Fiction: Twelve Brief Anecdotes about the King of Birds
A peculiar obsession turns into a complicated downfall.
A peculiar obsession turns into a complicated downfall.
A troubled wife's obsession with her husband's ex.
"I’d been researching generic articles on divorce for a long time, but never found anything that reminded me of Henry’s. They were young, but they weren’t as stupid as he seemed to say. They seemed to have really been in love. The picture he’d shown me was of them on a boat on a lake—a lake we’d been to, one we’d brought a picnic lunch to. They looked so happy and he looked so young, his hair not yet flecked with stray whites and grays."
Whaling, given the longform treatment by a bold new voice.
"Call me Ishmael. Some years ago—never mind how long precisely—having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world. It is a way I have of driving off the spleen and regulating the circulation. Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off—then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball. With a philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword; I quietly take to the ship. There is nothing surprising in this. If they but knew it, almost all men in their degree, some time or other, cherish very nearly the same feelings towards the ocean with me."
A man's lifelong hold on an imaginary person.
"He could never really explain it, once he got past that age where it stopped being okay to have an imaginary friend. He always knew she wasn't an imaginary friend. But he desperately tried to explain it anyway, to all the school counselors and all sorts of in-network therapists as he got older. It was simple in some senses. She was supposed to be living on his street. She was supposed to be in his kindergarten class. But all the houses were full with other families. And every little spot on that circular alphabet rug in his classroom was taken by someone else. Leona never happened."
A lifelong obsession with becoming a reality TV star takes its final turn.
"I have to hand it to this show’s producers. They have real balls to do something so big,so real. They got carnage right. Around me lie bits of charred metal, a hand, and two smoldering tray tables. The air smells like our kitchen Christmas Day but without the garlic.A gray haze hovers to the left, fed by smoke chimneys swirling from plane parts. Where are the other contestants? Where are the camera crews? Filming with hidden cameras is common, but this level of innovation in shooting unnerves me. Hey, the whole scenario unnerves me. Who wants to see a disembodied hand on a scrubby dune? I knew to be ready for challenges and twists and drama whether the show was about fashion or losing weight, but tragedy is new for me–an aspect of reality I haven’t studied."
A bag-maker takes on a medically unique client. From the new collection Revenge: Eleven Dark Tales.
"It was indeed a strange bag. The complicated shape of it was difficult to achieve. I had assembled nine different pieces of leather into an asymmetrical balloon with seven holes of varying size. The bottom of it was an oval, but the bag tapered toward an opening at the top that fastened with hooks."
Marriages and friendships are upended after a man buys a supposed unicorn.
"When I got there I found Ralph sitting in his chair dressed in his robe, and by the drape of it and by a flap of it that hung open at the top of his thigh, I could tell he wasn't wearing anything underneath. Worried I might have intruded on some private and disturbing moment, I stopped and was about to turn back around but then saw the heavy rise and fall of his chest and realized he had fallen asleep. I was quiet then as I opened the gate and took my seat next to him, gently flipping the robe back in place to cover his nethers. The unicorn hardly noticed me or my quiet administrations. As far as I could tell from watching it, the unicorn hardly noticed anyone. It was generally quite still, or not still, not exactly still. It seemed to have a way of standing still that made it look like it was in constant motion, or as if it existed in another place at the same moment it existed in our place, a shimmering, jittery, vibrating kind of stillness."
A museum taxidermist offers fantastic assessments of his work and philosophy.
"Each day masses throng displays I have created, though hardly do they pause to consider dark hours and livid eyes and lemur fingers needed to bring to full completion the task they come to see once I am gone. They will surround a parliment of owls, each feather of them set as if responding to a wind that blows for them, and them alone. They will gape before cave bears whose bones I clothed with pelts I once acquired of Russian merchants and stitched together until made sufficient cape to draw about the great beasts’ napes and narrow shoulder bones."
From the latest winner of the National Book Award for Fiction: a former nun's infatuation with classical music leads to unexpected connections and actions.
" At any rate, she played Chopin. Played him in utter naturalness until the Mother Superior was forced to shut the cover to the keyboard and gently pull the stool away. Cecellia lifted the lid and played upon her knees. The poor scandalized dame dragged her from the keys. Cecellia crawled back. The Mother, at her wit's end, sank down and urged the young woman to pray. She herself spoke first in fear and then in certainty, saying that it was the very Devil who had managed to find a way to Cecellia's soul through the flashing doors of sixteenth notes. Her fears were confirmed when, not moments later, the gentle sister raised her arms and fists and struck the keys as though the instrument were stone and from the rock her thirst would be quenched. But only discord emerged."
An aging hunter pursues a fantastical tigress.
"And now, I'm in Kumaon, making my way up and into the forest toward Pali. Whatever haunts me, I intend to find it. A ghost, a tiger, a woman, a hallucination. Maybe these tracks are left by the wind, but I pursue my old enemy today¸ and if she finds me before I find her, I deserve what she plans for me."