Page 1

The 2012

S

New outherner Literary Edition

Published by New Southerner Louisville, KY


2

New Southerner Literary Edition 2012


The 2012

New

S outherner

L I T E R A RY PR I Z E S

JAMES BAKER HALL MEMORIAL PRIZE IN POETRY FINALISTS Winner: “Studies in Extinction” by Amy Tudor Honorable Mention: “Judy Bonds Appalachian Gandhi” by Nancy Bruner Wilson “Mother” by Mary Anne Reese “Soldiering On” by Jane Otto “Richmond, 1958” by David Cooper

NONFICTION FINALISTS Winner: “Smoked” by Richard Hague Honorable Mention: “How to Climb an Airboat Cage” by Kerri Dieffenwierth “These are Not My Hands” by Christina Lovin “How to Play the Washboard, in Five Easy Steps” by Erin Fitzgerald “The Illuandas” by Elizabeth Glass

FICTION FINALISTS Winner: “Everybody Knows This is Nowhere” by Eric Cipriani Honorable Mention: “The Half-Life of Home” by Dale Neal “You’re Not Thinking of Me” by Alan Naslund “Creme Brulee” by Chris Helvey “Compound Fracture” by Elizabeth Glass

3


On the cover: “Near Buffalo Run” by Trisha Lyons Ansert, pastel on pastelbord. For more info on the artist, go to www.patricialyons.blogspot.com. Used with permission; all rights reserved by the artist .

S

The New outherner Literary Edition

Winners

6

JAMES BAKER HALL MEMORIAL PRIZE IN POETRY Studies in Extinction By Amy Tudor Final Judge: Jane Gentry

8

NONFICTION PRIZE Smoked By Richard Hague Final Judge: Karen Salyer McElmurray

14

FICTION PRIZE Everybody Knows This is Nowhere By Eric Cipriani Final Judge: Silas House

CHIEF EDITOR/DESIGNER

Bobbi Buchanan CONTRIBUTING EDITORS

Silas House Michael Jackman D. Cameron Lawrence Christopher Martin Jill Tidman Cecilia Woloch THE NEW SOUTHERNER LITERARY EDITION is published annually online at www.newsoutherner. com and in print. Copyright © 2012 by New Southerner. All rights reserved. NEW SOUTHERNER (ISSN 1934-5879) is published online at www.newsoutherner. com. Copyright © 2012 by New Southerner. All rights reserved. For advertising information, go to www.newsoutherner.com and click ADVERTISE or call (502) 239-3438. Requests for permissions and reprints should be made in cover: From Editor Bobbi writingOn tothe New Southerner, Buchanan’s family album; her father, 375 Wood Valley Lane, Harry WolochorJr.by(back right), Louisville, KY 40299 e-mailing bobbibuchanan@ picnicking with young cousins in newsoutherner.com. Pittsburgh.

4

New Southerner Literary Edition 2012

Honorable Mentions

23

POETRY Judy Bonds Appalachian Gandhi By Nancy Bruner Wilson

27

NONFICTION How to Climb An Airboat Cage By Kerri Dieffenwierth

33

FICTION The Half-Life of Home By Dale Neal

Finalists

40

POETRY Mother By Mary Anne Reese

41

Soldiering On By Jane Otto

42

Richmond, 1958 By David Cooper


43

NONFICTION These are Not My Hands By Christina Lovin

50

How to Play the Washboard, in Five Easy Steps By Erin Fitzgerald

53

The Illuandas By Elizabeth Glass

58

FICTION You’re Not Thinking of Me By Alan Naslund

66

Creme Brulee By Chris Helvey

74

Compound Fracture By Elizabeth Glass

S

The New outherner Literary Contest

Categories • James Baker Hall Memorial Prize in Poetry • Fiction • Nonfiction

$600 in Prizes Semifinalists

83

POETRY Pruning the Rubber Tree By Leigh Anne Hornfeldt

84

Some Men from Kentucky (for Ron Whitehead) By Jinn Fuller

86

Cordawood By Susan Ishmael-Poulos

88

2010 By Mary Anne Reese

89

The Provocation of Massah By Chad Gilpin

90

NONFICTION A Community at its Best By Brian Lowry

95

The Art of Hanging Laundry By Zola Troutman Noble

A $200 prize and publication in The New Southerner Literary Edition awarded in each category.

How to Enter Submissions and entry fees accepted online. Go to newsoutherner.com for detailed instructions. • Entry Fee: $10 • Multiple entries accepted • Postmark deadline: Sept. 30 Entries must be the author’s original, unpublished work. Entries and entry fees made payable to Roberta Buchanan should be mailed to: New Southerner Literary Contest, 375 Wood Valley Lane, Louisville, KY 40299.

5


JAMES BAKER HALL MEMORIAL PRIZE IN POETRY WINNER Judge: Jane Gentry, former Kentucky Poet Laureate and author of Portrait of the Artist as a White Pig and A Garden in Kentucky “This poem, set in the Natural History Museum in London, meditates on a giant butterfly, shattered by the gunshot of its captor. Firmly grounded in the phenomenal world, the poem’s images put the reader in the museum, with its shelves and drawers full of specimens of extinct species. As the poem’s vision broadens, it takes us to a living beach marked by a live creature’s ephemeral, unlikely fin tracks about to be washed away by the ‘too-warm tide’ that threatens us all with extinction. Even though the poet wants us to understand this idea, still the poem’s imagery is its substance: its sensory content so vividly rendered that we feel the ideas as bodily sensation, saying much more than words, in their strictly signifying function, can say.”

Studies in Extinction Amy Tudor London, Natural History Museum

Pressed in the pages of a King James Bible, a Queen Alexandra’s Birdwing, its great green and black wings torn from buckshot. Oh new and glorious bird!, Alfred Meek wrote from the 1907 expedition, Papua New Guinea (land of savages, bone jewelry, long pig). Bathing in a lagoon, he’d seen the butterfly high above him, rose from the water, grabbed his pistol and ran after it, nude, through the forest like a wild man. When it settled against a tree, too high to reach, Meek fired, the body falling as the pellets turned the soft wings to lace.

6

New Southerner Literary Edition 2012


White-gloved, you can open the frail pages— the whole book tagged Endangered— see the Birdwing crushed as though it had fallen from some great height to land there, dried and nearly forgotten, a sentimental rose, an afterthought. When you’re done, touch the bank of drawers, each one labeled with Victorian script. Pull them open to reveal the rows of impossible birds, blue and red and gold, their wings wrapped tight with twine, their eyes gone or gone white or open and bright. Marvel! Boxes of specked and empty eggs, stiff paper cubes filled with nests, jars stacked with frog paratypes asleep in formaldehyde, the immense white basin of a sea turtle’s shell, pocked and dry and tagged: Giganticus? Charles Island (extinct). Friends, we must learn to walk softly. We do not see what we see for what it is: Paradise tucked between the pages of Paradise, Torn iridescent flowers rising in brittle fields. Wide fin tracks fanned up a too-bright beachhead, A dark, too-warm tide pulling in.

Amy Tudor holds a doctorate in humanities and a master of fine arts in creative writing. Currently she teaches English and interdisciplinary courses in the Galileo Community at Bellarmine University in Louisville.

7


NONFICTION PRIZE WINNER Judge: Karen Salyer McElmurray, author of Surrendered Child: A Birth Mother’s Journey and the novels Motel of the Stars and Strange Birds in the Tree of Heaven “This essay does a very good job of covering time—childhood time, adult time, writing time. As the author says when [he] describes smoking for the first time, ‘this kid of memory ... was he an angel or a devil?’ The essay moves gracefully between memory—kid, adult, and the writer-self who has, but cannot quite, give up the dream that smoking evoked: ‘writing and smoking ... hand in hand ... pen and ink, milk and honey, sleeping and dreaming, writing and smoking.’ I very much like how this essay does not remain on the level of mere reiteration of events, the story of ‘giving up a habit.’ Instead, it makes smoking a metaphor for, as the writer later describes, ‘a kind of ritualized ecstasy ...’”

Smoked Richard Hague

A

bout 20 years ago, I stopped smoking. Because smoking and I had a long and productive relationship, and because it most certainly was one of my most earnest occupations, during which I sometimes inhaled 40 or more Winstons or Vantages or Newports a day, I missed it terribly. It took four years, actually, to completely quit, though there were long stretches of abstinence all through them. But I hadn’t really kicked it until after those four years, when I no longer allowed myself nor in fact even desired a celebratory smoke on St. Paddy’s Day or on the summer solstice. (One of the head-tricks I tried to play on myself was to ritualize smoking, making it, in effect, part of a high holy day, like censing the altar at Easter or Christmas High Mass. Oddly enough, it worked, to a degree. I was able to forgive myself the brief backslides and could count them off, even, as occasions of amnesty and grace.) Besides, smoking had served as a great excuse for writing for years. If I went up to my study, or if, after I put the boys to bed on Wednesday nights when Pam was teaching, I went out to the kitchen and turned off the overhead, so that there was only an inviting golden pool of light cast by the lamp on the table to write in, I would light up the first of the chain, and get focused. The writing and the smoking went hand-in-hand: pen and ink, milk and honey, sleeping and dreaming, writing and smoking. In order to try to break this connection (and it is a breaking, and it is painful) I started to write on the computer. The actual taking up of pen in hand and poising before the blank screen was agonizing; a deep anxiety 8

