On the Power of Russian Literature
My great-grandmother once shut a book by Tolstoy so hard that a spark came from its pages, and the spark climbed up the curtains, and ignited a fire, and our summer house went up in flames. I did not inherit this talent of my great-grandmother’s, but once I did try to write a story in which everything took place in reverse: the summer house goes up in flames, the curtain burns, a spark catches in the pages of Anna Karenina, and so on: my great-grandmother shut the book so hard that the fire was extinguished.
How the iPad Saved the Short Story
The truth of the matter is that the iPad did not save the short story, and in any case this was not the reason that one man, fed up with his life, jumped from the window of his apartment on a high enough floor. And then, in the middle of the journey to the sidewalk, he suddenly discovered he could actually fly. He began to hover above the city streets, and flew up and down and forgot that he had just jumped from the window to die, and even cautiously approached the utility lines (without which the world is demilitarized from sadness). After a few minutes, when he turned in the general direction of his window, he could no longer fly. He started to fall, managed only to think he should ascend one last time, but it was no use, he spun through the air, plummeting and crashing on the road just a few minutes’ walk from his home. What a brief and bizarre kind of grace this was. But grace nonetheless.
My grandmother Rosa—I’ve changed a few details in this story—kissed Yuri Gagarin in 1961 in an elevator in Moscow. Which is to say, this wasn’t Gagarin, this wasn’t in an elevator, and above all in 1961 my grandmother was already living in St. Petersburg. More than once in my childhood, I saw my grandfather floating next to her in their apartment, a few centimeters above the parquet floor. I never saw a man float higher.
On the Painter of Doors
And so this painter used to go into residential buildings, jam a match into the light switch in the hall, drag his easel up the stairwell in search of another door he would paint, and so on. (Sometimes he would stay and work in the stairwell in the classic silence of night.) He painted, in oil on canvas, more than three hundred doors. It’s not unreasonable to assume that all his life he has loved the same woman.
A Wayward Text Message
From time to time, even though all the batteries were supposed to be sent to another warehouse, a short tune bursts from one of the phones in the used cell phone warehouse. The sleepy guard locates the defiant device and erases another love message that will go unclaimed.
More Names for Rain
The monk’s students asked him, what is Zen? He answered: It will rain in a moment; his students hurried to shelter him with umbrellas. The monk said: Now the rain has ceased.
All the Positions of Sleep
The spaceship drifted into deep space many years ago. Her transmissions grew more and more infrequent. The cosmonaut sends a greeting to his wife, and reports that even in conditions of weightlessness, in his dreams he always wakes up beside her in a different position than the one he fell asleep in.