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Length

“Long stories must be good and short stories must be better” is an entirely butchered quote of JGB’s, but one that is relevant nonetheless. Amy Hempel wrote a 161-word story called “In the Animal Shelter.” In 161 words she conveys so much sadness. The story begins with insight from a man’s point of view. The narrator may not agree, but she finds it worth mentioning. You can picture the people in your life who have the “tired beauty that someone doesn’t want.” The sadness and the ache that creates instills fear in the young. What if that’s me one day? She follows it up with the image of a gnarled old tree, faded from snow storms and blowing wind. Wrinkled trunks and barren branches show the lives these women are living. Sad. Empty. Worry not, though, Hempel will continue to make your heart hurt as the women reach day after day for the love they can never have. They are devoted and betrayed. They call the sad-faced animals “Mama’s baby” and ask them if they are lonesome. Really, it’s the women in the story who are lonesome, looking for the idea of companionship.

Though the women have no thoughts of adopting the one-eyed cats themselves, they still ask, Will they have a better future than me? If they’re this downtrodden and desperate looking, is there still hope for me? Twice in this paragraph the women stop to ask an attendant a question. Perhaps they’re merely looking for attention that they’re lacking, or maybe they’re hoping the attendant will provide them with valuable insight into their situation. After being left so many times before, “it matters that the women have someone to leave, leaving behind the lovesome creatures who would never leave them, had they once given them their hearts.” Or maybe the women are the ones who do the leaving. Maybe they’re the ones who got themselves into the situation by not loving as fully as they could have when they had the chance in front of them. You only know it’s good when it’s gone. Dogs are faithful whereas humans are not, especially when you love them well. And all these women want is love. All we want in life is love.

One Response to “Length”

  1. Beautiful, Jenny. Thanks so much for this post.