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The Source of Life and Other Stories

The Source of Life and Other Stories

Beth Bosworth
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    The Source of Life and Other Stories
    Book Description:

    From "The Eight Rhetorical Mode"Later he asked, "Would you like to go for a hike sometime?" and two trains of thought left the station:He means to get to know me and we might leave the city togetherandit's been a long time since I climbed a mountain.That train chugged into a wider brighter country all the time. The other train went by another route through the panicked interior.He's a lunatic,it whistled.He's been in and out of hospitals. He will take you to a mountaintop and throw you right off into the bright air: choo choo!Post-divorce dating is one more cause for celebration (or a quick call in to the police) in Beth Bosworth's revelatory new book,The Source of Life and Other Stories.The spine of this collection is a series of linked stories about Ruth Stein, a Brooklyn author whose first book has exposed her father's abuses; while the voice here, speaking across a lifetime, ranges from bittersweet to humorous to lethal. In other stories Bosworth's narrators-a mother left to care for her son's suicidal dog, an editor haunted by a dog-eared manuscript-seem to grab hold of the reins and run off with their fates. Meanwhile Bosworth explores the extended family, the bonds of friendship, an apocalyptic Vermont, the rank yet redeemable Gowanus Canal; also rites of passage, race relations, divorce, middle-aged romance, dementia, funerals, alcoholism, and the Jewish religion. Reality is just another stumbling block for Bosworth's characters, who might help themselves but don't always choose to. There are leaps of faith here, nonetheless, as the collection dispenses a kind of narrative psychotropic for survival and redemption, with a chaser of humor mixed in.

    eISBN: 978-0-8229-7846-6
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. The Source of Life
    (pp. 1-15)

    The dogs don’t know it but we’re running out of water. The power went out for a day, a few days ago, and they told us to boil our tap water but the pump isn’t working right. We can go down to the stream but the stream is pretty much off-limits, even for dogs, and the plumber hasn’t answered my calls; I tried three other plumbers before Mr. Pike, who’s semiretired. My husband—who does call each day at 11:00 a.m.—says I should drive straight down to New York City where the best water gets piped in, but as...

  2. Promise
    (pp. 16-23)

    The one thing my father had asked was to be scattered in that canal; now a light breeze was carrying his ashes as far as the nearest ailanthus. “My father!” I warned an approaching neighbor. “I wasn’t watching where I was going.”

    This neighbor, a car salesman with whom my father had argued, lowered himself onto one knee, took up a fallen leaf and began scraping ashes back toward the urn.

    “It’s not your family,” I pointed out.

    “May I help you?” asked a third party. She wore a red velvet dress and party shoes. In fact this was the...

  3. The Eighth Rhetorical Mode
    (pp. 24-32)

    I. The children are in school, their older sister asleep upstairs, my pages scattered across the ornamented floor. This is Brooklyn with innumerable birds. Just this morning Lila picked up the book that had frightened her and said, “I can read it in the day.” I looked up from tying her shoe: “Boo!” She laughed so that her chin jiggled. But her brother, watching us, cried hard this morning as he laced his sneakers. “How many milesarethere?” he wailed apropos of a math assignment.

    The importance of numbers! The letters of my daughter’s Hebrew name—the older daughter,...

  4. Angelo
    (pp. 33-37)

    Angelo doesn’t even live with his mother or his father. Angelo lives with a woman he only calls his grandmother and she doesn’t love him with his crooked teeth and popping eyes. There are other children on this block: the adopted Korean boy, the black boy who believes in God, the strange-eyed Irish boy whose friends take drugs, the little white girl Lila’s age and the Arab children, younger and older, whose grandparents don’t speak English. I go downstairs and find them still talking on the stoop. Sam is the earnest one and the eldest; he balances on the seat...

  5. The News from Home
    (pp. 38-39)

    We were vacationing in sunny Florida, where there was a very nice pool.

    My brother and I walked slapping our feet across nice hot cement. Every time we jumped in, we shouted, “Heavens to Murgatroyd!” so that my brother laughed until his freckles stood out. I must have jumped for him a thousand times. Later he had a girlfriend named Tree whose Catholic mother stormed into the apartment. “Theresa!” she shouted. “She has changed her name,” my brother explained or tried to.

    That sunny day there must have been that toddler, our sister, lurking. She was always making me look...

