Together and Apart

By Virginia Woolf,

Mrs. Dalloway introduced them, saying you will like him. The conversation began some minutes before anything was said, for both Mr. Serle and Miss Arming looked at the sky and in both of their minds the sky went on pouring its meaning though very differently, until the presence of Mr. Serle by her side became so distinct to Miss Anning that she could not see the sky, simply, itself, any more, but the sky shored up by the tall body, dark eyes, grey hair, clasped hands, the stern melancholy (but she had been told “falsely melancholy”) face of Roderick Serle, and, knowing how foolish it was, she yet felt impelled to say:

“What a beautiful night!”

Foolish! Idiotically foolish! But if one mayn’t be foolish at the age of forty in the presence of the sky, which makes the wisest imbecile—mere wisps of straw—she and Mr. Serle atoms, motes, standing there at Mrs. Dalloway’s window, and their lives, seen by moonlight, as long as an insect’s and no more important.

“Well!” said Miss Anning, patting the sofa cushion emphatically. And down he sat beside her. Was he “falsely melancholy,” as they said? Prompted by the sky, which seemed to make it all a little futile—what they said, what they did—she said something perfectly commonplace again:

“There was a Miss Serle who lived at Canterbury when I was a girl there.”

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The Shooting Party

By Virginia Woolf,

She got in and put her suit case in the rack, and the brace of pheasants on top of it. Then she sat down in the corner. The train was rattling through the midlands, and the fog, which came in when she opened the door, seemed to enlarge the carriage and set the four travellers apart. Obviously M. M.—those were the initials on the suit case—had been staying the week-end with a shooting party. Obviously, for she was telling over the story now, lying back in her corner. She did not shut her eyes. But clearly she did not see the man opposite, nor the coloured photograph of York Minster. She must have heard, too, what they had been saying. For as she gazed, her lips moved; now and then she smiled. And she was handsome; a cabbage rose; a russet apple; tawny; but scarred on the jaw—the scar lengthened when she smiled. Since she was telling over the story she must have been a guest there, and yet, dressed as she was out of fashion as women dressed, years ago, in pictures, in sporting newspapers, she did not seem exactly a guest, nor yet a maid. Had she had a basket with her she would have been the woman who breeds fox terriers; the owner of the Siamese cat; some one connected with hounds and horses. But she had only a suit case and the pheasants. Somehow, therefore, she must have wormed her way into the room that she was seeing through the stuffing of the carriage, and the man’s bald head, and the picture of York Minster. And she must have listened to what they were saying, for now, like somebody imitating the noise that someone else makes, she made a little click at the back of her throat. “Chk.” Then she smiled.

“Chk,” said Miss Antonia, pinching her glasses on her nose. The damp leaves fell across the long windows of the gallery; one or two stuck, fish shaped, and lay like inlaid brown wood upon the window panes. Then the trees in the Park shivered, and the leaves, flaunting down, seemed to make the shiver visible—the damp brown shiver.

“Chk.” Miss Antonia sniffed again, and pecked at the flimsy white stuff that she held in her hands, as a hen pecks nervously rapidly at a piece of white bread.

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The Duchess and the Jeweller

By Virginia Woolf,

Oliver Bacon lived at the top of a house overlooking the Green Park. He had a flat; chairs jutted out at the right angles—chairs covered in hide. Sofas filled the bays of the windows—sofas covered in tapestry. The windows, the three long windows, had the proper allowance of discreet net and figured satin. The mahogany sideboard bulged discreetly with the right brandies, whiskeys and liqueurs. And from the middle window he looked down upon the glossy roofs of fashionable cars packed in the narrow straits of Piccadilly. A more Central position could not be imagined. And at eight in the morning he would have his breakfast brought in on a tray by a man-servant: the man-servant would unfold his crimson dressing-gown; he would rip his letters open with his long pointed nails and would extract thick white cards of invitation upon which the engraving stood up roughly from duchesses, countesses, viscountesses and Honourable Ladies. Then he would wash; then he would eat his toast; then he would read his paper by the bright burning fire of electric coals.

