Tag Archives: Robert Shapard

Lydia Davis

Conversation in Hotel Lounge

Two women sit together on the sofa in the hotel lounge, bent over and deep in conversation.  I am walking through, on my way to my room.

First woman, loudly and distinctly:  “I never had fun before!”

I am surprised and intrigued–what a heart-to-heart they are having!  I try to imagine her life up to now.  I try to imagine what she has been experiencing recently, and also the revelation this must be to her–the concept of fun.  My thoughts take just a few seconds.

Second woman, speaking softly, inaudibly:  “[mumble, mumble].”

First woman:  “No, no.  Fun is a Chinese word.  Fun is Mandarin.  It means…a kind of rice noodle.


Lydia Davis is well known for her very short, and very very short, stories. Her latest collection is Can’t and Won’t. She has won many awards for her fiction, including the Man Booker International Prize. Dana Goodyear of The New Yorker has said she is “one of the most original minds in American fiction today.”

Tania Hershman

The Most New Sport

When there is a New Sport they find the players to fit: Elongated for basketball; sleek for swimming; flexibly jointed for golf. Put the elongated, the sleek and the flexibly jointed in a room, at an awards ceremony, say, and the elongated will not be able to bend to hear what the sleek are saying, while the flexibly jointed raid the buffet table from many novel angles.


But this Most New Sport is confusing. The inventors, the ones with imaginations ranging wild and heads for rules, constructs, gaming, are not in agreement over who is the Ideal Player. This Most New Sport needs stretching, but also shrinking, speed and slowness, cunning, selfishness, and a team-like spirit. Keep one eye on the ball while gripping a bat-like, racket-like, swinging it, skipping, shuffling.

“Too complicated!” wails the child of one of the inventors, rubbing bruises where the newly designed part-rubber, part-felt ball hit knees, stomach, right ear. The child sniffles off. The inventors look at each other, mouths lemoned. They are overwhelmed by pressure to do this. They do not sleep at night, dreaming of their Most New Sport.

After the child has gone, to relax they have a quick game. As they run, crawl, whack, slide, tap and saunter, all their stress grows wings.

“We love this,” they say to each other, knowing, knowing, knowing that what they have invented would change everything. Everything.

They have money men (and one woman) who were “mightily impressed” when they watched the two inventors play. They reached for their devices and swiftly turned out a tiny part of their electronic pockets into the inventors’ bank account.

“Get it out there,” they instructed. “Get it into parks and onto courts, spark up our youth. We need a new way to . . .” At this the money men—and woman—looked at one another, and each inventor felt again like the child in the playground, the one no one invited to join in. Each inventor thought, “This time, I am the game,” but the child inside shuddered.


A year later, and the inventors must admit they just can’t do it. No one else can play their New Sport. No one else can take on even a few of the rules, the must-dos and the can’t-dos. They have traveled everywhere, cajoled all sorts and types and heights, widths and flexibilities, but they have failed.

It seems only they can play it.

So they play and play, each winning, losing, winning, and eventually, all thoughts of money men and woman, of bringing their New Sport to the world, to parks and courts, all ideas of fame and immense fortunes, fade and vanish. They just play on and on.

“We love this,” they say to one another, as they run, crawl, whack, slide, tap and saunter, grinning, the young inventors playing the Most New Sport designed just for two.


Tania Hershman was born in London, moved to Jerusalem in her twenties, and now lives in Bristol, England. She has two story collections that include flash fictions, and a poetry chapbook forthcoming in 2016. Tania is founder and curator of ShortStops.info and is researching a PhD in creative writing. www.taniahershman.com 



Josip Novakovich

Wake Up

My pet peeve, I told my writing class, is a story that starts with, I woke up and . . . Why not start later, in the middle of the morning, with the action? But after my class, at 11:59 a.m., I reconsidered my writing teleology.

How are you, I asked perfunctorily a big football player type of a man on an elevator ride in Sykes Building in Tampa, Florida, at 12:25 p.m., a very clean and glassy structure on the banks of a very dirty and stinky and beautiful river with manatees moving around like bits of geology. The elevator on the way up suddenly decelerated and we sort of levitated, even his cravatted 350 lbs. did, as he opened up his glossy mouth rimmed with oversized overwhite porcelain teeth:

I woke up!

All is well, he woke up, he’s alive, and what more could he ask for? I liked it. Life is good if you wake up.

Have a dental day! He ushered me out of the elevator. Well, that’s another wise one. That means you will be smiling. Will I be smiling?

And now this sultry dawn I remember the man’s response. Not only am I dreaming that I can’t wake up but I have figured out that I can’t, and have tested it. I got up. I got out of bed, and I am stumbling around my apartment, tripping over sleeping cats, and my winter boots, although it’s spring, or so I think, as cherry petals are blowing through the apartment and my daughter, or least I think it’s my daughter, is sneezing in another room, or at least I think it’s another room, but could be another apartment, another time, another universe. It’s too dark for me to see the subtle lily purples of cherry blossoms, and I am breathing too deeply, almost snoring, to sneeze, although of course, before sneezing I would draw a deep breath, and maybe I am sneezing, maybe it’s not my daughter, and someone is crashing the windshield of my black BMW parked on Parker Street in front of the First Baptist Church, and why not Second Baptist, or even nicer, the Last Baptist. And I see through  the window, a man is trying to stop the batter who is smashing my car, but the batter has just hit him on the head and knocked him down, and I still don’t know whether I woke up  or whether I am sticking to my sheets in the Sealy bed. Shouldn’t I run down and rescue the man who has failed to rescue my car, but the intention more than counts, it wounds. If I am not awake I am not only dreaming but nightmaring, and I am not sure I would like to wake up to this, violent drunks and good men, the violent killing the well meaning, and evil winning over the good, unlike in fairy tales and theology and America, in front of the Last Baptist Church. And then I didn’t wake up.


