Once again, I bring you Neil Gaiman and a book I haven’t finished reading. As with my last unfinished read, this is a case of savoring something so pleasurable that I’m loathe to let it go. Fragile Things is a collection, subtitled Short Fictions and Wonders. That about sums it up. Gaiman is at his funny and unsettling best (often simultaneously) in these pieces. My favorite so far has been “October in the Chair,” a mild and atmospheric fantasy that’s a perfect showcase for Gaiman’s elastic voice and that acrobatic way he twists about from one thing to another without any sense of vertigo at all.
“They looked at one another across the fire, the months of the year.
June, hesitant and clean, raised her hand and said, “I have one about a guard on the X-ray machines at LaGuardia Airport, who could read all about people from the outlines of their luggage on the screen, and one day she saw a luggage X-ray so beautiful that she fell in love with the person, and she had to figure out which person in the line it was, and she couldn’t, and she pined for months and months. And when the person came through again she knew it this time, and it was the man, and he was a wizened old Indian man and she was pretty and black and, like, twenty-five, and she knew it would never work out and she let him go, because she could also see from the shapes of his bags on the screen that he was going to die soon.”
October said, “Fair enough, young June. Tell that one.”
June stared at him, like a spooked animal. “I just did,” she said.”
That’s one of the tidiest pieces of wonderful I’ve ever encountered. First of all, the personification of each month is spot-on perfect. Secondly, that little tidbit there is one of the most wonderful stories I’ve ever read. And it’s tossed off as a joke of a half-story within a story. Such are the riches lurking in this man’s head that he can take a gem like x-ray-reading lady and use it to show how the month of June is an adolescent. That’s why I’m reading slowly. You could overdose from the clever.