Don't Cry

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  • Format: Trade Paper
  • Copyright: 2010-03-09
  • Publisher: Vintage

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Mary Gaitskill returns with a luminous new collection of stories-her first in more than ten years. In "College Town l980," young people adrift in Ann Arbor debate the meaning of personal strength at the start of the Reagan era; in the urban fairy tale "Mirrorball," a young man steals a girlrs"s soul during a one-night stand; in "The Little Boy," a woman haunted by the death of her former husband is finally able to grieve through a mysterious encounter with a needy child. Each story delivers the powerful, original language, and the dramatic engagement of the intelligent mind with the craving body-or of the intelligent body with the craving mind-that has come to be seen as stunningly emblematic of Gaitskillrs"s fiction.

Author Biography

Mary Gaitskill is also the author of Because They Wanted To (nominated for a PEN/Faulkner Award) and the novel Two Girls, Fat and Thin. Veronica was nominated for the National Book Award. Gaitskill is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, and her work has appeared in The New Yorker, Harper’s, Esquire, The Best American Short Stories, and The O. Henry Prize Stories. She lives in New York.


“Don't Cry”

Our first day in Addis Ababa we woke up to wedding music playing outside the hotel. We had traveled for 20 hours and we were deeply asleep. The music entered my sleep in the form of moving lights, like fireflies or animate laughter, in a pattern, but a loose and playful one. I was dreaming that I was with Thomas. In the dream, he was very young, and we were chasing a light that had come free of the others, running down a winding path with darkness all around.

When I woke at first I did not know where I was. The music seemed more real than the dingy room; its sound saturated me with happiness and pain. Then I saw Katya and remembered where we were and why. She was already up and standing at the window lifting a shade to peer out—the sun made a warm place on her skin and I felt affection for her known form in this unknown place. She turned and said, “Janice, there's weddings going on outside—plural!”

We went outside. All around our hotel were gardens, and in the gardens were crowds of people dressed in the bright colors of undiluted joy. Brides and grooms were wearing white satin, and the streets were lined with white limousines decked with flowers, and together with so much color, the white also seemed colorful. Little girls in red-and-white crinoline ran past, followed by a laughing woman. Everyone was laughing or smiling, and because I could not tell where the music came from, I had the sensation that it was coming directly from these smiling, laughing people. Katya turned to me and said, “Are we in heaven?”

I replied, “I don't know,” and for a second I meant it.

My husband Thomas had died six months before the trip to Addis Ababa. The music that woke me that first day touched my grief even before I knew it was wedding music. Even in my sleep I could hear love in it; even in my sleep, I could hear loss. I stepped out of the hotel in a state of grief, but when I saw the brides and grooms in their happiness, wonder slowly spread through my grief. It was like seeing my past and a future that was no longer mine but that I was part of anyway.

In the dirty hotel restaurant we had dry brick-like croissants and lots of good fruit—papaya, mangoes, bananas, oranges, and pineapple. The coffee was burnt, so we decided to go to the espresso place we'd been told was just a few blocks away. We never found the place, although we walked a long time. At first, we walked on a crowded street made of pavement, with department stores, an Internet café, and a grocery with a big Magic Marker drawing (green and red) of fruit and vegetables in the window. Starving wandered freely. The pavement abruptly fell off and gave way to rocks. We saw another wedding party, in a Mercedes decked with rich-colored flowers, moving through a herd of donkeys, the herders lagging behind, talking on their cells. Beggars swarmed around us, shouting and showing us their deformed limbs, their blind eyes. We forgot our espresso. The rocky street gave way to dirt with pools of muddy water. Houses, patched together with tin, plastic, canvas and wood, bulged out, sagged in, lurched and leaned this way, then that. Beggars swarmed us, chanting. Wedding guests in gold pants and silky shirts pushed their broken car through slowly parting pedestrians. A little boy marched along blowing a horn; he was followed by a smaller boy, who was shouting and rhythmically shaking a clutch of bells on a strap. The smell of fresh shit rose up suddenly and mixed with the odors of sweat and cooked meat. An old woman seated in the roots of a giant tree sold bundled sticks and dresses mounted on smiling white mannequins. Trees made soft, blunt, deep green shapes with their boughs. Katya turned to me, her face dazed. “We'd better go back,” she said. “We're getting lost.”

Katya was in Ethiopia to adopt a baby; I

Excerpted from Don't Cry by Mary Gaitskill
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