Benjamin West, The Cave of Despair, 1772.
This week, we will be running a series of pieces from Joy Williams’s 99 Stories of God. First published in The Paris Review in 1968, Joy Williams has since appeared in our pages many times. 99 Stories of God is her first book of fiction in nearly a decade and was written, she has said, partly in an attempt to imitate the inimitable Thomas Bernhard, that “cranky genius of Austrian literature,” and his The Voice Imitator: 104 Stories.
There was a famous writer who had a house on the coast. He was entertaining another writer for the weekend, this one less well known, but nonetheless with a name that was recognized by many. A third writer, whose husband had died unexpectedly only two days before, had also been invited for the evening. This was done at the last minute, an act of graciousness, as the woman was on her way south, on a trip she and her husband had long intended.
This writer was the least famous of the three. People couldn’t get a handle on her stuff.
The famous writer and his wife made fish baked in salt for supper. There were many bottles of wine. The third writer’s husband was remembered off and on, fondly.
There was a guest house on the property, and she was invited to spend the night there. Her dog, however, would have to stay in a kennel that was also on the acreage. Or, if she preferred, her car. But not in the guest house.
But she wanted the dog to be with her. It was only the third night of her husband’s death. She probably just should have driven off and found a motel somewhere. But it was late. So late.
She didn’t want the dog to sleep on the cold earth of the kennel. He was old, almost thirteen years old. She and her husband had had him all that time.
Finally, irritably, the famous writer allowed them to stay in one small room in the guest house. The rather known writer said nothing during this battle of wills. She smiled and shrugged. She herself had never had a dog, though she used them freely in her fiction, where they appeared real enough.
The widow lay in the smallest room of the guest house with her dog. Never had she felt so bereft. She had signed a number of papers only that morning at the funeral home. Cremation is not reversible, someone there said. She couldn’t imagine why they would say such a thing. She wished she had requested his belt. And the black cashmere sweater the medics had ripped in half when they first arrived.
He had worn that belt every day for years. Sometimes she’d put some leather preservative on it. And now she didn’t have it.
Oh God, she thought.
Over the years, our succession of beloved dogs were always losing their identification tags.
Since we traveled frequently and often chose areas to pass through where the dogs could run free and tussle, our dogs lost their identification tags in at least a dozen states. Frequently these tags, which included our home address as well as a telephone number, would be returned to us through the mail with a short note of greeting and good wishes.
With the exception of one finder who was not a realtor or an insurance agent, all the finders who contacted us were realtors or insurance agents who enclosed their business cards.
The Lord was in a den with a pack of wolves.
“You really are so intelligent,” the Lord said, “and have such glorious eyes. Why do you think you’re hounded so? It’s like they want to exterminate you, it’s awful.”
“Well, sometimes it’s the calves and the cows,” the wolves said.
“Oh those maddening cows,” the Lord said. “I have a suggestion. What if I caused you not to have a taste for them anymore?”
“It wouldn’t matter. Then it would be the deer or the elk. Have you seen the bumper stickers on the hunters’ trucks—did a wolf get your elk?”
“I guess I missed that,” the Lord said.
“Sentiment is very much against us down here,” the wolves said.
“I’m so awfully sorry,” the Lord said.
“Thank you for inviting us to participate in your plan anyway,” the wolves said politely.
The Lord did not want to appear addled, but what was the plan his sons were referring to exactly?
Fathers and Sons
Excerpted from 99 Stories of God. Used by permission of Byliner.
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