That Day in the Back of the SUV

The lizard was an unusual choice for a favourite toy. It wobbled like old jelly and its rubber had the catch of human skin to it. Half of its bottom jaw was missing on account of Matilda’s insatiable need to chew. It went everywhere with her and today it was in the kitchen, its green mouth gaped over the crusty end of the bread.

“Move it, Tildy.” Mallory stopped sawing through the loaf. “The kitchen is no place for a lizard.”

The directive was met with a stomp and a pout. … Continue reading

By the Skin of Her Teeth

The first I knew of myself was what I heard. Sounds lodged in my memory that I couldn’t decipher until years later, but there they were, just the same, waiting for me to unlock the secret of their meaning.

“An abomination.”

“She’s beautiful.”

“He won’t want to see this.” … Continue reading

The Hunger Artist

One night after the rest of the circus had gone to sleep I loaded each of my pistols, holstered them over my waistcoat, concealed them under my jacket and with a hot bowl of goulash and a spoon wandered down to see if the hunger artist was dead yet. Down past the rides, past the food trucks, behind the pens where the animals were kept I trudged through the mud until I saw the steel cage in the distance and barely visible in the moonlight ‘forty days without food’ scratched in chalk on the blackboard. I approached and peered inside and prayed to see a corpse. … Continue reading

Mother: concerning Elizabeth Willard

Elizabeth Willard, the mother of George Willard, was tall and gaunt and her face was marked with smallpox scars. Although she was but forty-five, some obscure disease had taken the fire out of her figure. Listlessly she went about the disorderly old hotel looking at the faded wall-paper and the ragged carpets and, when she was able to be about, doing the work of a chambermaid among beds soiled by the slumbers of fat traveling men. … Continue reading

Ivy Day in the Committee Room

Old Jack raked the cinders together with a piece of cardboard and spread them judiciously over the whitening dome of coals. When the dome was thinly covered his face lapsed into darkness but, as he set himself to fan the fire again, his crouching shadow ascended the opposite wall and his face slowly re-emerged into light. It was an old man’s face, very bony and hairy. The moist blue eyes blinked at the fire and the moist mouth fell open at times, munching once or twice mechanically when it closed. … Continue reading

A Painful Case

Mr. James Duffy lived in Chapelizod because he wished to live as far as possible from the city of which he was a citizen and because he found all the other suburbs of Dublin mean, modern and pretentious. He lived in an old sombre house and from his windows he could look into the disused distillery or upwards along the shallow river on which Dublin is built. The lofty walls of his uncarpeted room were free from pictures. … Continue reading

A Little Cloud

Eight years before he had seen his friend off at the North Wall and wished him godspeed. Gallaher had got on. You could tell that at once by his travelled air, his well-cut tweed suit, and fearless accent. Few fellows had talents like his and fewer still could remain unspoiled by such success. Gallaher’s heart was in the right place and he had deserved to win. It was something to have a friend like that. … Continue reading

Nomads

This is the earth’s own oven. Molten light gathers on the sand and dances, warping the boundary between sky and the endless sea of dunes that stretches away, one petrified wave after another. It’s a sculptural landscape, timeless and unmarked, burning with hostile divinity. Surely nothing could survive here.

Yet signs of life are evident. Look close. The pinprick tracks of a mouse, the subtle swish of a lizard, the nearly invisible marks of some insect—there are a hundred hidden stories written in the sand. And also stories that are not so hidden. Crest a ridge and find a larger set of tracks left by a human. … Continue reading

Bumper to Bumper

When the driver first sees her in the rearview mirror, her hands are not on the steering wheel but are over her eyes as though she is weeping uncontrollably. She is coming upon the stoplight at speed, and for a moment the driver panics, thinking she has not seen the light, thinking she may have forgotten that she is driving altogether. The morning traffic is thick; there is no room to pull forward, no room to move into the next lane. A collision seems unavoidable. The driver tenses and braces for impact. But then her car slows, and without removing her palms from her eyes the woman comes to a clean, effortless stop. … Continue reading

Hands: concerning Wing Biddlebaum

Upon the half decayed veranda of a small frame house that stood near the edge of a ravine near the town of Winesburg, Ohio, a fat little old man walked nervously up and down. Across a long field that had been seeded for clover but that had produced only a dense crop of yellow mustard weeds, he could see the public highway along which went a wagon filled with berry pickers returning from the fields. … Continue reading

Lines and Circles

after Kieslowski’s “Red”

Three red cherries deliver a flood
of coins to fill your bad luck jar:
worry instead of joy. Your own
way of preparing for a day bound
to be askew. The people you love,
just pictures and voices

from a past that wants
to hold you back. But there is
always something around
the corner: … Continue reading

Caligula’s Mattress

Her mattress was delivered to me the other day. I recognized the blood stain and for an instant thought to wet my finger, drag it over the dried crimson and see if it would taste like her. The ink stain, from the night I feel asleep writing with an old fountain pen, I recognized that, too, and tried to remember what I was writing. It’s been two years since we’ve slept together on it. … Continue reading