Thursday, October 12, 2017

"Cody's Story" (1987)

Story by Robert Olmstead not available online.

An obvious source for Robert Olmstead's story of two loggers eking out a living in a long-term partnership in 20th-century American wilderness is Jack London. Most American story writers with nature themes inevitably hark to him, at least since London's time. And this story is set well after London's time. G.R. and Cody not only make use of a horse (Buck, a pretty good character in his own right), but also "a 100-horsepower fully articulated John Deere skidder equipped with grapple, winch, and arch." Whatever that is—I only know it isn't 19th-century. G.R. and Cody know the wilderness and the lumber market well enough to get by. They have been partners for years, if not decades. Now G.R. is starting to slip a little in the area of mental function. He forgets conversations and brings the same things up over and over. He's responsible for the horse, who is slipping into old age and will likely need to be dealt with soon. At the time of the action of the story, such as it is—it's more brooding backstory overall—it's winter, which means special precautions for the frigid conditions at night. They live in a horse trailer with the horse, who is also a significant source of heat. There's no mention of what it smells like. G.R. questions the precautions several times, which both annoys and alarms Cody. After the two have spent the morning cleaning and maintaining their chainsaws, Cody goes outside to hunt deer in the afternoon. He falls asleep and has a long nap. It's almost nightfall when he wakes. He slips on an icy surface and has a strange, dreamlike accident, from which he is fortunate to suffer no harm. Back at the horse trailer, G.R. again wants to know why they are taking the precautions. Cody doesn't mention the accident. In the night they wake and it is so cold they decide to huddle, sleeping next to one another for the warmth, something they do when needed and are comfortable with. It's a tender and lonesome moment when G.R. raises questions once again that he has asked multiple times. Cody's story, the title, seems to be a realization that all things pass and fall away. Everything is temporary, including their business, Buck the horse, and his long-time partner, sharing body heat with him to make it through a bad night.

The Vintage Book of Contemporary American Short Stories, ed. Tobias Wolff

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