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The Short Form

“Horace and Margaret's Fifty-second”

Charles Baxter


She didn’t want to buy him cigarettes (in his dotage, he had secretly and then quite openly taken up smoking again). He lost clothes or put them on backward or declared universal birthdays so he could give everything he owned to strangers. The previous Wednesday, she had asked him what he would want for their upcoming anniversary, their fifty-second. “Lightbulbs,” he said, giving her an unpleasantly sly look.

She glanced at his lamp and saw that the shade was pleated oddly. “They give you plenty of bulbs here,” she said. “Ask them.”

He shook his head for thirty seconds before he replied. “Wrong bulbs,” he said. “It’s the special ones I need, with the flames.”

“Lightbulbs don’t have flames,” she said. “It’s filaments now.”

“Don’t argue with me. I know what I want. Lightbulbs.”

We read it in Gryphon.