New Yorkers always ask each other about rent. Her response had been $2400 and I recall thinking, “Well, those floors are nice,” but I also thought it utterly Wasteful to pay so much for so little. I was stretched across her sofa in this, the early years of our new century. Around me were novels, magazines, fancy pillows: the trappings of a single girl in Manhattan. They were busy in the back steeped in a conspiracy of decor. The room needed something, was it curtains? I had been thumbing through a collection of short stories and now I was reading about a cabin in Montana and a man who had no name and his bride, who also had no name. How the snow crunched under their feet and how blades of light slashed their restless sleep. Or something like that.
I became engrossed and as I did, I hoped the conversation in the next room would hit a snag. Oh but what about this armoire? They would need to start again, So that I could finish reading this story set in a cold place, a place near where I was born (I moved before being alive enough to confirm this detail about my existence: I still regard it as hearsay).
Then I finished and realized that I had been affected by the words and therefore needed some time to stare at the moulding on the ceiling. Montana seemed like an awful place now. I gathered myself upright and sauntered into the war room to see if Ms. Wasteful had also read it. She had and Yes, it was wonderful. I should read more of his stories, she urged, while tilting her head in hopes of loosening design ideas for the bare wall.
Somewhere between the elevator ride and the thirty minutes we spent lunging desperate arms into Columbus Ave trying to hail a Saturday night cab; somewhere between the bumpy, nauseating commute over bridges into Queens, up the slanted streets of Astoria and into our dark first floor apartment: somewhere on that path I dropped the name of both the story and its author. Lost, unless I contacted the Wasteful one, which I knew I never would. Because in 2003, Facebook was but an idea doing the backstroke in Zuckerberg’s b_lls.
But today brought an unexpected tip from an editor, found in a book about books (a metabook?) which said: the short stories of Anthony Doerr are very good. And so I found “The Shell Collector”; on its back cover, written on its own line — “Includes the O-Henry Prize-winning story, ‘The Hunter’s Wife’”
Seemed like a good one to sample. The story begins:
It was the hunter’s first time outside of Montana…
A bell went off.
They knelt. Above them the stars were knife points, hard and white. Put your ear here, he whispered. The breath that carried his words crystalized and blew away…
And I wasn’t even looking.