Four Short Fictions

by Paul Blaney

I Came Highly Recommended

Who could fail to be impressed? One letter from the Emperor Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus, the second written by Kublai Khan! The post office assures me my application arrived in timely fashion, and yet five weeks have since elapsed. Have I perhaps been guilty of over-egging the pudding? One emperor too many?

I Dreamed and in my Dream

The whole world was young. They wore suits and shirts and dresses, even make-up, but wherever I cast my gaze they were three, at most four years old. Toddlers riding motorbikes and driving taxi-cabs, sitting at desks in the windows of offices, striding about with purposeful gait. A policewoman approached me. The top of her cap was level with my belt buckle. 'What seems to be the problem?' she gently inquired. I said nothingócould the problem be any more evident? And indeed, soon enough she'd raised a brass whistle to her infant lips. Her cheeks puffed like ripe tomatoes. The whistle blew a piercing note. It's fair to say I felt my years.

As I Walked Out

Who should cross my path but a cheerful young robin? So resplendent he looked in his scarlet waistcoast; without thinking, I addressed myself to him. 'Good morning, sir robin.'

'Morning,' said the fine little fellow. 'Got cake?'

'I'm afraid I have none,' I regretfully informed him, and even turned out my pockets.

To which he gave a shrug and hopped off into the undergrowth.

Arriving home, I was ready to share this encounter with my daughter. But then I hesitated. Might not my part in the conversation be misconstrued? A robin might speak to anyone; there's no shame in that. Only I had spoken first. Had I not provoked the exchange?

I recalled a favourite maxim of my father's: speak when you're spoken to.

How the Universe Works

Crossing the little bridge in the park this early morning, I suddenly understood the universe. A spider's web, slung like a net between two branches, was what prompted the revelation, that and the stream hurrying beneath. Later in the day I was explaining this to a gathering of certain learned gentlemen, members of a certain distinguished institution, when one old greybeard interrupted. 'Who on Earth are you?' he demanded. 'How did you get in here?'

'Where's your equations?' another wanted to know.

Hearing that I had no equations, they grew quite indignant. 'A theory without mathematics is merely a story,' the one in the wheelchair scolded. And I was asked to vacate the chamber.

You've probably seen these old boys on late-night television, with their Big Bangs and their quantum mechanics and their ten dimensions. All shrouded in figures, variables and constants, like the Emperor's New Clothes. Do you really buy all that? I may lack equations but at least my theory makes sense. It has simplicity on its side and, dare I say it, a certain elegance. I know whose universe I prefer.

Paul Blaney is a forty-something British short story writer who lives in Pennsylvania and teaches at Rutgers, New Brunswick. His novella, Handover, is forthcoming from Typhoon Press (Hong Kong) in 2012. His short fictions, "The Restaurant" and "North & South," appeared in Issue #27 of The Cafe Irreal.