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Authors: Kelly Link

Tags: #Short Fiction, #Fantasy, #Collections

Stranger Things Happen

Stranger Things Happen
Kelly Link
Published:
2001
Type(s):
Short Fiction, Fantasy, Collections
Source:
http://www.kellylink.net
About Link:

Kelly Link is an American author of short stories born in 1969.
Her stories might be described as slipstream or magic realism:
sometimes a combination of science fiction, fantasy, horror,
mystery, and realism. Kelly Link moved to Greensboro, North
Carolina, from Miami. She attended Greensboro Day School where she
graduated in 1987. She grew up next door to her aunt and uncle, Sam
and Babs Jones, and her two favorite cousins, Bryan and Laurie
Jones. Kelly Link has two younger siblings, Holly Link of San
Francisco, California, and Ben Link of New York, New York. Link is
a graduate of Columbia University in New York and the MFA program
of UNC Greensboro. In 1995 she attended the Clarion East Writing
Workshop. Link and husband Gavin Grant manage Small Beer Press,
based in Northampton, Massachusetts. They also co-edit St. Martin's
Press's Year's Best Fantasy and Horror anthology series, along with
Ellen Datlow. (The couple inherited the "fantasy" side from Terri
Windling in 2004.) Link was also the slush reader for Sci Fiction,
edited by Datlow. Link taught at Lenoir-Rhyne College in Hickory,
North Carolina, with the Visiting Writers Series for the spring
semester of 2006. She also has taught or visited at a number of
schools and workshops including Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson,
NY; Brookdale Community College, Brookdale, NJ; the Imagination
Workshop at Cleveland State University; New England Institute of
Art & Communications, Brookline, MA; Clarion East at Michigan
State University; and Clarion West in Seattle, WA. She has also
participated in The Juniper Summer Writing Institute at the
University of Massachusetts, Amherst's MFA Program for Poets &
Writers. Link currently teaches a course on Short Story Writing to
undergraduates at Smith College, near their home in Northampton,
Massachusetts. Source: Wikipedia

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Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose

Dear Mary (if that is your name), 

I bet you'll be pretty surprised to hear from me. It really is
me, by the way, although I have to confess at the moment that not
only can I not seem to keep your name straight in my head, Laura?
Susie? Odile? but I seem to have forgotten my own name. I plan to
keep trying different combinations: Joe loves Lola, Willy loves
Suki, Henry loves you, sweetie, Georgia?, honeypie, darling. Do any
of these seem right to you?

All last week I felt like something was going to happen, a sort
of bees and ants feeling. Something was going to happen. I taught
my classes and came home and went to bed, all week waiting for the
thing that was going to happen, and then on Friday I died.

One of the things I seem to have misplaced is how, or maybe I
mean why. It's like the names. I know that we lived together in a
house on a hill in a small comfortable city for nine years, that we
didn't have kids—except once, almost—and that you're a terrible
cook, oh my darling, Coraline? Coralee? and so was I, and we ate
out whenever we could afford to. I taught at a good university,
Princeton? Berkeley? Notre Dame? I was a good teacher, and my
students liked me. But I can't remember the name of the street we
lived on, or the author of the last book I read, or your last name
which was also my name, or how I died. It's funny, Sarah? but the
only two names I know for sure are real are Looly Bellows, the girl
who beat me up in fourth grade, and your cat's name. I'm not going
to put your cat's name down on paper just yet.

We were going to name the baby Beatrice. I just remembered that.
We were going to name her after your aunt, the one that doesn't
like me. Didn't like me. Did she come to the funeral?

I've been here for three days, and I'm trying to pretend that
it's just a vacation, like when we went to that island in that
country. Santorini? Great Britain? The one with all the cliffs. The
one with the hotel with the bunkbeds, and little squares of pink
toilet paper, like handkerchiefs. It had seashells in the window
too, didn't it, that were transparent like bottle glass? They
smelled like bleach? It was a very nice island. No trees. You said
that when you died, you hoped heaven would be an island like that.
And now I'm dead, and here I am.

This is an island too, I think. There is a beach, and down on
the beach is a mailbox where I am going to post this letter. Other
than the beach, the mailbox, there is the building in which I sit
and write this letter. It seems to be a perfectly pleasant resort
hotel with no other guests, no receptionist, no host, no events
coordinator, no bell-boy. Just me. There is a television set, very
old-fashioned, in the hotel lobby. I fiddled the antenna for a long
time, but never got a picture. Just static. I tried to make images,
people out of the static. It looked like they were waving at
me.

My room is on the second floor. It has a sea view. All the rooms
here have views of the sea. There is a desk in my room, and a good
supply of plain, waxy white paper and envelopes in one of the
drawers. Laurel? Maria? Gertrude?