  6. The Year the World Turned
    (pp. 40-47)

    The path to school went Laurelton, Dickerson, Essex. Or the path went Laurelton, Kensington, Sussex—which was dangerous—with a crossing guard at the intersection and on toward the brick school, Whittier, which was also Number 4. A system worked its way through the world. It left us with two kinds of hopscotch boards, rectangles up to 7 and 8 and other boards rounded at one end with strange high numbers. How did you play that other game and what did you call it? We never knew but learned other things as the months went by. My friend Rachel collected...

  7. Conspiracy
    (pp. 48-60)

    Esther ran away from home again today; this time she got as far as Kmart, which is closed now for good. People shop on the highway now or they go to Cedar Lane if they’re observant—as in, kosher. I live in the city, I come only to visit, I try to understand more than the boarded storefronts and dust-filled windows. My grandmother, however, is a freethinker. All those Orthodox are driving her crazy.

    “Grandma,” I say, “you have to come home.”

    “Don’t condescend,” she says, blue eyes flashing. “Once Einstein played his violin for us! The whole audience cried.”...

  8. With Thee Conversing
    (pp. 61-72)

    The weather had been gorgeous for weeks; for months; and this as much as anything had driven me and perhaps even Flanders to the brink of action. There is a beauty that inspires. But then all over New York people were dropping: leaping from tall buildings, drifting under oncoming subway trains, swooning from lethal doses of painkiller until sidewalks were littered with their inert or, worse, twitching bodies. What explanation if not the weather? Man’s inhumanity, the threats of global warming and destruction, the loss of faith in God, the demise of the Soviet Union, the demise of love, the...

  9. Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge
    (pp. 73-74)

    The path was well maintained but, even so, my mother moved slowly. She was retired and living on limited funds and we didn’t know whether her knee surgery would work. Soon we arrived at the Osprey Lookout. The sky shone very blue. We sat on a wooden bench and kept an eye out for the graceful fierce birds. We began talking about other afternoons when birds and their refuges had figured. A large girl with owlish eyes began to hoot, as if she mourned the passage of time, and the man pushing her wheelchair said nothing. “Cape Cod is my...

  10. Fortune Tellers
    (pp. 75-83)

    In Vermont each summer, no matter how often we washed it, the kitchen table got sticky. We sat around eating Jumbo Shrimp Deluxe and General Tso’s Chicken and something with tofu my mother had ordered and Lila’s spareribs. Whether or not the air outside stayed hot, we got this hot feeling, eating Chinese takeout and talking stickily about life.

    “So Mom,” said Sam. “How many boyfriends have you had?”

    Then again, maybe this story doesn’t start there; maybe I had said something about the children’s father. He had called to say that the woodcutter saw someone sneaking around the house,...

  11. A Handful of Days
    (pp. 84-93)

    On the way to Montreal a sign announces the midpoint between the equator and the North Pole. How could that be? we wonder—then the poplar trees and passing fields make us wonder all the more: at a countryside so like France’s (we’ve been to France) and yet so vast!

    More than beautification, Philip says. An imposition of order.

    The children’s faces shine in the mirror: Lila’s only bored, but Sam is taking in the road signs. He’s twelve and he’ll study French in school this year.

    By the lake, cupped between a mountain and a railroad track, five white...

  12. A Burden Is Also a Song
    (pp. 94-112)

    I read an essay once by Richard Blackmur. He said that the wordburdenmeans two things: I wrote them down and learned them by heart. I remember with increasing clarity the tar-striped streets, the grainy sidewalks and squared-off yards in the town where I grew up. I live on my own, in my own time, in a wide-open space with a frame around it. I read something else once in a story: a window looked out upon the city of New York and her inhabitants. The curtains billowed. There was something else, something about how the city blew in...

  13. Promise II
    (pp. 113-125)

    “Promise, Daphne,” my father said.

    “I promise,” I said, crossing my fingers. What did it matter? Sure enough, he let out a long rattling sigh.

    And that, as they say, was that.

    Except I’d just spent five years punching my time card at the glue factory and nursing him through his last illness, cancer of the heart. “A broken heart, just like your mother’s,” he used to say, meaning what? One day I walked home from school to find policemen crawling all over our three rooms. My mother was a soggy body, then she was mere soot. Five years old,...