New Southerner Literary Edition 2012


arose in me, because I knew I would want to smoke, smoke a lot—and that I would not, I had promised myself, I would not smoke. For more than 20 years, that connection had existed, reinforced hundreds of thousands of times, in the company of my most beloved thoughts and most intimate friends and lovers, and there I was, trying to overcome it literally overnight. Faulkner said that the raw materials of the writer’s trade were food, paper, alcohol and tobacco. I was trying to throw away half of them at a shot. Still, I tried. I started what I thought might be a fairly long and leisurely writing project detailing my withdrawal. I gave it the corny working title of “Cold Turkey” and each day for a week or 10 days, I sat down sometime during the day and wrote at it. Some of what I wrote was good—that is, it taught me something I hadn’t known about smoking, and about writing—and, as is always the case when the writing’s going well—something about a couple of other topics I hadn’t even suspected I’d been thinking about. Gender roles, for example. And a kid I hadn’t thought of for over 30 years. Though this piece of writing, done in part as therapy during a period of withdrawal, was interesting to me, I somehow lost it. It is gone, flushed down the black hole of the computer I wrote it on, sent back into photons or sticky electrons or reverse quanta or whatever the words on a computer screen become when they go away, and though the kid is mostly gone with it, too, there remains a kind of ghost-image of him, still standing, smiling, in a haze of smoke and dreamwood another life ago. We hid our cigarettes—whole flattened packs of L&Ms and Pall Malls, under rocks in the woods out past Mr. Smith’s garage where you could hear the radio playing faintly in the distance all afternoon and evening. Our fathers had cleared a 30-yard run in the second-growth locusts and built an archery buttress for us with a half dozen bales of hay; they had thought to improve us in some way by encouraging us to master the bow and arrow. Actually, we went there mostly to sneak cigarettes. After burning one, we’d hide the packs under slabs of damp sandstone where snakes and pillbugs lurked, and fire off a few shots with our little bows and then have another cigarette. Smoking in those days was a kind of ritualized ecstasy, always communal. Before our serious addiction, we never smoked alone, and our experience with tobacco was shaped by all sorts of conventions. Never three on a match, for example. It was a rule inherited from our fathers, young bucks not long back from World War II, who had learned that an open light visible long enough for more than two quick ignitions was enough for a sniper to draw a bead on. At least that’s how the folklore went. So despite our smoking in an obscure woods on the outskirts of Steubenville, Ohio, far from Nazis and Japs, as our fathers still called them, we didn’t linger. The third guy always flicked his own Zippo open with the trademark metallic click, and lit his own. The first deep drag was filled with an edgy excitement. You knew that within seconds the buzz would come upon you, starting in your head. You grew dizzy first, then a kind of thrill ran out into your arms and legs. You’d feel the woods sway and rock, and you’d spread your feet apart, to steady yourself. Then followed the tightening of concentration, the pleasant oral rhythm of inhale/ 9


exhale, inhale, exhale and the camaraderie of the other guys, smoking. The world was good. I vomited horribly after my first cigarette. It too was smoked in the woods, outside Wheeling, West Virginia, at a nature camp I’d been given a scholarship to by the Steubenville Audubon Club. I was 11 or 12 and weighed, probably, 80 pounds. Some delirious miscreant named Jackie Diamond or something like that had flashed a pack of Pall Malls before dinner and whispered, “Behind the cabin, 15 minutes.” I found him there, leaning suavely against a big beech tree and French inhaling like a Parisian pimp. He lit me one off his own, and I closed my eyes and dragged on it. I gagged, coughed, wheezed and finally, after forcing three or four more inhalations, fell to the ground in a sick green swoon. I got up on all fours and heaved my guts out there on the frowning earth. So this kid of memory—this kid who may have died years ago, or who may still be going at it in Wheeling or Bridgeport or Woodsfield or somewhere, smoking and hacking and coughing—was he an angel or a devil? So many of the good times I had in college were times when smoking was present. My freshman year, I would go out on Friday night with a fresh pack of Winstons or Vantages or whatever brand I was smoking at the time, and drink draft beer by the mug at places like, well, the Mug Club, or at Shipley’s, or The Family Owl. Everybody smoked in those days; bars had a gray haze and stank like old house fires. Smoking was a way of meeting girls; you watched until some lovely pulled one from her cute leather bag, and then you stepped forward suavely, offering a light. Smoking was a way of punctuating an argument; Tennyson was never better than when, frowning over the curl of smoke burning your eyes from the cigarette

Some delirious

miscreant named

Jackie Diamond

or something like

that had flashed a

pack of Pall Malls before dinner and

whispered, “Behind

the cabin, 15

minutes.” I found

him there, leaning suavely against a

big beech tree and

French inhaling like a Parisian pimp.

10

New Southerner Literary Edition 2012


clamped in the side of your mouth, you made one final point, your finger on the bonanza passage in the text. Just standing around on campus, a smoke in your mouth, maybe getting photographed for the candids that appeared in the school paper, was good stuff and built your reputation as a rake and intellectual. Those earlier smokes in the woods by the archery range still brought with them a rush of dizziness and nausea, but as our tolerance increased, the queasiness subsided and we could smoke two or three in an afternoon and suffer no apparent effects. Keeping our smokes under stones in the woods had, of course, some negative consequences. If it rained, for example, they got wet. The printing on the paper inside the cellophane would blur and smear. The sharp red capitals L and M would slowly disintegrate into blobs and splotches, while the cigarettes inside would dampen and go moldy. Once so ruined, a cigarette, though completely dried out, still tasted like a grass door mat when you lit it. But getting smokes was risky, and we used every one, no matter how spoiled. We bought them at Mr. Howard’s, a front parlor store in a house one street over from ours on Lincoln Heights. Until our neighbor put up a fence, I could cut through his yard and be at Mr. Howard’s in 10 seconds. The most remarkable thing about Mr. Howard was that he had no ears. I have no idea what happened to them, but their lack seemed to set off in him other lacks as well: he hardly ever spoke, for example. You went in and ordered what your mother had told you to get, and Mr. Howard silently padded around the room (it was really the front room of his house, rigged with shelves reaching to the ceiling, and ill-lit as a basement) and got your order together in the dark silence. Then (this was just about the best of the strange details to me) he’d write your order down in the receipt book with the stub of pencil—it was always the same pencil, a yellow one, no more than three inches long, which he kept in his apron pocket—licking the point of the pencil in between each item. No, not exactly—what he did was he inserted the entire end of the pencil into his mouth, as if sucking on it briefly, as if to draw out its fullest graphitic darkness, then withdrew it and made his dark-damp entry. It was marvelously strange, and every time I gaped. One summer as an adult, while I was in one of my many withdrawal periods, I sneaked out to the space between the garage and the fence to my compost pile, where I would smoke. I had noticed months before, in some weird drift of thinking while I slouched smokily next to it, how my compost pile was exactly the size of a grave, and that if I died, my body would fit exactly into it, and could be covered with vines and clippings from my gardens. I thought of myself as compost, and entertained the notion of the ultimate recycling—my body composted, then spread out over the gardens, to feed to beans and peppers and tomatoes that my surviving wife and children would eat. But no such weird, guilt-shadowed reverie occurred that afternoon. As I dipped into my pocket for a match, I looked up to see a piece of notebook paper taped to the garage window. NO SMKING I knew immediately that it was in my younger son Brendan’s hand. A 11


few weeks before, already indoctrinated by the helter-skelter uncritical but headlong drug program of the public schools, in which nicotine and heroin were lumped together as equally heinous addictives, he had nearly done me in. At Mass one Sunday, after the pastor had invited anyone who had a special prayer to speak up, Brendan had turned to Pam and whispered loudly, “Should we ask Father to help Dad get off drugs?” For a time as an adult, I occasionally lived alone in the woods. I rolled my own cigarettes, in an attempt to cut down the chain-smoking. I figured if I had to take all the time and trouble to manufacture each one, I’d indulge myself less. I bought papers and a bag of Bugler’s tobacco at Whitacre store, and set out to become a cowboy of smoking. It didn’t last long; the intensity of my addiction and the long habit of instant gratification doomed this attempt. Soon I was buying packs of smokes and again, unconsciously pulling them out of my shirt pocket and lighting up. So it was back to the smoke-filled bars. There’s still something about the phrase that sets off a warm thrill in me: the eye-burning staleness and stench of such places is difficult for me now, but then, the very smell of cigarettes and beer and perfume was so warmly entangling that to remember it overwhelms me with nostalgia. I smoked and drank, drank and smoked, and in between shot pool and yearned for the wearers of those perfumes. And isn’t it strange, o yes, looking back on it now, to see myself in shorts and a tie-dyed T-shirt, out in the middle of Clear Fork, fishing, shooting a little spinner around some likely bass-attracting structure near the bank, a cigarette hanging from my mouth? It’s all a picture of rural health and activity, of a kind of oneness with nature, except for that cancer stick sending out its treacherous fairy of smoke, that foreshadowing, that reminder of breath and ghost. There were girlfriends who smoked, and that was always interesting. At the same time some part of me idolized them, another part of me, lighting their cigarettes, smelling the stale smoke in their hair, watching them, late at night perhaps, after all the carry-outs closed, grubbing up a butt from an ashtray and firing it up, and squinting in the acrid smoke—that part of me wondered what it was we were doing, us beautiful young people, dragging our bodies through addiction and abuse and late hours and all. What did we know? What did we care? And then I am almost 50 years old; it has been more than a decade since I quit smoking, nearly my whole lifetime since my father quit. Yet here he lies, almost naked, shivering, in a hospital bed in Columbus, Ohio, the pneumonia he suffers from nearly killing him. Was the damage of his youth inescapable? Had those service-issue Lucky Strikes or Camels or whatever they were he so enjoyed while fishing for hammerhead sharks in Hawaii during the War hurt him in some immensely slow way that took 45 years to catch up with him, but catch up it did? And his survival of this bout of pneumonia, only to succumb on Christmas Eve, l996, to the next—was this a result of smoking damage sustained even in the midst of bliss? The last glimpse I had of my father was his body-bagged corpse on a gurney being wheeled out the front door of his and my mother’s condominium off Hague Avenue in Columbus—he who had borne me on 12

New Southerner Literary Edition 2012


his shoulders when I was a child, who had sat quietly with me in the woods as I suffered after a divorce, he who must have bought hundreds of packs of cigarettes at Mr. Howard’s. It took my mother an even longer time to die of respiratory failure—it seemed like a long time, there in the room with her and my sister—witnessing her death-struggle, although struggle seems the wrong word for what was a mercifully unconscious suffering, and a kind of extended, slow, running-down to breathlessness. How surreal it seemed. Only a week before she had been fine, planning a trip with my sister, getting ready for her birthday. We all sent flowers, and that may well have been the beginning of her end. She had allergies, exacerbated by her life time of smoking (even during chemotherapy for her cancer she sneaked them). Weakened, perhaps overcome by an abundance of fresh pollen, she succumbed. Years ago, when I was still chain-smoking as I worked, I wrote a poem about the ubiquity of smoke in my life. Cigarette smoke, the smoke of brush fires across the abandoned strip mine we played ball next to, the smoke of the coal fires that burned still in most furnaces in old Steubenville, the fuliginous outpourings of the steel mills, even the explosive and cinder-filled exhalations of the puffing bellies—our name for the steam locomotives that pounded through town when I was a boy. Filled with such clouds and miasmas, the poem ends, “Smoke’s trouble was my trouble./It still is.” And it is still, these deaths and these many years later, these recent environmental backsteps later, these times of “An Inconvenient Truth” later—still true. Only it’s all of us who are in trouble now, not just me.

