Five Very Short Shorts
In the Light
It is morning and a warm mist has descended upon the farm. A soft hazy
glow filters through the dense, heavy air. Water droplets from a maple tree
sprinkle the shed as I walk past, making me wonder if maybe it were raining.
The ground lies dry beneath my feet, so I surmise it to be a heavy dew.
Entering the house I am greeted by the usual sight -- Marilyn at the end
of the kitchen table in her woolly-thick, faded orange terrycloth robe.
"You're early!" Marilyn booms.
"Not really that early," I snap back.
"Coffee?" she offers.
I sit reading the paper a little and come upstairs after that.
There's a fly now buzzing round this little upper room, zooming about madly,
caroming off ceiling and walls, landing only to be still but a moment and
abruptly buzzing off again. He's one of those big house flies that I've
been slaughtering without reprieve during the regular intervals in which
they make their distracting dramatic appearances.
At this moment, and I can't tell for sure, I believe he's in the light.
A Moment's Reflection
He woke with the pain stronger, not sharp but throbbing dully the length
of his lower jaw to where it meets the hinge. His head ached slightly, from
the pressure on his inner ear, the nerve hurting all the way up alongside
his skull. He was aware also of the persistent ache in his lower back where
he had pinched a nerve two summers before while moving a table in the basement.
But for the moment he was happy. Piano music rolled over him in trills,
a ginger introduction to the new day.
The girl finished three Chopin Etudes and then put her hands into her lap,
folding them together within the folds of her dress. She bowed her head
slightly, waiting for his response.
"Beautiful. Really beautiful, dear," he said, stepping toward
her and placing a glass of icewater onto a small trivet on the corner of
the piano. He threw his head back and laughed.
"What," she said.
"This is such a pleasant surprise, this is. Having you home with us
again is such a lovely surprise for all of us."
"Oh, go on." She lifted her hands and stretched her fingers, then
made two fists and put them back in her lap.
"Of course. Of course." She stood up, pushing the stool away with
the backs of her legs. "You play."
He turned and inadvertently caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror. He
was not intending to see himself at that moment and was surprised at how
much older he looked. How grey he had become, and so stupidly stooped.
"What is it, Father? Are you in pain?"
It's just one of those things, they say. However, presidents do not
have the luxury of such misfortunes of fate, and the undecorous event began
a chain reaction which could never have been anticipated, though in retrospect
it is plainly evident that the result was inevitable. It happened like this.
At the end of a brief ceremony, the president was stepping down from the
podium when he was overtaken with an urge to spit. He had been salivating
heavily and, intending to swallow, he gagged slightly, from which he recovered
himself, deftly pulling a white hankerchief -- embroidered with a presidential
seal -- from his pocket to expel the liquid from his puckered mouth.
As he removed the hanky from his face, a stringer of salivation clung tenaciously
to his lip, stretching threadlike the length of his arm. The event would
have gone without notice had it not been an outdoor ceremony and had it
not been for a gust of wind, which at that very moment seized the thread
of spit from its moorings and delivered it unceremoniously into the very
face of a black journalist who had just then asked the president his opinion
of the current state of race relations in America.
The rest is history.
The Death Star
There weren't many of us left after the death star came. It was no one's
fault. In the truest sense we were victims.
They aren't kidding when they say, "The rain falls on the just and
the unjust." Only this time it was raining fire.
They say the death star had been hurtling toward the earth for centuries
at an unbelievable speed, careening through the galaxies. Scientists saw
it coming all too late. How quickly it all happened. First day of spring
the scientists noticed a large, new star. Second day, the large star is
declared a supernova. Third day, the star is expanding so rapidly that no
one who sees it dares sleep as its all-powerful glowing iridescence fills
more and more space with its light and there was no more night.
The populations of the earth adopted two reactions. First, there were those
whose eyes were wide with awe at the coming glory. Then there were the rest
of us, whose futile efforts to find refuge caused us to cry out in hysterical
terror, "Rocks, hills, fall on us!"
There weren't many of us left after the death star came. In the truest sense
we were victims.
The rule of "nothing unessential" is the first condition
of great art. --Andre Gide
After dinner Harry Gold reads us the last two chapters of his La Nuit. The
next to last especially seems excellent to us, and Gold reads it very well.
Being rich is an occupation in itself, particularly for people who arrive
at it via parachute in middle life.
We go out for a walk -- William Williams, Gold and myself. Never has it
seemed such a long way to the top of this hill. The road with its tossing
broken stones stretches on forever into the distance like a life of agony.
It is hot as a furnace on the street and we sweat profusely.
I bring up the question of ownership. "Who owns language? Can a man
words? Sentences? The turn of a phrase?"
Gold's face becomes agitated, defiant. "It's mine now. No matter what
they say, it's mine."
It occurs to me that Williams doesn't like this reply, but there are no
others to turn to and we are forced to accept it. Gold feels guilty because
his work is heavy with borrowing. Ideas, phrases, sentences, even whole
paragraphs have been shamelessly appropriated, pilfered without attribution,
Harry adds, in a low voice, "The will of man is unconquerable. Even
God cannot conquer it."
I can not bear to see him like this. To myself I think, Why do you do these
things? In human affairs every solution only serves to sharpen the problem,
to show us more clearly what we are up against. I consider how sages of
the future will describe this historic day.
On The Late John Brockman
He passed away and left us his legacy: a finely crafted volume designed
to relate the truth. He called it The Late John Brockman. Since all our
experiences of the Present come through the senses, and this delays our
direct experience of them by a fraction of a moment, then by the time we
experience the present, it is past. Since the past does not exist (because
it is gone), so are we.
He wrote the book before he was dead, but said that we are all dead because
we live in the past and the past is gone, does not exist. He explained it
like this. There is a time delay between the thing perceived outside our
bodies and the actual reception in our brain of that perception. While it
is infinitesimally small it is, nevertheless, a delay. Sight, sound, taste,
smell, and the tactile senses -- all undergo the same phenomenon, a space
of time is required for transmission from fingertip to brain acknolwedgement,
from retina to inward scene. The external world is past. He took a whole
book to scientifically demonstrate what I have here reiterated twice.
In the end, John Brockman pronounced his death.
Unfortunately, the tome failed to produce an income and his parents pressured
him to secure a job to pay his bills. (He had borrowed three thousand dollars
to produce the six hundred hardbound originals that were offered to a disinterested
public.) He refused to take employment, and his father refused to feed him.
There were other disagreements. He told them they were dead and that it
did not matter whether they loved him or not because everything is meaningless
once it is part of the irrelevant past. The oceans of time are too salty
to drink for one who is so fully persuaded of their brininess. His mother
became ill over her son's hardheartedness. His father and mother fought
much and regretted many things they said to each other.
On a cold December night he left the house barefoot and without a coat.
The next morning his blue body was found in the forest behind his home where
he had nailed his hand to a tree.
I don't know why I am writing all this. Perhaps because his book made an
impression on me once, though I never stopped paying my bills. Nor did I
forget that there are consequences for behavior.
copyright 1994 - 1999 ed newman
PERMISSION TO REPRINT GRANTED if attribution is cited
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an original story by ed newman
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