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NINE STORIES by Edward Mullany

Bay Ridge

I’d fallen off my barstool and had been helped back up onto it by the man who’d been sitting next to me and who was laughing at me, or with me, as I was laughing at myself, though this man wasn’t someone I’d known before I’d entered the bar that afternoon, several hours earlier, when I’d found myself on the street on which it was located, having walked a long way, without much purpose or direction, from the neighborhood in which my apartment was, and in which I’d been arguing with the person with whom I’d been living and with whom I was in a relationship, and who, in fact, I had been and still was in love with, though it had become clear to me that this person was no longer in love with me, and maybe never had been, though this person did not want to admit it.

 

Translated from the French

I’d been reading a novel about a woman who is haunted by the ghost of her husband, though she does not at first realize she is being haunted by anything, and though, even after she does realize, she does not know that the ghost who is haunting her is her husband’s ghost, though after a while she begins to sense that maybe it is his, for it interacts with her in a way she begins to recognize, or remember, so that by the close of the novel she knows for certain that it is her husband’s ghost, though after she arrives at this certainty, and is relieved of the sadness with which she till then had been living, his ghost no longer haunts her, and her life proceeds without incident until it ends, many years later, one night when she is peacefully asleep.

 

Orpheus at Rest

When the old man who was sitting on a stool beside mine at the bar discovered I was a writer, after I’d told him as much, after he’d started talking to me after I’d come in from the rain and had sat down and had ordered a beer and had drank it and had ordered another, he told me he had a story about his life that he himself would’ve written if he was a writer, but that he was going to relate to me now, as a favor, so that I myself could write it, as if it had happened to me, though I would have to promise him, he added, that if I became famous from it, and made a lot of money, that I’d return to this bar and buy him a beer and thank him for the inspiration.

 

Paulette

After I’d finished what I’d said was going to be my last drink, and had headed toward the door of the bar in the company of a woman who was my friend and who was trying to get me to leave with her, so that she could make sure I got home safely, though she had not come to the bar with me, but had only arrived after she’d realized, from the texts we’d been exchanging, that she was worried about me, and had thus left her apartment, in her neighborhood, and had gone down to the street and had hailed a cab and had gotten in it and had told the driver to take her here…yes, after all this, when we were almost to the door of the bar, which was open onto the sidewalk, where one could see that it had been raining, I wheeled around and went back in and tried to order another drink, so that the woman who was my friend felt compelled to remain there with me, by my side, though at this point the bartender had seen what was happening and had decided not to serve me anymore, so that now I really did leave with the woman who’d come to retrieve me, although I did so in a belligerent way. 

 

Almost Over

On the sidewalk out front of the bar we’d only now come out of, having spent several hours inside it with a number of friends who’d all now departed, either in pairs or by themselves, so that you and I were the only two people remaining, though even we were not so much remaining as we were waiting in the vicinity of that place we would’ve been remaining had we not gotten up and gone outside and begun looking at our phones and watching the vehicles on the street for the next available cab, so that one might have said that we were no longer conscious of our present surroundings, or happy to inhabit them, but rather were anxious or impatient for what we hoped those surroundings could provide us with, or for how they might imminently change…yes, while we were standing out on the sidewalk like this, outside the bar, both of us in possession of our phones, but not very much aware of one another, or how one another was feeling, or what one another was thinking, if we’d been thinking anything at all, I realized we hadn’t said a word to each other since we’d found ourselves alone, after the last of our friends had said goodbye to us, and something about the knowledge that this realization imparted to me scared me.

 

The Glitch in Reality

One morning, on my way to work, I found no one on the platform in the subway, waiting for a train, though when I’d been up on the street, walking toward the corner, I’d seen many people, as I always did, crossing in front of me, or going past me, or alongside me, entering stores or coming out of them, waiting at the stoplight as traffic went by, standing and talking, or yelling, in a word, doing many things, so that it seemed to me now as if everyone had disappeared, or as if they’d decided that day not to commute into the city. Though when I went back through the turnstiles and up the stairwell and out onto the sidewalk, so strange had I found the sight of the empty station, I saw everyone again, doing all the things that they were doing. And when I went back down again, slowly this time, with an awareness or consciousness of every action I was engaged in, or was undertaking, I saw that people were now where I’d expected them to be, on the platform, looking at their phones, or standing with idle expressions on their faces.   

 

Gowanus

We get in an argument on the sidewalk outside the bar where we’ve spent the afternoon drinking, though we do not finish the argument there, but continue it as we walk down the block in what we think is the direction of the nearest subway, though because you are ahead of me, and won’t let me walk beside you, and are not, in fact, responding anymore to any of the things that I say to you or ask you, I eventually lapse into silence, and can imagine that we must appear, to anyone who might pass us or observe us, not as two people who are walking together, but rather as two people who happen to be near each other, heading the same way, but who may or may not even know each other.

 

Thursday

The bottle that I’d finished the night before, when I’d come home from work after a day on which many things had gone wrong, or, anyway, had transpired in a way that was not to my liking, though they may have transpired in a way that was to the liking of some of the people with whom I worked…yes, the bottle that I’d finished when I’d come home that night, after such a day, and had decided to have a drink or two, but had ended up having more than I’d intended to, was the first thing I saw the next morning when, waking on the floor in the shirt and tie and pants I hadn’t changed out of, I groggily and painfully, and somewhat unwillingly, opened my eyes, though the bottle itself, which was near enough to me that I could’ve reached out and touched it had I wanted to, though just then I did not want to, and in fact wished that it was not there at all, even to be seen, let alone touched, was no longer upright but had been tipped over onto its side.

 

Carbon Prevails  

I’d decided to quit drinking, and had done so, and had stuck by the decision for many months, so that, with every passing day, the sense of accomplishment and resolve that had come to me, upon making that decision, was increasing, though so was, strangely enough, a sense of precipitousness or danger that I had not anticipated, and that seemed to be inversely related to that sense which I’d first felt, and which had caused in me a feeling of tranquility, or well-being, but which now I understood was at risk of being undermined, at any given time, by some part of me that wished to return to that life I’d had prior to making the decision that I’d made, and that was not a happy life, but rather an unhappy and dissolute one; or, if not return to that life, merely to find pleasure in ruining the life I now was attempting to build, as if I was not constituted solely of one volition, or will, but rather of two of those things, or, at any rate, more than one, though however many volitions or wills did comprise me, if that was the case, I couldn’t have said.  

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