In Broken Pencil, Susan Read shares short fiction centered on a Kafka-esque interrogation in the back room of a coffee shop — you know, the one where they wear the green aprons — that’s a stinging indictment of the byzantine policies, procedures, and psychology of being a low wage employee.
I wonder if my manager thinks I did this. If my friends think I did this.
I mean, I would think I did this, if I wasn’t me.
It’s hot and I feel anxious and I feel angry and I feel…guilty.
And then I feel even angrier, and I think about how hard I have worked for Tarsucks, how I am probably the best barista at my store, and instead of a farewell party, I will be walking out of this place with my tail between my legs, and my head down, hoping that no one will notice the tears that are now readily streaming down my face in fear and anxiety and frustration.
I take a sip of water.
I lift up the form I was handed and notice another beneath it. It has a similar format: fill in the blanks and sign your name, we’ll take care of the rest.
I _________ do hereby permit __________to ________ me up the _____.
Actually, the form authorizes Tarsucks to compensate the stolen money directly from my paychecks until full restoration of funds is received.
It is a confession, typed up and waiting for me to sign.
I sit back in my chair, crying a little but no longer fidgeting, still sweating in that tiny back office, which I am free to leave at any time. I wait for my tribunal to reconvene.
Our latest Longreads Exclusive is “Rainy Season,” a short story from Beasts & Children, Amy Parker’s acclaimed debut collection. The book’s interlinked stories unwind the lives of three families, casting a cool eye on the wreckage of childhood and the nuances of family history.
“Rainy Season” is nightmarish but entrancing—two young American sisters living in Thailand sneak out of their diplomatic compound and into the Chiang Mai night with a trio of Korean businessmen who have mistaken them for prostitutes. Parker’s sentences are lyrical and brutal, her gaze both kaleidoscopic and piercingly straightforward.
Sara Majka | Longreads | October 2015 | 23 minutes (5,561 words)
Our latest Longreads Exclusive is a previously unpublished short story by Sara Majka, as chosen by Longreads contributing editor A. N. Devers, who writes:
“This short story, about a woman who decides to travel to from city to city, working and eating in soup kitchens, is the previously unpublished title story from a collection I have been wishing and longing for for almost a decade. I first met Sara Majka in a fiction workshop at the Bennington Writing Seminars, where we both were enrolled as students. At the time, I was a new assistant editor at A Public Space and I brought Majka’s work to the attention of editor Brigid Hughes. If I recall correctly, her story was the only story I brought from my workshop directly to the magazine for consideration. It was a quiet and considered story with a singular voice. I was struck by how certain and precise the language was—how unusual and full of unspoken yearnings. She was able to convey so much disorientation, doubt, and pain through small observations and deceptively simple memories. Majka’s characters read as if they are feeling their way through a room with their eyes closed even though the lights are on—the reality of what is in front of them is difficult for them to process, the choices they are faced with confusing—despite their sincere attempts to find their way.
The story I showed Hughes ultimately did not end up in the magazine, (I later found it a home at Pen America), but she was more than intrigued, and later published another story and began a working relationship with Majka that led to the forthcoming publication of Cities I’ve Never Lived In, as a part of A Public Space Books, their imprint with Graywolf Press. These stories are a marvel and will break your heart. Majka’s debut is breath-stopping.”
Dorthe Nors | Longreads | August 2015 | 8 minutes (1,904 words)
Our latest Longreads Exclusive is a previously unpublished short story by Danish writer Dorthe Nors, translated into English by Misha Hoekstra, and chosen by Longreads contributing editor A. N. Devers, who writes:
“I first came across the intriguingly sparse work of Dorthe Nors in the pages of the literary magazine, A Public Space. And then the magazine went on to publish her first short story collection translated into English, Karate Chop, in partnership with Graywolf Press, and it became one of my favorite books last year. Although her stories are quite short, they are flashes of sharp and bright light into the otherwise obscure and dark corners of life. Last winter, a particularly cold and brutal season for New York, I helped curate a reading series for a temporary exhibition space called Winter Shack, themed around the idea of exploring the concept of “coziness.” In Denmark, I’d learned the pursuit of being cozy is a particular philosophy with its own rules and traditions, undertaken to beat the winter doldrums. We were lucky that Nors was game to send along an introduction to the Danish custom of cozy as well as an original short story that demonstrates the dangers of pursuing its creature comforts. Longreads is proud to be the first publisher of this eye-opening story about the happiest people in the world.”
