Collected Stories

Monday, July 5, 2010


There was a story he liked to tell about a rat who wandered into a Japanese teriyaki fast-food restaurant. This was no mouse, he’d say. This was—and here he’d pause to measure a length with his hands—as big as a newborn: a giant Norwegian rat. It was here in the story that she—since she’d heard it several times—would begin to confuse the image of a rat with the image of a baby. She imagined the rat, lying in a little wooden cradle, wrapped in a pink blanket, its eyelids fluttering, and breathing in a labored, dying way; and at the same time she pictured a baby, dead like the rat, in a sad heap on the kitchen floor of a Japanese fast-food restaurant. While her mind shuttled between attraction and repulsion, baby and rat, she studied his mouth forming the words of the story in a way that was simultaneously charming and off-putting. The rat headed for the kitchen, he reported, stumbling in a kind of stupor, and everyone in the restaurant got up and left. He, on the other hand, approached the counter to ask for a refund. Well, we don’t know, said the girls who were in charge. These were very young girls, he said, very wide-eyed and vacant-looking. We don’t know if we can give you a refund, they said. We’ll have to check. Do you know rats carry bubonic plague? he asked them. We know, they said. Well, it ran into your kitchen, he said. We know, they said. But it died. At this, their dinner guests usually laughed. Even she laughed, but her laughter felt automatic and insincere.



Today, everything you could think of in the nature of a regular day was made of snow. Houses had little window shutters made of snow, and trees made of snow stood proudly in the front yards. There was a snow restaurant where flavored snow was served on round snow plates and the waiters, made of snow, had charcoal for eyes like snowmen. We drove our snow car into a desert of snow, camels of snow leaping around snow dunes, snow cactus all bent over from the great weight of snow, thick snow snakes writhing and hissing between snow fissures. It was all so beautiful that we fell into each other’s arms and wept. A snowbird trembled overhead, and we recalled then that it could not last. Just one day is what they’d promised—one day in the great scheme of things.



We are always attracted to the shiniest part of a leaf because what shines gives pleasure to the eye. Shadows also give pleasure, but perhaps that pleasure is less eye-directed and more fantasy-fueled. Say I wish I were cool or asleep, the words beautifully fading like the cave paintings at Altimira faded and became therefore beautiful. Coleridge, I’m sure, has something to say about it. There are so many leaves on that tree I despair of counting them. I can only say that through the partitions formed by the branches, which are covered with leaves, I see little areas of pure light and the paler leaves of other trees and a part of a stalk of a telephone pole. Such observations are easily corrupted into metaphor.



Today my old friend Raymond was pushing a shopping cart down Speedway, the shopping cart overflowing with clothes, Raymond unshaven and very dirty. Did you see that? I said. Raymond must have fallen on hard times. Not at all, said my companion. It is well known that Raymond is leading a double life. He is not content merely with a life of property, my companion went on. He feels that his half-time homelessness puts everything into perspective. I gave it some thought. Of all my friends, Raymond is the laziest; therefore, he would be the last person I’d expect to muster up the wherewithal to pull off a stunt like this.

Thursday, July 1, 2010