POSSESSION: excerpts from Bedford T. Bently, Virginia Massey-Burzio, Stewart Stack

Photo by David McCutcheon: 2019 “Memory & Imagination” Writers Retreat




BEDFORD T. BENTLY, JR., “The Curator” (short story) excerpt

The great man arrived at the beginning of November.

Lev—Count “Lev” Nikolayevich Tolstoy—stepped off the train wearing a tunic of bristling white wool, canvas leggings, and calf-high leather boots. He immediately recognized me and permitted me to greet him with familiarity.  

In return, he answered, “Carl, you rogue,” and pummeled my back. “It’s splendid to meet you.”

I looked around. I had to get Lev out of his get-up before it drew unwanted attention. At the shoe store in the station, I thought I would  have to whack the salesman to get him to turn loose. The salesman wanted to know where Lev had bought his gorgeous boots. (St. Petersburg.) At the men’s clothing store, the main consideration was fitting Lev’s broad shoulders. I assured Lev there’d be more-stylish clothes later. He didn’t seem to care about this.

And, so, my initial phase of curating Lev proceeded smoothly. He put himself completely in my  hands and took the strangeness of modernity in stride. His eyes widened, and he pursed his lips from time to time but he remained largely unperturbed. The Deep Architects, my name for the entities who had arranged Lev’s excursion to 21st century America, had apparently done their homework.

…For my part, I wanted to see how the great man was put together. I craved insight into how it was possible that the scion of Russian nobility, gambler, womanizer, cavalryman was able to become the teacher of serfs, the prophet of peace, a pillar of Russian lit.


VIRGINIA MASSEY-BURZIO, Sara Lamarche: An Ordinary Woman? (memoir-in-progress) excerpt

Although my mother wasn’t forthcoming about the period of her life before she married my father, I suspected her of having had a life full of friends–boyfriends, parties, and travel, plus a rewarding career. The kind of life I dreamed of living.

She stored the treasures of this secret past—her glamorous New York City single-life during Prohibition years—inside a cedar chest. As a kid, I loved playing with the contents of that chest. My favorite things: a black and silver, Art Deco cigarette case, a gold compact, a beaded evening bag, a mink muff, a gray velvet cape, and two ballroom gowns. One gown, a pale gold and coral plaid silk taffeta billowed to the floor. Little weights in the hem held it down. The other gown was black satin, bias-cut and backless. This dress skimmed the body and flared only slightly at the feet.    

There were no photos of my mother in these dresses. But, as I sashayed around her bedroom, I could easily imagine her, on the arm of a handsome man, tripping up a long set of steps into a magnificent ballroom. Engaged in this daydream, I’d throw her soft, gray velvet cape over my shoulder, snap open the black and silver Art Deco cigarette case and pretend to take out a cigarette, light it—and blow smoke through my nose.


STEWART STACK  “The Grillmaster,” Luck’s Fault (novel-in-progress) excerpt

“I’m serious, Larry. We need that refund to pay the rent.”

Larry dismissed his wife with a wave of his hand. “Yeah, sure. Get off my case,” he said. 

“Asking you to do something is not getting on your case.”

“There’s nobody to help me get it back into the truck.”

“You’d sure as hell get it in there if it was a beer keg you were bringing home. You’re a smart guy. Make a ramp or something!”

“Leave me alone,” said Larry.

“That can be arranged,” said Jeanine as she pulled her car out of the driveway and headed to her job at the hospital. …The problem working night shifts was packing up dead patients. Patients often died at night and, short-staffed, she’d likely be the one to wrap them in a shroud and wheel them to the morgue. …She was lucky. No one died that night.

Home the next morning, she spotted the expensive, new barbeque grill lying on its side behind Larry’s truck. The grill’s hood was scratched and dented, its handle broken off. Seeing it like that, Jeanine had a sick feeling, though yesterday she’d thought of smashing it herself. She didn’t need Larry to tell her what had happened. She was pretty sure that, by now, busting up the grill was her fault. 

Inside, she found Larry sprawled on the kitchen floor. She left a tin of aspirins and a pillow on the floor with him, though she knew that he was long-past getting headaches after a night of drinking.

When Larry awoke, his right hand hurt a bit. He’d busted up his hand trying to catch the grill when the damn rotten plank broke. The rest wasn’t coming to him. His fingers touched the half-empty whisky bottle and found Jeanine’s note. He lifted his head and squinted: My brothers will pick up the rest of my stuff as soon as I find a new place.


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