weekend-readsExcerpts from Lunar Savings Time

Alex Epstein

Translated from Hebrew by Becka Mara McKay

On the Power of Russian Literature

My great-grandmother once shut a book by Tolstoy so hard that a spark came from its pages, and the spark climbed up the curtains, and ignited a fire, and our summer house went up in flames. I did not inherit this talent of my great-grandmother’s, but once I did try to write a story in which everything took place in reverse: the summer house goes up in flames, the curtain burns, a spark catches in the pages of Anna Karenina, and so on: my great-grandmother closed the book so hard that the fire was extinguished.

On Mythology

I heard this love story without an ending from an old widower, who was one of the few who survived the underground tunnels near the Dora-Mittelbau concentration camp, where the prisoners built, thirty meters beneath the earth’s surface, the Nazi’s V-2 rockets. In the spring of 1944, he said, a rumor spread in the tunnels that the rockets were first fired at London, but now they were capable of reaching star clusters. His opportunity came when some of the guards wandered into the deceptive zones of nights that were mornings and fell asleep. He etched a verse onto one of the rockets. This verse, he said, was not meant for God, but for a woman, whom he’d lost not far from there, in the sister camp of Dora-Mittelbau, Buchenwald. The light of day, he added, turned into myth in the Dora tunnels. But stories from there have no need for photosynthesis: “And though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, because you, my beloved, are with me.”

On the Metamorphosis

Once upon a time there was a tree who, of all the trees in the forest, fell in love all the way to his roots with a woman who passed through the forest. The metamorphosis was his only escape: he had to turn into a man and go out into the world to find her. (He was stabbed during a fight in a port city in the east. When he started to bleed he could no longer feel his legs. He didn’t die. He boarded a ship that was lost in the Straits of Gibraltar. When he drowned he found a remedy in the intoxication of the depths. He didn’t die. In one of the versions of this legend, which ends after many years of wandering and hardship, the tree returns to the forest of his birth, where he hangs himself.) He could not forget her, even when the wind blew.

On the Black Angel

The angel that was found shot in the head in a nameless alley in Northampton was black, much blacker than the President of the United States. Even his wings were as black as a raven’s nape. Only the soles of his feet were pinkish, and his girlfriend—as the tabloids discovered—was white. In the interview she gave in exchange for an undisclosed sum she said it wasn’t that easy to make love with such a winged creature.

On the Painter of Doors

And so this painter used to go into residential buildings, jam a match into the light switch in the hall, drag his easel up the stairwell in search of another door he would paint, and so on. (Sometimes he would stay and work in the stairwell in the classic silence of night.) He painted, in oil on canvas, more than three hundred doors. It’s not unreasonable to assume that all his life he has loved the same woman.

On Cain and Abel

On the pedestrian mall, in the display window of a secondhand store, he saw a Remington that appeared to be brand new. The last man on earth smashed the window and dragged the machine all the way back to the fourth floor of the five-star hotel where he lived. As soon as he was beset by his usual writer’s block, he hurled it from the window. Once a year he visited the lemon tree beside which he had buried his only reader, the second-to-last man on earth.

On How the iPad Saved the Short Story

The truth of the matter is that the iPad did not save the short story, and in any case this was not the reason that one man, fed up with his life, jumped from the window of his apartment on a high enough floor. And then, in the middle of the journey to the sidewalk, he suddenly discovered he could actually fly. He began to hover above the city streets, and flew up and down and forgot that he had just jumped from the window to die, and even cautiously approached the utility lines (without which the world is demilitarized from sadness). After a few minutes, when he turned in the general direction of his window, he could no longer fly. He started to fall, managed only to think he should ascend one last time, but it was no use, he spun through the air, plummeting and crashing on the road just a few minutes’ walk from his home. What a brief and bizarre kind of grace this was. But grace nonetheless.

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