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Phillip Lopate describes the shape of Manhattan Island as‘a luxury liner, permanently docked, going nowhere’. This feeling of being tethered to the land, unable to get to sea, was a feature of New York life for much of the twentieth century. New York was an island without a coast. The West Side piers that once welcomed the Lusitania spent most of the twentieth century crumbling or behind barbed wire, while the East Side’s coves and points were cut off from pedestrians by six lanes of the Robert Moses-designed Franklin Delano Roosevelt Drive. It wasn’t much easier to reach the shores of Brooklyn, Queens or the Bronx, either: with a few exceptions, they were largely reserved for municipal or industrial use, and easiest to see from the Staten Island Ferry (en route to the borough with the most beaches). Now, slowly, the city is reclaiming its shoreline, with some spectacular results.

Toy Airplane by Robert Lopez

OBJECTToy Airplane

BODY OF WATERDead Horse Bay


Photo by Nura Qureshi

Photo by Nura Qureshi

This story is published in collaboration with Significant Objects

 

A man on a park bench then another man next to him.

The first man there for no good reason.

The other man the kind of man who sits next to strange men on park benches.

This other man has with him a toy airplane.

He holds the toy airplane in his right hand, which is battered, bloodied.

It looks as though the other man had been in a street-fight and was declared the winner. The toy airplane his trophy.

The other man holds the toy airplane like a trophy.

The day has in it the sky and sun.

There are clouds and women.

It is routine.

The first man looks at the other man. He looks at the toy airplane. He says nothing.

A week goes by. Then another.

Then the man holding the toy airplane speaks.

And of course to make a long story short, he says, anyone living in a pretty how townhouse can look beyond themselves into the kitchen breakfront and clearly see between two pieces of ordinary china that every second of every livelong day of an already long week in a rather long month can often lead to an even longer year and subsequently is almost always followed by a long decade which is only one tenth of a long century and compared to the long long millennium is practically insignificant on this or any other beautiful Sunday morning.

The first man says, I know what you mean, and leaves.

The other man remains on the bench holding the toy airplane for the rest of his natural born life, which concludes twelve years later on a Thursday evening, just before dusk.

The body goes undisturbed until the next day when a passerby alerts the authorities. Two hours later the body is removed and taken to the county medical examiner’s office.

There is no mention of the toy airplane in the medical examiner’s report, only a note concerning the right hand in which the subject held the toy airplane, which was strangely contorted and atrophied.


Robert Lopez is the author of two novels, Part of the World and Kamby Bolongo Mean River, and a collection of short fiction, Asunder. He teaches at The New School, Pratt Institute and Columbia University.

Mermaid Figurine by Tom McCarthy

OBJECTMermaid Figurine

BODY OF WATER: Dead Horse Bay


Photo by Nura Qureshi

Photo by Nura Qureshi

This story is published in collaboration with Significant Objects

1. Pollution of coastal waters can have / the black sun of melancholy / signature of all things I am here to / test for indicator organisms such as / Love or Phoebus, Lusignan or Biron / based on weekly or fortnightly water sampling

2. The beach zone is modeled as / the grotto where the siren / (see Fig. 1) / wind-generated surface advection and / have lingered in / with parameter estimation / limit of the diaphane / with uniform pollution concentration

3. Wild sea money / dc and dt: decay and mixing / language tide and wind have silted / to a build-up of pollutants during / the night of the tombs, you who consoled me / (see Fig. 2)

4. The coastline is roughly aligned with / the sighs of the Saint and the cries of / prevailing wind positions at this / lolled on bladderwrack / in the chambers of / pollution forecasting, modeled by / the grid where vine and rose enmesh

5. Two brief field surveys, carried out to / walk upon the beach / accumulated rainfall and runoff pollution which / snotgreen, bluesilver, rust / where U is wind and T is days / have modulated on the lyre of / drainage flow-rates for / the mermaids singing, each to / the ‘first-flush effect’, as visible in Fig. 3 / forehead is still red from the Queen’s kiss

 


Tom McCarthy‘s first novel, Remainder, won the Believer Book Award in 2008. His avant-garde art “organisation” the International Necronautical Society (which may or may not actually exist) surfaces through publications, proclamations and denunciations, live events and conventional art exhibitions at institutions. McCarthy is also author of the non-fiction book Tintin and the Secret of Literature. His new novel C was published by Knopf in 2010.

The Diplomat by Deb Olin Unferth

OBJECTPan Flute

BODY OF WATERDead Horse Bay


PanFlute-560x420.jpg

This story is published in collaboration with Significant Objects

I was an ambassador once—of a small African nation. All of us diplomats, that is our dream: to be an ambassador. At least once,  at least for a little while. Many of us get a little Eastern or African nation for a year or two. We are eager when it happens because our life’s goal is complete. But it isn’t so special after all. Soon it’s over and we continue on. We are diplomats again, and our time of glory is reduced to a sentence we can say in passing at a party, “Oh, I was ambassador there once, for eighteen months.” Or at a meeting, “Well, when I was ambassador, as I recall, witchcraft was still a powerful force in the north. I knew a man who believed his daughter had turned into a tree.”

Or when entertaining one’s wife’s friends, “That flute? Oh yes, when I was ambassador, the prince of the country rode two days on a camel to present it to me. Don’t know where he got it. They love plastic, you know. Who are we kidding. Plastic was the real revolution.”


Deb Olin Unferth is the author of the novel Vacation, the short story collection Minor Robberies and a memoir, Revolution. She is an assistant professor at Wesleyan University.