  14. Cacoethes Scribendi
    (pp. 126-139)

    Flanders, overcome by a powerful desire, rushed out of his office into the bright hot midday air. “Only let me get home without mishap,” he prayed. He prayed aloud as was his wont. “As was his wont” was a saying with him; you could say even that “as was his wont” was “his wont.” At this rate, thought Flanders grimly, I’ll never get home in time. Time was of the essence. Essence preceded existence from time to time. Time was the infernal foe; foe, friend, what have you—

    And so on. Flanders was a little like Aquaman, who couldn’t survive...

  15. The Enterprise
    (pp. 140-159)

    As editor of a literary journal, I have often enough been privy to the excruciations of my fellowliterati; even now as the end is nigh, the door barricaded, the police awaiting only dawn to break said door down—never fear, I will not be evicted—I recall each tale with the vividness we experience in dreams. There were Johnson, and Hyde, and Navaros, each of whom fell victim to some torrid contretemps: unauthorized translations or bald plagiarisms or, worst of all, themissed opportunity. Yet no woe-filled tale has so disturbed, soundoneany of us, than that for...

  16. North Brother Island
    (pp. 160-162)

    At that very moment, my mother and I realized that I was getting a parking ticket.

    My mother, I should tell you, never got tickets. She had E-ZPass too. You could climb in her car and drive through tolls barely pausing for the red light to turn. But my car was a nineties Honda, no frills. I had to watch where I parked that Honda and even so, traffic cops slowed to check its registration and plates. Occasionally, if I hadn’t paid my parking tickets, they simply towed the car away. Another difference between us was that I sometimes got...

  17. The First Slow One
    (pp. 163-176)

    “Mom,” Sam says. “I’m taking a shower.”

    This is how I know that something has changed, like the speed on an LP or a highway.

    “Good idea,” I call. “And brush your teeth—”

    “My toothbrush is gone,” he points out.

    Crossing the floor I feel or think I feel my friend’s eyes on me: Philip is a children’s rights activist and once I borrowed his toothbrush. In the medicine cabinet, though, I find an unused blue brush for my son, who is going to his first school dance.

    Actually it’s his second. But Sam was in seventh grade then...

  18. Tell Me Again
    (pp. 177-180)

    After all those years it was my turn to do the telling. I told him his name, his former occupation, everything except the reason for his being there. You keep falling down, I told him, which was true enough.

    The weather was very fine. He wanted to wear his best jacket over a pair of hiking shorts. I tried to argue at first. He’d walked right out of the hospital once but this was different. We were walking so slowly my limbs wanted to scream; they did scream. Why are you so old? they shouted. The weather was very fine....

  19. Lucky Dog
    (pp. 181-188)

    The crematorium was roomier than you might have expected, with seats for the bereaved to convene while a body burned. Above one door was inscribed the wordHumansand above the other,Animals. The plant also served the needs of the local ASPCA, the woman there informed me. Having always wanted a dog (I even had a name picked out), I felt great admiration for the ASPCA. Even my grandmother, who’d said I was killing her with all this talk about dogs, dogs, had admired the ASPCA (at least, she’d hated the dogcatcher). “Are there other … family members?” the...

  20. Growth
    (pp. 189-194)

    I’ve come in here where no one can see my growth. I can still hear them, though. I can hear the way the old man clears his throat and the way the old woman examines her cuticles before extending her hand, five bony fingers and all, to stroke his Adam’s apple. I wish she wouldn’t do that: when Cousin Adolphus gets here, he isn’t going to like it.

    We used to live in a house. Then we lived in another house.

    Now we only meet on special occasions.

    We were walking down the old road when we saw a bear....

  21. Linguist in the Family
    (pp. 195-203)

    The Chinese boy wandered into the Garden last summer and soon he was planting garlic and ginger root. The other children ran circles around him, calling out to one another, “Come play, come play”; but the boy was busily planting for his mother. Roger felt glad to see a boy like him, new to this country, making use of the earth. “These are all plots you can harvest,” Roger said, pointing directly at the communal beds along the long metal fence.

    “Sure,” Andy said.

    Andy said “sure” a lot and also “Hi howareyou.” The word “are” would take...

  22. We Nod to One Another and Turn Around
    (pp. 204-206)

    In Vermont we close the gate behind us with difficulty; the cold, he explains, has contracted the wood. One of the two swinging halves of the gate no longer sits on its hinge. The other swings gracefully past the bit of ice and he catches it, hauls the other across the ice and forces the heavy bolt. The dogs can’t get out now. We take off up the road—it rises sharply until we reach the wide drive with the red-and-white cabin atop its own high hill. The woman there once lived with a German man named Hans: once my...