Elephant in the Room

(Illustration: Andy Singer)

One day, Darby and Marcella were quietly having lunch at a Galtier Plaza skyway table. Both worked at Cray Research, he in testing and she in quality assurance. Marcella had just unwrapped her jelly sandwich when Darby popped his question. “What’s the difference between an elephant and a flea?” Marcella opened the small spiral notebook she brought every day to lunch, and began to write the question down, but then paused. She removed another notebook from her purse and flipped through it rapidly. “Aha,” she announced. “October 14th.”

The Game

(illustration: Andy Singer)

The kid loved basketball. He never had a basketball to speak of, but the school had plenty. The kid had a favorite. It was old, smooth, and had the feel of rough paper. It bounced as high as any of the new ones. The kid felt alive when it bounced back perfectly. The kid knew the concrete playing field—all the broken spaces and the cracking cover of the court. The kid knew how to angle and fly by the arms and legs of others. All for that beautiful sound: swoosh.

Revolt at the Midway Discount Shopping Mall

Midway Shopping center at University and Snelling, Murphy Department Store, St. Paul. (Photo: Russell Schweizer, ca. 1960/Minnesota Historical Society)

The department’s floor personnel—Bobbi, Tess, Shaun, Alice, and the stock boy, Luis—received word in that week’s pay envelope, but rumors had been circulating for some time that the store was closing. It was, after all, impossible to ignore how the shelves were not being restocked. “No mas,” Luis would shrug, his palms turned upward, when one of the sales associates asked why a particular item—like those fleece-lined shoe inserts the old ladies liked so much—hadn’t been replenished. “A little shipping problem,” Mr. Beechner, the head buyer, had assured Alice, the oldest among them, when she’d worked up the nerve to ask. “Central’s working on it,” he said, then marched off in a rush. He was always in a rush.

Carol Bly—Affection for the World

Carol Bly

Carol Bly wrote short stories that had weight, complexity, and wit. She was also a prolific writer of essays, a cultural critic, an ethicist, and, in her own terms, "a gadfly." Being that outspoken and opinionated can startle Minnesotans. She was also a teacher of writing at universities, summer programs, the Loft, in her own dining room, and by e-mail. Before I met her in a summer class, I was vaguely aware that some people found her intimidating, even alarming. What I found was a dedicated teacher, very kind, and tremendous fun.

Fiction: The Last Child to Sleep in Saint Paul

Illustration: Andy Singer

It's 8 p.m. at City Hall and the lights in the mayor's office are still on. He sets down the stack of reports he's been reading, glances at the clock in his office, and reaches for his briefcase and keys. It's time to make the rounds. He flips off the lights and walks down the echoing corridors of City Hall to the door. Everyone is long gone.