"Goodbye to All That" by Joan Didion.
I got to teach my classes one of my favorite pieces of writing ever today. And more than one student knew that Slouching Towards Bethlehem is a Yeats reference. Sometimes freshmen composition classes can be pretty un-shabby.
A Monthly Literary Audio Magazine
I read a short-short story of mine for this month’s issue of the ever-wonderful Bound Off podcast. It features a dead goldfish and an ocean, among other things, which makes it the perfect beach read/listen for all your summery needs! Their archives are also chock-full of great writers, so poke around and you’re sure to find other bits of excellence.
by Anu Jindal
Recommended by Electric Literature
One time, Stigsson, a lumbering, manic Swede, leapt while climbing down from the mast. Fifteen feet, blurred blond beard and soiled bare feet flagging in the air towards the deck, where he landed in a funny way. As it happened, a stray nail had been left behind where he touched down and it entered him through his heel, paralyzing his foot permanently so that he walks always with a kind of slump now. The sound of his hysterics reached me two decks below. When I came up I found him scrambling around, inflamed, raving, smearing bloody curves across the deck with his lame heel. I tried to dress his injury but he refused, reduced to a language of gurgled screams. In the days that followed, he stalked everyone on the ship, demanding to know who had left the nail behind, lacing his hands behind his knee to raise his leg and accuse them with the hideous purple wound. But who’d remember forgetting a nail? Who remembers the nails, crumbs, hair, flaked skin one constantly leaves behind? When no one confessed, Stigsson decided it didn’t matter who it was; he would strike indiscriminately, with the same unforeseen randomness which he’d been struck.
Several days later, as the deck boy was perched on the foremast, sewing a tear in the sail, Stigsson arrived with an axe and simply began to chip away, raging in some meaningless, private dialect. His intention was clear enough: he meant to drop the boy in the water, leaving him to drown, or else axe him directly if he climbed down. To sever a limb, a finger, toes, his head. It took four men to hold Stigsson back, and all the time he was lunatic, frothing. Spittle flying from his mouth, catching in his beard.
But I don’t want to give the wrong impression of our ship. Really this kind of thing did not happen often.
A week or so after Stigsson attacked the deck boy, another boy, the carpenter’s assistant, admitted to having left the nail behind. Who knows why he admitted it? He’d effectively gotten away. No one could have known or found out. Perhaps he believed Stigsson had spent his anger.
The assistant’s second mistake, besides confessing to Stigsson at all, was telling him in private. We found him in the morning, tied high up on the mast, shivering. His body had been scoured raw by the ropes, the rest pecked at by birds. He smelled deathly already; was hypothermic and dehydrated. “You’ll be back to strewing nails in no time,” I told him, though in truth there wasn’t a hope. He lay, platter-like, on the sick bay table and moaned. I asked, just in case, if he had family I could write to.
Without shame, Stigsson came to see what all the moaning was about, then wordlessly returned up to the deck above. At the time we were passing through an arctic place. Seawater flung up by the ship came back down as ice, chattering across the deck. Ice formed on the sails, around ropes, the inner workings of pulleys; on beards, knuckles, sleeves. Icicles made long tooth shadows, in sunlight and in lamplight, at all times, in all lights, against the deck and the sails. Stigsson moved around the ship, collecting, in a sinister way, icicles into a bucket. When he limped down again he pushed me aside, and—carefully rolling up the boy’s shirt—began laying ice down over the weeping sores and burns that deformed his body. The boy sighed each time an icicle touched him. Why hadn’t I thought of using icicles before?
“Goddammit,” I said. “Stigsson, are you a doctor? No—because I’m the doctor.”
Then Stigsson began to sing—his voice soft as serge cloth, his notes clear and musical as falling nails. Someone maneuvering a barrel across the deck stopped rolling to listen. It was the first time we’d ever heard Stigsson sing. Maybe the deck boy would be okay after all.
Man oh man, this story is fucking fantastic.
by Andrew Cothren
“Where the Hallway Ends” by Sarah Estime
As soon as your phone rings and Beth is on the other end, voice shaking, asking if you can meet her, you know what’s about to happen. You’ve known for some time, in fact. You hang up and put on your jacket and walk through the rain to that coffee shop near the subway and she tells you, point blank, that she wants to end things, and your expression doesn’t change much because you’ve been preparing yourself for this all along.
"I’m leaving town," she says. She’s shifting in her seat, holding a steaming coffee mug in both hands. Rainwater drips from the matted ends of her hair to the tabletop.
My short story “The Family Afloat” is up in the current issue of Route Nine, along with things by too many of my friends to list here. Just go and read everything in the issue, then in the rest of the issues, then on the entire site, just to be safe.
I am one of three (!) UMass Amherst fiction MFA folks who has been shortlisted for the 2014 Masters Review, along with my fantastically talented friends Andrew MacDonald and Laura Willwerth. Send us all good thoughts/vibes/karma!