A Short Story For Saturday

This weekend’s short story, Julie Hayden’s “Day-Old Baby Rats,” was recommended by a reader. Hayden died too young at age 42, and this selection comes from her only collection of stories, The Lists of the Past, published in 1976. Writing about the story, S. Kirk Walsh describes how “Hayden’s nameless protagonist embodies the acute loneliness of living in Manhattan — how the distorted lens of irrational fears and past traumas can transform the city into a dangerous landscape, seemingly impossible to navigate.” How it begins:

DOWN NEAR THE RIVER a door slams; somebody wakes up, immediately flips over onto her back. She dreamed she went fishing, which is odd because she’s never fished in her life. She thought someone was calling her “baby.”

There’s a lot of January light crawling from beneath room-darkener shades, casting mobile shadows on walls and ceiling. The mobile is composed of hundreds of white plastic circles the size of Communion wafers. As they spin they wax and wane, swell and vanish like little moons. Their shadows are like summer, like leaves, the leaves of the plane tree at the window, which hasn’t any, right now, being in hibernation.

Though the crack between window and sill, air that tomorrow’s papers will designate Unsatisfactory flows over one exposed arm, making the hairs stand up like sentries. Long trailer trucks continue to grind along the one-way street, tag end of a procession that began at 4 a.m. with the clank and whistle of trains on dead-end sidings, as melancholy as though they were the victims they had carried across the Hudson. The trucks carry meat for the Village butcher shops, the city’s restaurants—pink sides of prime beef that you cannot purchase at the supermarket, U.S.D.A. choice or commercial, pigs, lambs, chickens, rabbits, helped off the trucks by shivering men who warm their hands over trash-basket fires.

In the apartment across the hall the baby is bawling, “I want my milk.”

Read the rest here. Peruse previous SSFSs here.