omewhere, in a parallel universe, there’s an Alex Epstein who writes novels,” says Alex Epstein – author of the micro-stories we present here – about his chosen literary form.
The literary equivalent of minimalist art, micro-fiction induces the reading experience at its most intense. The scant few sentences that comprise each micro-story act as bookends – or scaffolding, even – for a rich fictional universe, evoked simultaneously in numerous parallel versions. Halfway between prose and poetry, micro-fiction benefits from the power of the metaphor combined with a strong narrative arc.
Kafka toyed with micro-fiction, Jorge Luis Borges relished in it. Following in their footsteps in Hebrew, Epstein is a pioneer in a sparsely populated literary space. Micro-fiction has been all but absent from the Hebrew literary sphere; at least, since the Talmud and the fables of the biblical prophets.
The Tel Aviv Review of Books is proud to contribute to its promotion.
A Note on the Theory of General Relativity
One night in 1977, when I was six years old, I dragged a chair over to the railing of our fifteenth floor balcony and climbed onto it so that I could see the chock-full moon floating over St. Petersburg. If I ever get a chance to recreate this moment, I’d choose to stand with my back to the sky; if only to see my father moving toward me at the speed of light.
A Thousand Cranes
This is a well-known legend. Two origami artists competed to see who could fold a thousand cranes faster. While one completed three, the other was only beginning to shape the first’s wings. While the former folded ten, the latter was having trouble with the first’s tail. The former finished folding one hundred perfect cranes, and the latter opened the window for his single crane.
The Very Short Guide for the Garden Walker
The old lady at the nursing home asked, “War, again?” “Yes,” said her son, “did you see it on TV?” “There’s nothing to see on TV,” she muttered. “Ahmed told me about it. He said we’re winning.” Her son recoiled. “Who exactly is ‘us’?” he rebuked. “Ahmed and me,” she answered immediately. “Yesterday he even pushed me around the garden. All of a sudden he yelled, Siren! I couldn’t hear a thing. Go figure. Was there a siren yesterday?” Her son admitted, “Last night? There was one. What did you do?” “What could I do?” the old lady laughed. “Ahmed lifted me in his arms and carried me inside, like a bride.”
The Universe of Slow Change
The trees in this parallel universe believe that humans are not intelligent beings because they are in constant movement. You can’t breathe that way.
In Case of All Sorts of Things
In case of a flood, rip out all the doors in your apartment and tie them together to make a raft. In case of a chemical attack, return the doors to their place and shove a wet rag under each one. In case of an earthquake, let the doors you’ve ripped out (or put back) be and stand beneath the doorpost. In case of a nuclear attack, pray (or drink lots of vodka—can’t hurt). P.S. In case of love at first sight, forget everything you know.
This is a tiny tale about sacrifice and imbecility. There once was one kingdom that had a baby swapping agreement with its neighbor. All the babies born in the former kingdom were taken away from their parents immediately and given to parents in the latter kingdom—whose babies, in turn, were taken from them and given to parents from the former kingdom. This agreement, obviously, prevented any possibility of war. Baby mortality in both kingdoms was high, yet bearable.
Some prayers may be recorded.
The little girl said: “Grandma, there’s a smudge on your hand.”
“It isn’t a smudge,” the old lady murmured. “It’s my number.”
“Why did you write it on your arm?” the girl asked, then jumped for joy when she guessed the answer herself: “So that you’ll never forget!”
That evening, she asked her mother to write their phone number on her arm with a felt marker, explaining that if she got lost in a dream, she’d be able to call home and wake up.
A Tiny Comic Strip
Of all the superheroes, my favorite is the one whose superpower is immunity to words. His superhero suit is his skin. His weak spot (like all superheroes) is the word “love”.
The Very Short Tale About the Man Who Warmed Up Second Hand Books in the Microwave
He only ever bought books at second-hand stores, because a real book was a book that someone has already read. As for the microwave—the truth is, it all started because of an honest mistake. He’d returned home with a new-old book in one hand and a bag of groceries in the other, and had wanted to heat up two slices of bread (that had been looking sad in the fridge), and got confused because he suddenly recalled a picnic he’d had with an old love. But then he took the book out of the microwave, read it, and enjoyed it very much. That’s how he turned book heating into a routine. True, he was a little lonely. But who isn’t?
On the Logic of Flight
Every story is true (until somebody is tempted to write it). But this is just a brief legend about a girl who drew a three-winged bird sitting on a branch. Her parents were called in to speak to the school counselor. “A bird with three wings can’t fly,” the woman said. “Besides, there is no such bird.” The next week, the parents were called in to school again. The girl had drawn the counselor with two heads.
A Writing Guide in Eight Steps
- 1. Fall in love with your story. 2. Try to write it. 3. Fail. 4. Leave it. 5. Try to forget it. 6. Fail. 7. Go back to it. 8. Write.
Translated from the Hebrew by Yardenne Greenspan.