Fiction Pick of the Week: "Mother's Day"
Mother's Day triggers a wealth of memories and characters, past and present.
Mother's Day triggers a wealth of memories and characters, past and present.
Two friends found a literary magazine; fantastical complications and potentials ensue. From Aira's newest collection, The Musical Brain.
"So, predictably, we began to consider a first issue that would be thirty-six-fold, so to speak. An issue made up of numbers 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10-11-12-13-14-15-16-17-18-19-20-21-22-23-24-25-26-27-28-29-30-31-32-33-34-35-36. That would allow for an almost total flexibility. Why hadn’t we thought of it before? Why had we wasted our time with 'triples' and 'quadruples' and 'decuples' when there was such an obvious solution right under our noses? The printer’s 'sheet' should have shown us the way right from the start, from the moment we discovered its existence, the famous “sheet” that was unfolding now before our eyes, like a rose in time."
A single father's life is complicated by his son's new friend: a severed hand.
"That decided it—we would walk away. Let some other dad deal with the fallout of their kid digging up evidence of, what? A murder, maybe? A ritual dismemberment? The Mob torturing some poor fool before sending him to sleep with the fishes in the East River? My mind reeled at the possibilities. Whatever the case, getting involved was the last thing we needed, especially with me battling Mo for custody. I could see the headline in The Post: LET’S GIVE THE BOY A HAND! Her lawyer would have a field day."
An inventive spoof on childhood mystery novels.
"Almanac's father fell face forward onto the concrete garage floor, dead, blood pooling beneath him, and ending Almanac's childhood right then and there."
A diagram of gossip concerning an affair.
"He called it love, said Ellen. He said he was in love, that's the word he used when he finally admitted it. I mean you expect the I-made-a-mistake speech, said Connie, the she-came-on-to-me speech, the it-was-meaningless speech. You expect him to say that it was just the one time, knowing that it was more, but you can ignore that. You expect him to say it was protected sex and that you don't have to go to the clinic to get some sort of test for chlamydia, said Ellen. But you will, anyway, said Sonya, and make him do it too just to rub his nose in it. But no, said Grace. He tells you that he's a new person, in love for the first time ever. What do you do with that? She told Sonya that as soon as he'd said it, as soon as the words were out of his mouth, she'd felt the room swaying."
Misguided love sustains a groundskeeper through multiple deaths and decades.
"Murdering all those Emmetts had been especially hard on Archibald who was never adept at taking the lives of non-gazelles, however plentiful those lives might be. He grew more and more ill as the Emmetts came and dropped. He became increasingly fearful of silence and the dark, spending hundreds in oil to keep the house bathed in flickering light, a whole house drowning in amber. He’d taken to leaving tarpaulins up on the walls for when the Emmetts arrived so he could minimize his cleanup time, but as he spiraled deeper into paranoia he neglected to scrub them, and they wriggled blackly with flies. With an eye to hygiene, he had once tried strangling an Emmett, but this had proved too horrific for him to bear."
A deaf boy and his mother take part in an odd religious community.
"My mother wasn’t always this way. Before the accident we never even went to church, never mind twice in one day. Then my dad had to go and wrap his car around a tree and mumble some crazy shit about angels and white tunnels while he’s dying. It was just bad luck that brought us here. My mother Googled churches in the area, and it’s no surprise which ranked number one on the search results page."
Diary entries concerning innocent Americans abroad.
</blockquote><p>“Our conversation continues!
He is come to tell me I may lunch with him, the progress of my new composition permitting—but immediately he sees I have not moved, not even to dress myself, or put pen to paper.
You have a look of puzzlement on your face, little Lotte! he says, and again, I fear he is about to laugh.
Indeed, sir, I do! I said. Because I am puzzled! Greatly puzzled!
Look! he cried. She gesticulates! You are perhaps at heart una italiana!”</p></blockquote>
A mother tries to get herself abducted, first for money, and then for appreciation.
"After all, Tim could not replace me with just any woman he plucked off the streets. He’d have to date first, and then there’d be nannies and maids to pay, restaurant bills, and eHarmony fees. Not to mention the time he’d lose on the endeavor, which, multiplied by his hourly rate, would cost a considerable amount. Viewed in this light, my value was significant. I used to work in marketing and view matters at all levels of illumination."
A world in which an internal software turns anger and intense emotions into involuntary exercise.
"Then there are the monthly upgrades, downloaded automatically from GRUNT. A few months back the upgrade reprogrammed our sensors to monitor facial expressions and the tone of one’s voice, so you can’t fool it anymore by smiling or speaking softly. A quiet argument is still an argument to the executives at GRUNT. It certainly changed around Brad, my supervisor, who liked to hint at our utter worthlessness in this very quiet voice, a smile stretching across his face. There was something disturbing about watching him grin, and place his arm gently over your shoulder and lower his voice as his called your work garbage, your very existence a nuisance, all with this soft, earnest voice. Now he wears track shoes to work and does sprints in between insults, weaving in and out of the cubicles, stutter stepping like a hall of fame running back."
On literary mashups, double entendres, and questionable choices.
"Maybe you’ve heard of M__y Dick? I would bet you haven’t read it, and I bet I’d win that bet because I’d be leaving nothing up to chance. Here’s why: nobody has read M__y Dick. Scratch that. Nobody but me has read M__y Dick, because there’s only one copy in existence and it’s right here in my apartment, right here on this very desk I am writing to you from. That was the whole point. M__y Dick was just for me, for my own self-improvement. Of course, that didn’t stop them from talking about it, which was fine at first, and then it was not."
A primer on services for the afterlife.
