There was once upon a time a poor mason, or brick-layer, in Granada, who kept all the saints' days and holidays, and yet, with all his devotion, he grew poorer and poorer, and could scarcely earn bread for his numerous family. One night he was roused from his first sleep by a knocking at his door. He opened it, and beheld before him a tall, meagre, cadaverous-looking person.
'Hark ye, honest friend!' said the stranger; 'I have observed that you are a good Christian, and one to be trusted; will you undertake a job this very night?'
13 April 2008
Vol. 8, No. 1
He flicks on the light in the bedroom and squints against its glare. His eyes are going too, have been for some time now. But he knows—he can remember this much—where the lighter might be and he goes to the bedside table and grabs it, knocking the ashtray aside and spilling ash and stained butts that roll onto the floor. Severo starts to bend over to pick them up but instead he turns around and, walking out of the room, curses life again.
Although his memory has faded with his physical strength, one thing Severo can never forget is the hunger. It's no longer a sensation or even an excuse for overeating or berating his wife. After all, she didn't starve the way he did. She grew up in a village, on the Castilian plane, where life was bearable. But in Madrid there was no animal more miserable than the orphaned son of a Republican hero.
young man, named Giovanni Guasconti, came, very long ago, from the more southern region of Italy, to pursue his studies at the University of Padua. Giovanni, who had but a scanty supply of gold ducats in his pocket, took lodgings in a high and gloomy chamber of an old edifice, which looked not unworthy to have been the palace of a Paduan noble, and which, in fact, exhibited over its entrance the armorial bearings of a family long since extinct. The young stranger, who was not unstudied in the great poem of his country, recollected that one of the ancestors of this family, and perhaps an occupant of this very mansion, had been pictured by Dante as a partaker of the immortal agonies of his Inferno. These reminiscences and associations, together with the tendency to heart-break natural to a young man for the first time out of his native sphere, caused Giovanni to sigh heavily, as he looked around the desolate and ill-furnished apartment.
Being acquainted with a newspaper reporter who had a couple of free passes, I got to see the performance a few nights ago at one of the popular vaudeville houses.
One of the numbers was a violin solo by a striking-looking man not much past forty, but with very gray thick hair. Not being afflicted with a taste for music, I let the system of noises drift past my ears while I regarded the man.
28 February 2008
Vol. 7, No. 4
Aisha is thirty-one years old and seventeen weeks along. She has brought a copy of Crime and Punishment to the Laundromat with her, but she cannot concentrate on the story, keeps getting lost in the long, unfamiliar names. She sits, watching her clothes spin, the silk arm of her favorite, fading blouse cascading down over a tangle of jeans and underwear. She has just this week had to retire most of her regular pants, which she had long been tugging down to her pelvic bone, for maternity wear. And watching her old clothes in the dryer gives her an overwhelming sense of futility. She thinks she would like to go into labor now. She would like to push the little pink thing out of her body and into the world, even if it were to be born a helpless pound and a half. Moments like these, she thinks it is more likely that the baby could survive in a fluorescent NICU than in her agonized and frustrated body. She feels as if the baby has stretched her, made her skin literally too thin.
People were telling one another that a newcomer had been seen on the promenade—a lady with a dog. Dmitri Dmitrich Gurov had been a fortnight in Yalta, and was accustomed to its ways, and he, too, had begun to take an interest in fresh arrivals. From his seat in Vernet's outdoor café, he caught sight of a young woman in a toque, passing along the promenade; she was fair and not very tall; after her trotted a white Pomeranian.
Day had broken cold and gray, exceedingly cold and gray, when the man turned aside from the main Yukon trail and climbed the high earth-bank, where a dim and little-travelled trail led eastward through the fat spruce timberland. It was a steep bank, and he paused for breath at the top, excusing the act to himself by looking at his watch. It was nine o'clock. There was no sun nor hint of sun, though there was not a cloud in the sky. It was a clear day, and yet there seemed an intangible pall over the face of things, a subtle gloom that made the day dark, and that was due to the absence of sun. This fact did not worry the man. He was used to the lack of sun. It had been days since he had seen the sun, and he knew that a few more days must pass before that cheerful orb, due south, would just peep above the sky-line and dip immediately from view.
It had been raining in the valley of the Sacramento. The North Fork had overflowed its banks and Rattlesnake Creek was impassable. The few boulders that had marked the summer ford at Simpson's Crossing were obliterated by a vast sheet of water stretching to the foothills. The up stage was stopped at Grangers; the last mail had been abandoned in the tules, the rider swimming for his life. "An area," remarked the "Sierra Avalanche," with pensive local pride, "as large as the State of Massachusetts is now under water."
The west-bound train stopped at San Rosario on time at 8:20 A.M. A man with a thick black-leather wallet under his arm left the train and walked rapidly up the main street of the town. There were other passengers who also got off at San Rosario, but they either slouched limberly over to the railroad eating-house or the Silver Dollar saloon, or joined the groups of idlers about the station.
10 December 2007
Vol. 7, No. 4
He held the wheel with his knee and reached behind his seat for another beer. The can was cold but the beer was warm. He swished it in his mouth until it was flat and flavorless. Swallowed, swigged, swallowed, swigged. He was getting there. He barely remembered the cat now. The feel of it under the front, then the back tire, like something already dead but not quite flat enough, and when they'd stopped and turned back, it was still breathing. "It's just a barn cat," she'd said. But she saw the collar just like he did, the heart-shaped tag.
27 November 2007
Vol. 7, No. 3
Miss Lemon, as she was known in the classroom, at the age of thirty-nine had the unfortunate experience of overhearing a whispered conversation between two of her sixth-grade boys, insolent, dirty-necked devils that they were, one with pustular spots emphasizing a nose grown too large for its face and the other with astounded eyes. She distinctly heard the taller one say to the other, "She has a Coke bottle stuck up inside her. You ever notice the funny way she stands holding on to the back of her chair."
