Category Archives: Fiction

A story about fear

A young woman who had moved to the city and learned the art of sculpting from the last legendary survivors of a once boisterous scene now shivered in her garret each night in fear.

For upon the death of the High King, a great wave of iconoclasm had swept the kingdom, and young men with hammers crashed through the doors of museums, destroying any art that looked human. They tossed acid on painted portraits, and threw busts out windows. For it was a sin, they said, and a presumption, for art to imitate men.

They did not all agree on the reasons. Some said it was because only God should have the power to present the human form, and so artists were lacking in awe; some said it was because to paint or sculpt the faces of men is to laugh at mankind, and so artists were cruel; some said it was simply bad art, and so artists wasted their materials; and some simply liked to smash the images of people with sledges and crowbars, and said that destroying art was not enough. Continue reading A story about fear

Interpretations

Dagger 1He first met his wife while she was hitchhiking across the country with a knapsack, a hunting knife, and a battered copy of Miguel de Unamuno’s “The Tragic Sense of Life.”  He picked her up in the middle of the Nevada desert.  Sweat was beading on her skin.  She was out of water.  She was desperate.  She sat down next to him in the front seat.  “Have a juice box,” he said, and she sucked it dry in one breath.

He thought she was the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen.  She was sure, in her fevered state, that he was going to rape her.  She kept fingering her knife, wanting him to keep his distance but wishing he’d offer her another juice box.

“What are you reading?” he’d asked.

“It’s a book about how …” she thought about this for a moment.  “… about how life can never be understood, because the purpose of life is living, not understanding.”

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A Concise History of the Heavens

PlanetsOnce there was a species of animal that looked up at the stars and tried to find the rules that governed them.

At first, because it could not see very far, the species made rules that governed 9 planets and a few hundred stars – all it could see in the night sky.  Then, after hundreds of generations had passed, empires had risen and fallen, and a few advances in the development of lenses and mathematics were preserved against famine, plague, and fashion, a few monks realized that the universe was in fact much bigger.  When viewed more carefully, through the correct lenses, the universe contained more stars in the sky than there are grains of sand on every beach in the world.

Their fellow animals did not take this news well, and many monks were burned at the stake and others were imprisoned deep underground for speculating about what these facts could mean, but their cause was taken up by literary men of imagination and the knowledge kept alive across countries, preserved in letters on parchment snuck across borders during times of war, until eventually new ideas about what the immense size of the universe could mean began to lose their power to shock, and were debated openly in the courts of kings.

The new knowledge led to the very upheavals the ancient inquisitions had feared.  The impossibility of the narrative imagination to adequately summarize the scope of the universe led to numbers and calculations seizing primacy over words and poetry.  Just as the earth was revealed not to be the center around which every star revolved, new forms of government emerged which did not revolve around the nobility, but instead numbered every man (one) and gave him a vote, and tallied the results.

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What Matters

wild-abandon1After a night of drinking we were talking about freedom, and wild abandon … something we’d both thought of as our life’s work when we were 10 years younger, and didn’t know each other:  when I was in Russia getting drunk at a different club every night, and she was in Sweden making love to an older woman who’d promised to show her the world.

The difference was, she’d let go of  herself all that time … and floated away from every limit, while I had been searching, hunting for that thing that would take my boundaries away, the holy grail of bliss through amnesia, and never found it.  The further away I went from my home and hearth, the more deeply I sank into the man who’d sat in front of them.

“Did you ever find it?” I asked her as we walked down the cool Oakland street, almost at midnight, almost at the hour when the trains stopped.  “Did you ever find freedom in wild abandon?”

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Transmutation

Alchemist's laboratory 1The sage sat on a stone wall overlooking the green field, holding the bulb of a tulip in the palm of his hand.  The petals were cold and smooth.  He closed his hand, crushing the bulb, and opened it again.  A rose blossom sat in his hand.  The smell of the tulip still lingered in the air.  Far away, he heard a shepherd singing.  Farther away, a platoon marched towards the valley.  He closed his hand;  a few thorns pricked his skin and drew blood.

He remembered Galileo, whose research had been funded by the church, who spoke blasphemy against his patron, who was punished, who recanted, and who kept a secret journal documenting his thoughts on the one subject he could not speak.  He remembered the look on his face, the look in his eyes, the last time they spoke, so long ago.

He opened his hand.  A lily this time, purest white.  He closed his hand.  He opened it.  A lilac, whose scent quickly overpowered all the rest.  He closed his hand again.

All the flowers felt the same:  smooth, cold, delicate.  As though it would be unbearable to lie upon a sheet of them.

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Roulette

Roulette wheelTen of the rabbits are going to die, Dr. Burnham told me: and I’m going to kill them.

They stare up at me from small steel cages, wrinkling their noses and hopping in a way that might be nervous, as I prepare a syringe filled with a cancer-causing cocktail.

The solution is green, the color of radiation and toxic waste in comic books.

These ten rabbits have to die, or no one will accept the results of Dr. Burnham’s experiment, no matter how successful it is.

I was warned this day would come: you can’t be a PhD in biology here and not kill things.

I should feel more guilty about it, I’ve spent so much time trying to avoid this kind of lab work; but I’m getting married in three weeks. A spring wedding. I have a final fitting for my dress tomorrow, and the caterer’s nothing but drama. I can’t get frilly lace and menus out of my mind. I was warned this day would come, too.

I will also inject the next ten rabbits down the line, but I can fight to save them … up to a point. The experiment is a success if they live and their cancers die. I call them the “Roulette Rabbits.” (The first ten, obviously, I call my “Death Bunnies.”) Since I’ll be going on my honeymoon mid-way through the experiment, I might not even see how they turn out. Dr. Burnham objected, strongly: but I told him that if he doesn’t like it, he can always graduate me. He’s been nitpicking my thesis for two years, to keep me here to run his lab. I qualify for science grants aimed at women and minorities. He loses me just as much if I’m fired as if I matriculate, so he agreed to let me go for my wedding. And honestly, I think I’ll like not seeing the outcome better. Poor little Death Bunnies. Poor little Roulette Rabbits. I’ll be the one injecting them, but as long as I’m not watching them die it will feel like I’m less responsible.

These guys, over here, are the ones I don’t have to worry about. The Control Rabbits. As long as they get fed, they’ll be fine. They’re here just so that we can keep track of what ordinary rabbits, non-cancerous rabbits, do. Live and eat and … well, we’re not going to let them screw, but, everything else.

Everybody already knows what ordinary rabbits do. Their imprisonment here is formally necessary, but practically pointless. Still, they shouldn’t complain: better to be a Control Rabbit than a Death Bunny.

I can’t believe I’ll be wearing a veil. That’s so … medieval. And white? White? I’ll be moving into my future by turning myself into a relic of the past. It makes no sense. If I had a daughter, it’s everything I would tell her not to do. Live in the present, love your opportunities.

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