The Uninnocent

The Uninnocent

4.5 2
by Bradford Morrow

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“The Uninnocent is a masterpiece of empathy and of storytelling. I love this chapel of unholy stories with their charming, monstrous, wholly sympathetic characters.”—Karen Russell, author of Swamplandia!
Bradford Morrow’s stories have garnered him awards such as the O. Henry and Pushcart Prizes and have given him a devoted following. Now

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“The Uninnocent is a masterpiece of empathy and of storytelling. I love this chapel of unholy stories with their charming, monstrous, wholly sympathetic characters.”—Karen Russell, author of Swamplandia!
Bradford Morrow’s stories have garnered him awards such as the O. Henry and Pushcart Prizes and have given him a devoted following. Now gathered here for the first time is a collection of his finest, gothic tales.
A young man whose childhood hobby of collecting sea shells and birds’ nests takes a sinister turn when he becomes obsessed with acquiring his brother’s girlfriend, in “The Hoarder” (selected as one of the Best American Noir Stories of the Century). An archeologist summoned to attend his beloved sister’s funeral is astonished to discover it is not she who has died, but someone much closer to him, in “Gardener of Heart.” A blind motivational speaker has a crisis of faith when he suddenly regains his sight, only to discover life was better lived in the dark, in “Amazing Grace.”
In all of these stories, readers will find themselves enthralled and captivated by one of the most potent voices in contemporary American fiction.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Conjunctions founding editor Morrow (The Diviner’s Tale), creates beautifully dark and soulfully intimate stories in his first collection, featuring characters who, though hardly citizens of virtue, reveal their true colors with little remorse. Each tale is told close at hand, with first-person narrators drawing the reader into their confidence, making readers complicit in shadowy inner workings that they don’t completely understand. A man who enjoys collecting trinkets sets his sights dangerously on his brother’s girlfriend in “The Hoarder.” A blind man, in “Amazing Grace,” regains his sight only to realize that the enlightened life he had imagined for himself is actually shrouded in darkness. After misplacing his mind, a man finds that, “whereas before he was dependable (had been with the same accounting firm for fifteen years, was the star shortstop on their interleague softball team), he now became not just unreliable, but entirely unpredictable,” in “Mis(Laid).” In the sinister “Tsunami,” a wife and mother relays the details of her unraveled marriage, remaining matter-of-fact: “This story doesn’t get any better, so if you wanted to stop here I certainly wouldn’t blame you. I can even tell you what happens so you won’t have to bother.” Morrow’s stories are hauntingly honest and linger in the consciousness. (Dec.)
Washington Post
“An ambitious, thoughtful writer, technically accomplished and emotionally truthful.”
Ann Beattie
“I love these stories and could hardly stop reading. Like the gems they are, they're bright, multifaceted, and catch the sun—which often shines on a very dark world.”
Joanna Scott
“The Uninnocent is a major accomplishment, satisfying and unsettling, beautiful and haunting. I can't think of another recent collection of short fiction that offers up such rich, layered, provocative mysteries. ”
Peter Straub
“In The Uninnocent, acclaimed novelist Bradford Morrow shows off his dazzling short-story chops. The results are spellbinding, unsettling: as knowing, wakeful, and thorny as the title. Every writer should be as courageous, as open to the unknown, as Morrow reveals himself to be.”
Joyce Carol Oates
“There has never been a short story by Bradford Morrow that i haven’t read at a single sitting—fascinated, thrilled, at times a bit breathless. There is a subterranean air about his fiction that pulls the reader down, as if into a vertiginous whirlpool. if you read just a single story by Bradford Morrow, you will be drawn into his gravitational pull inexorably.”
Robert Olen Butler
“Morrow gives voice to the peace at the center of the chaos all around and within us. His collection, The Uninnocent, is not only very beautiful but very important.”
Karen Russel
“The Uninnocent is a masterpiece of empathy and of storytelling. I love this chapel of unholy stories with their charming, monstrous, wholly sympathetic characters.”
Library Journal
A teenage boy obsessively (and surreptitiously) photographs his older brother's girlfriend. An electrical worker who turns motivational speaker after he's blinded in an accident miraculously regains his sight and discovers that life was better when he couldn't see. A young wife prone to fugue states is at the center of a series of murders that involve her husband, her children, and her husband's lover. A teenage boy murders his grandmother's male friend, whom he believes to be a Martian landed on Earth as part of the invasion that captivated the country in Orson Welles's broadcast of War of the Worlds—and no trace of the body can be found. What links all these dark tales from Morrow (The Diviner's Tale) is that the main characters live in the shadowland where normalcy and mania and at times even depravity meet. VERDICT Hanging on the voices of their narrators—at once fascinating in their fixations and repelling in their twisted logic—and mixing elements of Southern gothic and noir, these powerful tales will linger in the reader's mind.—Lawrence Rungren, Merrimack Valley Lib. Consortium, North Andover, MA
Kirkus Reviews
A set of neo-Gothic tales that seek out the line between sanity and madness in modern suburbia. The stories in this collection by Morrow (The Diviner's Tale, 2011, etc.) consistently cultivate a tone of creepy unease. The narrator of "Tsunami" coolly explains why she killed her husband, but it slowly becomes clear to the reader that she's unaware of the degree to which she's become undone by a series of tragedies in her life, while her fixation on global catastrophes underscores her loss of perspective. "Ellie's Idea" gives this slow kind of mental decline a slightly comic pitch: Determined to put her life in order after her husband leaves her, the narrator calls people she feels she's slighted, which does more harm than good. Adolescents abound in these stories, and it's easy to see why Morrow finds them appealing--they exemplify a mix of growing confusion about and awareness of the world. The title story focuses on two young sisters who pine for a brother they never had, while "The Enigma of Grover's Mill" centers on a 15-year-old boy who's struggling to negotiate the new man in his grandmother's life and his own awkward sexual awakening. Each story is skillfully turned, though a sameness to the insanity emerges--nearly everybody who loses it is hyperliterate and heartbroken, and ghoulish twists have a way of leaping from the final paragraphs. The best stories play with form: In "(Mis)laid," parenthetical comments offer retorts to an official narrative about a man taking his estranged wife hostage, and the closing "Lush" smartly alternates narratives between an alcoholic's grueling path to sobriety and a woman who becomes an unlikely part of his life. The eeriness of these stories grows overly familiar, but there's no question Morrow knows how to conjure a mood.

