I decided to do something I haven’t done since my first offering on this website (which was little shy of a year ago). To print a story that is very much in process. Part of the reason is: I think it makes for good reading (or if it doesn’t, it makes, at any rate, for short reading).
But another part of the reason is that, as an editor, I can’t help but find unfinished works fascinating. The idea for “Blood” came to me along with the words to write it. Normally, I would let it “cook” for a bit. I would, for instance, consider the ways in which I could flesh out the other characters in the story who now exist only by implication. Might our protagonist, for instance, have a meaningful but terse exchange with a clerk at the bookstore? With a waiter? With a passerby on the street? Or with his mother?
The possibilities are quite literally endless. Or could the story stand to be even shorter? And what of the ending? The implications are interesting but it feels to me a bit like a cop-out. I’d like to write a few more endings and choose my favorite before offering this as a finished piece.
The Lure of Endless Possibilities
But as I was saying I like unfinished pieces. As the general editor of this website, much of what I read these days could be classified as “unfinished pieces.” Even what makes it to the website sometimes feels a bit unfinished. But time presses and, as they say, the perfect is the enemy of the good. If I believe in a piece, I’d rather put it in front of you than delay, delay, delay until it’s perfect. Because that will be never.
The point is that reading an unfinished story invites you into the work as a partner in its execution. A story like John Cheever’s “Reunion,” which I’ve written about previously, may be short… but it’s done. There’s something about a work that’s already bound up in a Collected Short Stories that discourages lateral thinking. It’s harder to imagine alternate endings for the story; to imagine extra characters, extra plot-points, extra exposition that could add to, or subtract from, the narrative. Not so here. Here you are invited to imagine other ways the story might have gone. And to write your own version, if you are so inspired.
That first unfinished story, “Baggage,” has since been published in its completed form by another literary magazine. I am curious to see what will happen to this one.
It was in about his thirtieth year that Michael Rapoport realized, while reading the dustcover of a book, that one day a person might read the sentence “Michael Rapoport was born in 1989 in New York City” the way he now read a sentence like “Djuna Barnes was born in 1892 in Cornwall-on-Hudson, New York.” And they would mentally subtract the year to see that he had been born 100+ years ago and had probably died 40+ years ago.
More likely, nobody would read a sentence like that—or any sentence—about him at all. Placing the book back on the shelf, he left the bookstore, crossed to the restaurant opposite, and, with rueful gallantry, ordered a steak that was more than he could afford. Rare. With fries and a salad. It was the first time ever in his life he had knowingly ordered non-kosher meat. His skin tingled with mixed anticipation and anxiety as he waited for his dish to arrive. And, as he chewed and chewed and the taste of the bloody juice filled his senses, he found himself, for the first time in years, able to breathe a sigh of relief and wonder what would come next.
His reverie was interrupted by his phone ringing: “Hi, Mikey, it’s Mom. What are you doing tonight?” Even as he returned the greeting, he got up from the table and laid out the cost of the meal, plus a tip. He was estimating. He did not wait for the check. The steak was half eaten. The fries, as well. The salad, though. He had eaten his vegetables.
Mikey walked out into the street, discreetly returning his kippah to his head. Already he was beginning to forget that the whole visit to the restaurant had ever happened. Just as he had forgotten his previous visit to such places.