A sad harmony of tourists and local English legends.
A ship captain's stories and unsettling encounters.
"Captain Brewster eyed the schooner, heavy in the water but no room in it for two hundred head of anything, and then he realized what it was. He explained to the man that the war was over and Lincoln’s Proclamation had become a Constitutional Amendment, that slavery was outlawed and slaverunners would hang for pirates. The man’s small eyes grew smaller, his heel tapped faster against the wood. He asked if Captain Brewster might like to buy some slaves for himself, though he used a different word, but Captain Brewster assured him that he wouldn’t, advised him to free his passengers and flee. The man spat the word back at him, passengers, half a question and half an accusation."
A fiction/essay hybrid on the lies of storytelling."This stuff you don’t recall so much as suspect. Usually dark, not-so-nice things you think you could have witnessed, or had done to you, or – even worse — did unto others. Maybe there’s even a dim recollection – your cousin Johnny’s gray eyes with the bottom half flooded for instance, or your mother’s grim little smeared-lipstick smile, or the sound of your sister throwing up on the other side of the bathroom door. But really, these things are so shadowy and faint you can’t be certain of any part of them. You’d have forgotten these ghost-memories a long time ago were it not for one thing that seems completely unrelated and it’s this: there’s a dark and oversensitive stain on your heart."
A son goes to visit his dying father in a story about various forms of storytelling.
"He ripped open his shirt and crushed the mutilated tomato against his chest. Juice glistened in dark burls of hair. He thought that maybe he was about to make a serious declaration, or even try to laugh the whole thing off, when he felt a twinge, a test cinch for another spell of nervous woe. The Belt of Intermittent Sorrow, which he somehow now named the moment it went tight, squeezed him to the kitchen floor."
An old crush is remembered via childhood memories and an unusual anecdote.
"Then he began wearing pastel skateboarding-themed shirts. SKATEBOARDING IS NOT A CRIME, one said. Wallace Marguerite is not committing a crime, Stella thought. It was novel and thrilling, true whether or not he was a skateboarder. She never saw a skateboard."
An oral history of a murdered prep basketball star.
"All I can think is how narrow the drive-through is and how it's full of exhaust and grease and the vent where the air blows out and how they couldn't move, couldn't go backward or forward 'cause there were five LAPD cars and how Tenerife must have been trying to call me. Trying. I just took two more. I know I had some wine. I don't care."
A series of mysterious, interconnected explorations of misdeeds and criminal activities.
"Did we remember anything about the van? White. We knew the color of their van. We thought more about it. Paint. The little girl’s dress. Was the dress white? Check. Now we began to see something. And what else was white? The sneakers. Check. The men were wearing white sneakers. Nothing dark on their feet. The sneakers didn’t have a speck of dark, neither did the van, check, neither did the girl’s dress, check, no dark, these men opposed anything dark and the men were—but we stopped. Dead end. The sack was black. They had put a dark sack over the girl’s head. The sack. How did the dark sack fit together with the white sneakers, white van, white dress? So why wouldn’t they just use a white sack? Black tangled into so much white."
Two under-the-influence friends discuss a history of human violence.
"...for years and years they would do this, it’s all in the Las Casas, and for years and years Spanish soldiers were just like falling over themselves, they couldn’t believe it, just completely climbing over one another, trying to get out of their boats and get to their swords fast enough to get a quick, easy lead-off beheading of a holy tribal king without even thinking that maybe it might violate, oh, I don’t know, the entire Christian moral code or, that whole thing aside, that it might go against just obvious, timeless, and basic human good versus evil restraint, you know, something like that was around even with cavemen, the totally simple idea that maybe needlessly causing excruciating, savage, horrifying, life-ending pain to another being, to a brother, to somebody like yourself, might not be the thing you should do. They found their heaven and they turned it into a hell. On purpose."
A random conversation with a street salesman is not what it seems.
"I pass him every day. Melons, he is usually selling, although I've seen him with whole truckloads of other fruit, and in the fall with unshucked ears of corn. He has a lawn chair with an umbrella fixed over it. He sits and watches the traffic pass. Sometimes he stands with the forearms on the rim of the bed of his truck, looking out over his produce. There is something reassuring in his form. Maybe it is his placidity, the way he stands. Maybe it is because his produce always looks fresh and healthy. Seeing him means that the long hectic drive, with the traffic of the beltway and mad stop and start of the city, is almost done."
A young man shares a conversation with a barfly.
"'I gotta story to tell,'a drunk said to Mike. His thick hands slathered in black, greasy paste, the drunk maintained his balance by propping his elbows onto the bar counter. 'You look like an upstanding fella and I think you’ll appreciate my story.' 'No thanks,' Mike said and sipped his beer. He frowned as he swallowed. 'I’m waiting for someone.'"
Paul Auster does his usual blend of fiction and memoir in a recounted Christmas story.
"I spent the next several days in despair, warring with the ghosts of Dickens, O.Henry and other masters of the Yuletide spirit. The very phrase "Christmas story" had unpleasant associations for me, evoking dreadful outpourings of hypocritical mush and treacle. Even at their best, Christmas stories were no more than wish-fulfillment dreams, fairy tales for adults, and I'd be damned if I'd ever allowed myself to write something like that. And yet, how could anyone propose to write an unsentimental Christmas story? It was a contradiction in terms, an impossibility, an out-and-out conundrum. One might just as well imagine a racehorse without legs, or a sparrow without wings."
Upon seeing a random young woman, a man's mind goes through potential speaking points and stories.
"But no one can insist that his 100% perfect girl correspond to some preconceived type. Much as I like noses, I can't recall the shape of hers - or even if she had one. All I can remember for sure is that she was no great beauty. It's weird."