Openings that hook
Published: September 2, 2005
A man stood upon a railroad bridge in northern Alabama, looking down into the swift water twenty feet below. The man's hands were behind his back, the wrists bound with a cord. A rope closely encircled his neck. It was attached to a stout cross-timber above his head and the slack fell to the level of his knees. Some loose boards laid upon the sleepers supporting the metals of the railway supplied a footing for him and his executioners.
"An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge"
He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream and he had gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish. In the first forty days a boy had been with him. But after forty days without a fish the boy's parents had told him that the old man was definitely and finally salao, which is the worst form of unlucky, and the boy had gone at their orders in another boat which caught three good fish the first week. It made the boy sad to see the old man come in each day with his skiff empty and he always went down to help him carry either the coiled lines or the gaff and harpoon and sail that was furled around the mast. The sail was patched with flour sacks and, furled, it looked like the flag of permanent defeat.
The Old Man and the Sea
As I creeped the Explorer through the darkness of the musty covered bridge over Nick's Fork, I wondered what in heaven's name had brought me back to central Kentucky after nearly forty years of self-imposed exile. I had gotten the news of Aunt Lillian's passing in a brief message left on my answering machine by Uncle Ezra, the man who had lived with her off and on as long as I could remember. Some would say I was finally returning home to pay my respects to the woman who had raised me like a son after my parents ran off and left me on my sixth birthday. But they'd be wrong. As much as I loved that woman everybody knew as Lil, I hated her for what she'd done one June evening that had changed my life forever.
"The Legend of Aunt Lillian"
The train went up the track out of sight, around one of the hills of burnt timber. Nick sat down on the bundle of canvas and bedding the baggage man had pitched out of the door of the baggage car. There was no town, nothing but the rails and the burned-over country. The thirteen saloons that had lined the one street of Seney had not left a trace. The foundations of the Mansion House hotel stuck up above the ground. The stone was chipped and split by the fire. It was all that was left of the town of Seney. Even the surface had been burned off the ground.
"Big Two-Hearted River"
The first day of class Justine merely disliked Lydia Hammond. By mid-semester Justine hated everything about her lit professor right down to the glass of water she continually sipped during her deadly dry lectures. Unfortunately, by then it was too late to drop a required course, so Justine resolved to do more than simply endure another eight weeks in hell.
Bardwell jammed the paper into his Smith-Corona as though he were piercing Flanagan's heart with a dagger.
For a walking corpse, Walter Gastart was in great shape.
When the brothers Dukhiram Rui and Chidam Rui went out in the morning with their heavy farm-knives, to work in the fields, their wives would quarrel and shout. But the people near by were as used to the uproar as they were to other customary, natural sounds. When they heard the shrill screams of the women, they would say, "They're at it again"-that is, what was happening was only to be expected: it was not a violation of Nature's rules. When the sun rises at dawn, no one asks why; and whenever the two wives in this kuri-caste household let fly at each other, no one was at all curious to investigate the cause.
Hugh Petrie didn't have the sort of office that an executive of the Cincinnati Cougars should have had. There was a regulation NFL football sitting on the couch like a big brown button, but the couch was covered in satin and the rug beneath it was a genuine kilim in pale rose. There were framed eight-by-tens on the wall, autographed portraits of famous athletes. But there was also a small photo of Jonathan Winters dressed as Maud Frickert on the corner of a chrome and glass desk, and a tryptich of the Three Stooges by the louvered window.
I turned off Dixie Highway into Seventh. The August humidity hung from the Louisville twilight like sweat from an athlete's armpit. Squeezed between Bill's Bowlarama and Pete's Pre-Owned Automobiles, I found the Dixie Mobile Manors. When I was a kid, it would have been a bowling alley, a used-car lot, and a trailer park.
"To Live and Die in Dixie"
The hills across the valley of the Ebro were long and white. On this side there was no shade and no trees and the station was between two lines of rails in the sun. Close against the side of the station there was the warm shadow of the building and a curtain, made of strings of bamboo beads, hung across the open door into the bar to keep out flies. The American and the girl with him sat at a table in the shade, outside the building. It was very hot and the express from Barcelona would come in forty minutes. It stopped at this junction for two minutes and went on to Madrid.
"Hills Like White Elephants"
In the mountains, in Maltsi e madhe, she must have tried to tell them her name, and "Lottar" was what they made of it. She had a wound in her leg, from a fall on sharp rocks when her guide was shot. She had a fever. How long it took them to carry her through the mountains, bound up in a rug and strapped to a horse's back, she had no idea.
"The Albanian Virgin"