For the short story reader. Updated every Monday.

The Short Form

“Elbow Room”

James Alan McPherson


I went to the territory to renew my supply of stories. There were no new ones in the East at the time I left. Ideas and manners had coalesced into old and cobwebbed conventions. The old stories were still being told, but their tellers seemed to lack confidence in them. Words seemed to have become detached from emotion and no longer flowed on the rhythm of passion. Even the great myths floated apart from their rituals. Cynical salesmen hawked them as folklore. There was no more bite in humor. And language, mother language, was being whored by her best sons to suit the appetites of wealthy patrons. The were no new stories. Great energy was spent describing the technology of fucking. Black folk were back into entertaining with time-tested acts. Maupassant's whores bristled wtih the muscle of union organizers. The life-affirming peasants of Chekov and Babel sat wasted and listless on their porches, oblivious to the beats in their own blood. Even Pushkin's firebrands and noble brigands seemed content with the lackluster: mugging old ladies, killing themselves, snatching small change from dollar-and-dime grocers. During this time little men became afflicted with spells of swaggering. Men with greatness in them spoke on the telephone, and in private, as if bouncing safe clichés off the ear of a listener into an expectant and proprietary tape recorder. Everywhere there was this feeling of grotesque sadness, far, far past honest tears.

We read it in Elbow Room.