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    March 2009

    13. The Dream of a Ridiculous Man

    By Fyodor Dostoyevsky

    I am a ridiculous man. They call me a madman now. That would be a distinct rise in my social position were it not that they still regard me as being as ridiculous as ever. But that does not make me angry any more. They are all dear to me now even while they laugh at me—yes, even then they are for some reason particularly dear to me. I shouldn’t have minded laughing with them—not at myself, of course, but because I love them—had I not felt so sad as I looked at them. I feel sad because they do not know the truth, whereas I know it. Oh, how hard it is to be the only man to know the truth! But they won’t understand that. No, they will not understand.

    And yet in the past I used to be terribly distressed at appearing to be ridiculous. No, not appearing to be, but being. I’ve always cut a ridiculous figure. I suppose I must have known it from the day I was born. At any rate, I’ve known for certain that I was ridiculous ever since I was seven years old. Afterward I went to school, then to the university, and—well—the more I learned, the more conscious did I become of the fact that I was ridiculous. So that for me my years of hard work at the university seem in the end to have existed for the sole purpose of demonstrating and proving to me, the more deeply engrossed I became in my studies, that I was an utterly absurd person. And as during my studies, so all my life. Every year the same consciousness that I was ridiculous in every way strengthened and intensified in my mind. They always laughed at me. But not one of them knew or suspected that if there were one man on earth who knew better than anyone else that he was ridiculous, that man was I. And this—I mean, the fact that they did not know it—was the bitterest pill for me to swallow. But there I was myself at fault. I was always so proud that I never wanted to confess it to anyone. . . . Read More.

    12. The Pace of Youth

    By Stephen Crane

    Stimson stood in a corner and glowered. He was a fierce man and had indomitable whiskers, albeit he was very small.

    “That young tarrier,” he whispered to himself. “He wants to quit makin’ eyes at Lizzie. This is too much of a good thing. First thing you know, he’ll get fired.”

    His brow creased in a frown, he strode over to the huge open doors and looked at a sign. “Stimson’s Mammoth Merry-Go-Round,” it read, and the glory of it was great. Stimson stood and contemplated the sign. It was an enormous affair; the letters were as large as men. The glow of it, the grandeur of it was very apparent to Stimson. At the end of his contemplation, he shook his head thoughtfully, determinedly. “No, no,” he muttered. “This is too much of a good thing. First thing you know, he’ll get fired.”

    A soft booming sound of surf, mingled with the cries of bathers, came from the beach. There was a vista of sand and sky and sea that drew to a mystic point far away in the northward. In the mighty angle, a girl in a red dress was crawling slowly like some kind of spider on the fabric of nature. A few flags hung lazily above where the bathhouses were marshaled in compact squares. Upon the edge of the sea stood a ship with its shadowy sails painted dimly upon the sky, and high overhead in the still, sun-shot air a great hawk swung and drifted slowly.

    Within the merry-go-round there was a whirling circle of ornamental lions, giraffes, camels, ponies, goats, glittering with varnish and metal that caught swift reflections from windows high above them. With stiff wooden legs, they swept on in a never-ending race, while a great orchestrion clamored in wild speed. . . . Read More.

    11. The Copy Family

    By Blake Butler


    When the family came to live in the new house, they found another family already there. An exact copy of their family—a copy father, mother, and son. The copy family members stood each in a room alone unblinking. The copy family would not speak when spoken in to—though they had heartbeat, they were breathing. Their copy eyes were wet and stretched with strain. Their copy skin felt like our skin. Their copy hearts beat at their chests.

    The father flicked the copy father on the arm there by the window in the kitchen—the window where on so many coming days the father would look out onto the yard—the yard where the copy family had moved and laughed and dug and thought and fought and seen the sky change color. The father watched the copy father flinch. The copy father’s fat ring finger had on thirteen copy rings. In the copy father’s copy eyes the father could read his other’s current scrolling copy thoughts:

    This is my house.

    This is our house.

    This is where I am.