Josip Novakovich is author of three short story collections. He grew up under the authoritarian rule of Marshal Tito in Croatia, studied medicine in Serbia, and in America studied psychology, then creative writing at Vassar and Yale. He now lives in Montreal, where he teaches creative writing at Concordia University.

Pedro Ponce

The Library Shelves of Babel

The Library’s closure went largely unremarked, apart from a segment or two on the nightly news. Our screens filled with colored bars charting the inevitable: Maintaining books was too expensive. The city budget had been slashed. Key supporters had left the Library Board. In the live shot from downtown, the lights of the front lobby streaked the pavement beyond, despite the hour. Such waste was precisely what led city auditors to recommend closure, noted the reporter, pushing fruitlessly for effect at the pane of a sliding door.

Many of our last Library visits were years ago, for school, and these we remembered for reasons having nothing to do with the Library itself—the novelty of leaving class in the middle of the day, the teacher’s distraction as we boarded the bus, our chatter ignored as she counted heads, the free boxed lunch sealed with the arched golden emblem familiar from birthday parties. Perhaps we were, briefly, enthralled by the taxidermy displays on the second floor, the moose and calves grazing at the base of a waterfall, the shadows of snake and badger against the starkness of desert sand. But soon enough, we snickered knowingly at the artifice of painted backdrops and plastic vegetation, the anatomy bared in tableaux of nursing animals or prehistoric caves. We looked overhead, as instructed by an associate librarian, at the whale skeleton suspended over the entrance of Science and Technology. Mistaking obedience for attention, he proceeded fastidiously through the specimen’s provenance and natural history. The pallor of rib and mandible blurred as we fixed on the skylight far above, where the sun’s slow tilt teased us with the hours remaining before our release to dusky driveways.

The closure was an unfortunate necessity, we all agreed. Were there any way to stop it, we would certainly do our part. Some of us began petitions and fund drives, even as the first public works vehicles arrived to clear the collections for demolition. We happily lent our signatures and spare change. But when the news reported their failure—often by wide margins—we had to resist the urge to gloat. We had always chafed at the Library’s stillness and sterility. We could see now, not without some shame, that we wanted the Library gone, its vitrines shattered, its artifacts discarded, its volumes surrendered to wind and rain.

The problem started small. As work approached its seasonal apex, as reverie yielded to family routine, it was hard to recall the last time we had scanned the sky for the Library’s tessellated dome, the stilled face of the inset tower clock. From behind treasured picture books read as bribery for sleep, between nightcaps hoisted to televised laughter, we could feel the Library’s vacancy. Nostrils filled with the musk of marbled pages; fingers idled, remembering the crisp cards of the outmoded catalog, the texture of continents as we spun the globe in the street-level atrium. We came to ourselves in slippered feet, peering out through the gaps in closed curtains.

The intrusions proliferated, forming paths the further we pursued them. Over the straps of cocktail dresses and smoking cigars, glanced askance as we checked wallet phones, the ridges of an old volume emerged in our line of vision. Above restaurant booths, in a corner we hadn’t noticed before, a stuffed wombat from the time of Cortez, a twig bearing a hummingbird nest, a ten-cent piece inset for scale. We took our time coming back from the lavatory to confirm what we had seen. Indeed, the book spines and pedestals bore numbered labels typed long before we were born. The City seal appeared in purple ink at the fore edge of closed volumes.

The more we found of the collection—in pawn shop windows, outdoor bazaars, waiting rooms—the more vivid and inscrutable the uncollected, which piled at our feet in windswept detritus, and rose to the sky in towering opacities. The pigments on a pottery shard, the legs of a dung beetle, the oar recovered from the last great disaster at sea, all hinted at a secret order, now dispersed invisibly throughout the quadrants of the city.

Dissembling a growing panic, we approached the city’s representatives themselves. What had happened, we inquired, to the Library’s collections, so vast and comprehensive that a full catalog was never completed? We had no plans to claim any of what remained; to possess a mere volume or artifact would only recall the missing whole.

The contents had been claimed, we were told, before the call abruptly cut.

Popcorn and concession candy staled as we recognized the map pinned with a fictional president’s campaign strategy in the latest war room thriller. Volumes lent credence to law offices, hotel lobbies, bank vestibules, furniture displays. We stared through transparent reflections at the growing array.

We gathered outside the abandoned Library. If we encountered any barriers warning of impending demolition, they fell with little effort. The revolving doors spun smoothly as they gathered us towards the central stairway. We ascended the bowed marble, faster as we reached the top. Before us rose a ziggurat of empty shelves, diminishing to a point far above. The spaces between were wider than we remembered when, as children, we could barely run a finger between the bottom of one shelf and the row of books below. We tested the lowest rung. The surface was firm, withstanding the pressure of hands and feet. With some effort, we folded ourselves into place, nestling back against the dark concrete, the coolness of metal bracing our heads.


Pedro Ponce is the author of Dreamland, a dystopian noir novel that is being published in serial form by the Satellite Collective’s online journal Transmission.






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