"So you’ll start by taking a ride in the flatbed truck with Gurtie, and she’ll drop you off at the ARF center. You’ll probably be pretty disoriented. It’s okay. You’ve been riding in the back of a white flatbed truck with a bunch of recently dead people for several hours through the Afterlife—which looks basically like North Dakota. None of you will be happy campers, and some of your traveling companions will look downright alarming, what with death not being such a photogenic moment for most people. We understand and we sympathize. It’s an unpleasant time for you, but like I said, we are understaffed. Do we wish there were a better way? Yes, we do. Is there a better way? Not yet, there’s not."
A pizza restaurant employee goes to extreme lengths to sabotage a rival.
"I normally hopped on my Honda scooter and went straight home after work, but not that day. I stood by the gumball machine near the front entrance and peered out the blinds, staring daggers into the Pizza World facade. Their parking lot was full, even though the lunch rush had been over for two hours. I looked at the intersection and their guy was still dancing, waving his arms like a buffoon, no rhythm at all, nothing choreographed. I had a three-minute routine I would do and then repeat, over and over like a fucking pro (three different one-minute variations of the Macarena dance, choreographed by yours truly). Pizza World had clearly put a rookie in the suit, and I thought: that’s one strike against you."
A Southern defense attorney's complicated family Christmas, told through the point of view of his child.
"Every Christmas Daddy throws a 'Taking the Christ Out of Christmas' party and invites everybody. Everybody loves my Daddy except for a small percentage that want to take their revenge, so it's lots of people, old clients, other criminal defense attorneys, Rey Mason from the feed store, everybody. No Jesus cause it makes Daddy angry and both his hands already broke."
Comic miscues ensue at a private family dinner.
"Also, I’m a pretty big guy, so I often find myself appointed the unofficial bouncer on these sorts of occasions. It was Dumpling Night. I know that because when I walked past the steam table, a teenage girl was there with tongs and she said, 'Dumpling?'"
Executives discuss a reality TV pilot gone awry.
"'I don’t know what happened in there. Like I said, maybe if we hadn’t told him she was in on it, whatever it was would’ve gone down differently. But a few minutes later the girl comes running out of the house with blood on her, screaming like hell. Cortez caught her and took her inside, waited with her while Benny called 911—'"
A baby born in New Jersey grows and takes on the characteristics of a headstrong Russian woman.
"She was her parent’s second child; the first was Glenn, a boisterous seven year old obsessed, as his father had planned, with football. In fact, it was Glenn who first noticed the peculiarity of his little sister. As he stared into her crib one morning making faces at the baby, he noticed that she had swaddled herself in her soft, pink knitted baby blanket. She looked at him with a focus that seemed preternatural for an infant. She drooled, but she held the blanket tight around her face, like a little babushka."
A young couple's moving day, complete with a variety of mishaps.
"The door spring is rusted and doesn’t really work anyway so I get a screwdriver and take the thing off its mounting. I take the broken couch leg and stick it in the upper corner of the door to prop it open. When I come inside a little while later to check on things, the movers are wrestling with my mattress on the stairwell. Bright streaks of fresh blood mark the white plaster in the living room and on the stairway wall. Rod is in mid-staircase, holding up the bottom end of the Macy’s queen that Kelly’s mom bought us for a wedding present. 'You exposed a screw on your front door when you took that thing off,' he says. 'I cut my arm open on it.'"
A man's colonoscopy causes him to reflect on aging, mortality, and family life.
"For a moment, Pete wondered if he should say something else, anything, but the guy had already picked up his magazine again, leaving Pete to ponder not only his inadequacies, but his colonoscopy, something he was suddenly looking forward to and maybe even deserved."
A jilted lover's revenge plan is upended by the actions of a blunt young woman.
"That wasn’t my plan. Until this girl elbowed her way into the paint and started talking trash, I’d been doing reconnaissance. I was looking for guys with Marlboro Man style denim jackets who looked like me. Pale. Unkempt. Like a base player in an indie rock band. Grace, my ex-girlfriend, had a weakness for men like this. Once she’d found a new edition, she’d give him this jacket that had belonged to her father. I’d never wanted to know the rationale behind this practice. Anyway, I’d thrown said jacket at her head upon catching her mid-coitus with a local barista. My present plan was to look for the jacket, kick the shit out of the barista wearing it and then steal her heart back. I thought it was a solid plan."
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."
An artist of baby names explores the meticulous details that go into selecting the perfect moniker.
"Not all prospective parents are comfortable with me watching them have intercourse and that’s fine if you want to cut corners on the name your baby will carry for the rest of her life. The parents who allow it are sophisticated enough to understand that there’s no better way for me to know a child’s essence than to be there for the erotic act from which that child is created. But if you’re too modest and you’d prefer that I name your baby with one hand tied behind my back, so be it. You can make a video recording of the conception and send it to me."
A comical imagining of a teenager's story about teenager drama.
"Arnold, a shy sophomore, was a real loser. Everyone hated him, even his guidance counselor; meanwhile, he was crazy for Julie, a senior cheerleader whose father drank and whose mother was having an affair with a dairy farmer. But since Julie was the most popular senior in the school, no one knew about her crummy home life except her best friend Suzie, who everyone in school hated because she was the most popular girl’s best friend and therefore thought she was all that."
A collection of hilarious shorts imagining American celebrations in other lands.
"In Nigeria they send emails telling you that if you help them move millions of dollars to the US you can keep a hefty percentage of that and they would be extremely thankful."
A young boy deals with mean relatives and religious extremes as he embarks on his first communion.
"Then, to crown my misfortunes, I had to make my first confession and communion. It was an old woman called Ryan who prepared us for these. She was about the one age with Gran; she was well-to-do, lived in a big house on Montenotte, wore a black cloak and bonnet, and came every day to school at three o'clock when we should have been going home, and talked to us of hell. She may have mentioned the other place as well, but that could only have been by accident, for hell had the first place in her heart."