The Colony, Audrey Magee
He handed the easel to the boatman, reaching down the pier wall towards the sea.
Have you got it?
I do, Mr Lloyd.
His brushes and paints were in a mahogany chest wrapped in layers of thick, white plastic. He carried the chest to the edge of the pier.
This one is heavy, he said.
It’ll be grand, Mr Lloyd. Pass it down.
He knelt on the concrete and slid the chest down the wall towards the boatman, the white plastic slipping under his fingers.
I can’t hold it, he said.
Let it go, Mr Lloyd.
He sat on his heels and watched the boatman tuck the chest and easel under the seat near the prow, binding each to the other with lurid blue string.
Are they secure?
They’re grand, Mr Lloyd.
I hope they’re secure.
As I said, they’re grand. He stood up and brushed the dust and dirt from his trousers. The boatman lifted his arm, offering his hand.
Just yourself then, Mr Lloyd, sir.
After Sappho, Selby Wynn Schwartz
Cordula Poletti, b 1885
Cordula Poletti was born into a line of sisters who didn’t understand her. From the earliest days, she was drawn towards the outer reaches of the house: the attic, the balcony, the back window touched by the branches of a pine tree. At her christening she kicked free of the blankets bundled around her and crawled down the nave. It was impossible to swaddle Cordula long enough to name her.
Cordula Poletti, c 1896
Whenever she could, she took a Latin primer from the Biblioteca Classense and went to sit in a tree near the cemetery. In her house they called, Cordula, Cordula!, and no one would answer. Finding Cordula’s skirts discarded on the floor, her mother openly despaired of her prospects. What right-minded citizen of Ravenna would marry a girl who climbed up the trees in her underthings? Her mother called, Cordula, Cordula?, but there was no one in the house who would answer that question.
Glory, NoViolet Bulawayo
When at last the Father of the Nation arrived for the Independence Day celebrations, no earlier than 3:28 in the afternoon, the citizens, congregated at the Jidada Square since morning, had had it with waiting; they could’ve razed the whole of Jidada with their frustration alone, that is, if Jidada had been any other place. But the land of farm animals wasn’t any other place, it was Jidada, yes, tholukuthi Jidada with a -da and another -da, and just remembering this simple fact was enough to make most of the animals keep their feelings inside like intestines. The fierce sun, said by those who know about things to have been part of His Excellency’s cheerleading squad by decree, had been up glaring since midmorning, doling out forceful rays fit for a ruler whose reign was nearing all of – not one, not two, not three, but four solid decades.
Small Things Like These, Claire Keegan
In October there were yellow trees. Then the clocks went back the hour and the long November winds came in and blew, and stripped the trees bare. In the town of New Ross, chimneys threw out smoke which fell away and drifted off in hairy, drawn-out strings before dispersing along the quays, and soon the River Barrow, dark as stout, swelled up with rain.
The people, for the most part, unhappily endured the weather: shop-keepers and tradesmen, men and women in the post office and the dole queue, the mart, the coffee shop and supermarket, the bingo hall, the pubs and the chipper all commented, in their own ways, on the cold and what rain had fallen, asking what was in it – and could there be something in it – for who could believe that there, again, was another raw-cold day? Children pulled their hoods up before facing out to school, while their mothers, so used now to ducking their heads and running to the clothesline, or hardly daring to hang anything out at all, had little faith in getting so much as a shirt dry before evening. And then the nights came on and the frosts took hold again, and blades of cold slid under doors and cut the knees off those who still knelt to say the rosary.
Nightcrawling, Leil Mottley
The swimming pool is filled with dog shit and Dee’s laughter mocks us at dawn. I’ve been telling her all week that she’s looking like the crackhead she is, laughing at the same joke like it’s gonna change. Dee didn’t seem to mind that her boyfriend left her, didn’t even seem to care when he showed up poolside after making his rounds to every dumpster in the neighbourhood last Tuesday, finding faeces wrapped up in plastic bags. We heard the splashes at three am, followed by his shouts about Dee’s unfaithful ass. But mostly we heard Dee’s cackles, reminding us how hard it is to sleep when you can’t distinguish your own footsteps from your neighbour’s.