“Behold Oliver,” he would say, addressing himself. “You who began life in a filthy little alley, you who . . . ” and he would look down at his legs, so shapely in their perfect trousers; at his boots; at his spats. They were all shapely, shining; cut from the best cloth by the best scissors in Savile Row. But he dismantled himself often and became again a little boy in a dark alley. He had once thought that the height of his ambition—selling stolen dogs to fashionable women in Whitechapel. And once he had been done. “Oh, Oliver,” his mother had wailed. “Oh, Oliver! When will you have sense, my son?” . . . Then he had gone behind a counter; had sold cheap watches; then he had taken a wallet to Amsterdam. . . . At that memory he would chuckle—the old Oliver remembering the young. Yes, he had done well with the three diamonds; also there was the commission on the emerald. After that he went into the private room behind the shop in Hatton Garden; the room with the scales, the safe, the thick magnifying glasses. And then . . . and then . . . He chuckled. When he passed through the knots of jewellers in the hot evening who were discussing prices, gold mines, diamonds, reports from South Africa, one of them would lay a finger to the side of his nose and murmur, “Hum—m—m,” as he passed. It was no more than a murmur; no more than a nudge on the shoulder, a finger on the nose, a buzz that ran through the cluster of jewellers in Hatton Garden on a hot afternoon—oh, many years ago now! But still Oliver felt it purring down his spine, the nudge, the murmur that meant, “Look at him—young Oliver, the young jeweller—there he goes.” Young he was then. And he dressed better and better; and had, first a hansom cab; then a car; and first he went up to the dress circle, then down into the stalls. And he had a villa at Richmond, overlooking the river, with trellises of red roses; and Mademoiselle used to pick one every morning and stick it in his buttonhole.

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The Mark on the Wall

By Virginia Woolf,

PERHAPS IT WAS the middle of January in the present year that I first looked up and saw the mark on the wall. In order to fix a date it is necessary to remember what one saw. So now I think of the fire; the steady film of yellow light upon the page of my book; the three chrysanthemums in the round glass bowl on the mantelpiece. Yes, it must have been the winter time, and we had just finished our tea, for I remember that I was smoking a cigarette when I looked up and saw the mark on the wall for the first time. I looked up through the smoke of my cigarette and my eye lodged for a moment upon the burning coals, and that old fancy of the crimson flag flapping from the castle tower came into my mind, and I thought of the cavalcade of red knights riding up the side of the black rock. Rather to my relief the sight of the mark interrupted the fancy, for it is an old fancy, an automatic fancy, made as a child perhaps. The mark was a small round mark, black upon the white wall, about six or seven inches above the mantelpiece.

How readily our thoughts swarm upon a new object, lifting it a little way, as ants carry a blade of straw so feverishly, and then leave it…. If that mark was made by a nail, it can’t have been for a picture, it must have been for a miniature–the miniature of a lady with white powdered curls, powder-dusted cheeks, and lips like red carnations. A fraud of course, for the people who had this house before us would have chosen pictures in that way–an old picture for an old room. That is the sort of people they were–very interesting people, and I think of them so often, in such queer places, because one will never see them again, never know what happened next. They wanted to leave this house because they wanted to change their style of furniture, so he said, and he was in process of saying that in his opinion art should have ideas behind it when we were torn asunder, as one is torn from the old lady about to pour out tea and the young man about to hit the tennis ball in the back garden of the suburban villa as one rushes past in the train.

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Lappin and Lapinova

By Virginia Woolf,

They were married. The wedding march pealed out. The pigeons fluttered. Small boys in Eton jackets threw rice; a fox terrier sauntered across the path; and Ernest Thorburn led his bride to the car through that small inquisitive crowd of complete strangers which always collects in London to enjoy other people’s happiness or unhappiness. Certainly he looked handsome and she looked shy. More rice was thrown, and the car moved off.

