Read The Cloud of Unknowing Online

Authors: Mimi Lipson

The Cloud of Unknowing

PRAISE FOR
THE CLOUD OF UNKNOWING

This is Lipson's classless utopia, in which even fools are suffered gladly so long as they are lively and authentic fools. Her language is clean, her observations clever and sure, and her protagonists generous of spirit. This wise, compassionate book is also a lot of fun to read.

—BONNIE JO CAMPBELL

Mimi Lipson writes in a plainsong, just-the-facts style that somehow delivers her footage in high definition. Her characters inhabit a world that is beneath them, a world in which they are stuck, with a lot of grace and stupidity. She is a master of making you very comfortable and secure, warm and cozy while she throws your shoes under the house and drives off in your car.

—GARY PANTER

“A scintillating collection of stories, full of well observed details. Mimi Lipson is a fabulous stylist.”

—HA JIN

© 2014 Mimi Lipson

All rights reserved

YETI books are published by Yeti Publishing LLC and distributed to the trade by Verse Chorus Press

PO Box 14806, Portland OR 97293 |
yetipublishing.com

Versions of these stories have appeared in the following magazines: “Lou Schultz” in
Joyland
; “Moscow, 1968” in
Witness
; “The Cloud of Unknowing” in
BOMB
; “The Breakfast Shift,” “Catch of the Day,” and “Garbage Head” in
YETI
; “The Smockey Bar” and “Safe, Reliable, Courteous” in
Contrappasso
; “The Minivan” in
Chronogram
; “Mothra” in
The Brooklyn Rail
; “the_lettuce” in
Harvard Review
.

ISBN 978-1-891241-95-6 (e-book)

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Lipson, Mimi.

    
[Short stories. Selections]

    
The cloud of unknowing / stories by Mimi Lipson.

      
pages cm

  
1. Short stories, American. I. Title.

  
PS3612.I675C56 2014

  
813'.6--dc23

2013049085
                        

For Luc

Contents

THE SCHULTZ FAMILY

Lou Schultz

The Endless Mountains

Moscow, 1968

The Cloud of Unknowing

The Searchlite

FOOD & BEVERAGE

The Breakfast Shift

The Smockey Bar

Tomack

Catch of the Day

KITTY AND ISAAC STORIES

Safe, Reliable, Courteous

Garbage Head

The Minivan

Mothra

the_lettuce

THE SCHULTZ FAMILY

Lou Schultz

When Lou Schultz got to the Avis desk at the Orlando airport, the compact car he'd reserved was not available, nor was there a midsized left on the lot. They'd had no choice but to upgrade him straight to the top: a brand-new 1973 Chrysler Imperial, white with cream interior. He decided to let the kids believe that he'd splurged and was kicking off their holiday in style. Jonathan, ten, was splayed out in the backseat with a map he'd gotten at the rental desk, and seven-year-old Kitty, winner of the coin toss, sat up front next to Lou playing with the radio dial. The three of them were cruising under a pale Florida sky, en route to Villa Serena, a real estate development in Winter Haven. Lou had planned their vacation around the coupons and discounts he'd been promised in return for touring one of the model homes.

“Doesn't it sound grand, kids?
Vee-ya Serena.

The driver's seat of the Imperial was like an overstuffed recliner, so preposterously plush that he could bury his fist in the armrest, and the steering and brakes responded to his slightest touch. Looking down at the imitation-burl instrument panel, he saw that he was going fifteen miles over the speed limit without even trying. On the subway ride to the airport and all during the flight, Lou had felt a mounting irritation at the thought of five days in Florida—and particularly the two days at Disney World he had promised the kids—but his mood was lifting now that they were on the road. The week's theme, he decided, would be unapologetic leisure: motels, swimming pools, sunshine and Donald Duck. He'd brought along a mycology
guide, and he even hoped to get in a little mushroom hunting.

Kitty at last found a station. A lugubrious male voice crooned over a bed of strings: “
I remember all my life / Raining down as cold as ice
.”

“Aaah! Barry Manilow!” Jonathan shouted. “Turn it off!”

“Ba
-ree
Ma-
nee-
loff. A Polish singer?”

“Dad!”

“I want to hear this Polish singer, this Maniloff.” Unforgivable schmaltz, but having committed to the joke, he made them listen to the entire song.

