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The Law of Miracles

The Law of Miracles: And Other Stories

Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 178
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  • Book Info
    The Law of Miracles
    Book Description:

    These stories take place in the space where the rational and irrational intersect—the space governed by The Law of Miracles. Writing with a remarkable range of invention, Gregory Blake Smith has created a world in which his characters navigate between the everyday and the extraordinary: an aged Russian woman who lives simultaneously in the St. Petersburg of iPods and BMWs and in the starving Leningrad of the Siege; a Venetian art conservator who loves the women of the Renaissance paintings he restores but cannot bear the touch of the woman at his side; a downandout slotmachine technician who calculates the probability of his wife’s dying. Yet for all their variety of setting and subject, there runs through each of these stories a thread of the miraculous, a suspicion that the transcendent lies just at the edge of perception. We watch the characters of The Law of Miracles struggle toward that transcendence, whether it be through love or art or violence, until we as readers feel—like the main character of the Pushcart Prize–winning “Presently in Ruins”—that if we could only parse the seemingly random details of our existence some new pattern of meaning would emerge, some new magic that would transform our lives.

    eISBN: 978-1-61376-182-3
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[iv])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [v]-[viii])
  3. Moral Problem #1: THE LIBRARIAN IN THE MUD
    (pp. 1-3)

    In this era of the insulted and the reeducated, you have the correct family background to be a model student. Your father was a peasant and your second elder sister was sold as a servant before Liberation. Chairman Mao is your sun and you are his sunflower. When he selects you to go to university, you denounce to your girlish heart the pride you feel.

    The things you love are these: Chairman Mao, the Chinese people, the quiet in the Garden of Virtue at the Summer Palace, the plays of Tian Han andThe Lady of the Camellias, which you...

    (pp. 4-23)

    The names had the sound of the History Channel: Pearl Harbor, Eniwetok Atoll, Guam. His father had been to each during the Second World War and he, the son, had never known about it. Fifty-one years he’d been alive and to find out who his father had been he had to get like this: drunk, lost, estranged from a minimum of two wives, and a murderer in the eyes of his sister, and maybe the State of Indiana.

    He was in a hotel room drinking bourbon and typing bits and pieces of his father’s life into Google—the name of...

  5. Moral Problem #2: THE BALLAD OF LITTLE HOMO
    (pp. 24-27)

    Okay, this is the scene: You’re wearing your murder-ones and the world’s got that dark, smoked look you love. You’re hanging with yourvatosat the corner of Euclid and Whittier and there’s a serious philosophical discussion underway. You’ve got to strike the right pose when serious philosophical discussions are underway, so in addition to the dark glasses you’ve got your sea-green drape wide at the shoulders tight at the rear, your raspberry-colored shirt to add just the right touch, and on your feet your new Stacy Adams. If anybody messes with the knife-edge crease in your pants there’s the...

    (pp. 28-43)

    In the next room Incunabula de la Luz (not her real name) is auditioning people to be her mother. Her real mother—at least she claims to be her real mother—wanted to come to the auditions, but Luz—Lucita—said no. So this is how come I’m on the phone doing the play-by-play.

    “Overcoats,” I’m saying. “Most of them have got these drab, 1940s-ish overcoats on.”

    “Wool or synthetic?” Lucita’s mother asks.

    “Wool,” I say, “definitely wool.”


    I consider. “Maybe Jewish. Probably some Jewish.”

    Is that a clue? Am I living with a Jessica, a Rachel? Is it...

    (pp. 44-44)

    It is 1934 and you are the principal of the Schiller-Oberschule. You have received a directive from theReichsministerium für Volksauf klärung und Propagandathat all students are to be instructed in the proper performance of the National Socialist salute. You are practicing it yourself in the mirror in your office. You are a little dismayed to see that the shoulder of your tailored suit bunches up whenever you perform the salute, but that is not the question before you. The question before you is what to do with the Jewish students—are they to be included in the lesson,...

    (pp. 45-61)

    He felt it most in the evenings. After a day of cleaning an archangel’s silk or the Virgin’s brocade he would let himself get lost in the fabulous city, walking beside the canals and over the arched footbridges, torturing himself with beauty. He would do his best to stay away from the tourists, keep from his sight the signs pointing to the Rialto or to San Marco, making his way instead through the darkeningcalliso exquisite with their rotting brick, the stone burned black with age. There was something to pain him everywhere he looked, something in every vista,...

  9. Moral Problem #4: HANNAN OF THE SUQ AL-BARRA
    (pp. 62-63)

    You were born in the village of the streams. Your father and your grandfather were charcoal-makers in the Jbalan highlands. Even today, though you have lived all of your young life in Tangier, they call you aJibli, a person from the mountains.

    There are two girls. They are both—strange, yes?—they are both named Hannan. There is Hannan of the cobblestone quarter and there is Hannan of the Suq al-barra. You are meant to marry the first Hannan—how lucky you are! people tell you, how good she is! how beautiful, her skin is white like milk!—but...

  10. HANDS
    (pp. 64-73)

    Here in New England we sit in chairs.

    It’s from my porch rocker that I watch the raccoon. He usually comes at dusk, that time of day half dog and half wolf, when the downturned leaves seem to glow with the sunset and the upturned ones glimmer with moonlight. I watch him pad through autumn weeds while the sweat of my chair-making dries on my skin. He lingers in the shadows, still woodside, the sun falling further with each moment, and then waddles onto my lawn. He looks like a house cat once the woods are behind him. He tosses...