None of us have ever set foot in the pool for as long as I’ve been here; maybe because Vernon, the landlord, has never once cleaned it, but mostly because nobody ever taught none of us how to delight in the water, how to swim without gasping for breath, how to love our hair when it is matted and chlorine-soaked. The idea of drowning doesn’t bother me, though, since we’re made of water anyway. It’s kind of like your body overflowing with itself. I think I’d rather go that way than in some haze on the floor of a crusty apartment, my heart out-pumping itself and then stopping.
Maps of our Spectacular Bodies, Maddie Mortimer
Case Study, Graeme Macrae Burnet
I have decided to write down everything that happens, because I feel, I suppose, I may be putting myself in danger, and if proved to be right (a rare occurrence admittedly), this notebook might serve as some kind of evidence.
Regrettably, as will become clear, I have little talent for composition. As I read over my previous sentence I do rather cringe, but if I dilly-dally over style I fear I will never get anywhere. Miss Lyle, my English mistress, used to chide me for trying to cram too many thoughts into a single sentence. This, she said, was a sign of a disorderly mind. ‘You must first decide what it is you wish to say, then express it in the plainest terms.’ That was her mantra, and though it is doubtless a good one, I can see that I have already failed. I have said that I may be putting myself in danger, but there I go, off on an irrelevant digression. Rather than beginning again, however, I shall press on. What matters here is substance rather than style; that these pages constitute a record of what is to occur. It may be that were my narrative too polished, it might lack credibility; that somehow the ring of truth lies in infelicity. In any case, I cannot follow Miss Lyle’s advice, as I do not yet know what it is I wish to say. However, for the sake of anyone unfortunate enough to find themselves reading this, I will endeavour to be clear: to express myself in the plainest terms.
Treacle Walker, Alan Garner
‘Ragbone! Ragbone! Any rags! Pots for rags! Donkey stone!’
Joe looked up from his comic and lifted his eye patch. Noony rattled past the house and the smoke from her engine blew across the yard. It was midday. The sky shone.
‘Ragbone! Ragbone! Any rags! Pots for rags! Donkey stone!’
Quick, Joe. Now, Joe.
Joe pulled the patch down, got off his mattress on the top of the chimney cupboard and stood at the big window.
The last of Noony’s smoke curled through the valley and along the brook. He could see no one in Barn Croft or Pool Field or Big Meadow or on the track between the top and bottom gates; and trees hid the way up from there to the heath. He went back to bed.
‘Ragbone! Ragbone! Any rags! Pots for rags! Donkey stone!’
The voice was below the window. He climbed down again.
There was a white pony in the yard. It was harnessed to a cart, a flat cart, with a wooden chest on it. A man was sitting at a front corner of the cart, holding the reins. His face was creased. He wore a long coat and a floppy high-crowned hat, with hair straggling beneath, and a leather bag was slung from his shoulder across his hip.
The Trees: A Novel, Percival Everett
Money, Mississippi, looks exactly like it sounds. Named in that persistent Southern tradition of irony and with the attendant tradition of nescience, the name becomes slightly sad, a marker of self-conscious ignorance that might as well be embraced because, let’s face it, it isn’t going away.
Just outside Money, there was what might have loosely been considered a suburb, perhaps even called a neighbourhood, a not-so small collection of vinyl-sided, split-level ranch and shotgun houses called, unofficially, Small Change. In one of the dying grass backyards, around the fraying edges of an empty above ground pool, one adorned with faded mermaids, a small family gathering was happening. The gathering was neither festive nor special, but usual. It was the home of Wheat Bryant and his wife, Charlene. Wheat was between jobs, was constantly, ever, always between jobs. Charlene was always quick to point out that the word between usually suggested something at either end, two somethings, or destinations, and that Wheat had held only one job in his whole life, so he wasn’t between anything. Charlene worked as a receptionist at the Money Tractor Exchange J Edgar Price Proprietor (the official business name, no commas), for both sales and service, though the business had not exchanged many tractors of late, or even repaired many. Times were hard in and around the town of Money. Charlene always wore a yellow halter top the same color as her dyed and poofed hair, and she did this because it made Wheat angry. Wheat chain-drank cans of Falstaff beer and chain-smoked Virginia Slims cigarettes, claiming to be one of those feminists because he did, telling his children that the drinks were necessary to keep his big belly properly inflated, and the smokes were important to his bowel regularity.
