Author's Note:

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.



Sunday, April 6, 2014



Like the endless floor-to-ceiling over-stocked shelves at Costco, my friend Joe Savino keeps his friends and family well stocked with Lists, articles about Lists, articles for Lists, and articles against Lists, Lists of Lists, missing Lists, and the Lists nobody knows about.

Often these Lists are hierarchical, and are cause for argument and suspicion, hilarity and the woeful shaking of one's head, and usually they drive us crazy; they drive HIM crazy, and that's why he shares them with us.  "Can you believe they said that book was the best?"  "Can you believe they said that movie, or that politician, or that historical figure,...?  And they left out Mitzi Gaynor!"

Now here, for your benefit, Reader, is a list, not my list, not The List, but a List, a vertical touchstone, a reminder of some very good, memorable, outstanding, collections of Short Stories that perhaps you might have read, wanted to read, or didn't know about.  Who's to say?

Certainly, many other writers have written short stories, a collection or two has been published, but I'm leaving out writers who were known more for their longer forms, like Camus, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Dawn Powell.  The people listed below, at least in my mind, not only raised the bar of the short story, but raised the bar of literature, of culture, intelligence, empowerment, enlightenment, and entertainment.

I know you'll say, but J.D. Salinger's body of work?  Only the Nine Stories volume and a few uncollected ones?  That qualifies?  Yes, it does. What Salinger did for us with that one volume was to set us on fire.  Nevertheless, I highly recommend them all.  They are Titans.

So as not to overwhelm our eyes and cognitive skills, I'm posting the list in groups of ten per post:

I.  Algernon Blackwood, Conrad Aiken, Ambrose Bierce, Bernard Malamud, Doris Lessing, Edgar Allan Poe, Edith Wharton, Barry Hannah, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Anton Chekhov

II.  Ernest Hemingway, Eudora Welty, Flannery O'Connor, Frank O'Connor, Franz Kafka, G.K. Chesterton, Grace Paley, Guy de Maupassant, H.H. Munro (Saki), H.P. Lovecraft

III.  Henry James, Irwin Shaw, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Ivan Bunin, Jack London, J.D. Salinger, John Cheever, Joseph Mitchell, Katherine Ann Porter, Nathaniel Hawthorne

IV.  O. Henry, P.G. Wodehouse, Ray Bradbury, Rudyard Kipling, Shirley Jackson, Stephan Crane, W. Somerset Maugham, William Faulkner, William Trevor

I.

#1





Algernon Blackwood
( 1869-1951)
  "...one of the most prolific writers of ghost stories in the history of the genre." [Wikipedia]


#2 Conrad Aiken (1889-1973)

 

"Just why it should have happened, or why it should have happened just when it did, he could not, of course, possibly have said; nor perhaps could it even have occurred to him to ask. The thing was above all a secret, something to be preciously concealed from Mother and Father; and to that very fact it owed an enormous part of its deliciousness." [from Silent Snow, Secret Snow.  Below is a YouTube link to a dramatized version of this great story, courtesy of Jasper Simon]




Conrad Aiken was also largely responsible for establishing Emily Dickinson's reputation as a major American poet.  Malcolm Cowley referred to Aiken as "the Sleeping Giant of American Letters." 

#3
Ambrose Bierce
(1842-1914)


 He is most known for the short story "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" and compiled a satirical lexicon, The Devil's Dictionary

#4
Bernard Malamud (1914-1986) "Life is a tragedy full of joy."

"Malamud is renowned for his short stories, often oblique allegories set in a dreamlike urban ghetto of immigrant Jews. Of Malamud the short story writer, Flannery O'Connor wrote: "I have discovered a short-story writer who is better than any of them, including myself." He published his first stories in 1943, "Benefit Performance" in Threshold and "The Place Is Different Now" in American Preface. In the early 1950s, his stories began appearing in Harper's Bazaar, Partisan Review, and Commentary.
The Magic Barrel was his first published collection of short stories (1958) and his first winner of his first National Book Award for Fiction[6] Most of the stories depict the search for hope and meaning within the bleak enclosures of poor urban settings."

[Citation courtesy of Wikipedia]

#5
Barry Hannah (1942-2010)  “The Deep South might be wretched, but it can howl.”












 

Hannah produced five collections of short stories from 1978 to 2010.  "[His] lines invigorate and intoxicate, his language delivering us into an American version of what Rilke called “a more powerful reality — rising and circling, poised but wild.” Hannah was a storyteller, an enchanter with a refined eye for the outrageous and an ecstatic worldliness worthy of Rabelais. “Long, Last, Happy: New and Selected Stories” is a triumph: nearly faultless, every page a raging pleasure." [Justin Taylor, The New York Times Book Review]

#6 Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930)








Aside from creating and popularizing the stories of Sherlock Holmes, Conan Doyle was also a prolific writer whose other works include fantasy and science fiction stories, plays, romances, poetry, nonfiction, and historical novels. 

