Instructions for Living

by Laurie Blauner

ISBN 978-1-59948-281-1

Available from:
Main Street Rag



Praise for Instructions for Living

Instructions for Living takes place in the political past that could as easily be the future. It winds restlessly through a foreign island environment that feels immediately familiar yet remains full of mystery. Its lyricism, framed in a densely suggestive texture, is arrived at by implication without unnecessary complication. A powerful and immediate portrait.”
-- Rich Ives


“Laurie Blauner's lovely story unfolds gently at first, its striking imagery and surprising love story gradually drawing the reader into her imagined world. As catastrophic events encroach upon that world, it is impossible not to feel with the characters their fear, their longing to connect, and their need to lay bare the past and shape its meaning. It is a haunting tale that is beautifully told.”
-- Barbara Lindsay


“In sparse language, Laurie Blauner teases out the beauty of resisting the inevitable: the end of love, the end of life, the end of the world. At the core of her book, Instructions for Living, there is nothingness. The novella is a testament to Blauner's remarkable skill; she has created a narrative that dissolves rather than advances. This is a chilling story appropriate for a world of pirate corporations, international gangs, and secret police forces.”
-- Matt Briggs



Excerpt from Instructions for Living


1998, A Country Without Fish

 Twenty years ago, when I was a twenty year old girl, a man with one arm was rummaging through our garbage on a Sunday afternoon. He smelled of gardenias.

"Yours is the last house on the block. Do you mind?" His eyebrows were full and level with the top of our door.

"No." I blinked at his size.

"I remember when there were just fields here."

He dug his one arm, his right arm, into our garbage, bringing up grapefruit and lemon rinds and scrap paper and ice cream cartons, reminding me of how easily we tend to forget the recent past. Done with one thing, we can only think of what's next. "That was a while ago," I said. "Pineapple and some rice I've heard." He had hollow cheeks, dark hair and eyes. Handsome and imposing and busy.

"My father brought us armloads of pineapple sometimes."

I could see a plain gold wedding ring on his finger flashing among the plastic bottles, a green cardboard package nestled next to coffee filters and dirty, paper bags. "Are you looking for something in particular?"

"Ah." He pulled out a piece of smeared string and a small, glass spice container. "For my little boy."

I watched as he wrapped the string around the jar with one arm and pushed it on the ground and wound it back up so it traced and retraced its steps. He put it in his pants pocket where it bulged. "Where are you from?"

"Oh, this. You mean this." He looked at his empty sleeve. "It's from fighting when I was young, probably your age. More than fifteen years ago."

We both looked away, suddenly shy. I could see a streak of orange in the sky, a redhead's strand of hair pushed away from a damp forehead. The horizon was still scrubbed and blue. It seemed like it was just waiting for darkness. Since that day the sky's watched men kill each other and worse. I could hear my neighbors getting dinner ready, their voices, the silverware and plates complaining. Their pungent spices rose into my throat.

He took an already crushed gardenia from his shirt pocket and rolled it around in his fist. He extended his hand. "My name is Miguel."

I shook his large hand. My own looked shrunken in his. His fingers chafed me. "Gabrielle," I said. I drank in the enormous size of him, the way he was so gentle.

Later that night I could smell gardenias as I made my parents' dinner, as I swatted at flies. I stopped my housework and smelled. He was still with me.

1998, Breathing Water

I wanted to tell someone about my dream yesterday, the day I missed the hurricane in a nearby county. But who was there left to tell? My parents were dead and Miguel was gone.

My father and I rested on a beautiful, lush bank where a stream snaked out from an overgrowth of large, weeping trees and vines and thick bushes. We rested and talked for quite a while and then I decided to explore where the stream tumbled from. I hacked through the heavy growth with my hands until I'd made a space and went through to discover a small pool of water with large fish hidden there. I watched them surfacing, their tan backs bumping the air, gliding back down beneath the water. They seemed too big for the pool but not unhappy in it. Moving constantly, nudging the tiny ripples circling outward. I walked around the water and returned to my father. Swarms of people came. People I didn't know. They started going back, around the pond. Suddenly one person and then another returned from the pond carrying the large, dead fish. Finally no fish were left.


Copyright © 2011 Laurie Blauner, all rights reserved. Unauthorized reproduction by any means strictly prohibited.