short story: results 1–24 of 89
She was one of those pretty and charming girls, born by a blunder of destiny in a family of employees. She had no dowry, no expectations, no means of being known, understood, loved, married by a man rich and distinguished; and she let them make a match for her with a little clerk in the Department of Education.
She was simple since she could not be adorned; but she was unhappy as though kept out of her own class; for women have no caste and no descent, their beauty, their grace, and their charm serving them instead of birth and fortune. Their native keenness, their instinctive elegance, their flexibility of mind, are their only hierarchy; and these make the daughters of the people the equals of the most lofty dames.
All the same, we cling to our last pleasures as the tree clings to its last leaves. So there sat old Woodifield, smoking a cigar and staring almost greedily at the boss, who rolled in his office chair, stout, rosy, five years older than he, and still going strong, still at the helm. It did one good to see him.
Wistfully, admiringly, the old voice added, "It's snug in here, upon my word!"
When I first bought my plastic ficus he was small, about as high as my knees. The bottom half of him was buried in a plastic, earth colored pot that looked heavier than it really was and there was a bed of faux-moss covering his lack of roots.
I wanted him for my home office because I was missing summer in the middle of November. He had been dumped onto the sale shelf and I saw him and knew that it was meant to be. His glossy leaves reflected the fluorescent lights in a way that was perfectly unnatural and completely beautiful to me.
Hewitt wakes to find his arm asleep beneath his wife's neck. The old patchwork quilt is gone, kicked to the floor during the night and now only the top sheet remains between them and the cold draft from the cracked windowpane. He watches her shoulders rise and fall with each breath—tries to match her rhythm. Before getting up he kisses her back, between her shoulder blades, and she shivers, pulling the sheet to her chin. He slides his arm out from underneath her, sits on the edge of the bed and shakes it to regain feeling. His feet search the cold wood floor for his slippers. She stirs.
"Where are you going?" she asks.
Two slender she's sauntered by on gilt heels. Weather: balmy. The place: an adult-ed lobby like the set of a Busby Berkeley film, but before the extras have shuffled on. How would the pair of women have handled a dissolute tumble into a pool with the best boy? They wouldn't have considered it. They would, however, consider backstroking through glistening patches of urban air in June. They shimmered like literature to Nan, a hungry reader with lush pages to turn. She didn't know which pages she should prefer.
The side entrance to the library is a proper Ivy door: a solid antique, heavy, imposing. I'm used to its resistance, its demand that I show a little gumption, so I give it a proper pull. But as I grasp the big brass handle and begin to give the door its due, it lunges toward me, tossing this handsome red-haired woman into my arms.
"I've had a shock, George," he said, regarding the other steadily. "I've heard news of my old woman."
"Didn't know you 'ad one," said Mr. Wotton calmly. "Wot's she done?"
"She left me," said Mr. Davis, solemnly—"she left me thirty-five years ago. I went off to sea one fine morning, and that was the last I ever see of 'er."
Lillian calls Roy out of the blue. It had been so long since they'd dated, for him, anyway, that he doesn't recognize the number in his cell phone. But he knows the voice that speaks and is instantly filled with the warm giddiness of promise, the delusional kind in which Lillian has made a terrible mistake and wants him back. He doesn't know if he wants her back, necessarily, but he swings his feet over his bed and pulls on yesterday's socks.
"Roy, I know it's been a long time, but I have a favor to ask you," she says, her voice breaking up as Roy walks around the room, looking for a shirt.
Mid-spring and the trees bloom haphazardly—rich, dense, thick—so lush that standing beneath them, we cannot see the sky clanging against the hills. In a blue car, a radio plays; a man's thumb drums a steering wheel; a woman, her legs folded under her in a practiced N, blows her hot breath onto the window, takes her fist and presses the pinky side onto the fog her breath has made. With her index finger, she forms five perfect toes above the fist. A baby's foot—a trick her mother taught her when she was young. She wipes the spot away.
There's this bar we go to sometimes. It's called The Kingdom of Norway and it's very exclusive. In fact, it's so exclusive we've never been there. No one we know has ever been there and no one you know has ever been there either. If they say that they have, they're lying. But tonight—trust me—we're going. And after that we imagine it will be the type of bar we can say we sometimes go to.
There are three of us in the car, which is Matty's and is an old VW Rabbit. Matty is my roommate and he has been since college. Back then we called him Matty and he liked it. "Hey, Matty," we'd say. "What's up, Matty?" "How's it going, Matty?" "Matty, give us a high five."
