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Best Stories We Read in 2013: Sarahana's Picks: A Short Form List

Best Stories We Read in 2013: Sarahana's Picks

In those days everything had to be done just right and very fast, so as not to lose a minute that might be useful to Russia.

From Nikolay Leskov's “The Steel Flea”

We look back on the stories we read in 2013 and pick our favorites. Part 2: Sarahana's picks.

For me, reading stories recommended by our guests is the most enjoyable part of running The Short Form. Two that blew my mind, when I finally discovered them last year, “The Steel Flea” by Nikolay Leskov and “The Lover” by Joy Williams,  were recommended by Robert Chandler and Christine Enos respectively, and I can't thank them enough for that. Something else we started trying out last year was looking up and spotlighting work from someone who'd piqued our interest but who we didn't know all that much about, someone who may not be as well known as Borges or Amy Hempel. My favorite discovery in this process was Luis Honwana, who has a single short story collection, and the title story “Who Killed the Mangy Dog” is the clear masterpiece. The remaining two stories on my list — “True Friendship” by Jorge Hernandez and “Me and My Sacred Cow” by Tania Malyarchuk — are perfect examples of why I seek out books by Dalkey. “True Friendship” is from the Best of Contemporary Mexican Fiction collection, which has many more must-read stories that I had to painfully exclude from this list, since we'd agreed to limit to ourselves to five. “Me and My Sacred Cow” is specifically a great example of why Aleksander Hemon's Best of European Fiction is easily my favorite short story series.

–– Sarahana

Selected Stories

Me and My Sacred Cow

Auntie Ant sits at the store counter. She's an aged saleswoman, who thinks it's a matter of honor to remain in the empty store till the very end. She eyes my cow melancholically, and the cow pleadingly eyes Auntie Ant. If I hadn't come in right then, Auntie Ant would surely have said to the cow: “Hello! How can I help you?”

“Daisy! Come home! I promise I won't beat you,” I say wearily. And, “Hello, ma'am,” I address Auntie Ant. “How about slaughtering this cow? You'll finally have something to sell.”

Auntie Ant is delighted, but quickly comes to her senses:

“Wouldn't your Grandma mind?”

“We won't tell her. I'll say that the cow has been taken to the insane asylum.”

At last two crazies come home. Grandma anxiously peers out of the gate.

We Killed Mangy-Dog

Mangy-Dog looked at me when I turned to him. His eyes had no shine in them at all but they were enormous and full of tears that trickled down his muzzle. They frightened me, those eyes, so big, looking at me like someone asking for something without wanting to say it. When I looked at them I felt a weight much heavier than when I had the rope all trembling from being so stretched with the creaking of bones trying to escape from my hands, and with the whines that came out in squeaks, smothered in his closed mouth.

The Steel Flea

One scurrier dashed off to get them to come as fast as possible and bring him the work that was to put the Englishmen to shame, and that scurrier had run only a short distance when Platov sent first one and then another after him so as to speed things up.

He sent off all his scurriers and then began dispatching ordinary people from the curious crowd, and in impatience he even stuck his own legs out of the carriage and was about to start running impatiently himself, and he gritted his teeth because they were all so slow in coming into sight.

In those days everything had to be done just right and very fast, so as not to lose a minute that might be useful to Russia.

True Friendship

Truth be told, Sam Weinstein's life is as normal as any and his biography—plain and simple—takes place within the confines of convention, except for the recurring occasions involving Bill Burton, notably those times Sam tripped over his tongue trying to justify the significant and constant absence of his beloved friend, always calling upon his motto, “You may still think true friendship is a lie. But then, you've never met Bill Burton.” Samuel Weinstein was born in New York, in October 1926, to a Jewish family, second-generation Lithuanian-Albanian immigrants. Their small fortune was due to his parents' hard work and tenacity rather than to a comfortable inheritance or fiduciary abuse that afforded other friends and family such economic security. Sam was the first-born son of Baruj Weinstein and Sarah Elbasan, both of whom passed through Ellis Island along with their respective families at almost the same time. According to some old sepia photographs, Sarah was still a babe in her mother's arms, while Baruj had already started walking by the time he got off the boat.

The Lover

On Action Line, someone is saying, “And I live by the airport, what is this that hits my house, that showers my room on takeoff? We can hear it. What is this, I demand to know! My lawn is healthy, my television reception is fine but something is going on without my consent and I am not well, my wife’s had a stroke and someone stole my stamp collection and took the orchids off my trees.” The girl sips her bourbon and shakes her head. The greediness and wickedness of people, she thinks, their rudeness and lust. “Well,” the Answer Man says, “each piece of earth is bad for something. Something is going to get it on it and the land itself is no longer safe. It’s weakening. If you dig deep enough to dip your seed, beneath the crust you’ll find an emptiness like the sky. No, nothing’s compatible to living in the long run. Next caller, please.” The girl goes to the telephone and dials hurriedly. It is very late. She whispers, not wanting to wake the child. There is static and humming. “I can’t make you out,” the Answer Man shouts. The girl says more firmly, “I want to know my hour.” “Your hour came, dear,” he says. “It went when you were sleeping. It came and saw you dreaming and it went back to where it was.”

We read it in Taking Care.

Originally published in Esquire, Vol 80 #1.