NEA Literature Fellowships

Diane Cook

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(2016 - Prose)

from "The Way the End of Days Should Be"

Someone knocks on my door—insistent and angry rather than timid and begging. I grab that kitchen knife.

On my veranda stands a man holding himself up by the door knocker, his wiry muscles about to tense themselves off his bones. His face is unshaven, neglected. He has the skinny corpse and fat face of a drunk, and when I pull the door open he attempts to keep hold of the knocker and falls in, face-plants on my entryway Oriental.

"Whiskey," he moans, reaching for some imaginary tumbler.

I think about swiping his open palm with my blade, but there is something about him that I like. His request is original. At least he's trying.

Where my driveway used to curve into a grand circular turnaround, the waves are mincing: they hiss, churn up crud and fish parts. But the ones in the distance are large and smooth; they conceal the city I used to look out at.

They roll long like bedsheets drying in the wind, and I can feel their break.

I didn't think I could tire of the sound of crashing waves, but it never ends. It holds your attention like someone who can't stop coughing. It grates. It might be nice to listen to something else for a change. Plus, I'm tired of my music.

I know I probably shouldn't, but I kick his feet toward an ornamental umbrella stand, get him full-bodied into the house, and close and lock the door. He wants whiskey? I don't care for it, and I have too much as it is. Besides, I've always liked having drinkers around. They often surprise.

From "The Way the End of Days Should Be," which appeared in Man V. Nature by Diane Cook, copyright (c) 2014 by Diane Cook. Reprinted by arrangement with HarperCollins Publishers LLC.

Diane Cook is the author of the story collection Man V. Nature, and was formerly a producer for the radio show, This American Life. Man V. Nature was a finalist for the Guardian First Book Award, Believer Book Award, and the Los Angeles Times Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction, and received Honorable Mention for the PEN/Hemingway award. Her stories have appeared in Harper's, Tin House, Granta, and elsewhere and anthologized in Best American Short Stories. She won the 2012 Calvino Prize for fabulist fiction, and has received fellowships from Yaddo, MacDowell, Playa and the Sitka Center for Art and Ecology. She lives in Oakland, California.

Photo by Katherine Rondina

Author's Statement

I'm so grateful for this fellowship award. It is both palliative and practical for me. Receiving the call was like a balm on a burn. It kept me from blistering under my own self-criticism in the midst of a new, wobbly-feeling project. It reminded me that I'm capable of good writing, even if I can't see it in that day's work. And this award is wonderfully practical because the money permits me to rent a space outside my apartment where I can write. No longer will I squeeze inside the closet, which was the only space where I could wedge my desk. It was nice for a while, cozy even. But good riddance. Having a dedicated space reminds me that writing is my work and it needs to come first, before the laundry. This nod from the NEA has helped me focus again on what matters.