A familiar tickle in her pocket sent a shiver rippling up her spine. The small cell phone had vibrated every day for several years and she still felt like she was touching something paranormal every time she reached to check on it.
Checking the phone was an unnecessary habit. If someone was calling, her lilting ringtone would float from her pocket. It only vibrated when she received text messages, and she only received text messages from him.
She smiled at the small LCD screen, glowing green and black. "Unknown." She couldn't escape the paradox in that name. The messages sender was unknown, and yet she couldn't avoid feeling like she knew everything about him. Even calling Unknown a "him" was an assumption. Everything she knew was interpreted from the daily messages.
Jared Witherspoon and Emily Berkeley stood in Sheremetevo II near the departures hall, Emily crying and Jared extremely aware that he wasn't. Emily's hand vaguely steadied her overpacked bags as she looked at Jared, her eyes clear and blue but red around the edges.
"You'll text me when you get in, won't you?" asked Jared with his hand on the skin above her jeans.
"I'll text you from Prague," she replied. "If that's okay."
Jared gave a small, solemn laugh that he gauged just right. "Of course it's okay, baby. Of course it is, my sweet little baby."
I first saw Priscilla at the pawnshop, as the Arizona sun reddened the sky with a rash. It was just before closing. She looked Jamaican to me but maybe I was homesick. Still, something was familiar about her—the gapped teeth, the regal posture, the locked hair she'd tied in an upsweep that resembled a bird's nest. Respectable is how she struck me, unlike our usual female customers with the belly out and the low-rise jeans that show the top of their underwear, underwear that ain't even real, mind you, but the G-string chicks wear these days. When I first come to the States, only erotic dancers wore that sort of thing. Today, even the college girls that I've dated wear panty strings.
But Priscilla's skirt come to her knees. Her blouse was modest, a button-down loose-fitting deal which you never see on women today. That let me know it was not brand new. So I think, maybe her money is a little tight, maybe she spends her money on drugs. Carney, the shop owner, says this about many of our customers.
See the one with the dirty hair? he'll say leaning in close, She's a tweaker. She's here getting money to buy crystal meth.
Jennifer wakes to the cat vomiting. The sound makes Stephen, the man trying to prove his potential as her kids' fill-in father, jump out of bed like he did when the neighbor kids lit firecrackers in the alley—like trouble, something to reckon with. He's naked, and she tries to swallow the slight nausea she always feels at the sight of naked men—even beautiful naked men, which this one might be said to be, by some.
"It's the cat," she says. "She always vomits when I refill her food bowl; she's the binge-and-purge type."
He laughs, like he does, at her wit, an unsure laugh that says, I'm not sure that I get it, but I'm good-humored, so understand that I want to get it. I'm trying really hard to get it.
He's already pulling on his shorts and t-shirt. He's careful not to let the kids see him without clothes—"Wouldn't want to give them the wrong idea," he says.
Merritt watched Amrita lift her arms to the flock of sparrows heading south and mouthed the thought that clucked at her every day since their arrival in Toronto: I don't want to be here. The birds skimmed over the roof, wheeled, and faded to a darker blot in the clouded sky. Her daughter's slender hands, unmittened, trembled in the cold. Stirred by the birds' passing, the purple, gold, and silver ribbons tied around each stick-thin wrist fluttered upward. They were wings, Amrita explained as she scattered breadcrumbs across the tangled weave of frozen grass and weeds, wings to fly her home.
Charlie and me were just about to head out when my wife Kim gave me an ever-so-light kiss on the lips and then whispered, "Don't go." She pulled back to look at me the one last time before she glanced over my shoulder. Charlie was there leaning up against his blue Ranger. At the time I thought she was ashamed or something for trying to keep me home.
"I can't, you know that," I said. I wasn't lying, either. I couldn't've stayed home then no more than I could've gone to the moon. We'd made these plans weeks back and I'd been hassling Charlie for months before that, just to get together. "We hardly ever see each other, man," I'd said. "We only live ten miles apart. If Ma and Dad were alive they'd…"
"All right, all right. Jesus, just don't cry," he'd said.
"Please make love to me," I said, struggling not to plead.
My husband Dan jerked his chin to the right, meaning no. He picked up his Rubik's Cube from the nightstand and quickly solved the puzzle three times, his Holy Trinity. I gave him the puzzle on his last birthday, his thirtieth, shortly after they came out.
"I wish you'd play with me instead of that cube," I said. I'd been off birth control pills for a month and was ovulating.