I haven't gone out of sight of the hotel yet, Lucille? because I
am afraid that it might not be there when I get back.

Yours truly, You know who.

 

#

The dead man lies on his back on the hotel bed, his hands
busy and curious, stroking his body up and down as if it didn't
really belong to him at all. One hand cups his testicles, the other
tugs hard at his erect penis. His heels push against the mattress
and his eyes are open, and his mouth. He is trying to say someone's
name.

Outside, the sky seems much too close, made out of some grey
stuff that only grudgingly allows light through. The dead man has
noticed that it never gets any lighter or darker, but sometimes the
air begins to feel heavier, and then stuff falls out of the sky,
fist-sized lumps of whitish-grey doughy matter. It falls until the
beach is covered, and immediately begins to dissolve. The dead man
was outside, the first time the sky fell. Now he waits inside until
the beach is clear again. Sometimes he watches television, although
the reception is poor.

 

The sea goes up and back the beach, sucking and curling
around the mailbox at high tide. There is something about it that
the dead man doesn't like much. It doesn't smell like salt the way
a sea should. Cara? Jasmine? It smells like wet upholstery, burnt
fur.

#

Dear May? April? Ianthe? 
My room has a bed with thin, limp sheets and an amateurish painting
of a woman sitting under a tree. She has nice breasts, but a
peculiar expression on her face, for a woman in a painting in a
hotel room, even in a hotel like this. She looks disgruntled.

I have a bathroom with hot and cold running water, towels, and a
mirror. I looked in the mirror for a long time, but I didn't look
familiar. It's the first time I've ever had a good look at a dead
person. I have brown hair, receding at the temples, brown eyes, and
good teeth, white, even, and not too large. I have a small mark on
my shoulder, Celeste? where you bit me when we were making love
that last time. Did you somehow realize it would be the last time
we made love? Your expression was sad; also, I seem to recall,
angry. I remember your expression now, Eliza? You glared up at me
without blinking and when you came, you said my name, and although
I can't remember my name, I remember you said it as if you hated
me. We hadn't made love for a long time.

I estimate my height to be about five feet, eleven inches, and
although I am not unhandsome, I have an anxious, somewhat fixed
expression. This may be due to circumstances.

I was wondering if my name was by any chance Roger or Timothy or
Charles. When we went on vacation, I remember there was a similar
confusion about names, although not ours. We were trying to think
of one for her, I mean, for Beatrice. Petrucchia, Solange? We wrote
them all with long pieces of stick on the beach, to see how they
looked. We started with the plain names, like Jane and Susan and
Laura. We tried practical names like Polly and Meredith and Hope,
and then we became extravagant. We dragged our sticks through the
sand and produced entire families of scowling little girls named
Gudrun, Jezebel, Jerusalem, Zedeenya, Zerilla. How about Looly, I
said. I knew a girl named Looly Bellows once. Your hair was all
snarled around your face, stiff with salt. You had about a zillion
freckles. You were laughing so hard you had to prop yourself up
with your stick. You said that sounded like a made-up name.

Love, 
You know who.

 

#

The dead man is trying to act as if he is really here, in
this place. He is trying to act in a normal and appropriate
fashion. As much as is possible. He is trying to be a good
tourist.

He hasn't been able to fall asleep in the bed, although he
has turned the painting to the wall. He is not sure that the bed is
a bed. When his eyes are closed, it doesn't seem to be a bed. He
sleeps on the floor, which seems more floorlike than the bed seems
bedlike. He lies on the floor with nothing over him and pretends
that he isn't dead. He pretends that he is in bed with his wife and
dreaming. He makes up a nice dream about a party where he has
forgotten everyone's name. He touches himself. Then he gets up and
sees that the white stuff that has fallen out of the sky is
dissolving on the beach, little clumps of it heaped around the
mailbox like foam.

#

Dear Elspeth? Deborah? Frederica? 
Things are getting worse. I know that if I could just get your name
straight, things would get better.

I told you that I'm on an island, but I'm not sure that I am.
I'm having doubts about my bed and the hotel. I'm not happy about
the sea or the sky, either. The things that have names that I'm
sure of, I'm not sure they're those things, if you understand what
I'm saying, Mallory? I'm not sure I'm still breathing, either. When
I think about it, I do.

I only think about it because it's too quiet when I'm not. Did
you know, Alison? that up in those mountains, the Berkshires? the
altitude gets too high, and then real people, live people forget to
breathe also? There's a name for when they forget. I forget what
the name is.

But if the bed isn't a bed, and the beach isn't a beach, then
what are they? When I look at the horizon, there almost seem to be
corners. When I lay down, the corners on the bed receded like the
horizon.

