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Six stories

BY Sina Queyras

A story about small labours

Though the man who chooses not to sell the peanuts, but rather to have others sell peanuts for him, is the one who rises to greatness, he is no less, her father is saying, he is no less; the man who sells the peanuts for peanuts is no less, nor is the man who moves stones for the man who moves stones no less than the man for whom men move stones, the man who bends to pick up cigarette butts in the street is no less than the woman who tosses cigarette butts, nor is the woman who trades favours for her children’s milk less than the man she trades favours with, these are the true heroes, the daily ones, the people who face themselves mornings with or without bank accounts and hot coffee, the ones who set out into the cities with nothing but their hands, and back, and feet, who in their ways, move the earth, and are moved daily, without pulse, or net, who know nothing of their power, or if they do are content to keep it smoldering, who believe in whatever comes to them momentarily, a larger paycheque, a cooked goose, this is the truth of the world and what you must remember with every fibre and muscle of your being, and resist too, resist settling, and yet resist settling, you see, to shift the labour from one word to another, from hand to head, to move out of the pick and shovel, the flag waving, and tray carrying, into the world of word and thought, and always burning in you this knowing, work, never forgetting the labours, the sinew of leg and thigh, the standing in of one life for another, the many heads on which we all linger, the sidewalk of arms, the roads of legs and feet we tread upon, the many brows that break with sweat, seen or unseen, that woman with her cloth and bucket, that man in his hard hat, that woman in her white shoes, this man carrying his weight up the mountain, splitting open the forest and laying waste to all untouched because moving through is life and the wave of it unstoppable, you have only to swim to the crest and, when you can, hold out your arms and pull as much of the world forward as you go.

A story about swimming

The Westerhazys’ pool is still there, martini-flat, Helen’s toe dipping like an olive. She’s in need of a massage, but she isn’t budging. Not now. Everything is confused. The seasons jumbled all four in a week, the children coming and going, coming back again. Shirley and Neddy have been chasing each other around the pool all morning, he is getting younger by the lap. Spring comes after summer now, the drinks keep refilling. Still she is surprised when Burt Lancaster appears, walking across the grass on his hands. Well now, she thinks, that is a terrific midriff, but isn’t this a scene from Picnic? Neddy, who has been feeling tired in any case, can’t help but stare either. There is something appealing about watching a more handsome version of himself upside down. Burt flips onto his feet with a flourish. Something smoky in the air? And reaching for Shirley’s glass he says, It’s all going to empty out. What is? Us. The water, the ice cubes? Hold on, I’ll get you a sweater. Neddy clinging to the railing.

A story in which time does not pass

Shlomo took the F train to East Broadway five days a week. He hefted the Torah back and forth, disappearing into the text whether he was sitting or standing, no matter, the words an unfailing chord. Around him nothing but the chafe of a century whose sole purpose, it seemed to him, had been persecution. Day in, day out, he waited for a door to spring open and his people, all his beautiful people, to come streaming out.

A story according to Raymond Carver

Harold, she said. He had been going about his doing. He watched her mouth move, thinking about lips and things entering them. Have you heard? He poured a drink, thought about the liquid going down. The rim of the glass, the curve of her breasts, all things pleasant. Are you hungry? The closer he got to her the further away he felt. What are you thinking about, Harold? The ice in his glass tinkled. Harold? He grabbed for his hair, for the slope of her thigh, suddenly flailing. Forgive me, he wanted to say, but the more he grasped at this idea the further he fell. Have you heard about California? Gone, she said, just like that. Her feet with their solid heels disappearing before him.

After confessions, a story

Down the mall I searched for you, in the dustbins, I confess, hoping for you in the 99 cent bin, at a price attainable, someplace negotiable, but nowhere, I found you nowhere, not even in my looking, my looking for you, which should be you since you conduct and create everything, even my looking, my long looking into poverty, the crowded corners of it, the chastised pits of men without baths, men without hats, I searched for you in the braided halls of business, I didn’t doubt you would hide there, or anywhere, the underbelly, or the marble, pissing in mirrored bathrooms, all of us with our hands on our pricks, waving, there, I looked, and in the underbelly of cities, the confused with their paintbrushes and scalpels, everyone out at midnight on my seventeenth year, knowing fully, suspecting at least, that each look took me further from you, wanting you to be further so that I would have to come to you across deserts, my knees raw and bloody, because that pain, that pain too was you, was coming to you, and so the further I went was really to you, was through you I moved genderless, sexless, all my wanting a great compass moving in every direction to you, rising to you, flailing to you, under the sun to you, moving across the pavement to you in argyle and wool, in cashmere and silk, rolling down the marble aisles to you, finding you in the lips of J. Crew boys, and in vacuous girls with terrible, endless sexual organs, deep as caves, all of them Medeas, all of them threatening with bosom and knife blades, a great castrating chorus which also brought me closer to you, closer to you even as I moved further, wanting as I always wanted, to feel the pain of distance, knowing that you required of your followers this descent in order to ascend, in order to move next to you, great you, holiest of holies, and in you to rest, in you, to know the pleasure of the body as pure movement, as if underwater, or in air, to know tumult with pleasure with pure feeling of your goodness, a salty place of low gravity and endless forgiveness, a place without gender, a place where surely you would hold my head and let me float, momentarily float, even as the earth upheaves and the animals die off slowly, each of them pushed as crumbs before our banquet, your love will buoy us, you will forgive us, you will, like a mother, lay your palm open and resting, the earth will float in goodness and largesse, it will find the atmosphere welcoming and all that is wanting will be benign, this is moving toward, which is life, which is both the dream and the awakening, the path, the motion, the desire, the cold, the warmth, the panic, all you, in glory, in transitory, in you, in longing, in you, in longing, I move.

Beneath the surface of the mind, a sort of story

She has an instinct for attachment. Everything she does is about stroking. Flowers embarrass her. There was never enough. She suspected her mother was a secret drinker. On Saturdays her father played golf. She dreamed of being an only child. There was never any spontaneity. Ever since she has feared gaps. Her mother was a snappy dresser. Her bed always faced north. There was the incident with the portable massager. Her brother did everything right. On Saturdays her mother took her shopping. Other children had horses. There was no excuse for the plaid pants. There were never any books in her house. There was peanut butter and other cruelties. Other children went to summer camp. Her mother could rationalize anything. There were not enough windows in the house. Her brother was a blue-ribbon boy. This was long before air conditioning. Other children went to summer camps. She had unhealthy sexual fantasies. Her mother was a mediocre cook. Her father collected catalogues. Her brother could tell a good joke. Other children went to family dinners. She was the only girl. Everything was very tough. No one understood her. She was never defensive. There was never any art in her home. Everyone thought about communicating. She developed a crush on Tootie in the seventh grade. She repressed her desire to pee standing up. Her brother became a gynecologist. Other children had dance lessons. Wasn’t everything pleasant? She entertained escapist narratives. The house was often dark. Other children had swimming pools. One summer her hair was perfect.

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