Awayland: Stories

Awayland: Stories

by Ramona Ausubel


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An inventive story collection that spans the globe as it explores love, childhood, and parenthood with an electric mix of humor and emotion.

Acclaimed for the grace, wit, and magic of her novels, Ramona Ausubel introduces us to a geography both fantastic and familiar in eleven new stories, some of them previously published in The New Yorker and The Paris Review. Elegantly structured, these stories span the globe and beyond, from small-town America and sunny Caribbean islands to the Arctic Ocean and the very gates of Heaven itself. And though some of the stories are steeped in mythology, they remain grounded in universal experiences: loss of identity, leaving home, parenthood, joy, and longing.

Crisscrossing the pages of Awayland are travelers and expats, shadows and ghosts. A girl watches as her homesick mother slowly dissolves into literal mist. The mayor of a small Midwestern town offers a strange prize, for stranger reasons, to the parents of any baby born on Lenin's birthday. A chef bound for Mars begins an even more treacherous journey much closer to home. And a lonely heart searches for love online—never mind that he's a Cyclops. 

With her signature tenderness, Ramona Ausubel applies a mapmaker's eye to landscapes both real and imagined, all the while providing a keen guide to the wild, uncharted terrain of the human heart.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781594634918
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 03/05/2019
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 240
Product dimensions: 5.10(w) x 7.80(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Ramona Ausubel is the author of the novels Sons and Daughters of Ease and Plenty and No One Is Here Except All of Us, winner of the PEN Center USA Fiction Award and the VCU Cabell First Novelist Award, and finalist for the New York Public Library's Young Lions Fiction Award. She is also the author of the story collection A Guide to Being Born, and has been published in The New Yorker, One Story, The Paris Review Daily, and Best American Fantasy.

Read an Excerpt

You Can Find Love Now

You are lonely, but you don't have to be. You have so many great qualities! Just think of all the single ladies out there who are waiting to hear from you. Whether you are looking for lasting love or just a little fun, this is the only guide to online dating you'll ever need. Within the hour, you'll be on your way to eternal happiness!

Let's get started. When creating your username keep in mind that it should be concise and easy to remember. Make it personal. If you're a dancer, maybe try hipdancer21.

Find me at cyclops15. Cyclops 1 through 14 were taken.

Now choose a tagline that will attract the woman you want. Secret: do what no one else is doing.

I'm eight feet tall and I have one giant eye.

What are your interests? Be honest but enticing.

I hand-sew my own shoes using a needle made from the fang of a wolf. I sleep hot. I want nothing more than a sheet on my bed, even in winter, even in a cave.

Know who your target is. Where does she live? What does she look like? What hobbies does she have?

I like fat girls, old girls, tall girls, tired girls. Girls who lack adequate clothing, girls whose best idea for getting my attention is to send a photo of themselves holding suggestive Popsicles, their fists covered in red melt. Girls in wheelchairs, girls who work professionally at the Renaissance Faire.

You could choose other men: men who like to think about feet, men who have thick back hair, men whose greatest pride is the time they flew to a nearby nation and tried to deplete its stores of alcohol and slept on the beach one night-wasn't that so fun?-and when they woke up everything had been stolen or lost and they had to walk back to the pastel-yellow hotel naked in the early heat of another day in paradise. Everyone has had good times. Everyone has a picture of himself in front of a pinkening sunset with a glass of white wine. Choose them if you want to. Choose me if you want someone to hold you above his head in the moonlight, bite your wrist until the first rust comes out.

Tell the ladies a little more about yourself! What's your own unique story?

The first generation of Cyclopes were forgers. The next generation, my generation, was a band of thuggish shepherds living in the grasslands of Sicily. We trapped so-called heroes in our caves, we bit into the warm butter of a human leg, but the only one who got famous for it was my brother. We still live under volcanoes, hacking at iron, trying to revive the old tradition. I left home-too hot, too old-and live in Washington state. I like the fog, I like the rain. My volcano is more famous than any of my brothers' volcanoes. I never hear from them. They're not on email.

I teach online English classes, not to get paid but because I like to feel smarter than someone else. I teach all the classic books, except The Odyssey.

My photos are taken in profile. Maybe there's time to get braver, to embrace my own unique beauty. I subscribe to the magazines that tell me we are all beautiful, if only we can learn to tap into our potential; I am me and no one else is me, and that is a miracle. I am a miracle.