Richard Hague’s During The Recent Extinctions: New & Selected Poems 1984-2012 is just out from Dos Madres Press, and his Learning How: Stories, Yarns & Tales appeared from Bottom Dog Press in 2011. He has recent work in Still: The Journal and Pine Mountain Sand & Gravel.

13


FICTION PRIZE WINNER Judge: Silas House, author of the novels Clay’s Quilt, A Parchment of Leaves, The Coal Tattoo, Eli the Good and Same Sun Here “This slow boil of a short story has a vivid sense of place, a memorable lead character, a timely storyline, and most of all, is told in evenly measured, economical and lyrical sentences. A whole world is created in the space of 14 pages and although it is one of both spiritual and financial depression, the author still makes it one the reader enjoys existing within because of this fine writing.”

Everybody Knows This is Nowhere Eric Cipriani

T

he air was grey in the valley, dense like frosted glass. From inside his truck Earl thought it looked as if there might be fires hidden in the hilltops, spreading smoke over the lowlands along the river. He pictured the trailers in Blue Ridge Manor reduced to cinders and scraps of aluminum, the elementary school out in Cadelle turned to an empty, blackened brick husk. He almost wished it were so. Then there’d be something to talk about and a reason to have spaghetti dinners and clothing drives to prove to one another what good people lived here, what a wonderful community they had, how fortunate they all were to be here in Carter County of all places. But it was just November. He guided his Chevy through the two-lane’s gentle curves, past the WIC office and the new compound of trailers and stacks of black gas pipes waiting to be laid, past the dog kennels where he smelled shit and barley. He came around the bend where the road passed over Croke’s Creek, and the power plant’s smokestacks—fading, distant and hazy behind the fog— came into view across the river, with the hills’ silhouette and the blank sky at their back, their emissions unseen in the grey air. It seemed that the fog had consumed everything, choked the county into nonexistence. Earl drove carefully, watching for the deer and fallen rocks that sometimes inhabited the road. He parked at Lou’s Café, which doubled as a depot for the one taxi in the county, and stepped out of the truck. These days he had little reason to leave his apartment, so he made it a point to at least drink his morning coffee in 14

New Southerner Literary Edition 2012


the presence of other humans. He limped slightly, his right leg still hurting and stiff with scar tissue. Inside, the four wood-laminate tables were empty, but Carl Trunk sat at the counter, where someone had placed a cornucopia of shellacked gourds for the holiday. Carl was hunched over a mug, like he hoped the steam rising from it might tighten up the skin on his face. His right hand lay on the counter, pinky and ring fingers gone, lost after he got his glove caught in a coal conveyor at the power plant. The pink, scarred flesh reminded Earl of raw bacon, just as the flesh on his own calf and shin did. He sat a seat away from Carl. Marcy waddled out from the back where the blackjack machines were. She held a cigarette below her waist, as if keeping it away from her face between drags might slow her emphysema. She said, “What can I get you, Earl?” He asked for coffee. After she brought it to him, she went to the back and put his money in a machine. He bent over the cup, taking a few sips before growing tired of the silence and thinking maybe he should say something to Carl, but he stayed quiet. Carl hadn’t once looked up from his mug, so Earl figured he didn’t want to do any talking. Marcy came out to refill them once, one arm bent and holding the carafe, the other straight and holding a cigarette, then retreated to the machines. Staring at the wall, Earl imagined the grey air seeping through the cracks around the door, blocking everything out, blinding them all. Again, he imagined it not as fog or mist, but smoke. There was a loud rumbling outside. Earl saw through the window a convoy of fracking trucks chugging by. He tried to distinguish their exhaust from the thick fog but could tell no difference. The trucks barreled up and down Route 6 with such authority that it was easy to forget that the road had even existed before they arrived, that it hadn’t been constructed just for them. A few years ago it was the kennel trucks with their white, slitted trailers that everyone remarked on, as if they expected a dog track twenty miles north to lift their drowning heads above the water. Before the racetracks and table games, it was the gambling machines. Before that there was work. Earl laughed to himself. Carl peered over at him. “Too bad we ain’t got ourselves some of that gas money,” he said. “Yea, poor us,” Earl said back. He took his last cigarette out from behind his ear, lit it. Carl let out a little puff of air, like a grunt, but not quite. “Ain’t sure what a leg’s worth, but two fingers don’t fetch what you’d expect.” He set his cup down firmly on the counter. “High supply, I guess.” Earl kept his eyes on his empty cup, ashamed at the contempt he had heard in his voice. He thought he should ask Carl about his son. It was the polite thing to do, and most men liked talking about their sons, especially when they were smart like Earl knew Carl’s was. He decided it was the easiest way to be friendly. “How’s that boy a yours?” he asked. “Saw his name in the paper.” He spoke so loudly he scared himself. Carl shifted his weight on the stool. “You’d know about as good as me,” he said. “How’s that?” “Ain’t seen him much.” 15


“Oh.” They sat for awhile staring at their cups and not talking. Poor us, Earl thought. Not even when he failed to survive the mill’s second round of layoffs, when the guys who took naps on the clock kept their jobs because they’d been there longer and the union contract said they had to stay, not even then had he fallen into the trap of feeling sorry for himself. But maybe that was because the coating plant had still been rolling out coils and needed guys with experience. The closest he had ever come to feeling self-pity was after his leg inexplicably slipped and shot itself into that tub of hot zinc. All he could remember before waking up in the hospital was pulling his leg out and thinking for a moment that he could see his reflection in the eight-hundred degree metal that coated his leg. Then someone sprayed it with a hose and he passed out. Not even then did he quite feel sorry for himself. At least he didn’t think so. The phone rang in the back and Marcy started yelling. Earl and Carl looked at each other the way tired men do when something distracts them from sitting and being tired and drinking whatever it is they like to drink, though neither had worked in months and were still searching for something to help explain their tiredness. If they had jobs then at least they’d have something to point to and say, That’s it, that’s the problem right there. Marcy stormed out, red-faced and serious. Earl was disappointed she wasn’t holding the coffee pot, just her cigarette. “Either a you boys ever drive a taxi?” she said. They shook their heads. “Ray’s fat ass just called and said he can’t make it.” She puffed on the cigarette then shot her arm down. “It’s the night before Thanksgiving and the whole town’s gonna be drunked up and I’m actually gonna need someone. They know there’s gonna be checkpoints. People ain’t so dumb as you’d think anymore.” Carl raised his right hand and pointed to where his fingers weren’t. “You still got the important ones and you drove your ass here.” He shrugged. “I’m goin to Poke’s and gettin drunked up.” “I’ll do it,” Earl said. Marcy eyed him as if he was an item in an auction. “Least someone in this hellhole’s still got a little work ethic. Come back around eight.”

T

he sky was black, charred, Earl thought. A few snowflakes fluttered like moths around the streetlamp lighting the four parking spaces in front of the building. He parked next to the Crown Victoria that said CARTER COUNTY TAXI CO. in peeling green letters. Inside, the waitress—the young drunks who came in at 3 a.m. called her Shovel Face—sat by the register chewing gum with her legs crossed. “Special’s meatloaf tonight. Seat yourself,” she said out of the side of her mouth. “I’m driving the taxi.” “You can still seat yourself.” Earl took the spot at the counter where he had been in the morning. Marcy came in and congratulated him for being on time. He drank coffee until the first call came at quarter to nine. Marcy tossed him the keys and said, “Blue Ridge, better get gone. You know how they can be up there.” 16

New Southerner Literary Edition 2012


There were still stray snowflakes drifting down to the earth, like the ash that would occasionally blow over from the coke plant when Earl was a child. He drove up Wallace Pike and the further up the hill he went, the more snow there was and the more he felt his heart beating in his chest and the more his hands jittered the wheel and he told himself it was just too much coffee, but he knew he could drink a pot by himself and lay still as a dead man. There was something about the night, the fog that had disappeared during the day and come back after dusk, thick and impenetrable. The road appeared distant. He picked up a man he knew or maybe had seen around and only thought he knew because all the man said was, “Poke’s,” when he got in the taxi. Earl’s face could have been hidden in the dark as the road was becoming hidden by fog and snow, but he could see the face of the man in the back in the rearview mirror, and it was familiar in the way that most in town were: eyes set deep in the skull, cheeks soft and drooping—seeming at once fat and underfed, hopeful for something just out of reach, yet already broken. Earl hoped he didn’t look that way. He drove back down the hill. When the car passed the sewage treatment plant, the man in the back mumbled something about everything smelling like shit and Earl silently agreed. Even the tap water had a tang of old eggs and feet. This had never been a place that smelled pretty, but the stink used to mean something was getting built. It meant money, making a living. Now the county no longer had an excuse to smell of shit and sulfur. Earl unlocked the doors after the man paid. He didn’t tip, and Earl was surprised to find that this angered him in a way he had never felt before. He hoped to see the man again, maybe pick him up later tonight, so he could smack him in the jaw. The next guy did recognize him. It was Ned Eastham, who made Earl suspicious because he was always too happy to see everyone. After he got in the cab, he leaned forward, holding on to the passenger’s headrest, and gawked at Earl. “Pearson? How the hell are you?” he asked, his eyes wide and eager. “Gettin by,” Earl said.

