Her stories are brief and there’s a trick to them: terror. Not because there is blood in the yard but because there are lunatics wearing strange hats or because there is one penis among many vaginas or because there are two sisters. The stories are like Emily Dickinson’s poems: A snake parts the grass, where crouching, you feel the sharp intake of air and “zero at the bone.”
Or you start from a single point and begin to move in a straight line, but the directions spread as you feel for the edges, though maybe there is no edge to this feeling.
She sits in her kitchen alone with a letter open on the table and the TV on in the living room. She thinks of the man she was married to and her solitude is a comfort and sometimes it is a vice.
The window in the kitchen is open and she can hear her neighbors downstairs. They’ve pulled lawn chairs onto the sidewalk beside a boom box blasting reggaeton. Later when she brings her laundry down one of them tells her, We’ve lived here for twenty years.
Or if it is winter she walks all day. She sees the grave of a horse named Seaman. faithful to man , says the stone. She sees the stone of a man named Bliss.
She collects these things. When she has a bunch of them together she starts putting them in their order.
The stories are about mothers and daughters, sisters, lovers, husbands—rarely, if ever, about fathers, because if your father takes up the whole room what is left to say?
She imagines a story about cannibals. This requires only the courage of her convictions.
Some friends come to see her and take her to lunch at a restaurant named for the cry of a bird. They eat pike quenelle over celery root and lobster tail and grilled lamb chop and oysters and some things she can’t pronounce. The sommelier comes to pour the wine and he’s wearing a pin on his lapel, which her friend says is the pin of the secret order of sommeliers. Then this friend rolls up his sleeve to show her his new tattoo: no more lies . The other friend makes a small noise with her mouth and Lydia Davis does not ask questions, because she knows all about his lies from the woman and because she likes the friends very much and is so glad to see them.
Lydia Davis is feeling heavy with the wine and the rich food and grateful to her friends for bringing her here, far from her feelings about herself and her life. When the meal is over, everyone is satisfied and one of the friends says, This is fun. Then he pays the bill, which is $300 and a lot she thinks to spend on lunch, but who is she to say?
When they leave, she is thanking her friends and crying because of how good they are and maybe also because of the wine. She goes back home to sit in her kitchen, where it’s still early.
I’ve said her stories are terrifying and so maybe you’re waiting for some wound to appear, while so far it’s been laundry and lunch.
The letter on the table is from a former lover. She’d pulled it out to read again, though it’s been years since he wrote. It makes no difference where she starts on the page; the feeling is always the same: like peering into the tall grass, which opens and closes on something that’s gone.
The letter was written in Argentina after it was over between them but before he stopped speaking to her.
He writes about winding bus routes and a place where the cold, clear glacier water has gathered in the saddle of a mountain. She can see him there on the mountain trail stumping along like a doomed poet. There’s a dog named Duende at his heels and then the shores of another lake and the ancient and enormous alerce trees. “The arrayán trees are fragrant and the smell of their bark is between cinnabar and persimmon,” he writes. If you want terror, here it is, in the precise parting of arrayán from alerce.
Lydia Davis gets up from the table because the room is suddenly dark.
When he said it the first time they were lying together in his bed and then he said something else: I think you’ve waited long enough to hear it, which made the first thing sound like something offered against his will. She tried to put some lightness in her voice, in case he could sense that she heard his reluctance and resented her for that too.