Dispatches | October 12, 2006

When they asked, I told them I wanted the dog that would take up the most space in my house. They opened a heavy door, went into the back and came out with a giant. He shambled. He was tall and hairy, and his head nodded on his long neck like a horse’s. He swung his gaze in my direction. His expression was frank. It said, Get me out of here. One of the attendants said, “Do you know whose dog this was? That guy who set his wife on fire — his lawyer brought it in here and told us to put it down.” I put the dog in my small car. Getting him home was like moving a sofa.

Are you charmed already? Hooked? We were. This is the opening paragraph from David Schuman’s short-short story, “Stay,” which MR published in our second issue of 2005. The story was chosen for reprint in this year’s Pushcart Prize anthology, and David, who teaches writing at Washington University in St. Louis and is associate editor of the Land-Grant College Review, just e-mailed to say that it was also mentioned in this year’s Best American Short Stories as a notable story of 2005.

It’s a story about a man and a dog, and it wonderfully straddles the fence between fable and realism. Just when it starts to feel like one, it morphs into the other. In the end you’re not too sure what it adds up to, but you know it adds up to more than it seems to. You also know that it’s not really about a dog. If it were even just mostly about a dog, we wouldn’t have published it.

At least, I hope we wouldn’t.

My first creative writing teacher was a die-hard hater of animals in literature. Back then it made no sense to me: if we couldn’t write about animals in our workshop stories, how could Crow be the poetic masterpiece to end all masterpieces? I still can’t agree with him about Hughes’s rather heavy-handed collection, but I’ve sort of changed my mind on the no-animals policy. Literature is about the human condition — to which animals, much though we may love them (and important as they might be for food and/or companionship and/or the ecological balance), are only very peripheral.

I’m talking about literature that treads a few feet off the ground, which all literature that matters ought to do.

Last night, on an evening milk run, my kids and I found that a litter of eight-weekish kittens had been dumped in our small-town grocery store parking lot. We spent twenty minutes chasing first one and then another as across the lot in the dark, trying to spot them under parked cars and coax them from behind the newspaper vending machines outside the store. They were so tiny and so terrified and they streaked so incredibly fast that we never caught one, and we never even figured out how many there were. We went home heartbroken and worried, and this morning we woke up still fearful. We could all imagine the worst, and we had wanted so badly to prevent it.

You could turn that into a story, but it wouldn’t be about kittens. It would be about . . . I’m not sure — you tell me.

“Stay” is not up on our website yet, but I intend to ask Patrick if we can put it up. Watch for it. The Pushcart people are right: it’s a keeper.

Congratulations to David on the reprint and the recognition!