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Letter Delivered As A Dream: Short Short Story

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Following is an excerpt from Love and Other Illusions, my recently published short story collection.  “Letter Delivered As A Dream” is a short-short, as they call them, so I’m giving my loyal blog readers the entire story. It was originally published in Hot & Bothered 3: Fiction on Lesbian Desire, ed. Karen X. Tulchinsky. Arsenal Pulp Press, 2001. Love and Other Illusions can be purchased as a Kindle on Amazon.

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Letter Delivered As A Dream

Do you remember that summer when our biggest problem was ants?

We who were so well versed in the habits of the cockroach were astounded by the rapidity with which ants reproduced.  By mid-July it had become impossible to leave any kind of unpackaged foodstuffs anywhere. It became a religion with us:  our lives revolved around maintaining a crumbless kitchen.

We bought dozens of round red traps, nearly identical to the ones we used to capture roaches in the city.  The ant population diminished, but by no means disappeared.  I suggested my mother’s method of smoking them out of their holes; you remembered your fifth-grade ant-farm-in-a-fish-tank and wouldn’t let me do it.

ice cream coneIt rained a lot that summer, and no one had told us about muggy country air, from which you with your allergies suffered terribly.  We’d planned to go hiking and antique-hunting, but ended up playing Scrabble, venturing outside only in the cool moist evenings.  We held hands walking into the small village for Haagen-Dazs ice cream cones eaten on the walk home.

Meanwhile, the ants kept on coming, an army of ruthless marauders.  When I brushed one from your leg you confessed you liked the feel of them  tickling your skin.  And so I discovered another way to delight you: like an ant I crept lightly up your calf, past the hollow behind your knee, more lightly still up your thigh, until you pulled me into you.heartstitchesbroken

Ah, summer.  How old were we then?  How young?  What were we thinking when we rented that little cottage in the mountains, knowing so little of the country, anthills, each other?

By late August we’d given up on ant control; they traipsed freely through the mound of spilled sugar, or clustered around a cake crumb on the floor.  Our truce was such that when one got squished beneath the heel of my sneaker, you stunned me with authentic tears.

The morning after Labor Day we washed the linens, packed our unused tennis gear and retrieved odds and ends from beneath the bed.  What about the ants? I asked you; won’t the landlady be horrified if we leave them? Against your protests I bought a can of Raid, and while you waited in the car, I carried out a search and destroy mission.  When I emerged, you looked grim. I turned on the engine and we headed back to the city–me to Brooklyn, you to the Upper West Side. As expected, both apartments were overrun with cockroaches after a summer of neglect.  That night on the phone you admitted you had no qualms squirting and smashing the nasty little creatures, so much more repulsive than our industrious country ants.

Over the years I’ve developed an aversion toward killing ants.  But this morning I discovered one already dead in the sink, a victim of cockroach poison.  Hastily I flushed it down the drain, feeling a sudden sharp pain as I thought: where are you?

Love & Other Illusions: Short Stories by Marcy Sheiner

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Finally! A collection of deep, delightful stories on love, friendship, joy and pain by… oui, c’est moi!

For decades I’ve been editing stories by other writers, and in between I’ve written a few myself. Now they’re ready to face the world as a collection. And no, they aren’t sex stories, which some readers expect from me, since I’ve published plenty of those. The eleven short stories in Love and Other Illusions are mainstream literary fiction, some sexy (I hope) but nothing explicit.  I’d like to think they still generate heat and passion: I was feeling passionate when I wrote them.

As I say in the introduction, I’ve always been drawn to novels—both reading and writing them—more than to short stories, just because I always want more, and I’m sorry when a story ends. But in the time I spent preparing these for publication, the genre began to grow on me, and I developed more respect for the form. I’ve even been reading more of other writers’ short stories.

I’ve edited a dozen collections of women’s erotica, wrote the self-help  Sex for the Clueless, and a memoir, Perfectly Normal. I also ghosted eight books of nonfiction under other people’s names. These stories, however, are a different breed: all were written by me, are credited to me, and are being promoted by me. (My publisher, the brilliant Jean Marie Stine, says the time for humility has passed!) The point is, you never know if and when there’ll be more where these stories came from,so don’t miss reading them.

Brief story synopses:

ocean.jpgSAVING MY LIFE: In which Uncle Yernie pulls his little niece out of the crashing ocean, and saves her life in more ways than one.

LO SIENTO: Martha leaves her live-in boyfriend at home and goes to Mexico to ponder their relationship. Will she leave him? Will she stay? I’m not telling!

(Lo Siento means “I’m sorry” in Spanish.)

WHAT: The anxieties of commitment are overcome and love conquers all—doesn’t it?

LETTER DELIVERED AS A DREAM: A couple share a summer idyll with a colony of ants in this short-short story.

A TRAGEDY OF CHILDHOOD: An older woman is hurtled back to her past when she befriends a young mother and toddler, and helps the child overcome her fear of escalators.Escalator

THE UNIVERSE WILL PROVIDE:  Will it? The answer would be a spoiler, so you’ll just have to read it to find out.

EYE OF THE BEHOLDER: What makes a woman beautiful? How do her looks affect her life and personality? Her loves and her friendships? Even her career is affected in one way or another, especially if she’s extremely beautiful or extremely not. Every woman privately knows—even if she won’t admit it—that what she looks like is one of the most basic yet complicated issues in our lives.

images-1THE COUCH: Q: When is a couch more than a piece of furniture? A: When it’s sold as part of a self-improvement plan.

A woman’s decision to sell her couch brings the house of cards she’s built, and the man who’s in it, crashing down around her.

BAD AIR DAY: What begins as another bad air day for asthmatic Sharon ends up just the opposite when someone new comes into her life. Caution: This story might Feed your Head with its mind-reading and other psychic phenomena.

heartstitchesbrokenTHE SOUND OF ONE HEART BREAKING: As war breaks out in the desert, two people on the precipice of a relationship discover they  are also breaking out—with herpes!

NEVER LOOK BACK: The most popular story among baby boomers these days seems to be the loving reunion of high school sweethearts, years or decades later. In this case he’s a Vietnam vet, she’s an anti-war ex-hippie. Can they find each other again?

THE FOURTH AND FINAL MARRIAGE OF SADIE NUSSBAUM:  When octogenarian Bernie Solomon has a heart attack, his adulterous affair with Sadie Nussbaum is exposed. After he dies, his agoraphobic wife doesn’t even notice he’s gone, while Sadie plays the role of grieving widow and his daughter finds out about them.

Grace Paley 1922 – 2007

It’s almost too much, losing Tillie Olsen and Grace Paley in the same year. Both women were part of a group of writers popularized during the 1970s’ Womens Liberation Movement. If feminists had a bible, it was comprised, at the beginning, of the work of a dozen or so novelists, poets and theorists whose books we devoured, discussed and revered. Grace Paley and Tillie Olsen were among this group.

Paley, like Olsen, wasn’t terribly prolific–like Olsen, she devoted a good deal of her time to political activism. And what she lacked in breadth she more than made up for in depth. Her material was the stuff of everyday life–mothers and children, conversations in the park, women and men, and the grassroots politics of the people. My favorite short story of all time is A Subject of Childhood in
The Little Disturbances of Man, anthologized again in a later collection. That story has the best last line, bar none, in the history of the short story. Paley’s books also had the best titles: Enormous Changes at the Last Minute; Later the Same Day.

Paley was the Poet Laureate of Vermont, where she lived in her later years. She was 84 when she died.