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Product Details

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Copyright © 2011 Bradford Morrow
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-60598-265-6

Chapter One


I have always been a hoarder. When I was young, our family lived on the Outer Banks, where I swept up and down the shore filling my windbreaker pockets with seashells of every shape and size. Back in the privacy of my room I loved nothing better than to lay them out on my bed, arranging them by color or form—whelks and cockles here, clams and scallops there—a beautiful mosaic of dead calcium. The complete skeleton of a horseshoe crab was my finest prize, as I remember. After we moved inland from the Atlantic, my obsession didn't change but the objects of my desire did. Having no money, I was restricted to things I found, so one year developed an extensive collection of Kentucky bird nests, and during the next, an array of bright Missouri butterflies preserved in several homemade display cases. Another year, my father's itinerant work having taken us to the desert, I cultivated old pottery shards from the hot potreros. Sometimes my younger sister offered to assist with my quests, but I preferred shambling around on my own. Once in a while I did allow her to shadow me, if only because it was one more thing that annoyed our big brother, who never missed an opportunity to cut me down to size. Weird little bastard, Tom liked calling me. I didn't mind him saying so. I was a weird little bastard.

When first learning to read, I hoarded words just as I would shells, nests, butterflies. Like many an introvert, I went through a phase during which every waking hour was spent inside a library book. These I naturally collected, too, never paying my late dues, writing in a ragged notebook words that were used against Tom at opportune moments. He was seldom impressed when I told him he was a pachyderm anus or festering pustule, but that might have been because he didn't understand some of what came out of my mouth. Many times I hardly knew what I was saying. Still, the desired results were now and then achieved. When I called him some name that sounded nasty enough—eunuch's tit—he would run after me with fists flying and pin me down, demanding a definition, and I'd refuse. Be it black eye or bloody nose, I always came away feeling I'd gotten the upper hand.