#7  Edith Wharton (1862-1937)


  Wharton combined her insider's view of America's privileged classes with a brilliant, natural wit to write humorous, incisive novels and short stories of social and psychological insight. (from Wikipedia)

I especially liked "Roman Fever."

#8  Anthon Chekhov (1860-1904) "is considered to be among the greatest writers of short stories in history." (Encyclopedia Britannica)


File:Tolstoy and chekhov.jpg
Chekhov with Tolstoy

#9 Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849)
is "best known for his tales of mystery and the macabre, Poe was one of the earliest American practitioners of the short story, and is generally considered the inventor of the detective fiction genre. He is further credited with contributing to the emerging genre of science fiction. He was the first well-known American writer to try to earn a living through writing alone, resulting in a financially difficult life and career.

#10 Doris Lessing (1919-2013)

 "...Mrs. Lessing's knowledge of women's anger and aggression, even more than of their sexuality, took people by surprise and categorized her. ...Her short fiction (except her African stories) should repair any misunderstanding of her timelessness, the breadth of her sympathy and range of her interests and, above all, the pleasures of reading her. Rereading [her] stories is like returning to a Victorian novel one loves, and affords the same delightful feeling of self-indulgence combined with self- improvement." [Diane Johnson, The New York Times]

(next post, 10 more)








Thursday, March 27, 2014

The proper function of fiction is to tell an interesting story--W. Somerset Maugham

W. Somerset Maugham at home, writing at his desk.




"...the proper function of fiction is to tell an interesting story."

In 1952, W. Somerset Maugham said,


"The anecdote is the basis of fiction.  The restlessness of writers forces upon fiction from time to time forms that are foreign to it, but when it has been oppressed for a period by obscurity, propaganda or affectation, it reverts, and returns inevitably to the proper function of fiction, which is to tell an interesting story."

These excerpts are from his Preface to the 1952 edition of "The Complete Short Stories of W. Somerset Maugham, Volume 2, 'The World Over'"

"I have written now nearly a hundred stories and one thing I have discovered is that whether you hit upon a story or not, whether it comes off or not, is very much a matter of luck.  Stories are lying about at every street corner, but the writer may not be there at the moment they are waiting to be picked up or he may be looking at a shop window and pass them unnoticed."

In the 1930s, Maugham was the world's highest paid writer.



 "He may write them before he has seen all there is to see in them or he may turn them over in his mind so long that they have lost their freshness.  He may not have seen them from the exact standpoint at which they can be written to their best advantage."






"It is a rare and happy event when he conceives the idea of a story, writes it at the precise moment when it is ripe, and treats it in such a way as to get out of it all that it implicitly contains.  Then it will be within its limitations perfect."


 "But perfection is seldom achieved."

"I think a volume of modest dimensions would contain all the short stories which even closely approach it.  The reader should be satisfied if in any collection of these short pieces of fiction he finds a general level of competence and on closing the book feels that he has been amused, interested, and moved."

Maugham, in his office, Villa Mauresque, Cap Ferat, 1939

Maugham, W. Somerset.  The Complete Short Stories of W. Somerset Maugham, Vols. 1 and 2.  Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Company, 1952.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

"You know what home is."


New York, Long Island, Connecticut from space station
As I mentioned in my previous post, I am presenting, for a couple of days, excerpts from Diane Ackerman's book, A Natural History of the Senses.  Why I am doing this is explained in the 3/9/14 post.

Here, at the conclusion of the Vision section in her book, Ms. Ackerman reflects on her sensations and realizations after she'd had her first flying lesson. From pages 284-285:

"You know what home is.  For many years, you've tried to be a modest and eager watcher of the skies, and of the Earth, whose green anthem you love.  Home is a pigeon strutting like a petitioner in the courtyard in front of your house.  Home is the law-abiding hickories out back.  Home is the sign on a gas station just outside Pittsburgh that reads "If we can't fix it, it ain't broke."  Home is the springtime on campuses all across America, where students sprawl on the grass like the war-wounded at Gettysburg.  Home is the Guatemalan jungle, at times deadly as an arsenal.  Home is the pheasant barking hoarse threats at the neighbor's dog.  Home is the exquisite torment of love and all the lesser mayhems of the heart.  But what you long for is to stand back and see it whole.  You want to live out that age-old yearning, portrayed in myths and legends of every culture, to step above the Earth and see the whole world fidgeting and blooming below you."

