A Month of Short Stories 2014, Day 27 – Cathay

A year ago, for the month of June, I wrote about an online short story each day for the month. It seemed like a good idea at the time. My blog readership fell precipitously and nobody seemed to give a damn about what I was doing – which was a surprising amount of work.

Because of this result, I’m going to do it again this year.

Today’s story, for day twenty-seven – Cathay, by Steven Millhauser

Read it online here:


After I read the story I found that Cathay is an alternate name for China in English. I wish I hadn’t learned that – the amazing world of the story should remain mysterious and shrouded – to tie it to a real place seems to dull the gleaming magic a little.

But this is a minor thing. It is still a place where golden mechanical birds sing as beautifully as real, where women have tiny paintings on their eyelids and elsewhere, and floating islands might be breeding.

In Millhauser’s Cathay the emperor’s concubines are so beautiful and artfully decked out they can’t even be gazed upon by normal men. All that do spend the rest of their lives wracked by tormented longing… which, I suppose puts them in the same state as the rest of us.

It’s an enchanted travelog to a plane of the imagination that ends with a battle of magicians and living statues.

A place of pure fancy.

So much the sadness.


There are Fifty-four Steps of Love, of which the fifth is Yearning. There are seventeen degrees of Yearning, through all of which the lover must pass before reaching the sixth step, which is Restlessness.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.