DONALD 
BARTHELME – ONE STORY

MS D NAKOVA’s milk-white Russian cheek blushed red broken maps of Australia every time she took me to bed. The sandstone walls of her basement apartment coughed up dust and the red flush moved to the tip of her hooked nose, transported by the IGA brand tissues she wiped her allergy-borne mucus with. She read until she fell asleep, or until her nose ran two unstoppable lines of salty water and then she could not stand it anymore. She would turn off the naked bulb of her reading lamp, blow her nose in a final, violent hmmmpf! and put on her silk SARS mask to go to bed.

MS D NAKOVA liked my stories; she would wake up at six, listen to the trap-trap-ing of horses and carts training for the afternoon races at the hard sand track next to her house and then she would read some more. She liked Conversations With Goethe and The Genius, my sillier stories, because they made her laugh and forget about her runny nose. But after three days she decided a funny man would not make her happy.

On the night of the third day MS D NAKOVA came home at two o’clock, giggling and smelling of sweet vodka drink. She introduced me to MR M JOHANI, a brown man with a foot-high Elvis quiff on his square head. He said it was really a Morrissey hair and told MS D NAKOVA that he too had read, and liked, Conversations With Goethe. He said this after running his eyes quickly up and down my Contents page when MS D NAKOVA went to the bathroom and he saw the faint Nike swoosh of pencil tick next to the title. MS D NAKOVA was pleased; she told MR M JOHANI how she liked boys who read and how cute he was with his Morrissey quiff and do you want to go to bed now.

In the morning MS D NAKOVA made weak white tea for herself and strong black tea with no sugar for her new lover. They sat in bed under the naked bulb and drank from MS D NAKOVA’s mismatched Target teacups. They read Conversations With Goethe together, he making up bad German accent for the direct quotes and she covering her nose and mouth with the fluffy edge of her Bonds pillow when she laughed. “You’re funny,” she said.

I knew by the morning’s end MS D NAKOVA would no longer want me in the house. That was five hours ago. Now I am standing with my back to to the world and MS D NAKOVA’s Adult Self-Check Receipt hidden inside the accidental pocket of my front sleeve. It says DUE DATE: 05/03/2001 in red ink. The electronic calendar on the wall says 5 MAR in big black letters. She had never done this before. I was returned on time.

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