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NER CLASSICS | Not Renata | Dwight Allen

Categories: Fiction, NER Classics

. . . he’d come into my head, unbidden, unconjured,
the way long-ago boyfriends will do . . .


Dwight Allen’s story, “Not Renata,” appeared in NER 21.2.

Now and then, he’d come into my head, unbidden, unconjured, the way long-ago boyfriends will do, if you aren’t careful. I’d be chewing on my pencil or a fingernail, say, or looking at the blue California sky while pumping gas into my car, and there he’d be, lying on a three-legged, rummage-sale couch in our graduate school apartment of twenty years before. (The fourth leg was a cookbook my mother had given me. ”Hope this will inspire you,” she said.) In this picture he’s as still as a painter’s model, cigarette smoke veiling him like stage fog. I peer at him, this secretive, cowardly boy I once loved, and then the picture dissolves and I’m inhaling gasoline fumes or listening to Mrs. Ramirez or Mr. Kuhn or someone else at the senior center tell me a story. I work with the elderly. With the crabby and unpopular Mr. Kuhn, I sometimes play checkers, waiting for the moment he says “King me!” and stirs me from my daydreams. The last time my former boyfriend appeared before me, I was in the dentist’s chair.

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Studies in Composition | Leslie Bazzett

Categories: Fiction

A first look at NER Vol. 34 Nos. 3–4 chapel bells had begun, calling the boys to dinner. From the kitchen veranda Davis watched them shambling through late-summer heat, khaki shorts slung low, loafers mashed at the heels, laughing or occasionally tossing overgrown bangs to the side. In a few minutes the day seemed to have swollen. There was a heavy smell of frying. In the distance the rolling pastures greened and damped, grown dark as moss. The farthest was dotted with horses—the boarding school a working farm also, these hundred years since its founding. Unseen was a river; a dappled wood where on weekends the boys were allowed to hunt, its leafy harbor suggesting other things to Davis. He was an imaginative boy. Handsome and mildly disdainful. When headmaster Givens passed, Davis merely nodded, refraining from the “sir” other boys would have offered.

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Lifeless Beast | Teffi

Categories: Fiction

From our current issue, 34–3.4
Translated by Robert and Elizabeth Chandler
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Teffi (1872–1952)

The Christmas party was fun. There were crowds of guests, big and small. There was even one boy who had been flogged that
day—so Katya’s nanny told her in a whisper. This was so intriguing that Katya barely left the boy’s side all evening; she kept thinking he would say something special, and she watched him with respect and even fear. But the flogged boy behaved in the most ordinary manner; he kept begging for gingerbread, blowing a toy trumpet, and pulling crackers. In the end, bitter though this was for her, Katya had to admit defeat and move away from the boy.

The evening was already drawing to a close, and the very smallest, loudly howling children were being got ready to go home, when Katya was given her main present—a large woolly ram. He was all soft, with a long, meek face and eyes that were quite human. He smelt of sour wool, and if you pulled his head down he bleated affectionately and persistently: “Ba-a-a!”

Katya was so struck by the ram, by the way he looked, smelt, and talked, that she even, to ease her conscience, asked, “Mama, are you sure he’s not alive?” Her mother turned her little birdlike face away and said nothing; she had long ago stopped answering Katya’s questions, she never had time. Katya sighed and went to the dining room to give the ram some milk. She stuck the ram’s face right into the milk jug, wetting it right up to the eyes. Then a young lady she didn’t know came up to her, shaking her head: “Oh, dearie me, what are you doing? Really, giving living milk to a creature that isn’t alive! It’ll be the end of him. You need to give him pretend milk. Like this.”

She scooped up some air in an empty cup, held it to the ram’s mouth, and smacked her lips. “See?”

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This story will appear in Subtly Worded and Other Stories, translated by Anne Marie Jackson, Robert and Elizabeth Chandler, and others, to be published by Pushkin Press (2014). 

“Well, what do you expect with a name like that?” | Eric Darton

Categories: Fiction, NER Classics

Eric Darton’s story, “Certain Amazing Adventures of Mr. Hoel” appeared in NER 22.2:

798px-Joseph_Mallord_William_Turner_(British_-_Van_Tromp,_Going_About_to_Please_His_Masters_-_Google_Art_ProjectWell, what do you expect with a name like that? Call him Lars, call him Claes, call him Cowerie, Pure Act, Oecumene, or Segundo Punt. Or Mignon the vinegar- swill. He don’t mind. Hoel knows what’s his.

Now let me draw you back to Hoel’s naissance in the city with the second tallest spires and the vast majority of cows. Let us meander along the rutted bywaysof his colonial youth, and, at length—the salt scent bursting in wafts more pronounced—out onto the corniche where no matter how implacable the drubbing blows of Brother Sun, Hoel could always ride his bicycle a meter in from the seawall, for it was there that the breakers delivered up their tenderest after-orgasms of cooling foam. Then lean the cycle in the shaded L where tower and wall abut and up the spiralsteps of the citadel, proof too from sun-fire by virtue of its inconceivable thickness, and peer through the topmost slit, out over the star defenses, beyond the breakers with their toppled columns rolling nowhere but to and fro, and parts of ships and men dashed everywhere among them.

