The child wanted to name the rabbit Actually, and could not be dissuaded from this.
It was the first time one of our pets was named after an adverb.
It made us uncomfortable. We thought it to be bad luck.
But no ill befell any of us nor did any ill befall the people who visited our home.
Everything proceeded beautifully, in fact, until Actually died.
• • •
His grandmother was reading to him a story by Hans Christian Andersen, the other gloomy Dane. Her memory had become spotty. She really couldn’t remember the tales very well.
It was bedtime, his mother was off doing heaven knows what with her husband. It was only the grandmother who strove to maintain the standards of what had once been their station. The child understood there was what was called a trust, which the grandmother described as “not being grand enough to corrupt you but sufficient to keep you from being entirely at the mercy of your worthless father’s salary.”
The grandmother didn’t read “The Bog King’s Daughter” or “The Ice Maiden,” for they were too long. She read “The Shirt Collar,” for it was short, then “The Jumping Competition,” for it was shorter. Still he wanted another, for at bedtime he never wanted to go to bed and his thirst for stories seemed unquenchable.
She commenced reading “The Storks,” which concerned how it came to pass that storks delivered babies to families.
“There is a pond,” Hans Christian Andersen wrote, “where all the little children lie until the stork comes and gets them for delivery to their parents. There they lie dreaming far more pleasantly than they ever will later in their lives. All parents love and desire such sweet little babes and all children want a little sister or brother. Now we will fly to that pond and bring all the good children who didn’t sing the ugly song a little brother or sister but the bad ones shan’t ever get any.”
Apparently, some awful child had sung some ugly hurtful song about the young storks. The grandmother was so exhausted after all the reading, she scarcely recalled that part.
“But the one who started it all, that ugly horrible little boy,” screamed all the young storks, “what shall we do with him?” Hans Christian Andersen wrote.
“In the pond there is a dead child,” the mother stork said. “He has dreamed himself to death. We will bring that baby to the boy and he will cry because we have brought him a dead little brother.”
The boy and his grandmother looked at one another in horror. As fate would have it, the mother was with child by the father, but several months later the infant arrived stillborn. Of course, it was not the little boy’s fault. He had never sung a cruel and hurtful song about young storks.
His grandmother, his best and most faithful friend and advocate, lost her mind shortly thereafter, whereas he grew up to be a formidable jurist, quite ruthless and exact in his opinions, none of which in his long career was ever overturned.
• • •
The Lord was in line at the pharmacy counter waiting to get His shingles shot.
When His turn came, the pharmacist didn’t want to give it to Him.
This is not right, the pharmacist said.
In what way? the Lord inquired.
In so many ways, the pharmacist said. I scarcely know where to begin.
Just give it to him, a woman behind the Lord said. My ice cream’s melting.
It only works 60 to 70 percent of the time anyway, the pharmacist said.
Do you want to ask me some questions? the Lord said.
You’re not afraid of shingles, are you? It’s not so bad.
I am not afraid, the Lord said.
Just give Him the shot for Pete’s sake, the woman said.
Have you ever had chicken pox?
Of course, the Lord said.
How did you hear about us? the pharmacist said.
Joy Williams is the author of four novels, four previous story collections, and the book of essays Ill Nature. She’s been nominated for the National Book Award, the Pulitzer Prize, and the National Book Critics Circle Award. Her most recent book is 99 Stories of God. She lives in Tucson, Arizona, and Laramie, Wyoming.