• New short fiction, every week.
    The words you know and love . . .
    in a totally different order.

  • 11. The Copy Family

    By Blake Butler

    An exciting week: Here’s the first story we’ve selected from the wide array of submissions from our readers. Blake Butler writes to say that “The Copy Family” is from a book he’s just completed, not yet published. It reminded me of some of Poe’s comic stories, or of Tom Neely’s great graphic novel “The Blot.” Could I describe exactly what it’s about? I’m not sure I could do this odd family story justice. But it will stay with me for a long time.


    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.

    Throughout his life during sleeping the father’d swallowed many things—spiders, dust and dirt, wood shavings, pillow lint, eggs, hair, and rings. He had enough now in his stomach to open a small store. He would not give up.

    The only thing the father’d every really wanted, the only thing, was to host a game show on TV. He’d wear a bolo tie and comb his hair this way and that way the mirror, rehearsing his scripted text. He could have maybe settled for just appearing on a show sometime—any of them—though he had no mind for trivia and his reflexes were just sad.

    In the nights before the new house, the father walked up streets peeping through windows. He’d seen the light in other houses. He’d seen people in their beds—sometimes moving in the darkness to the bathroom or the stairs. He’d seen so many bodies fuck. In one house he’d seen someone reading about a father at the window in a book. All the houses touched by wire. The grain in the glass in the windows in the frames in the walls in the rooms in the houses in the yards in the streets went on and on.

    The father wanted a certain kind of life to give his family. He wanted a house described by all of who he’d been—or who he’d been then—or that other time—or—and/or—who? The father had not asked the mother or son what she or he thought before he bought the house. The price had been stupendous. Unbeatable. The father could not remember where he’d found the listing. He could not remember what he did not remember—nor would he want to, would he ever. From the outside the new house looked like many other houses.

    There were many things the father did without his wife’s permission.


    The family took the copy family and they set them on the back porch. The father carried the copy father and the mother the copy mother and the son his. The skins of the two families smushed together grunting. Their sweat became commingled.

    The copy family members did not wink or speak or cause commotion. The copy family did not cry.

    The only thing that made the family different from the copy family was instead of teeth the copy family’s mouths were lined with mold. The copy family’s breath came out cold and made no sound.

    The son wanted to play dress up with his copy body but the father smacked the son across the head. The father hated when his son played girl games. The father bought the son a new neon football for Christmas and his birthday every year. The father also bought the son a football on the father’s birthday, a form of begging. Sometimes he found he could convince the son to come out into the yard, though no matter how soft the father threw the ball or how close they stood together, the son could never catch. Even right there. Even touching.

    The son’s hands and fingers always itched. Sometimes the itching spread into his knee. Sometimes the only thing about the son at all was all the itching. The son felt older than he looked.


    In the new house wrung with coarse light, the father locked the doors and sealed the eaves. He had the family play Pretend To Not Be There. They waited to see if the copy family would simply disappear or go away. They waited several hours, peeping. Later they hooted and shook their arms, made fire. They copy family would not retort. The mother found the copy family’s TV dinners in the freezer and from the floor the family ate: defrosted veggie medley, veal cordon bleu. There was even a little cheesecake wrapped in black plastic. The family felt run through. They felt their bodies rumble, squealing. The son asked to take his leftovers out to the dog. He pointed through the window. The father smushed his face against the glass. The dog was an exact copy of the dog the father and mother had had before the son—a chubby Dachshund, dust-gray and well groomed, with a bell around its neck. The dog had come down with diabetes and fell into the mud in the backyard. The dog had been the sweetest dog. The copy dog lay at the copy father’s feet and struggled just to breathe. The copy dog looked into the father’s eyes. The father sent the son to bed. He and the mother went with the son into the certain room they’d let the son himself select—he could have had many other rooms. The bed was deep and clean and padded. The parents took turns kissing the son on the brow, the wrists, the thumbs, the mouth, the teeth, the back, the stomach. The son went right to sleep. Just after, in the hallway, the father touched his hand against his lips, feeling for the cells that’d come off in transference—what parts of himself he’d left upon the son.


