about the author

Andrew Reichard lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan. His short fiction has appeared, or will soon appear, in journals such as The Collagist, LampLight Magazine, Into the Void, and others.

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Burning Books 

Andrew Reichard

                      Everything is a burned book, my dear maestro.
                                       —Roberto Bolaño, 2666


Peter’s mother Mabel walked in on him and told him it was snowing.

“I’m aware it’s snowing. It’s been snowing.” Peter had spent the morning watching with some envy the neighbor across the street: a lonesome divorcee with two blonde children who visited the man every other weekend. Life had happened to him, Peter had been thinking, wistful.

Outside, the neighbor was using a leaf blower to clear the sidewalks of the fluffy December snow.

“I won’t drive in this weather,” Mabel announced. “I need you to get groceries. I’ve made a list.”

Without looking at it or her, Peter took the list from his mother’s hand as he slipped past and stuffed it in the pocket of his sweatpants and went to the garage without a coat.

At the grocery store, Peter wrapped himself in his perfect cocoon of isolation, which he cherished mightily. He’d nicked his mother’s Buick in the parking lot of the grocery store across the street, which was why he had come to this grocery store instead, where the produce was expensive and all the labels were hand-drawn, but this way he wouldn’t have to deal with the owner of the car he’d slid into.

He wandered down the aisles of frozen and boxed goods without really seeing them and thought about all the things that made it difficult for him to write his novel, which he hadn’t started. He had not started writing his novel because he lacked the sufficient psychological wound, he had concluded that morning. His life had been devoid of consequence, experience, affliction. He was twenty-seven, and he lived with his mother, and whenever anyone asked Peter who he was, these two facts were the first to colonize his brain: one, a banality and the other, surely an impediment.

The loudspeaker crackled as Peter was zoning through the fresh meats. “Attention Customers: Would the owner of a blue Buick please see the front desk.”


Sometimes a feeling of impending anguish would come upon Peter as he read books. Impending, because he knew that someday something this bad could happen to him, and he was preparing himself now to accept the heartache. Storing up treasures of joyful melancholy—the feeling of empathy fiction had once produced having staled in the bread-basket of his brain to a sense of the vicarious.

But if he’d been honest with himself, Peter would have realized that fiction had never been about empathy, and it certainly didn’t condone honesty with oneself, either.

His girlfriend was a thin, stony-eyed girl named Meghan. Meghan had blonde hair that she dyed dark brown so that her eyes would look better inside the orbit of eyeliner she applied each morning. She wore sweaters that were too tight at the neck and too long at the sleeves. Peter liked to watch her reading books he had introduced her to, but usually he was too timid, and they would read across from each other at coffee shops, communicating only with the barest tap of a foot or glimpse over the surface of the stories they separately explored.

That morning, however, Peter was excited to talk to Meghan because he’d figured out the perfect way to say what he spent so much time thinking about. He took her on a walk, but it was too cold, and they ducked, charred by wind, into the bookstore and sat at the back table by the vending machine.

“Recklessness is nearly impossible to cultivate,” Peter began. “A person is either reckless, or he isn’t.”

To his alarm, Meghan started crying. “You’re breaking up with me.” She used her sleeves to hide her face. Her sweater sleeves were always stained brown or grey from excess of eye makeup.

She cried beautifully, and Peter’s feeling of tragedy made him wonder if he should break up with her, though he hadn’t been intending to. “Of course not, baby. I’m sticking with you.”

“Would you stick with me if I told you I was pregnant?” Meghan asked.

“Yes, I would. Of course, I would stick with you.” The sound of that phrase, whispered between them over and over—stick with you—was beginning to untangle in his mind. He wondered, why with?—why that preposition and not, say, to or on? Also, why past-tense? Because Meghan had asked a hypothetical. She wondered what he would stick to if she was pregnant.

Pregnant. Meghan, Peter’s girlfriend, was. Hypothetically, of course—pregnant. Peter was confounded between his desire for tragedy, resulting in breaking up with Meghan, and his need for experience, which could culminate neatly in his raising a child with Meghan, as they say, “out of wedlock.”

Despite his assurances, Meghan only cried all the harder. She braced her elbows on the table and set her head in her hands and wept. And as her eyeliner began to run obstructively down her face, a strange joy began to fill Peter’s heart. He wanted to take out his notebook right there and express the beauty of her deep sorrow into words—words to wrench the hearts of his readers for years to come. He was filled with words, and all he had to do was explode.