That was on Tuesday. Now it was Saturday. Rosalind had still to get used to the fact that she was Mrs. Ernest Thorburn. Perhaps she never would get used to the fact that she was Mrs. Ernest Anybody, she thought, as she sat in the bow window of the hotel looking over the lake to the mountains, and waited for her husband to come down to breakfast. Ernest was a difficult name to get used to. It was not the name she would have chosen. She would have preferred Timothy, Antony, or Peter. He did not look like Ernest either. The name suggested the Albert Memorial, mahogany sideboards, steel engravings of the Prince Consort with his family—her mother-in-law’s dining-room in Porchester Terrace in short.

But here he was. Thank goodness he did not look like Ernest—no. But what did he look like? She glanced at him sideways. Well, when he was eating toast he looked like a rabbit. Not that anyone else would have seen a likeness to a creature so diminutive and timid in this spruce, muscular young man with the straight nose, the blue eyes, and the very firm mouth. But that made it all the more amusing. His nose twitched very slightly when he ate. So did her pet rabbit’s. She kept watching his nose twitch; and then she had to explain, when he caught her looking at him, why she laughed.

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The Man Who Loved His Kind

By Virginia Woolf,

Trotting through Deans Yard that afternoon, Prickett Ellis ran straight into Richard Dalloway, or rather, just as they were passing, the covert side glance which each was casting on the other, under his hat, over his shoulder, broadened and burst into recognition; they had not met for twenty years. They had been at school together. And what was Ellis doing? The Bar? Of course, of course—he had followed the case in the papers. But it was impossible to talk here. Wouldn’t he drop in that even- ing. (They lived in the same old place—just round the corner). One or two people were coming. Joynson perhaps. “An awful swell now,” said Richard.

“Good—till this evening then,” said Richard, and went his way, “jolly glad” (that was quite true) to have met that queer chap, who hadn’t changed one bit since he had been at school—just the same knobbly, chubby little boy then, with pre- judices sticking out all over him, but uncommonly bril- liant—won the Newcastle. Well—off he went.

Prickett Ellis, however, as he turned and looked at Dalloway disappearing, wished now he had not met him or, at least, for he had always liked him personally, hadn’t promised to come to this party. Dalloway was married, gave parties; wasn’t his sort at all. He would have to dress. However, as the evening drew on, he supposed, as he had said that, and didn’t want to be rude, he must go there.

But what an appalling entertainment! There was Joynson; they had nothing to say to each other. He had been a pompous little boy; he had grown rather more self-important—that was all; there wasn’t a single other soul in the room that Prickett Ellis knew. Not one. So, as he could not go at once, without saying a word to Dalloway, who seemed altogether taken up with his duties, bustling about in a white waistcoat, there he had to stand. It was the sort of thing that made his gorge rise. Think of grown up, responsible men and women doing this every night of their lives! The lines deepened on his blue and red shaven cheeks as he leant against the wall in complete si- lence, for though he worked like a horse, he kept himself fit by exercise; and he looked hard and fierce, as if his moustaches were dipped in frost. He bristled; he grated. His meagre dress clothes made him look unkempt, insignificant, angular.

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Solid Objects

By Virginia Woolf,

The only thing that moved upon the vast semicircle of the beach was one small black spot. As it came nearer to the ribs and spine of the stranded pilchard boat, it became apparent from a certain tenuity in its blackness that this spot possessed four legs; and moment by moment it became more unmistakable that it was composed of the persons of two young men. Even thus in outline against the sand there was an unmistakable vitality in them; an indescribable vigour in the approach and withdrawal of the bodies, slight though it was, which proclaimed some violent argument issuing from the tiny mouths of the little round heads. This was corroborated on closer view by the repeated lunging of a walking-stick on the right-hand side. “You mean to tell me . . . You actually believe . . . ” thus the walking-stick on the right-hand side next the waves seemed to be asserting as it cut long straight stripes upon the sand.

“Politics be damned!” issued clearly from the body on the left-hand side, and, as these words were uttered, the mouths, noses, chins, little moustaches, tweed caps, rough boots, shooting coats, and check stockings of the two speakers became clearer and clearer; the smoke of their pipes went up into the air; nothing was so solid, so living, so hard, red, hirsute and virile as these two bodies for miles and miles of sea and sandhill.

