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    June 2009

    26. Broken Star

    By Jennifer Haigh

    I met my aunt Melanie in the summer of 1974, an August of high bright days, so dry that my father had to oil our front lane to keep the dust down. I was fifteen, midway through high school and deadened by its sameness. I could scarcely remember what had preceded it, or begin to imagine what might follow.

    “You don’t remember me, do you? You were so little when I left.” Melanie climbed into the front seat of our station wagon, next to my father. This was my mother’s usual place, surrendered out of courtesy since Melanie was a guest. She had arrived with her stepdaughter Tilly on the Greyhound bus from Pensacola, Florida. Tilly, who was eight, shared the backseat with me and my mother.

    “Not exactly,” I said, though I had heard about Melanie my whole life: my mother’s sister, the youngest of seven, the midlife baby who’d surprised my grandmother after two miscarriages. I was an ‘oops,’ Melanie would tell me later, a confession that shocked and thrilled me. I’d never heard an adult allude to such matters. We were not that kind of family.

    There was a rustling sound as she rifled through her shopping bags. “For Regina,” she said, handing me a small unwrapped box. Inside was a pair of earrings, the dangling kind I admired, decorated with tiny seashells. These were made for pierced ears, so I wouldn’t be able to wear them. . . . Read More.

    25. Immortal

    By Alex Burrett

    If you’re lucky enough to own a piece of land, whether it’s just enough for two folding chairs and a wine bottle, or expansive enough for herds of buffalo, there’s one thing I can guarantee you: things will happen in your corner of the Earth about which you’ll never know anything. Land is like time—it holds many secrets.

    Our land comprised twelve acres of mainly pasture—that’s enough real estate to keep a dozen or so cattle, a couple of ponies, a dog and a handful of cats. Which is what we kept. At the center, the heart of the territory, was our home: a centuries-old stone cottage. It had grown, like a hollow granite cancer, in spits and spats, since the foundation rock was laid. When it was still small, it was one of several stone cottages that once formed a thriving hamlet. For a reason I’ll reveal later, although the rest withered, ours grew. Evidence of the hamlet’s former glory was easy to find. The remains of two other dwellings, ravaged by neglect, stood in our fields. Further multi-cell stone outlines could be found under leaf mold in the woods beyond the pasture. All were remnants of once-cherished manmade growths, rendered useless by the neutralization of their human nuclei. In themselves, these earth-covered granite floor plans are nothing particularly special—the world is tattooed all over with the markings of lost micro and macro civilizations. But there’s more to this tale than archaeology.

    Every hundred years or so, someone on this planet doesn’t die when they should. They get to a certain age, then stop aging. Our immortal is one of them. He lives under the remains of the cottage in the North Field. That ruin is distinctively, noticeably, different from all the rest. It stands out. There is a lot more left of it than the cottages in the East Field, the West Field, or among the trees beyond. . . . Read More.

    24. Alyosha the Pot

    By Leo Tolstoy

    Alyosha was a younger brother. He was nicknamed “the Pot,” because once, when his mother sent him with a pot of milk for the deacon’s wife, he stumbled and broke it. His mother thrashed him soundly, and the children in the village began to tease him, calling him “the Pot.” Alyosha the Pot: and this is how he got his nickname.

    Alyosha was a skinny little fellow, lop-eared—his ears stuck out like wings—and with a large nose. The children always teased him about this, too, saying “Alyosha has a nose like a gourd on a pole!”

    There was a school in the village where Alyosha lived, but reading and writing and such did not come easy for him, and besides there was no time to learn. His older brother lived with a merchant in town, and Alyosha had begun helping his father when still a child. When he was only six years old, he was already watching over his family’s cow and sheep with his younger sister in the common pasture. And long before he was grown, he had started taking care of their horses day and night. From his twelfth year he plowed and carted. He hardly had the strength for all these chores, but he did have a certain manner—he was always cheerful. When the children laughed at him, he fell silent or laughed himself. If his father cursed him, he stood quietly and listened. And when they finished and ignored him again, he smiled and went back to whatever task was before him.

    When Alyosha was nineteen years old, his brother was taken into the army; and his father arranged for Alyosha to take his brother’s place as a servant in the merchant’s household. He was given his brother’s old boots and his father’s cap and coat and was taken into town. Alyosha was very pleased with his new clothes, but the merchant was quite dissatisfied with his appearance.

    “I thought you would bring me a young man just like Semyon,” said the merchant, looking Alyosha over carefully. “But you’ve brought me such a sniveler. What’s he good for?” . . . Read More.

    23. Graduate Seminar

    By Dennis Cooper

    Artist: . . . and that’s a work on paper entitled Mirror Not Mirror from my recent show at Hilton Perreault Gallery. Any questions?

    Art student: I wonder if you would mind talking about your older work, especially Railroad Tie (1972)?

    Artist: Do I mind? Yes. Do I know it’s expected of me? Yes. Switch to slide tray number two, please.

    Art student: I know you must be tired of talking about Railroad Tie, but, speaking as an aspiring artist, it changed my life, so—

    Artist: Yes, I’m sure it did. Changed mine as well, as you are no doubt aware. Please show the first slide.

    Artist: That’s Ty Wilson, need I say, who, according to the history books, collaborated with me on Railroad Tie, and who is now of course very famous, more famous in fact than myself, even though he never made a single artwork on his own and did nothing with regards to Railroad Tie apart from appearing in it. . . . Read More.

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