This Week in Short Fiction


Valentine’s Day, the annual celebration of romance, named after a martyred saint who doesn’t have anything to do with love, is almost here. In recognition of the holiday, The Cut is providing a refreshing counterpoint to the flowers-and-chocolates narrative with “True Romance: five days of stories about love as it’s actually lived,” which includes a tale of loving a con artist, the story of a shotgun wedding, and a simultaneously depressing and uplifting account of romance after ten years of marriage (a highly recommended read).

The best among them, however, is a story about the pain of waiting for love, from legendary poet and author Eileen Myles:

I met this really beautiful woman at an artist colony and we had a terrific affair and if you don’t know it colonies are good for work or no work and this was a no work summer. She lived with someone back in the city so the understanding was that after our time at the colony we wouldn’t be lovers anymore but you know I do kind of believe happy people don’t have affairs.

Like much of Myles’s prose, it’s unclear if the story is fiction or nonfiction or somewhere in-between, but that doesn’t really matter because whatever it is, it works. What Myles gives us is a retrospective story of a love, reverential but also humorous, self-deprecating but poetic. Most of the story is poised on the precipice of the romance, full of the neurotic obsession and excitement of early love. Myles gets back in touch with her lover, they have some dates, and eventually the lover leaves her girlfriend and moves to a new apartment close to Myles. But before they can be together, a friend convinces the lover to “get some space” before plunging into a new relationship. For Myles, the wait is excruciating:

What could I do. I ran . . . I did it until I achieved the three miles I craved (she loved my legs, she had told me once) creating kind of a heat pattern like my love I imagined a red sun burning the whole area and scorching on it a shape that was me circling her building, wild without her, craving her love and having no other powers than to become this allegory, a shape in the neighborhood that she could almost hear, a burning rumbling sound like my heart thumping at hers for ever more.

At a certain point, we know the relationship doesn’t last, but it doesn’t take the tension out of the story. The way Myles writes about this love is so evocative that we want to stay in that moment when the nerves are all raw and everything seems golden and possible, even though we know it has an ending. The woman turns out not to be good for Myles, and we know this, and yet the story is still full of appreciation for her. There’s power in that retrospective, in the ability to know something goes bad, but still cherish when it was good.

The woman walked across town toward me that night and she was very beautiful and she had already travelled from lover to lover in her life and now she is married and she often impishly described her walk that night from the East Village to DIA which is way west in Chelsea as just how long she was ever single in her life. Just the length of that walk . . . She was a beautiful free woman in her life for the length of that walk toward me which is what made it all worthwhile.

There seems to be a prevalent idea that the only loves that matter are the ones that last a lifetime. Once a relationship ends, we fixate on the fights, the bad memories, the reasons it didn’t work, rather than remembering the moments when it was fun, exciting, good. Myles’s story is a reminder that those moments are important, too, and love is always beautiful, even if it fades. Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone.

Claire Burgess’s short fiction has appeared in Third Coast, Hunger Mountain, and PANK online, among others. Her stories have received special mentions in the Pushcart Prize and Best American anthologies, but haven’t actually made it into one yet. She’s a graduate of the Vanderbilt University MFA program, where she co-founded Nashville Review. She lives in Pittsburgh by way of the deep South and says things on Twitter @Clairabou_. More from this author →