Father wasn't a migrant laborer, as such, and all our moving had nothing to do with a field-worker following seasons or harvests. He lived by his wits, so he told us and so we kids believed. But wits or not, every year brought the ritual pulling up of stakes and clearing out. His explanations were always curt, brief like our residencies. He never failed to apologize, and I think he meant it when he told us that the next stop would be more permanent, that he was having a streak of bad luck bound to change for the better. Tom took these uprootings harder than I or my sister. He expressed his anger about being jerked around like circus animals, and complained that this was the old man's fault and we should band together in revolt. It was never clear just how we were supposed to mutiny, and of course we never did. Molly and I wondered privately, whispering together at night, if our family wouldn't be more settled had our mother still been around. But that road was a dead end even more than the one we seemed to be on already. She'd deserted our father and the rest of us and there was no bringing her back. We used to get cards at Christmas, but even that had stopped some years ago. We seldom mentioned her name now. What was the point?

Like the sun, we traveled westward across the country all the way to the coast, though more circuitously and with much dimmer prospects. I'd made a practice of discarding my latest collection whenever we left one place for another, and not merely disposing of it, but destroying the stuff. Taking a hammer to my stash of petrified wood and bleached bones plucked off the flats near Mojave, after the word came down to start packing, was my own private way of saying good-bye. Molly always cried until I gave her a keepsake, a sparrow nest or slug of quartz crystal. And my dad took me aside to ask why I was undoing all my hard work, unaware of the sharp irony of his question—who was he to talk? He told me that one day when I was grown up I'd look back and regret not treasuring these souvenirs from my youth. But he never stopped me. He couldn't in fairness do that. These were my things and just as I'd brought them together I had every right to junk them and set my sights on the new. Besides, demolishing my collections didn't mean I didn't treasure them in my own way.

We found ourselves in a small, pleasant, nondescript ocean-side town just south of the palm-lined promenades of Santa Barbara and the melodramatic Spanish villas of Montecito, where the Kennedys had spent their honeymoon a few years before. By this time I was old enough to find a job. Tom and I had both given up on school. Too many new faces, too many new curricula. Father couldn't object to his eldest son dropping out of high school, since he himself had done the same. As for me, having turned fifteen, I'd more or less educated myself anyway. It was a testament to Molly's resilient nature that she was never fazed entering all those unknown classrooms across this great land of ours. My responsibility was to make sure she got to summer school on time and pick her up at day's end, and so I did. This commitment I gladly undertook, since I always liked Molly, and she didn't get in the way of my schedule at the miniature golf course where I was newly employed.

Just as California would mark a deviation in my father's gypsy routine, it would be the great divide for me. Whether I knew it at the time is beside the point. I doubt I did. Tom noticed something different had dawned in me, a new confidence, and while he continued to taunt me, my responses became unpredictable. He might smirk, "Miniature golf ... now there's a promising career, baby," but rather than object I would cross my arms, smile, and agree, "Just my speed, baby." When we did fight, our battles were higher pitched and more physical, and as often as not, he was the one who got the tooth knocked loose, the lip opened, the kidney punched. Molly gave up trying to be peacemaker and lived more and more in her own world. It was as if we moved into individual mental compartments, like different collectibles in separate cabinets. I couldn't even say for sure what kind of work my father did anymore, though it involved a commute over the mountains to a place called Ojai, which resulted in our seeing less of him than ever. The sun had turned him brown, so his work must have been outside. Probably a construction job—so much for his touted wits. Tom, on the other hand, remained as white as abalone, working in a convenience store. And Molly with her sweet round face covered in freckles and ringed by wildly wavy red hair, the birthright of her maternal Irish ancestry, marched forward with patience and hope that would better befit a daughter of the king of Uz than of a carpenter of Ojai—which our dear brother had by then, with all the cleverness he could muster, dubbed Oh Low.

