Tenth of December

The kind of writing that makes your heart hurt, it’s so good. These are short stories that your breath catches on, forcing you to close the book after each one is consumed, to digest it properly, to let the karate kick to your head subside enough to allow full appreciation of the next installment. The Semplica Girl Diaries was the story that hurt the most, taunting me with the same idiocy I put into my own journals (replacing “is” with “=”, inane to-do lists, detailed litany of boring day), exposing weaknesses as something to face up to. All the stories contain just the right mix of poignancy, mundane, and heroic with tinge of loser.
* Victory Lap – popular teen abducted by creepy guy who dons a neon vest, conferring “officialness” to him, which gets him in the door. Next door neighbor sees the scuffle, runs over and clobbers creep with a huge crystal (his dad gave detailed instructions for placing crystal in the backyard, to earn “points” which can be redeemed for a few minutes of TV time or a handful of healthy snack).
* Sticks – 2 paragraph story that conveys the emotional sting of family; dad builds a pole structure that gets decorated for Christmas, 4th of July, Halloween. “The pole was Dad’s one concession to glee. We were allowed a single Crayola from the box at a time. He hovered over us as we poured ketchup, saying, Good enough good enough good enough.” Decorates pole to commemorate wife after her death. Eventually, he’s gone, the new owners leave the pole by the road on garbage day.
* Puppy – two families collide, the perfect family meeting imperfect over a puppy transaction. Imperfect mom has chained her son to the tree so he won’t hurt himself, perfect mom is aghast and calls child protective services.
* Escape from Spiderhead – prisoners in an experimental drug trial, testing Verbaluce, Vivistif, Darkenfloxx, in an effort to create a drug that allows people who cannot love to love, and those who love too much to love the perfect amount without getting hurt. Jeff chooses to Darkenfloxx his way to death to avoid hurting anyone else.
* Exhortation – a hilarious, long-winded, personal memo to the team about performance stats. Reminds me that Saunders worked for a long time doing technical writing, so was probably exposed to a fair bit of these types of communiques.
* Al Roosten – petulant older businessman whose store is failing, who indulges in fantasies about friendship with the more popular Larry. Begins with a prance down the runway during a lunchtime auction of Local Celebrities, Al gets no hoots or hollers but Larry gets plenty of applause. Al kicks Larry’s wallet and keys under the risers as he gets dressed, feels bad about it but does nothing. “The man gave Roosten a weak smile, and Roosten gave the man a weak smile back.”
* Semplica Girl Diaries – a financially struggling family splurges on new landscaping (with the fad of stringing up girls in white tunics from impoverished countries), daughter Eva sets the girls free but becomes despondent when the landscaping company insists that they pay ~$8k for the missing girls. Intimate portrait of daily challenges of raising a family.
* Home – a veteran returns home to find his mom getting evicted, neither welcome at sister’s fancy house, no one allowing him to see his ex-wife and children.
* My Chivalric Fiasco – after witnessing a coworker assaulted by the boss, both the coworker and he are bribed by the boss with money and promotions. Unfortunately, the promotion is a medicated role, drugged to help improv lines. Under the drugs, the narrator can’t contain his disgust at the act he witnessed, and outs the boss and coworker, losing his job.
* Tenth of December – boy questing for adventure and rescue discovers a cancer-riddled man shedding his coat on a freezing day as he plans his suicide, the boy attempts to bring it to him but falls through the ice, the old man rescues the boy, dresses him in his pajamas, sends him walking home. The boy sends his mom back for the man, both ending up warm and rescued.