A Miscellany of Characters That Will Not Appear
All scornful descriptions of American landscapes with ruined tenements, automobile dumps, polluted rivers, jerry-built ranch houses, abandoned miniature golf links, cinder deserts, ugly hoardings, unsightly oil derricks, diseased elm trees, eroded farmlands, gaudy and fanciful gas stations, unclean motels, candlelit tearooms, and streams paved with beer cans, for these are not, as they might seem to be, the ruins of our civilization but are the temporary encampments and outposts of the civilization that we—you and I—shall build.
The Stories of John Cheever
“I’m an old radical.”
“You’re sure you’re not some kind of a ghost or dybbuk?”
“Not a dybbuk,” answered the bird, “though one of my relatives had such an experience once. It’s all over now, thanks God. They freed her from a former lover, a crazy jealous man. She’s now the mother of two wonderful children.”
“Birds?” Cohen asked slyly.
“What kind of birds?”
“Like me. Jewbirds.”
Cohen tipped back in his chair and guffawed. “That’s a big laugh. I heard of a Jewfish but not a Jewbird.”
The Complete Stories
The Fishing-Boat Picture
I’ve been a postman for twenty-eight years. Take that first sentence: because it’s written in a simple way may make the fact of my having been a postman for so long seem important, but I realize that such a fact has no significance whatever. After all, it’s not my fault that it may seem as if it has to some people just because I wrote it down plain; I wouldn’t know how to do it any other way. If I started using long and complicated words that I’d searched for in the dictionary I’d use them too many times, the same ones over and over again, with only a few sentences—if that—between each one; so I’d rather not make what I’m going to write look foolish by using dictionary words.
The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner: Stories
The Man in the Overstuffed Chair
He always enters the house as though he were entering it with the intention of tearing it down from inside. That is how he always enters it except when it’s after midnight and liquor has put out the fire in his nerves. Then he enters the house in a strikingly different manner, almost guiltily, coughing a little, sighing louder than he coughs, and sometimes talking to himself as someone talks to someone after a long, fierce argument has exhausted the anger between them but not settled the problem. He takes off his shoes in the living room before he goes upstairs where he has to go past my mother’s closed door, but she never fails to let him know she hears him by clearing her throat very loudly or saying, “Ah, me, ah, me!” Sometimes I hear him say “Ah, me” in response as he goes on down the hall to where he sleeps, an alcove sunroom connected to the bedroom of my young brother, Dakin, who is at this time, the fall and winter of 1943, with the Air Force in Burma.
The town was small, worse than a village, and in it lived almost none but old people, who died so rarely it was even annoying. And in the hospital and jail there was very little demand for coffins. In short, business was bad. If Yakov Ivanov had been a coffin-maker in the provincial capital, he would most likely have had a house of his own and been called Yakov Matveich; but in this wretched little town he was simply called Yakov, his street nickname for some reason was “Bronzy,” and he lived a poor life, like a simple peasant, in a little old cottage with only one room, and that room housed himself, Marfa, the stove, the double bed, the coffins, the workbench, and all his chattels.
Yakov made good, sturdy coffins. For peasants and tradesmen he made them his own size and was never once mistaken, because no one anywhere, not even in the jail, was taller or stronger than he, though he was now seventy years old. For gentlefolk and women he worked to measure, and for that he used an iron ruler. He accepted orders for children’s coffins very reluctantly, and made them straight off without measurements, scornfully, and, taking the money for his work, would say each time:
“I confess, I don’t like messing with trifles.”
Besides his craft, he also earned a little money playing the fiddle.
Selected Stories of Anton Chekhov