A profile of 101-year-old marathoner Fauja Singh.
A widow meets the acquaintance of a mysterious, frightening young girl.
"Miriam ate ravenously, and when the sandwiches and milk were gone, her fingers made cobweb movements over the plate, gathering crumbs. The cameo gleamed on her blouse, the blond profile like a trick reflection on its wearer. 'That was very nice,' she sighed, 'though now an almond cake or a cherry would be ideal. Sweets are lovely, don’t you think?' Mrs. Miller was perched precariously on the hassock, smoking a cigarette. Her hairnet had slipped lopsided and loose strands straggled down her face. Her eyes were stupidly concentrated on nothing and her cheeks were mottled in red patches, as though a fierce slap had left permanent marks."
An elderly widower tries to convince his son to go on an overseas excavation.
"He thinks I’m an old man. I can see pity in his eyes when he talks to me, which, these days, isn’t so often. I want the tickets to be a surprise for two reasons. One, the money. I’ve already put out feelers to two New York-based auction houses and three high-end retail stores. Factor in the backstory, and I suspect the revenues will be hefty, at least $2,000 per bottle. Play a few interested parties off one another, and I’m sure that number will creep up. Allowing for 25 percent breakage over time, I calculate revenues of close to $12 million. Amortize the sales over ten years to prevent market saturation, subtract expenses, and I’d still reel in enough profit to have a pied-a-terre in the city plus a four-bedroom tax-haven in Nassau."
For New Year's Eve, a Times Square encounter chronicled by the author of Open City.
"Low and I stood under the cold blazing lights of Times Square, smoking, and I asked him what he had eaten. Oysters, he said, the pleasure coming back into his voice, in a row on a ridge of ice, eager to be eaten. Fluke, caviar, octopus, some champagne but not a lot."
An exploration of an old couple with mystical powers.
"He lifted his arms like a high-diver preparing to jump, closed his eyes, and opened his mouth toward the sky. As he did this his body came apart in twelve pieces, each falling and forming into a tiny complete man. The men landed with a soft crunch in the snow, then hopped together and ran remarkably fast: under the deer carcass, past the oak tree, and into the bare forest, smaller and smaller to her eye, until their naked running bodies and small puffs of breath were lost among the trees."
An elderly couple attempts a series of adventurous forays into crime.
"She grinned back, but her heart was wilting. This crumbling of old values must be a sign of dementia, mustn't it. Perhaps his was an encapsulated dementia, confined to mild misbehavior. Maybe petty crimes would stave off worse senility. She knew some poor old fellows who tried to fondle waitresses."
The author on his mother’s deteriorating health and the “price of longevity.”
A widow balances a new hobby and her interactions with her grown children.
"She signed up for an introductory course at the Museum of Natural History, sending her check in the mail with a slip of paper wrapped around it. It was the sort of thing that her children made fun of her for, but Marjorie had her ways. The class met twice a week at seven in the morning, always gathering on the Naturalist’s Bridge just past the entrance to the park at 77th Street. Marjorie liked that, the consistency. Even on days when she was late—all year, it had only happened twice, and she’d been mortified both times—Marjorie knew just where to find the group, as they always wound around the park on the same path, moving at a snail’s pace, a birder’s pace, their eyes up in the trees and their hands loosely holding onto the binoculars around their necks."
An art collector reflects back on the summer camp of her childhood, and a dreadful occurrence.
"[T]hese paintings are not landscape paintings. Because there aren’t any landscapes up there, not in the old, tidy European sense, with a gentle hill, a curving river, a cottage, a mountain in the background, a golden evening sky. lnstead there’s a tangle, a receding maze, in which you can become lost almost as soon as you step off the path. There are no backgrounds in any of these paintings, no vistas; only a great deal of foreground that goes back and back, endlessly, involving you in its twists and turns of tree and branch and rock. No matter how far back in you go, there will be more. And the trees themselves are hardly trees; they are currents of energy. charged with violent color."
An Indian woman is torn between Hinduism and Christianity.
"We were all somewhat worried by this, but Gold Teeth's religious nature was well known to us, her husband was a learned pundit and when all was said and done this was an emergency, a matter of life and death. So we could do nothing but look on. Incense and camphor and ghee burned now before the likenesses of Krishna and Shiva as well as Mary and Jesus. Gold Teeth revealed an appetite for prayer that equalled her husband's for food, and we marvelled at both, if only because neither prayer nor food seemed to be of any use to Ramprasad."
A couple's history, told through eleven moments in their erotic life.
"She throws her head back in a deep, genuine, womanly laughter, her eyes flashing, and where did the girl go, he wonders, and who is this?"
Two older writersliterary alliesdiscuss their memories, their past relationships, and their past conflicts.
"Their own sales were holding up, just about. A couple of thousand in hardback, twenty or so in paper. They still had a certain name recognition. Alice wrote a weekly column about life's uncertainties and misfortunes, though Jane thought it would be improved by more references to Alice's own life and fewer to Epictetus. "
A group of children transfix themselves with the mania of creative destruction.
"'All this hate and love,' he said, 'it's soft, it's hooey. There's only things, Blackie,' and he looked round the room crowded with the unfamiliar shadows of half things, broken things, former things."
A potential pickpocket is set straight by an old woman's kindness.
"Sweat popped out on the boy’s face and he began to struggle. Mrs. Jones stopped, jerked him around in front of her, put a half-nelson about his neck, and continued to drag him up the street."
From the classic collection Dubliners, two truant schoolboys encounter an unsettling old man.
"A slap on the hand or a box on the ear was no good: what he wanted was to get a nice warm whipping. I was surprised at this sentiment and involuntarily glanced up at his face. As I did so I met the gaze of a pair of bottle-green eyes peering at me from under a twitching forehead. I turned my eyes away again."
This house has a power. Happy Halloween.
"She said she rang the bell and then waited until she heard the sound of it coming up from the basement and could sense it there behind the door. And then she opened the slit of the letterbox and spoke into it."
A woman working on a Cuban sugar plantation ruminates on her family and secret love.
"When Papá talks of making myself necessary, I cringe. Necessary would mean a lifetime in the field, just as Papá has “necessaried” himself into stained hands and bent fingers. So different from my own. I can still straighten mine when I put my machete down for the day. I don’t know how much longer that will be true, however."
Two waiters, an old man, and despair.
"'I am of those who like to stay late at the cafe,' the older waiter said. 'With all those who do not want to go to bed. With all those who need a light for the night.'"