They flung themselves down by the six ribs and spine of the black pilchard boat. You know how the body seems to shake itself free from an argument, and to apologize for a mood of exaltation; flinging itself down and expressing in the looseness of its attitude a readiness to take up with something new—whatever it may be that comes next to hand. So Charles, whose stick had been slashing the beach for half a mile or so, began skimming flat pieces of slate over the water; and John, who had exclaimed “Politics be damned!” began burrowing his fingers down, down, into the sand. As his hand went further and further beyond the wrist, so that he had to hitch his sleeve a little higher, his eyes lost their intensity, or rather the background of thought and experience which gives an inscrutable depth to the eyes of grown people disappeared, leaving only the clear transparent surface, expressing nothing but wonder, which the eyes of young children display. No doubt the act of burrowing in the sand had something to do with it. He remembered that, after digging for a little, the water oozes round your finger-tips; the hole then becomes a moat; a well; a spring; a secret channel to the sea. As he was choosing which of these things to make it, still working his fingers in the water, they curled round something hard—a full drop of solid matter—and gradually dislodged a large irregular lump, and brought it to the surface. When the sand coating was wiped off, a green tint appeared. It was a lump of glass, so thick as to be almost opaque; the smoothing of the sea had completely worn off any edge or shape, so that it was impossible to say whether it had been bottle, tumbler or window-pane; it was nothing but glass; it was almost a precious stone. You had only to enclose it in a rim of gold, or pierce it with a wire, and it became a jewel; part of a necklace, or a dull, green light upon a finger. Perhaps after all it was really a gem; something worn by a dark Princess trailing her finger in the water as she sat in the stern of the boat and listened to the slaves singing as they rowed her across the Bay. Or the oak sides of a sunk Elizabethan treasure-chest had split apart, and, rolled over and over, over and over, its emeralds had come at last to shore. John turned it in his hands; he held it to the light; he held it so that its irregular mass blotted out the body and extended right arm of his friend. The green thinned and thickened slightly as it was held against the sky or against the body. It pleased him; it puzzled him; it was so hard, so concentrated, so definite an object compared with the vague sea and the hazy shore.

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A Summing Up

By Virginia Woolf,

Since it had grown hot and crowded indoors, since there could be no danger on a night like this of damp, since the Chinese lanterns seemed hung red and green fruit in the depths of an enchanted forest, Mr. Bertram Pritchard led Mrs. Latham into the garden.

The open air and the sense of being out of doors bewildered Sasha Latham, the tall, handsome, rather indolent looking lady, whose majesty of presence was so great that people never credited her with feeling perfectly inadequate and gauche when she had to say something at a party. But so it was; and she was glad that she was with Bertram, who could be trusted, even out of doors, to talk without stopping. Written down what he said would be incredible—not only was each thing he said in itself insignificant, but there was no connection between the different remarks. Indeed, if one had taken a pencil and written down his very words—and one night of his talk would have filled a whole book—no one could doubt, reading them, that the poor man was intellectually deficient. This was far from the case, for Mr. Pritchard was an esteemed civil servant and a Companion of the Bath; but what was even stranger was that he was almost invariably liked. There was a sound in his voice, some accent of emphasis, some lustre in the incongruity of his ideas, some emanation from his round, cubbby brown face and robin redbreast’s figure, something immaterial, and unseizable, which existed and flourished and made itself felt independently of his words, indeed, often in opposition to them. Thus Sasha Latham would be thinking while he chattered on about his tour in Devonshire, about inns and landladies, about Eddie and Freddie, about cows and night travelling, about cream and stars, about continental railways and Bradshaw, catching cod, catching cold, influenza, rheumatism and Keats—she was thinking of him in the abstract as a person whose existence was good, creating him as he spoke in the guise that was different from what he said, and was certainly the true Bertram Pritchard, even though one could not prove it. How could one prove that he was a loyal friend and very sympathetic and—but here, as so often happened, talking to Bertram Pritchard, she forgot his existence, and began to think of something else.