For a little ambiance while you read, I've inserted here one of Ms. Ackerman's favorite pieces of music; she listens to it obsessively before she begins to write.  I give you the Adagio, from Allessandro Marcello's Oboe Concerto in d minor. 




Embedded video & music courtesy of Ron de Leeuw, The Netherlands.


Monterey Bay, California from space

Images courtesy of NASA.

Friday, March 14, 2014

"The visual opium of the sunset was what I craved."

Sunset in Missouri, courtesy of Dianne Irey McDonald
As I mentioned in my March 9th post, I will be presenting, for a couple of days, excerpts from Diane Ackerman's book, A Natural History of the Senses.  Why I am doing this is explained in that post. Today, I have a piece for you from the Vision section, pages 255-256:


"Some years ago, when I had taken a job directing a writing program in St. Louis, Missouri, I often used color as a tonic.  Regardless of the oasis-eyed student in my office, or the fumings of the hysterically anxious chairman, I tried to arrive home at around the same time every evening, to watch the sunset from the large picture window in my living room.

Each night the sunset surged with purple pampas-grass plumes, and shot fuchsia rockets into the pink sky.  The visual opium of the sunset was what I craved.
Sunset at Creve Coeur Lake, in Missouri.

Next day, ...I stood chatting with one of the literary historians.  I was paying too much rent for my apartment, she explained.  True, the apartment overlooked the park's changing seasons, and was only a block away from a charming cobblestone area full of art galleries, antique stores, and ethnic restaurants.  But this was all an expense, as she put it, with heavy emphasis on the second syllable.

That evening, as I watched the sunset's pinwheels...I thought: the sensory misers will inherit the earth, but first they will make it not worth living on."







Sunday, March 9, 2014

Diane Ackerman's A Natural History of the Senses


A couple weeks ago I finished reading Diane Ackerman's beautiful book, A Natural History of the Senses.
  I still can't get it out of my head, and during the read I almost daily regaled my friends Theresa and Joe with reading aloud small excerpts about something she says on Vision, or Touch, or Smell, or Taste, or Hearing.  I'll still reference something from her even on my walks with Joe to the library, or on a Sunday afternoon, wielding a knife while I'm making a vegetable & cheese platter in anticipation of wine and Canasta with Theresa, and Joe with a beer and the Los Angeles Times.  Besides the fascinating scientific insights that she imparts about our senses, her prose draws you in like a lover holding the bed covers open for you to slip inside.

This is one of several excerpts I'm going to post; it's from page 256:

"When you consider something like death, after which (there being no news flash to the contrary) we may well go out like a candle flame, then it probably doesn't matter if we try too hard, are awkward sometimes, care for one another too deeply, are excessively curious about nature, are too open to experience, enjoy a nonstop expense of the senses in an effort to know life intimately and lovingly.  It probably doesn't matter if, while trying to be modest and eager watchers of life's many spectacles, we sometimes look clumsy or get dirty or ask stupid questions or reveal our ignorance or say the wrong thing or light up with wonder like the children we all are.  It probably doesn't matter if a passerby sees us dipping a finger into the moist pouches of dozens of lady's slippers to find out what bugs tend to fall into them, and thinks us a bit eccentric.  Or a neighbor, fetching her mail, sees us standing in the cold with our own letters in one hand and a seismically red autumn leaf in the other, its color hitting our senses like a blow from a stun gun, as we stand with a huge grin, too paralyzed by the intricately veined gaudiness of the leaf to move."

 [Ackerman, Diane. A Natural History of the Senses, New York: Vintage Books, 1991.]



Sunday, March 2, 2014

Steven Pressfield's The Afghan Campaign. Some things never change.




     “...that which binds the individual to the family, the tribe, and the ancestors.  Most important are the ancestors.  When they turn their backs on you, God turns his back, too.”

     I tell him about Shinar and the burden of shame she seems to bear.  He affirms this.

     “You should have killed her,” he says, “instead of protecting her.”

     The crime I have committed, Elihu explains, is called...al satwa.  It means to bring shame upon someone by performing an act of responsibility that they have failed to perform themselves.

     “If a stranger stops at my father’s gate,” Elihu says, “and my father has no food to offer, this is unfortunate but no crime.  If our neighbor, however, then provides a meal to the stranger, he has committed al satwa against my father.  Do you understand, Matthias?  The neighbor has shamed my father before the stranger.

  This is a terrible transgression in our country.  The crime is even worse in your case, for you have rescued a sister when her brother should have done so.  You have shamed him mortally, do you see?”
      “Well, where the hell was he,” I ask, “when Shinar needed him?  I wouldn’t have had to do anything if he had been there to look out for her!”

     “Exactly.”