    The father and the mother stayed up well into the evening watching the copy family stand. The father and the mother agreed they had to do something—something—what? They could not go on like this, even a little. The copy family had not moved an inch. They could call police but what would happen? Light from the backyard’s sensor-triggered floodlamps clicked on and off without clear provocation.

    The copy family would not go away. The father worked himself into a state, shouting curse words, splaying arms. He went out to the car and got a softball bat he’d used for pick-up games in college—he’d not once had a hit, though he’d been beaned more times than he could count on all the hands in all the houses on the street where his house stood—he could often still remember how the ball felt each time, banging fast into his muscle—how his chest would scrunch and then expand—how sometimes he seemed not there at all. The father stood at the window with the weapon. He threatened legal action. He spoke in unintended rhyme. He said his own name to the copy father. The copy father seemed to have more hair than the father himself did.

    By the time the morning came on gnawing, the father had collapsed. He lay fetal-curled on the laminated kitchen floor, his back against the fridge door, shook. The mother stood over the father. The mother took the softball bat away. She smoothed a blanket over her husband. She covered up his head. She turned on the radio in the intercom that’d been wired to broadcast through the house. There wasn’t music, but people talking. She turned it louder. The voices filled the house. She went out on the porch and stood among the copy family.

    There she was.


    In the copy mother copy’s face skin the mother saw the way the years had run her down—the slow stretched lines of older versions sunk to layers—the cheekbones taut and caked with rouge. The mother hulked her copy body off the ground. The mother carried her copy body in the weird light strumming downward off the shifting sky in sheets. She moved through the crunched grass to the concrete to the swimming pool the house had come with. Her copy body hummed hot and burbled. The mother held herself the way she’d hold a massive baby. She threw her copy body out into the water, watched it splash down, watched it burp. The copy mother did not struggle. The pool was green with straw and algae and old rain. The mother could not see the bottom. The water stunk. A string of silent glassy bubbles rung up from the copy mother’s copy head. Her body sunk into the muck and did not rise. Along the top the mother watched a scrim of pollen slosh in waves. The windows of the house next door were all cracked open and opaque. The house next door to that house did not have doors or windows, walls at all.

    7. CLOSER

    The mother found the copy father’s skin felt rather pleasant—softer than her husband’s—responsive to her touch. She spread her fingers in the short soft hair over his forearm. She whispered in his ear. She said the things she’d meant to say.

    She closed the copy father’s eyes.

    When the copy father’s body hit the water, his polo shirt soaked darker several shades. The copy father’s skin became distended. The water boiled. The copy father’s copy body tried a while to stay floating on the pool’s surface in the muck but the mother pushed it down. She held it under with her foot and then the pool net. The moon hung over the backyard had a sliver missing from its center.

    Suddenly the mother felt a voracious thirst for pork.


    The mother returned from what she’d done then to stand above the copy of her son. There was very little about his copy body that betrayed any major difference from the son—in fact, if the mother didn’t know for sure already the son was upstairs curled in the new bed the father and the mother had bought him—no more nits yet in the mattress, nothing eating where he slept—if she wasn’t sure for sure the true version of her boy was up there with his dream eyes spinning in his head—wasn’t he?—if she hadn’t put him there herself—she wasn’t sure that she could tell him from this child here—this child with the same scar along his forearm like the one the son had gotten fallen fainting from a tree—he was not supposed to have been walking yet—he’d been bedridden for so long—trying to reach the sun, he’d explained later. This child here had the same black pockmarks where disease had come into the son’s body, searching his flesh for what it wanted—when the son had stayed alive the doctors seemed more nervous than relieved—how peculiar, they kept saying, it’s against science. This child here had the same blonde bowl-cut hair like the son, hair the mother could barely bring herself to snip, every inch of him her precious—such nights she’d dreamed of his insides, swimming deep inside his cells. This child, this boy—he was made of her, and she was made of him.

