This seems like a wonderful idea . . . more than 100 of the world's best fiction writers contributed stories to the NARRATIVE 4 project, in collaboration with Esquire magazine, on the topic of How to Be a Man.
NARRATIVE 4 USES STORY EXCHANGES AS A TOOL FOR SOCIAL CHANGE
Our first project, in partnership with Esquire, is “How to Be a Man,” a collection of stories by more than 100 of the world's greatest authors.
For unlimited access to all of the pieces below, please join us by making a donation to our not-for-profit initiative. It's a great way to enjoy spectacular short fiction and become part of our effort to change the world, one story at a time.
To help launch Narrative 4, we asked some of the world's greatest writers to chip in with an original story, all with the title "How to Be a Man." The result is the biggest literary event of the year. 106 stories. From 106 writers. Here is Ben Fountain's contribution. For the rest, go to narrative4.com.
By Ben Fountain
Published in the June/July 2013 issue
D. Wintermute, corrosion engineer, traversing a two-inch-wide beam in the submarine murk of the Statue of Liberty's cavernous inner shell, wondering how it is that a person could feel claustrophobic in such a monstrously scaled space. So there's that, the shadowy crush of his phobia, plus he's not so fond of heights, either. Outside, the first big storm of the fall is barreling up the Narrows, pounding the Lady with rain and corkscrew gusts. The copper shell knells and echoes, a ponderously dire thoom thoom sort of Middle-Earth sound.
"Danny, your situation, please." His boss, Vistap, coming wireless through Wintermute's headset.
"Situation normal, Vistap."
"Then why are you stopping?"
"Well, it's a long way down."
"Redundancies, Danny. You cannot possibly fall."
No doubt. He's swathed in enough trusses and harnesses to supply a lumberjack-themed S&M party. The play of his headlamp along the shell's inner humps and folds makes him dizzy if he turns his head too fast. He creeps along the steel framework looking for crevice corrosion, oxide crust, anything that might explain the rash that's recently bloomed on the Lady's outer skin, in such a strategically sensitive place as to make America the butt of jokes worldwide. The Statue of Liberty has lost her innocence! This was the joke in its politest form. As the youngest, most agile member of Vistap's team, Wintermute has drawn the task of visual inspection.
Thoom. Thonnngggg. He feels like a bug in a bass drum. He edges all the way out to the ferralium joints, and spreading his fingertips over the statue's copper skin he can feel rain peppering the other side. He rests for a moment, then spiders laterally along the steel armature, aiming for the general vicinity of the Lady's crotch. The original puddled iron and copper saddles of the armature were replaced twenty years ago by stainless steel. Vistap suspects that annealing the steel during construction degraded its corrosion-resistance properties. But a second theory — and this is the one that excites the careerist ambitions of young Wintermute — posits that changes in the environment are affecting standard materials in new and unforeseen ways. Atmospheric corrosion, higher levels of acid deposition — the possibilities are endless. Then he realizes that while his mind has been musing over the science, the rest of his body has been following his nose.
"Danny, where did you go?" Vistap sounds alarmed.
"I'm just — there's a notch down here, a recess of some kind." He's crouching, shining his flashlight under a fold of the Lady's robe. "Weird. I don't remember this from any of the imaging."
"You're breaking up, Danny. Speak more clearly."
But for the moment Wintermute is too absorbed to speak. He's working the problem, shining his flashlight into the mystery slot, which, Jesus, where does it go? The Lady shifts and creaks, rides the wind with low, persistent moans. A burlap funk emanates from the slot, earthy, peaty, high in iron content. It glistens where his light plays along the lip.
"Vistap, I think I found something."
"Yes, Danny. Go ahead."
"This little scoop or hollow, I think they missed it back in the eighties. It looks like coal tar up there."
In fact his light seems not to penetrate at all. Vistap's answer is garbled, then the signal drops completely. Wintermute is light-headed from the smell, vaguely disgusted, yet intrigued. By crouching as low as possible and bending double he could duck under the lip and have a look inside, but the prospect sends primal shivers down his thighs. He feels queasy. He thinks he might throw up. He wishes somebody else would do this part of the job for him, but there is, obviously, no one else.
Failure of nerve is simply not an option, so suck it up, he tells himself. For the sake of honor, for country. To silence all those jeering foreigners. Be a man, he thinks as he ducks and leans forward, and D. Wintermute, corrosion engineer, plunges headfirst into the breach.
Ben Fountain is the author of the short-story collection Brief Encounters with Che Guevara and Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk, which won the National Book Critics Circle Award.
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