    2. HOUSES

    The father’d bought the house with paper money. He’d worked for years and years. If asked he could not say for certain what the work was. Mostly all he did all day any day was look into a blank screen flush with light. Sometimes the father looked at porn or ads or sports scores, but mostly just the light. The father had fat fingers. . . . Read More.

    10. The Babysitter’s Code

    By Laura Lippman

    The rules, the real ones, have seldom been written down, yet every girl knows them. (The boys who babysit don’t, by the way. They eat too much, they leave messes, they break vases while roughhousing with the kids, but the children adore the boys who babysit, so they still get invited back.) The rules are intuitive, as are most things governing the behavior of teenage girls. Your boyfriend may visit unless it’s explicitly forbidden, but the master bedroom is always off-limits, just as it would be in your own house. Eat what you like, but never break the seal on any bag or box. Whatever you do, try to erase any evidence of your presence in the house by evening’s end. The only visible proof of your existence should be a small dent on a sofa cushion, preferably at the far end, as if you were too polite to stretch across its entire length. Finally, be careful about how much food you consume. No parent should come home and peer into the Pringles can—or the Snackwell’s box or the glass jar of the children’s rationed Halloween candy—and marvel at your capacity. There is nothing ruder than a few crumbs of chips at the bottom of a bag, rolled and fastened with one of those plastic clips, or a single Mint Milano resting in the last paper cup.

    Terri Snyder, perhaps the most in-demand babysitter in all of River Run, knew and followed all these rules. Once when she was at the Morrows’ house, she discovered a four-pound can of pistachio nuts and got a little carried away. And while the canister was so large that it provided cover for her gluttony, the shells in the trash can left no doubt as to how much she had eaten. To conceal the grossness of her appetite, she packed those shells in her knapsack and the pockets of her ski jacket. Riding home in the front seat of Ed Morrow’s Jeep Cherokee, she realized she was rattling softly, but Mr. Morrow seemed to think it was the car’s heater. The next time she babysat for the Morrows, she found another canister of pistachios, a sure sign of trust. . . . Read More.

    9. What Saffi Knew

    By Carol Windley

    That summer a boy went missing from a field known as the old potato farm, although no one could remember anything growing there but wild meadow barley, thistles in their multitudes, black lilies with a stink of rotten meat if you brought your face too close or tried to pick them. There were white fawn lilies like stars fallen to earth and bog-orchids, also called candle-scent, and stinging nettles, blameless to look at, leaves limp as flannel, yet caustic and burning to the touch. Even so, nettle leaves could be brewed into a tea that acted on the system like a tonic, or so Saffi’s aunt told her. She recited a little rhyme that went: Nettle tea in March, mugwort leaves in May, and all the fine maidens will not go to clay.

    Imagine a field, untended, sequestered, grass undulating in a fitful wind. Then disruption, volunteer members of the search party arriving, milling around, uniformed police and tracking dogs, distraught relatives of the missing boy. No place for a child, Saffi’s mother said, yet here Saffi was, holding tight to her aunt’s hand, taking everything in.

    All the people were cutout dolls. The sun hovered above the trees like a hot-air balloon cut free. Saffi’s shoes were wet from walking in the grass; she was wearing a sundress that tied at the back of her neck and she kept scratching at mosquito bites on her arms and legs until they bled and her Aunt Loretta said she’d give herself blood poisoning, but Saffi didn’t stop, she liked how it felt, it gave her something to do. She could see her daddy, standing a little apart from the others, drinking coffee from a paper cup. He was a young man then, tall, well-built, his hair a sprightly reddish-brown, his head thrown back, eyes narrowed in concentration, as if he hoped to be first to catch sight of any unusual movement in the woods, down near the river. Saffi looked where he was looking and saw a flitting movement in the trees like a turtledove, its silvery wings spread like a fan and its voice going coo-coo, the sound a turtledove would make when it was home and could rest at last. But there was no turtledove. Never would there be a turtledove. Saffi was the only one who knew. But who would listen to her? . . . Read More.

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