Short Story of the Day, Sleep by Haruki Murakami

“Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.”
― Haruki Murakami, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running

Sleep
Sleep

I dove in and am reading through Maruki Murakami’s 1Q84 for my Difficult Reading Book Club read.

Here’s a longish short story that we traded around at our last meeting.

Sleep by Haruki Murakami

and from my old online journal:

The Daily Epiphany

Saturday, December 25, 1999

Rending of wrapping

I think I was more excited about Christmas this year than the kids were. Seeing Nick and Lee and knowing how special Christmas is to children makes me so happy. I can still remember almost every Christmas when I was a kid. My sons are so appreciative too; they are spoiled, of course, but they enjoy everything so much and never complain about what they don’t get.

Another nice thing is that the kids are older now and they stuff they get – mostly video games and computer software – doesn’t take a lot of assembly. That makes it a lot easier on Santa; no staying up all night putting together basketball goals or stuff like that.

I woke up about five and couldn’t go back to sleep. I went out in the living room and set the camcorder up on a tripod aimed at the base of the tree and the pile of boxes arranged there. I read the paper, ate some breakfast, and waited for the little ones to get up. They started to stir and I ran out to the living room and started the camcorder going but they fell back asleep.

Finally, about seven thirty (that’s fairly late for my kids) they started to sit up and rub their eyes.
I asked Nick, “Are you getting up?”
“No, I’m tired, let me go back to sleep,” he said groggily and grumpily.
“Nicholas, what day is today?” I asked.
That made him mad at first.
“How do I know what day it… wait… wait….”
Then his face lit up and he snapped fully awake as his sleepy mind realized exactly what day it was.
“Lee! Lee! let’s go, let’s go!” Nick yelled at his groggy brother.
I dashed out ahead of them so I could watch the annual shredding of paper, the squealing and laughing and oohs and aaahs and looks of joy and amazement.

I was worried that we hadn’t bought enough stuff for the kids. As they get older and their toys get more expensive the volume of crap inevitably gets smaller. I shouldn’t have worried, they were beyond thrilled.

Short Story of the Day, Flash Fiction, Heresy by Heather Pearson

“Painting is poetry that is seen rather than felt, and poetry is painting that is felt rather than seen.”

― Leonardo da Vinci

I wonder what this guy was thinking… “Wow, there are too many people here! I give up!” or, more likely, “Hey! Quit staring at my penis!”

From my old journal, The Daily Epiphany, Sunday, January 10, 1999:

DMA

On the road to Grandma’s house today, I suggested we go to the Dallas Museum of Art with the kids sometime. Candy replied, “Why not right now.”

We were approaching the crystal mountains of downtown and that was an excellent idea. We used the cell phone to tell the relatives we’d be a couple hours late and took the next freeway exit. I suffered a brain freeze and put a bunch of money in a meter (they are free on Sundays – and plainly marked) and we were there.

The kids liked the art. Lee, especially asked a bunch of questions.
“How do they get pieces of paper that big?”
“Most are painted on canvas.”
“What’s that?”
“A heavy cloth.”
“But if they paint on cloth, why doesn’t it get all scrunched up and wrinkly?”
“They make a frame and stretch the canvas across it, hold it tight with a bunch of little nails.”
“What?”

Both kids predictably liked the older, realistic, landscape paintings. Lee wasn’t impressed with the post-1975 gallery.
“Those look like a bunch of smooshes. I could do that. ‘cept I don’t have those bright colors.”

Nick liked the Egyptian stuff the best (though the Dallas museum doesn’t have the best collection). He was fascinated with the mummies.

They both enjoyed one modern video presentation. A dual screen suspended in the center of a huge dark room, roaring soundtrack. I liked it too.

Their favorite part, though, was the hours they spent in the Gateway Gallery doing the Drop-In Art. Big tables covered with piles of paper, clear plastic, glue, scissors, and markers. The children were supposed to produce a “winter scene.”

