Critical Thought: CALAMITY

This is based on a true story I once heard about Joseph Stalin’s fear of white sausage. Anything, he told his cooks, anything but white sausage. He didn’t like having to slice and peel off the skin, he didn’t like the way it looked floating there in the hot water. He suspected that Adolf’s success – always, always he was one step behind Adolf – was not completely independent of his meatless diet. But the origin of his fear (this is the true part) goes back to the morning after the first, last, and only time he allowed himself a taste of white sausage. He wakes from a dream of the meteor and discovers he is blind. I am still dreaming, he thinks, there is no need to break out in a sweaty panic. He blinks in the dark. One, two, two and a half minutes pass. He strokes his mustache with trembling fingers. How will I maintain my sanity, he thinks, without visual stimulation? Beside his bed rests the little bell that summons the servants, who always fall all over themselves in their efforts to dress him, but he doesn’t reach for the bell, he will be too tempted to ask his servants if the world is still there all around him, his bedroom and bookshelves and fancy footrests, if it is all still surrounding him just as he left it last night. If they answer yes, he will look foolish and if they answer no, the direness of his predicament will have increased exponentially. Three, four, five minutes, and his mouth is still rank with the taste of white sausage, little shreds of which are stuck between his teeth. The white sausage, all he can think of is the white sausage, the sweetness of the white sausage, the pop of fatty deposits between his teeth as he chews the white sausage, the white sausage (how he’d hated it!), and it seems impossible that his blindness should be unrelated to the white sausage, should be merely a coincidence. Then it all comes back at once, his bedroom, his bookshelves, his precious Ottoman, the Cossacks riding across the sepia wallpaper. The comforting prison of light, he says aloud. That evening he has the kitchen staff exterminated and replaced. Relief, relief. All night the sky is full of strange lights, he can see them from his bedroom, and maybe one of them is the meteor and maybe it is not.

Boomer Pinches received his MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Best New American Voices 2010, The Massachusetts Review, Tin House, notnostrums, and Seeing Other People.

Another Calamity Averted

I spent most of that summer devising pornography for the blind while my wife was out giving guided tours of the infinite regress, which meant she was never home on time, whatever time it was, and it was just me in that little house with the dog, who in a fit of cleverness we named Joseph Stalin. If my wife ever does get home, nothing happens except the usual coitus. I can’t complain. Or rather I can but things are bad enough already. I wrote out a suicide note but what sentimental drivel! To say nothing of the congenital grammatical errors. Day after day I revised it but never got it quite right. To raise my spirits I took a constitutional in the hills and threw a stick or two for Joseph Stalin, who feigned disinterest but you could tell all he really wanted to do was chase sticks, he just didn’t want to chase my sticks, and who could blame him, I wouldn’t have thrown them away in the first place if they were all that great. I walked back alone and even now I can’t quite say when I lost Joseph Stalin. We can’t rule out that I mistook him for one of my worthless sticks. But I forgot the whole matter as soon as I got home and saw the paper had arrived, as per its custom, and as per mine I went straight to the obituaries, from which I was again omitted, and does that not make me one lucky son of a bitch? I do a few ecstatic laps around the house, whooping and jumping, though sure enough once I get over the novelty of being alive and go back to just living, just walking around trying to keep things from getting worse, a thousand nagging things torment me. The kitchen’s a mess, I’ve lost my favorite sock, and while chances aren’t great that a meteor will wipe out civilization before we get to the end of this sentence, they aren’t all that bad either&emdash;but look at that, we made it! Repeat as desired. In other words, my wife is not the villain here. If she broke my heart it was only while trying to find a way in. Had I written all this in Braille perhaps it would have found the right audience. Oh audience, I don’t mean to criticize, I couldn’t have gotten this far without you. If only we could get together for a drink somewhere, away from all these words. What a grand time we could have! Let’s meet up soon, at the top of this very page, and try again.

by Boomer Pinches