SmokeLong Quarterly

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Story by Bezalel Stern (Read author interview) March 25, 2014

art by Carrie Wells

There once was a man who all he could eat was sparks. He would run after cars, hoping they would backfire. He would shake people’s hands after rubbing his hair or a sweater, hoping for a connection. He was almost always hungry.

One day the man who all he could eat was sparks met a woman who could eat nothing but tadpoles. The woman was a vegetarian, and so subsisted only on tadpoles made from soy. This was unhealthy, and the woman was gaunt. The man, who had been waiting for hours beside an open electrical socket on the sidewalk, hoping for a buzz, was almost as thin.

The man and the woman barely acknowledged one another before the man went back to staring at the electrical socket and the woman went back to thinking about how righteous she was, only eating soy tadpoles, even though tadpoles were the only things she could survive on.

They never spoke, but even if they had, their conversation would not have had much of import. They were both too hungry to think about ideas, politics, philosophy.

Despite his hunger, one day the man who only ate sparks had the bright idea to visit the science museum on the edge of town. In the science museum there was an exhibit, and the exhibit created constant, ribbed, speckled sparks.

The man heard of the exhibit from a laptop he was about to throw to the ground, hoping sparks would fly from the computer at the moment of impact. In his excitement, the man who only could eat sparks forgot about trying to obtain sparks from the laptop (which did, in fact, make a smallish, almost invisible spark before shattering into electric oblivion) and hitched a ride on the nearest ferry to the museum at the edge of town.

When he got to the museum, the man, practically beside himself with hunger and excitement, happily paid the seven dollar and fifty cents admission and ran into the main hall. Quickly, he found the exhibit room. And there it was. A smallish, almost invisible globe, emanating constant, ribbed, speckled sparks.

The man quickly broke the glass between himself and the globe. He sucked down those sparks, and he could feel his hunger quenching, but the sparks kept coming, and the man continued to eat. If the woman who only ate soy tadpoles because she could only eat tadpoles could see him now, she wouldn’t have recognized him, even if she had noticed him when he was as gaunt as she was.

He had grown so fat.

At the end of the day, the museum was ready to close. All of the exhibits shut down, and the sparks stopped flowing. The man, who had been celebrating an orgiastic feast, woke to his surroundings. He was surrounded by a quiet room, a quiet world.

Everything was dark, and the man who could only eat sparks should have been satisfied, the man who could only eat sparks should have been happy. And, for a brief, unrequited moment, he was. Then he wondered if there were more sparks to be had, and, given that the lever to turn on the lights of the museum and all of the museum’s exhibits was secured behind lock and key, the man decided to give the globe a try. It was a small thing, a little, puny thing, the globe. A brief, celestial being. It felt puny in his hand, and parts of it were wet. The ribbed, speckled sparks that had been flowing from the globe had ceased, and the man, as he pocketed the globe and prepared to leave the museum to hitch a ferry back to the center of town, dreamed of living in the earth he had pilfered, an earth filled with undetectable sparks, there even when the lights of the museum were shut, even when the last, sad employee had made his way home, sparks that could never, really disappear. A world where he would never be hungry.

About the Author

Bezalel Stern is currently an Emerging Writer Fellow at the Center for Fiction in New York. His work has been published or is forthcoming in McSweeney’s, Contrary Magazine, The New Yorker, Wigleaf, Revolution House, kill author, The Jerusalem Post, City Journal, Identity Theory, Untoward Magazine, Lacuna, The Rumpus, The Second Pass, and The Millions. He is inordinately fond of cheese.

About the Artist

Carrie Wells is an artist working in the mediums of photography and sculpture. She earned her BFA in Studio Art from The University of Texas at Austin and continues to live and work in Austin, Texas.

This story appeared in Issue Forty-Three of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Forty-Three

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