It was the night she thought of, hitching herself together in some way, taking a look up into the sky. It was the country she smelt suddenly, the sombre stillness of fields under the stars, but here, in Mrs. Dalloway’s back garden, in Westminster, the beauty, country born and bred as she was, thrilled her because of the contrast presumably; there the smell of hay in the air and behind her the rooms full of people. She walked with Bertram; she walked rather like a stag, with a little give of the ankles, fanning herself, majestic, silent, with all her senses roused, her cars pricked, snuffing the air, as if she had been some wild, but perfectly controlled creature taking its pleasure by night.

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The Thief

By Amy Crosby,

They bring the bird in and it’s a handful of disgruntled feathers clutched in the well of Tommy’s fingers. I know that look and the frantic sound of its complaints only too well. The origin of its defensiveness is tucked against the flash of white: a crooked wing bent up in pain. I stare at it and know how this is going to go.

“What is it?” Jenna asks.

“It’s a magpie—No Tom, not on the table!” All three of them freeze in shock, a tableau of my greatest achievements and I hurry to amend the outburst for the sake of wiping that look from their faces. “Here, on the floor. Put it by the Aga; it’ll be warmer there.”

We crouch around it, a huddle, staring down at this one thing on its own, this lonely, frightened thing. Its eyes are like two deep holes in its head; wide and black.

“What do magpies do?” Jenna asks.

“They steal things.” I reply. “Shiny things. Precious things.”

“Why? Do they eat them?”

“No.” Jack answers. “Of course they don’t eat them.”

“What do they do with them?”

“I don’t know, Jen.” I say. “They just like to collect them.”

Tommy tears a chunk away from the fresh bloomer on the countertop.

“No.” I stop him. “Bread isn’t good for birds.”

“But what about the ducks at Millworth pond?”

“You’re not supposed to feed them bread. You’re supposed to feed them corn and grains and things.”

“What about magpies?” Jenna asks, looking at me.

“I think they eat bugs. Insects.”

“Spiders?” Jack exclaims.

We have plenty of fat black things that squat in the corners of our converted farmhouse. The shallow rooms and drafty doorways aren’t ours but we’ve been here since Jenna was born and they know every nook and cranny in this two story building, every eave and crawlspace. With one nod from me, they scatter like marbles and race to be the first to tease an unsuspecting victim into the open. I’m left with the bird.

I find a cardboard box and line it with kitchen towel, listening to the sound of half-sized footsteps creaking on the boards. It’s hard to remember a time when I had such a lust for poking and prodding at things that scuttle. Before I became a mother, certainly. Before the articles and newspaper clippings about false widows that my own mother kept were pinned to the refrigerator as a warning. Before I became too afraid to gaily throw my hands into bunches of supermarket bananas and punnets of strawberries, back when I was Jack’s age and things like arachnidism didn’t seem to bother me. By the time I was eleven, I’d found a bird of my own to bring into the kitchen. It was a blackbird. A fox had tried to take its leg.

Before dinner, I make them all wash their hands.

“But why?” Tommy moans, hating anything and everything that smells like soap. It’s a phase, I tell myself, he’ll grow out of it.

“Because it might be carrying a disease. We don’t know.”

“But it doesn’t look diseased.”

“Yeah, well, sometimes you can’t tell.” I say, pumping the dispenser.

I watch them at the table, captivated, twisting in their chairs to get a better view of the box. Feeble chatters emerge as it picks at the crushed granola bar; the only thing I could find after all of them came back spiderless. It’s when it goes quiet that I have to worry, it’s when it stops eating, when it tucks its head beneath its crooked wing that I have to think about how I’m going to explain death, how I’m going to talk about dying. They’ve never had a cat or a dog or even a goldfish. They don’t know what death is.

Jack.” I scold. “No phones at the table.”

“But I’m texting Dad.” He says, his lasagne half-devoured. “I want to tell him what we found.” I sigh, caught in a hopeless situation; I know that Will won’t reply.

