Something Is Out There: Stories

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9780307266279: Something Is Out There: Stories
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From the prizewinning novelist and world-renowned short-story writer, the author of 2008’s universally acclaimed novel Peace (“A brilliant one-act drama depicting the futility and moral complexity of combat” —The New York Times), eleven indelible new tales that showcase the electrifying artistry of a master.

A husband confronts the power of youth and the inexorable truths of old age. A son sits by his mother’s bedside determined to give her what she needs in her final days, even though doing so means breaking his own heart. A brief adulterous tryst illuminates the fragility of our most intimate relations. A young man returns in the face of crisis to the parents he once rejected. A divorced young woman dealing with slowly increasing despair develops an obsesion about a note that fell from the pocket of a man who came to eat in the café where she works. A wife whose husband has been shot must weather a terrible snowstorm with her two sons, as well as a storm of doubt about the extent of his involvement in a crime.

Richard Bausch’s stories contend with transfixing themes: marital and familial estrangement, ways of trespass, the intractable mysteries and frights of daily life in these times, the uncertainty of knowledge and truth, the gulfs between friends and lovers, the frailty of even the most abiding love—while underlining throughout the persistence of love, the obdurate forces that connect us. His consummate skill, penetrating wit, and unfailing emotional generosity are on glorious display in this fine new collection.

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About the Author:

Richard Bausch is the author of seven previous volumes of short stories and eleven novels. He is the recipient of an award in literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Lila Wallace–Reader’s Digest Writers’ Award, the PEN/Malamud Award for Short Fiction, and, for his novel Peace, the American Library Association’s W. Y. Boyd Prize for Excellence in Military Fiction and the Dayton Literary Peace Prize. A past chancellor of the Fellowship of Southern Writers, he lives in Memphis, Tennessee, where he holds the Moss Chair of Excellence in the Writers Workshop of the University of Memphis.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

IMMIGRATION

The middle of spring in Memphis and it felt like winter. Tonight, setting out the recycling, she got a chill and it took a good ten minutes to get rid of it. She had him hold her, and breathe warm at her neck. They lay in the bed under the ceiling light, because he said it would feel like warmth shining down on them. She thought of the waste of electricity. “Can you turn it off?” she said.

“I’m cold, too.”

“Please?”

“You turn it off.”

She was quiet. In a little while he got up and flicked the switch and then crawled in at her back, shivering. “I’d like to turn the heat on.”

“Stay,” she said.

“I’m dying.”

“We’ll be warm now.”

“It’s too bloody cold.”

“Don’t go, please.”

He lay there shivering, and she reached back to pull him closer. The cold air of the room seemed to be flowing in at his neck, so he pulled the blanket higher, burrowing in, breathing his own exhalation for the warmth. It wasn’t enough. He would never sleep like this, with the chill in his bones, and he wanted to be rested.

They had an appointment early the next day with the Immigration Office to prove that they were a real married couple. They had been married a year now, and his student visa was no longer valid; he would have to get a permanent residency card in order to work. He was from Ireland. Belfast. His parents still lived there. An elderly sullen couple whose exhaustive politeness to her, during her one visit to their house, seemed tinged with a kind of pity, as though they deplored her exposure to them; there was no other way to parse it. And the way they were together made it easy enough to believe. They barely spoke. Michael said they had been that way as long as he could remember, and not to worry about it. But she couldn’t help feeling sorry for having disturbed their stolid existence in the green countryside.

While he finished his degree in history, she had supported him with her teaching job at the Memphis College of Art. She took the job at the end of their first year together, after a period that she considered spendthrift. They had spent a lot of money traveling around, and he was now past thirty, and things were tight. The economy was in the tank, and the administrators at the college were talking about furloughs— the delicate word in the academy for layoffs. He was going to have to find work.

He was ready. There was a need for history teachers at the high school. He had completed his degree, and written his thesis and defended it, and the book was in its tight green binding in the big long shelf of them in the university library. The thesis was about the Kennedy years, especially the problem of Berlin, and the Wall. He knew all about the cold war, and for many nights now in this winter and early spring he had been joking with her about this cold war, the trying to sleep while something is out there their teeth chattered and their muscles shook, and she claimed she liked a cold room and a warm bed, and of course it was nothing of the kind; it was her confounded fear of spending money. In the summer, she would insist that seventy degrees was too cold, and in blazing hot and thickly humid Memphis, she required that the thermostat be set at seventy- five degrees. They argued, back and forth. He made jokes about it in company. She swore that sixty- eight degrees in winter was different than sixty- eight degrees in summer.

He said, “Sure and you get the place down to thirty- two degrees Fahrenheit on any day of the year, summer fall winter spring, and the water’ll freeze.”