Most parents helped their kids and produced realistic looking scenes of ice skaters. We let Nick and Lee rock and roll on their own and they produced some bizarre looking polar landscapes.
“I’ve never seen orange and purple polar bears,” said one of the instructors.

I thought they were pretty good.

And today’s flash fiction:

Heresy by Heather Pearson

from Reflex Press

Heather Pearson Twitter

The Grantidote

Short Story of the Day, Flash Fiction, Girls In Space Be Wary by Meghan Phillips

“Not just beautiful, though–the stars are like the trees in the forest, alive and breathing. And they’re watching me.”

― Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore

Mural Deep Ellum Dallas, Texas

From my old journal, The Daily Epiphany, Friday, October 4, 2002:

Dallas is an easy place to hate

Dallas is an easy place to hate. It’s ugly – there is no natural beauty here; the city was plopped down in an expanse of muddy mesquite-covered scrubland. No mountains, no forests, no crashing surf, no sparkling gurgling streams. A modern city, sprawled out, no history, no monuments – all brick veneer, concrete, tarmac, and reflective glass. The summers are almost unbearable – with the deadly sticky sweltering heat and burning broiling sun making life a dash from one antiseptic air-conditioned space to another.

It’s an easy place to hate.

And then you have an afternoon like today.

It would ordinarily be my flex day off – but there’s a huge project due in one month and I’ve resigned myself to lots of extra hours and decided to go in so I wouldn’t fall further behind. That’s fine, it was quiet in there and I was able to get a lot of papers and electrons properly shuffled.

I walked out of work to catch my shuttle to the train and realized that some sort of cool front (maybe pulled around on the back side of the hurricane, Lili, now moving north from Louisiana?) had moved silently through while I sat in my cubicle.

The sun was still perched in a cornflower sky but the air was cool. It was wonderful. Weather like that is so rare – it makes my skin feel like it is jumping out – off the bone.

Wonder of wonders… there is no soccer practice tonight, no children to tote, so I was in no hurry to get home (I called Nick and asked if he wanted me home soon, he said he didn’t care – Candy and Lee were out, he’s getting his hair tinted) and decided to take the train down to Mockingbird station. I’d rent some movies at Premiere video, get some coffee at Starbucks, sit outside, and write for awhile – watch the sun set on the beautiful people before catching the blue line train out east to the redneck suburbs.

The selection at Premier Video is so astounding I have to carry a list in my Ipaq PDA to help me chose what I want to watch. This time, I chose a documentary, Salesman – one of the Maysles’ early works. I’m interested in their stuff again after seeing LaLee’s Kin earlier this week. I also picked up a DVD of an Almodóvar film, Live Flesh, for some light entertainment.

I loaded the videos into my backpack and crossed Mockingbird to grab a coffee at the Starbucks in the base of the lofts. If I wasn’t a redneck-suburb soccer dad (and wasn’t poor as dirt) this is where I would live. The condos are perched over the train platforms, where the tracks fall down into the tunnel for their run downtown. With a DART pass you can reach any part of the city, from the zoo to downtown, north to Plano or east to white rock in a flash with a roar of steel wheels and a whiff of ozone. At ground level the place is lousy with tony stores and trendy restaurants. The Angelika Theater anchors one end of the complex and across Mockingbird is another clot of useful and overpriced stores. All the men there are fashionable and all the women walking around have long legs.

And today’s flash fiction:

Girls In Space Be Wary by Meghan Phillips

from Cheap Pop

Meghan Phillips Twitter

Meghan Phillips Homepage

Short Story of the Day, Flash Fiction, Alma Mater by Amy Barnes

“Time was passing like a hand waving from a train I wanted to be on.

I hope you never have to think about anything as much as I think about you.”

― jonathan safran foer

Young dancers on the reflecting pool at the Dallas String Quartet concert.

