DIS MEM BER by Joyce Carol Oates (Salon/Kevin Carlin/Mysterious Press)

Read an excerpt from Joyce Carol Oates' new story collection "Dis Mem Ber"

The masterful writer is back with a chilling new set of short stories

Joyce Carol Oates
June 25, 2017 12:30PM (UTC)
Excerpted from "DIS MEM BER" by Joyce Carol Oates © 2017 by The Ontario Review, Inc. “DIS MEM BER” originally appeared in Boulevard (2016). Reprinted with the permission of the publisher, The Mysterious Press, an imprint of Grove Atlantic, Inc. All rights reserved.

At the bridge Rowan Billiet takes hold of my wrist to lead me down the steep path to the creek. His forefinger and thumb gripping my wrist hard enough to leave a red mark.

It is just a playful gesture, I am thinking. The way my grandfather runs his callused fingers through my hair and I am not supposed to flinch or whimper or cry for that will hurt Grandpa’s feelings.


Beneath the bridge there is a large dark rectangular shadow in the water that is the shadow of the bridge rippling like something alive and breathing. The shallow water near shore is heaped with rocks but also concrete rubble and rusted iron rods and it is here that Rowan pulls me toward to see something that looks at first like slow-bobbing clothes or rags or something woolly. Unless I shut my eyes (as Rowan would not allow me to do) there is nowhere else to look.

See? That’s something ain’t it, lookit the size of that.

Rowan makes a thin whistling sound. I don’t understand what I am seeing. My eyes blink and swell with moisture. And the strong smell of it, that comes up in hot wafts like heat from a vent in the floor, that makes me feel faint.

Rowan is saying he figures it got dumped upstream. There is an excitement in Rowan’s voice I have not heard before.

And floated down here and got caught in the rocks. Really something ain’t it?

D’you know what “eks-sang-u-ated” is? Blood all gone.


That’s what happened here. Like a pig upside down, or a chicken. Bled out.

See how it’s in parts? See, I can push them. The head is loose from the body. . . . I did that.

Just for the hell of it, fuckin around with my stained-steel Jap knife.

Christ sake! Nobody’s gonna hurt you.


It’s a fancy knife. Cost twelve dollars. Stained-steel made in Japan.

Want to hold it? No?

Like this, sawed through the “vert-e-bray.”

Know what “vert-e-bray” is, Jill-y? Like, your spine.

Here’s your spine, see? Up here too. Your neck is like your spine too.


Rowan’s fingers at the nape of my neck. At first a tickling sensation. Then he squeezes my neck allowing me to know that he can squeeze a lot harder if he wishes.

He is excited explaining: Like them “out-top-sies” they do in a morgue. Y’know — “out-top-sie” with a human corpse you see in movies.

“Dis-mem-ber” — like cutting up a chicken, but with a special knife.


See, I brought my camera. I been taking some cool pictures.

But I couldn’t take any picture of myself.

Here’s my camera, Jill-y, now you take some of me right here on this rock.

Know how it works? This button you press.

Look through the little lens. Then you press the button. Don’t pretend to be dumb, you’re a fuckin smart little girl.


Everybody says.

Hey Jesus! — watch out. (The camera almost slips from my fingers into the creek, I am shaking so.)

Rowan snatches the camera from me, cursing.

Then seeing the sick scared look in my face, and laughing. Seeing how I am gagging, and choking. Coughing up a thin frothy-white liquid onto the front of my shirt as Rowan Billiet shakes his head and laughs.


Joyce Carol Oates

Joyce Carol Oates is the author of many novels, including, most recently, "Starr Bright Will Be With You Soon."

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