This had never

been a place that

smelled pretty, but the stink used to

mean something

was getting built. It meant money,

making a living. Now the county

no longer had an

excuse to smell of shit and sulfur.

17


“I hear that.” Ned sat back, buckled his seatbelt. “So why are you doing driving this thing around?” “Just tryin to be useful. Marcy needed help.” “That’s just great, Earl. You know, it’s a shame what they did to you—how’s that leg of yours?” Earl turned the radio on, but none of the stations came in. He didn’t like that Ned and a lot of others knew why he never went back to the plant after his accident. There were some who assumed he just couldn’t stomach returning, and he was fine with that. He’d rather have them think him a coward than another victim of some pieces of paper drawn up by a faceless board of directors, someone to pray for and pity. “I said how’s your leg, Earl?” Ned yelled over the radio. Earl pressed the gas and felt his new skin resist, stretch and tauten when he accelerated, loosen when he let up. “It’s got a foot on one end and a hip on the other,” he said. “Ha! What a trooper!” The windshield steamed up, and Earl fiddled with the knobs on the dash. The defroster came on. It cleared the glass, made the air in the car too warm. He went back up the pike to take Paul DiCiccio from the Paradise Lounge to Poke’s in town. When Paul didn’t ask Earl how he was or why he was driving the taxi, but if he had seen the evening news, he felt relieved and calm. “Haven’t gotten around to installing my TV in here yet, Paul,” he said, his voice lighter than it had been all night. “Some shit-wit kid broke into Chip’s old produce store,” Paul said, “only the kid didn’t know Chip’d been livin there since he lost the house.” “Yeah? What happened?” Paul hiccupped and burped into his hand. “Chip shot the damn boy. He’s in a damn coma.” The pounding above Earl’s ribcage deepened and his muscles quaked. They were almost at the bottom of the hill when he finally mumbled, “What a shame, a real shame that is.” “Man’s got a right to protect his home,” Paul said. He gave Earl a ten and told him to keep the change. Back at Lou’s the waitress was sitting where she had been earlier and Marcy was leaning on the counter chewing gum. She turned to Earl and said, “You hear about Chip’s store?” “Just did,” he said. “I know that boy’s mom. The county wanted him sent away months ago for breakin into places, but she raised all kinds a hell.” The waitress picked at her fingernails. “Should’ve just let him go, then at least he wouldn’t be a vegetable.” Earl said, “I don’t think that’s too much of our business.” “It was on the news, wasn’t it?” “They put lots of things on the news, don’t make it your business.” He thought of how many more people recognized his name after the accident. “Can I bum a cigarette, Marcy?” “You can get yourself a pack on your next trip.” 18

New Southerner Literary Edition 2012


“Thanks,” Earl said. He drank more coffee and waited until he had to drive a woman to the Dollar General. She apologized over and over for having a suspended license and not being able to drive herself, her stream of sorrys reminding Earl of the endless flow of visitors—friends, family, coworkers—that he had had to endure after his accident. They were all so sorry. His first visitors in the hospital, though, were two men in suits that he didn’t know. One of them stood by the door with a leather portfolio under his arm, the other sat in the blue plastic chair next to the bed. The man that sat wore a goatee and had shiny, gelled grey hair that reminded Earl of the zinc that burnt all the skin off his leg from foot to knee. “So what’s the market price for galvanized scalps and legs?” Earl said after the man introduced himself as Ron Dryden from Human Resources. Ron scrunched his eyebrows and fidgeted in the chair. “Do you know why we’re here, Mr. Pearson?” he said. “Offer your prayers, best I can figure.” “Well, yes, but there are other matters at hand.” He sat up straighter, too straight as far as Earl could tell. “Such as?” he asked. “You understand that at the time of your accident there were still two weeks left in your new employee probationary period, the terms of which were outlined in the employee handbook which you read and signed at the start of your time with the company?” The standing man took a paper from the portfolio and brought it to Earl before going back to his post by the door. The paper was a copy of the final page of the handbook where Earl had scribbled his signature. “Yessir,” he said. “Then you know that involvement in a lost-time accident is grounds for termination.” Ron paused and breathed deeply like he was preparing to dive under water. When he opened his mouth to continue, a nurse peeked in and asked Earl how he was feeling. It bothered him that the staff seemed to be paying him special attention, poking their heads in “just to check up” only a few minutes after having left. Apparently an injury sustained on the job required extra sympathy to heal properly. He told the nurse he was fine, as he always did, and she left looking disappointed, as she and the others always did, as if he were denying them something they wanted dearly. He knew his accident had been reported on all the local news stations and maybe not as the headline, but somewhere on the front page of the papers. He couldn’t keep himself from imagining the nurses going home and telling their families whose morphine drip they put in today. It was something exciting, like a tragic accident or a high school sex scandal, which they had had to make do without for awhile. Ron appeared to have forgotten why he was there. “You were saying, Mr. Dryden,” Earl said. Ron, face pointed at the tile floor, ran his hand over the top of his head a few times, then seemed to regret it when he noticed his palm and fingers were now covered in sticky residue from the gel in his hair. Earl laughed to himself. Ron brought his face from the floor. “I’m sorry, Mr. Pearson,” he said, “but you will not be returning to the plant after your recovery.” Earl scratched his nose. “Ain’t that some shit,” he said. 19


The standing man spoke for the first time. “Do you have any questions or concerns, Mr. Pearson?” “Concerns? No, not me. I’m good. Thanks for stopping by.” Ron rose from the chair. He apologized again and wished Earl luck in his recovery. After the men left, he saw through the window the tops of the smokestacks jutting out from behind the wooded hillsides, and he wondered how much of his life had been spent staring at them. They were always there. Every time you looked west, they were what your eyes fell upon, not the oaks and poplars on the hills or the bend of the river or some high-flying bird, but them, and laying there in the hospital, he decided they weren’t as bad as everyone made them out to be, that they were beautiful in their way—tall, simple, useful. He decided he wanted to know what it was like to be burnt off into raw energy, all your poison shot up through a long, dark tunnel, so high into the air that by the time it fell to the ground it would be pure and no one would be the wiser, and he lay there thinking about fire and fuel and steel and pressed the button the nurses had given him and forgot there was no skin on his leg. Driving south, Earl looked out the passenger-side window. Through the murk, he couldn’t see the towers of concrete he knew should have been there. Everything smothered, swallowed up. He was shaky and uneasy, barely able to see the road when the headlights of a car in the opposing lane flashed his eyes, his hands gripping the wheel so tight his forearms hurt, the tires seeming to slip now and then, though the roads shouldn’t have been slick from the flurries. At midnight he got the first call for a ride home from the bar and was happy it wasn’t Carl. Because Carl would be drunk, he’d probably complain about his ex-wife and tell Earl how bad the world had done the two of them, just regular hard working guys who never did nothing to no one and deserved better. Earl decided that if he had to drive Carl, he would tell him what a leg was worth. Total loss of the limb had a value of 288 weeks of compensation at 66 and two-thirds

He decided he

wanted to know

what it was like to be burnt off into raw energy, all

your poison shot

up through a long,

dark tunnel, so

high into the air

that by the time it

fell to the ground it would be pure and

no one would be the wiser ...

20

New Southerner Literary Edition 2012


percent of your average weekly earnings for the previous year. Some lawyers, with the help of two doctors—one Earl’s, the other the insurance company’s— decided that because he would regain the ability to walk unaided, he had lost only 25 percent of a leg, which meant 72 weeks of compensation: $30,854.43. A few more calls came and he found himself eavesdropping on the conversations in the backseat. He didn’t feel bad for not minding his business because they were probably all things he would have heard eventually anyway. Johnny Littlepage stole Danny Reasnor’s car. The kid’s a fuck. He’ll be lucky if he doesn’t end up dead or a vegetable like that other dumbass. Jerry Leland, the lawyer on Schumer Street, has Hair Club hair. Rumor has it the city manager’s been using public funds to buy hookers across the river, but you didn’t hear that from me. Water smells like shit cause there’s shit in it. In the weeks immediately after he was released from the hospital, when he was stuck in a wheelchair in his apartment, friends often brought him news like this—rumors, little details about life in town. Some controversy at city council meetings about utility rates, whose son was seen with whose daughter and did they ever look so cute together. Earl sensed that they did this to try to cheer him up, or at least distract him, but he didn’t want cheered up or distracted anymore than he wanted pitied. Their gossip simply made the world outside his door seem more distant, more abstract and not his, a place he only heard stories about. A group of four guys squeezed into the back of the cab. They all looked like college except for one who was younger and obviously not 21. One of the older boys asked him what to do for blue balls and all he could come up with was put ice on them. Earl overcharged when he dropped them off. He noticed it was two in the morning. He was alone on the streets. While he sat idling, the radio spewing static and broken voices, he had the sensation in his gut of standing at the edge of a cliff, looking down into the smallness, and he realized this was the sensation of disappearing, of becoming undone and knowing it, of watching yourself evaporate while the world went on icing its blue balls and drinking its shit-water, and there was nothing he could do to stop the fading that he had only now recognized for what it was—not just a disappearance, but an erasure, not an inexplicable slip, but something planned. He hit the gas, the skidding tires screaming loud and vicious, the flesh on his leg stretched and stinging. He could’ve been taking painkillers, but the numbness disturbed him more than the pain. It left him content with the stillness of his life—living off what the state said he could have, spending his days half asleep on the couch listening to Merle Haggard. He could’ve been selling his prescriptions to high school kids, but he still wanted to believe in spaghetti dinners and clothing drives. He drove west toward the river where the water would be black and purposeful, soothing. But the phone in his pocket rang, and when he answered it, Marcy said, “One more, toots.” “Fine, okay,” Earl said, “I can take someone home.” Two more drunk men sat behind him. One of them wore a plaid scarf and the other had a diamond in his right ear. They talked about politics too loudly, and Earl wanted to turn around and scream at them, but he told himself, No, you are 21