     “He should be grateful to me!  Haven’t I defended his sister?  Haven’t I saved her life?”

     No, says Elihu.  “You have shamed this woman’s kin by doing for her what they should have done themselves--and for that, they can never forgive you.  As for her, she is the vehicle of this shame.  The ancestors have witnessed.  This is what she experiences now, being with you. And if you evoke feeling in her, her shame is double.”

     “In other words,” I say, “to an Afghan it would be preferable that Ash the muleteer continue to beat and abuse Shinar, even kill her, than that I should help her.”

     “Indeed.”

     “Or that ...some other scuff should rape and outrage her.”

     “Precisely,” says Elihu.

     All I can do is shake my head.

     “Every act of kindness you perform toward this woman will only drive her deeper into shame.”
(Excerpted from Steven Pressfield's The Afghan Campaign)


A couple of millenia have passed, and things haven't really changed over there. And things won't change.  Women are still subject to tertiary citizen status by ego-maniacal men whose oppression is supported by religious texts.  Or so they claim. Well, religious texts with AK-47s and RPGs.   In 2,000 years, the only change has been the weaponry, because the savagery wears the same face, the same clothes, exhales the same lies.  The country was a mess then, it's a mess now.

As I was reading Pressfield's book--and it is a good book, it's exciting, informative, monstrous in its realistic portrayal of the cruelties of war--it was impossible not to think of the current day's predicament of Western armies battling the Afghan tribes high in the mountains, or in the streets of Kabul or Herat or Kandahar.  It was impossible not to see the perfect comparisons between Alexander's troops in 330-327 B.C. and the Russians in 1979-1989 A.D.  Whether Bactrian tribes or Taliban, Sogdians and Pactyans or the mujahideen, there is still the invader, and there is still the tribe.

Alexander was chasing Oxyartes, Bessus, Spitamenes; Brezhnev, Andropov and their boys were after Massoud and Haqqani; we were after Osama bin Laden & friends.  In each case, although I benefit from over 2,000 years of historical record, I wonder continuously what was Alexander's point then, and what is our point now, in being there?
 Pressfield's book is not only a story of 330 B.C., it's a story of our time as well.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

CHAPTER VI (from The Long Habit of Living)


CHAPTER VI (from The Long Habit of Living).
               
                At six o'clock that afternoon I sat alone at a table in front of an outdoor restaurant in the rue Barges.  I was spending money.  I even tried to make sense out of newspaper articles in Le Monde, about Jeffrey Dahmer being arrested for the murders of men and boys in Milwaukee, of Boris Yeltsin becoming the new President of Russia, and of the imminent exile to France of Michel Aoun, Lebanon’s prime minister.  Well, I thought, Lebanon had been up for grabs since Aoun declared war on Syria in 1989.  He reduced Beirut from a million people to 100,000 in three months.  Then the smell of lamb cooked with onions, carrots, and leeks, and a partridge sprinkled with thyme and marjoram dismantled my translations from Le Monde and made me think and act silly with the frustration of an undisciplined mind meeting the scent of heaven.  My mouth and brain reeled from expectancy, but I was held in check by an outside thought of Owen and Sarah.
                Owen intimated one day, back in New York, that he still wasn't certain about the hope of love.  After a long period of inactivity, which for Owen was unusual, and which was caused by anxiety and other, less identifiable exertions which occurred previous to the night about which we didn't speak, sex invariably became a topic.  Of course, that wasn't to say that Sarah for her part lacked any sensual demand.  On the contrary, she was a dynamic lover, as Owen, without imparting details, had attested to both Sylvester and me on many occasions.
                Often in New York, when I'd come downstairs from my apartment to visit them and, if by chance that visit had followed their lovemaking, Sarah's face would be flushed for an hour, her eyes sparkling, her ears red, as if she'd been standing on her head.  Her movements, usually graceful, were then instinctive: Touching, arranging, moving objects or fixing herself with ease and a sense of union.  I wasn't a little jealous of the intimacy between them, for I had yet to find someone with whom the flush and contact of sex would be equally as affectionate and endearing as was theirs.
                Sipping a glass of hearty red wine, my hands still clutching the French newspaper, I thought strangely that the dog days had yet to pass: Until Owen could be healed of his guilt I would have to watch the chronometer.  I would have to listen to everything he said, go wherever he went, look at whatever he saw, meet whomever he met, keep track of everything, until he himself was satisfied that he was whole again.  It was a condition that was hopeless in its immediacy yet possible only if I could believe that it was all beyond our control.  The metaphysical in life made it possible for me to hope; yet after that New York winter night in the previous year, what remained of the metaphysical?

