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    May 2009

    22. Looking for the Elephant

    By Jo Kyung Ran

    The Polaroid camera I have is a Polaroid Spectra. It uses film about 1.5 times larger than an ordinary Polaroid, and it’s more expensive. He bought it for my birthday a few years ago. I remember how happy I was when I unwrapped the present and saw it was the camera I had wanted so much. He took the first picture. I’m looking down a little, my head slightly bowed. The lipstick smudge on my wine glass is still plainly visible. I must have asked him, Should I take one of you? He shook his head. With one pack of film you can take ten pictures—there were nine left. He didn’t want me to, but I wish I had taken one of him to keep that day. Because we suddenly broke up shortly after that. And now I can’t love him, and I can’t hate him anymore.

    The camera—I brought it back home and got a shot of my family gathered around the table.

    *

    I usually sleep lying straight, flat on my back. When my stomach bothers me, I roll over onto my left side and fall asleep facing the wall. But no matter what position I sleep in, one of my arms stretches out—like it’s a habit—and ends up dangling down from the bed. Suddenly, I feel the sensation of someone gently holding my hand. I wake with a start. The room is dark. The warmth lingers on my palm. I try flexing the fingers of the hand that dangles from the bed. I feel like somebody sneaked in—he’s lying on the floor or sitting at the foot of the bed, not even a tremor of movement. But I don’t even consider leaping out of bed or quickly snapping on the light. For some reason I don’t think it would be right. . . . Read More.

    21. A Cloud of Facts

    By Margot Livesey

    One October day when the sky above the city of Edinburgh seemed greyer and more solid than the buildings, Morag met Marcel shoplifting. She caught his gaze just as he was sliding a bottle of perfume into the pocket of his raincoat. He stared at her steadily, a man of about thirty whose hair equivocated between fair and brown. Morag thought he might put the perfume back but instead, without taking his eyes off her, he pocketed a second bottle and walked, unhurriedly, out of the shop. When Morag emerged onto Princes Street a few minutes later with her vitamins and handcream, paid for and in a bag, she found him loitering outside the bookshop a few doors down.

    “What rubbish,” he said, gesturing toward a window filled with books about the royal family. “As if there were an inside story, as if we’d know it, if there were. Do you have time for coffee?”

    Morag hesitated, taking in his shiny blue eyes and clean shoes. When she first arrived at Edinburgh University she had had a wild patch, picking up boys on the street, but the overworked angel who looks after young people had taken care of her until she met James. A friend had introduced them because they both liked fishing. On their first date they had caught three trout apiece, and gone on to live together for eight fairly happy years. Morag had moved out last spring, her departure fueled not by any quarrel but by a pervasive sense of staleness. Now outside the other window of the bookshop a man in a kilt began to play the bagpipes. . . . Read More.

    20. Tiger, Tiger

    By Simon Van Booy

    When I first saw Jennifer, I thought she was dead. She was lying facedown on the couch. The curtains were not drawn. Her naked body soaked up the falling moonlight and her back glowed.

    Jennifer was Brian’s mother. When he frantically turned her over, she moaned. Then her arm flew back, viciously but at nothing. Brian told me to call 911, but Jennifer screamed at him not to. Brian switched on a lamp. He kept his distance and said “Mom, Mom.” Then he asked where Dad was. She moaned again. Neither of us knew what to do.

    Brian fetched a bathrobe and laid it across her back. She sat up, then pulled it around herself weakly. The robe was too big and gaped in several places. One of her breasts was visible. I know Brian could see it. It was like an old ashen bird. I made coffee without asking. There was cake in the refrigerator. It said “Tate’s Bakery” on the box. I cut the string. With the same knife I cut three equal pieces. We ate and drank in silence. Jennifer swallowed each forkful quietly; my yoga instructor would have called her mindful. She shook her head from side to side. Then Brian and I watched as Jennifer buried her face in her hands as though she were watching a slideshow of her life projected across her palms.

    On the carpet next to Jennifer’s clothes were several brochures for new cars. There was also a wedding band and a glass of something that had been knocked over. . . . Read More.

    19. The Model Millionaire

    By Oscar Wilde

    Unless one is wealthy there is no use in being a charming fellow. Romance is the privilege of the rich, not the profession of the unemployed. The poor should be practical and prosaic. It is better to have a permanent income than to be fascinating. These are the great truths of modern life which Hughie Erskine never realised. Poor Hughie! Intellectually, we must admit, he was not of much importance. He never said a brilliant or even an ill-natured thing in his life. But then he was wonderfully good-looking, with his crisp, brown hair, his clear-cut profile, and his grey eyes. He was as popular with men as he was with women, and he had every accomplishment except that of making money. His father had bequeathed him his cavalry sword and a History of the Peninsular War in fifteen volumes. Hughie hung the first over his looking-glass, put the second on a shelf between Ruff’s Guide and Bailey’s Magazine, and lived on two hundred a year that an old aunt allowed him. He had tried everything. He had gone on the Stock Exchange for six months; but what was a butterfly to do among bulls and bears? He had been a tea-merchant for a little longer, but had soon tired of pekoe and souchong. Then he had tried selling dry sherry. That did not answer; the sherry was a little too dry. Ultimately he became nothing, a delightful, ineffectual young man with a perfect profile and no profession.

    To make matters worse, he was in love. The girl he loved was Laura Merton, the daughter of a retired Colonel who had lost his temper and his digestion in India, and had never found either of them again. Laura adored him, and he was ready to kiss her shoe-strings. They were the handsomest couple in London, and had not a penny-piece between them. . . . Read More.

    18. Aesthetic Discipline

    By Carolyn Cooke

    My former boyfriend Karim Brazir was an artist and a bohemian. His name rhymed with “Karen,” and in fact his parents, who interestingly misunderstood the name on a trip to Cairo and Istanbul during which Karim was conceived, spelled it that way. His family was eccentric and to me, irresistible. Karim was alluring, sexy, passionate in an intense but oddly impersonal way, almost perverse, maybe even borderline somehow. He used to call me at night in New York, and ask me in a gravelly voice to take a taxi over right away to his loft in a then-vacant part of town. This was romantic, I presumed. Usually, I pushed the brass button next to his name downstairs and he buzzed me up, so that by the time I arrived up the groaning elevator I had to knock on the door, which he opened as if I’d come as a mostly pleasant surprise at 2 A.M.—or a minor interruption to his work. He offered me a beer, or a glass of water, or nothing. Then he pounced, direct and disarming, kissed me roughly, removed my clothes and fucked me with the kind of attention and intensity that he brought to his work, a kind of attention that felt inspiring, even infectious. My participation was welcome, not really necessary. Afterward, to keep me from dozing off, I think, he would feed me something—cold pasta puttanesca from a Ball jar, or some take-out falafels wrapped in silver paper. He’d stand leaning against the loft bed in his kitchen and watch me eat. Then he’d walk me to the street and hail a cab. He’d try to press a five-dollar bill into my hand—not that this would cover the thirty or forty blocks to my apartment—and this insulted me. “Don’t be ridiculous,” I told him, waving the bill away, climbing into the taxi. I was a feminist. . . . Read More.

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