I take them out to the cinema even though I know it’s too late for Jenna to be up. Maybe I think it’ll be easier if they come back to find that the magpie’s already dead; it was one thing and now it’s another. Two different states and no messy transition in the middle. Or maybe it’s because I’m still trying to make up for the shouting, the drawn-out divorce. I’m still trying to grasp at the fallacy of ‘cool-mum’ because I know that Will won’t ever do these things with them. I let them get popcorn. I let them pick up movie magazines and shred them in their laps while the film plays. I let them sit until the very end of the credit roll when the rest of the seats have emptied and, for a moment, the whole cinema feels like it’s ours. They go to bed exhausted and happy, the bird forgotten for now.

I read for a while in the dim light of the lounge, my sentences interrupted by subdued cackles from the other room, and then, when the letters start falling together, I get up from the window seat and do the things that Will used to do, the things that made me feel safe. I double lock the front door and pull the curtain across. I put my hand against the gas fire and make sure that it’s stone cold. I hide the backdoor keys in the cupboard, checking that every one is accounted for and, finally, I make myself go and check on the bird.

It’s not alone. Jenna is crouched over it, her face in profile, staring down into the box. I stop for a second in the doorway; she hasn’t heard me yet and I have a chance, a rare chance, to watch her before she realises that I’m here.

I used to think that she was all Will, that they were all all Will; his curly hair, his pretty pinched mouth. I see her with her nose almost disappearing amongst the cardboard and I realise that, actually, she’s me. In the half light of the kitchen shadows, she is me, watching over her bird. Her bedding is gathered around her on the floor, her own little nest.

“Mummy?” She looks up.

“Sweetie, it’s late, what are you doing?” I ask even though I know the answer.

“Can I sleep here tonight? I don’t want him to be alone.”

“Jen…” I crouch beside her, glancing in and seeing the frightened creature pressed into the corner. How huge we must look. “You know there’s a chance that…”

“That what?”

“That it might not make it…”

“How do you know?” She asks insistently.

“Well, when I was Jack’s age, I found a bird just like you guys did, but it was very poorly and it didn’t survive… Sometimes things just happen and we don’t want them to, but they do.”

“Was it a magpie?”

“No, it was blackbird.”

“But that’s different.” She says. “See? I’m going to make him better.”

I look into her face. She doesn’t look like me anymore or, rather, I don’t look like her anymore. I’ve lost that self-assuredness that everything will be alright. Because it isn’t. It isn’t always alright. I sat up all night with my blackbird, making gentle sounds with my lips every time I saw it shudder, but in the morning we were both cold and stiff on the kitchen floor and one of us was lifeless. I grew up. Not over the course of that one night, but in a long, drawn-out, painful way. Age. It steals things from you, precious things like hope and turns them into cynicism so slyly that you don’t have the chance to notice until it’s too late.

Growing up, growing old, that’s the real thief. I look at Jenna and wonder when it will visit her, steal this hopefulness in her sleep, piece by piece.

“Come on.” I say. “You need your real bed.”

She protests and squirms in my arms.

“Who will watch out for him?”

“I will.”

“Do you promise?” She asks.

“I promise I’ll do whatever’s best for him.” I answer carefully and I tuck her into bed.

The magpie is alive but only just. I watch it for a while, remembering myself as a child. I’ve changed. It’s not just the tired eyes that I see in the mirror, it’s the tired optimism. It’s worn thin inside of me like an old elastic band; pulled taught and tested too many times.

I take the bird outside, tucking it under my arm. It barely has the strength to fight against me; its beak nips me once and then rests against my bare skin, flat and shiny like a pebble from the beach. I should have let my mother take my bird to the shed, I should have let her put it out of its misery, but instead I stared at it all night, my eyes forcing it to remain in this world and suffer. I should have let a lot of things end sooner than I did.

My hand comes down across its eyes and I feel the thin veil of its avian lids fluttering. One short, sharp crack and then it won’t be suffering anymore… A light strikes the patio and I glance up. It comes from Jenna’s bedroom window.