Trust, Hernan Diaz
Because he had enjoyed almost every advantage since birth, one of the few privileges denied to Benjamin Rask was that of a heroic rise: his was not a story of resilience and perseverance or the tale of an unbreakable will forging a golden destiny for itself out of little more than dross. According to the back of the Rask family Bible, in 1662 his father’s ancestors had migrated from Copenhagen to Glasgow, where they started trading in tobacco from the Colonies. Over the next century, their business prospered and expanded to the extent that part of the family moved to America so they could better oversee their suppliers and control every aspect of production. Three generations later, Benjamin’s father, Solomon, bought out all his relatives and outside investors. Under his sole direction, the company kept flourishing, and it did not take him long to become one of the most prominent tobacco traders on the Eastern Seaboard. It may have been true that his inventory was sourced from the finest providers on the continent, but more than in the quality of his merchandise, the key to Solomon’s success lay in his ability to exploit an obvious fact: there was, of course, an epicurean side to tobacco, but most men smoked so that they could talk to other men. Solomon Rask was, therefore, a purveyor not only of the finest cigars, cigarillos, and pipe blends but also (and mostly) of excellent conversation and political connections.
The Seven Moons of Mali Almeida, Shehan Karunatilaka
You wake up with the answer to the question that everyone asks. The answer is Yes, and the answer is Just Like Here But Worse. That’s all the insight you’ll ever get. So you might as well go back to sleep.
You were born without a heartbeat and kept alive in an incubator. And, even as a foetus out of water, you knew what the Buddha sat under trees to discover. It is better to not be reborn. Better to never bother. Should have followed your gut and croaked in the box you were born into. But you didn’t.
So you quit each game they made you play. Two weeks of chess, a month in Cub Scouts, three minutes in rugger. You left school with a hatred of teams and games and morons who valued them. You quit art class and insurance-selling and masters’ degrees. Each a game that you couldn’t be arsed playing. You dumped everyone who ever saw you naked. Abandoned every cause you ever fought for. And did many things you can’t tell anyone about.
If you had a business card, this is what it would say.
Photographer. Gambler. Slut.
If you had a gravestone, it would say:
Malinda Albert Kabalana
But you have neither. And you have no more chips left at this table. And you now know what others do not. You have the answer to the following questions. Is there life after death? What’s it like?
Oh William!, Elizabeth Strout
I would like to say a few things about my first husband, William. William has lately been through some very sad events – many of us have – but I would like to mention them, it feels almost a compulsion; he is seventy-one years old now. My second husband, David, died last year, and in my grief for him I have felt grief for William as well. Grief is such a – oh, it is such a solitary thing; this is the terror of it, I think. It is like sliding down the outside of a really long glass building while nobody sees you. But it is William I want to speak of here.
His name is William Gerhardt, and when we married I took his last name, even though at the time it was not fashionable to do so. My college roommate said, “Lucy, you’re taking his name? I thought you were a feminist.” And I told her that I did not care about being a feminist; I told her I did not want to be me anymore. At that time I felt that I was tired of being me, I had spent my whole life not wanting to be me – this is what I thought then – and so I took his name and became Lucy Gerhardt for eleven years, but it did not ever feel right to me, and almost immediately after William’s mother died I went to the motor vehicle place to get my own name back on my driver’s license, even though it was more difficult than I had thought it would be; I had to go back and bring in some court documents; but I did.
I became Lucy Barton again.
Booth, Karen Joy Fowler
The people who live there call it the farm, though it’s half trees, woodland merging into dense forest. A two-story, two-room log cabin has been brought from a nearby acreage on rollers greased with pig lard. The walls are whitewashed, the shutters painted red. A kitchen is added on one side, a bedroom and loft on the other. The additions stand off the main room like wings. There is nothing special about this cabin with its low ceilings, meagre windows, and canted staircase, and moving it was a costly business, every local ox and man hired for the job. This all left the neighbours with the impression that the new owner was a bit crazy, a thought they never had cause to revise.
The relocation puts the cabin beside Beech Spring, where the water is so clean and clear as to be invisible. But, and the neighbours suspect that this is the real purpose, it’s also a secret cabin now, screened from the wind and the road by a dense stand of walnut, oak, tulip, and beech. Still, since everyone in the neighbourhood helped move it, everyone in the neighbourhood knows it’s there.