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A Stone's Throw: The short story

 

Betty Stone

 

 

SOS! I really think I need something to save me from an unexpected problem. 

 

The week had been "one of those weeks." You know what I mean. You have had them yourself. It is when nearly everything goes wrong. You lose things. You drop things. Bugs invade your tomato plants. You miss an important notice because you forget to check your e-mail, an odious chore at best. 

 

You need to find time and a place to sit down with a cup of coffee or a glass of peach tea and indulge yourself for a half hour. But you cannot find anything good on TV, and the newspaper makes you feel as if the world is about to blow up with gun shots. 

 

You need a good short story. 

 

Short stories used to abound back when we were not ruled by TV. Many popular magazines provided a good market for short stories. Not only did we have "The Atlantic," but lesser sources as well, such as "The Ladies' Home Journal," "The Woman's Home Companion," "The Saturday Evening Post," or even "Esquire" or "Liberty." You could count on a pleasant way to fill a void. 

 

I need to fill that void fairly often, so I invested in a thick volume named "100 Years of the Best American Short Stories." I had already discovered Jeffrey Archer's short stories. You may know him better as a novelist, but I think where he really shines is with the short story. I fancied when I bought the big volume that I would get the equivalent of Jeffrey Archer. 

 

I had a rude awakening. I had not realized that so many modern short stories are very dark indeed, or at least disturbing. 

 

I read about a Jewish couple who had moved to Israel, had 10 daughters, and become Hasidic. Visiting old friends dramatized a stark difference in cultures which was a bit painful. 

 

I read about an old woman whose memory is failing. Too close for comfort. 

 

I read a fictional (I guess) diary of someone who had not quite "made it" financially, comparing himself disparagingly with friends who had. 

 

I read about a man who lived in a moldy house in central Florida and collected reptiles, which he stored in formaldehyde. His wife was terrified of them, and after her baby was born dead, she went a little crazy. At this point she found a live albino alligator in the bathtub. She really went off then and never did anything else but hum. 

 

I read about someone who wanted to go to war so he could kill. 

 

You get the idea. It was not only realism, but realism at its worst. It was fiction from which you wanted to escape, not vice versa. I confess I often prefer fiction to escape from ┬áreality; although, honestly, my reality is nothing like that. Thank God! 

 

As Longfellow said, "Life is real, life is earnest," but sometimes it is so real and earnest, you yearn for a little escapism from the escape. 

 

I like to read for entertainment. It seems nowadays the "best American fiction" is anything but entertaining. Maybe we are a little sick. All "reality" is not like that. There is a reality that can be good, too. I think we need a good dose of both reality and fiction that can be good. I think we need a huge dose of it. Maybe not even reality, but fun fiction. 

 

O. Henry, where are you?

 

Betty Boyls Stone is a freelance writer, who grew up in Columbus.

 

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