I had a train dinner: paprika chips, a pear, a cucumber, and a beer. The sunset was magnificent as we withdrew from Sükhbaatar through another massive green river valley. Mongolians on horseback and motorbike gathered herds toward yurts that parked like UFOs on the hillsides. Where Russians had overstuffed backyard gardens, Mongolian village houses had paddocks of half an acre or more, marked out with split-rail fences. Where old Russian train stations pumped crackling, martial music through the arrival-platform PAs, as we stepped off the train in Ulaanbaatar, disoriented in the early morning after days on the train, the speaker blasted Namjilyn Norovbanzad, the diva of Mongolian long song (urtiin duu).* The otherwordly vibrato cemented the hallucinatory feeling that we’d stepped out of this metal tube into somewhere quite foreign indeed.
Category Archives: Original Fiction
There’s a family of mountain lions living in my basement.
I say a family because I know there’s more than one, but I don’t know exactly how many. If I knew how many, I’d just give you the hard number. Like five mountain lions. But that would only be a guess.
To be fair, a family of mountain lions may not be correct either. I’m not sure they’re related. To be really precise, then: there is a group of mountain lions living in my basement. And in case you’re wondering, there’s no proper term for a group of mountain lions. I looked it up.
Not a herd, or a pack, or a gaggle, or a pride—not even a murder, as it is with crows, and which I personally think would be apt! (Please notice that I’ve not yet entirely lost my sense of humor.)
The following passage is excerpted from Problems by Jade Sharma.
Somewhere along the way, there stopped being new days. Time progressed for sure: The rain tapered off through the night; near dawn, cars rumbled and then zoomed away. Sounds folded back into the world, moving on, light-years from the living room where I lay around, hardly living.
The soundtrack of the night looped every twelve hours: the hum of the refrigerator, the blare of a siren going by, the sound of someone turning on a faucet somewhere in the building. The Saturday night remix of the chatter of drunk guys, who smoked cigarettes in the courtyard and called each other “bro,” interspersed with the chorus of drunk girls’ high-pitched squeals every time a rat scurried out of the bushes.
Sometimes in the early morning, a man somewhere in the building would yell about the music being too loud. But I never heard any music. I only heard him yelling. Continue reading
The following stories are excerpted from VHS and Why It’s Hard to Live.
Coming of Age
Oma said, “Love and hate are not opposites. They are two sides of the same coin.” I didn’t truly understand this until much later, when an ex-boyfriend moved in with a woman he’d always complained about. I think this is also the explanation behind rape fantasies? Oma wasn’t brilliant she was just someone who got old and died. Even brilliant people will get old and die, though. At least, I’ve never heard of someone thinking herself out of death. Perhaps this is what monks meditate on. Though it seems more likely they are notthinking themselves into death. Into a state of acceptance of the death of every day. Like teenagers. In high school a boy who would sneak into my room at night but who would not date me said he envied the blissful fools around us. He said ignorance was the path to happiness, and that happiness was death to the self. It’s a little dramatic, but explains a lot about that time. That happiness is uninteresting has begun to depress me. But I enjoy sadness and wonder if that’s not just coming around the other side? And if maybe death is not the price of living but the prize at the bottom of a cereal box. Something cheap and plastic and infinitely alluring when viewed through the milky cellophane of our imaginations.
Funeral Song Continue reading
Excepted from Black Bread by Emili Teixidor
From Easter to early autumn, when the weather was fine and the woods changed colour, we lived on the branches of trees.
We climbed all the trees in the fruit orchard strong enough to take the three of us and low enough to shimmy up without a ladder, and once we’d tested them out we decided on the old plum tree as our permanent base. The old plum tree’s branches were dark and welcoming like the bottom of a cauldron and the fork of its broad trunk with its three branches allowed us to lean back in comfort and divide the space fairly: one apiece.
It was happening. Right then, happening. They’d been warning me for a long time, and yet. I was paralyzed, my sweaty hands clutching at the air, while the people in the living room went on talking, roaring with laughter—even their whispers were exaggerated, while I. And someone shouted louder than the rest, turn the music down, don’t make so much noise or the neighbors’ll call the cops at midnight. I focused in on that thundering voice that never seemed to tire of repeating that even on Saturdays the neighbors went to bed early. Those gringos weren’t night owls like us, party people to the core. Good protestant folks who would indeed protest if we kept them from their sleep. On the other side of the walls, above our bodies and under our feet, too, these gringos—so used to greeting dawn with their socks on and shoes already tied—were restless. Gringos who sat down in their impeccable underwear and ironed faces to eat their breakfasts of cereal with cold milk. But none of us were worried about those sleepless gringos, their heads buried under pillows, their throats stuffed with pills that would bring no relief as long as we kept trampling their rest. If the people in the living room went on trampling, that is, not me. I was still in the bedroom, kneeling, my arm stretched out toward the floor. In that instant, precisely, in that half-light, in that commotion, I found myself thinking about the neighbors’ oppressive sleeplessness, imagining them as they turned out the lights after stuffing earplugs in their ears, how they’d push them in so hard the silicone would burst. I thought I would much rather have been the one with broken earplugs, the one with eardrums pierced by shards. I would rather have been the old woman resolutely placing the mask over her eyelids, only to yank it off again and switch on the light. I wished for that while my still-suspended hand encountered nothing. There was only the alcoholic laughter coming through the walls and spattering me with saliva. Only Manuela’s strident voice yelling over the noise for the umpteenth time, Come on, guys, keep it down a little. No, please don’t, I said to myself, keep talking, keep shouting, howl, growl if you must. Die laughing. That’s what I said to myself, my body seized up though only a few seconds had passed. I’d only just come into the master bedroom, just leaned over to search for my purse and the syringe. I had to give myself an injection at twelve o’clock sharp but now I wouldn’t make it, because the pile of precariously balanced coats let my purse slide to the floor, because instead of stopping conscientiously, as I should have, I bent over and reached to pick it up. And then a firecracker went off in my head. But no, it was no fire I was seeing, it was blood spilling out inside my eye. The most shockingly beautiful blood I have ever seen. The most outrageous. The most terrifying. The blood gushed, but only I could see it. With absolute clarity I watched as it thickened, I saw the pressure rise, I watched as I got dizzy, I saw my stomach turn, saw that I was starting to retch, and even so. I didn’t straighten up or move an inch, didn’t even try to breathe while I watched the show. Because that was the last thing I would see, that night, through that eye: a deep, black blood. Continue reading