For the short story reader. Updated every Monday.

The Short Form

Week n° 36: June 24, 2013

Winners: Short Story Contest, N°1

Never add more than one teaspoon of lava per week. That’ll cause a meltdown.

From the winning story, “My Volcano” by Carmen Petaccio.

The results are in for our first ever short story contest. Pictured L to R: Brian Patrick Eha (2nd place), Carmen Petaccio (1st place), Thomas Batten (3rd place). Honorable mentions: Alberto Calligaris and Nicole Haroutunian.

Martin Amis on the fear of being laughed at, in an interview with Flavorwire:

What people fear above all else is being laughed at. And there comes a moment, slightly different, in Shakespearean tragedy, where in Coriolanus, for instance, they say ‘get your staring done with, get your laughing done with.’ They say this to the mob. As Nabokov again says, you don’t punish the gangster in a short story by having some conspirator tip-toeing up behind him with a derringer. That is a 19th-century idea of punishment. What you do is watch him picking his ear and then picking his nose and then examining the contents of his fingernail. Laughter is our deepest fear.

Our recommendations this week

Hitting Budapest
Excerpt

We all find places, and me, I squat behind a rock. This is the worst part about guavas; all those seeds get you constipated when you eat too much. When it comes to defecating, we get in so much pain, like trying to give birth to a country. Minutes and minutes and minutes pass and nobody shouts, “I’m done, hurry up.”

We are all squatting like that, in our different places, and I’m beating my thighs with fists to make a cramp go away when somebody screams. Not the kind of scream that comes from when you push too hard and a guava seed cuts your anus; it says “come and see,” so I stop pushing, pull up my underwear and abandon my rock. And there, squatting and screaming, is Godknows. He is also pointing ahead
in the thick trees, and we see it, a tall thing dangling in a tree.

“What’s that?” somebody, I don’t know who, whispers. Nobody answers because now we can all see what it is. A woman dangles from a green rope. The sun squeezes through the leaves, and gives everything a strange color that makes the woman’s light skin glow like there are red-hot coals inside her. 

The woman’s thin arms hang limp at the sides, and her hands and feet point to the ground, like somebody drew her there, a straight line hanging in the air. Her eyes are the scariest part, they look too white, and her mouth is open wide. The woman is wearing a yellow dress,  and the grass licks the tip of her shoes.

We read it in Boston Review.

Full story can be read online.

Stars
Excerpt

The door of the truck burst open, and the cowgirl came wheeling toward Jessica's car. Jessica was on the phone calmly telling the secretary at her department the reason for her delay. She rolled the window down slightly and addressed the raging cowgirl. “Let's wait for the police. Do you have insurance?”

The police arrived in a pageantry of flashing lights–a single officer, who got out and chatted familiarly with the cowgirl, as she held her thick braid with both hands. Isn't it nice that they're friends? Jessica thought. There was no denying her malice, no matter how she tried to stand apart from it. Then the officer came over to Jessica's car, hardly need to duck in order to peer into her window. “What'd you do that for?” he barked. Jessica contemplated her steering wheel. “You caused that accident by braking suddenly!”

“She rear-ended me. You know the law.”

“Don't you lecture me, lady,” he shouted.

Jessica gave him time to settle down before raising her eyes to his and asking, “What is this really about, Officer? Is it because you're short?”

We read it in New Yorker: June 24, 2013.

Flugdatenschreiber
Excerpt

The old man's gaze followed the end of the boy's finger up to the sky. A yellow light plane was spiraling down across the bright, cloudless blue. The plane's inevitable plunge into the embrace of Flugdatenschreiber's insipid peace below seemed like the most natural thing in the world, like a wilting flower or a breeze. The old man followed the movement of the plane, wide-eyed. The boy said, “Oh...oh!” Islanders stopped their mending and weeding to stand up and look at the sky. Moments later, the plane crashed with a loud bang. Every blade of grass on Flugdatenschreiber stood up and fell back down. The boy's pants gushed around the front and turned a color as deep as true love. The old man looked at the hill with his hand on his forehead. The plane had smashed into the lighthouse. The tall lighthouse was visible from anywhere on the island. Plumes of smoke rose over the hill.

“Grandpa, what's that?”

“I don't know...It looks like an airplane.”

The old man made a strange face.

“And yet...”

The old man squinted as if trying to remember something.

“It looks like...”

The boy squinted, too.

“Like what?”

The old man remembered and spoke as though it wasn't a big deal, “Like an eagle owl.”