The truth was that the Mister had always been dishonest. Not with his feelings but with his heart. He would be the first to tell you how honest he was about his dishonesties. He was like a chronic bed-wetter; he could not control himself. He would always be a bed-wetter even if he were not given a drop to drink. He had no wish to overcome this weakness. A big overgrown child indulging in whatever he saw, his eyes bigger than his pajarito.
And so Missus Rivera surrounded herself with animals. For what could be better than creatures when one has been betrayed, what finer emblem of loyalty and steadfastness and pure love.
Puro amor y amor puro. That’s what each pet gave her, pure and clean. Pure love and only love. Who wouldn’t want that?
“¿Quién quiere amor?” Missus called out. It was as if she was giving away treats and not simply love, for the creatures rose from all corners of the house and courtyard…
…The Guacamaya, who had the most acute hearing of all the household, stretched out his feathered neck, revealing flesh as pink as a toreador’s stockings, batted magnificent wings, bobbed like a prizefighter, the black orbs of his eyes growing larger, then smaller, larger, smaller, until finally he shrieked with wicked pleasure, “¿Quién quiere amor?” in the voice of a crone, as if making a mockery of the Missus.
-From “Puro Amor,” a new short story by The House on Mango Street author Sandra Cisneros–seemingly based on Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera–in The Washington Post’s 2015 Fiction Issue (second story, below one by Curtis Sittenfeld and above another one by Padgett Powell).
Our latest Longreads Exclusive is a short story from Almost Famous Women, a collection by Megan Mayhew Bergman, as recommended by Longreads contributor A. N. Devers, who writes:
“In her vital and poignant themed story collection, Megan Mayhew Bergman explores the interior lives of women who lived on the precipice of notoriety before falling into obscurity. The story here, ‘Who Killed Dolly Wilde?,’ delves into the unusual life and mysterious death of Oscar Wilde’s niece, Dorothy Wilde, building a rich portrait of a witty and wild bon vivant who dated both men and women (but mostly women), drove an ambulance in World War I, and fell prey to dangerous addictions. Bergman daringly imagines Wilde’s last days suffering with cancer and her addictions as something other than what history has recorded, which leaves a unsettling and dangerous aftertaste in the reader’s mouth—if we write women out of history, we never know the truth of things.”
Huckleberry seized my hand, clasping it so tight he brought back in a quick flood of feelings those years with the Widow Watson, and whispered as if he wanted only me and not his friend to hear, “You take care of yourself, Jim, and keep out of all that trouble, please, cause this world is about ready to break wide open, and I sure don’t want to see you get swallowed up.”
“A result of living in a place as inescapably public as New York City is that its people are deeply private in public spaces — eye contact on the street and subways is actively discouraged and conversation between strangers is kept to a minimum — making it easy to forget that its greatest asset is the stories of its people. We’re reminded of this in “Between Generals” a quiet and nuanced portrait of a man by the late Italian writer Antonio Tabucchi, in which we learn about the complicated history of one of New York City’s immigrants, a former Hungarian General who realizes he spent one of his best days with his worst enemies. Newly translated into English by novelist Martha Cooley and Antonio Romani for Archipelago Books, Tabucchi’s stories in Time Ages in a Hurryare careful, nuanced, and smartly skeptical of memory and experience.
“Long before ‘Real Housewives of New Jersey’ castmember (and Danbury Federal Correctional Institution Inmate) Teresa Giudice infamously stated, ‘I don’t want to live in somebody else’s house. That’s gross,’ the late Argentinian writer Silvina Ocampo wrote “The House Made of Sugar,” a story about a woman named Cristina who is too superstitious to live in a house that had been previously occupied. Her husband deceives her and when they move into their dream home based upon his lie, strange and worrisome things start to happen that suggest Cristina’s fears were warranted. Newly translated into English by Daniel Balderston, with a preface by Borges, Ocampo’s stories are unsettling and off-kilter, revelatory and readable. Novelist Helen Oyeyemi writes in the collection’s introduction, ‘Love is as fearsome in an Ocampo story as it is in Wuthering Heights; emotion has a way of sealing us into a charmed circle that makes us incomprehensible to everyone who stands outside it.'”