as a child and once as an adult.
Last week I received, via Priority Mail, a card inviting me to a wedding that I’d very much like to attend. It was the day before his cousin’s funeral and Del ended up at the Suds washing his black jeans at midnight. I was at home, not making spaghetti. After dinner, nobody went home right away.
Davis called, told me he was dying. I know when people will die. This was the month that people began to suspect that terrorists had infiltrated Middle America, set up underground tunnels in the rural areas, like gophers.
The day I got my period, my mother and father took me to pick my madman. They met Gordon Brik on a Friday the thirteenth at the Clam Box in Brooklin. Root canal is one fifty, give or take, depending on who’s doing it to you.
Jim Smith was riding the train to Syracuse, New York, to see his foster mother for Mother’s Day.
‘What you got there, then?’
‘Just let me out of here, man,’ said Cora Booth. The girl, unlike most people photographed for fashion magazines, was not beautiful.
‘What are you doing?’ a guy asked her.
‘I don’t know why I committed us to any of those things,’ Otto said.
There are also men in the world. They had lied to each other so many times, over so many years, that deceptions between them had become commonplace, practically repertoire. Four of them were on one side of a dim room. Tom is born in 1914 in Detroit, a quarter mile from International Salt. He finds himself sitting in the neighborhood bar drinking a beer at about the same time that he began to think about going there for one.
Father comes home after many years of forgetting us, of not sending us money, of not loving us, not visiting us, not anything us, and parks in the shack, unable to anything, vomiting and vomiting, Jesus, just vomiting and defecating on himself, and it smelling like something dead in there, dead and rotting, his body a black, terrible stick; I come in from playing FInd bin Laden and he is there.
Once, for about a month or two, I decided I was going to be a different kind of guy. I attend a meeting called Come and See! We walked across the highway bridge, thirty-nine of us in jumpsuits and tennis sneakers, with guards front and back and at the flanks, six in all.
After they shot the body several times, they cut its throat with a scaling knife; after that, they pinched its nostrils and funneled sulfuric acid into its mouth; while some set to yanking the body’s toenails out with a set of pliers, others fashioned a noose from a utility cord they had found in the trunk of their car.
He is Jerold Bradway, I thought, and he is breathing the fumes of free enterprise forever. It was his name, really.
Well…you know…life, he says to the nurse who has come to pull the sheet over his face and wheel him away.
A moment later I heard the blast, braaaaaammmmm; it was louder than I had remembered, longer too, and then the train passed under the bridge as it headed out west or down south. One couldn’t see them at all, no matter how hard one looked. Find some way to bring me back, you fuckers, or you are the sorriest bunch of bastards the world has ever known.
A story seemed to find its place here when it did not look away from what was coming.
And then Tom sits, hands in his lap, alive for one more day. ‘I’m tired. What are we doing down here?’ He feels like dry wood in my hands, but there is a strange light in his sunken eyes, like he has swallowed the sun.
The starless sky was friendly, and the moon, if there was one, was wide. I danced. After that, I think, somebody clutched my legs, my knees, shoved me upward, and a bald man with an earpiece and a combat knife cut me down from the door.
Then he went up on his tip-toes and kissed me goodbye. But for the other man, who would be watching the night fall around the orange halo of the streetlamps with neither longing nor dread, what did the future offer but the comfort of knowing that he would, when it was time for his daughter to carry out her plan of revenge, cooperate with a gentle willingness?
They walked on, the Fish Stick Girl leading him by the hand. ‘Hello,’ she said, ‘hello, Mama, it’s me. Jieling.’ Then she showed him to a room of his own. Yet none of it struck him quite as much as the sensation that there was someone or something else in that grim room, both unseen and present, and coming for him as much as for anybody. They drop a bucketful of pennies into the dryer & listen to them clatter. Like the Iraqis had cheered when they first came into the town. Before they had shot.
Or am I the first? It seemed so long ago now, they could hardly be held accountable if they couldn’t remember.
He stood and shouted, ‘Wait; I hope you can be happy now; I hope we can be friends still, really,’ and then Kristy was back, was looking was saying, ‘You’re a real shithead,’ was saying some other things, her face inflamed, and the door, then, slamming shut, making a loud noise.
Okay. I’d say those precipices are unimaginable but you’ve seen them. A soap bar slims down to a sliver. Then sometimes I get up and don my robe and go out into our quiet neighborhood looking for a magic thread, a magic sword, a magic horse.
I thought about the weathervane, spinning, because i wanted the moment to last forever.
What I know of Errol I know from a postcard he sent our mother twenty-five years ago, which was postmarked Virginia City, NT, and said only that the Lode had a hold of him. But every now and then, it is true, a man rises unexpectedly in our midst like a pine tree, and looks savagely at us, and sends us hobbling away in great floods to hide in the caves and gullies until he is gone.
Maybe I’m the man.