The change was gradual but irrevocable, and would be difficult if not impossible to describe in abstract terms. To suggest that my compulsion to hoard shifted from objects to essences, from the external world's castoffs to the stuff of spirits, wouldn't be quite right. It might even be false, since what began to arise within me during those long slow days and evenings at work had a manifest concreteness to it. Whether my discovery of glances, fragrances, gestures, voices, the various flavors of nascent sexuality, the potential for beautiful violence that hovers behind those qualities came as the result of my new life at Bayside Park or whether it would have happened no matter where I lived and breathed at that moment, I couldn't say. I do know that Bayside—that perfect world of fantastical architecture and linked greens and strict rules—was where I came awake, felt more alive, as they say, than ever before.

The first time I laid eyes on the place was early evening. Fog, which seasonally rolled in at dusk, settling over the coastal flats and canyons until early afternoon the next day, was drifting like willowy ghosts. I wore my best flannel shirt and a pair of jeans to the interview. My head was all but bald, my old man having given me a fresh trim with his electric clippers, a memento filched from one of his many former employers. Even though it was late June and the day had been warm, I wished I'd brought a sweater since the heavy mist down by the ocean dampened me to the bone. I could hear the surf, once I crossed the empty highway, and started thinking about what questions I might be asked during my interview and what sorts of answers I'd be forced to make up to cover a complete lack of experience. There was a good chance I'd be turned down for the job. After all, I was just a kid who had done nothing with his life beyond collecting debris in forests and fields, and reading comics and worthless books. If I hadn't been so bent on getting clear of our house, pulling together money toward one day having a place of my own, unaffected by my shiftless father and moron brother, I'd have talked myself out of even trying.

As I approached the miniature golf park, I was mesmerized by a ball of brilliance, a white dome of light in the mist that reminded me of some monumental version of one of those snow-shaker toys, what on earth are they called? Those water-filled globes of glass inside which are plastic world's fairs, North Pole dioramas, Eiffel Towers that, when joggled, fall under the spell of a miraculous blizzard. What loomed inside this fluorescent bell jar was a wonderland, a fake dwarf-world populated by real people, reminiscent of snow-globe toys in other ways, too. The fantastic, impossible scenes housed in each, glass or light, were irresistible. I walked through a gate over which was a sign that read BAYSIDE—FOR ALL AGES. What lay before me, smaller than the so-called real world but larger than life, was a village of whirling windmills and miniature cathedrals with spires, of stucco gargoyles and painted grottoes. A white brick castle with turrets ascended the low sky, its paint peeling in the watery weather. Calypso's Cave, the sixth hole. A fanciful pirate ship coved by a waterfall at the seventh. And everywhere I looked, green synthetic alleys. All interconnected and, if a bit seedy, very alluring.

By lying about my age, background, and whatever else, I got the job. When asked at dinner to describe what kind of work was involved, I told my father I was the course steward. In fact, my responsibilities fell somewhere between janitor and errand boy. Absurd as it may sound, I was never happier. Vacuuming the putting lanes; scouring the acre park and adjacent beach for lost balls and abandoned golf clubs; tending the beds of bougainvillea and birds-of-paradise; spearing trash strewn on the trampled, struggling real grass that lay between the perfect alleys; skimming crud out of water traps and ornamental lagoons; retouching paint where paint needed retouching. If Bayside was a museum—and it was, to my eyes—I was its curator. The owner, a lean, sallow, stagnant man named Gallagher, seemed gratified by my attentiveness and pleased that I didn't have any friends to waste my time or his. Looking back, I realize he was quietly delighted that I hadn't the least interest in playing. What did I care about hitting a ball with a stick into a hole?

That said, I did become an aficionado, in an antiseptic sort of way. Just as I had about the classifications of seashells or the markings of dragonflies in times past, I read everything I could about the sport of miniature golf in the office bookcase, surrounded by framed photos autographed by the rich and famous who had played here long ago. The history was more interesting than I imagined. In the Depression they used sewer pipes, scavenged tires, rain gutters, whatever junk was lying around, and from all the discards built their Rinkiedinks, as the obstacle courses were called, scale model worlds in which the rules were fair and the playing field—however bunkered, curved, slanted, stepped—was truly level. Once upon a time, I told Molly, this was the classy midnight pastime of America's royalty. Hollywood moguls drank champagne between holes, putting with stars and starlets under the moon until the sun came up. One of the earliest sports played outdoors under artificial lights, miniature golf was high Americana and even now, though it had a degraded heritage, was something finer than people believed.

