In an effort to better acquaint you, the reader, with the VQR staff, members of our team will share excerpts from our personal reading—The Best 200 Words I Read All Week. From fact to fiction, from comedic to tragic, we hope you find as much to admire in these selections as we do.
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He did not grasp at first, despite her long absence, that she was gone indefinitely. And then one day – walking down an orchard row, shears in hand, he turned his face to a barren patch of ground – he knew she was gone. Even if she was to come back, the situation between them would be different, in that she would be her own person as she had not been totally, to his mind, before. When she came to the orchard between her other sojourns, she was still a part of the orchard, a part of their lives; and he would still try to protect her from harm, he counted it his responsibility to do so. But no longer. If she came back now, it would be to look at him across the distance of that severed connection. And how had it been severed? It had been severed by her actions, but it was also something that was separate from her, that he could not define: that had to do with himself, and the orchard, and the passage of time. Somewhere along the way he had forgotten to remember her; he had forgotten to constantly call her back from the distances she was always intent on pursuing.
Office Manager Laura Plaia
Excerpt from The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin
Late into the night I hear the scraping and drumming of the orchestra under the old walnut trees across the square. There is a rosy glow in the air from the great bed of coals over which the soldiers are roasting whole sheep, a gift from the “Excellency.” They will drink into the early hours, then set off at daybreak.
I find my way to the granary by the back alleys. The guard is not at his post, the door to the hut stands open. I am about to enter when I hear voices inside whispering and giggling.
I stare into pitch dark. “Who is here?” I say.
There is a scrabbling sound and the young sentry stumbles against me. “Sorry, sir,” he says. I smell his rum-sodden breath. “The prisoner called me and I was trying to help him.” From the darkness comes a snort of laughter.
I sleep, wake to another round of dance-music from the square, fall sleep again, and dream of a body lying spread on its back, a wealth of pubic hair glistening liquid black and gold across the belly, up the loins, and down like an arrow into the furrow of the legs. When I stretch out a hand to brush the hair it begins to writhe. It is not hair but bees clustered densely atop one another: honey-drenched, sticky, they crawl out of the furrow and fan their wings.
Editorial Intern Dan Goff
Excerpt from Waiting for the Barbarians by J.M. Coetzee
Cary Grant, of course, is Archibald Alexander Leach (“My name will give you an idea what kind of family I came from”), son of a textile worker in provincial Britain. When Archie was twelve, his father deserted his mother, a tall and commanding woman who for a time went to pieces under the shock of rejection. Little Archie, essentially homeless, turned to show business and ran away to join a troupe of acrobats.
Perhaps reacting to his dark-haired, dark-eyed mother, he has had three blonde, blue-eyed wives. The first was Virginia Cherrill, the flower girl in Charlie Chaplin’s City Lights; the second was the Woolworth heiress Barbara Hutton (unlike her other husbands, Grant did not ask for alimony); the third was the actress Betsy Drake, whose grandfather built the Drake and Blackstone hotels in Chicago. An accomplished hypnotist, Drake put Grant to sleep at various times and helped him to stop smoking and drinking. Together they explored Asian religions, transcendentalism, mysticism, and yoga. Grant claims that through her he learned how to put one side of his jaw to sleep when a dentist happened to be drilling there. For years, they were intimately estranged, living apart, dating each other frequently, taking trips together. Once, at a Broadway show, Cary saw her come in with another man. “There’s my wife,” he said to his own companion. “Isn’t she beautiful?”
Editor Paul Reyes
Excerpt from The Patch by John McPhee