Kangamouse by Chris Adrian

OBJECT:  Kangamouse

BODY OF WATER: Dead Horse Bay


Photo by Nura Qureshi

Photo by Nura Qureshi

This story was published in collaboration with Significant Objects

My brother and I could not agree on how to worship the mouse.  It was typical of us back then that we could agree that it should be worshipped—that was obvious from the day it arrived in the mail, a gift from our father, who had been in Vietnam for three years, which was one-third of George’s life and one-half of mine, on business more important than his wife and his sons. The last gift had been a green and yellow straw mat, and we agreed that it was, in fact, a prayer-mat, the use of which only became clear with the advent of the mouse. The evening it arrived we knelt in our room in our pajamas in the dark. George had his flashlight out and he shined it on the mouse’s face.

“Great Faaa,” he said. “Mighty Faaa, hear our prayers.” He said the name in a sing-song, high-pitched voice. We had just seen “Day of the Dolphin” the week before. I put my hand on the flashlight and pushed it down, so the little monkey in the mouse’s heart was more plainly illuminated.

“Mr. Peepers,” I said. “Source of the All, forgive our sins! Don’t punish us!”

“What are you doing?” George asked, and our argument began.  We quarreled subtly, at first—we still shared the mouse, but prayed differently to it—and then more obviously, stealing Him back and forth, and performing secret worship in the closet or the basement or the pool shed.  The violence, when it came, attracted our mother’s attention. “If you can’t share that hideous piece of trash, I’m going to throw it away,” she said, and that night we prayed peacefully, imploring Faaa and Mr. Peepers not to hurt her, but by the morning we were fighting again. “Faaa!” George said to me, sitting on my chest and pummeling my head with the sides of his fists, and I could almost understand how his whole argument could be contained in just the name. I wanted to tell him that there was a monkey in my heart, and a monkey in his heart, and a monkey in everybody’s heart, and there was nothing worse in the world than an unappeased, unworshipped monkey who lived in you and was mad at you. But all I could say was, “Mr. Peepers!”

“Why can’t you two just be good?” our mother asked, and she took up Peepers-Faaa in her hand and threw Him against the wall, breaking off His ear. I cried, but George screamed at her, telling something horrible was going to happen to us because of what she had done, and horrible things did happen to us. She took up the body and flushed it down the toilet, and George said later that it was a miracle of Faaa that it flushed, but that it made sense that He would exercise His magic to get away from our mother, and from me.

I still have the ear.

 


Chris Adrian is the author of two novels, “Gob’s Grief” and “The Children’s Hospital,” and a collection of short stories, “A Better Angel.”

Yellow Bear by Kathryn Davis

OBJECT:  Yellow Bear

BODY OF WATERDead Horse Bay


Photo by Nura Qureshi

Photo by Nura Qureshi

This story is published in collaboration with Significant Objects

The sorcerer drove too fast. He always did but only because his mind was somewhere else, not because he was in love with speed. He was slow, really—sorcery is not a speedy business. What’s speedy are the events that make sorcery necessary. His mind was on his wife, Mary, who sat day after day at her sewing machine turning out small pink dresses, some trimmed in white eyelet, some in lace. Today he was more distracted than usual, this being the same block he’d been driving down the night he first saw her, a skinny girl wearing glasses, balanced on one leg like a stork. The sycamore trees were taller now, full of nests. A shadow leapt from between two parked cars. It was twilight and the papers on the back seat came flying in a white fan around him.

Mary wanted a child more than anything and he’d conjured one up, only to run it over—that was his first thought. Then he saw that what he’d hit was no human child but a yellow bear. It had leapt out though—he was sure of that. The car had inflicted no damage the sorcerer could see. When he picked the yellow bear up it was smiling at him, its little mouth slightly open and eager, revealing the tip of the tongue but no teeth. It held its forepaws against its chest in a posture the sorcerer knew signified submission. Mary wanted a girl and the yellow bear seemed more like a boy, but then again it didn’t have genitals. The sorcerer wiped it clean and took it home with him; every now and then he could hear a jingling sound come from it like it was a hard rubber cat toy with a bell inside. But the bear wasn’t made of hard rubber; it was made of something soft and warm more like skin.

Mary loved the Yellow Bear the minute she laid eyes on it; she held it to her cheek and smiled. “The baby’s tired. She wants to go to sleep now,” Mary told the sorcerer. She put it in one of the pink dresses and carried it upstairs with her, then she got into bed with it and turned off the light.

In the morning when the sorcerer brought Mary her breakfast tray of tea and toast he found her propped on her pillows, the bear at her breast. Mary was no longer smiling but had tears running down her cheeks. “I don’t know if I can do it,” Mary told him. The jingling sound was very loud now, ear-splitting. “She won’t stop,” Mary said. “She needs something from you, too. That’s how babies get made, in case you forgot.”

“She’s no baby, she’s a toy,” the sorcerer said, but when he went to show Mary the rubber seam running across the top of the bear’s head, the baby sunk its teeth into his thumb clear to the bone.

Later, when Mary had cried herself to sleep, the sorcerer snuck the bear from her breast and filled it with something secret. “Pablum,” he told Mary when she asked, because now there could be no question, the child was alive and thriving and cute as a button. Buttercup, the sorcerer called her. But Mary knew better and treasured these mysteries deep in her heart.


 


Kathryn Davis is the author of seven novels, the most recent of which is Duplex.