portion of Robert Bradley artwork

Nine Stories
Robert Bradley


I was nine when I got the gas. Everything got sped up and I saw spaceships, heard, in the high-pitched drilling, music. Fucking dentists. Outside I was dizzy; you should have seen the snow. It was piled high, and bright. I walked home, nauseous, pressed into this alien world, the shock of it, still. My brother just got born and my mother was home with him, and the others.

Contemplations of the Saints

Nola is splayed on the wooden floor, her skirt hiked up high above her knees, playing jacks. She grips the ball in one hand, the jacks in the other. She won’t let go of either. She says, “I’m experiencing boredom on an inhuman level.”

Billie examines her breasts under her shirt, says, “I have a cyst. Thanks, God.”

Lori says, “How can anybody sleep?” She’s at the window, blowing smoke at the stars. “I’d pull them out by their roots if I could.” Then there’s a cloud of smoke and she’s thinking of something else.

Devi slices into her thigh with a razor blade. She says, “Pain is incomprehensible to me. Mine as well as that of others, but still … it hurts.”

Dora says, “I’ll starve myself till starving becomes my only pleasure in life.”

Margaret sitting in front of a mirror brushing brushing her hair, says, “We evolved from maggots and flies, forget monkeys.”

Mattie says, “I saw a sign, I think, from God … it was exhilarating … and then tiring.” She runs her hands down her face.

Jessie, waving a rolled up twenty, says, “The thing to keep in mind is that everything’s alive; even the dead bones of your parents and grandparents, great aunts and uncles. Nothing ever dies. Brain cancer is life. Heart disease is life. Every second of every day whether you’re completely unconscious, dreaming or blinking … life continues uninterrupted and without pause eternally.”

“Fire or flood,” says Jennifer. “It’s not a question.”

“I like fire,” says Whitney. “It cleans and is clean.”

Betty is practicing ritual hand movements. She says, “The act of speaking shows contempt for language; prayer contempt for God.”

Kitty, looking up from her book, says, “Helen Keller said, Death is no more than passing from one room into another. Then she says that in that other room she can see.”

“I can’t make a fist,” Amy says.


Jenson is sitting behind his large mahogany desk, doing paperwork. There is a woman pacing his carpet.

“Here’s what I think,” she says. “We … first, everything was plasmic; there was blood everywhere, and we didn’t distinguish or separate ourselves from objects or each other. Life was pure emotion, and it sounded something like this.” Her scream is Paleolithic.

“What kind of person is this,” Jenson wonders, “who screams unprovoked and in accord with her own private thoughts and wishes, putting flesh to bone, as it were.

“You probably don’t remember,” she continues. “You probably forgot the arrival and departure of the gods, as well.”

Jenson concedes nothing in manner or form. He focuses his attention on a point in space unoccupied by this woman (his wife) or any other object.

“They came from beyond the veil,” she insists. “Fucked us and ran. That’s the legacy they left us with.” She stops at his desk to stare into his eyes. Jenson shifts his eyes to a wall clock and then a window. He will not speak or surrender his position. “Philosophically,” he thinks, “I can’t be faulted. But what of action?” he muses. “What is power without it? What becomes a person who does not surrender his position, once in a while?”

“We … there’s so much emotional pressure,” she says, expanding her proportions to room-size, “the only way to release it is through,” she pauses to count the ways, “diet and exercise.”

Jenson strokes his chin, appearing thoughtful, attentive. It’s okay to move, he decides. Slowly and with measured steps he leaves the room.


“I’m lost. I can’t track my thoughts anymore. I don’t feel safe here. I’m afraid I don’t want to live out this … thing, this arrangement. Do this, do that. I don’t know why I do it. Who wants any of it? I feel … mostly … hostility. It’s concentrated here.”

“Can’t you talk in the other room?”

“What? I’m talking to you.”

“Oh, sorry, I thought you were on the phone.”

“I feel like destroying something.”

“Don’t be ridiculous.”

“My throat is closing.”

“Can I just get this done?”

“I can’t live in this hell hole. Something bad is going to happen. I can feel it in my teeth.”

“It’s all in your head.”

“It’s in my teeth.”

“Did you put the water on for tea like I asked?”

The tea pot whistles, long and loud. She retrieves the pot and a cup full of water, and throws it in his face. He screams, “You bitch,” and grabs a heavy lamp and swings at her head. “That water was freezing cold.”

“You missed on purpose.”

“You think I’d go to jail for you?”


“Get out.”


No Mother

Talia is sitting on the bed, staring at a book with a black cover. Hugo is looking out the window wishing for snow. He presses a hand up against the cold glass.

The Sunday paper lies untouched on the rug at the foot of the bed.

“Murder, rape, war, and Wall Street. This is the world,” he says.

“It all sounds so boring when you say it.”

“It is boring. Giant babies are running around killing each other, shooting and dropping bombs on each other, all because they’re bored. Everybody’s bored to death.”

“I have news.”

“Why don’t you take off your clothes?” he says.

“I’m pregnant.”

A school bus double parks, honks its horn, and out pops a small child who toddles across the street to the sidewalk where no mother is waiting.

“What do you want to do?” he says.

“Kill you,” she says.

Outside the trees are waving in every direction.

The Unemployed Barber

The Unemployed Barber is shaving himself. “This could lead to a job,” he says. “My skill is unmatched. Feel how smooth.”