My favorite trap in the park was the windmill, which rose seven feet into the soggy air of the twelfth green. Its blades were powered by an old car battery that needed checking once a week, as its cable connections tended to corrode in the damp, bringing the attraction—not to mention the obstacle—to a standstill. One entered this windmill by a hidden door at the back, which wasn't observable to people playing the course, indeed was pretty invisible unless you knew it was there. Gallagher had by August learned to trust me with everything except ticket taking, which was his exclusive province when it came to Bayside, and about which I could not have cared less. So when, one evening, a couple complained to him that the windmill blades on twelve weren't working, he handed me a flashlight, some pliers, a knife, and explained what to do. The windmill was at the far end of the park and I made my way there as quickly as possible without disturbing any of the players.

Once inside, I discovered a new realm. A world within a world. Fixing the oxidized battery posts was nothing, done in a matter of minutes. But then I found myself wanting to stay. What held me was that I could see, through tiny windows in the wooden structure, people playing, unaware they were being watched. A girl with her mother and father standing behind, encouraging her, humped over the blue ball, her face contorted into a mask of concentration, putting right at me, knowing nothing of my presence. One shot and through she went, between my legs, and after her, her mom and dad. They talked among themselves, a nice, dreary, happy family, in perfect certainty their words were exchanged in private. It was something to behold.

I stuck around. Who wouldn't? Others passed through me, the ghost in the windmill, and none of them knew, not even the pair of tough bucks who played the rounds every night, betting on each hole, whose contraband beer bottles I'd collected that very morning. It became my habit, from then on, to grab time in the windmill during work to watch and listen. I found myself particularly interested in young couples, many of them not much older than I was, out on dates. Having avoided school since we came west, and being by nature an outsider, my social skills were limited. The physical urgency I felt, spying on these lovers, I sated freely behind the thin walls of my hiding place. Meanwhile, I learned how lovers speak, what kind of extravagant lies they tell each other, the promises they make, and all I could feel was gratitude that my brand of intimacy didn't involve saying anything to anybody. The things I found myself whispering in the shade of my hermitage none of them would have liked to hear, either. That much I knew for sure.

One evening, to my horror, Tom appeared in my peephole vista. What was he doing here? What gave him the right? And who was the girl standing with him, laughing at one of his maudlin jokes? He had a beer in his pocket, like the toughs. His arm was slung over the girl's shoulder, dangling like a broken pendulum, and his face was rosy for once. They laughed again and looked around and, taking advantage of being (almost) alone, kissed. At first I stood frozen in the windmill whose blades spun slowly, knowing that if Tom caught me watching, he'd beat the hell out of me and back at home deny everything. But soon I realized there was nothing to fear. This was my domain. Tom could not touch me in my hideaway world. Much the same way I used to trespass his superiority with those words lifted out of books, I offered him the longest stare I could manage. Not blinking, not wincing, I made my face into an unreadable blank. Pity he couldn't respond.

Work went well. Some days I showed up early, on others left late. Gallagher one September morning informed me that if I thought I would be earning overtime pay I was mistaken and reacted with a smiling shrug when I told him my salary was more than fair. "You're a good kid," he concluded. And so I was, in that what he asked me to do I did, prompt and efficient. Players, it turned out, were more irresponsible and given to vandalism than I'd have assumed. Since the game had so much to do with disciplined timing, thoughtful strategy, a steady hand and eye, what were these broken putters and bashed fiberglass figures about? Perhaps I'd become an idealistic company man, but the extensive property damage Gallagher suffered seemed absurd. I helped him with repairs and thought of asking why he didn't prosecute the offenders; we both knew who they were. Instead I kept my concerns to myself, sensing subconsciously that it was best, as they say, not to call the kettle black. After all, Gallagher surely noticed my long absences within the precincts of the park and by mutual silence consented to them, so long as I got the work done.

