Live & Learn
Featuring stories by Alex Ortolani, Thaddeus Rutkowski, T.J. Townley, Gregory Jackson, and Paul Blaney; read by actors David Harrell, Max Woertendyke, Michael Washington Brown, Karen Leiner, and Katherine Barron. Hosted by Andrew Lloyd-Jones and Elizabeth Murray at KGB Bar on 6th June 2012.
Then I met the penguin.
I’d just awakened from a long, mid-afternoon nap. A sliver of blinding sunlight sliced into my cocoon; groggy, I stumbled to the window. At least in winter, a pall of blackness covered the continent, or so I’d heard. This time of year, though, visibility was so good I could see for miles across the ice shelf. With nothing to help gauge distance, perspective collapsed. I could reach out and touch it all. Only there was nothing to touch—just the emptiness of white spaces. Snow and ice and frosty mountain peaks, vacant sea and sky. It was all so much nothing. I rubbed my face, then reached to draw the curtains.
On my 37th birthday, while sitting on the toilet, I decided to cull my life.
I started first thing the next morning. Getting rid of old cell phones felt liberating. Tossing my childhood bottle-cap collection seemed practical. Pitching threadbare socks—which were all the socks I owned—was luxurious. I literally yelped for joy after heaving an old 32” tube television into an alley dumpster.
The first thing his wife said when he picked her up at the house was, ‘You’re late.’ It was true, and like her, too, to make such an abrupt statement. He could think of no response—though wasn’t he doing her a favor?—and so said nothing. He got on the highway, off the highway, pondered the radio but that felt wrong. Okay if he’d put it on before she got in, but not so now. Besides, it felt nice: the two of them side by side like that again, going somewhere. Not talking but with a shared purpose. It felt like what you might call an occasion.
In their final weeks together, Alice had lain rigidly beside Henry on the bed at night, feeling a curious hunger for what, inevitably, lay ahead. During the thirty-seven years they’d slept alongside each other, Alice had been barely conscious of just how far her own identity had become entwined with that of her husband, but as Henry approached the end she’d had the unmistakeable sense that she was about to be cut free. It was a strange and in many ways rather delicious thrill of anticipation, the longing of one who knows things are about to change irrevocably. This, she thought, was what the butterfly must feel before it emerges from the chrysalis. This was what the snake must feel before it sheds its skin.