               "Merci," I said mechanically.  My dinner had been served.  With internal delight, from both taste and presentation, I came out of myself and looked across the street as a matter of course.  Holding my glass near to my lips I watched an aging priest gasping for breath and leaning against the handrail of a cement stairway that led to the door of a carpenter's shop.  His panting was echoed by that of a puppy he was holding wrapped in a grey blanket close to his chest.
                "I don't know what I'm going to do with you," he shouted in French, looking at the wounded animal's bleeding skull.  "But I can't let you go."
                I looked around at the other patrons in the restaurant.  No one appeared to have noticed the scene.  Was I the only spectator to this?  I watched the priest again.  It was Fr. Revenant.  At once he moved away from the cove in which he found a momentary sanctuary and then he ran down a nearby alley, clutching the injured dog.
                Within moments he vanished and I was left to my lamb and my hearty red wine and the image of the strange cleric in this, I thought, dry, uncomplicated, French town.  I didn't see him again for the rest of the afternoon.  After dinner, however, brought on by an indulgence in the wine, my curiosity and a sure amount of daring overtook my body and pulled me to the alley along which Fr. Revenant had disappeared.

                My self-assurance enabled me to walk carelessly down the narrow back street, one which I hadn't explored before.  I didn't know what to expect, nor did I care, but with time on my hands and with wine-inspired curiosity, I searched for any hint of a desperate priest holding an injured dog.  The smell of soggy grass and warped wood drifted toward me as I continued downhill, until I realized that I walked nearly to the edge of town by the Durance River.  Late afternoon changed to twilight when I turned to my left.  I knew that the river was close by since the breeze intensified as I walked and I knew that it was the river to which I wanted to direct my prowl.
                Being solitary and stuffed with food and without friends or conversation, I remembered my fellow expatriates who weren't with me.  I thought of Sylvester and his walking-dead wife, of Owen's dead parents, and then of mine who were safe and sound in Connecticut.  I thought of Andy McLean and Aunt Gloria, of Brenda Larkin and Thomas, of Leah and Army, and of course, Lucian.
                How far away they seemed; how much time had really passed?  I walked on.  At that moment, a hand reached out, grabbed my neck, and pulled me into a darkened niche off to the side of the alley.
                "Don't speak until I've explained everything!" raged the voice in clear yet accented English.  I could see well in the darkness and knew that it was Fr. Revenant.  His breath smelled like celery.
                "You are safe," he added.  "There's nothing to worry about.  Just me and this...this little lamb here."
                He showed me the bleeding dog.  I was shaken.  I hadn't come all the way from New York City to be mugged in the south of France.  My mind raced with the possibilities.  What now?  What now?
                "What do you want?" I asked.
                "Thieves!" he yelled to the alley.  "You thieves!" he screamed again out toward the night, ignoring my question.  He released me and hugged the pup.  The dog's brown and black skull was covered with blood and its eyes implored the out-of-breath priest to "Please, leave me to die, alone."
                "Should I introduce myself?" I asked, not knowing what to do, hoping that a few choice words and the semblance of a cool head would give me the advantage to think.
                "I know who you are," came the indifferent reply.
                "Well I don't know you!" I exclaimed.
                "Young man," he said, lowering the animal to the ground.  "There's no cause to be jumpy."  He stood up and placed his hands thoughtfully on his hips.  "I am a priest.  I have a wounded dog.  But I am lost."
                "So am I," I said.
                "We'll talk about that later," he replied.  "My name is Father Albert Revenant," he extended his blood-stained hand for me to shake.  "Father Revenant to most.  I know your name is Walter Vann and that you live in the Fontaine house.  You're not what I would call a good Catholic."
                "How d'you know?" I asked.
                "I can't afford the luxury to sit all day in church and pray, Mr. Vann.  This is my village.  I have to be alert.  What goes on I hear about."
                "What are you doing with this animal?" I asked cautiously.
                "That depends," he mused and bent over to pick it up.  "We'd better hurry."
                "What for?" I replied.
                "My God," he spoke caressingly to the dog.  "My God, the day they start using lambs like you for...for their..."
                For their what? I thought to myself:  Vivisection?  Animal drug testing?  I studied Fr. Revenant.  Above a sturdy chin, his mouth rested nobly and was embraced by a large Roman nose that met his forehead with a perfect furrow.  Two thick wavy eyebrows guarded his eyes which, in the alley light, were glints so full of compassion that I saw two thousand years of Gallic evolution behind him.  His eyes were those of a philosopher wolf, captivating the onlooker before giving way to his bushy, uncombed hair.
                At that moment, the clock in the old Protestant church near the water struck nine.
                "Good God," he remarked aloud.
                "Good God what?" I asked.
                "Where are we?" he grabbed my collar.  "Tell me where we are."
                "I don't know.  I'm new here, Fr. Revenant," I answered.
                "I told you, Mr. Vann, that I knew that," he said scornfully.
                "Then why did you ask me..."
                He let go of my shirt.
                "Now, let me see.  Let's go," he cried and crooked my arm, ushering me toward the Durance.