“It just feels different,” she said.

“Either way, at thirty- two degrees, the water freezes and we die of exposure.”
Now he waited for her to go to sleep, so he could get up and put the heat on. But she lay there shivering and murmuring about the things they would need in the morning for the meeting with the Immigration people.

He didn’t want to talk about it. And even with the shaking he was beginning to be sleepy.

“The marriage license,” she said. “Did we put that in?”

“Did you? Because I don’t remember seeing it.”

“The marriage license is the most important thing.”

“I’ll look in the morning.”

“Can you check it now?”

“If you want to check it, love, you go right ahead.”

She sighed again but did not move.

He sought to remember if he had seen the marriage license. There was too much to think about. He moved a little, and sighed, and shook.

She said, “Good night.”

“I can’t sleep. This is fucking daft. We might as well be in the Arctic.”

She was silent. One of the things she found a bit taxing about him at times was his ability to concentrate on his own distress in any situation. He could be eloquent about it, spending energy delineating all the facets of whatever trouble had arisen, often enough trouble he had brought upon himself. She had never known a more disorganized man, and his lack of any kind of practical skill had worn her out during the process of gathering all that they would need for the morning’s meeting: birth records and school transcripts, tax forms, proof of themselves as they were. The marriage license. She loved him, loved his humor and his voice and his soft brogue, but she was also exasperated by him.

“I’m worried about the pictures, too,” she said to him now.

“We don’t have enough pictures, do we?”

“You want to get up and take a few more?”

“No. And stop it.”

“I think we should bring stool samples,” he said, sounding serious.

She didn’t answer, but turned, facing him, and put her cupped hands to her mouth and breathed the warmth. “I won’t be able to sleep if I don’t know the marriage license is in there.”

“Did you put it in there?” he said.

“I don’t remember.”

“Good night, Rita. We’ll check it in the morning.”
In the middle of the night, she awoke, sweating, and sat up, worried about the time. He was sprawled on his side, legs out of the blankets. She got up and went into the hall and flicked the light switch. He had turned the heat on in the night— probably while half- asleep. She turned it off and went into the kitchen. All the documents were arrayed on the table, with the two books of photographs: the many images of that busy first year. She looked through them again. Here were the two of them together and apart in many happy poses. The books were labeled WORLD TRAVELERS: him smiling clownishly on a sunny street near the Spanish Steps in Rome; the two of them embracing on the flat dirt lawn of a chateau in the Loire Valley; him seated at a café table outside a small village in Normandy, with bread and cheese and pretty shining bottles of red wine before him, and then her in the same pose, at the same table; both of them lounging and being silly in front of a pension in Paris, a gloomy- looking ivy wall and narrow windows behind them; and here were several from the rainy afternoon in Belfast at his parents’ cottage with its heavy stone entrance and its low ceilings. And there were the ones from the year before, both of them by the fish market at San Francisco Bay, with Alcatraz brooding behind them in a cowl of drifting fog. And then there were several of them with her parents— who, last year, had divorced after thirty years— and her brothers and sisters in Virginia, everyone smiling into the camera, a sunny cool day in Fredericksburg, and he had said, when she showed it to him, “Ah, here we all are in happier times.”

“What does that mean?” she said. “Are you talking about my mother and dad?”

“I have the thought any time I look at a picture like that, no matter who’s in it.”

“Well, everyone’s here. Including you.”

“Don’t rile yourself, darlin’. It’s a general thought I have every time I look at such a photograph, since I was a little tyke. ‘Here we are in happier times.’ And tell me straight from your heart, isn’t that the truth of it?”

Now she closed the photo books and put them in the folderwith the other papers. She supposed this would be enough. She worried about it all, nevertheless. The forms had been so daunting. And she remembered now that all the travel had been strenuous and had taken a toll on her nerves. In several of the pictures she looked carefree and glad, and she could recall the sense that it was something she put on, a ruse, to hide the stress of worrying about the money and the next flight.

Indeed, he would say that the strain she felt wasn’t the travel but spending the money. And they had spent it, too, all of it— fifteen thousand dollars of an inheritance from his great uncle, who had made a fortune in the coal business and then lost most of it, and then made a lot back selling stocks. He left each of his surviving nephew’s children a single flat payment calculated from an obscure formula he had devised that had to do with time spent in his company. Michael had lived in the old man’s house one summer in Donegal before he started college. He often talked about him as a kind of natural force, a man who could be singularly unpleasant to be around, so strange and unpredictable, even volatile, but in the end hugely interesting: after you had been with him you realized that you hadn’t been slightly bored. And he paid attention— the behest to Michael was accompanied by a note telling him that he should use it to study history. Michael wa...

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