From my old journal, The Daily Epiphany, September 10, 1999:

Summer is supposed to be over. The awful killer heat is gone, but still the sun beats down mercilessly. I had to work outside a lot today, sweating through my flame resistant lab coat.

All I could think about was looking up through high tree branches, the green leaves stopping the hot sun, letting the dappled cool rays through.

It was such a relief to get home, change clothes, and take a relaxing shower.

And today’s flash fiction:

Alma Mater by Amy Barnes

from Indigo Literary Journal

Amy Barnes Twitter

Short Story of the Day, Flash Fiction, My heart has given me the slip again by B. Tyler Lee

“Home is a notion that only nations of the homeless fully appreciate and only the uprooted comprehend.”

― Wallace Stegner, Angle of Repose

Heart of Texas Red, Craft Beer Logo, Four Corners Brewing Company, The Cedars, Dallas, Texas

From my old journal, The Daily Epiphany, September 5, 2002:

I was walking along Mockingbird back to the train, dodging the heavy rush-hour traffic when I noticed a chunk of gravel arcing overhead and bouncing down into the street. As I watched, a couple others followed it, one hitting asphalt, but the other pinging off of an expensive SUV. I looked closer and saw a homeless man in the center of a clump of bushes. There was a big transformer in there (probably related to the electric train) and the guy had a bed made up next to it. He was really pissed off at a crow sitting on the wires overhead, and was cursing, screaming, and throwing gravel at it. Of course, the gravel was missing the bird and landing out in the traffic.

I tried to think of what to do – but luckily, the bird flew away and the man immediately stretched out and went back to sleep.

All I could do was shake my head and go back and catch my train.

And today’s flash fiction:

My heart has given me the slip again by B. Tyler Lee

from Okay Donkey

B. Tyler Lee Twitter

Short Story of the Day, Flash Fiction, How We Coped with the Giant Robots by Anna Cabe

“Aimless extension of knowledge, however, which is what I think you really mean by the term curiosity, is merely inefficiency. I am designed to avoid inefficiency.”

― Isaac Asimov, The Caves of Steel

Bikes and Robots Hickory Street Dallas, Texas

From my old journal, The Daily Epiphany, February 15, 1999:

Shit, what a long, tiring day. Oh, look at the top of the page, it’s a Monday. No wonder.

I sat the morning through a two hour Lotus Notes class, a professional trainer, twenty years younger than me explained in excruciating detail everything I already knew and displayed his ability to scrunch up his nose when I asked a question.

Meanwhile, the hourly folks in the class had a lot of trouble. I really felt sorry for them, the instructor would rattle off, “click here, go back, minimize.” He would always say click when he should have said double click. Not that the poor hourly guys can double click anyway. They are used to terminal emulators with tacked up dog-eared Xerox copies of lists of odd key combinations. They’ll be alright, they’ll get gooey eventually. Those tough callused hands trying to push a mouse around, that look of confusion; it’s a difficult world.

I spent most of the class leaning slightly forward with my eyes closed rubbing the corners of my lids.

The rest of the workday was meetings. More lid-rubbing.

I didn’t really do anything, did I? I sure was exhausted when I came home. My head was splitting, my right ear isn’t working again, I should have gone to a cycling class, but I booted. I should have played with the kids, worked on the garage, written some stuff, read some chapters, but I didn’t.

All I managed to do was flounder around horizontally, watching some sports on TV.

And rubbing the corners of my eyelids ’til the headache finally went away.