The downside: my mother has been dead for some hundreds of years, so you'll never meet her. The upside: my father is the god of the sea, so we can guarantee good weather on our honeymoon cruise. He's shitty at love, my dad. He smells like an overcleaned wound, and he won't quit working. Every day and every night somewhere in one of the world's oceans my father is striking the surface of the abyss with swords of fire.

Do you smoke? Do you drink? How often do you exercise? Do you support charities that help animals? With an unexpected bonus would you (a) donate to a cause you really believe in? (b) save half and spend the rest? (c) celebrate with your friends and margaritas?

If you want me to set a trap, I'll set a trap. A first date picking blueberries in the whitest, cleanest sunlight, tin pails. I'll bring sandwiches and chilled Chardonnay and tell you that we are already the good people we wanted to become. Maybe you'll be generous and keep up the conversation all afternoon. Prettykaren98 was generous. Prettykaren98 looked into my eye when we chatted online and laughed at my jokes. But she never answered my messages after our date even though her status was still marked Single.

Don't mention your previous relationship history! Leave your emotional baggage packed and in the closet. You are on the market because you are awesome!

Sorry. Let's try that again. My actual perfect day? Descending belowground early, full of milk and blood and meat, to forge iron. There is no such thing as day or night in the volcano, and any sense of time comes from watching the metal change shape. From ore to spear. From ore to trident. From ore to thunderbolt. If I am strong that day, the mountains will shake with the strike of my hammer, the heat of my flame.

I can't ski. I should be better at basketball than I am. I don't eat vegetables. But my eye is blue, and it's pale and it's beautiful.

My vision is good, though not great, but understand this: I will never again visit an ophthalmologist or an optometrist or anyone else who claims to be an expert of my organ. I do not fit in the chair, and I wish I could forget lying on my back on the floor of that darkened room while a small man climbed onto my chest with that sharp point of light. I'm not sorry for what I did to him. Now he can see for himself what it's like to have one eye.

You have almost finished creating a magnetic online-dating profile that will attract more women than you ever thought possible! What else do you want the ladies to know? Remember: be yourself!

I do remember the old feeling sometimes. A maiden washes up on my island, tailed or otherwise. The cave is sweating and there are mineral stalks growing from the ceiling. I have no idea what time it is, ever. All my wrist and ankle shackles are homemade, struck from iron I myself dug from the earth. The maidens were not as beautiful as the stories tell you-their hair was salt-stringy and their faces were pruned. Too long in seawater can unmake any loveliness. Yet I meant to love them. I meant to tend to their wounds. When I pounded the shackles with my hammer, the person I imagined chaining was my father. I imagined slipping the cuffs around his watery arms. Not to hurt him, but to keep him. But my father never offered himself up on my rocky beach. I'd see his big hand out there sometimes, swilling the surface of the sea, but he never came close. Maybe he was the one who threw the maidens to me, his dear son, his wifeless boy, wanting an heir.

I will not shackle your slender wrists to the cold walls or gnaw your nails down to the quick with my remaining teeth. I will not leave you hungry while I eat a roast goat at your feet. I've dealt with those issues. Imagine the inverse: I have the softest mattress in the world, made of the combed fur of fawns; choose me and you'll be choosing warm oil on your hands and cold water in your glass, meat on your plate from a lamb that suckled on my pinkie when it was first born.

If I came to your house tonight, where would I find you? The living room? The kitchen? Waiting at the door? I'll call you Aphrodite and smell the sea in your hair and shuck oysters for you from the depths. I'll tell you that I've never seen a real goddess until now. Come with me and be adored, deep below the earth. While you sleep, I will strike a huge sheet of metal until the shape of your body comes into relief. You never have to take me to meet your friends; you never have to take me anywhere. You never even have to see me in the light.

Your grandmother will tell you that all the good men are gone, but then here I am, and I'm ready for you.

Fresh Water from the Sea

The woman was weeks away from the end. Maybe even days away.

The phone calls at first were difficult to understand. "You shouldn't worry about this, but I'm getting thinner," she said to her daughter, but instead of the note of excitement the girl expected, the woman sounded lost. "There's less of me." The girl imagined an old woman, her spine collapsing in on itself, giving in to gravity.

"Shrinking?" she asked.

"I'm losing myself," the mother tried. The girl thought of her mother sitting on the floor of her apartment, the expensive rug covered in the puzzle pieces of her body. "It's not like that," the woman had explained. "It's like I'm vanishing. Like I am a thick fog, burning off."

