A Keeper of Things

Collected Short Stories

by Michael Grant Smith

Available: TBA


A Keeper of Things is a collection of short stories about alienation, dogs, compulsion, sleep, yearning, and household chores.


Excerpted stories from A Keeper of Things:



Don’t eat so much. You don’t have to keep going until everything is gone. The Clean Plate Club is not looking for new members. You are already full, so why do you continue eating? You taste nothing.

Review your hardware-store shopping list. Arrange the items in two categories: things that must be fixed before they break something else, and parts for projects you will never start. Stop choosing tools based on whether you think they will outlast your span of years. Do not synthesize memories and likely scenarios as you did last time.

Pet the dog’s head. It’s such a small thing, but means so much to him. Look at his cow eyes. He sees into your soul—or rather, he would if you had one. Say a few kind words to him. Something with the nice rising pitch at the end. It will make him very happy, costs you nothing, and is a reasonable replacement for that absent soul.

Gaze into the bathroom mirror. Use a finger to etch your name on the steamy glass. Write at least ten other names: people you have not yet met, places you may visit someday. Shave your whiskers. Do it again to save time tomorrow. Part your hair the opposite way, so that you view yourself as others do. Use clippers to take it all down to the scalp. Now you can be anyone.

Make some decisions, the kind that move your life forward. How can you know if it is in a positive direction? Staying in one place is the same as losing ground. If you remain here, you will perish. This won’t happen suddenly; it takes about three decades or so.

Go to bed. Lie there in suspension beneath the sheets. Space exists between you and the Egyptian cotton above, yet you leave no imprint below. Arise after six sleepless hours and reenter your waking dream. Walk away from the bed. It is as if you were never there.



I built a house all around this day. I inspected the lumber piled in the lean-to, pulled stacks of boards from the moist blackness, planed and trimmed quarter-sawn planks, and checked decades-old Southern yellow pine for squareness and warp. No less than one hundred spiders perished on account of my actions, and for that I’m sorry.

My only desire was to contain the day, but to do that all else must be excluded. Keep the day safe from long shadows, the early mist that crawls from the pond, the strawberry and orange sherbet sun as it climbs above or falls below the horizon’s shoulder. Partition the day from night.

There were no voices except my own, so I sang while I labored. I’ll confess I’ve never sounded better: ballads and cowboy songs, chants in languages I could not have known, pop hits and fragments of lullabies. My ears tickled and my throat nearly split into bloody strings. The music made my hands stronger and eyes straighter.

When the thunderstorm began, I didn’t seek refuge inside the house. I threw my tools deep into the curtain of water, and then ran to find them and bring them back. Lightning helped me recover my framing square and hand plane in the sudden afternoon darkness. Rain poured into my face and quenched my thirst—I became a savage, dancing in the splash and spray. I don’t remember if I was naked, but it would have been right. There was no shame outside of the house I built.

At twilight, the storm cleared out and the sky tattered into scraps. Stars crept in like assassins, but I watched over my house and it was safe enough. I walked all night as a sentinel. Sometimes I slept while I paced. I uttered a prayer in my sleep, but upon awakening in the gloom, the words were wrong. I had spoken of my doubts and trials—that which could not sustain the house. I walked back to sleep and explored new dreams of redemption.

First, I heard the birds. The air changed as color bled back into the world. The house still stood, but in the latest light it was mean and small as if constructed by vagrants or hobos—a nest of splinters and chips collected in a flood drain. I could not recall the day that dwelt within. I doubted its residency.

As the sun pierced the tree line’s grille and insects shifted their chatter, I used hammer, crowbar, saw, and wedge to break what I had built for that forgotten day. I did not yet sing, but whistled a little through my teeth. The air lifted and fell with my tools, and I became the patron, the ascetic, the priest of this new day. I would build a house in which it could reside, and I will always keep this day.

Illustration: Black & White Dog, by Kathleen L. Smith