For the 300th issue of Recommended Reading, which happens to fall on Valentine’s Day, we opened submissions to your 300-word stories of love and heartbreak. Every day this week, we’ll publish two of our favorites from the nearly 500 submissions we received (find Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 here!), along with contributions from three greats of flash fiction, Lydia Davis, Amelia Gray, and Kathy Fish. We think of this special five-part issue as a love letter to the thousands of writers who have submitted to Recommended Reading, and the hundreds of thousands who have read our magazine over the past five and a half years. Thank you for sticking with us, and cheers to 300 more. — Halimah Marcus
Loving Like Cats and Dogs
by Lydia Davis
The cat says, “I’m only here on sufferance.” The dog doesn’t understand, so the cat defines the word “sufferance.” It has to do with a kind of tolerance. It has to do with permission that is indirect, permission through failure to prohibit. She uses the word “tacit.” The dog doesn’t understand “tacit.” The cat gives up. She thinks he probably got the idea anyway.
The cat knows they love the dog and merely tolerate her. There is enthusiasm when they greet the dog at the front door. She sits off in the background, watching. They see her and say, “Hello, kitty!” but without much warmth. The dog is more demonstrative than she is. He wouldn’t understand the word “demonstrative,” though he enacts it. He wouldn’t understand the word “enact.”
Later, the cat says to the dog, who stands below her, in the kitchen, sniffing the air, “Now she has left the room. I’m sitting within an inch of her sandwich. That puts a strain on me.” She reaches a forepaw toward the sandwich, but she is not comfortable.
The dog likes her and is interested in her. He would not find it a strain to be near the sandwich.
Later the cat is chewing on the broom again.
The dog does not understand why she would do that.
The cat says, “She scolds me because I’ve been chewing on the broom. She leaves it out and I see it. Then she sees me and puts it away between the refrigerator and the wall where I can’t get at it, though I try. I try when it seems to be where I can reach it.”
The dog listens to her explain all this. At least it is a change from going back to sleep, yet again, in that pool of sunlight.
“Dogs in Love”
by Ali Shapiro
The dog who reminds us of you is easily wounded: every loud noise lands like a blow. She never barks but occasionally moans. The dog who reminds us of me has only two modes: all-out and asleep. She eats dinner out of a maze, has to be saved, every night, from her own appetite. She loves, in this order: food, tennis balls, you. Both dogs love squirrels, but once we saw the dog who reminds us of you leave an almost-dead one at the feet of the dog who reminds us of me, then slink carefully away. The dog who reminds us of me ate it.
We break up, but our dogs don’t. We pass them back and forth through various impromptu airlocks. I let them into your yard and they disappear through the back door, admitted by your invisible hand. You transfer them from your car to mine, then drive away before I get behind the wheel. Because the dogs have always been each of ours (your dog; my dog), and because they are each a part of us (daemons; animal familiars), the pass-through becomes a space where we are somehow still together, a world of what-ifs embodied and lovingly, grudgingly maintained.
Our reunion comes with animal inevitability: a few drinks, flush of skin, clash of teeth. Then we’re back where we started: cooking, vacuuming. Walking the dogs. The one who reminds us of me now insists on sleeping not just next to but on top of the dog who reminds us of you, who accepts the warm weight with a heavy sigh. Maybe it’s true: opposites attract. Or maybe love is just knowing, no particular alignment of selves or stars but a groove one animal wears into another, slowly, surely, until the warmth becomes particular, the weight light.