Two Stories

Kolby Harvey

Mothercake Pastoral

In the village of mothercake, the mothercake comes at dawn. Women gather along the fence at the edge of the village. They gird themselves against the fenceposts and open their arms for the mothercake. The mothercake comes in waves, rippling the wall of women, falling from the sky as manna from heaven. When it is finished, the women stand stark as pickets, heaps of mothercake in their arms. They walk back to the village in a single, straight line and are greeted by men. We men hold the doors for them; we say today’s mothercake may be the finest yet. We men are nourished by the mothercake, though we collect it but once a year. On this day the mothercake appears not only at the fence, but everywhere in the village. We call it mothercakeday. On mothercakeday, the mothercake forms on every surface: mothercake on rocks, mothercake on the table; mothercake folded over tree branches, mothercake drooped over doorknobs; mothercake in the field, in the granary, on the village green; in the beck, mothercake; in the cupboard, old motherhubbardcake; up in the sky, mothercake floating by. On mothercakeday, we prepare the feast of mothercake. Women bring mothercake by the buckets, inside each a quivering mass of purple lamprey, and we pull out sheets for the mothercakeday feastq. We chop the mothercake and fry it in butter, dusted in flower. We serve the mothercake over hot white rice. We flay the mothercake into strips and grill it over open flames. We char the mothercake and gnash our teeth against the stringy fibers. We are nourished. The days after mothercakeday are hot and dry. The mothercake outside shrivels in the sun. Raisins on rocks. Purple snakeskins hanging in the trees. The wind tosses the mothercake husks until they collect against tree trunks and in the fence at the edge of the village. The mothercake flakes into the wind and speckles the earth like shredded leaves. When the rain comes, the mud is purpled with flecks of mothercake.

An Old Man Watches Metropolis, Restored

Willie sits next to his wife, Kumiko, in a theater in Pasadena. He doesn’t watch German films, avoiding the glottal utterances that populated his youth, but a silent movie with English intertitles is a different matter. He first saw the film 83 years ago, three years old, living in Düsseldorf. He thinks he remembers holding both his parents’ hands on the way to the theater, reaching so high for Josef’s and the surprising roughness of Gisele’s, but this could have been any day. Willie loved the Kino Apollo for its balcony, and for every movie, the three of them sat one row back from its edge. Gisele couldn’t bear sitting any nearer the railing. Kumiko has convinced him to see the movie, that it will be just like when he was a boy.

It is a strange thing to forget your birth language. It is a stranger thing still to remember it. Willie nods off at the beginning, as he often does in dark theaters. A crescendo in the music snaps him awake in time to read an intertitle — the mediator between head and hands must be the heart. He recalls his father whispering the words of each title card in his ear. Der Mittler zwischen Hirn und Händen muss das Herz sein, that is what it should be. Mittler, the one in the middle, the one who shares, Mitteiler. Not mediator. And Hirn — not head, but brain. There’s something bodily lost in the translation, the sinews between gray matter, pumping blood, and flesh. Willie feels it in his chest, thumping.

Now there is a woman — well, a robot who looks like a woman — dancing on the screen, wearing a skirt of beaded fringe. Willie sees her, and the thumping in his chest says, sie tanzt, sie tanzt. There are men in the film who watch her dance with eyes that are hungry and scared all at once. Willie knows what happens next before he sees it. The eyes of all the hungry and scared men are mashed together to blink and leer as one. He’s seen this before — in the Apollo of course, but in Düsseldorf too. Out on the streets in 1927 when people knew that his father was Jewish, that he was Jewish, and that his goy mother had married a Jew. There was always someone looking, and it didn’t matter that his parents chose a gentile name for him.

German is pounding in Willie’s chest, and it’s repeating Augen. Au-gen, Au-gen. 83 years ago, he screamed about the eyes, pulling on Josef’s coat to leave. They took him out of the theater, took him all the way across the ocean where he met a woman who knew, same as him, what it meant when they come to take your home. When they look at you scared and hungry. Now his breath catches in his throat, and he can’t make a sound.

It is Kumiko who screams instead. But she is quick and still sharp and knows how to use a cell phone unlike so many of her friends. There is room for her in the ambulance when it arrives, and she holds Willie’s hand until they reach the hospital. For a brief time, she must sit alone in the waiting room. There is a television, but she does not watch. On the white hospital wall, her brain projects a film — the heart attack that almost killed Willie at the movies. His clammy hands closed white-tight over the arms of the theater seat, mouth agape, desperate for air. His terrible eyes. Between head and hands, always the heart.

Once Kolby Harvey fell off a ladder and messed up his front teeth. Once he had to wear headgear. One time he learned French and German and almost slept with his thesis advisor. Another time he fell asleep in a parking lot in Utah. For a while, he worked at a museum and made t-shirts in a mall. Now he teaches creative writing at the University of Colorado at Boulder. His work has appeared in American Book Review.

콜비는 한번은 사다리에서 떨어져서 앞니를 망가뜨렸다. 헤드기어를 써야 했던 적도 있다. 한번은 프랑스어와 독일어를 배웠고 논문 지도교수랑 잘 뻔했다. 또 다른 한번은 유타의 주차장에서 잠들어 버렸다. 잠깐 박물관에서 일한 적도 있고 백화점에서 티셔츠를 만들기도 했다. 지금은 볼더의 콜로라도 대학에서 문예창작을 가르치고 있다. 그의 작품은 ‘아메리칸 북 리뷰’에 수록된 적 있다.