"I'd love to, but I don't want a baby." His expression was regretful but firm. I considered seducing him, but assuming I was successful, I knew it would only worsen our situation. When we married a year earlier, we hadn't resolved the issue of having children. Now, at twenty-five, I felt a fierce, animal-like desire to have a baby.
There was once a child, and he strolled about a good deal, and thought of a number of things. He had a sister, who was a child, too, and his constant companion. These two used to wonder all day long. They wondered at the beauty of the flowers; they wondered at the height and blueness of the sky; they wondered at the depth of the bright water; they wondered at the goodness and the power of God who made the lovely world.
They used to say to one another sometimes, Supposing all the children upon earth were to die, would the flowers, and the water, and the sky be sorry? They believed they would be sorry. For, said they, the buds are the children of the flowers, and the little playful streams that gambol down the hillsides are the children of the water; and the smallest bright specks playing at hide-and-seek in the sky all night, must surely be the children of the stars; and they would all be grieved to see their playmates, the children of men, no more.
Paul Verlaine gave a hoarse grunt as he woke, rose wearily from his bed, and fell into the Thames. I was walking to my flat, having just returned to London on the early train from Oxford after delivering a lecture entitled "Tropological Monism and the Crumpet," and the sight of this venerated leader of the symbolist movement plunging in to our fine river filled me with dread. Luckily, I remained calm and flung my attaché case into the river, urging Verlaine to "Grab on, old boy!"
Jimbo still met up with a couple of guys from his last stint, a warehouse packing job he'd ditched in January, at McCabe's Bar down near the tracks. He could see them drifting away, their conversations gritted with the names of new asshole clients and sons-of-bitches managers who didn't know shit about running a loading dock operation. Names he didn't recognize though he nodded and drank his beer and listened to them rant. Crandall was the smart one. Sure as hell smarter than those lame-ass managers, he could do any figure in his head faster than someone could punch it into a calculator, only he was cross-eyed and would never get beyond running the forklift. Hood wasn't so bright, but he was big. Like the boy, he'd be a good prop. He told them his idea. Maybe it would stall the drift. Crandall laughed.
There was order to the world under my father's microscope. Order that could be plated, identified, and named in 24 hours. Examination, diagnoses, positive verification. Truth alive and well in a Petri dish. I believed it. I followed my father through the hospital, his extra lab coat to my ankles. It was his world—sterile, orderly, familiar.
In my world, I am cleaning my house. The air is pungent with ammonia and Mr. Clean. It reminds me of Mr. Foster at Riverview Medical, his floor buffer spinning back and forth across the tile floors, orange cones dropped behind him, trail of orange cone breadcrumbs. He spread his hands out for me, purple half-moons sunken into his fingertips where he had been treated for a staph infection.
We were driving along the road from Treguier to Kervanda. We passed at a smart trot between the hedges topping an earth wall on each side of the road; then at the foot of the steep ascent before Ploumar the horse dropped into a walk, and the driver jumped down heavily from the box. He flicked his whip and climbed the incline, stepping clumsily uphill by the side of the carriage, one hand on the footboard, his eyes on the ground. After a while he lifted his head, pointed up the road with the end of the whip, and said—
Pointer lay on the couch, fifty-eight pounds of eleven-year-old black lab mix with curly hair. She lay with her chin between her paws just like when she was sleeping, but I knew right away she wasn't sleeping.
"Hey, Pointer, kiddo," I said anyway. "Too hot to get up this morning?"
Pointer weighed seventy pounds just a couple of months earlier, but pancreatic cancer pared her down pretty fast. I hadn't really thought she'd be gone this soon, though. I picked her up off the couch and she didn't feel like Pointer, just like a big heavy sack of cooked oatmeal. I laid her down on the rag rug next to the coffee table.
This story takes place years ago when every person was born with geographical destiny printed onto their skin—usually the bottom of the foot, sometimes a thigh or the back of the calf. If the words weren't clear—too faint, improperly formed, or with crucial letters missing—a family waited with great eagerness, checking the bottom of the foot (or the thigh or the back of the calf) every day to see what had emerged, the way one might peer into the murky bloom of a Polaroid. And although some believed a newborn's geographical destiny shouldn't matter, since it might be years before the child went off to meet it, in fact, to many people it did matter; so that parents whose geographical destiny was, for instance, Kansas City found it difficult to love without reproach a child born with the word Albuquerque across its knee.
When you go off to Albuquerque, they'd say, then you can have a skateboard. Or, Your father and I want a house, but we've got to save our money for phone bills and airfares. Oh, what do you care, soon you'll be running off to Albuquerque.