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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For several years the salmon have roamed in schools throughout the Bering Sea, the chain of the Aleutians, the Sea of Okhotsk, ranging as far as the coasts of Japan. Their many species mingle. They travel farther than science can reach, and much of what they eat and where they winter can only be surmised. The Yup’ik say that they live in human form beneath the waves, five houses, one for each tribe, and at the salmon king’s behest, each spring, they pull on their fins and silver skins and make for the human world. In the late Arctic spring, impelled before the others, the kings turn for North America’s west coast. California, Oregon, Washington, British Columbia, Alaska. They have iron in their brains, their compasses have led them here; now they scent their birthing pools. A chemical mix of vegetable and mineral unique to the waters of their birth that draws them on a thread up several thousand miles of river. They can distinguish a single drop from their home river among two million gallons of seawater.
The movement of one, changing direction, pulses through the rest, electric. At times they crest the surface, a dark sleek back, a dorsal fin, undulating like dolphins. These fish are many pounds of muscle, toned through years of swimming headlong into Pacific storms, and their flesh is red as blood. They force against the Yukon’s current, shouldering their way upriver, tracking crosswise, through the flow, setting their fins like sails. Their shadows pass like clouds across the bottom. They rest in the eddies of boulders on the river’s bed, erratics left behind by glaciers. At the river’s mouth the water is still brackish, the current compounded with the flow of the tide. But it is diluting, and as they move farther up the delta the sea slackens off is hold, resigning, letting them go. On this great in-breath of the land the kings spread up through the waters and their tributaries, permeating the watershed. Eventually, they will push thousands of miles into the continent’s interior. They will reach mountain lakes, they will reach the clouds.
Editor Paul Reyes
Excerpt from Kings of the Yukon: One Summer Paddling Across the Far North by Adam Weymouth
“I think,” Gloria said unexpectedly from a dark corner of the room, and her tone silenced them, “I think they will come, those far-off people, moving fearfully into this house and not daring to touch anything, looking at the furniture and walls and floors the way we look at cave paintings or catacombs or ancient palaces; I think they will come on a kind of pilgrimage. They will come in little groups, walking on carefully designated paths so that they will not touch anything or brush against the walls or jar any furniture, and they will walk very softly the way people do when they are walking in the footsteps of many many dead people and are afraid of wakening them or angering them; I think they will not understand much of what they find in this house, but they will tell stories about it, and about us. I think it will be a sacred and terrible and mysterious place for them.”
“I forbid all this,” Mrs. Halloran said loudly and suddenly. “I will not leave this house in my lifetime. The rest of you may live in trees with my blessing.”
“Your blessing will count for so little,” Aunt Fanny murmured, “afterward.”
Reader Jacqui Shine
Excerpt from The Sundial by Shirley Jackson
Within two weeks, the canteloupes were budding; however, most of the vines had dry and spotted leaves. She explained to Deja that this happened, that they would lose some plants. She donned a surgical mask and sprayed them with chili pepper insecticide, then a potent fungicide. In the mornings she weeded constantly. She showed Deja how to lay the water hose between rows and keep it flowing at a trickle, for only a few minutes, so the soil stayed moist.
She grew worried for Deja. She could see surrender coming in her frustrated expression. A beautiful child, surrender. Knobby-kneed and freckled with toast-brown skin, it sang songs and smiled when you called its name. It swerved around you on rollerblades to offer you some of its M&Ms. Surrender stayed at your houses all summer and when it left you were exhausted, because it was not your child, but it ate all your food and left a mess in every room.
Assistant Editor Heidi Siegrist
Excerpt from Dance on Saturday by Elwin Cotman