The Necessity of Certain Behaviors
Shannon Cain
(University of Pittsburgh)
Jane has a "girl" and a "boy." The girl is a doctor, the boy is a lawyer. Jane sees them, makes love with them, but only on alternate days.

She's a painter: she paints on glass ... to be "viewed in reverse."

    To accomplish this, she must paint her foregrounds first, top layers before bottom. She must put the blush on a cheek before she paints the cheek.

In another story, we find Frances, divorced, trying to balance her checkbook ... but with three children and a mortgage, it's impossible. She goes into the pot business, grows buds in the basement.

Her thirteen-year-old daughter, Emily, disapproves. Deeply. Decides to dump it all in the river. Her father calls. When Emily explains, he suggests that Frances has a problem: "Responsibility isn't her strength," he says.

"Like it's yours," Emily says, tartly.

In another zonky tale, Hillary goes to Hollywood. Her drunken ex-beauty queen mother has said that a certain television star is her father ... but ran away when she was just a baby. Hillary wants to meet him, welcome him as her sire. But mother comes to town too, uninvited, and Hillary thinks, "The thing about having a drunk for a mother was that in order to survive, you needed to freeze yourself inside a block of ice."

§   §   §

Short story means you have to get in and out quickly (that's why they are called "short stories.") The point has to be made fast, without much fuss ... subtly, if possible. There should be a certain art in dialogue, along with scenes that have been sketched so you get the point at once. No Henry James languor here.

This is Hillary with her new boyfriend Alex discovering mom passed out in her L. A. apartment:

    They stood over her. The stocking on her left leg had a wide, webby run from ankle to thigh, fully visible given that her mother's legs were sprawled apart. She'd put on weight. The quilt had fallen to the floor. White residue was crusted at the edges of her mouth. "She'd kind of a mess," Hillary said.

    Alex leaned over Hillary's mom and picked up her hand, turned it over. Her mother didn't stir. "Her lifeline is long," Alex said. "You're in for a ride."

Shannon Cain is a crackerjack writer. Of the nine stories in The Necessity of Certain Behaviors, we found five that were irresistible which is, I think, all one could ask in such an exacting form. The story of the pot mother and the story of the drunk mother are so good that you should get The Necessity of Certain Behaviors just to read them.

Poor Hillary. She finally gets in to see the television star, reveals that she is his long lost daughter, born in 1982. He is kindly, pulls out a business card, says to call his manager: "He handles these situations." Then asks if her mother is named Joyce. Yes.

    "Sweet girl. She walked my dogs."

    "I knew it, Hillary said, deflated.

    "I'm not the culprit, dear," Bob Barker said. "Got myself neutered in '79." He rose from the couch, and stood for a moment as if to find his balance. He crossed the room and opened a cabinet. "Here," he said, handing her a box wrapped in Christmas paper. "A parting gift." It was a board game.

--- Richard Saturday
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