For the short story reader. Updated every Monday.

The Short Form

Stories To Read

Week n° 54: March 03, 2014
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This week's stories by

Mario Bellatin, Liliana Colanzi, William Gay, Danilo Kiš, Pedro Mairal, Aaron Thier, Joy Williams, Juan Álvarez
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Q&A with Founding Editors of the Buenos Aires Review
The Stateless One
Excerpt

He pressed the button and heard the humming of the old French elevator in its cage as it descended from somewhere on high. Suddenly it stopped right in front of him, abruptly, with a slight rattle, a polished black coffin, lined with purple silk imprinted with irises like the reverse side of a lustrous piece of crêpe de Chine; it also had a huge Venetian mirror, polished on the edges, with green glass like the surface of a crystal lake. This upright coffin, made to order for a first-class funeral and controlled by the invisible power of a deux ex machina, had descended from above, docked like Charon's ferry, and now sat awaiting the pale traveler standing there petrified and uncertain, the manuscript of his latest novel, The Man Without a Country, shoved under his arm (and through the grate he himself was observing the pale traveler in the mirror, standing there petrified and uncertain, with the manuscript of his most recent novel clenched under his arm). And the coffin was waiting to take him not into the “other world” but merely into the grim basement of the building, the crematorium and cemetery where glassy-eyed stray travelers rested in sarcophagi similar to this one.

We read it in The Lute and the Scars.

Preparation for a Collie
Excerpt

“We're getting rid of you, you know,” David says.

It is Saturday evening and someone has stopped at the house to see the dog.

“Is he a full-blooded collie?” the person asks. “Does he have papers?”

“He doesn't say,” Jackson smiles.

After all these yars, six, Jane is a little confused by Jackson. She sees this as her love for him. What would her love for him be if it were not this? In turn, she worries about her love for David. Jane does not think David is nice-looking. He has many worries, it seems. He weeps, he has rashes, he throws up. He has pale hair, pale flesh. She does not know how she can go through all these days, each day, embarrassed for her son.

We read it in Taking Care.

The Paperhanger
Excerpt

The raw earth yard was full of cars. Dr. Jamahl had come in a sleek black Lexus. He berated his wife. Why weren't you watching her? he asked. Unlike his wife's, the doctor's speech was impeccable. She covered her face with her palms and wept. The doctor still wore his green surgeon's smock and it was flecked with bright dots of blood as a butcher's smock might be.

I need to feed a few cows, the paperhanger said. I'll feed my stock pretty quick and come back and help hunt.

You don't mind if I look in your truck, do you?

Do what?

I've got to cover my ass. If that little girl don't turn up damn quick this is going to be over my head. TBI, FBI, network news. I've got to eliminate everything.

Eliminate away, the paperhanger said.

The sheriff searched the floorboard of the paperhanger's pickup truck. He shined his huge flashlight under the seat and felt behind it with his hands.
I had to look, he said apologetically.

Of course you did, the paperhanger said.

We read it in I Hate to See That Evening Sun Go Down.

Originally published in Harper's: February 2000.

From this week's interview

Recommended by Founding Editors of the Buenos Aires Review

The Missing Year of Juan Salvatierra
Excerpt

So he became the little dumb kid, the idiot of the family. They let him play with the women, and did not demand from him the proofs of virility the other males in the family were called upon to demonstrate: firing a shotgun, lassoing or riding steers. He spent his time with his cousins, who fetched and carried him, treated him like a doll, played at being schoolmarms with him, and taught him everything they knew. They forced him to write so that he wouldn't forget the alphabet, made him communicate with them by writing letters on a slate, and bathed in the river with him. My aunt Dolores used to tell me that when the girls were getting changed to go for a swim down among the willows, they would make him turn his back to them. He would clap his hands once (his way of asking if he could look yet) and they would say no. After a while he would clap again, and they would say no a second time, that on no account was he to look around, and then he would hear them laughing and turn to find that his cousins were already in the water.

Their little joke must have tormented Salvatierra, because in his work you can often see adolescent girls getting changed in the green light beneath the riverside willows, suntanned girls in a hurry because they are ashamed of their nudity. He must have painted them because he needed to see at long last those scenes that had taken place behind his back but which he had been unable to witness, their luminous intensity that was so close and yet forbidden to him.

The Pizarro Sisters
Excerpt

Two years earlier, I had figured out a way to con a bunch of intelligent and enthusiastic young editors. I made them think I had written a good book, a collection of short stories I had researched and worked on for years. A monument to discipline, the kind of book only a mature writer could produce. Two drinks later, we sealed the deal. I asked for a million pesos, which came out to around five hundred dollars, and stressed that they were in a great position. I told them I had asked for so little because I believed in small, independent publishers. I told them that we all had to sacrifice a little in the name of solidarity. We raised our glasses and smiled. I took the money and bought myself the oldest Vespa I could find, then headed for a little town near Bogotá to relax.

We read it in The Buenos Aires Review.

Full story online.

1997
Excerpt

Adam and I were the only ones who didn't take the confirmation classes. They excused him because he was Canadian and what could you expect from people from those parts, lacking both morality and religion, but the priest threatened to fail me if I wasn’t confirmed. I’m Jewish, Father, I told him to get out of it, and Mamà found my response so funny that she told everyone, proud of the things I come up with.

We read it in Landmarks: Two Lines World Writing in Translation.

Originally published in .

Black Ball
Excerpt

According to his grandmother, the story of the Caravan of Toothless Souls came to a close the night government forces rounded up Japanese immigrants to ship them off to concentration camps in the United States. The neighbor and her husband committed suicide that very night. My grandmother told me that they’d asked her to look after their young children just a few hours before. The little boy was very fat and the little girl very skinny. She also told me that an hour later they heard a gunshot, and then another. The husband first killed his wife and then committed suicide. The neighbor had asked her to hide the children well. The fat one and the skinny one. To care for them as if they were her own. But my grandfather turned the children over to the police shortly after the shots rang out. I think it was partly by way of excusing him that my grandmother sometimes told me how hard times were back then. That I shouldn’t condemn my grandfather’s actions or those of the rest of my family. I think it is because of their actions that I understand all the better Bohumil Hrabal as he clambered out on that ledge, saying he was going to scare off the pigeons. They say that his fall was deafening. That he showed not a trace of the elegance with which a bird executes its final flight. Actually, birds die huddled in some remote corner of nature.

We read it in The Buenos Aires Review.

Full story online.

Bestiary
Excerpt

Bears give birth to a shapeless fetus—white in color, with no eyes—which the mother then sculpts with her mouth.

Panthers give birth only once in their lives, which is perhaps an explanation for their diminishing numbers.

Bees are produced from worms, which are themselves produced when one beats a dead calf with a stick. One may produce hornets in the same way by substituting a horse for a calf, and wasps by substituting an ass.

The animal kingdom is indeed rich and varied, and there is no more complete zoological guide than the Bestiary, from which one also learns that if a lion eats too much, it inserts its paws into its mouth and pulls some of the food out, that hyenas live in tombs, that snakes despise clothed men and fear naked men, and that if a beaver fears it’s being pursued by a hunter, it will gnaw its testicles off and throws them in the hunter’s face, knowing that its testicles are the object of the hunter’s desire. Very effective medicine can be made from a beaver’s testicles.

We read it in The Buenos Aires Review.