The Bag Man

They took off for Buenos Aires from Kennedy at dusk of a perfect late October day. Sixty-nine year old Jeremiah Sapir had breakfasted on black coffee and strawberries that sparkled like rubies in cream in his room at the Essex House overlooking the autumnal splendor of Central Park. He had lunched among the fronds in the Palm Court of the Plaza Hotel with his daughter Sonia. They had had a nice visit. Sonia, nearing forty-five, was displeased with this and that. She tried to hide it from her father. But it glimmered through and roused him to indignation. It charged him with energy and made him feel young again. For an hour or so, she was once more his. He had given her a check for five thousand dollars. That was modest. Did his mind play tricks on him? Or did she look now exactly as Estelle had once looked? If Sam didn’t like it that he gave her money, then she didn’t need to tell him. Truth was always a relative matter. Where his daughter was concerned a father had ineradicable privileges. He’d paid for them. Magnificently awkward as Noah’s ark reincarnate in steel and aluminum, the 747 quivered and shook as it started down the runway. Yet it managed to lift itself up into the air, to become a shining snub-nosed creature of the ether. Jeremiah Sapir loved to fly. Jonah had never known the belly of a whale like this one. Jeremiah was of the generation for whom flying could never become matter of fact. Although he’d flown in his lifetime more than a million miles,...

Varienikii

Marinka’s voice on the phone was high and strained, like a collar caught cat struggling against strangling. Katerina knew immediately something was terribly wrong. Katerina lived in Delaware in sight of the ocean. The wind had been blowing in from the sea for three days. When it gusted it made whistling noises through the trees and against the houses. Katerina flew out to Michigan the next morning. He thought he had the flu, wouldn’t go to see the doctor. Now Ned, her daughter’s husband was in the ground under the oak up on the hill by the pond where the geese were. The sun was dazzling bright for the funeral. November wind blew and sculpted hollows in the water.† A few late leaves, brown and crisp, whirled down, hit and scuttled along the ground until they stuck.† Ned had died of a heart attack in the night, the same way his father had died at the same age, fifty-one. He left four daughters. Only Veronica, the second was married.† A short broad shouldered white-haired woman in a black dress, Katerina stood shoeless in the middle of the brick red linoleoum of the kitchen. She held her arms crossed, hugging her chest just below her bosom. The neighbors had brought food in pots and pans of all different shapes and colors. Crowding the counter top by the sink and spilling over onto the stove, they made a bright variegated society of their own. Marinka was upstairs in the bedroom, maybe resting, maybe not. Katerina knew Marinka needed to be alone. Her own husband, Marinka’s father, had died eighteen months earlier....

Znarf Akfak

When Znarf Akfak awakened the first orange morning on Meta-4 everything around him seemed familiar and, for that reason, unsettling. He had no memory of how he had arrived at this particular location, but that was not unusual. Znarf was one of the more experienced agents in a little known department of the confederation bureaucracy called the Office of Peripheral Anomalies. The appropriation which supported it did not even appear openly in the budget of the confederation. A different line with a different bland title concealed it each quadrennium. As part of his work, which had no specified value either to himself or to others, Znarf travelled often by the method of transcendental displacement. When you went this way, there was no retracing your steps. Even if you were convinced that you had made your journey in a distinct sequence, it could be demonstrated that your account suffered from all sorts of gaps, peculiar shadings and even glaring contradictions. All who travelled by transcendental displacement developed a taste for trying to give an account of how they had reached their destinations. The question had been investigated with customary thoroughness by the Office of Central Anomalies, which had concluded that these testimonials of the travellers themselves were no more reliable than any other data concerning the peculiar method. Although the matter had not been resolved once and for all, it did seem to be the case that it was of the essence of the method that no complete and consistent account of its workings could be given. One intriguing correlation had emerged from the longitudinal study by the Office of...

The Abominable Snowman

This is a story of the far-off Kingdom of Para. Few people from Africa, Europe or the Americas have ever visited Para, for it is located in a wild mountainous region at the base of the towering Himalayas. There are no roads into the country. In order to reach even the capital city, one must march for three weeks along narrow paths winding through dark jungles of dense bamboo. These jungles are among the most beautiful in the world, but they are the domain of the wily and cruel leopard, and he is jealous of intruders. Because it is so hard to get to, Para receives few visitors. There is nothing to disturb the peaceful, isolated life of the Paraese. Although their forefathers were fierce warriors, the people of Para no longer remember their ways. The last Paraese maker of poisoned arrows and lances died over a century ago, poor and unhonored, without even a son to follow him in his craft. The events of our story took place long ago, soon after the fierce forefathers of the Paraese, driven from the South by even fiercer warriors, had come to settle in the fertile valley of Xhatmand, at the base of the great Gauri Shankar glacier. By now, they have long since been forgotten. When they took place, during the sixth year of the reign of Ahir Gupta, one of the strongest and wisest of Paraese kings, Rana Doti was a young herd boy. Each morning, after he drank his bowl of curd, he would gather his father’s flock of sheep and goats together and climb with them to...

Perdiquaag

She went up early, three weeks before the solstice. She sat in the green Adirondack chair on the front lawn. She wrestled it forward until it was just three or four yards back from the staircase that led down to the dock. She did this herself even though it was very hard for her. She went out to sit in it after the morning fog had lifted, so that she could look out on the ocean and track with her eyes how it shifted between blues and grays, mingled them and then veered off in one direction or another, towards spangled bright or towards a more solemn sullen uniformity of dull. She may have been in pain sitting there, but the pain had become such a constant companion that she wasn’t always aware of it. Sometimes when it dimmed, she was surprised to notice that she missed it. She knew that she didn’t have that much time left. It wasn’t about measuring it. She just knew it, but didn’t tell anyone. What would be the point of telling them, anyway? This was personal. It was private. It was the last intimacy that she had with herself within herself. When you hurt for a long time, you started to see yourself as nothing more or less than a peculiar illusion. She thought of her rages and her lusts, of the different bodies she had worn, of the bodies that had come forth from hers. Her four children bobbed on the water like buoys. They were no different than the other buoys that marked anchorages in the harbor. She found herself...

Pascal

Pascal was five that summer, a demiurge of childhood, unconscious of the life and beauty that brimmed over in him and spilled on everyone who came near, causing each one to smile his or her own smile, compound of memory and desire, of impudent hopes and impossible regrets, as if the most delicate issues in the past were still undecided, waiting for the movement that would release them. He had a dimpled smile that came easily and quick deep blue eyes that held no shame.He was rarely still. Nothing seemed to offend him. I was not quite four times his age, young, too, although I felt very old then, as if I carried great weights whose names I did not know on my back and had no hope of putting them down, as I could hardly tell them apart from myself. I have lost so much of what weighed on me and feel the poorer for it, for freedom can impoverish, rob us of definition, even of aspiration. I am sixty-one years old, a solid citizen who still retains an imagination and a feeling that he is subversive even as everything around him subverts him just as it sustains him. In my mind Pascal remains forever five. Suppose he is still alive and forty-five -years old. Inconceivable. Suppose he is dead. Also inconceivable. He lives in my mind and remains five years old. But there is another possibility. Suppose he is alive and a father or even a grandfather and from him or from one who has come from him there has sprung another little boy, another Pascal, not...