(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Mackie Loudon lives alone in her cluttered house in a neglected neighborhood of what appears to be a good-sized town or small city somewhere in the United States. She is a sculptor who continues to create, even though no one any longer stops by to purchase or even to see her work. Indeed, no one visits her ramshackle house, not even her husband, son, or grandchildren, whom Mackie sees only occasionally and then only in dreams. The townspeople find her odd as she forages for anything of interest in the street or shops for her food at a nearby Asian store. She wears shapeless dresses and a man’s coat; her hair is hacked into a helmet shape; her skin is like elephant hide; her shoulders are broad and her hands are strong, but her legs are bowed and slightly arthritic; her chin is whiskered, her right eye is green and her left eye pale blue with an unusual tic. Strangest of all, Mackie talks to herself, or rather talks to her two demons, Eliel and Azazael, to whom she has relegated certain aspects of her personality: seeing, judging, remembering.

When work on her latest sculpture is going poorly, she meets a boy in the alley between her house and the even more disreputable-looking house next door. Although the boy says that his name is Monkey, Mackie decides to call him Preston and entices him into her house with the promise of milk and cookies. Even more enticing than her cookies—which turn out to be yellow bean and lotus seed cakes—are the stories that she tells of the Greek myths from which her sculptures derive. Preston proves an attentive and appreciative audience, until Mackie mentions the story of Jason and the Argonauts. The boy inexplicably turns pale, bolts from the house, and stays away for a week.

Before the week is out, Mackie’s equally grotesque and reclusive neighbor, Gil, arrives in his...

(The entire section is 749 words.)