Appearances and Disappearances
George General patiently explained it to his pretty blonde wife: how the sun instead of setting this evening had turned right around and rose with the full moon. He was quite sure it hadn’t happened before. Never? she wanted to know but only in a desultory way. They were strolling hand in hand on the gated beach, returning back from two bottles of a white Bordeaux at the island’s premier dining establishment. George General’s sandals kept taking on sand, slowing him down. His pretty blonde wife dropped his hand to lift her skirts like Princess-Cinderella-before-Midnight and tipple down into the sur-surring surf. Alas, their pricey suntan lotion lay on the table, on the deck back at their villa. Their sunglasses too. The moon and sun’s reflections stretched out across the lapping sea, like an inviting multi-hulled vessel. Yes, a sparkling catamaran. Catamarans almost never capsize George General was thinking, as he waded wafflely past the sea’s silvery edge to tell his pretty blonde wife.
Now I’ve Heard it All
In a louder register than usual, our hostess announces, as a point of information, that three of the eight guests assembled at her elegant table are almost deaf. One of the three identifies herself with a dramatic waving of her pearls and laments that alas she left her hearing aid at home. Besides, she says, it picks up too much ambient noise. She goes on to describe ambient noise as what she hears when there are two or more conversations going simultaneously. She pouts as she complains that she feels excluded from all of them. Her dismay lasts only seconds. Grander than the rest of us in numerous and various ways, she then decrees that we will have only a single conversation topic going at once. After a moment of silence, our hostess graciously agrees. Chelsea art galleries. New restaurants. Republicans. This imposition holds through to the salad course. By then I am leaning in, whispering to the man on my left, asking him to elaborate, but only for me, what he said about the editorial board of the New York Review of Books. Whispering never felt so naughty or so good. Better even than a hand on my knee.
Over-Coming Writer’s Block
I rented a room from a shrink. I rented it by the 50-minute hour to overcome my writer’s block. In our first e-mail exchange, she had listed times when the room was free. In our second exchange she mentioned the rental fee. When she ushered me into the room, she enumerated the room’s restrictions: I could not use her desk nor sit in her chair; I must not look in her files, nor turn on her computer; I could not use her electric tea pot, nor bring in any food; I was told not to wear perfume or shoes, but not come barefoot either. I was not allowed to have guests; I should bring my own Kleenex; I could not leave any paper in her wastebasket; I must not disturb the plethora of totems scattered on various tables; when I left I was instructed to turn off the lights, turn down the thermostat, exit the door I came in rather than take the second door through which her patients left. Maybe they are clients? I put my computer on the radiator—it was summer. I brought a folding chair. Norman Mailer once said, “Writer’s block is merely a failure of ego.” I wrote this story. I was cured, so I left after the first week. She won’t miss the one tiny totem I took with me. I didn’t envy her ego. It was larger than mine.
Pamela Painter is the author of three story collections, Getting to Know the Weather, which won the GLCA Award for First Fiction, The Long and Short of It, and Wouldn’t You Like to Know. She is also the co-author of What If? Writing Exercises for Fiction Writers. Her stories have appeared in The Atlantic, Five Points, Harper’s, Kenyon Review, Mid-American Review, and Ploughshares, among others and in numerous anthologies, such as Sudden Fiction, Flash Fiction, Flash Fiction Forward and MicroFiction. She received grants from The Massachusetts Artists Foundation and the National Endowment of the Arts, and won three Pushcart Prizes and Agni Review’s The John Cheever Award for Fiction. Painter’s stories have been presented on stage by Stage Turner, Wellfleet Harbor Actors Theatre, and Word Theatre. Her new story collection, Ways to Spend the Night, is due out in Winter, 2016.