When she was born, I bought her a lampshade that looks like a carousel; something that I thought would be pretty. Perpetually paused in motion, the glowing horses throw her face and curls into silhouette and I can’t tell if she’s scared or sad or just disappointed. Is this it? Is this the night that she begins to grow old; the first time she sees death? I’ve tried to keep them protected for so long. From this. From everything.

The three of us are frozen; mesmerised by one another: my daughter, the bird and me and I realise that I’m wrong; there is no nest that age keeps for itself, filled with shiny, precious things. Nothing is stolen; it’s just forgotten. And maybe I can remember it. Maybe, the more I gaze into her eyes, I will remember what it looks like and, piece by piece, it will come back to me. I take my hand away from the magpie’s neck. Maybe this time it will be different.

Piñata Monsters

By Daniel Mathewson,

In fifth grade, school was cancelled for a week because of snow. Me and my younger brother Mike spent every snow-day on the hill behind our house, sledding with greased-up garbage-lids. Through the trees atop the hill was a dilapidated yellow trailer. Condemned, our parents called it.

“Nobody lives there?”



“Asbestos, raccoons, Black-Plague,” Mom said.

Dad laughed, “Monsters.” … Continue reading

The Key

By Matthew DiPaoli,

I’ve come to Rome for salvation. It’s become fashionable—menopausal women attempting to recapture a fictional youth, American co-eds exploring their sexual ferocity, fountain fucking with unobtainable women born of the Cinecitta.

The eternal city has a way of showing you how much you’ve changed because it never does. Many years earlier, I’d lived steps away from the Vatican. It’s incredible that something so small has so much power, like a little pope-sized battery. Prayer carried on the torrential Roman winds and slithered straight through my window. Sometimes I pretended it was my own.
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The New Dress

By Virginia Woolf,

Mabel had her first serious suspicion that something was wrong as she took her cloak off and Mrs. Barnet, while handing her the mirror and touching the brushes and thus drawing her attention, perhaps rather markedly, to all the appliances for tidying and improving hair, complexion, clothes, which existed on the dressing table, confirmed the suspicion—that it was not right, not quite right, which growing stronger as she went upstairs and springing at her, with conviction as she greeted Clarissa Dalloway, she went straight to the far end of the room, to a shaded corner where a looking-glass hung and looked. No! It was not RIGHT. And at once the misery which she always tried to hide, the profound dissatisfaction—the sense she had had, ever since she was a child, of being inferior to other people—set upon her, relentlessly, remorselessly, with an intensity which she could not beat off, as she would when she woke at night at home, by reading Borrow or Scott; for oh these men, oh these women, all were thinking—“What’s Mabel wearing? What a fright she looks! What a hideous new dress!”—their eyelids flickering as they came up and then their lids shutting rather tight. It was her own appalling inadequacy; her cowardice; her mean, water-sprinkled blood that depressed her. And at once the whole of the room where, for ever so many hours, she had planned with the little dressmaker how it was to go, seemed sordid, repulsive; and her own drawing-room so shabby, and herself, going out, puffed up with vanity as she touched the letters on the hall table and said: “How dull!” to show off—all this now seemed unutterably silly, paltry, and provincial. All this had been absolutely destroyed, shown up, exploded, the moment she came into Mrs. Dalloway’s drawing-room.

What she had thought that evening when, sitting over the teacups, Mrs. Dalloway’s invitation came, was that, of course, she could not be fashionable. It was absurd to pretend it even—fashion meant cut, meant style, meant thirty guineas at least—but why not be original? Why not be herself, anyhow? And, getting up, she had taken that old fashion book of her mother’s, a Paris fashion book of the time of the Empire, and had thought how much prettier, more dignified, and more womanly they were then, and so set herself—oh, it was foolish—trying to be like them, pluming herself in fact, upon being modest and old-fashioned, and very charming, giving herself up, no doubt about it, to an orgy of self-love, which deserved to be chastised, and so rigged herself out like this.

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