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NY Tyrant: Sheila Heti's Brother's Nuts

I met Sheila Heti one night at her reading series "Trampoline Hall." This was when we were working on the first issue of the Tyrant and she was gracious enough to give us a story for it. Which really is gracious.

I met Sheila Heti one night at her reading series "Trampoline Hall." This was when we were working on the first issue of the Tyrant and she was gracious enough to give us a story for it. Which really is gracious. When you don't actually have a magazine to show a writer what you're about, soliciting stories for it is not exactly easy.But Sheila was cool. I first learned about her through her first collection, The Middle Stories (McSweeneys). If you haven't read this thing, get it. The pieces are short but damn they say a lot in that shortness. In my opinion, it's the best thing McSweeney's has ever done. Lorin Stein (the big cheese at FSG) picked up on SHeila quick and put out her novella Ticknor soon after. In the past couple of weeks I've given you weird and weirder. Today I am shooting for pleasant and true. Enjoy. This story first appeared in Tyrant 4 (The Lady Tyrant).

Squirrel Attacks Man with Nuts

My brother had been away all term in Halifax, reading bits of great books. It was his first time away from home so we all were relieved when he finished his exams and was heading back to Toronto with a friend from class who we imagined might be a girlfriend, and when he arrived he told us that he planned to stay in New York over the break. He felt like walking around, and though everyone was made sad by this, it made sense. My mother bought him a return ticket and I was staying at my dad’s, and my dad and I were going to take him to the bus station the next day, but instead my mom took him because she had bought him the ticket and she wanted to be more a part of the present. So as soon as we were saying hello we were saying goodbye. It was all right; we weren’t planning on celebrating much anyway. My grandmother’s arthritis was pretty bad and none of us were in the mood for soup. It was a winter without snow. I didn’t see him leave because I was out with my boyfriend, but when I got home later that night my dad told me he was gone. The bus had left at ten that evening, which meant he would arrive in the morning in New York and not have to miss a single day of walking around and watching the shoppers. My dad and I warmed up some lasagne and ate it, though it was late and my father had already eaten dinner earlier that night, and my mother called while we were still eating to tell us that she had put him on the bus, and I put down the phone and told this to my dad. Then I watched him chat on the internet to a woman in Thunder Bay and then I went to bed. I was in school, too. I had decided to do nothing over the break, just to see a few friends, maybe, if they called me up. I wasn’t in the mood for reading good books and was mostly feeling tired. In the morning, I found my dad still at the computer. I went to sit down beside him and he told me, “Lenny’s home.” When Lenny came down for breakfast around noon in his t-shirt and jeans with no socks or shoes on, and after he had poured himself some cereal, he explained to me that he had turned around last night in Buffalo and had come up the front steps of the house at seven-thirty in the morning and had found our father on the computer. Lenny said he hadn’t really wanted to go anyway. He thought he wanted to, but then when mom bought him the ticket he knew it was a mistake. He felt guilty for having wasted her money. I told him he just should have gone to New York and had a good holiday there, that it would have been fun. But he said he was depressed and did not feel like walking around New York, all alone with his thoughts. He said he would rather be at home in Toronto and he figured he would maybe get a job over the break. I told him I thought it was a bad idea, but he wasn’t listening, and instead he said, “I’ve got a riddle for you.” He said, “At the girls’ residence, taped onto a wall in the hallway before I left, was a headline from The Globe and Mail that said: Squirrel Attacks Man With Nuts. How many ways can this be interpreted? What are the ways?” Though I wasn’t in the mood, I told him the ways I could think of. “I’ve considered this,” he said. “There’s more. The man is holding nuts and the squirrel attacks him. The squirrel has its own testicles and he attacks the man with his testicles. Or, the most outrageous, the squirrel attacks the man with the man’s testicles.” “It’s not much of riddle,” I said. “It’s pretty good,” he replied. “You don’t have to tell me, I know.” Later that afternoon my mom came over and asked to see Lenny. She was bewildered. She said, “You didn’t even make it to New York?” My brother went out into the street in his jacket and a hat, with no socks on, and I watched him talking to one of our neighbours. Then I went back to sitting in front of the TV. My mom and dad were talking about Lenny’s personality, and about what would be the repercussions of such a personality. My mom was still in her coat and it was half an hour since she had arrived, and still she was carrying her purse. Then Lenny came inside. “I have a job,” he said. A neighbour who owned an electronics company was looking for someone to be an assistant to the installer. “What’s being installed is of little importance,” Lenny told us. “And I’m not an assistant installer. I’m an assistant to the installer. That’s key.” My mom said he should not spend his holidays working. We all wished he could have gone to New York and been happy there, walking around alone with his thoughts.