Meghan lifted her head and held the bridge of her nose in a gesture of composure and contemplation. She said, slyly, “Would you still stick with me if I told you that you weren’t the father?”


In the chimera of morning, Peter wrote the following on the first page of a fresh notebook:

At which point, his soul met the pavement of despair and scattered like a cigarette tossed from the window of a moving vehicle.

He pictured a bleak noir for himself and set himself within its pages. A black telephone ringing in a dark room. Smoke-gummed upholstery. Crazed chiaroscuro. Cultivating recklessness, Peter left his room before his mother was up and set about puncturing all the Keurig cups in the drawer with a pair of scissors. After which he called Meghan and told her that he had started writing again and that he was proud of this fact.

“That’s wonderful baby. Guess what? I’m not pregnant. It was just a scare.”

“So you’re not breaking up with me?” Peter asked.

“I was worried you were the one who was breaking up with me,” huffed Meghan.

“No, you’ve got that backward. You were going to leave me for the father of the child you’re not having.”

“Peter! You didn’t listen to a word I said,” Meghan shouted. “I told you there was no one else. I only said that to see if you were listening.”

“Listening to what?” He didn’t like when Meghan spoke to him this way. He had no patience for impatience.

“To me!” Meghan shrieked. “You don’t listen to a single word I say, do you?”

“Calm down,” Peter said.

Returning to his notebook after he had ended the call, Peter made an amendment to the line which had been bothering him all morning:

At which point, his soul met the pavement of despair and scattered like a cigarette tossed from the window of a moving vehicle car.


With deep insight and great humility, Peter came to the conclusion that


Like recklessness, humility was nearly impossible to cultivate, and the fact of one’s humbleness was very difficult to impress upon people.

When Peter introduced himself to people, he did not tell them that he was twenty-seven and lived with his mother. Too humble and in the wrong way humble. The thing he tried to express—the single most important fact about himself—was that he was a novelist (this: both more specific and more grandiose than ‘writer’), and once this defining fact about him was out, he would spend the remainder of said introduction setting up the appropriate supplementations.

The unique cotillion upon the writer’s formal entrance: the need to dance the steps of both self-deprivation and of worldliness—the waltz, say, and the salsa (never mind the disparate cultural connotations cropping up like mixed metaphors)—the desperate desire to draw the eyes of any unwitting impresario to his apparently authentic humility and general down-to-Earth-ness. This was Peter’s struggle.


“Did they give you the job?” Mabel asked earnestly when he came billowing in from the back door.

“I don’t know. It was an interview. They’ll get back to me,” said Peter.

Mabel’s brows knitted. “It didn’t go well, did it.”

“I didn’t say that. Did I say that? That’s not what I said.” Peter went to his room, not having it in him to form a response to anyone (namely, his mother) who clearly wanted him to succeed only because she wanted him out of the house.

“Did they give you the job?” Meghan asked. Her voice sounded muffled on the phone because she always spoke through the sleeves of her sweaters.

“They told me they didn’t need a writer,” Peter admitted.

“Nobody needs a writer,” said Meghan. “I wish I had a more unusual name,” said Meghan.

But Peter wasn’t listening. Once, he had decided that, in order to be a writer—in order to be all the things he imagined his favorite writers were—he needed first to suffer. This had become the crux of his life: that he should suffer and that his suffering teach him how to express the world into words and that this was Important because only then did he understand that empathy was found to preexist in the reader, not the book; and that every book was about empathy only in so far as it caused the reader to be empathic toward the writer; and that, because this did not occur to most readers, the act of writing was the suffering itself; and that this was entirely self-inflicted; and that this was Important and also the point.


Never mind, Meghan was, it turned out, pregnant. Peter was very happy about this, given his new goal. He understood infants in the context of poop and tears and expenses, and these three things formed in his mind a trinity of grief-experience (an ancient kenning, surely, for parenting) that would elevate him into a new state of worldliness, which would, in turn, equip him for the further grief of becoming a man of letters.

Meghan demanded that the two of them be married immediately, which they were. Sadly, Peter couldn’t yet afford a ring. Rings he understood to have Significant Symbolic Value, but Meghan told him it was all right, she could do without the ring for now.

Meghan said, “Give me your initial reaction to the name Gladys.”

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