Following are two short stories excerpted from faculty member Karen Brennan’s latest story collection, Monsters, out now from Four Way Books:

THE RAT STORY

There was a story he liked to tell about a rat who wandered into a
Japanese teriyaki fast food restaurant. This was no mouse, he’d say,
This was—and here he’d pause to measure a length with his hands—as
big as a newborn: a giant Norwegian rat. It was here in the story that
she—since she’d heard it several times—would begin in her mind to
confuse the image of a rat with the image of a baby. She imagined the
rat, lying in a little wooden cradle, wrapped in a pink blanket, its eyelids
fluttering, and breathing in a labored, dying way and at the same time
she pictured a baby, dead like the rat, in a sad heap on the kitchen floor
of a Japanese fast food restaurant. While her mind shuttled between
attraction and repulsion, baby and rat, she studied his mouth forming
the words of the story in a way that was simultaneously charming and
off-putting. The rat headed for the kitchen, he reported, stumbling in a
kind of stupor, and everyone in the restaurant got up and left. He, on
the other hand, approached the counter to ask for a refund. Well, we
don’t know, said the girls who were in charge. These were very young
girls, he said, very wide-eyed and vacant-looking. We don’t know if we
can give you a refund, they said. We’ll have to check. Do you know rats
carry bubonic plague? he asked them. We know, they said. Well, it ran
into your kitchen, he said. We know, they said. But it died. At this, their
dinner guests usually laughed. Even she laughed, but her laughter felt
automatic and insincere.

THE COUPLE

At first Martin was with Erin, then he was with Carol, but before that
he was with Melanie. After he left Carol, he went back to Erin but then
he met Joan and decided to be with her instead of Erin, only he didn’t
tell Erin and when she found out she blamed Joan. At the time, Melanie
was with Gaylord, but then Gaylord died, so she began to be with
Martin since Joan was away most of the time, though she and Martin
both denied they were with each other to Joan. Dana wasn’t with
anyone, but Martin secretly longed to be with Dana, but he wouldn’t
admit this to Joan. Melanie meanwhile met Luke and told Joan she
would be with him for a long, long time and finally Dana met someone
who kept changing his name but she seemed to be happy with him for
at least a week and a half. Martin recommitted to Joan since the others
were taken but Joan wasn’t sure she wanted to be with anyone. Erin
really wanted to be with Martin and hated Joan and Joan was tired
of all the drama. She told Martin he should be with Erin and that she,
Joan, would be with no one since being with no one is what she most
desired since it entailed no drama. The older she got, the less tolerant
she was of drama, said Joan. But Martin enjoyed drama and refused to
give her up.

Reprinted with permission of Four Way Books. Copyright Four Way Books 2016. All rights reserved.

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