Sunday, May 22, 2016

Short fiction by Luke Mogelson and Raj Ramaswamy

I was staring at a brown sky.  Just moments earlier, a researcher from the United Nations Ornithological Department had told me that fecal particulate from the city's open sewage system made up an alarming proportion of the atmosphere in Kabul.  The researcher was the sort of person who would say, "If you really want something to write about . . ." or "You're looking for a story?  What if I were to tell you . . . ," as if, before meeting him, you had lived in darkness, scribbling claptrap of zero consequence to anybody.  He'd invited me to lunch because he had some urgent information regarding birds.  Something to do with the great migrations above the Hindu Kush, the desertification of Iranian wetlands, mass extinction.  "Have you ever seen a Siberian crane?" he asked me.  "No, you haven't.  No one in Afghanistan has seen a Siberian crane in the past twenty years."
        I pretended to take notes.  My notepad, back then, was mostly pretend notes.  Many of the pages featured detailed sketches of me killing myself by various means.  One especially tedious interviewwith a mullah, another fucking mullah holding forth from behind a vertical index fingerhad yielded a kind of comic strip of me leaping from a skyscraper, shooting myself in midair, and landing in front of a bus. . . . 
--From "Total Solar," a short story by Luke Mogelson, The New Yorker (February 29, 2016), pp. 58-63.

"Thank you, come again," this cop is saying in an impressive fake accent.  He's saying it to me, even though I'm the one standing here behind the register.  Even though I'm the quote-unquote Indian guy.  He's saying it to me because I won't say it to him, never have, never will.  I force a grin at him, and he pushes on out into the night, free coffee in hand.  It's this routine he has.  A joke.
--From "Night Shift," a short story by Raj Ramaswamy, Exposition Review (Flash 405, November 2015).

Short fiction from a collection of scary fairy tales by Ludmilla Petrushevskaya

There once lived a woman who hated her neighbora single mother with a small child.  As the child grew and learned to crawl, the woman would sometimes leave a pot of boiling water in the corridor, or a container full of bleach, or she'd just spread out a whole box of needles right there in the hall.  The poor mother didn't suspect anythingher little girl hadn't learned to walk yet, and she didn't let her out in the corridor during the winter when the floor was cold.  But the time was fast approaching when her daughter would be able to leave the room on her own.  The mother would say to her neighbor, "Raya, sweetie, you dropped your needles again," at which point Raya would blame her poor memory.  "I'm always forgetting things," she'd say.  
        They'd once been friends. . . .   
(From "Revenge," pp. 7-11.)

There once lived a girl who was killed, then brought back to life.  That is, her parents were told that the girl was dead, but they couldn't have the body (they had all been riding the bus together; the girl was standing up front at the time of the explosion, and her parents were sitting behind her).  The girl was just fifteen, and she was thrown back by the blast. . . .
(From "The Fountain House," pp. 97-107, also published in English in a slightly different form in the August 21, 2009 issue of The New Yorker.)

She's a tall, grown-up, married woman now, but she was once an orphan living with her grandmother, who had taken her in when the girl's mother disappeared. . . .   
(From "The Shadow Life," pp. 108-114.)

There is clearly someone in the house.  Walk into the bedroom: something falls in the living room.  Look for the cat: it's sitting on the little table in the front hall, its ears pricked up; it clearly heard something, too.  Walk into the living room: a scrap of paper has fallen, all by itself, from the piano, with someone's phone number on it, you can't tell whose.  It just flew off the piano soundlessly and lies on the carpet, white and alone. . . . 
        Someone isn't being careful, thinks the woman who lives here.  Someone isn't even trying to hide anymore.  
        A person can be afraid of rodents, insects, little ants in the bath, even a lonely cockroach that's stumbled into your apartment in a drugged state, fleeing the disinfection campaign at the neighbors'—which is to say, he's just standing naked and defenseless, in plain view.  But a person can be afraid of anything when she's alone with her cat and everyone has departed, all her old family, leaving this little human roach completely by herself, unprotected. . . .   
(From "There's Someone in the House," pp. 124-138.)

--From There Once Lived a Woman Who Tried to Kill Her Neighbor's Baby: Scary Fairy Tales, a collection of short fiction by Ludmilla Petrushevskaya, selected and translated from the Russian by Keith Gessen and Anna Summers (Penguin Books, 2009).