The girl flew across the world: LAX, JFK, then across the Atlantic, across the Mediterranean to Beirut. The mother answered the door. She was slightly wispy. Where she had once been a precise oil painting, now she was a watercolor. "It's good of you to come." She looked the girl up and down and the girl knew her mother was disappointed to see that the girl still looked the way she always had. "Any boyfriends?"

"No boyfriends." The girl tried to smile, tried to keep the old joke alive.

Reluctantly, the woman hugged her and the girl thought, My goodness, has she always had all of those bones?

The mother sat down on the couch in front of the huge windows, looking out at the city and the sea beyond. She patted the spot next to her. "You see it, too, right?" She put her palm up. The girl nodded. It was just the very edges of her mother that were foggy. The girl reached out and held her mother's hand, which felt like it was coated in sea foam. "Good. I'm not going crazy," the woman said.

They sat there quietly. For two days, since her mother had first called, the girl had tried to imagine what she would look like. She had tried to prepare herself for the worst. The words "My mother is vanishing" had been like a loose piece of metal rattling around the cage of her brain. She had felt a little bit of electricity shoot through her system, a jig of hopefulness. Maybe we will actually say something real to each other, she thought. Now, she was wordless. "It's good to see you," the girl said. She stood at the edge, just where she always had.

From her suitcase she removed a jar of peanut butter, a box of cereal bars, oatmeal, pinto beans and a loaf of whole wheat bread. "A little bit of America."

The girl thought she could see a wisp of her mother disappear, right then. "I'm sure it's just . . . something," she said, trying to stop it. The mother, misty, smiled at her daughter.

Out the window, they could see the tops of buildings, the air-conditioning units and heating tubes and collections of wires. The minaret from the mosque craned its neck. Below, café people were sitting with their legs crossed at the ankle and their faces up to the sun. This part of the city had been crumbled in the last war and was built back all at once, the center of the city turned into an overcheerful mall. Plaza and clock tower, cobbled streets radiating out with shops.

"It looks just like California," the girl said. She had taken a class on the American Dream in which the students wrote papers about the exporting of culture.

"At least it's intact," her mother said. She gestured to the other window through which a big hotel stood, its walls yawning with holes, the railings on the balconies mangled. It was so quiet, that bombed-out hotel. How strange, the girl thought, that only the visual evidence of a war is recorded.

Beyond the city, the sea was endless.

The rest of the afternoon, the girl and her mother did what people do: went on in spite of what had changed. They chatted a circle around the outskirts of their lives, they ate something when they got hungry. By the time they went to bed, the woman's blurry edges had become just another fact of the world, a stray cat that, once let in, had made itself at home.

in the morning, the girl and her mother packed up for the doctorÕs appointment, put on decent-looking clothes. The girl did not say that her mother was a little hazier than she had been the day before. She did not say that, when she came close to her mother, the temperature changed, as if the woman was her own weather system.

The doctor refused to look the mother in the eye or smile, as if doing so would break his calm. He asked a lot of questions that seemed like a way of avoiding what else he had to say. He wanted to know whether she'd been sleeping, and how about the chills, had she had any? And whether her snot, which she reported having a little of, was green or yellow.

"Clear," she told him.

He said, "That's great," with conviction that surprised even him. "I mean," he fumbled, "that's good."

The girl raised her eyebrows and nodded. "Her eyes are fine, too," she said, "and everything's shipshape with her toenails."

"We'll run some blood tests," he said, and they all knew that he meant This is a new way to get there, but the end will be the same. The girl stood up and left the room. She went into the sterile-smelling bathroom and sat down on the toilet and kicked the wall once, hard. It clanked. There was a rubber mark on the wall from the black sole of her sneaker. She opened the little window where the pee samples were supposed to go. It was empty at the moment. She could see, through plastic curtains, technicians adjusting dials on the machines. They appeared as if underwater, breathing miraculously, collecting and testing out the life around them. Determining the lengths of time everyone had left on this alien land. She wanted to ask for forgiveness or clemency. Her mother hardly knew her at all, and she suspected the reverse was also true. She had always expected some midlife understanding, a trip to India in which they wore a lot of loose white clothing, finally revealed their true selves, said all those unsayables. On one of the little paper pee cups, in the marker that was meant to be used to write your name on the sample, the girl scrawled: Give us more time, please. As much as you can spare.

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