Learning To Swim
A quiet young woman's trip to the seashore yields a plethora of observations.
"Eventually her muscles warmed and Magritte felt slick and alive in the liquid sea. She turned over on her back, paddling lazily, and watched the movement of the clouds in the sky. The sea gurgled secretively in her ears."
An office misunderstanding.
"A guy in a suit, I don't know him, walks by my cubicle holding one of the paper plates, his mouth full, chewing his last bite, folds the plate around his napkin and fork and cake crumbs, leans into my cubicle, reaches around a corner and stuffs the plate in my garbage can. No look, no excuse me, no nothing."
Un Active Volcano
A minimalist exchange set inside a volcano.
"There is nothing to do but drink beers and stare up into the black and so that is what we do. "
Envy and failure in the 1970s literary scene.
"There is a kind of minor writer who is found in a room of the library signing his novel. His index finger is the color of tea, his smile filled with bad teeth. He knows literature, however. His sad bones are made of it."
They're Not Your Husband
Raymond Carver's stories have a knack for illuminating uncomfortable marriage scenes, and this tale of a man wanting his wife to lose weight is as well-written as it is saddening.
"He pulled the covers up, closed his eyes, and allowed himself to think about the incident. The humiliation started in his face, the forehead and cheeks, and worked down into his shoulders and on into his stomach and legs."
The Best Girlfriend You Never Had
A beautifully detailed look at friendships, painful family memories, and potential unspoken desires.
"There was a man there named Josh who didn’t want nearly enough from me, and a woman called Thea who wanted way too much, and I was sandwiched between them, one of those weaker rock layers like limestone that disappears under pressure or turns into something shapeless like oil."
The Politics Of Driving/Town And Country, Part II
Early novel samples from one of my most influential college teachers.
"[T]o drive along any of the national highways meant you had indeed acquired value, but that your value had absolutely nothing to do with your worth as a unique individual."
The Dreadful Mucamas
Discomforting struggles between a homeowner and the hired help.
"But when I reminded her about the toast, she broke into a tirade – how could I think she would ever let the toast get cold or hard? But it is almost always cold and hard. "
The Empty Room
Semi-surreal account of a family's new home.
"The empty room, being a tabula rasa, bore aspects of total corruptibility, a potential we’d in childish obedience overlooked until now."
The Esther Repellant
A odd and menacing story-like bit spun off from Marcus' forthcoming novel, The Flame Alphabet.
"To warn me of Esther’s approach, or indeed of the motion of any living creature through our halls and rooms, I rigged a system of alarms that puzzled into the wall switch plates. But I crossed the wiring or somehow failed to close the circuit for this contraption, because the high siren pierced the air even when no one roamed through."
Life without reflection.
"She does her hair in the morning in much the same way her husband shaves: by feel, brushing it out, patting it into shape, fixing it with pins. She's been putting on earrings for forty years, and certainly doesn't require a mirror for that."
A Message From The Emperor
A new translation of this one-paragraph short, designed to be read aloud in English.
"The messenger set out at once; a strong, an indefatigable man; thrusting forward now this arm, now the other, he cleared a path though the crowd; every time he meets resistance he points to his breast, which bears the sign of the sun; and he moves forward easily, like no other. "
Rust as a drug.
"Hydrated ferric oxide. A textbook will tell you it's what happens when iron oxidizes after exposure to air and water, but that's what happens to iron, not to you. Not to you if you put a fingertip coated with its sandy granules to the back of your tongue or when you inhale a long, coppery ridge. "
Small Blue Thing
Poe's "The Raven," reimagined
" That's right, buddy, the crow is talking. Pinch yourself; it isn't a dream. The crow is talking. Feed me meat."
A Boring Story
A character sketch from one of the early masters of the short story form.
"My conscience and my intelligence tell me that the very best thing I could do now would be to deliver a farewell lecture to the boys, to say my last word to them, to bless them, and give up my post to a man younger and stronger than me. But, God, be my judge, I have not manly courage enough to act according to my conscience."
The Text Adventures Of Barbara Wolf Randall
Aftermath of a hookup, told in the form of an interactive fiction game.
"It is possible that you did not sleep with her, but here she is, next to you, wearing your clothes. She also has your socks, a pristine new pair of tube socks, on her hands. That was probably enormously funny at the time. Some other time. Not at all funny now, what with you being naked. There are closed doors to the EAST and NORTH."
Once In A Lifetime
Childhood acquaintances, meeting again in adolescence.
"In the morning you all slept in, victims of jet lag, reminding us that despite your presence, your bags crowding the hallways, your toothbrushes cluttering the side of the sink, you belonged elsewhere."
The Suicide Room
New fiction from the author of 2010's Mr. Peanut.
"All of Patricia’s family pictures are still inside. Her clothes are still in the drawers. Her Garfield posters are still up on the walls. Everything."
The Library Of Babel
Infinite libraries in infinite space.
"A memory of unspeakable melancholy: at times I have traveled for many nights through corridors and along polished stairways without finding a single librarian. "