IN THIS POST: Mark Doty, Laura Lippman, Kurt Andersen, Kate Bernheimer, John Wray.
This is the seventeenth installment in a series of twenty posts announcing — in no particular order — which 100 stories will be collected in the Significant Objects book (forthcoming in 2011 from Fantagraphics).
81. Mark Doty’s FISH SPOONS story. Excerpt:
As a young man I read a poem I’ve never run across again since. I found it in the school library. If you already knew what you wanted in this haphazard collection, you were sunk, but if you spent time pulling things off the high, not-much-visited steps, you could get lucky.
The poem was Anglo-Saxon, a riddle, and it had to do with cold armor that never clanked, with chain mail that moved with a strange fluidity, as if it were made of mercury – though I’m sure I’ve added that detail, in memory. The Anglo-Saxons didn’t have mercury, did they? Or maybe they did.
I think what I liked best about the poem was the feeling of things moving in darkness, beneath the surface, not at all troubled about being in the dark. That and something about the allure of ancient silver, that there were mines, somewhere in the far mountains, and people had learnt the methods of refining the hidden ore and bringing the malleable shining stuff into the light.
82. Laura Lippman’s MOTEL ROOM KEY story. Excerpt:
“I wasn’t spying,” she said. “But I have to ask – why did you save this?”
“Well, look at the name,” he said. “Perkins hotel.”
He waited, smiling broadly.
“I don’t get it.”
“Remember the movie Psycho?”
She did. Taxidermy, shower, mother issues. “That was the Bates Motel.”
“Yes, but the actor was Anthony Perkins. Isn’t that cool?”
“And what took you to Laconia, New Hampshire?”
“A road trip with a bunch of guys in our junior year of college.” He held the key, ran his thumb over it. “Drop in any mailbox,” it said, but he hadn’t.
83. Kurt Andersen’s SANTA NUTCRACKER story. Excerpt:
We were out on the porch again, me cracking pecans, and we’d just heard a train pass by and blow its whistle, and suddenly she asked if I wanted to take the Santa Claus cracker to keep, as a keepsake, since with Marcus Sr. gone she’d decided she’d stop baking pies. I didn’t really want it, but to be polite I said sure, and thanked her. Then in a big gulp she finished her third glass, and sort of giggled. “But don’t you ever do what I once caught Jimmy doing, OK?” When I asked what that was, she giggled again and said she couldn’t say, but I chuckled too and kind of insisted, so she told me. One afternoon in the spring of 1945, when Jimmy was 14, she’d heard on the radio that the Nazis had surrendered, so she ran into Jimmy’s room to tell him, and found him sitting on his bed with his pants off and his penis stuck in the nutcracker.
84. Kate Bernheimer’s PINK HORSE story. Excerpt:
That pink horse! How she loved it. Once when she had gone a very long way to gather her treasures — all the way under a natural tunnel inside the cliffs, which led to a narrow beach that would trap you and kill you if you were stuck there during high tide — an old woman with pink hair approached her and sang her a song. My daughter told me about this old woman, but I didn’t believe her. Later that week, my girl brought home a sea urchin, closed. She said that when the sea urchin opened, the old woman would return and that she had promised then to bring us good luck. I got an empty jar from the cupboard — it had once been full of beach plum jelly but had been long gathering dust. We walked down to the edge of the ocean and filled it with water. Back in the cabin, we placed the closed sea urchin carefully into the water, where it sank and stayed closed. The next morning my littlest girl didn’t wake up and the sea urchin had bloomed. It was on her grave that my other daughter placed the pink horse.
85. John Wray’s IMPLEMENT story. Excerpt:
“What is it?” said Lily.
“I just told you,” Oliver said patiently.
The Object expressed no opinion.
“Well, we might as well give it a try,” Lily said. “How do we make it do?”
Oliver squinted down at the Object for a while, and then shrugged. “I think we just set it down in the corner,” he said finally. “Give it room to do its work.”
Lily considered this a moment, then took Oliver’s hand, and they deposited the object, gently and circumspectly, in the room’s nearest corner. “How long will it take?” Lily wondered.
“Ten and a half days,” Oliver said firmly. Lily couldn’t help noticing, however, that he avoided looking her in the eye. You’ll never persuade me that way, Lily said to herself. The Object chittered and hummed in its corner.
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