    No, the mother could not bring herself again to do the thing she’d done twice just now already. The mother peeped through the window from the outside to make sure her husband was still sleeping, curled. Under the blanket, she watched him wriggle. The father had always been a rowdy sleeper. Most nights he kept the mother up straight through till morning. The mother slept most in the day, if ever. The sleeping father spoke in languages the mother had not heard—if she’d heard them she could not remember. The sleeping father chewed his skin to bits.

    In a hurry, slunk and brooding, knowing what the father, waking, might have to say, the mother fire-lifted her son’s copy body on her shoulder and carried him silent through the night. She moved into the dark lip of trees grown up and out around the house, into which no fake light showed. She carried the body through the thick murk, keeping careful not to fall. The earth around was eaten up with tunnel. There was wobble. There was grease. There were animals out here somewhere. She could hear their tiny teeth. There were holes in the soil that led to somewhere. The mother moved by feel. The mother carried her son’s copy body through the forest through a tunnel lined with crud. Through the tunnel came a clearing. Set in the clearing there was wire. The wire scorched the mother’s hand. Still she knew what she was seeking. She knew that she would know.

    When she arrived in, at, and/or among some small exact place, the mother set the copy son’s soft copy body down.


    Here is Blake Butler!


    1. Mike Young on March 16, 2009 :

      Sweet! Great story.

    2. Ken on March 16, 2009 :

      This story is great. The language, the language… Guh. Hypnotic and horrifying and beautiful.

    3. Matt on March 17, 2009 :

      The style to this, so clean and crisp. I feel in a trance when read fast enough. Wonderful!

    4. Gene on March 17, 2009 :

      That second to last paragraph just blew my mind.

    5. h dav on March 17, 2009 :

      I enjoyed this one. Green pools and wet pollen make my skin crawl. Want more.

    6. David Erlewine on March 18, 2009 :

      Hypnotic is a good way to put it. I woke up at 2 a.m. to grab a handful of cheerios so I could sleep for two more hours before work and now, 15 minutes later, I’m in a daze. Holy F was that a GD great story.

    7. Didi on March 18, 2009 :

      Blake – I want a signed copy of the book!

    8. Antique iron on October 5, 2010 :

      The only thing the father’d every really wanted, the only thing, was to host a game show on TV.

    9. Best Friends Quotes on November 21, 2010 :

      Good post. Thanks.

    10. Dyontae on November 30, 2010 :

      shut up

    11. Dyontae on November 30, 2010 :

      na only jokes

    12. Dyontae on November 30, 2010 :

      ahmeds a gay cunt

    13. bobb on March 18, 2013 :


    14. jeet on July 13, 2013 :


    6 Trackbacks

    1. […] The Copy Family by Blake Butler Date Read: 21 March 2009 Available Online?: YES (as one of the stories posted by Harper Perennial on their website Fifty-Two Stories, which […]

    2. […] Fifty-Two Stories with Cal Morgan is a ‘New Delivery Service’ from Harper Perennial intent on publishing a short story a week for an entire year. Of the site, Cal Morgan writes: This year we’re celebrating the thriving art of the story by sharing a new one every week: most of them new, a few of them classics, from authors you know and some you don’t, each of them treasurable in its language or wit or human insight. […]

    3. […] There is No Year [working title] by Blake Butler. Harper Perennial. tba. Read an excerpt. […]

    4. […] story, “The Copy Family,” is about a family that moves into a new and lovely home and finds exact copies of themselves […]

    5. Keehnan Konyha on December 4, 2011


    6. […] The Copy Family by Blake Butler Share this:ShareEmailPrintStumbleUponTwitterTumblrPinterestGoogle +1FacebookLike this:Like Loading… This entry was posted in short stories and tagged short stories. Bookmark the permalink. ← First Sentence Friday […]

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