taking them home safely because they are human goddamn beings with bones that can be broken and maybe hopeless little children that can’t tie their shoes but get good grades and love Daddy dearly and because that is what you are doing, you are taking them home. He gripped the wheel and drove slowly. The scarf brought up some protests in big cities and the earring took a deep breath like he was preparing to tell the bitter medicine truth of the world. “I understand that some people need help,” he said, “but can we just agree to use lethal force on those jackasses? Stop complaining about how shitty your life is and get a job.” The light at the intersection of 16th and the two-lane—where the old boarded up Sunoco sat across from the old boarded up Ashland—turned yellow. Earl brought his right foot down on the accelerator because he was tired and yearned for this to end. He sensed the tail-end begin to slide and he could have let off the gas and straightened the car with a tiny turn of the wheel, but instead he loosened his fingers and let the vehicle continue its course as it spun toward the right side of the road as if pushed by an invisible hand. He wanted to know if he was wrong about the bones in the backseat. In the moments before the rear passenger-side collided with an empty gas pump, Earl saw his face in the spiraling greyness that had draped itself over the valley for what seemed like his lifetime, and what he saw was not the everyone face that begged to be saved, but a face singularly his, a face that had saved itself, that knew goodness and empathy existed, but no longer expected either. The car stopped with a jolt and the dry gas pump came loose from the cement, falling to the ground. Earl heard the dull thud of skull against skull from the men in the backseat. Something like night river water dripped down their faces. Earl felt guilty for forgetting to remind them to put their seatbelts on. They screamed and called him a motherfucker and demanded his name, but he wasn’t listening. He was imagining the accident as it might have been— smoke, flames, light cutting through the dark, a beacon. But there was only the screaming no one heard. When the men yelled at him to unlock the doors, Earl said, “Get fucked. I’m taking you home.” He drove away as if nothing had happened, focused on the lines of the road.

Eric Cipriani is a graduate of West Virginia University and an MFA candidate at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in NAP, The Adroit Journal, Burner Magazine and The Susquehanna Review.

22

New Southerner Literary Edition 2012


POETRY HONORABLE MENTION

Judy Bonds Appalachian Gandhi Nancy Bruner Wilson

she came from coal black deep underground dark bituminous coal coal her essence who she was coal decades centuries of family genes dna dark black soft high sulfur bituminous coal running black deep river in her veins blood heart soul aunt daughter granddaughter mother sister spouses of brave miners year after dangerous monotonous uncompromising year went dutifully without complaint deep into mother earth’s womb risking always their lives endlessly relentlessly tirelessly working long lethal hours extracting life sustaining coal to earn an honest meager living breathing eating coal dust getting home barely safe one more thankful night blackening black covered in grime breathed drenched seeped soaked deep into lungs skin every atom cell molecule pore only whites of eyes deep sunken eyes buried eyes barely nakedly showing on hollow ever rapidly hollowing faces gaunt ghostly coal permeating everything under fingernails buried deep in ever increasingly black emphysemic lungs despite danger threats

23


bring on the threats bring them on she looked JUDY BONDS Appalachian Gandhi she looked them smack dead center straight deep in the eyes never blinking fearless spirit woman standing her ground ground of her people when you’re right there’s no backin no steppin down only fearlessly standin yer ground she came from appalachia west virginia backwoods mountain mama hard shuffle coal miner’s daughter woman holler home only home she’d ever known strong courageous knew where she came from proud no puttin up with makeshift shifty lyin pitiful puny words pretense falsehoods explanations west virginia hillbilly by damn proud to be when you mess with tried true through and through real deep blood pure hillbillies there’s no steppin down no chicken shit backslidin only fearless eyeball to eyeball truthtellin no need for shame only onward upward to where diamonds be made to where stars burn bright in deepest night high up on the appalachian hillbilly home mountains indigenous appalachian hillbilly dedicated determined proud unwavering refusing to ever bow down when you’re right by damn there’s nothin to lose no matter the odds you’ll win when you’re right you have to no way you’ll ever lose even if they whoever they be the liars greedy powermongers whoever they be if you’re by damn right even if they kill ya and kill ya they might if you’re right by damn you’re forever eternally right you have to win never abandon mountaintops Appalachia my our home sweet home generations centuries millenia beautiful fierce gentle ancient old younger than old mountaintops oh sweet friends mountaintops now removed sliced exploded broken wide open naked exposing coal filled entrails guts hangin out waitin for cheap easy coal owner predator bastards thieves rapists pillagers murderers greed powermongers reckless careless corporate government companies darkhearted evil bandits sinister government paper pushers bought off cheap turn their heads sign permits for 30 pieces of silver sell their souls not JUDY BONDS Appalachian Gandhi fearless powerful little woman stands strong stands tall not quite five feet but she’s taller than them all she stares them stares death in the face eyeball to eyeball death threats spit on every form of intimidation but

24

New Southerner Literary Edition 2012


JUDY BONDS Appalachian Gandhi is always undeterred strong will grows stronger more determined resists all resentment deathly threats none turn her away she never steps down brave defiant frontline warrior woman fighter Mother Jones reincarnated she refuses to bow down to be turned away from whatever filth they attempt to lay sludge dirty polluted mountain debris filled creeks toxic chemicals dead floating fish frogs sick children people all ages dying cancers unheard of unknown debilitating killing diseases growing rampant topless mountains ruination coal sludge down down mountainsides mowing down houses schools filling blocking stopping streams destroying people families generations ancient histories communities dying murdered gone forever not forgotten but now unseen but one powerful little woman JUDY BONDS Appalachian Gandhi modern Mother Jones JUDY BONDS JUDY BONDS fierce gentle JUDY BONDS stands tall taller refusing to bow down to ruthless coal company owners JUDY BONDS willing to sacrifice her life and she did but her sacrifice her life now neighbors families friends stepping up not turning back anymore heeding JUDY BONDS call now she calls from the grave JUDY BONDS JUDY BONDS never once turned away she had to lead to show the way now the people her people will not be denied will not bow down will not turn away they’re all becoming truthtellers JUDY BONDS inspired them when you’re right no one can defeat you even if when you die you win and JUDY BONDS died but she won Appalachian Gandhi JUDY BONDS she won nothin else matters when you’re fearless when you’re right stand tall gainst ruthless goliath might when you die they lose you win JUDY BONDS Appalachian Gandhi fearless little woman relentless tall she stood frontlines led the way stood long as she could she died

25


JUDY BONDS died but they lost in her death yes JUDY BONDS Appalachian Gandhi led the cause showed the way when you’re right you dare stand alone or not you stand straight stand tall and she stood that little woman JUDY BONDS stood tall they couldn’t back her down cause when you’re right you’re gonna win warrior woman JUDY BONDS walked her trail of tears you won dear sweet woman JUDY BONDS thank you you won you showed us the way no matter what anyone says JUDY BONDS won yes let’s go tell it on the mountain every mountain round the world on every once pristine majestic holy sacred God’s gifts mountains now abused mistreated ravaged raped wounded hurt destroyed tops removed killed murdered sail on JUDY BONDS your job done now eternity bound your mission here on earth done you won your sacred message forever intact safe beloved blessed JUDY BONDS Appalachian Gandhi hillbilly warrior woman JUDY BONDS gave her all her fire heart soul life she taught us how to stand tall so now we sing farewell and thank you sweet woman JUDY BONDS thank you for giving all we thank you JUDY BONDS with all our hearts we sing thank you sing your praises your song thank you JUDY BONDS Appalachian Gandhi we thank you God bless you sail on sail on sail on JUDY BONDS thank you farewell you’ll always be remembered sail on

Nancy Bruner Wilson worked for the American Red Cross in Vietnam, for New York City in the South Bronx and for the Kentucky Department of Social Services. Since she began writing five years ago to fulfill a lifelong desire, her poems have been published in the United States and abroad.

26

New Southerner Literary Edition 2012


NONFICTION HONORABLE MENTION

How to Climb an Airboat Cage Kerri Dieffenwierth

I

t’s a date, or rather, three’s a crowd. My sister’s boyfriend, Cary Boy, will swing by our place Saturday morning at seven for a cruise on his airboat. It’s my job to make ham sandwiches and “stay the hell out of the way,” my sister Katy’s mantra ladled with the rich venom only homecoming queens can dish. Although my sister acts like she doesn’t want me along, I know that for this particular outing, she’s relieved to have my company. Even at 17, I’m still tomboy enough to dig an airboat ride. We’ve both grown up on five acres in Delray Beach, at the edge of the Loxahatchee Wildlife Refuge, but I’m the only one who’s really embraced the place. Before I got my first period, I could master a stick shift, tractor, dirt bike and any kind of horse, plain or fancy. Usually, I’m by myself. Mother started me on the two mile journey to Nelson’s Country Store to buy cigarettes and wine at 12. “Just tell them it’s for me. They’ll know.” We live an hour from our high school. Katy wishes we were a stucco subdivision family so she could be near the beach, friends and malls. Me: Nature. Her: Shiny. Maybe the land wrapped extra around my heart because I know I might stay a while. College isn’t such a sure thing out here as it is for kids in town. It’s a crap shoot, even if you’re smart, even if you want to go. Maybe it’s all the chores that clog up studying and registering and paying for college entrance exams. Fact is you end up where you end up, simple as that. Maybe you’ll get lucky and maybe you’ll end up doing manual labor at minimum wage so you better like your hobbies. And don’t hope too hard for anything grand either. Pretty helps, but it’s not a free pass. Neither of us has been on an airboat. There’s a difference out here between living in the country and being country. You’re only country if your daddy and granddaddy are country. I guess we’re faux country, or “posers”—like 27


As I watch Cary Boy lean back and cross his arms, so relaxed in our house, I realize I want him to marry my sister, to become permanent family, to ease holidays and lift babies with kindness and never lose that smile, but I know Katy will probably mess it up and another girl will get his goodness. . 28

New Southerner Literary Edition 2012

the kids at school who wear surf clothes but don’t surf. I know all the words to “The Devil Went Down to Georgia,” but it’s a wash because I don’t know any Waylon Jennings. I’ve eaten gator tail, but only because I was at a potluck barbeque and thought it was chicken. No, it doesn’t taste like chicken. Unless that chicken just ate fish.

