This Week in Short Fiction


This week, last week, men who have taken lives are walking away unpunished, unquestioned even. We have their victims’ names: Mike Brown. Eric Garner. We have their final words: Hands up, don’t shoot. (Six shots fired.) I can’t breathe. (Repeated until his breath is forever gone.) To stand with these two men is to go to the streets ourselves where we lost them. This is where we gather in hopes of making another country that stops telling this story. We need a new story.

On January 8th of this year, Teju Cole wrangled some of his Twitter connections to Tweet the lines to a short story of a man’s heart attack on a public street corner. Cole then retweeted the story in a stream on his account (and The Verge then collected those posts here). The result is a generous moment unwound—the internal conflict of one man’s cardiac arrest that shocks people in the world around him into swift action, purpose, and kinship. It is a story of the care we sometimes rise up to give to our unknown brothers and sisters in the face of bigger fates and forces. It is a story that resonates now, as we gather in memory of Garner and Brown. As Cole conducts through @kima_jones, @brittlepaper, @robdelaney, and @AyaRoots:

I called 911. The dispatcher put me through to the EMTs. I told them where we were and what I had seen.
When I finished and had hung up the phone, I tried to talk to my man on the ground but his sound lacked all sound.
Why tears? Because light is beautiful. Because we do not wish to leave something and stray away into nothing.
Because we have some dim awareness that being alive is better than being dead, which might be nothing, which might be nothingness.

That January morning before Cole’s collective short story graciously appeared, he had been on an 81-day break from Twitter. He then kept at his Twitter mic until July 15th at which point he took another Twitter respite from which he has yet to return. In times like these, we can’t help but hope to hear from @tejucole sometime soon.

Jill Schepmann's stories have been read on NPR and have appeared in Parcel and Midwestern Gothic, among others. She worked as a fiction and nonfiction editor at Nashville Review while getting her MFA at Vanderbilt. She lives in San Francisco and tweets @jillypants. More from this author →