Four Stories Found In An Abandoned Desk

by William Olmstead

I found the papers behind the bottom drawer, back where overstuffed items from the upper drawers tend to fall and congregate. The containing desk stood isolated in a section of the used furniture store where skyscrapers of nightstands, armoires, and credenzas were piled high, the flotsam of deserted lives. It was approaching antique status, but not quite there. It had some nice dovetail joint work and a rich, scratched mahogany finish. I left without the desk but with the papers stuffed in my shirt.

I returned home and laid the papers out on my kitchen table. They were old and yellowed but not brittle. I discerned that they consisted of four stories. This excited me, as I am something of an amateur reviewer and an enthusiast of obscure literature. I will attempt to synopsize and review the stories here.

 

The first story had no title and was handwritten on lined, yellow notepad paper. It was about a farmer’s wife who split an edamame in her kitchen one day and found three tiny humanoid babies inside. She pressed a folded dishtowel into a bowl and discharged the babies onto it. Filling a basting syringe with milk she fed the hungry, mewling infants until they fell asleep.

When her husband returned home from working in the fields he was famished and tired and insisted that the babies were just vegetables and that they eat them. The horrified woman took the bowl with the babies and ran off into the forest. She hid in a cave and raised the children of the bean as best she could. Setting forth from the forest at night she raided the surrounding farms, stealing vegetables from the fields, and even absconding with goats and cows for milk and meat.

After many years the children became fully grown, normal as any man. The woman directed them to her husband’s farm. He had grown old. The young edamame men killed him and ate him. Then they brought the woman, their mother and savior, back home to live at the farm where they tended the fields and took care of her for the rest of her life.

Curiously, the last sentence of the story consists of two words: “bon soir.” Is this a kind of signature for the writer? Does he presume that his potential readers will be doing their reading in the evening? Is he French? Strange, since the tenor of the story is like that of a Japanese fable.

I found the writing to be terse, yet compelling. I could have used more detailed scenes illuminating the life of the characters while growing up in the cave. The individual personalities of the edamame children were not developed at all. And, again, the “bon soir” at the end was very discordant. Overall, however, I found the story quite interesting.

 

Story number two was typewritten, single-spaced, about six pages. It was entitled “The Foibles of Humanity.” Immediately I had high expectations. As it turned out, I was disappointed. It was a drawn out, tedious tale of a caterpillar as it grew from larva to imago. There was a lot of detail about chewing on leaves and excruciatingly long passages describing slow, crawling journeys from plant to plant. The only appreciable conflict throughout the body of the work occurred when a bird tried to eat the caterpillar. The insect fell out of its beak and into an impenetrable bramble bush. The rationality of the title revealed itself at the end when a human foot intentionally crushed the hapless worm. Beside myself at the insipidness of the conclusion, I became doubly annoyed when the familiar tag “bon soir” appeared at the end.

 

The third story somewhat redeemed the writer in my eyes. It, too, was typewritten, but double-spaced, sparing my eyes. More of a memoir, it was titled “How Much of Your Life Has Been Paved Over?” The narrator takes a trip through his old home town, revisiting the places of his youth. He finds that many of his favorite, beloved even, memories have been paved over. The woods and fields where he and his friends played games, climbed trees, collected berries have been mowed down and smothered by a new super highway. The neighborhood store where candies were bought and consumed is a parking lot. And on and on. After a while, I must confess, the accounting became more maudlin than poignant. In a final irony the narrator is run over by a giant road grading machine as he inattentively crosses a street. So, it appears the whole story is an overture from beyond the grave. I’m not sure how I feel about that as a literary device. I did feel somewhat moved by the piece. Then, of course, there was the “bon soir” at the end.

 

And the fourth story. Ah, the fourth story. You are reading it now. In fact, you have been reading it all along. Did you not suspect? Bon soir.

 



William Olmstead is a freelance writer currently living in Los Angeles.