Sculpture with Face Mask

Three short stories
by Dawn Raffel

The City of Endless Reflection

Every mirrored surface in the City of Endless Reflection is meticulously covered, in keeping with the Jewish custom following a death. Walls, doors, the ceiling, even the mirrored fixtures, the floor, the books silvered with wisdom, are draped. 

You know what you look like anyway. You tell yourself this, as you examine your eyes in the blade of a knife. The knife is not clean. It has a residue of egg.

The mirrored table has been clothed, the plates have been professionally scraped to dull their shimmer, the forks and the spoons have been coated in an agent specifically created for mourning, but someone in the rapture of grief has neglected this single utensil. 

Owing to this regrettable lapse, you are forever condemned to see yourself in everything, distorted, occluded, everywhere you look. 

Your Mouth is a Shroud

Your mouth is a shroud. If you could you would swallow yourself.   


1. Visitation

I saw you again 

last night. 

You were smoking

a cigarette, which you never did in life. Your cat 

seemed to know me. 

Nobody spoke. 

I wanted

to linger, 

far from the firm, unyielding world of mattress, skin, walls, facts, 

the knock 

on the door that would not come,

the caw 

of the living day.   

2. Conversation

The women in this many-storied city have their tongues cut out. The lips of the women make shapes, but no sound emerges, not even a moan. At a certain time of day, when conditions are right, the women are enormous, covering sidewalks, houses, municipal structures, blanketing the streets, merging their aspects in seditious elision. They, among themselves, are completely understood.

3. Gestation

Nascent in the swelling belly of the earth, beneath the skin of stone and steel, beneath the living and the dead, beneath the steam and the smoke, beneath the river of rock, beneath the shell of liquid mineral, as hot as any sun or inferno, where no shade falls, lies a ball of solid iron, under pressure too high for it ever to melt.

Dawn Raffel's most recent book is The Strange Case of Dr. Couney, which was named by NPR as one of the great reads of 2018 and won a 2019 Christopher Award for books that "affirm the highest values of the human spirit." Her previous book, The Secret Life of Objects, was selected for Oprah's Summer Reading List, and reviewed in the San Francisco Chronicle as "a lean, brilliant, playful memoir." She is also the author of two collections--Further Adventures in the Restless Universe and In the Year of Long Division--and a novel, Carrying the Body.