And today’s flash fiction:

How We Coped with the Giant Robots by Anna Cabe

from Gordon Square Review

Anna Cabe Homepage

Anna Cabe Twitter

Short Story of the Day, Flash Fiction, There are Beaches in Michigan by Deanna Baringer

“Each year, we rent a house at the edge of the sea and drive there in the first of the summer—with the dog and cat, the children, and the cook—arriving at a strange place a little before dark. The journey to the sea has its ceremonious excitements, it has gone on for so many years now, and there is the sense that we are, as in our dreams we have always known ourselves to be, migrants and wanderers—travelers, at least, with a traveler’s acuteness of feeling.” –from ““The Seaside Houses”

― John Cheever, The Stories of John Cheever

Crystal Beach, Texas

From my old journal, The Daily Epiphany, January 1, 2003:

The weather for New Year’s Day at Crystal Beach was absolutely perfect. The sun came out warm and the wind dropped down to a dead calm. The low tide fell even lower and uncovered a long stretch of Bolivar Peninsula sand near our beach house that was scattered with interesting, unbroken seashells. As we picked them up, we discovered that many contained hermit crabs. Nicholas has been bugging us to buy him a hermit crab for a pet and I told Lee (Nick was still inside reading – he was on the home stretch of Return of the King and wanted to finish) that we’d pick out six crabs and take them back with us.

After a bit, Nicholas rode up on his bicycle (with the cry of, “I have news from Gondor!” – he’s terribly obsessed) and was tickled pink with the crabs. He’s found a plastic container and built a little habitat for them. I don’t know anything about these things – I hope they survive for a while. When we get back to Dallas I’ll do a web search and find out how to care for them.

Later, I went for a long walk, to the north this time, passing miles and miles of huge, beautiful beach houses. It was dark when I made it back to our humble rental unit and Lee was concerned that I had been gone so long.
“I was getting worried, Dad.”
“What, Lee, did you think I’d get lost?”
“I don’t know… I was just worried.”

Lee has been collecting driftwood sticks this whole trip and had accumulated a little stack of them. He explained that he only wanted to keep three of them (his walking stick, one he pretends is a sword, and one he has whittled into an arrow of sorts) but wanted to start a fire on the beach with the rest of them. Every night somebody has a fire going out on the beach, usually a too-big one, but Lee wanted to give it a try.

Lee walking in the surf at Crystal Beach. I checked my old blog entries – this was December 29, 2002. Almost twenty years ago.

The problem is, we didn’t have any matches or a lighter. I lit a leftover fireworks punk on the stove and took that out on the beach where we had prepared a campfire with the sticks and some crumpled newspaper. I couldn’t get a flame, though, only smoldering paper.

I thought for a bit, then dug out Candy’s citronella candle she bought to discourage bugs. I lit a strip of newspaper on the range top (after removing the battery from the smoke detector) and used that to light the candle. Then, using my jacket as a windscreen, I carefully walked backwards out the door, down the stairs, and out onto the beach without letting the candle go out. It wasn’t easy, but I managed to get the thing lit.

It was a nice little campfire on the beach. The wind whipped the fire and the driftwood sticks gave a good flame with strong, hot coals. Nick (he finished The Return of the King this afternoon and is very proud), Lee, and I sat around the fire for a bit, enjoying the stars, the cool sand, and the sound of the nighttime surf.

When it was time to go in Lee and I spread out the coals and buried them with damp sand. It was a really nice last evening on the beach. Tomorrow, we pack up and head back to the city.

And today’s flash fiction:

There are Beaches in Michigan by Deanna Baringer

from Feed

Deanna Baringer Twitter

Short Story of the Day, Flash Fiction, What A Wonderful World by Jonathan Cardew

“The human race is a monotonous affair. Most people spend the greatest part of their time working in order to live, and what little freedom remains so fills them with fear that they seek out any and every means to be rid of it.”

― Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, The Sorrows of Young Werther

Deep Ellum, Dallas, Texas

From my old journal, The Daily Epiphany, July 2, 2002:

The other day I finished up at work late and realized that I didn’t have time to go home, but had some extra minutes to kill before I had to go get Nick and some teammates after soccer practice. Everybody else in my small cube-farm had left and I had a novel in my briefcase, so I put my feet up and read a little. Unfortunately, I was way too tired and promptly fell asleep. To save energy, our office lights are on a timer and while I snoozed the office was plunged into darkness. It was dumb luck that I woke up slumped over my dark desk, head in a pool of drool, with barely enough time to jet around the highway (luckily, that late the traffic dies down considerably) and get Nick and the other kids in our carpool.

