The wheat undulates under the wind; the field appears endless in the dispersed light the sun gives off from behind the horizon’s clouds. A combine harvester moves quickly down the exact middle of the field, leaving behind a thick strip of nothing. But then the combine stops suddenly. A strong wind bends the wheat over and the stalks look like the wriggling legs of some mega-millipede. The lean, gray-haired, balding driver is perfectly still for a moment, his cigarette passively smoldering two inches from his lips. He opens the door and leaps from the seat, then dashes forward to see under the front of his vehicle. Just under the blades on the passenger side lie what remains of a young man, his face turned up, his body mangled below the shoulders. By his head in the wheat lies an old felt hat, overturned, with spots of blood forming a short line on the brim. The driver looks at the young man’s face, stands bolt upright and stiffens, looking like an old boot left on its sole while its owner sleeps through the night.

Finally, he takes the half-smoked cigarette from his mouth, extinguishes it carefully on his blue jeans, and places the remainder in his left pocket. He walks over and properly faces the young man, leaning against the passenger side of the combine. The sun briefly peeks through a hole in the clouds, and a blotch of sunlight moves across the field like a ghost. The driver crouches on one knee and grabs the felt hat by the crown and pulls it from underneath the wheel. He places it easily on his head, where it fits, perfectly snug. Then he begins to walk, very slowly, back the way he came. Another hard wind blows and the wheat reaches for him across the avenue left by the tractor, but he is too far downwind, and it cannot reach him.

There once was a boy who looked like a bird,
when he dressed, when he spoke,
when he picked at his teeth;

when he sat up, and when he lay down,
when he put up his Christmas wreath;

when he looked out the window, to see something he heard;
when he opened up Webster’s, to look up a word;

he could look at a bug that crawled on a leaf,
or put on a hat, and call himself “Chief,”
but no matter what, I’m sure you’re assured,
all that he did, he did like a bird.

The boy’d been alone every day of his life,
he had no one but himself to play with.
The boy had no name because, being alone,
there was nobody there to give it.

(Chapter 1: The Child)

There was a child who lived in a clock tower. The whole thing was filled with gears and it was very complicated. For years it ran smoothly and quietly and the little guy didn’t know it was there. It did many complicated things he couldn’t even imagine and some of the things it did was deliver little cakes or visitors and show him things and help him to decide what to wear. But as he got older it began to break down. One day it made some noises and the child was astonished to learn that he lived in a clock tower.

(Chapter 2: He begins to take the panels off)

I found a writing textbook called Story Matters in a thrift store here in Ann Arbor. If you are an aspiring writer, I recommend you take a look at it.The bulk of the book is comprised of contemporary short stories and interviews with their authors. There is also a pedagogical section in the beginning of the book, and I am trying to do all the exercises in it. One of the first is to write a story suitable for the “55 Fiction Contest” held by The New York Times, the objective of which is to write a story that has setting, characters, conflict, and resolution in only fifty-five words. Here’s mine:

“…until death do you part?”



“Lori!” said the bride. “Always with you. Not on my wedding-”

“He came … last night … please, listen.”

“Goddamnit, you stupid … sorry, Father. Father, I do.”

“Perhaps…” whispered the priest.

“Perhaps nothing!”

“No one believes her, dear,” said the groom, blushing. “Everything is all right. Now, where were we?”

From the top, I saw the line between the green of the trees and the grey of the sky; I saw other things, and I heard the scurrying of cars below, but did not notice any of it. I did not even notice the line between the green of the trees and the grey of the sky. But I remembered – for no reason I can recall – how much I see and how little I notice, and I missed the way some things used to be and I started noticing. [I did this by remembering what it felt like to notice, and that made me feel that way, and that made me notice; or rather, that was noticing.] First the old brick warehouse that stood only a few blocks in front of the foot hills. It was filled with offices now. I could remember an enormous broken window on the side of that building, three stories above me on Washington Street. It was daytime, wet and cold, like today but wetter. Rain was falling in large drops off the glass shards that remained in the frame. I had never been in Michigan before that day. That was a year ago. Shit, more than that.

I was still noticing. The roads I could see seemed, if I let it happen, like they were right there at arm’s reach, the way they would be if they were on TV, except when you touched the screen you were touching the real thing, not just a picture. The hills made me miss Pittsburgh. I missed everything about Pittsburgh. I heard a car coming up from the seventh level, and I heard it pass right behind me. I was not going to turn around to look at it. If it’s the manager, fuck it. There’s more jobs where this came from. More places, too.


My mornings are like this: Right after I wake up, I put on a pair of black pants, the company shirt and the company jacket, and my boots. I come out of my house and it is cold out. I have brought my bike; I get on and start my ride down the hill. When the cold wind starts blasting it gets all in my eyes and they water, so much that at the bottom of the hill I have tears hanging from my jaw. This happens to me every morning when I go to work. It doesn’t hurt.


“Of course I’m going to call you,” she said. She said, “I’m not going to just drop you like a piece of … shit.” I remember when she said she wanted to know me for the rest of her life.


On my way down to the ground floor, between a pair of adjacent cars, I saw something purple and plastic on the concrete. I held the broom and dust pan in front of me so as to fit between the cars, and from above I could see the thing was a baby’s pacifier. I wasn’t sure I wanted to throw it away. Maybe the family would come back and find it, and take it home and clean it, despite the ambient odor of oil and cigarette butts. I left it there. I can get it tomorrow. (The baby will cry anyway. Babies cry.)


I was on a kind of date with this other girl. Last month sometime. We had met at the coffee place next to the parking structure, and we talked for nearly an hour. She was a student at the university, so probably too young for me. She had beautiful blue eyes that looked French; she looked French altogether, and she was short, which I like. And she had an exceptionally sexy voice. I left the place at the end of my break, but she came to find me when I got off work; she found me to give me her phone number. We had a strange date one night, where I was shy and she was drunk, and after that I called her and she didn’t call me back. Months later we ran into each other again, and we ended up at her house. No electricity; nothing but cold and dark and the rain outside and her bed where we had to touch to be warm.In the morning – after we made out and didn’t have sex, and after she told me she didn’t want to date me – we went to a diner for breakfast. I let her choose, and she chose my least favorite place in town. I used to sit in there drinking bad coffee, wishing I were in a real diner on the coast somewhere. Seattle, maybe. Then I stopped going.

The girl and I started talking, about politics or philosophy; whatever you call the way you think things should be. She’s majoring in one of those save-the-world subjects, like environmental something. She had all those opinions, like how bad war was and the death penalty, and all those other ways that people kill and maim each other. That kind of person, they think that all there is to life is avoiding getting hurt. I said there were things that were worse than violence. Like what, she said. Despair, I said. She told me she thought violence was worse than despair.