(Photo by Michelle Kidd Drechsel)
                When the blackened water came into full view and all that lay between us and the water was a slanting bank of grass and weeds, we slowed our pace to a walk.  Fr. Revenant surveyed the neighborhood.  There were stucco walls glowing with the usual blue of a hidden ray of light not yet given up to silence.  Each door to each house along the way was closed with an invisible sign posted for the unworthy traveler:  You Are Not Welcome Here, it read.  The place made me nervous.  Fr. Revenant caught sight of a dark suit hanging from a window across the wide open promenade.  It was out of fashion and somewhat threadbare.  I pointed to it as well.
                "Laundry," he commented, "for everyone to see."
                Every object, every drain pipe that climbed along the walls overlooking the neighborhood, every ceiling hoist or electrical conductor slashed into my heart new threats against our safety.  Curiosity killed the cat I thought; and I believed I uttered it.
                The neighborhood was a dark, secretive catacomb in the rain.  The moisture from the water was light-feeling, yet noticeable.  We were both trying to regain our composure when Revenant spotted a man sitting on the quay fishing.  He was dressed in dark clothes, a fisherman's cap, and he sported a thick beard.  One of his pants legs was rolled up to the knee.  He smoked a pipe; actually, it jutted like a lantern from the edge of his mouth.
                "Hello," said the Reverend Father.
                "Evening to you," the man replied and returned his attention to his fishing pole.
                The Durance was pitch black, save for a distant lantern atop a rowboat and the reflection of the stars from the night sky.  The sounds of the village were all lost to this damp escape way.
                "Please don't think that I'm a criminal," said Revenant to the man.
                The fisherman turned around, glanced at the priest once and then looked across the river.  I looked at Revenant, caught his glance, and asked him why he said that.
                "Now why would I think that?" the fisherman reiterated before Revenant could reply to me.
                "I don't know," Revenant replied.  He stared at the fisherman with rapt attention.  "But you don't, do you?"
                "No, I don't," he said.  "I think nothing of the kind, sir."
                "I'm not running from anybody," exclaimed Revenant.  "I happened to be in a hurry and lost my way."
                "And then you got scared?" asked the stranger.
                "Yes, I did," replied the priest.  "And I came upon this young man who was on his way home and we're all now lost together."
                "Wait a minute," I said.  "Don't drag me into this."
                "You probably, with all good cause, then," stuttered Revenant, shivering, "suspect that I am mad?"
                I certainly do, I thought.
                "No, no, my dear man," answered the fisherman.  "I believe you.  I thought of nothing but the best for you when I heard you were coming."
                "I really have lost my way," insisted the priest.
                "I can see that," said the fisherman.
                "What are you called?" Revenant asked.
                "I'm not from here," he replied.  "That's why you don't recognize me."
                "But you don't think I'm crazy?" asked Revenant, clutching the dog closer to him.
                "He already said no," I offered.
                Fr. Revenant shot me a look of contempt.
                "Be still!" he said.
                I didn't argue with the lunatic.  The scenario was incomprehensible and the priest was making a fool of himself.
                "I don't know why I should think so ill of a stranger," replied the fisherman.  He smiled and looked past Revenant's shoulder to me.
                "A man comes running out of the night," he continued, "wearing vestments no less, out of breath, carrying a blood-dripping bundle.  I'm sitting here, holding a rod, just fishing.  Why should I think anything of it?"
                I laughed and shoved my hands into my pockets.
                "Mr. Vann, please!" Revenant was annoyed.
                The priest, puzzled by the lie and the intrigue inspired in the fisherman, handed me the covered puppy and walked nearer to him.  He found him agreeable.  He sat down beside him and kept looking back to us:  The Nervous and The Wounded.  The fisherman looked at him again and smiled.
                "Your package seems to be dripping all over," he said.
                Revenant looked at his shoes.  There were drops of blood splattered on them.  He glanced sideways to the fisherman.
                "It's an animal, badly hurt," said Revenant.  "I was confused about what to do with it."
                "May I see it?" asked the fisherman, leaning backward and turning toward me.
                "No," exclaimed Revenant.  "It's too unpleasant."
                "So it must be," replied the man, gazing again out into the darkness.
                "Are you here often?" asked Revenant.
                "Often enough," the stranger answered.  "I sit and I fish.  I'm always fishing."
                "What do you fish for?" asked Revenant.
                "Oh," began the fisherman, stretching his back which had become stiff from sitting too long.  "I fish for anything and eat what I catch.  Would you like to try your hand at it?"
                Extending his pole to the priest, he offered Revenant a chance.  He smiled like an idiot, and the pipe in his mouth remained lit and perched between his lips.  Revenant, bewildered, looked away from him and moved several feet in the opposite direction.
                "No thank you," he muttered.  "Not now, thank you."
                The fisherman's eyes found Revenant's and glued them to his.  At that moment, as I watched without blinking, so interested was I in the proceedings, a steady light appeared against the darkness.  Their faces were lit up and neither moved a muscle for what seemed like hours.  I stood alone, off to the rear, holding a now lifeless mass.
                "When I come here," the fisherman began, "I usually get what I fish for.  Are you sure you don't want to take it from me for a while?"
                "No, no," replied Revenant.  "I'm not sure."
                "Then, what's there to worry about?" asked the man.
 (Photograph courtesy of There And Back Again)