And today’s flash fiction:

What A Wonderful World by Jonathan Cardew

from No Contact

Jonathan Cardew Twitter

Jonathan Cardew Homepage

Short Story of the Day, Flash Fiction, The Boatman by Purnima Bala

“This boat that we just built is just fine –

And don’t try to tell us it’s not

The sides and the back are divine –

It’s the bottom I guess we forgot”

― Shel Silverstein, Where the Sidewalk Ends

(Click to Enlarge) These boats full of Chihuly glass aren’t really floating on White Rock Lake like it looks. They are on the Arboretum infinity pool – beautiful.

From my old journal, The Daily Epiphany, March 23, 2001:

The border between the US and Mexico is a big deal in most places – controlled bridges, customs, crowds, fences, razor wire, a complete difference from one side to another.

Here in Big Bend the border is a greenish sluggish river, barely waist deep, and the crossing is a decrepit old rowboat called “La Enchilada.” A ride across the Rio Grande cost $2. “Pay me on the other side,” the boat’s captain told me – apparently to avoid the onus of doing business in a US National Park. Two quick strokes on his paddle and we were in Mexico.

A busy crowd on the gravel bar was hawking handmade jewelry, walking sticks, and rides by burro, horse, or pickup truck into the village. I walked past the jabbering, bargaining crowd (a handful of elderly tourists were renting some burros) and hoofed it the mile or so into the village.

It was a dusty, sandy walk through the floodplain thicket of mesquite into the village of Boquillas itself. It’s a dirt-poor border town, a few short dusty gravel streets lined with scattered adobe huts. Each hut has its own table covered with rock crystals, scavenged from the nearby mountains, for sale. The main street has one restaurant, Falcon’s, and a handful of cantinas – some very shady looking.

Above the village rears the amazing escarpment of the Sierra del Carmen. Those cliffs, jagged like broken teeth dominate the skyline of the entire park, visible clear up to the headquarters thirty miles away.

I settled into the breezeway of Falcon’s – surprisingly cool once I was out of the burning sun and shaded by the roof of traditional vigas. A few others were already there – a big group of tourists sitting at one long table and a couple of local Texas ranchers with their families – the men were bargaining with the owner of the restaurant over the sale of a pickup truck.

Two rooms selling really bad Mexican handicrafts flanked the open breezeway. I had hoped to buy Candy a birthday present there, but there wasn’t anything worth looking at. At the end of one room was the restaurant kitchen, which looked like one from a small apartment. The owner’s daughter stood there looking bored and cranked out the food. She was cooking on a Coleman camping stove powered by white gas. I don’t think the restaurant had electricity. One tourist asked to, “see the menu” and the daughter replied, “tacos y burritos.” Each were three for a dollar.

I ordered a Corona and a plate with three tacos and three burritos. The food was greasy and good – small handmade corn tortillas served with a bowl of diced jalapenos and onions. The beer was cold. I sat and ate and drank my beer and wrote a little in my notebook.

Local children selling little woven bracelets carried on pieces of cardboard swarmed the restaurant. I bought two for Nicholas, one said Big Bend the other Boquillas. The pesky kids were really bothering the big table of tourists. Eventually the wife of the restaurant’s owner came out and shooed them away – even the few that were standing around my table.

El hombre escribiendo!” she shouted at the children near me.

After finishing a second beer I decided to walk around a bit more, having to constantly fend off the little street vendors. I decided I was still thirsty so I stopped by one of the cantinas for a cold Dos Equis. It was a roomy bar with tables and two pool tables at the back; Spanish rap music blared out of an unseen boombox somewhere. The long bar was lined with every imaginable brand of cheap Mexican tequila, mescal, and sotol.

