Happy Sunday, Story366!
Today I got back from my Scout campout and am chilling out, watching the Cubs, and just getting ready for the week. After the campout, we actually took a day trip to Joplin to hike in a specific nature center we like, then explore an eatery downtown. As it turns out, just about everything in downtown Joplin is closed on Sundays, so we ended up getting burgers and dogs at a food truck. It was pretty good, all we really expected from a food truck, from burgers and dogs.
Anyway, back to the Scout trip. This campout was the climbing campout, and as I detailed in my prewritten post from yesterday, I didn’t climb. I hadn’t thought it was a good idea, and when I saw people actually doing it up close, my mind was not changed. I’d never seen people rock climb before, except in movies, and you don’t realize how high these people go until you’re standing below them. You probably know more about rock climbing than I do, but if you don’t, they take these ropes, string them through rings that are bolted into the rock, and then attach them to the climber. Then the climber goes for it, putting their fingers and toes into wedges, making their way up the natural ladder to the top. The “beginner” climb was a full fifty feet in the air, and I watched Scouts aged 10 through 16 scale that climb like spider monkeys. It’s pretty amazing to watch, on top of terrifying.
But that’s just the way up; the real trick is getting down. This is when the climber has to put full faith into this rope, attached to this harness. While it’s posible to climb down the way you came up, step by step, you’re supposed to repel down. This means you put all your weight—and your life—into this rope and the harness that’s wrapped around your hips and thighs. You can then bounce down, gliding along the rope, hitting your feet on the rock, or you can walk down, backwards, your body perpendicular with the wall, a sideways Lionel Richie.
Of course, nobody fell from our group, or any group—this would be a very different post if they had. Climbers, in general, believe in their gear. The instructor who put up the rings and ropes and taught our guys to climb probably said, “I trust this gear with my life” twenty times over the course of the day, and the Scouts (and other parents) who climbed had no problem doing the same. A few Scouts couldn’t make that commitment, though—they got up to the top, but when it was time to lean back and just let the gear take them down, they froze. They waited until the instructor guy got up there and walked them down, step by step. I felt for these boys, up there, fifty feet above a solid rock floor, asked to do something that we are not supposed to do: let go from way up high. No shame in that, guys. You went up there, and now you’re down. Mission accomplished.
Yesterday, I listed reasons why I wasn’t going to climb. Now that I’ve seen it, I can add another: I don’t think I would have been able to get down. I saw a hundred people climb all kinds of rocks yesterday, up to over a hundred feet. Their gear was never in question. They looked like they were having a good time. But if I was up ten stories, and they told me to trust a skinny little rope to carry big-ol’ me to safety, I’d freeze, too. In fact, I’d still be up there.
Upon my return, I read from Syrian author Osama Alomar‘s 2017 collection of shorts and microfictions, The Teeth of the Comb and Other Stories, out from New Directions Publishing and translated from the Arabic by C.J. Collins with the author. I’d not read any of Alomar’s work before today, and it was a real treat getting to know this author.
The Teeth of the Comb is a book of flash fiction and includes well over a hundred stories. In fact, the book is put together unlike any other book I’ve reviewed here, let alone read before. There is no table of contents, and whoever designed this book didn’t hit “Insert: Page Break” at the end of each story—when one story is over, a line is skipped, then we get the next title of the story in bold, then another line skip, then story. Repeat over a hundred times. The stories just run into each other, and for some patches of micros, which are often only a sentence long, you might find four or five pieces on a single page. To organize everything, there’s an index of titles at the end, just in case you’re looking for something. So, not the standard colophon, for sure, but that’s okay—I liked reading these one after another, wolfing them down with no white space to fill me up.
I picked the title story to focus on here, as I like it, but also so I’ll get more hits when someone’s looking up Alomar and his book online (which is usually why I try to pick the title story, fyi …). “The Teeth of the Comb” is the penultimate story in the collection (tracked down by that handy index), and is a good story. Not to give too much away—this one’s only four sentences long—but Alomar here personifies some teeth on a comb, and, well, that carries the first half of the story. What happens when the human owner of said comb picks up said comb and attempts to use it, post-personification? That you’ll have to find out for yourself.
“The Teeth of the Comb” does something that Alomar does often in this book, and that’s give life and personality and consciousness to something that normally wouldn’t have it. “Quicksand” and “The Feather and the Wind” and “Tears Without a Flame” all do this, too, giving perspective and sentience to quicksand, a feather, and a candle, respectively, all in one-sentences stories. That sets a whimsical tone for the book—for those stories, anyway—and gets me thinking to how I sometimes think, like when I wonder if the other steak knives from our wood block are jealous because I keep using the one all the way to the right first. It’s that kind of thinking that makes me feel akin to Alomar, to those particular stories he presents here.
Alomar has other tricks, though, that keep all these stories running. Some stories are turns of phrases, like “Swamp,” which uses swamp imagery and such to form a pun.
The first story, “Journey of Life,” feels like a bible parable, as it follow a character as they walk through life, looking for answers for their various questions; Alomar can get philosophical, not too mention spiritual, with the best of them.
“Arrest” is a magical story that reads like a fable (as a lot of magically real stories do), this one about a king who’s tired of the thunder and lightning, so he has it studied, then arrested. This means no more rain for his people’s crops or livestock, meaning everything dies, people turning to cannibalism at their eleventh hour. Still, the king is pretty stoked he took care of that lightning proplem.
As you might guess, The Teeth of the Comb is a creative, witty book, a lot of fun to read, maybe the most fun I’ve had covering a book in quite some time. Osama Alomar gives insight to the insightless, sets you to thinking on the unthinkable, and … combs the uncombable? In any case, this book is a real pleasure, be it short story, fiction, witty barbs, or just cleverly put-together words.