In my quest to read a quality short story every day, I came across “Leo’s Bomb,” by Sheldon Costa in the Georgia Review. You can read it here. It is a story about an introverted artist that makes his living off of doing portraits for tourists in the street. While he is trying to capture the essence of a pet chihuahua a customer is holding on her lap, a bomb goes off. The rest of the story is the artist trying to deal with the aftermath by not dealing with it all.
I enjoy writing that makes reading effortless. When I have to re-read the same page three times because my mind keeps wandering off, reading becomes a chore. Many of the Pushcart Prize short stories I’ve read lately are tedious reads like that, but I push on to the end because they are supposed to be worth it, like getting in those 5 servings of vegetables everyday. Sometimes they are, but more often they aren’t worth the struggle.
“Leo’s Bomb” is an effortless read. When I first came across it, I thought, “oh great” another story about a terrorist attack, but Costa gives it a fresh angle. It instantly pulls you in and doesn’t let go until the end. It is a poignant existential look at the human condition and the need for connection. Costa writes his characters beautifully without pretention. Even the peripheral characters fill up the page, although they are given only a few paragraphs. The themes rise naturally yet still surprise with clarity. The ending resonates and satisfies. One of my favorites so far. I hope you will give it a read. Here is one of my favorite parts.
Leo has always enjoyed sketching strangers. Back in art school, when his peers were experimenting with materials—compiling abstract pieces out of their childhood toys or building environmental screeds from plastic bottlecaps dragged out of birds’ intestines—he had spent hours drawing nothing but portraits. It was an excuse to stare at people for as long as he liked, to occupy space with another person without the exhausting responsibility of carrying on a conversation.
When he arced his pencil over paper, capturing the swoop and curve of a stranger’s jawbones in as few lines as possible, it felt less like drawing and more like sculpting. Less about adding things and more about taking them away—removing the impediments that stood between him and the person’s real face. Looking past the sagging jowls, the eyes pickled by sleepless nights and caffeine, the teeth yellowed by refined sugars, down to whatever was hiding behind the face. He liked to imagine that each person he drew had an essential self that only he could see, a shimmering and delicate thing curled up within.