Father’s Gone and So Is His Arm

Three stories from OUR STRANGERS by Lydia Davis

Father’s Gone and So Is His Arm

Worrying About Father’s Arm

How will we solve the problem of how Father sleeps on his right arm? He is not comfortable, his arm is under him, it hurts him as it presses into his ribs, and it is hurt by the weight of his body pressing down on it. He tells us this, with a gentle smile, as though to say it is not important, and not our problem.

Father died many years ago. But the problem is still there on my mind, unresolved, even though Father no longer tries to sleep comfortably and in fact no longer has an arm.

Wise Old Men

In our society, old men are not considered to be wise, but, rather, eccentric, opinionated, sloppy, foolish, stubborn, weak, confused, etc. This old man in front of me in line, that old man over there trying to open the door, what a bother, get out of our way, with your slow shuffling feet and your hesitation and your uncertainty, we say. Can’t you get all the way across the street before the light changes? In another society, it is different. He is an old man, they say, ask him.

The Stages of Womanhood

It was in the midst of these days when I was struggling to complete the—what would it be?—seventh, no, sixth stage of my growth as a woman, being a year late already with that, according to the (ineffective) anthroposophic doctor I had consulted about my persistent ear infections, when I was awoken yet again during a particularly restless night of being awoken, first, by my child, then by a mosquito, then by my child again, then by the tickling in my ears, then by my child again—when I was awoken yet again, this time by the high-pitched wail of an air-raid siren that I mistook at first for a malfunctioning fan in one window and then a fan in another, going around turning off and unplugging the fans one by one, then finally making my way downstairs and out the back door to stand in the yard looking up until the sound of the siren died abruptly, the wail descending. Of course I thought of war, since our country was in conflict yet again with another country. I thought maybe the mosquito that had been bothering me would live longer than I would. I thought of calling the local police station. I wondered if my husband had heard the siren through his ear plugs. He was sleeping downstairs so that he would not be bothered by me, since I was sleeping so badly these days, or by the child, who was waking so often. The doctor had told me that the next stage, the last stage of womanhood in which a woman is reproductive, was very important creatively. The stage that came after that was very different—also wonderful, she said, but very different. But I had not yet completed this stage, which was supposed to be a growth into full womanhood. As far as I could see, I was exactly the same this year as I had been last year and the year before.

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