Read The Wonders of the Invisible World Online

Authors: David Gates

Tags: #Fiction, #Short Stories (Single Author), #Literary

The Wonders of the Invisible World

BOOK: The Wonders of the Invisible World
Acclaim for


“Gates can be very funny … but mostly he is concerned with creating characters you haven’t met in fiction before, getting just right the words they use to disengagedly engage their women and their friends and even their inner selves.”

The New York Times Book Review

“Reminiscent of Kundera.… Reading these stories is, by way of a compliment, like working out in preparation for a crisis.”

Los Angeles Times

“Gates is onto a way of making fiction that matters.”

San Francisco Chronicle

The Wonders of the Invisible World
collects marvelously true-to-life tales of characters undone.”

Vanity Fair

“As one reads these painful, mesmerizing stories, one observes an intelligent and sensitive author.”

The San Diego Union-Tribune

“Gates is like John Updike without God.”


“Gates writes with savage wit and a deep sense of the human urge to survive.”

The Hartford Courant

“Gates’s talents are undeniable: His sentences zing, his details are well chosen, and his characters are disturbingly true to life.”

The Washington Times

“Gates packs his stories with lively details and nimbly inhabits a wide range of voices.”

Time Out New York



A staff writer for
David Gates lives in Manhattan and in Granville, New York. These stories have been published in
Esquire, GQ, Grand Street, Ploughshares, TriQuarterly, The Best American Short Stories,
The O. Henry Prize Stories.

Also by


Preston Falls


Copyright © 1999 by David Gates

All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. Published in the United States by Vintage Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, and simultaneously in Canada by Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto. Originally published in hardcover in the United States by Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, in 1999.

Some of these stories first appeared, in slightly different form, in the following publications: “The Bad Thing” in
“Beating” and “The Wonders of the Invisible World” in
“The Mail Lady” in
Grand Street;
“A Wronged Husband” in
“The Intruder” in
A portion of the story “The Vigil” first appeared in the on-line magazine
Atlantic Unbound.

Vintage is a registered trademark and Vintage Contemporaries and colophon are trademarks of Random House, Inc.

The Library of Congress has cataloged the Knopf edition as follows: Gates, David, [date]
The wonders of the invisible world : stories / by David Gates. — 1st ed.
p. cm.
1. United States—Social life and customs—20th century—Fiction.
I. Title.
PS3557.A87W6 1999
813’54—dc21 99-18497

eISBN: 978-0-307-76590-1

Author photograph © Marion Ettlinger


My thanks to Gary Fisketjon, for his care, energy, taste and judgment.

Also to Will Blythe, Candy Gianetti, Reg Gibbons, Rob Grover, Sloan Harris, Jeff Jackson, Elizabeth Kaye, Tom Mallon, Helen Rogan, Michele Scarff and Denise Shannon.

To Amanda Urban.

To Cathleen McGuigan and my other editors at

To the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation for its generous support.

And to Susan and Kate.

For he said unto him,
Come out of the man, thou unclean spirit.
And he asked him, What is thy name?
And he answered, saying,
My name is Legion: for we are many.

—Mark 5:8–9


e has never hit me, and only once or twice in our two years has he raised his voice in anger. Even in bed Steven is gentle. To a fault. Why, then, am I wary of him? Obvious. Well, so if you’re wary of him, what are you doing here? Also obvious. For one thing, I have his baby inside me.

Ye gods,
baby. I think of it that way because he and Marilyn never had children, and what other chance is he going to get? But it’s not his baby, of course, nor mine. The baby is its own baby. I think of it as a girl, because the idea of a tiny man inside me is, is, is what? Repulsive, I was going to say, though sometimes I think,
A little man, yes, squeezed out into the world to do my will.
But at other times I pray,
Dear God, if You’ve made it a boy, go back, in Your time-scrunching omnipotence, and re-do the instant of its conception.
Not forgetting to add,
If it be Thy will.
You know, the kind of thing God does all the time, going back and changing what His will is.

