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    November 2009

    48. The Oval Portrait

    By Edgar Allan Poe

    The chateau into which my valet had ventured to make forcible entrance, rather than permit me, in my desperately wounded condition, to pass a night in the open air, was one of those piles of commingled gloom and grandeur which have so long frowned among the Appennines, not less in fact than in the fancy of Mrs. Radcliffe. To all appearance it had been temporarily and very lately abandoned. We established ourselves in one of the smallest and least sumptuously furnished apartments. It lay in a remote turret of the building. Its decorations were rich, yet tattered and antique. Its walls were hung with tapestry and bedecked with manifold and multiform armorial trophies, together with an unusually great number of very spirited modern paintings in frames of rich golden arabesque. In these paintings, which depended from the walls not only in their main surfaces, but in very many nooks which the bizarre architecture of the chateau rendered necessary—in these paintings my incipient delirium, perhaps, had caused me to take deep interest; ”so that I bade Pedro to close the heavy shutters of the room—since it was already night—to light the tongues of a tall candelabrum which stood by the head of my bed—and to throw open far and wide the fringed curtains of black velvet which enveloped the bed itself. I wished all this done that I might resign myself, if not to sleep, at least alternately to the contemplation of these pictures, and the perusal of a small volume which had been found upon the pillow, and which purported to criticise and describe them.

    Long—long I read—and devoutly, devotedly I gazed. Rapidly and gloriously the hours flew by and the deep midnight came. The position of the candelabrum displeased me, and outreaching my hand with difficulty, rather than disturb my slumbering valet, I placed it so as to throw its rays more fully upon the book. . . . Read More.

    47. Near Grenoble

    By Félix Fénéon

    Bones have been discovered in a villa on Ile Verte, near Grenoble, those—she admits it—of the clandestine offspring of Mme P.

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    46. The Weightlifters

    By Daniel Torday

    When I was a kid my parents were best friends with a couple I didn’t like very much. George and Martha Klonfelder were the parents of Tyler Klonfelder, a kid at my school you couldn’t really be friends with. He was generous and smart but he’d had some kind of issue at birth and the toes of his left foot turned in like they were afraid of everything they faced, and he himself was so inward pointing that, even if I wanted to be, I wasn’t friends with him except when he came to our house with his parents.

    But that wasn’t why I didn’t like the Klonfelders. My reasons for disliking them weren’t rational. I didn’t like them because George and Martha were the names of a hippopotamus couple in a series of children’s books I loved as a toddler. It was like being friends with someone named Babar or Br’er Rabbit. The only other thing I disliked about George and Martha was that they were openly, deliberately in love. George was a baggy Sephardic man with a wide face and chubby hands whose Creator hadn’t exhaled the two breaths needed to fill him, and Martha was the most beautiful of all my parents’ friends. This made George’s devotion all the worse. He practiced chivalry like an overwrought Galahad, pulling out her seat and kissing her hand with raw earnestness. He kissed her forehead when she smiled and her cheek when she told a joke, and it all made me roll my eyes so often I gave myself headaches.

    Every year the Klonfelders came to our house after high holidays to break fast. Fall of the seventh grade was no different. Tyler and his parents brought the whitefish salad from the good deli on Reisterstown Road. Tyler and I sat on the couch watching Orioles base runners succumb to Andy Pettitte’s pick-off throws and I tried not to look at his balky foot. We were all sitting around spreading cream cheese on our bagels when a crash came from my father’s study. . . . Read More.

    45. The Menomonee Valley

    By John Koethe

    It was always the first thing Geoff wanted to see
    Whenever he’d drive over from Madison to visit me.
    He saw it as the quintessential landscape
    Of the Essential City, by contrast with that ersatz one

    Some eighty miles away, the juvenile capital
    Of record stores and gyro joints and bubble gum.
    It splits Milwaukee into South and North, the factories,
    The bungalows and taverns of the men who used to work in them

    Vs. what remains of downtown, the Pfister Hotel, the lakefront
    And the mansions of the millionaires who used to own them.
    In early spring it’s still a nearly frozen wasteland
    Of railroad tracks and smokestacks and a narrow, dull canal

    Flowing past slag heaps flecked with scraps of snow and seagulls.
    Down the road from Badger Bumper, the Miller Compressing Company
    Flattens what’s left over of the cars, then lifts them up and
    Dumps them on a monumental mountain of aluminum and steel,

    To be pulverized at last into a kind of coarse, toxic metal meal.
    Yet even wastelands change. The noxious smells
    That used to permeate the air are gone. The Milwaukee Stockyards
    Where we’d stop for lunch (there was a funny restaurant there)

    Left town two years ago. The Peck Meat Packing plant
    Is rationality itself, with trucks with modern logos and an antiseptic air.
    The Tannery, an “Urban Business and Living Center”
    Lodged inside the shells of what were once some of the foulest

    Factories in the country, is the first stage of a plan
    To redefine this “huge forlorn Brownfield” into a different kind of space,
    A place of “offices, light manufacturing, a riverfront bike trail”
    Meant to ease the lingering traces of a vanishing industrial sublime. . . . Read More.

    44. The Gown from Mother’s Stomach

    By Blake Butler

    The mother ate thread and lace for four weeks so that her daughter would have a gown. She was tired of not being able to provide her daughter with the things many other girls took for granted. Their family was poor and the mother’s fingers ached with arthritis so she couldn’t bring herself to sew. Instead she chewed the bed sheets until they were soft enough to swallow. She bit the curtains and gnawed the pillow. With one wet finger she swiped the floor for dust. God will knit it in my womb like he did you, she murmured. When you wear it you will blind the world. She refused to listen to reason. She ate toilet tissue and sheets of paper and took medication that made her constipated. She stayed in bed instead of sitting for dinner. Carrots don’t make a dress, she croaked. Her stomach grew distended. She began having trouble standing up. Her hair fell out and she ate that too. She ripped the mattress and munched the down. She ate the clothing off her body. The father was always gone. He worked day and night to keep food the mother wasn’t eating on the table. When he did get home he was too tired to entertain the daughter’s pleas to make the mother stop. Such a tease, that woman, he said in his sleep, already dreaming. Such a card. Because her mother could no longer walk, the daughter spent the evenings by the bedside listening to rambles. The mother told about the time she’d seen a bear. A bear the size of several men, she said. There in the woods behind our house, when I was still a girl like you. The mother had stood in wonder watching while the bear ate a whole deer. It ate the deer’s cheeks, its eyes, its tongue, its pelt. It ate everything but the antlers. The mother had waited for the bear to leave so she could take the antlers home and wear them, but the bear had just gone on laying, stuffed, smothered in blood. The mother swore then—her eyes grew massive in the telling—the bear had spoken. It’d looked right at the mother and said, quite casual, My god, I was hungry. Its voice was gorgeous, deep and groaning. The mother could hardly move. I didn’t know bears could talk, she said finally, and the bear had said, Of course we can. It’s just that no one ever takes the time to hear. We are old and we are lonely and we have dreams you can’t imagine. . . . Read More.

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