Squirrel Trouble at Uplands | Castle Freeman Jr.
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. . . In a sitting room, she found a couch with a heavy blanket folded on its back. She took off her shoes, she took off her dress, she lay down on the couch with her head on her arms. She would call Helen in an hour. She turned onto her side under the warm blanket.
She woke with a start, her heart galloping. Overhead, thumps and bumps and a kind of pattering and scrabbling. Immediately she thought: Blake. No. Impossible. (Or was what she thought: not yet?) She sat up. Yellow sunlight streamed through the windows, and in the bright day all the lights were on. Elsie listened to the noises above. Mice. An old, closed-up house far out in the country would of course be full of mice. She stood, wrapped the blanket around herself, and went to the stairs. As she began to mount, the noises stopped. On the second floor she found four bedrooms and a bath. All were empty, all were silent. Elsie turned to go back downstairs. As she reached the foot of the stairs, the telephone in the kitchen rang. Elsie went to it. She looked at it. She touched it. She picked it up.
Castle Freeman Jr., the author of four novels and many stories and essays, is a longtime contributor of short fiction to NER, most recently with “Who’s Stopping You” (NER 34.3-4). He lives in southeastern Vermont.
Categories: Audio, Fiction
Charles Baxter is the author of, most recently, Gryphon: New and Selected Stories (Pantheon, 2011), and the forthcoming There’s Something I Want You to Do: a Decalogue, from which this audio is excerpted.
Baxter’s third novel, The Feast of Love (Pantheon, 2000), was a finalist for the 2000 National Book Award and has been made into a film starring Morgan Freeman. He has also published essays on fiction collected in Burning Down the House (Graywolf Press, 2008) and The Art of Subtext: Beyond Plot (Graywolf Press, 2007), and has edited several books of essays. Baxter’s work has appeared in the New Yorker, Atlantic, New York Review of Books, and Harper’s, among other journals and magazines. His fiction has been anthologized in Best American Short Stories seven times, eleven times in The Pushcart Prize Anthology, and translated into many languages.
All Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference readings are available on iTunesU. To hear more, please visit the Bread Loaf website.
Mascots | Lenore Myka
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. . . Once, a Swede—a baby—declared that he loved Papua New Guinea.
We sniggered. It had been his first post after graduate school; he’d only ever been there and here; it was too soon in his short career for him to realize that he was lying, most especially to himself. The rest of us understood that saying you loved Papua New Guinea was like saying you loved it here, in this country with its clay roads naked children ran about and shat in, its miles of tin shanties you averted your eyes from whenever you took an air-conditioned car to or from the airport. Saying you loved Papua New Guinea was like saying you loved this place where you couldn’t buy a decent loaf of bread much less a bottle of Bordeaux; where you lived and worked behind high walls and locked yourself behind bars, fastening them over the windows and doors of your home at night, and found yourself eyeing the guard at the gate, the gardener and housekeeper and cook, wondering if one of them hadn’t been responsible for the disappearance of the opal pendant you’d inherited from your grandmother or the fifty euros you’d sworn you left in your trousers last Saturday night when you’d come home from the disco drunk and reeking of other expatriates’ sweat.
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Lenore Myka‘s short story collection, King of the Gypsies, was the winner of the 2014 G.S. Sharat Chandra Prize for Short Fiction (BkMk Press, 2015). Her fiction has been selected as a notable short story by Best American Short Stories and Best American Non-Required Reading. Her stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Iowa Review, Alaska Quarterly Review, West Branch, and Massachusetts Review, among others.
Fairytale | Kristien Hemmerechts
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Once upon a time a man and a woman had a child who lived. Then they had another child and it died, and then another child and that child also died. The first child was a little girl, the second and third were boys. The children were named Katherine, Benjamin, and Robert, but their names were mostly shortened to Kathy, Ben, and Rob. After the death of the third child, the man and the woman chose not to have another child but instead to have a dog that their young daughter christened Lady. The man took pictures of his wife, his daughter, and his dog and then asked his wife to take a picture of himself. The photos were developed and put in the photo album. “Finally, we are four!” the woman wrote beside it, but barely three years later, she left the man and thus, indirectly, her daughter and dog as well. . .
—translated from the Dutch by Margie Franzen and Sandra Boersma
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Shared Room On Union | Steven Heighton
They were parked on Union, in front of her place, their knees locked in conference around the stick shift, Janna and Justin talking, necking a little, the windows just beginning to steam. We’d better stop, she said. I should go now. It was 1:00 a.m., a Thursday night turned Friday morning. Squads of drunken students were on the town. So far nobody had passed the car. Hey, take it to a Travelodge, man! Nights like this, that sort of thing could happen—one time a rigid hand had rammed the hood, another time someone had smacked the passenger window a foot from her ear, Justin’s fingers in her hair stopping dead.
I won’t miss this part, he told her.
I really should go, Jus.
Categories: Fiction, NER Classics
Gwen Strauss’s essay, “A French Love Affair,” appeared in NER 21.2.
We live on a converted barge, a houseboat, on a canal,
on the eastern edge of Burgundy almost in the Jura mountains . . .
We live on a converted barge, a houseboat, on a canal, on the eastern edge of Burgundy almost in the Jura mountains, next to Switzerland. Driving to the closest town in our new, very old 1952 Peugeot 203 takes about fifteen minutes. Of course, in a newer car you’d get there faster—and I wonder, would the town seem more modern? Because when I’m in our car, I notice again that our village is full of old people, that the French countryside has been abandoned by the younger generations. When I pull into the gas station, or into the market place, inevitably an old French man will come running out of the nearby café. With pastis on his breath he’ll exclaim, “C’est ma jeunesse!” Then he will moon over the dashboard. It’s the same, the very same as the one he had as a young man! There will follow some discussion, mixed with patriotic disbelief, about how I, as a youngish American woman, got possession of this car. How could that be? they ask. I want to answer: by sheer pathological stupidité. But I just smile and shrug my shoulders and sigh a lot, “C’est comme ça.”
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.