C

ary Boy arrives on time, stands straight with one skinny leg propped on a stool at our kitchen counter. He’ll say “Yes, ma’am” or “No, ma’am,” no matter what. Just listen. “Cary Boy, are you enjoying your senior year?” “Yes, ma’am, my senior year’s going just fine, and thanks for asking.” “Are you looking forward to the homecoming dance? You like to dance, Cary Boy?” “Oh no, ma’am, dancing ain’t my thing. My body just don’t know what to do with that crazy rock music. But if Katy wants to dance, ma’am, I’ll do my best to keep up with her. She moves real good no matter what they play. I’m planning on showing Katy a real good time. We’re going on up to that Worth Avenue in Palm Beach for dinner first, with candles and lobster and a flaming dessert.” As I watch Cary Boy lean back and cross his arms, so relaxed in our house, I realize I want him to marry my sister, to become permanent family, to ease holidays and lift babies with kindness and never lose that smile, but I know Katy will probably mess it up and another girl will get his goodness. So I savor his ways. We all seem to. We love to love Cary Boy.


A

dark green contraption rests on a rusted out trailer behind his truck. It looks like a john boat with a giant caged fan attached to its backside and a few fake leather bench seats bolted to the aluminum floor. No seatbelts. No safety features of any kind, really. Country doesn’t much care for safety. The bow of the boat is low and rounded, like the tips of cheap tennis shoes we call catheads. The vessel’s bottom is stained dark red in some places and smeared with patches of green algae everyplace else. But Country doesn’t much care about equipment maintenance. Dirty means you use it. So we drive south what seems like 10 or 12 miles until we leave the hot asphalt and turn right onto an unmarked shell rock road. Cary Boy doesn’t bother to dodge the potholes filled with milky white rainwater. “Why are you going through the potholes, Cary Boy—don’t you worry one of them will be super deep and mess up your truck?” I worry about things big and little. “Mess up my truck?! Darlin’, that’s the best thing I’ve heard today! Honey, don’t you know? Trucks are built for mess! I like to drive mine around town on Mondays all covered in mud and stuff from my weekend—makes people turn their heads and wonder what I been up to.” “Oh.” I consider broken down truck vs. Florida. As far as I can see, my state’s scattered with deadly things crawling and cawing and cackling. “Well, what if you break down miles from anything? What do you do then?” Cary Boy smiles straight teeth and light brown eyes. He’s got the kind of hands that like to tussle with big-eared dogs. “You ever hear the song, ‘A Country Boy Can Survive?’ By Bocephus? You know … Hank Jr.? That’s sure the truth, ’cause that’s what we do. We get by, darlin’, through watching for each other, out here and in town. And now I’m looking out for you and your beautiful sister.” I look over at my supposedly beautiful sister and she makes a very unbeautiful face at me. So I grab a gray vinyl strap dangling near the truck’s door and hang on. I don’t see any signs to the boat ramp. Not one. Country doesn’t much care for outsiders—if your people didn’t teach you the way, you don’t belong out here. A wide clearing reveals a couple trucks with dried mud on their bellies and empty trailers waiting for their men to return. Cary Boy backs his rig down and hands me a rope for when it slides off. “That’s it, darlin’. You be careful now, you hear? I don’t want nothing happening to you or Katy on my watch. I promised your mama I’d keep you girls safe.” He folds a stick of Big Red gum into his mouth and then ties the rope I give him to a wooden post on the dock. Country likes chew, but if it wants to kiss girls, sometimes it uses gum. I stand back and wait for a job to do. Hanging out with my sister isn’t an option, like at home. She’s just too mean. Katy’s still in the truck, legs up, hot pink toenails touching the windshield. She’s got her pout face on. She also has on running shorts (never ran a mile in her life) and a yellow tank top with skinny straps. And the gold necklace Cary Boy bought her. He buys her anything she wants probably because she does anything he wants in her bedroom when our parents act like they don’t care (only they probably aren’t 29


acting). I don’t think her thighs look good enough for running shorts but I would never tell her that since she can beat the crap out of me. Now that the airboat’s in the water, Katy finally makes her dock entrance. She likes to swing flip her hair. It just takes a moment, but she needs to know you’ve absorbed her. We sit on the worn planks, wiggle our rears to the edge and swing our legs into the boat while Cary Boy revs up the enormous propellers. The blades are covered by a metal grid, which is a good thing because I’m sure a lot of Country would have been decapitated or lost limbs if the blades were left open. Or maybe that’s how airboats started out and then they learned a lesson. Anyway, the noise is unbelievably loud. Whop! Whop! Whop! Whop! “It’s SO loud!” I yell to Cary Boy. “What, sweetie?” “I said, it’s loud!!” “Yes, darlin’, it’s loud!!” Katy turns around and shoots me a shut-up look so I shut up. I cover my ears with my hands and swear not to speak again until we stop. The noise pierces my skull and my skin both. Cary Boy pulls a long black lever next to his side, and we glide away and pick up speed, and soon we’re roaring over tall reeds of saw grass and bushes. So smooth. I wonder what would happen if one of the thick bushes we’re bending at 30 or 40 miles an hour turns out to be a small cypress tree. We’ll crash for sure. I picture us flying off our barstools and skipping across the marsh like human stones with our arms and legs in the shape of a big X. After 20 more minutes of deafening noise and human silence, Cary Boy powers down the motor then turns it off completely. The ringing in my ears is so shrill I wonder if my hearing is damaged. Country doesn’t believe in ear protection. If my ears are damaged, I’d rather it happen from a rock concert (which I’ve never been to) rather than an airboat—you know, if I had a choice. Climbing down from his mildewed upholstered perch, Cary Boy reaches into the Coleman cooler that he’s secured with a bungee cord to the base of the stool. Katy speaks. It speaks! “Thank God that’s over with. Let’s have our lunch and go back. I don’t like this at all. My teeth are vibrating. Is that normal? Can we go back now, baby, please?” “We’re stopping for lunch, but not our lunch, honey. We’re right next to Kermit’s hole.” Cary Boy rips open the top of a large bag of Doritos. Whiff of cheddar. “Kermit? Who’s Kermit. Cary Boy, who IS Kermit?” it whines. It starts to sweat. I don’t need to ask because I already know what lives in holes in the northern most part of the Everglades and in the dark hollows of the canal behind our five acres, too. I watched our dog get pulled into the water in one mighty splash. Never saw another trace of him. “Hmm. He’s not in his hole. Well, just look around ’cause he’ll be swimming over to us any minute now. He always comes when he hears an airboat engine. Biddy and Frankie feed him when they gig frogs out here in the middle of the night. They say Kermit’s eyes glow like lasers when they shine their flashlights on ’em.” 30

New Southerner Literary Edition 2012


Gripping the sides of my bench seat, I lean over and look into the brackish. For the first time, I notice how low the boat sits in the water. There’s only about a foot of boat above the waterline. Shiza. I see him. Like a locomotive log, he eases his way, straight and fast, through a giant patch of lily pads. His bulbous snout is aimed at us like a dark prehistoric arrow. Lunch. “Hey, old buddy, I haven’t seen ya for a while. How’s it going?” The pointy toes of Cary Boy’s cowboy boots stick out over the side of the boat. I take a quick look at the black lever and the gearshift, trying to figure out the controls, how we’ll get out of here, which direction we came from, what might happen to us if Cary Boy in his new Wrangler jeans gets eaten in the next minute. “Cary Boy! Oh my God! Get back!” It might be right. Kermit is absolutely enormous, at least nine feet long, which is most of the boat. He thrusts his long jaws on the deck and then props them open and keeps them open like a good dental patient. His teeth stick out at all angles. Long. Short. Stained. The better to tear you with, once you get nice and soft and rotted stuck under a tree branch near its hole. Cary Boy turns the bag on its side and sprinkles orange triangles onto green swamp. The gator slinks down and takes its time with gulps of chips and water, chips and water. Snap. Snap. Snap. The chips are gone. Shiza. “Does he like ham sandwiches?” I’d be willing to give mine up, you know, to live. “Sometimes if we catch some bass,

Cary Boy turns the bag on its side and sprinkles orange triangles onto green swamp. The gator slinks down and takes its time with gulps of chips and water, chips and water. Snap. Snap. Snap. The chips are gone. Shiza. “Does he like ham sandwiches?” I’d be willing to give mine up, you know, to live.