Then there is the problem about the mail. Yesterday I simply
slipped the letter into a plain envelope, and slipped the envelope,
unaddressed, into the mailbox. This morning the letter was gone and
when I stuck my hand inside, and then my arm, the sides of the box
were damp and sticky. I inspected the back side and discovered an
open panel. When the tide rises, the mail goes out to sea. So I
really have no idea if you, Pamela? or, for that matter, if anyone
is reading this letter.

I tried dragging the mailbox further up the beach. The waves
hissed and spit at me, a wave ran across my foot, cold and furry
and black, and I gave up. So I will simply have to trust to the
local mail system.

Hoping you get this soon,
You know who.

#

The dead man goes for a walk along the beach. The sea keeps
its distance, but the hotel stays close behind him. He notices that
the tide retreats when he walks towards it, which is good. He
doesn't want to get his shoes wet. If he walked out to sea, would
it part for him like that guy in the bible? Onan?

He is wearing his second-best suit, the one he wore for
interviews and weddings. He figures it's either the suit that he
died in, or else the one that his wife buried him in. He has been
wearing it ever since he woke up and found himself on the island,
disheveled and sweating, his clothing wrinkled as if he had been
wearing it for a long time. He takes his suit and his shoes off
only when he is in his hotel room. He puts them back on to go
outside. He goes for a walk along the beach. His fly is
undone.

 

The little waves slap at the dead man. He can see teeth
under that water, in the glassy black walls of the larger waves,
the waves farther out to sea. He walks a fair distance, stopping
frequently to rest. He tires easily. He keeps to the dunes. His
shoulders are hunched, his head down. When the sky begins to
change, he turns around. The hotel is right behind him. He doesn't
seem at all surprised to see it there. All the time he has been
walking, he has had the feeling that just over the next dune
someone is waiting for him. He hopes that maybe it is his wife, but
on the other hand if it were his wife, she'd be dead too, and if
she were dead, he could remember her name.

#

Dear Matilda? Ivy? Alicia? 
I picture my letters sailing out to you, over those waves with the
teeth, little white boats. Dear reader, Beryl? Fern? you would like
to know how I am so sure these letters are getting to you? I
remember that it always used to annoy you, the way I took things
for granted. But I'm sure you're reading this in the same way that
even though I'm still walking around and breathing (when I remember
to) I'm sure I'm dead. I think that these letters are getting to
you, mangled, sodden but still legible. If they arrived the regular
way, you probably wouldn't believe they were from me, anyway.

I remembered a name today, Elvis Presley. He was the singer,
right? Blue shoes, kissy fat lips, slickery voice? Dead, right?
Like me. Marilyn Monroe too, white dress blowing up like a sail,
Gandhi, Abraham Lincoln, Looly Bellows (remember?) who lived next
door to me when we were both eleven. She had migraine headaches all
through the school year, which made her mean. Nobody liked her,
before, when we didn't know she was sick. We didn't like her after.
She broke my nose because I pulled her wig off one day on a dare.
They took a tumor out of her head that was the size of a chicken
egg but she died anyway.

When I pulled her wig off, she didn't cry. She had brittle bits
of hair tufting out of her scalp and her face was swollen with
fluid like she'd been stung by bees. She looked so old. She told me
that when she was dead she'd come back and haunt me, and after she
died, I pretended that I could see not just her—but whole clusters
of fat, pale, hairless ghosts lingering behind trees, swollen and
humming like hives. It was a scary fun game I played with my
friends. We called the ghosts loolies, and we made up rules that
kept us safe from them. A certain kind of walk, a diet of white
food—marshmallows, white bread rolled into pellets, and plain white
rice. When we got tired of the loolies, we killed them off by
decorating her grave with the remains of the powdered donuts and
Wonderbread our suspicious mothers at last refused to buy for
us.

Are you decorating my grave, Felicity? Gay? Have you forgotten
me yet? Have you gotten another cat yet, another lover? or are you
still in mourning for me? God, I want you so much, Carnation, Lily?
Lily? Rose? It's the reverse of necrophilia, I suppose—the dead man
who wants one last fuck with his wife. But you're not here, and if
you were here, would you go to bed with me?

I write you letters with my right hand, and I do the other thing
with my left hand that I used to do with my left hand, ever since I
was fourteen, when I didn't have anything better to do. I seem to
recall that when I was fourteen there wasn't anything better to do.
I think about you, I think about touching you, think that you're
touching me, and I see you naked, and you're glaring at me, and I'm
about to shout out your name, and then I come and the name on my
lips is the name of some dead person, or some totally made-up
name.

Does it bother you, Linda? Donna? Penthesilia? Do you want to
know the worst thing? Just a minute ago I was grinding into the
pillow, bucking and pushing and pretending it was you, Stacy? under
me, oh fuck it felt good, just like when I was alive and when I
came I said, "Beatrice." And I remembered coming to get you in the
hospital after the miscarriage.

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