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Three Marriages | By Emily Mitchell

Categories: Fiction

From the current issue (34.2):

Eamon_Everall._The_Love_LetterShortly after they moved from their own house in Darien, Connecticut, into a retirement home near Fort Myers, Florida, Lucinda announced that she didn’t want to be married anymore to Fred, her husband of fifty-nine years. When she told her children this they were first horrified and then dismissive. She could not mean it, they said to her and to each other. She could not possibly be serious. They interpreted it as a sign that she was becoming senile, that her mind and judgment, which had until then remained very sharp, were becoming impaired. They took her to get tested for other signs of reduced cognitive function, but the doctors they spoke with found Lucinda to be lucid and competent, her memory of recent and distant events remarkably intact for someone of her age, which was eighty-three years old.

“But what about this idea that she’s going to leave my father?” her son, Harry, asked the gerontologist who administered the battery of tests. “If that doesn’t count as crazy, I don’t know what does.”

The doctor looked at him and shrugged.

“I can’t comment on whether your mother is making a sensible choice in this matter,” he said. “But she is able to talk about her decision with perfect clarity. Being sane is in no way related to being wise.”

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From Sea of Hooks | By Lindsay Hill

Categories: Fiction

From Lindsay Hill’s novel Sea of Hooks, in the current issue (34.2):

sea of hooks


Of the great Victorian conservatory in Golden Gate Park, known formally as the Hall of Flowers, Christopher Westall’s mother had once said, “This is a place where glass is safe.” For some reason he thought of this first on finding her body, the plastic bag fitted so snuggly over her face. He held her hand awhile there in the cold. It felt reef-stiff. Her eyes were closed. She had somehow managed to tuck herself in quite tightly. Her face was soft, expressionless and tired. No hint of how it had been for her to die, there on the bed in his room, the bed under which he once thought knife-people slept.

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Lost Things

Categories: Fiction

From Lisa Van Orman Hadley’s story, “Lost Things,” in the current issue:

800px-Rippl_Sour_Cherry_Tree_in_Blossom_1909We’ve lost teeth, for one thing. One hundred and sixty baby teeth among us, not counting wisdom teeth. Some of them fell out easily. When they didn’t, my father gave us two options: the pliers or the door. Each choice inflicted its own particular kind of pain. The pliers bore a pain of certainty—the pain of knowing that once they were clamped down tight, the tooth would come out carefully, slowly, achingly. The door held a pain of surprise. My father would tie one end of a piece of string to the tooth and then tie the other end to a door handle. Then he would pretend to slam the door several times until he finally did it for real and the tooth would go with it. If we were lucky, the suddenness of it all would override any actual pain. I, thankfully, lost my first tooth at six while eating an apple in my parents’ bedroom.

[read more] [Image: "Sour Cherry in Tree Blossom" by József Rippl-Rónai / Wikimedia Commons.]

The Texas Project

Categories: Fiction
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This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

From Kelly Kathleen Ferguson’s story, “The Texas Project,” in the current issue:

Lora meets Derek at Measurement, Inc., a grading service for standardized tests. In a basement below the mall, tables of college graduates judge preteen thoughts on gun control and personal liberty. This job is considered better than temping. Should Smithtown build a park or a library? Support your argument with evidence. The Texas Project is a crucial assignment. The first batch of scores was contaminated; this is a retest. For five weeks 373 readers will assess 200,900 essays written by Texas ninth graders. The scores determine who moves up and who gets held back, the first sorting of the college bound from the cashiers. The topic: drunk driving.

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The Finder

Categories: Fiction

From David Guterson’s story “Tenant,” in the current issue:

Lydia Williams—as the finder put it in his final report before siphoning off his outlandish fee—moved in “without a hitch.” Invisible, an abstraction, RENTER—all caps—but indeed her rent got paid, expediently and electronically, on the fifteenth of month two—and with no trouble, no communication. It was as if Lydia Williams remained in the finder’s hands—she existed contractually but not in person; he could not have said what she looked like or how she sounded; now and again he stopped to wonder who Lydia Williams was, but his questions about her had to do with her reliability as a rent payer and with whether she could change a light bulb in figurative terms, i.e., whether she could save him time and money, by virtue of solid do-it-yourself skills, on repairs and maintenance. He wondered but made no move to find out about her, fearing that by asserting himself he might pave the way for a burdensome relationship, invite nuisance, regret his forwardness, ultimately end up with more trouble, work, and concern than if he’d stayed in the background.

Finally, he sent her a benign and innocent-enough e-mail.

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We Want So Much to Be Ourselves

Categories: Fiction

From Stephen O’Connor’s “We Want So Much to Be Ourselves,” in the current issue:

Roland’s longing trailed after him as he walked, a sort of dirigible, attached by a silver filament that tugged and tugged without ever lightening his step.

“Why’s that thing always following you around?” his brother asked. “Haven’t you already got everything you could possibly want?”

Roland didn’t bother to argue, not because his brother was right (wasn’t it simple fact that human desire was endlessly replenishable?), but because his brother was a very small man with the jaw of someone twice his size. He walked with his jaw foremost, his shoulders hunched and his elbows back, as if he were being bent nearly to the ground by the burden of all the things he couldn’t have. If anyone were to be followed around by a dirigible of longing, it ought to have been Roland’s brother, but the air above his hunched shoulders was a void. And this seemed sad to Roland, although many things struck him as sad.

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