A sunburned Mexican drunk conned me into buying him a Tecate – then left me alone. A couple of American college girls came in for beers and then three guys wearing Chi Omega Intramurals T-shirts came in for shots and bought a round for the girls.

“Where you from?” the bartender asked the girls.

“Indiana.”

An older couple came in and bought four bottles of some odd colored liquor. The bartender carefully wrapped it so they could get it back across the border.

The owner came out from the back and sat with me and we spoke a bit, mixing English and Spanish. It is so rare that I speak Spanish anymore my mouth felt odd forming the sounds. The Mexican beer helped.

He made some rude remarks in Spanish about the girls at the bar; then asked me where I was from. I told him I drove through Monahans to get to Big Bend.

“Big prison in Monahans,” the owner said, “I have nephew in prison there.”

Then he indicated the sunburned drunk, “He is the police here, only police in Boquillas.”

I considered asking to see his badge but thought better of it. With the sleazy cantina, the dusty streets, and the mountains rising high overhead things were getting way too Treasure of the Sierra Madre feeling for me, so I decided to head back to Texas.

I bought a couple of walking sticks for the kids and a bag of quartz crystals for Lee’s rock collection from a woman in one adobe hut then walked back to the crossing and the rowboat. I shared the ride with the couple that had bought the liquor – they said it was a Mexican version of Blue Contreau or something, and they used it in Margaritas at parties, “Everybody comes over and loves our Margaritas!” the woman said.

I felt dusty and some water sounded good so my next drive was over a little way to the parking lot for the Hot Springs. A short walk down an interesting trail and I was at the springs. The hot water comes up from below into a little pool built out into the Rio Grande, a remnant of the old spa on the site. You can’t camp or park overnight there, but a group of canoeists were set up on the opposite bank, in Mexico, and had swum across to enjoy the hot water. The spring felt wonderful.

I chatted a bit with the canoeists. Two of them wanted to buy some wine and do a hike along the river so I gave them a ride to the Rio Grande Village store. By then the sun was starting to set so I made the long drive back to the Basin and my camp. Another good day, my last in Big Bend this trip.

This was written six months before the 9/11 attack. The border is, of course, very different now.

And today’s flash fiction:

The Boatman by Purnima Bala

from MoonPark Review

Purnima Bala Twitter

Purnima Bala Homepage

Short Story of the Day, Flash Fiction, Dream of the Rising Sea by Juan Morales

“I must be a mermaid, Rango. I have no fear of depths and a great fear of shallow living.”

― Anais Nin

Caribbean Sea

From my old journal, The Daily Epiphany, March 10, 1999:

Lee and I walked the crowded beach in the middle of town to kill the time. That little bugger walked for two hours straight, completely wearing me out. We both saw all sorts of interesting stuff.

Lee saw seashells, bits of colored rock, the best of which he stuffed into his pockets. He considered it a great honor to find jellyfish washed up on the beach, of which there were many. There were pet dogs to pet, jetties to walk out on, giant waves to marvel at. He finally wore me out and I sat down on a log and watched him standing along at the surf’s edge, watching the waves. He walked back to me and said, “Daddy, I don’t understand things, how things work, how they make big buildings and machines that work.”

I noticed other things: the drunk leaning over on the seawall bench next to the souvenir piers and puking, thin yellow vomit streaming out ’til he must have been empty, then popping up and asking passers-by “Hey, man, can I please borrow a dollar-twenty five, man,” his buddy, sleeping the sleep of the dead on a piece of old carpet on the sand below him, two other drunks dropping beer bottles down on his head trying to wake him, a family that looked like rejects from Jerry Springer having a heated argument, backwoods accents so strong I couldn’t even make out what they were saying, one female surfer, a beginner, was having a lot of trouble keeping her skimpy top on. I don’t understand how things work either.

And today’s flash fiction:

Dream of the Rising Sea by Juan Morales

from Bending Genres

Juan Morales Twitter

Pilgrimage Magazine – Juan Morales Editor