In my years of wandering far larger landscapes than Bayside, I had learned where the birds and beasts of the earth hide themselves against their enemies and how they go about imposing their will, however brief and measly it may be, on the world around them. All my nest hunts and shell meanderings had served me well, though here what I collected thus far were fantasies. I can say I almost preferred the limitations of the park. Finding fresh places to hide was my own personal handicap, as it were. And since this was one of the old courses, ostentatious in the most wonderful way—a glorious exemplar of its kind—the possibilities seemed infinite. They weren't, but I took advantage of what was feasible, and like the birds and crustaceans whose homes I used to collect, having none myself to speak of, I more or less moved into Bayside, establishing makeshift berths, stowing food and pop, wherever I secretly could. Like the hermit crab, I began to inhabit empty shells.

The girlfriend's name was Penny. Penny for my thoughts. Thin, with sand-colored hair that fell straight down her back to her waist, she had a wry, pale mouth, turned-up nose, and brown searching eyes, deep and almost tragic, which didn't seem to fit with her pastel halter and white pedal pushers. The desperate look in those eyes of hers quickly began to haunt me and, as I watched, my bewilderment over what she was doing with the likes of Tom only grew. In life many things remain ambiguous, chancy, muddled, unknowing and unknowable, but she seemed to be someone who, given the right circumstances, might come to understand me, maybe even believe in me. I developed a vague sense that there was something special between us, a kind of spiritual kinship, difficult to define. Molly was the one who told me her name. She said they had taken her on a picnic up near Isla Vista, and that Penny had taught her how to pick mussels at low tide. Very considerate of Tom, I thought, very familial.

Meantime, my brother and I had never been more estranged. Our absentee father kept a roof over our heads but was otherwise slowly falling to pieces, a prematurely withering man who spent his time after work in taverns, communing with scotch and fellow zilches. Molly had made friends with whom she walked to school these days, so I wasn't seeing much of her either. And I, always the loner, had never been more solitary. Time and patience, twin essentials to any collector, were all I needed to bring my new obsession around. So it was that I took my time getting to know Penny, watching from the hidden confines of the windmill, the little train station with its motionless locomotive, the Hall of the Mountain King with its par five, the toughest hole on the course. Having wrapped her tightly in my imaginative wings, it was hard to believe I still hadn't actually met Tom's friend.

He, who returned to Bayside again and again with some perverse notion he was irritating me, would never have guessed how much I learned about his Penny over the months. Anonymous and invisible as one of the buccaneer statuettes on the pirate ship, I stalked them whenever they came to play, moving easily from one of my sanctuaries to another, all the while keeping my boss under control, so to speak, Gallagher who had grown dependent on me by this time. She was an only daughter. Her father worked on an offshore oil rig. Chickadee was the name of her pet parrot. She loved a song by the Ref lections with the lyric Our love's gonna be written down in history, just like Romeo and Juliet. French fries were her favorite food. All manner of data. But my knowing her came in dribs and drabs, and it began to grate on me that what I found out was strictly the result of Tom's whim to bring her to Bayside. I needed more, needed to meet her, to make my own presence known.

How this came about was not as I might have scripted it, but imperfect means sometimes satisfy rich ends. The first of December was Tom's birthday, his eighteenth. As it happened, it fell on a Monday, the one day of the week Bayside was closed. Molly put the party together, a gesture from the heart, no doubt hoping to bring our broken, scattered, dissipating family into some semblance of a household. When she invited me, my answer was naturally no until, by chance, I heard her mention on the phone that Penny was invited. She even asked Gallagher to come. Thank God he declined. Molly and a couple of her friends baked a chocolate cake and the old man proved himself up to the role of fatherhood by giving Tom the most extravagant present any of us had ever seen. Even our birthday boy was so overwhelmed by his generosity that he gave Dad a kiss on the forehead. Molly and I glanced at one another, embarrassed. Ours was a family that didn't touch, so this was quite a historic moment. If I hadn't spent most of the evening furtively staring at Penny, I might have thrown up my piece of cake then and there.

