(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The narrator, a writer who is never identified by gender or name, lives in a world that is absurd: When a couple says they are breaking up, they mean it literally—the woman becomes a disassembled collection of body parts, hopping across the floor, then a tangled bundle of nerves, while the man is reduced to pieces trotting around, bouncing and cheeping like chicks. A tremendous grief parallels the absurdity of the action. The narrator admits to a struggle with writer’s block and complains of “Adam’s Disease,” a version of the Protestant work ethic curable only by total decapitation. There is a larger grief here, an unidentifiable longing for something that cannot be named. A musical note that keeps playing makes the narrator want to cry, but he or she does not know for what. With a stray cat asleep on his or her lap the grieving narrator dreams, hoping that somehow the cat will suggest what has been lost, what is being grieved for.

The most obvious cause of grief should be the distemper of the world, which is heating up at an unbearable rate. Stoves give off waves of heat even when they are turned off, water comes scalding from the cold-water tap; even forks and pencils are too hot to touch. Unbearable heat radiates from other people, whose kisses burn like branding irons. Rational inquiry has been unable to diagnose the source of the heat, which threatens to melt the world.

In the midst of this disorder, a knock at the door announces the mailman, whose monosyllabic “Yah,”...

(The entire section is 619 words.)