Aurelie Sheehan’s Once into the Night is a collection of 57 brief stories—a fictional autobiography made of assumed identities and what-ifs. What is the difference between fiction and a lie? These stories dwell in a netherworld between memory and the imagination, exploring the nature of truthtelling.
The entire city was celebrating. I purchased lemon soap. Singing people? Storytelling barflies? It’s hard to breathe on one’s birthday, especially a round number type birthday. Click, click, click—you’re dead. A series of maps had been drawn up. We studied them. We intersected often with the stories the maps told, though some of them were contradictory, and all were old and had a chunk of lies within. Once we found ourselves in front of a large gray building. Another time we imagined, but never went into, a bar where the journalists went, and the writers, when those were the same person.
In my dream I told parables to deaf people who were consulting runes. It was like looking down at a map of a city. Everything was shifting and staying still also. I think I am a city person. All these streets go west. The wind is at our backs. I will cross over the river two times.
I found faith in the West. The road I drove down whirled in the most unaccustomed ways. But I began to know the curves, and I leaned into the wheel. If I’d had a cigarette, that would have been great. As it is, I only had jeans, boots, and a hat. Rain would come, stone gray sky, a listing to the wheat. Sage bushes bounced by the side of the road, fretful as rabbits. I’d never seen hills like these: lunar was one way of putting it. Red roads wound up and over, brick red, darker in weather. It was nobody’s life. That night and the night to come, an American beer in a double-wide bar, purely for entertainment purposes. Black cows assembled in calligraphic huddles, telling me something. Telling me to get the fuck out of the wind. A hawk blew up and tilted backward. Under stones and branches, softness huddled and shook. I had written letters to the people who’d made my life, one each, like crossing off valentines. To have no one. To stand on the side of this road and stare up past the close and into the far and past that into the very far, past the storm and into the knife’s gleam of white, where the storm would end, as it had come.
Tragedy is Coming!
When I die, there will be nothing left at all—not a scrap of Christmas paper, nor an olive in the refrigerator. The thought, therefore, is to steadily erode my surroundings between now and then. I have an emery board, and I make use of it. I understand there is a natural accumulation (of dust, of cutlery; the pens and keys in that one drawer) but at the same time there is the terrible fierceness. I can and ought to latch onto this. So: I gnaw, I hack. I toss things off cliffs. I’ve been patient so far with the animals in my life (some things take care of themselves) and I admit to losing nerve sometimes, with people. But I persevere. For instance with that one friend, we were taking different routes to the store. And instead of going to that store, I went to another store instead. Taught her to think we’d see each other again—it’s been six months now, and counting! Electrical or mechanical items oftentimes break on their own, and I leave them in the alley. They disappear, only to show up on a mountain of broken electronics in some far-off ocean-side locale, swarming with beetles and white birds. Have you ever seen a beetle eating a hard drive? It accounts for much, I must say. I’m hoping I break many bowls between now and doomsday. Plates, bowls, cups, glasses. And I keep filing. I file in a hunched over position, eyes fixed and pinky up. Because Britishisms will be one of the last things to go—I’ll hold onto my (last) teacup, to my manners when it comes to eating soup or holding open a door for one last old lady before I make her disappear. There are so many personal items. The mattress I have set fire to, the computers, the phones, the jewelry I’ve sold on eBay. The others, the people, they are still a bit of a problem. Too many to get rid of in any pragmatic physical way, too many to murder. Turn my back? Ignore?
Sometimes it strikes me, as I lay in my tent, without my things, except for the towel and the metal cup, and the one flash drive, that this wasn’t quite the answer. Admittedly: feng shui, Zen, who likes clutter. But the sun is relentless, the shine of it through the blue fabric. It blooms for so much of the day, and then at night—it is cold here.
Aurelie Sheehan won the Catherine Doctorow Innovative Fiction Prize for her most recent book, Once into the Night(Fiction Collective 2, 2019). Her work has appeared in Conjunctions, Mississippi Review, Ploughshares, and other journals. She is a professor of fiction and head of the Department of English at the University of Arizona.