It was a camera, a real one. Argus C3. Black box with silver trim. Film and carrying case, too. The birthday card read, Here's looking at you, kid! With affection and best luck for the future years, Dad and your loving brother and sister. My head spun from the hypocrisy, the blatant nonsense of this hollow sentiment, but I put on the warm, smiling face of a good brother, ignoring Tom while accepting from his girlfriend an incandescent smile of her own, complicated as always by those bittersweet eyes of hers, and said, "Let's get a picture." Tom's resentment at having to let me help him read the instructions for loading gave me more satisfaction than I could possibly express. We got it done, though, and the portrait was taken by a parent who arrived to pick up one of Molly's friends. The party was a great success, we all told Molly. That Argus was a mythical monster with a hundred eyes I kept to myself. Although the idea of stealing his camera came to me that night—Tom would never have used it anyway—I waited a week, three weeks, a full month, before removing it from his possession.

With it I began photographing Penny. At first, my portraits were confined to what I could manage from various hiding places at the park. But the artificial light wasn't strong enough to capture colors and details in her face and figure, and of course I couldn't use flashbulbs, so the only decent images I managed to get were on the rare occasions when she played during the day, often weekend afternoons, and not always with Tom. I kept every shot, no matter how poor the exposure, in a cigar box stowed inside a duffel in a corner of the windmill along with the camera. During off-hours I often took the box, under my jacket, down to some remote stretch of beach and pored over the pictures with a magnifying glass I'd acquired for the purpose. Some were real prizes, more treasured, even cherished, than anything I'd collected in the past. One image became the object of infatuation, taken at great risk from an open dormer in the castle. It must have been a warm early January day, because Penny wore a light blouse that had caught a draft of wind off the ocean, ballooning the fabric forward away from her, so that from my perch looking down I shot her naked from forehead to navel, both small, round breasts exposed to my lens. The photo was pretty abstract, shot at an odd angle, with her features foreshortened, a hodgepodge of fabric and flesh that would be hard to read, much less appreciate the way I did, unless you knew what you were looking at, whose uncovered body you were seeing laid out on that flat, shiny silver paper. Thinking back to those heady times, I realize most pornography is very conventional, easily understood by the lusting eye, and certainly more explicit. But my innocent snapshots, taken without her knowledge or consent, seem even now to be more obscene than any professional erotic material I have since encountered.

Things developed. I made the fatal step of finding out where Penny lived. Her house was only a mile, give or take, from ours. it became my habit to go to bed with an alarm clock under my pillow, put there so that only I would hear it at midnight, or one, or two in the morning, when I'd quietly get dressed and sneak out. these excursions were as haphazard as, if not more than, what I did at the park. I took the camera with me and often came home with nothing, the window to her bedroom having been dark, or worse—her lights still on, the shade drawn, and a shadow moving tantalizingly back and forth on its scrim. But there were occasional triumphs.

Milling in a hedge of jasmine one moonless night, seeing the houses along her street were all hushed and dark, I was about to give up my one-boy siege and walk back home when I heard a car come up the block. Tom's junker coasted into dim view, parking lights showing the way. The only sound was of rubber tires softly chewing pebbles in the pavement. Retreating into the jasmine, I breathed through my mouth as slowly as I could. Penny emerged from the car many long minutes later and dashed right past me—I could smell her perfume over that of the winter flowers—and let herself into the house with hardly a sound. Good old cunning Tom must have dropped his car into neutral, as it drifted down the slanted grade until, a few doors away, he started the engine and drove away.

The lateness of the hour might have given her the idea that no one would notice if she didn't close her shades. Or maybe she was tired and forgot. Or maybe she was afraid to make any unnecessary noise in the house that would wake her parents. She lit a candle, and I saw more that night than I ever had before. To say it was a revelation, a small personal apocalypse, would be to diminish what happened to me as I watched her thin limbs naked in the anemic yellow, hidden only by the long hair she brushed before climbing into bed. How much I would have given to stretch that moment out forever. Though the camera shutter resounded in the dead calm with crisp, brief explosions, I unloaded my roll. After she blew out the candle, I retreated in a panicked ecstasy, dazed as a drunk.

