'An advanced readers' picture book of comparative cognition' by Ken Lui from 'the paper menagerie and other short stories'
"My darling, my child, my connoisseur of sesquipedalian words and convoluted ideas and meandering sentences and baroque images, while the sun is asleep and the moon somnambulant, while the stars bathe us in their glow from eons ago and light-years away, while you are comfortably nestled in your blankets and I am hunched over in my chair by your bed, while we are warm and safe and still for the moment in this bubble of incandescent light cast by the pearl held up by the mermaid lamp, you and i, on this planet spinning and hurtling through the frigid darkness of space at dozens of miles per second, let's read."
'The Leopard' by Anthony Marra from 'The tsar of love and techno stories'
(the evil tsar and the painting)
"do you speak?" i asked.
"what an understatement, I see. Tell me your name."
I clasped his shoulder and he flinched, surprised by the sudden gesture of affection. He shared his first name with Lenin - an auspicious sign.
"I want to see if you can do something for me," I asked.
"are you willing to try?"
"stare straight at me." I instructed, then I flashed my fingers by his ear. "how many am I holding up?"
He held up four fingers.
"Very good. You've got keen eyes. Someday you might be a sharpshooter or a watchman. I'm going to tell you the story of the tsar and the painting. Have you heard it?"
The coin scratching in the bedroom might have been wind rustling leaves; we might have been far from there, near a dacha, in a field, the sun burning just over our heads.
"No, I didn't think you would have," I said. "It begins with a young man who overthrows an evil tsar. The young man becomes the new tsar. He promises his subjects that their troubles will disappear if they obey him. 'What will this kingdom look like?' his subjects ask. The tsar considers it and then commissions his court painters to paint a picture of what the new kingdom will look like.
"First the painting is only a few paces wide, then a few dozen paces, then hundreds of paces. Soon the painting is miles and miles wide. Now, this is a big painting, no? Raw materials are essential to its success. The flax that would have clothed the tsar's subjects is requisitioned for the canvas. The wood that would have built houses is requisitioned for the frame.
"When the subjects are cold, the tsar tells them to look at the painting and see the beautiful coats and furs they will soon wear. When they sleep outside, he tells them to look at the painting and see the beautiful homes they will soon live in.
"The subjects obey the tsar. They know that if they turn their eyes from the painting and see what is around them, if they see the world as it is, the tsar will make them disappear in a big poof of smoke. Soon, all his subjects are frozen in place, unable to move, just like their reflections in the painting."
The boy started with a bored frown. He must have beeb accustomed to excellent storytelling. Literature for children receives less attention from the censors than literature for adults, so naturally our best writers flock to the genre.
"How many fingers am I holding up?" I asked.
He put up three.
I slid my hand father into his periphery. "How many now?"
He put up one.
He began turning his head, but I snapped. "Eyes ahead. Just like the people in a painting can't turn their heads to see who's behind them, neither can you."
"I can't see how many fingers," he said. "Your hand is too far back."
"That's right," I said. "That's where your father is. He's there, painted in the background, back behind your head, where you can't see. He's there, but you can never turn to look."
The coin scratching had silenced some time ago. When I looked up, the boy's mother was standing in the bedroom doorway. I followed her in. The photographs were lined neatly on the desk. In each one, a single face had been so violently scratched out that the desk's wood grain was visible through the hole. My eyes ached to see it....
'The passage' by Justin Cronin
to drift with time
"it's time.... the whole idea of time. He thought it was one thing but it was actually another. It wasn't a line but a circle. and even more it was a circle made of circles, made of circles, each lying on top of the other, so that every moment was next to every other moment, all at once. And once you knew this you couldn't unknow it. Such as now. The way he could see events as they were about to unfold as if they'd already happened because in a way, they already had."