  11. Moral Problem #5: HONI SOIT QUI MALY PENSE
    (pp. 74-77)

    You’ve just had the Big Argument and now she’s gone. There have been many other arguments (you remember particularly the one about whether millionaire NBA players had the right to strike, a subject neither of you cared about in the least but somehow roused her outraged Jewish–IWW–Ellis Island sensibility against your snide Elitist–Mayflower–Wonder Bread privileged self), but this is the one that’s going to do it. This is the one—about George-freaking-W.-Bush and the invasion of Iraq—this is the one that’s going to sink the marriage before it even starts. She was arguing for Shock...

    (pp. 78-97)

    It was as if he had been there, with his parents and Speedy Alka-Seltzer and his nonexistent kid brother: in the den of their Levittown house, in front of the black-and-white Philco, with Ernie Kovacs and the dancing Lucky Strikes and outside the Fifties happening like a mushroom cloud.

    Or in the turn-of-the-century tenements: say, this time, the Lower East Side with the smell of cabbage in the airshafts, the laundry strung from fire escape to fire escape, the pushcarts, the Yiddish, the rotting vegetables in the gutter, the tots singing “Ring-a-Rosie” and the fire at the Triangle still to...

  13. Moral Problem #6: PARACONSISTENT LOGIC
    (pp. 98-99)

    You have just finished the chapter in which you disprove the existence of mermaids. Or, as you would prefer to phrase it, the chapter in which youprovethenonexistence of mermaids. This follows chapters in which you disprove the existence—we beg your pardon—in which youprovethenonexistenceof, in order: the gryphon, the phoenix, and the unicorn. The chapter on mermaids—half-fish, half-human, after all—is a pivotal chapter. It sets the terms for all that will follow. For you will move on, from here, to prove the nonexistence of, first, the platypus, then the penguin,...

    (pp. 100-118)

    She told the police she couldn’t remember anything. From out of the pain and the dim apprehension that she was alive, shook her head “no.” Even after she’d been stabilized and the swelling had gone down so that she could see—though her vision was blurred and the IV-drip made her mind hover just out of reach—still she told them “no.” She heard the doctors explain that memory loss was consistent with her injuries: maxillofacial trauma, concussion, hemorrhagic shock. In time, they said, she might remember. She had not been raped. There was no semen, no vaginal abrasion. But...

    (pp. 119-121)

    No one asks anymore except the ghosts, but if they did, this is what you would say:

    You would say that the letter was written by you and by no one else. That you yourself posted it toLeningradskaya Pravda. That you were not and had never been approached by anyone from the Union of Soviet Writers or the secret police. That Comrade Akhmatova’s subsequent expulsion from the writers’ union and the arrest and imprisonment of her son had nothing to do with you. You wrote the letter because your husband died in the war and your baby died during...

    (pp. 122-147)

    In the gun store I couldn’t make up my mind. There was all that smug menace to choose from. I hefted revolvers and breech loaders, practiced executing the world with Mausers and Glocks. The store owner—his name was Ronnie—was very patient, answering my questions, overlooking my ignorance. In the end it was a Smith & Wesson snub-nosed .38 Special I settled on, swayed I suppose by the associations—fedoras, rain-slick alleys, platinum blondes and gut-shot punks. I have always been a classicist at heart, as even the Academy of American Poets recognized. According to The Review of Wound Ballistics,...

  17. Moral Problem #8: THE ISLAND OF THE FIFTH WHEELS
    (pp. 148-150)

    For the purposes of this next moral problem you may choose your identity from among the population of the Island of the Fifth Wheels. Particular favorites include:

    Gummo Marx, the funniest of the Marx Brothers, who left the act during its vaudeville days to become a haberdasher;

    the original Darren from “Bewitched”;

    Pete Best, the drummer John, Paul, and George dumped just before recording “Love Me, Do”;

    Piltdown Man;

    the universe that might have occurred 10-1seconds after the Big Bang;

    Saturn, Jove, Ra, Quetzalcoatl, Astarte, and many, many others. Ready?

    You are of the almost.

    Here on your metaphysical...

  18. THE LAW OF MIRACLES or, Five Ways My Wife Could Die
    (pp. 151-162)

    When the tree fell on my house, I was already on my way down. Wife gone, son gone, middle age just around the corner. There had been no hurricane, no stiff in-line winds: the tree just fell over—plunk! The rafters snapped, the window imploded, and there I was lying in bed going eenie-meenie-minie-moe as to whether it would be Seconal and scotch or a razor in the bathtub.

    In probability theory we have an axiom called Littlewood’s Law of Miracles. The Law of Miracles is based upon a paradoxical feature of chance,viz. that given sufficiently large numbers, unlikely...

  19. Moral Problem #9: A COSMIC DIVERTISSEMENT
    (pp. 163-164)

    You are the Creator. It is 1.82seconds after the Big Bang and everything is going swimmingly. The other universe that could have happened at 10-1seconds didn’t, in fact, happen (as You knew it wouldn’t) and You are in the first microseconds of being distributed through time and space. Electrons and positrons are zipping about annihilating one another. Every few minutes, just as adivertissement, You double in size. In a little while it’ll be every million years. At the tips of Your fingers and toes the first galaxies are beginning to form, and You are already looking forward...

    (pp. 165-166)
  21. Back Matter
    (pp. 167-168)