3 Micro-Stories by Alex Epstein
Three Pieces of Time
A year ago, in a small town in the United States, I saw a beggar sitting beside a cardboard sign that read: “Help: my time machine is out of order. I need money for replacement parts, so I can go home to the year 2118.”
To accept the assumption that God created the world less than six thousand years ago, one must accept the claim that He also created signs and traces of everything we assume happened before that: dinosaur skeletons, continental drift, cave paintings and so on. In one of his essays, Borges quotes Russell, who writes that one can argue in the same vein that the world, with its entire glorious past, was created a few minutes ago. A more radical idea is found in a Zen parable from which I copied the next lines: A teacher was asked by one of his students when the world was created. He answered, “Now.”
The legend goes that Virgil wrote the Aeneid for ten years, no more than three lines each day. And at the end of his days he began subtracting from his poem: Among the lines he was satisfied to leave out was one of the tales of Aeneas, who wanders and wanders the streets of Carthage, until he comes to a square bustling with people. He pushes his way into the crowd and listens to a blind storyteller, who tells of the journeys and hardships of a man who cannot find the way home — Odysseus is his name. “But not even a single road leads out of Troy!” cries Aeneas, perhaps to the gods, perhaps to the storyteller, “We are doomed to march them all.”
The Book of Sleep
This story is somewhat familiar: On the seam of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the Orientalist Antoine Galland translated The Thousand and One Nights into French, and wove in legends and tales of Scheherazade that he invented himself, or that he’d just heard during his travels in the East (like the one, for example, about Aladdin and the magic lamp). In Galland’s journals, by contrast, in an adaptation by the Argentine writer Bioy Casares, we encounter another story, which Galland actually neglected to include in his translation of The Thousand and One Nights: He states that at a market in Toulouse he obtains a tattered book said to have been written by a Gypsy. Whoever reads from this book from dawn until dusk, the bookseller instructs Galland, will fall asleep and awaken after one hundred years. Only then will he continue to read the book at the exact place he’d stopped, without knowing that the world outside is unrecognizably changed (again). Galland returns home and one morning begins to read the book as instructed. At night he falls asleep and awakens the next day: a lazy autumn in the south of France. The only thing that happened, he recalls through the curtain of waking, was that also in his dream he’d slept and awakened from another dream, and it isn’t clear to him which of the two dreams is real. Galland copies into his journal one of the opening lines from the book, “The god prayed. But to which god? Thus is the universe made,” and then places the fraudulent book in his library, and returns to the labors of translating The Thousand and One Nights. Elsewhere in his journal he remarks that perhaps it isn’t the man who sleeps for one hundred years, but the book.
Like many superheroes, in her everyday life she works at a dreary job: as a clerk at the post office. But from time to time she has to use her special powers even from behind the counter. Once a thief entered her post office and pointed the gun in his trembling hand at her. She said, The Buddha’s heart was also not on the right side. Enlightenment was within reach.
— Alex Epstein was born in St. Petersburg in 1971 and moved to Israel when he was eight years old. He is the author of three collections of short stories and three novels; Blue Has No South, his most recent collection of short-short stories, is available in English, from Clockroot Books.
— Becka Mara McKay is the author of the poetry collection A Meteorologist in the Promised Land and a translator from the Hebrew; her recent translations include Suzane Adam’s Laundry (Autumn Hill Books) and Alex Epstein’s Blue Has No South (Clockroot Books). She is currently a professor of creative writing and translation at Florida Atlantic University.