A Quiet Afternoon in the Museum of Torture

By Catherine Czerkawska


These three short stories by Catherine Czerkawska are exquisite -- like ‘The Butterfly Bowl’ of the second story.


It’s a plain little Chinese bowl, handed down from Debbie’s great-great-grandfather.  It’s nothing special to look at but, when filled with water, the bowl seems suddenly filled with butterflies.  Showier articles from Great-Great-Grandad’s collection had been lost or sold, but this modest little bowl had been treasured for its secret.

          Debbie, a lecturer, falls heavily for a playwright, and finds herself in that awkward bind of loving the man but thinking his work mediocre.  She hides her true judgement, and praises and reassures him; but the more she reassures, the more reassurance he craves, exhausting her.  One day, to cheer him, she fills the plain little bowl with water.  ‘Nice gimmick,’ he says; but is much more enthusiastic when he has the bowl valued…
          I won’t tell you any more.
          The author says that the stories are about love – and they are, but not in the usual way.  ‘The Butterfly Bowl’ deepens and widens the more you think about it.  It’s about love, about cost and value, about the deceptiveness of appearance, about memory and family.  It’s about the need to keep the central, hidden core of yourself free, about the way love threatens that freedom, about talent and creativity.  All held in the image of a little white bowl.  I've read long novels that didn't hold as much as that little bowl.  Hell, I've written long novels that don't hold as much.
          The title story is about torture, but not the kind of torture to which the museum is dedicated.  The central characters are a couple with a newborn baby: and suddenly their world is full of terror and threat. ‘I didn’t know it would hurt this much,’ says the mother, and she isn’t talking about the birth.
          Three stories about love – but not the happy-ever-after, romantic idea of love.  These stories are for adults: they're about love in the real world – plain, perhaps, as a white china bowl: painful as thumb-screws.
          Love hurts.