31


we give ’em to Kermit. Bass are his favorite.” “Wh-wh-what happens if it’s still hungry?” It’s worried. It wants to live to go to homecoming in a sexy white dress from J.C. Penney. Cary Boy reaches into the cooler and pulls out a bag of Jet-Puffed marshmallows. The big ones, not the wimpy tooth-sized giblets, thank the good Lord. The plastic is hard to rip, and Cary Boy unlatches a small leather sheath on his belt where he keeps his knife. Country likes weapons and knows how to use them. The second the blade flips open is the second Kermit decides he’s tired of waiting. With a deep swoosh of his fat tail he propels his body into the boat. Short stubby muscle legs power witch-fingered talons in a terrible tap dance across the thin aluminum. In an instant, Katy and I move our DNA in the same direction—to the back of the boat and then up. We try to scale the cage but the small metal squares don’t let our catheads get a good grip. Knees open and toes slipping, we pull and claw and girly scream our way up. We’re kin again. When I look back over my shoulder, I see Cary Boy sitting nice and relaxed on his bench seat, skinny legs swinging, tossing white marshmallows into Kermit’s cotton candy pink mouth—like it’s his favorite hunting hound. If it’s a dog, then I swear it’s a miniature demon dinosaur version. I can see rows of raised ridges in multiple lines down its back. I’m full of natural fear, maybe as much as my shiny sister, who I think has just soiled those nylon running shorts. Then Cary Boy climbs down, reaches into the cooler again, pulls out a camera, places his SKOAL baseball cap on Kermit’s head and starts to take photos. I see him turn his boyishness toward me and Katy. We’re still plastered to the cage and we’re not coming down, either. We finally look alike. Cary Boy tosses his head back and starts to sing. “I’ve got a shotgun, a rifle and a four-wheel drive! And a country boy can survive! Country folks can survive!”

Kerri Dieffenwierth is a native Floridian and a student in the Stonecoast MFA program. Her work has been published in The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature, Sandhill Review, Wanderlust & Lipstick and The Chicago Tribune.

32

New Southerner Literary Edition 2012


FICTION HONORABLE MENTION

The Half-Life of Home Dale Neal

Of all the things Ruth Wilder prided herself on in her largely blessed life, family was of course high on her list, ranking only a little below her perfect Sunday school attendance for the past 44 years. So on the rare Sundays when they visited Beaverdam Baptist, Royce and Eva set the alarm to rise at dawn, rousting Dean out of bed, bolting down breakfast, and dashing in and out of the shower, everybody dressed and into the car, driving the 45 miles from Atlamont to Zebulon County, off the main highway and threading the hairpin twists over the gap, then descending the 10 miles of curves down into the bottomlands of Beaverdam where Ruth sat, waiting on the front porch in her best dress, clutching her black clasp purse on her lap, rocking impatiently for the past hour. “I knew you would be late. You have always been since the day you were born.” Ruth never failed to remind her son that he had been born on a Saturday in a fierce labor that wouldn’t let her get out of bed the next day for church. “We got plenty of time, Mama.” Royce kissed the tightly permed top of her aging head as he helped her into the back seat of the Mercedes, then drove the quarter mile to the church. They took their places in Ruth’s usual pew, ushered past the watchful eyes of the regulars already seated, trailed by the whispers of women hissing into the jug ears of their deaf husbands. “Them’s Ruth’s kin. Jake’s boy and his family from over in Altamont.” This morning, for this special occasion, Ruth wore a pretty lavender-colored polyester dress, dug out of the closet from last Easter. As soon as she took her seat, she started digging around in her purse for her tithe and her tissues. Ruth knew she would weep when her perfect Sunday school attendance was again rightly recognized. Eva reached out to squeeze Dean’s restless leg to keep him from kicking the pew ahead of them. Good, Royce thought. If he had to suffer through church, so could his delinquent son, flushed and steaming in his blue hopsack blazer, off in his own world.

33


When Dean was little, Eva had let him take crayons and paper to services at St. Mary’s. While the Episcopalians rose and knelt according to traditional forms, Dean squatted on the plush velvet kneeler and used the polished seat of the pew for his desk, copying his versions of the stained glass windows overhead. Growing older, he had to sit up like the rest, but he’d drawn his secret comic books on the order of service held inside the worn cover of the Book of Common Prayer. But even Episcopalians could indulge their youth only so long. Now officially in high school, Dean was expected to act like an adult, pay attention like a regular grownup, be bored out of his expanding skull. “Don’t be so jumpy,” Eva whispered, trapping his scribbling fingers, interlacing them with hers. He had been practicing his painting, memorizing his moves, angles and arabesques, quick cuts and curlicues, against the nap of his worsted trousers. At the ringing of a tinny bell, Ruth leaned around Eva and tapped his knee. “That’s means it’s Sunday school,” she whispered. “Go on with the young’uns.” “Just like catechism class,” Eva reassured him. “Just behave.” The young people filed from the sanctuary into a classroom behind the pulpit, leaving a handful of widows and aged farmers for the adult class. Eva steeled herself for these Sunday visits to an alien denomination. “Mama’s almost got used to you being Episcopalian,” Royce had teased her on the drive over this morning, “though she still thinks you all pray to the Queen of England.” “Funny,” she said at his familiar joke, screwing tighter the smile that she wore around her mother-in-law. Eva had grown up in Sunday schools and church services, living in a succession of ever smaller rectories as her father kept finding himself shepherd of increasingly thinner flocks. These Baptists made those chapels look like the Vatican. No stained glass, no organ, let alone the embroidered kneelers she was used to at St. Mary’s. They sang a few rusty hymns, made long-winded prayers and stumbled through a reading of Judges, an object lesson from the crude customs of an ancient tribe given to stoning its wayward women and disrespectful sons. Royce kept squirming on the pew burnished by decades of Baptist backsides. “Be still.” She elbowed his ribs. “You’re worse than Dean.” Nothing had changed in the church in the 20 years since Royce had left home and the stifling services here. He saw the handwriting on the wall. A painting behind the pulpit depicted a disembodied hand writing across an unfurled scroll: “Where will you spend eternity?” Royce had no ready answer to the terrible question, sucking his lip bloodless between his gapped front teeth. The other painting on the back wall was no better: a portrait of the Savior, with his heavenward gaze under thick eyelashes. Shave off the beard and his brunet locks bore a resemblance to Lucy Greene’s. Royce couldn’t help himself. Every time he went to church, he thought of sex. He used to sit beside Lucy Greene, daring damnation in the eyes of the Lord, their thighs touching, her fingers tiptoeing up and down the corduroy 34

New Southerner Literary Edition 2012


of his trousers. The Wilders and Greenes countenanced this, since it was commonly known they were courting and likely would be married before any baby or wrongdoing could show. The pew was just another station, like the swing on Lucy’s front porch where they sat most Saturday evenings and talked about their life after high school, how they would always be happy in the world they knew in Beaverdam. Royce couldn’t imagine bearing his life if he had stayed in Beaverdam, sitting in this stifling sanctuary Sunday after Sunday. He would have hanged himself like that farmer whose story of failure haunted them all. When the offering plate passed down their pew, Royce set the bowl in his lap and raised one haunch while he fumbled for his wallet. The only thing worse than suffering through church was having to pay for the pain. Handing the plate over, Royce was surprised to see that the man who took his money wasn’t his father. Each Sunday, Jake Wilder had passed around the offering plate he’d cut from a walnut bough and turned on a lathe. He patrolled the center aisle, counting in his head what went in the collection, who had tithed and who had not. “Let every day provide for itself and God send Sunday,” he used to say. Now, the old man would never see Royce slipping in a guilty five bucks instead of the five cents he used to grudgingly give as a kid. The preacher took the pulpit to call the names of those with Sunday school attendance in the past year, starting with the youngest children and on up through the adults, saving the best for last. “And of course, Mrs. Ruth Wilder has her 40th anniversary of perfect attendance,” the preacher said. “Miss Ruth, we got you a special fruit basket.” Ruth waved to the applause she’d been waiting for all year, but her moment was short lived. The piano sounded an off-key chord. The congregation staggered to their feet, reaching for the hymnals in the racks behind the pews. They sang halfheartedly in the heat, a choir of apathetic angels, then took their seats, feeling their mortal bottoms numbed through the duration of the sermon. “Jesus is coming,” the preacher wailed. “Sinner, are you ready?” But if Jesus was really coming, any minute now as the preacher said, why did they keep the doors closed? Imagine a knock. How many would believe it was Christ’s own knuckle, softly rapping? Royce had quit listening to this stuff years ago and used the time to tally columns of mental figures in his head. Paying off all his debt, his bills, amortizing mortgage rates, divvying up dividends from stocks he could buy when he was well-to-do. He wanted to climb to Royce’s Rock, the cliff where the ravens roosted, that his father had willed to him. All the good land and the tobacco allotment of course had gone with the bulk of the farm to his mother, but Royce was grateful his sire had remembered him in his will. Landrum could ask all he wanted for the land, but no one could build there. It was more of a view, something you would buy for a development on the Buckeye on the other side of Beaverdam Road, but that all belonged to his uncle Dallas, who had no more interest in turning loose of his holdings than in voting for a Republican copperhead, as the old Yellow Dog Democrat called those partisans in the bitter inbred politics of Zebulon County. The altar call came and faltered. Nobody came forward to be saved, no 35


Royce could tell she was trying her best not to stare at Lucy’s disfigurement, but she couldn’t help but mark every wen, sty, goiter and glass eye, each birthmark and amputation evident among the backwards populace of Beaverdam, marred from birth or maimed in the barnyard. In Lucy’s case, it was the missing tip of her ring finger of her left hand, the sawed-off stump ringed with her wedding band. 36

