40 YEARS OF CUTBANK: "On the Death of Isaac Babel"

From CutBank 75 On the Death of Isaac Babel

Lubyanka Prison, Moscow January 26, 1940

Nothing was particularly funny about it. He thought he of all people should be able to find something. Of the two guards escorting him to his place against the wall he noticed only the smaller one to his right, his waggy beard, his breath like rotten pears. Of the guard on his left, he noted only that he was more ape than man. His own feet though, he did notice them. How one was very cold and one seemed to be on fire. Must have something to do with the shackles. None of this approached what he might have noticed if this was happening to someone else and not him. Is this comic?

All I am is a noticer. I dream the smallest dreams.

The guard on his left's wife. Her small dry hands. He'll rub them tonight, the crannies of a small dry hand. This ape. She'll ask: And today? And he'll say, Nothing much. A little Jew in glasses, some others.



Chicago born Peter Orner’s fiction and non-fiction has appeared in the New York Times, the Atlantic Monthly, Granta, The Paris Review, McSweeney’s, The Southern Review, The Forward, The San Francisco Chronicle, and Ploughshares. Stories have been anthologized in Best American Stories and twice won a Pushcart Prize. Orner was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship (2006), as well as the two-year Lannan Foundation Literary Fellowship (2007-2008). A film version of one of Orner’s stories, “The Raft” with a screenplay by Orner and the film’s director, Rob Jones, is currently in production and stars Ed Asner.