So I’m trying to take it as it comes; even that seems wildly ambitious. Two days ago, after Steven had finished working and I’d come to a stopping place, we climbed the hill up behind Carl’s house until we reached the power line. Steven put on his skis, I put on the snowshoes he bought me. I’m not to ski anymore, until after. Another thing I’m not to do is address Carl Porter as Carl; Steven sees it as a class thing. Slipping along by
my side, he praised my walking in the snowshoes. “Big deal,” I said. “You put one foot in front of the other.” “Ah, but that,” he said, raising his index finger, “is ofttimes the hardest lesson of all.” Big joke with Steven is to intone fake profundities, raising his index finger to make sure you see he’s kidding. I thought,
Right, I’m learning that. Being married to you.

Oh, I know, bad. You should be reaching out to him.

Been tried, honey.

Like our first night in this house. We’d both learned—not from each other; we’ve both been around the block—that the big moments you plan never work, so we decided against the French restaurant two towns over with the forty-dollar prix fixe dinner, and went to the diner on 28. We took a booth, ordered pancakes and sausage and sat waiting for the modest magic by which the everyday becomes precious. Steven flipped page after page of jukebox selections, fingering the little metal tabs at the bottom. The country songs in green. Then he flipped back through in the other direction.

“Nothing,” he said. “Zip. Unless you want to hear fucking Randy Travis.”

By this I understood that I was not to want to hear Randy Travis.

I put a hand on his. “Something’s worrying you,” I said.

“Don’t,” he said, pulling his hand out from under. I saw tears come up and fill his eyes.

“What?” I said. “Talk to me.”

He shook his head. “You’ve heard the same shit forty-eight times,” he said. “Maybe the pills will help.”

Forty-eight was one of his numbers I hadn’t heard before. Usually they were round and overwhelming, like fifty thousand
(I’ve done fifty thousand of these fucking children’s books)
ten million
(Ten million fucking fax machines at fucking J&R, and I get the one that craps out).
Afterward I thought about it. Forty-eight was how old he’d be in June. When his first child would be born. Oh, but Steven was such a
man; could it possibly be that simple? One thing that might help: to get my contempt under control. Since he doesn’t seem to be doing much about his. Now
would be a mood drug I could get behind.

We moved up here for the beauty and the quiet, and so we’d each have a workroom. It’s all so postindustrial: no need anymore to be bodily on Lexington Avenue from ten to six. Up here I’d be able to take my job lightly and my work seriously—as seriously as Steven takes his. But needless to say.

Yesterday we had to go to Oneonta for groceries. It had started snowing in the morning; when we got back, it was still coming down and we couldn’t get up the driveway. He insisted on trying to shovel—after making three trips all the way up to the house with the stuff, which he wouldn’t let me help with. I told him forget it, come inside, we’ll drink tea and get snowed in. Thinking, actually, of some Rémy in the tea—what he’s taking is one of the new anything-goes antidepressants—and stretching out by the pellet stove, our feet together under the shiny maroon comforter. And so on. We’ll get Carl to plow us out in the morning, I said. He said I treated the locals like old family retainers. Which was so uncalled-for when for once I was trying to take some care of him. He was already pale and sweating, and his chest was heaving. I went into the bathroom and cried, then washed my face. When he came in, looking even worse, he found me sipping tea (with Rémy) and reading
Or, rather, staring at the pages and feeling put-upon because now that I’d cut myself out of the loop, I would never design anything but monthly newsletters and annual reports.
I’m sure he thought, and clomped upstairs.

When it got dark, I opened a can of soup. Then I stopped bothering with the tea and drank myself pretty nearly to sleep. Just managed to get up the stairs. Then woke up, of course, at two in the morning, mouth dry, head killing me. I went to the bathroom to pee and get a drink of water and some aspirin, and heard the music still going in Steven’s workroom—his damn Louis Armstrong—and saw a line of golden light along the bottom of his door. Inside was the Kingdom of Art, from which I’d been exiled. I crept back to bed like a dirty animal.

Sneaking around a dark house at night: just like old times.

When I was twenty-two, my boyfriend and I shared a big old farmhouse in Rhode Island with his best friend and the best friend’s girlfriend, and once a week or so I would leave Dalton in bed and make my way down the creaky stairs to find Tod waiting on the sofa. He would be drunk, having got Kathleen drunk enough to put her to sleep, and not gentle with me; I would have put Dalton to sleep by fucking him as sweetly as I knew how. More sweetly than I know how anymore. But saving my orgasm for Tod. Knowing it was of no value to him, except as proof that he could make me do it when Dalton couldn’t. Though of course Dalton could. And I didn’t always save it.

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