Lou taught Slavic languages at Harvard, and every summer he took groups of tourists around the Balkans and the Soviet Union, ditching their Intourist guide and leading by improvisation. They drove all day in rented VW Microbuses and slept in army surplus tents. When Lou and his wife, Helena, separated a year earlier, one of her chief complaints was that she'd been left at home with the children for eight summers in a row. Lou hadn't taken her protests seriously until it was, perhaps, too late, but since she'd moved out, he'd discovered that he enjoyed spending time with his family.

Kitty leaned out her window watching the furniture showrooms and car lots roll past. “A Gilligan's Island tree! And another. Andanotherandanotherandanother,” she chanted.

“It's like Ohio, only with palm trees,” Jonathan said, looking up from his map.

“Sohio. You mean it looks like Sohio,” Kitty said.

“Sorlando,” he answered, picking up the thread. “Sorlando, Sflorida.”

“Spine Hills,” Kitty said. “Scocoa Beach. Daddy, are we going to Scocoa Beach?”

This was the Sohio Game, which Lou had regretted inventing ever since their trip to his sister's house in Akron a few years earlier. The game was named after the Sohio gas station
chain, and there was only one moronically simple rule: add an ‘s' to any place name. Smassachussetts. Snew Hampshire. Scambridge, Smedford, Spittsburgh, on and on, ad nauseam.

“Let's play Three Thirds of a Ghost,” he said, hoping to nip it in the bud. “I'm thinking of a word that starts with ‘h'.”

“‘h' . . . ‘a',” Jonathan said. “Kitty, it's your turn.”

“‘h', ‘a', ‘p',” Kitty said.

“‘h', ‘a', ‘p' . . . ‘a'.”

Jonathan thought for a moment. “I challenge.”

“Hapax!” Lou said, smiling into the rearview mirror. “One third of a ghost for Jonathan.”

His son slumped angrily in his seat. “What's a hapax?”

“As in hapax legomenon. Remember, we were talking about hapax legomena yesterday?”

“Forget it,” Jonathan said, picking up the map again. “I don't want to play.”

After turning into a golf course by mistake, Lou found the entrance to Villa Serena. A prim decorative fence edged either side of the driveway, and a sign planted in the bright green lawn announced “Model Home Information.” The only landscaping was a stand of date palms off to one side, shading nothing in particular. A cluster of low ranch houses ringed the parking lot, each with its own white gravel yard. Lou moored the Imperial in a space between two golf carts.

“Who's coming on the tour?” he asked. Kitty got out of the car, but the boy was still sulking.

The agent, an attractive woman in a white pantsuit, met them outside the sales office with a ring of keys. “Mr. Schultz?” She held out her hand. “Welcome to Villa Serena. I'm Marjorie Dale.” Her smile stayed fixed as her eyes moved to Kitty and then back to Lou. “There are not a lot of children here, Mr. Schultz. In fact, most of the residents are retired. I think that's mentioned in our brochure?”

“You're never too young to retire!”

They followed Mrs. Dale around the model home, tactfully admiring the drapes and wall-to-wall carpets as she pointed them out. The living room was divided into two levels separated by a wrought iron railing. The “his and hers closets” in the “master bedroom,” to which Mrs. Dale drew Lou's particular attention, had plastic bi-fold doors. In the kitchen, a florescent light fixture hummed over the no-wax floor.

“Mrs. Schultz would certainly appreciate the trash compactor, wouldn't she?” Lou winked at Kitty. “And she's been pestering me for a dishwasher, too.”

Back at the office, Lou went over next week's lesson plan in his head, on Russian palatal mutations in the conjugation of –at stemmed verbs, while Mrs. Dale yammered on about “customization options.” When she'd stopped talking, he filled out a travel voucher and collected his coupons, and they were back on the road in under an hour. He cocked his elbow out the window and relaxed into his pillowy seat, taking in the Cine-scope view of shopping plazas and country clubs through the Imperial's wide windshield.

“So, what do you think of this car?” he asked Jonathan, who had switched places with his sister and was now up front. “Like riding on a cloud, isn't it?”

“Like floating on a marshmallow,” Jonathan said, bouncing.

“What say we keep it?”

“Yeah!”

“How about you, Kit? What do you think of Daddy's new car?”

She was quiet for a minute. “I don't know.”

“And what about that house, hah?” he said, warming up to the bit. “How would you like to live in a gracious new home at Villa Serena? We can all take up golf!”

Kitty turned her back to him and leaned on the package
shelf. “Can we call Mommy?”

“You just saw her this morning. Wouldn't you rather wait and call her when you have something to tell her?” Was it possible, he thought irritably, that she was already homesick?

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