               He raised his head and looked out upon the flowing Durance.  Passing us, in the center of the river, was the rowboat we saw earlier.  It was being paddled by a solitary figure: a man in a cap, with a pipe, almost the reflection of the fisherman on the quay.  The boat, however, was moving at such a great speed that I wondered how dangerous the current must be.  I was glad to be on shore, considering the situation.
                "Your dog is good bait," suggested the fisherman.
                The terrified priest suddenly got up from the quay and ran to lean against a wall, one which must have belonged to a shack or an out-house.
                "Father Revenant!" I called.  The priest remained glued to the wall.  "Father Revenant!" I repeated.
                "What?" he shouted, not taking his eyes off of the fisherman.
                "I think we should be leaving," I insisted.  "I think we should go, now!"
                "It's not my dog," he shouted back to the man, ignoring me.
                The fisherman didn't respond.  He sat and silently held his fishing pole.  His dark, unmoving body blended into the night.  All that Revenant or I could see was the light of the still burning pipe, and I could have sworn to heaven that I heard what sounded like a sigh, or was it a sob.
                In seconds, Revenant was again upon the fisherman.  He swooped down beside him, facing him, breathing heavily and anxiously.  Bending over the stranger, he whispered loudly into his wrinkled ear:
                "And besides," Revenant stammered, "I don't need it!"
                Whereupon the priest ran to me, grabbed the dead bundle, nearly knocked me over, and ran back to the fisherman.  He dropped it into his lap and then hurried over to me.  Grabbing my hand, he led me running through the alley along the windowed wall of the warehouses and back out into the street, into the noise of drunks singing and the ever-present veil of the night.

