The New Generation of Classic Short Stories

Vol. 21, No. 2


by Lily Tuck

Linda, his ex-wife, has gained weight—fifty pounds, he guesses. Her hair, too, is different, a flamboyant poinsettia color. The same color, he imagines, French prostitutes—a cliché portrait he indulges himself in—dye theirs. Linda's is cut short and gelled into spikes. For a moment, he thinks that maybe he has made a mistake and rung the wrong doorbell. Briefly, too, he is reminded of a scene in a movie he saw a long time ago—saw it on TV with Linda, in fact—where the main character, a soldier, played by the French actor Gérard Depardieu, after an absence of eleven years, due to his going off to war, returns home to his wife and family. As the story progresses, it becomes clear that this soldier may be an impostor, and it is up to the wife to determine his true identity—presumably, she will do so in bed. And does she? He cannot remember. Perhaps the end is left ambiguous or, more troubling, it suggests that the wife loves the soldier and does not care whether he is her real husband or not. And the name of the movie? He thinks of it: The Return of Martin Guerre. He resolves to watch it again and figure this out for himself. He also thinks about Gérard Depardieu and how monstrously fat he has become and how he left France to avoid paying taxes. All the while he contemplates—no, stares at—Linda. "His" Linda had a lazy eye she was always complaining about and wanting to have surgery to correct, although he had argued it wasn't that noticeable. Only when she was tired or nervous. Now, he notices how her left eye has strayed off a little to the side, yet he could have sworn that the lazy eye had been the right one.
     "Hey! You haven't changed a bit—still so damn ugly!" Linda says, opening the door wide and laughing to remove a bit of the sting from her remark.
     Standing there he hesitates, not knowing whether he should lean in and kiss her, but she solves the problem by giving him a hug and pressing her breasts—much larger than he remembers—against his chest. None of it feels familiar.

Everywhere there are fat people. Obese people. Three hundred pounds and huge, jiggling asses are the norm here. At breakfast this morning, in the hotel dining room, the buffet table was laden with platters filled with shiny, stiff scrambled eggs; soggy, thick pancakes; overcooked, greasy sausages, and everyone was scarfing them up as if there were no tomorrow (and maybe there won't be). At a table set slightly off to the side, a different-looking group of people were eating. They were sleek, svelte, and blond. He watched as a woman in leather pants and an elegant V-neck sweater got up from the table and helped herself to fruit from the buffet. Pieces of watermelon and cantaloupe. She was part of the Lufthansa crew on layover.
     Hooray for the Germans, he wanted to shout. Hooray for Angela Merkel.

"So what brings you to Dallas?" she says, mimicking a thick Texan accent.
     In the cramped front hall, a small, white dog locked inside a wire cage begins to bark.
     "Shut up," his ex-wife says, but the dog continues to bark—more frantically now.
     "Let him out," he offers.
     "She's a she," his ex-wife says. "And if I let her out, she'll pee all over the place. Shut up, Sheba," she says again. "I mean it."
     "Yeah—you know the play by William Inge," she answers. "My theater group put it on last month."
     "Your theater group?" he asks. He has no memory of her ever being at all interested in the theater.
     "I played Lola Delaney, the wife, who keeps calling her dog after the dog has run away. Shirley Booth played her in both the play and the movie version."
     He nods. He has only a vague recollection of seeing the film and of Shirley Booth standing at the front door of her house, dressed in her robe, her hair in curlers, calling for the dog. And was Burt Lancaster the husband? Maybe, he thinks, he should watch that movie again, too.
     "So tell me," his ex-wife asks once more, "what brings you to Dallas?"
     "Alexa," he answers.
     "Who the hell is Alexa? Your new sweetheart?"
     He shakes his head and smiles.
     "Alexa," he explains, "is an Amazon virtual voice assistant device that you can plug into your computer. She—" He pauses. "Funny how all these robots have female voices—"
     "And how do you fit in?" Linda interrupts.
     "Alexa can record conversations, which she then turns into data and uploads to the cloud, which has opened up a whole can of worms concerning privacy and is why I'm here," he answers. "For a meeting," he adds. He is an IP attorney.
     "Privacy how?" she asks, frowning.
     "Well, for instance, if you are having a private conversation with someone and you have activated Alexa, she could be recording it without the other person's knowledge or permission, and your tech-savvy next-door neighbor could be listening."
     "How do you activate her?"
     "With the wake-word."
     The dog begins to bark again, and Linda yells, "Sheba!"

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