The runway model runs down the street. “Everyone waits for me, but still I run everywhere,” she says to herself.

She bumps into the barber from behind and the razor slices into his throat as he stumbles forward. The model, wraith-thin, falls, like a ton of bricks, or feathers, but instantly. The barber totters over the sprawled model, keeping her from the sun’s immense power and wealth.

“You’re in my light,” she says, looking up.

He only stares. She’s used to this.

“I’m already late, and now this,” she says.

He staggers and falls, mercifully, away from her. She’s not used to this: men falling away from her.

She’s sad now without knowing why, immeasurably so, and refuses to stand even though she can.

“I’ll never walk again,” she insists, and true to her word, she spends the last days of her youth being catered to in a wheelchair, and being photographed for magazine covers everywhere.

Professional Courtesy

The ophthalmologist explained to the psychiatrist about light hitting the retina.

“If you disengage them from their function,” he said, “you won’t see properly. Will you now, Carl?”

“It’s so I don’t feel the full force of my disenchantment,” said the psychiatrist.

The ophthalmologist had never heard such a thing said before, believing he was just working on the physical eye, not the psyche. A salty fluid splashed against the sleeve of his smock.

“My smock, my smock,” he said.

“Tell me about your smock,” said the psychiatrist.

“It’s getting wet. My smock, my smock.”

“Your repetition of the word smock reminds me of the gurgling of an infant.”

“Gurgling,” smiled the ophthalmologist.“ Gurgling.”

“It’s such a pleasure to vocalize regardless of content. And so we speak of or around our pain. It’s normal.”

“Vocal eyes.”





They hugged.

The psychiatrist said, “Everybody wants to act gay but nobody wants to be gay.”

“I’m sorry?”

“I said ….”

“I heard you.”

“It’s just another theory, Richard. Don’t be frightened.”

The ophthalmologist shifted uncomfortably from foot to foot.

“We theorize in order that we might be seen as gods. It’s right there in the word. Theorize: from the Greek, meaning to observe or see God.” Carl waved his hand. “Tools of the trade.”

“Certainly a child couldn’t do it,” the ophthalmologist agreed.

“Yes, we outwit even ourselves sometimes,” the psychiatrist chuckled.

“How’s that?”

“Well, I can’t really say.”

“You can’t say because it’s a secret or you just can’t think of an example?”

Suddenly cold, “I’m not going to beg for your respect, Richard.”

The ophthalmologist’s eyes began to blur, “Please, Carl, I was only joking.”

“Let me explain to you about jokes …” said the psychiatrist.

“Yes, but first let me get you your prescription, Carl,” said the ophthalmologist.

Fairytale Ending

Much later, after the storybook ending, the wife said, “Seriously, if you’re going to kill someone let it be anyone other than me.”

The husband said, “Why don’t you go live happily ever after with someone else? I don’t care anymore.”

This is almost universally agreed upon, yet few are willing to publish it.

Generic Philosophy

“You can’t help people.”

“The right philosophy could help them. Without one people will just stay stupid. That’s what philosophy is: an alternative to working the fields, or running around with a sharp stick, chasing after the swift and the lame.”

“Sell it to the queers.”

“Did you ever read any philosophy?”

“Nobody reads that stuff anymore.”

“Nobody reads period.”

“I like the cookbooks. It relaxes me.”

“You ever think about a life free from the hooks and constraints.”

“What hooks?”

“Everything’s a hook.”

“I’m thinking about that poor girl alone at the bar.”

“She didn’t have the equipment.”

“A little kindness goes a long way.”

“You think I wasn’t kind?”

“Let me ask you this; she’s a sullen girl.”

“Who said that?”

“I like to paint a picture. An infant baby at her nipple. Dishrag hair. Teenage father off to war.”

“She was drinking Bloody Marys. She looked to be about forty.”

“You have an eye for detail, I grant you, but that doesn’t change facts.”

“What facts?”

“The facts haven’t changed since before you were a kid.”

“Which are?”

“You have to choose sides and either way you pay the freight.”

“I have new ideas. Which means that changes everything. Facts included.”

“Facts are facts. That’s what they are.”

“Facts change. Everything changes. That’s the law.”

“I’ll tell you what doesn’t change. People, for one.”

“Are people facts? What are facts? Facts are anything that is true and real. Are people true? No, they are not. Are they real?”

“That poor girl …”

“Forget the girl. I’m telling you something.

“Then tell it.”

“I’ve tapped into an unexamined quadrant of the human psyche. Previously unthought, unpricked, unprodded.”

“How do I break this to you? Nobody wants to hear it.”

“It’s questions only. There’s no content. It works fast, goes deep.”

“Just say it, then.”


“Take your time.”

“Do you ever feel like an unknown power is working inside of you making you do things and you know for a fact that it’s not you at all?”

“I’m sorry?”

“It’s a question.”

“I heard.”

“You don’t feel changed in any way?”

“Can’t say I do.”

“Let it sink in …. Sometimes it takes a minute …. How about now?”

“I’m parched.”

“You think it’s nothing.”

“I’m thinking I need a beer, is what.”

“You’re dismissive.”

“I’m just saying.”

“So say it.”

“I’ll say this. You owe that girl an apology.”

I forget how to write once I stop. It’s frustrating.

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