One evening, the narrator’s eighty-six-year-old father lies in bed in his New York home. Unable to walk, he suffers from a heart condition after having lived a rich life as a doctor and an artist. He appears near death, for he has pills at hand and breathes oxygen from a bedside tank. He has not lost his intelligence, interest in art, or concern for his daughter, however. In what might be the speech of one knowing that he is near death, he confronts his daughter about the kind of short stories that she writes. He wishes that she would write “simple” stories like the old masters of the form: the Frenchman Guy de Maupassant and the Russian Anton Chekhov. He reminds her that she once wrote stories like that.
Although the narrator does not remember writing any such stories, she wants to please her father, so she quickly writes a very short story about what has been happening to a woman and her son who are their real neighbors. Her story is odd but simple, perhaps the sort that her father will like:
A mother and her son live happily in the city. After the son becomes a drug addict, the mother becomes an addict in order to maintain their closeness. The son then gives up drugs, becomes disgusted with his mother, and goes away, leaving her alone and without hope.
The narrator’s father does not like the story, finding it too spare. Classic short story writers, he maintains, would humanize the story with descriptions. After the...
(The entire section is 468 words.)