The film came out better than I'd hoped—the blessing that would prove a curse, as they might have written in one of those old novels I used to read. The pimply kid who handed me my finished exposures over the counter at the camera shop, and took my crumple of dollars, asked me to wait for a minute.

"How come?" I asked.

Not looking up, he said, "the manager's in the darkroom. He wanted to have a few words with whoever picked up this roll. You got a minute?"

"No problem," I smiled.

When he disappeared into the back of the shop, I slipped out as nonchalantly as possible and walked around the corner before breaking into a run, until I reached the highway and, beyond, the golf park. Gallagher mentioned that I was even earlier than usual, not looking up from his morning paper in the office. I explained I wanted to do some work on the Calypso Cave if he didn't mind. He said nothing one way or the other. Toolbox in hand, I hurried instead to the windmill, wondering what kind of imbecile Gallagher thought I was. Nothing mattered once I spread the images in a fan before me in the half-light of my refuge. Aside from having cost money to be developed, these new trophies were just as virtuous, as pure and irreproachable as any bird nest or seashell I'd ever collected—perhaps more innocent yet, I told myself, since nothing had been disturbed or in any way hurt by my recent activities. I had given the camera shop a fake name and wrong phone number. Everything was fine. To describe the photographs of Penny further would be to sully things, so I won't. She was only beautiful in her unobservance, in her not quite absolute solitude.


Excerpted from THE UNINNOCENT by BRADFORD MORROW Copyright © 2011 by Bradford Morrow. Excerpted by permission of PEGASUS BOOKS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Meet the Author

Bradford Morrow's novels include The Diviner’s Tale, Giovanni's Gift, and Trinity Fields, and co-edited with David Shields The Inevitable: Contemporary Writers Confront Death. The recipient of numerous awards, he founded and edits the literary journal Conjunctions and is a professor of literature at Bard College. He lives in New York City.

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The Uninnocent: Stories 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Butterfly-o-Meter_Books More than 1 year ago
This is my second reading experience with Bradford Morrow, and it proved to be yet another memorable one. After reading Fall of the Birds, the chance of reading some gothic, some yummy noir by the same author was extremely tempting. I'm glad I fell pray to the temptation. The 12 stories range from the troubling and touching to the disconcerting and unnerving, all in beautiful writing and emotionally gripping imagery. Some I've personally liked more then others, some are a tad too disturbing while others I fully and wholeheartedly loved. Together though, they form an interesting, exciting and scary journey into the human mind, an exploration into dusty nooks of the human soul. The Hoarder, the first story of the collection, starts out deceivingly tame. Touching, beautiful, and deceitfully tame; as it progresses, the degree of troubling slowly ascends to bring the reader a shock, then slowly subsides only to flare up again at the end. After that adventure, I was edified in respect to the type of read this collection would be: bold, fearless, subtle here and brutal there - in fewer words, a delight. Amazing Grace and The Road to Nadeja were my personal favorites of the collection because the light they shine on the characters involved shows more then devious urges or pathologic needs; they show the simple but crushing darkness of solitude and the value of hope (pun intended regarding the second title). While dark and certainly troubling, they also have a bit of that inherent human shimmer of light. Some of the stories, like Whom no hate stirs none dances, The Uninnocent or Tsunami, were on the disturbing side, some a lot disturbing in fact. I would have a hard time saying I enjoyed reading them, but I found it to be a truly interesting experience, and despite their somber and/or chilling quality they had a fascinating tone, so fascinating in fact that despite the fact I was cringing nearer the end I wouldn't have been able to stop reading them. In fact, I will confess to having read some of the stories twice, or even three times before writing down these words. And I believe I will reread them again after I'll be done writing these words, they're so well written and so charismatic that I can't really move on. They're clinging to my thoughts with these shadowy tentacles, it's really strange but darkishly beautiful. All things considered, I say if you like noir and you have the stomach to cringe at the multiple facets of the human soul without being horrified, you should definitely read this. But it's not a beginners dish, in my humble opinion, it's more like a treat for the connoisseur.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a wonderful, beautiful, and moving novel.