Lisa followed Mitchie through row after row of listing tin shacks. Puff-bellied children tugged at her hands and clothes. They stroked her white skin and made darting swipes at her yellow hair. They giggled and covered their broken teeth with dirty fingers. She emptied her pockets into their hands. She undid the clasp on her thin silver chain and dropped it in a boy's open hand. He ran off shouting, waving the necklace like a flag.
A great number of people nowadays are beginning broadly to insinuate that there are no such things as ghosts, or spiritual beings visible to mortal sight. Even Sir Walter Scott is turned renegade, and, with his stories made up of half-and-half, like Nathaniel Gow's toddy, is trying to throw cold water on the most certain, though most impalpable, phenomena of human nature. The bodies are daft. Heaven mend their wits! Before they had ventured to assert such things, I wish they had been where I have often been; or, in particular, where the Laird of Birkendelly was on St. Lawrence's Eve, in the year 1777, and sundry times subsequent to that.
Mr. Augustus Minns was a bachelor, of about forty as he said—of about eight-and-forty as his friends said. He was always exceedingly clean, precise, and tidy; perhaps somewhat priggish, and the most retiring man in the world. He usually wore a brown frock-coat without a wrinkle, light inexplicables without a spot, a neat neckerchief with a remarkably neat tie, and boots without a fault; moreover, he always carried a brown silk umbrella with an ivory handle.
18 September 2007
Vol. 7, No. 3
They were unlikely friends. Toni didn't settle for rough around the edges. She went for jagged. She was a junior and had friends that would never waste their time with someone like Theo, a sophomore, nondescript loner-jock type who always did his homework on time and ate Sunday dinner with Mom and Dad. Toni's friends wore black clothes and eyeliner and chains. Like them, Toni's take on life was dark, and he wasn't sure why she liked him enough to put up with his middle-class, white-washed way of seeing the world. Except that he was gay. Maybe that qualified him weird enough to be her friend.
To ride on these cars is always an adventure. Since we are in war-time, the drivers are men unfit for active service: cripples and hunchbacks. So they have the spirit of the devil in them. The ride becomes a steeple-chase. Hurray! we have leapt in a clear jump over the canal bridges—now for the four-lane corner. With a shriek and a trail of sparks we are clear again. To be sure, a tram often leaps the rails—but what matter!
The summer I was ten we had a terrible heat wave. You could hear the transformers exploding on the other side of the tracks. Old people were dying in their sleep. Everyone was afraid the weed men wouldn't come and we would all be devoured by weeds. I had more faith. Nothing stoked the fire of a weed man's soul like a battle with the elements. I'll never forget the time I saw a weed man working in a thunderstorm, water up to his ankles, lightning felling trees a hundred yards away, and the weed man oblivious to all but the weeds.
30 July 2007
Vol. 7, No. 2
I started worrying about my ride home right after Dr. Thursgard told me I could put my bra and shirt back on. I didn't know it would happen so fast. Deke had driven me to the office and made sure I was signed in and sat with me in the waiting room for twenty minutes, but then he left to go get his wooling shears sharpened.
16 July 2007
Vol. 7, No. 2
Admittedly, I should have been more dubious at the outset. But Monty had so few achievements to celebrate that I felt obligated to attend the commencement, or whatever it was he had called it.
"It's not a graduation," Carla, Monty's girlfriend, said. "That's probably what he told you, but that's not what it is."
2 July 2007
Vol. 7, No. 2
Violet eased back behind an imitation palm tree, wedging open a slit in the branches with her fingers. Just the mention of a lie detector made her squirm, almost like she had worms crawling in and out of holes in her chest, but this extractor thing, ripping truth from bowels, that was another matter entirely. She had studied polygraphs, fretting for years over how to fool one in case she was ever confronted by one. According to Sloan, the assistant librarian at the city library, lie detectors were nothing but junk science. He had given her a book, The Polygraph: Lies You Tell, The Lies You're Told, and she had studied it, even practiced the countermeasures. Lie detectors were fallible. She was pretty sure she could beat one of those if it ever came to that.
14 June 2007
Vol. 7, No. 2
Jennifer is sitting alone, nursing a 7UP and squinting across a dim, smoky motel lounge at her mother. It's a Thursday night around ten o'clock, and Mallory's already had three Black Russians and a vodka tonic. The effect of this combination is that Jennifer's 43-year-old mother—a woman who works in a bank and wears expensive tailored suits and strings of pearls, who speaks in a low, carefully modulated voice about stock options at the breakfast table—is sliding around a dance floor with a drunk man from the bar, his arms knotted around her waist and his face buried in her neck.
The cold had come in a calm so complete not a molecule of water had moved, and not a leaf had fallen from a tree, not a bug nor animal nor drop of snow or rain had moved the water. Water needs movement in order to change. The same way you can microwave water far beyond boiling and it will sit unboiled until you touch it with a spoon and it explodes, that same way water can sometimes freeze unfrozen, and stay that way, on the edge of ice until something touches it.
That's when Wallace will come out of the backroom, the paint hangar, I call it. He'll wipe his hands on a turpentine rag and he'll smell like noxious chemicals. He'll give you a big grin and a waggle of his rug-like brown eyebrows. You'll like him right away because his face is cleaner than mine and he looks glad to see you. You'll expect him to ask if he can help you. He'll walk right up to you and you'll extend your right hand for him to shake. He'll put the paint rag in your palm.
"A model of the Manchester branch of the Young Women's Christian Association," said Harvey.
"Are there any lions?" asked Eric hopefully. He had been reading Roman history and thought that where you found Christians you might reasonably expect to find a few lions.