Short Stories All the Time

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... a few of my thoughts about 900, mostly contemporary, short stories.

18 June, 2017

Ben Marcus, "Cold Little Bird"

"Cold Little Bird" by Ben Marcus was first published in The New Yorker in the October 19, 2015 issue. Then included in the 2016 edition of Best American Short Stories. 

It's a fabulous story, and scary. Scary because I'm worried what might come of the family. Jonah, ten years old, decided, all of a sudden, it seemed, to speak as little as possible to his parents and he requested that they not hug him or touch him anymore. He phrased it that he didn't love them. He'd also asked that they not call him by ridiculous nicknames and even threatened, albeit calmly, that he'd hate to have to speak to the counselor at school about them touching him when he'd expressed that they not. We don't see, in the story, how the future turns out for Jonah, his six-year old brother, Lester, or his parents, Martin and Rachel. The father, especially, doesn't acknowledge Jonah's feelings.

"I keep asking, but you don't listen."

"I listen."

"You don't. Because you keep doing it. So does Mom. You want to treat me like a stuffed animal, and I don't want to be treated like that."

"No, I don't, buddy."

Rachel attempts to understand and give Jonah some space, but the father, Martin, sees it as a competition, "But how do you follow such a strong, definitive opening move?"

The story is told from Martin's POV and is divided into fourteen sections, simple past tense.

Some of my favorite lines:

"Obviously, Jonah had dressed his brother, emptied the boy's backpack of yesterday's crap art from the first-grade praise farm he attended, and readied it for a new day."

"Now it just seemed efficient, and the animal greed no longer appeared. Minus the wet spot at the end, and the minor glow one occasionally felt, their sex wasn't so different from riding the subway."