                "How I do discover myself," Fr. Revenant sighed.  He was sitting in his overstuffed parlor chair, staring at the closed venetian blinds.  The instep of morning was still some hours away, and the full night finally brought stillness to the town and ease to our hearts.
                He was rubbing the disturbing numbness of his left leg and realized he had been sitting improperly for too long, as we had been in conversation for some time.  He was not, he assured me, upset because of the dog, the fisherman, or the blood.
                "I have met their kind before," he exclaimed wearily.
                We'd been drinking brandy and tea and rehashing all that we'd seen and heard that night.  There was an attraction that I felt toward him, as if I'd met the priest before, an attraction which he readily observed and communicated to me in comforting tones in his voice.  His demeanor, since we left the streets and came here, had changed dramatically.  I was playing with the thought that I might be reinfused with conditions of faith because of his sympathetic glow and warm personality; but I didn't want a return to faith.  I had my hands full bringing Owen back to normalcy.  Yet I was unmovable in my fascination with the priest.
                "I'll say it again, only because I'm at fault, but I'm sorry if I frightened you, Mr. Vann," he said.  "I couldn't have predicted that meeting with Monsieur the fisherman.  It was...unfortunate."
                "Fr. Revenant," I replied, "you didn't frighten me.  As I said, everything together scared the hell out of me, but not you personally."
                "No?" he responded, almost hurt by my statement.  "I didn't once send you to the grave with fear?"
                "Well, maybe once," I allowed.
                "Be honest, Mr. Vann.  I'm a priest.  There's no fun in lying to me when I'm the one you will confess to later."
                "You have a point, Father," I laughed.  "You had me worried most of the time."
                He laughed contentedly.
                "Don't misunderstand me, Mr. Vann," he said brightly.  "I didn't intend to cause you harm.  I'm a priest.  I know better."
                "Fr. Revenant," I looked across the room, out of focus, out of color, "how did you know I was going to follow you?"
                He sat up, gazed at the couch opposite him, facing the dormant fireplace and the two fragile, antique endtables.  A leather hassock lay in front of his feet; I could tell that he rarely used it.
                "I didn't know you would follow me," he said.  "It was a discovery that was as wonderful to me as it was to you."
                We smiled together at his conclusion.  My eyes roved over indistinguishable shapes of pictures on the walls, as well as over two ceramic cherubim heads which hung near the doorway.  The unlighted figures of a fresco hailed from the last wall as I brought my perusal to a complete stop.  I sipped my brandy and winced from its strength.
                "Who painted that thing?" I asked, trying to sound less like a critic and more like a friend.
                "John the Baptist?" he reflected, finishing his own brandy.  "It was here when I arrived.  Painted by a young art student, I'm told.  He was eventually killed in Indochina, in October 1950.  A certain General Carpentier had delivered his soldiers along Rout Coloniale 4, to retreat from a Viet Minh onslaught.  My dear Walter, there were six thousand French troops lost; they just disappeared, in the jungle, without a trace.”
                It was the worst overseas defeat of the French since Wolfe beat Montcalm on the Plains of Abraham in Quebec, in 1759.
                “It was a year that France had more than its turn with shame," he ended sullenly.  "Or should I say, fulfilled it?"
                "Sorry," I said, feeling the foot in my mouth.
                "I'm sorry that your country didn't learn the same lesson," he cried.  "We spelled it out plain as day for you.  Lost miserably.  Yet you went right ahead in as if they were giving land away for free."
                His voice became animated with politics.  I hardened my face at the adolescent memory of our war in Viet Nam.
                "Never understood it," he added.
                "I still haven't understood why you were carrying that dog and why I'm here," I said, fingers to my temple, my head inclined toward hopefulness.
                "You will," he said.  "It's not a secret or anything, Mr. Vann.  The more obvious some things are the less you can see them.  I, for one, happily have given up trying to make sense of life.  I'm committed to serving God in Heaven and for my reward I understand less and less.
                "Would you like a cigar?" he added, getting out of his chair.
                "No, thank you," I replied.
                "I have no pipe tobacco," he said consolingly.
                "I don't own a pipe, Fr. Revenant."
                "Probably too much bother," he said.  "Would you like a piece of advice?" he offered, with an air of indifference.
                "Yes, certainly," I answered.
                "Keep away from the Hun," he clouded.
                "I don't even know him."
                "You will," he said.  "Keep away from him."
                "Why?" I asked cautiously.
                He stared for a moment then rose.
                "Thank you for sitting with me, Mr. Vann," he said, standing in the doorway.  "I think I'm going to bed.  Unless, of course, that is, you have anything you wish to confess?"
                "Confess?" I said surprised.
                "Yes," he said seriously.  "Now is as good a time as any.  Confess and be forgiven.  The eternal recurrence for a priest, eh?"
                "What makes you think I've done anything wrong?" I said.
                "Wrong or right..." he said as he tapped the framework.  "That's up to you."
                "What if I don't believe?" I asked.  "Christ!"
                I felt my temper begin to rise.  This was the second man today who reminded me to seek forgiveness.
                "Mr. Vann," he said, holding up his right palm.  "Judge not lest ye be judged!"
                I watched him go up the stairs toward his room.
                "What does that have to do with anything?" I called, getting out of my seat.
                "Look it up, my boy," he yelled from the darkness.  "Look it up," and he laughed as he climbed the stairs.
                At the last of his words I heard a door shut.  Jesus Christ! I exclaimed to myself.  Three o'clock in the morning, left alone in a stranger's house, a priest's house no less, after a near collision with insanity or death, left alone answering accusations about sin and confession, a dead dog in my arms and a conversation with a fisherman who's a freak!  I'd get more peace in a circus.
                I looked at my watch and, just realizing how late it was, and that I might be arrested for vagrancy or prowling (the French word for it was rôder; je rôde: I prowl, therefore I am).  I wondered if I were going mad.  I searched for the hallway to the front door and quietly let myself out.
                After securing the front door, I stepped back a few feet to examine the rectory.  The number thirteen was posted on the left.  The windows, each divided into eighteen individual glass panes, were paired up with wooden shutters, which were in desperate need of paint and which were etched upon with symbols out of the head of John Dee.  There was the archangel Uriel, holding his bronze disk marked with the symbols of the zodiac; there were crystals and bulls framed by the overgrowth of ivy.  One in particular displayed the fish-entwined anchor of Jacopo Sannazaro.  Vines of healthy, arcadian ivy grew up the sides of the house and around the windows, giving me the impression at first that they were closing in.  On further inspection, I realized that the windows assumed personalities all their own; cajoling the ivy, inviting it, "Come in.  Come in."  I walked in the direction of la Fontaine and tried to restrain the presence of the metaphysical in my life.