“A Razor in an Apple” by Kristopher Reisz from Wilde Stories 2012 (Lethe Press). Edited by Steve Berman.
Phillip has just left a chance encounter with his old roommate, J.D. I suspect we all have a J.D. in our lives, a person for whom youth, good looks, and intelligence combined to create a mesmerizing level of self-confidence, at least for a few magic years.
Those days are long gone for J.D., who has turned “paunchy and balding”. He’s still funny, though, and he can still spin a yarn like no one’s business. He tells Phillip a doozy to explain his missing pinky finger. Over beers at a neighborhood watering hole, after an evening of stories about their old circle of friends, he confides to Phillip that there’s an apothecary’s shop nearby where it’s possible to re-capture moments from the past, for a price. Not quite a pound of flesh, but near enough.
Sure, it’s a trope, one that trades on the universal longing to relieve moments from the past. Whether we have regrets about actions we took long ago or simply miss people and places that are no more, I suspect everyone has a moment or moments they would re-live if they could. What elevates this story is its beguiling use of language. Take, for example, “Phillip had never thought his hands were beautiful before…the way fingers curled into pink snail shells, how his palm formed a waiting hollow, how so many muscles and tiny bones worked together so perfectly.” Or, “The doors stood open, leaking chatter and music.” Or, still later, when Phillip is inside the apothecary shop, catching scents from the past: “Hot tar, just a little. The ozone sizzle of power lines. The smell of the edge of the city.”
You may have heard a similar tale before, but I’ll bet it wasn’t told this well.