The king of Ustreasia was a wealthy man, wealthy beyond compare. His kingdom was peaceful and lovely, and his people were hardworking and kind and ethical, for the most part. But for all the riches of his kingdom the king’s true pride was his herd of elephants. And what elephants! Bulls all, with slashing tusks and stamping feet and trumpeting calls that echoed throughout the capital. For generations the royal trainers had taught the elephants to march in procession, to carry the king and queen upon their backs. They passed the knowledge of their profession on to their children and were respected with soldiers and priests. The people watched the royal parades and felt pride, and visiting rulers smiled in appreciation of such well-kept animals. Read on
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You know how when you buy a book of short stories there is often one famous one mentioned in the title and then a bunch of “other stories” they threw in to justify the cover price? These are the other stories. Some of them aren’t half-bad, though.
A chef's sampler.
Morsels recently composed.
Some nights in December the wind whipped in from the west and brought an unreasonable cold that you wouldn’t expect at our latitude. Never in January, for reasons I would have needed meteorology school at Penn State to understand; only in the days before Christmas when you didn’t mind so much because holiday errands and twinkling lights and parties kept you warm. Or maybe my memories are fogged with youthful astigmatism: bitter cold fazes you less at sixteen. I don’t remember feeling cold. I remember excitement at the wind’s shrill touch on my cheek. I remember that the wind fired at us so hard my father taped Saran Wrap over the electrical outlets on the western walls of the house lest the icy air pry through. I remember that we would listen to radio-broadcast calculations of wind chills like football scores: how low can it go? Minus twenty? Minus forty? The numbers grew meaningless, out of our experience, as if they were given in metric.
On one of these nights we went caroling, my friends and I, about a dozen of us. Caroling in the country is not like caroling in town, where I imagine it to be like film versions of Dickens stories and you walk from house to house and the streets are lit by gaslight and people expect you and invite you in for wassail. Read on
In the hallway outside your office suite are daily laid pastries—danishes, croissants, slices of cake, single-serving fruit pies—sustenance for meetings and conferences. They beckon like harlots from tables bearing warning signs: food reserved for Memorial Hospital Administrators or refreshments for public school accountants. Keep away! These are not your pastries. You pass them on the way to the restroom and they tempt you, but not much. Most are forgettable; you have seen them before in countless coffee shops and corner groceries. The stale pastry, the stagnant fillings, the cheap icing that makes your teeth ache to look at them. Righteousness is easy in their company.
Ah, but these were different.
Today on that white-papered table were arrayed miniature fruit tarts, bite-sized morsels of pastry that cried out to be taken like the long-neglected concubines of an impotent sharif. Oh how you longed for them! Their brown fluted crusts. Their syrupy coating glistening in the fluorescent light, glossily wet like the lips of the girl you kissed in seventh grade, under the stairs between classes, whose name you can’t remember now (Laura? Lori?) and whose lips tasted fruity, too, in a Kool-Aid sort of way, but nothing, you knew, like the fruit that adorned these tarts. A slice of pink-red strawberry, a sliver of soft green kiwi, a single globe-round blueberry—such a luscious ripe palette! And underneath, hidden from your gaze, the soft rich pastry cream, their glorious golden hearts.
So lovely. So perfect. So tiny. You could fit one unnoticed in the palm of your hand as you walked by. Sweep it up in your casual gait and disappear. And you did.
Furtively you returned to your office, shut the door behind you—oh the privileges of senior management, to enjoy in peace an illicit pastry! You beheld its glory and unable any longer to restrain your desire bit into its crust. Crisp flakes of pastry exploded into your mouth; sweet syrup glazed sticky on your teeth; silken cream oozed thick vanilla over your tongue. The skin of the blueberry parted and burst and you felt a dribble of juice on your chin. Greedily you popped the rest into your mouth and chewed.
And you know what? The snake was right. It was good.
My father believed in the Method.
In the photograph on my mother’s wall I am dressed for Hallowe’en, a toddler king. I love my homemade costume; I lope around the living room, grinning lopsidedly, swishing my cape. “You’re a king, not a queen!” my father moans. “Straighten up! Affect an air of command!” I bark orders at my teddy bear, eager to please. Read on
with apologies to Judith Viorst
I went to sleep with my head at a funny angle and I woke up with a crick in my neck and when I got out of bed this morning I tripped over the basset hound and by mistake I dropped my toothbrush and it landed in the litterbox and I could tell it was going to be a terrible, horrible, no good, crappy-ass day. Read on