New Southerner Literary Edition 2012

backslider slipped forward into good graces. Thank God, Royce thought. Dean was ready to bolt, until his mother caught his elbow. “Please, wait for the rest of us.” “Quarter past twelve.” Royce eyed his watch. “Mama, you ready?” But Ruth sat down again to dig through her purse. “Thought I had some money in here somewhere. Need to make my tithe.” “Mama, the offering already came around. We’ll give it on the way out.” Royce helped her up. His mother seemed so frail that too rough a touch might snap some bone in her loose skin. “Why, Royce Wilder. You didn’t think you could run off without saying hi?” Lucy Greene Gudger must have run halfway down the aisle to hug him. “Where’s Junior?” Royce searched the sanctuary for the good old boy Lucy had snagged after Royce had shed her and fled Beaverdam. “Sleeping in today. Worked a late shift last night. Royce, you’re a sight for sore eyes.” Eva prodded his ribs before Lucy and her cheap scent of soap released him. “Hey, Lucy” Eva showed her forced smile. Royce could tell she was trying her best not to stare at Lucy’s disfigurement, but she couldn’t help but mark every wen, sty, goiter and glass eye, each birthmark and amputation evident among the backwards populace of Beaverdam, marred from birth or maimed in the barnyard. In Lucy’s case, it was the missing tip of her ring finger of her left hand, the sawed-off stump ringed with her wedding band. “You must not know what to think


of our little old church.” Lucy laid on the drawl a little thick, Royce noticed. “Oh, not at all, I rather enjoy the singing,” Eva said. “You ought to come more often.” “I usually go to church in Altamont. St. Mary’s. I try to take Royce, but he won’t go.” “Episcopal. Too fancy for me,” Royce said. “Dean didn’t give you any trouble in Sunday school, did he?” Eva patted her son’s slumped shoulder. “’Course not. This is one sharp son you’ve reared here. Though we did have a bit of a discussion about Genesis.” “Dinosaurs didn’t ride on the ark with Noah,” Dean hissed, continuing the argument he had waged in class. “I know in a fancy school they teach all sorts of things—evolution and all— we don’t get way back here. But no, we straightened him out. You come and see us soon, honey. We’ll talk more.” To Dean’s evident horror, she patted his sleeve with the disfigured hand, that missing knucklebone. “We’ve got to be going now, Lucy. Good to see you. Say hi to Junior for us.” Royce prodded his mother forward. The aisle filled with the faithful and the smell of talcum powder and strong soap, cigarette smoke, sweat, manure, aromas of the barnyards and woodstoves. Royce could see daylight over the threshold, freedom ahead, but not until he passed another reminder of his past, those dents in the double doors, the shadowy indentations his uncle had once pressed his little fingers into. “There, feel that? We’re talking pure meanness.” Dallas showed him where the hatefully flung rocks had scarred the wood. “Sure as you and me are standing here, she stood yonder and stoned the house of the Lord, if you can believe it. Dog-cussed us all on a Sunday morning.” She was Wanda McRae, the witch woman who lived over the ridge from the Wilders, at the end of a long dirt road Royce had been up only once in his life—a secret he’d never shared with Dallas or his daddy or anyone. Ruth balked at the door. “I forgot my fruit basket.” They had come this far, and Royce didn’t want to have to wade into the crowd and face Lucy again. “You’ve got a whole bushel of apples at the house. Why not let someone have it that’s truly needy.” “I am needy. I’m a widow woman and I need a fruit basket. Dean, go fetch it for me.” Royce escorted his mother to the car, her pumps shuffling through the loose gravel, her weight leaning on his arm. He suspected she walked slower on Sundays to keep up appearances as a church elder. At home, she shed the fake feebleness and rushed from room to room, chore to chore. She was turning 82 next March, but she only acted her age when she had an appreciative audience. Ruth lowered herself into the back of the Mercedes while Royce held the door. “Seat’s hot! I told you to park in the shade!” “It was all shade when we got here, Mama. I’ll turn on the air conditioning.” 37


“Never mind. I’ll just crack the window.” Ruth always complained about the smell of air conditioning, saying she just as soon have wind with no conditions on her face. “Boy, what’s your hurry? You act like a Methodist scared of getting dunked by a bunch of Baptists.” A rough, familiar hand grabbed the back of Royce’s neck. “Hey, Dallas. How you doing?” “I’m just an old mailman with a message. You better come to church more often.” “I’m here, aren’t I?” Royce said. “Morning, Ruth. I see you got this pagan in a pew today.” Dallas Rominger tipped his jaunty fedora to his older sister. The green hat matched the plaid of his jacket, which must have hung in Dallas’ wardrobe since the Eisenhower administration. The old bachelor draped his arm around Eva’s shoulder, smooching her temple. “Um, you sure smell good today. Royce, come smell her hair.” “Who poked you in the eye?” Eva tilted Dallas’ chin. “Royce, did you see this?” Royce crouched to look beneath his uncle’s hat brim where a sty glowered like a coal in his left eye. “Pretty, ain’t it? If it don’t go away soon, I’ll have to do something to keep from scaring the ladies. Maybe a black pirate patch?” “You’ll need a peg leg.” Ruth called from the back seat. “Show ’em what else you done.” Dallas hiked his trousers, showing a scabbed shinbone and a purple bruise. “What in the world?” Eva asked. “Fell through the loft of that old barn is what he done,” Ruth said. “He’d still be there if nobody’d heard his heifer bawling at the hay bin.” “It wasn’t near as bad as she makes it sound. Boy, you ever scrape your knee this pretty?” Dallas pirouetted on his good leg and showed his wounds to Dean, who had returned, swinging the cellophane fruit basket, about to send the Granny Smiths into orbit. “Gross.” Dean wrinkled his face in disgusted admiration. “Dean, be careful.” Eva rescued the swinging fruit basket from his grip. “What’s this I hear about you making monkeyshines, arguing evolution in Sunday school with Lucy Gudger?” Dallas thumped his fat, soft Bible on Dean’s hard head. “What did you say?” Royce dreaded his wayward son had let off another fbomb in the church like he had at the house. “Nothing.” Dean rubbed his head. “She was saying God created the Earth about four thousand years ago, if you counted all the begats in the Bible. I told her my biology teacher said the Earth was more like four billion years old.” “Old! What you know about old, boy? Talk to me about old.” Dallas pinched the boy’s shoulder playfully. “Can’t see, can’t hear, can’t hardly walk. We’re getting so old we ain’t hardly fit to kill. Ain’t that right, Ruth?” “Don’t talk like that,” Royce said. “You’re not dead yet.” “Oh, I don’t plan on dying,” Dallas wasn’t joking now. “World’s going to go 38

New Southerner Literary Edition 2012


before me. Any day now, that trumpet’s going to sound. The heavens shall pass away with a great noise, the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the Earth also, and the works that are in it, shall be burned up.” “Burned up?” Dean asked. The usual curiosity of teenage boys for death and destruction, Royce thought. “Doomsday. That’s another Baptist thing like the Creation,” he explained. He always felt nervous when Dallas started quoting scripture. “No, that comes after the Rapture,” Dallas corrected him. “Born-again believers won’t have to see the Tribulation that follows. The trumpet will sound, and you’ll be looking into that graveyard yonder and all them holes will open.” “Cool,” said Dean. “You’ll see them rising into heaven, even your granddaddy, I’ll bet.” Royce squinted at the cemetery on the hill behind the church. He had been raised to believe that all the good Baptists buried there would walk out alive in the end, but the thought of his father shooting out of his grave like a stalk of bone unnerved him. “You don’t believe that, do you?” Dallas pinched the funny bone in Royce’s elbow. “You think you’re too smart for all that now. Let me tell you, the Secretary of the Interior wanted to sell off the federal forest because the Lord was due any day.” Royce worked free of his uncle’s clutches. “Say what you will on a Sunday, Dallas. Come Monday morning, you wouldn’t sell your land to Satan or St. Peter.” “Don’t be so sure. Half million is what one jasper was offering me just last Monday.” “Who in their right mind offered that?” “This Japanese feller,” Dallas said. “Fight a war against them 50 years ago, now they’re over here buying up the land.” “You’re not seriously thinking—” Dallas doffed his green fedora from his broad shining pate, then clapped it down like a tight lid. “Boy, I’m always thinking.” “Dallas, why don’t you come eat with us?” said Eva. “We bought fried chicken.” “Store-bought?” Dallas looked disappointed. “That Colonel cooks the scrawniest chicken. No, I’m headed to the house, wait and see if the end comes today.” His uncle waved goodbye as Royce backed his car out of the lot. In the mirror, he saw Dallas gaze at the sky, then check his wristwatch.

Dale Neal is the author of two novels, Cow Across America and The HalfLife of Home, which will be published by Casperian Books in April. He lives and works as a journalist in Asheville, North Carolina, Thomas Wolfe’s old hometown.

39


POETRY FINALIST

Mother Mary Anne Reese

You dipped buttered toast in cinnamon and sugar, strained the custard seven times. When we moved east, you softened your mountain sound to a drawl. You veered from the wheel of hurt to the wheel of fortune and back. You could hear it snow. You dyed spike heels to match your dress and tied a scarf beneath your chin. You could name the wildflowers and birds. You wove an oval braided rug blue as your eyes. You ordered yourself a mai tai and me a Shirley Temple, both served with a cherry.

Mary Anne Reese is a Cincinnati attorney with a graduate degree in English from Northern Kentucky University. Her poetry chapbook, Raised by Water, was published by Finishing Line Press.

40

New Southerner Literary Edition 2012


POETRY FINALIST

Soldiering On Jane Otto

When night glows with dread and morning arrives, scabbed over, when clouds belch combustion and the horizon is bruised, we summon the smell of tuber roses— wet laundry, snapping on a clothesline, the salt smell of hard work, the glow of a sunburned shoulder, tucking in to rhubarb pie, a pulsing fontanel—dangerous as a peach—the stain of embarrassment, the ruddy breast of a thrush—keeper of the ordinary squabbling to maintain order in the tree behind our house.

Jane Otto’s poems have appeared or are forthcoming in The Journal, Eclipse, Raleigh Review, Talking River and PANK. Most of these poems are part of a work in progress titled At the Home for Wayward Girls.

41


POETRY FINALIST

Richmond, 1958 David Cooper My father, mother, and I traveled six hundred miles and twenty years back in a brand new Plymouth sedan. We traveled from Brown* Back to Plessy** in sixteen hours of straight driving except for stops in small-town filling stations Mount Sterling, Olive Hill, Ashland Charleston, White Sulfur Springs On old U.S. 60 Two lanes round and round the tops of the Appalachians through fog and moonlight and sunshine and snowfall. On route 60 there were no motels For colored people. We traveled back to Jim Crow schools and Jim Crow rules Back to the Confederacy Back to Dixie Back to backdoors And balconies Called “the crows’ nest” Back to hurt and harm And shame. *The Supreme Court decision to integrate public schools, Brown v. Board of Education in 1954. **The Supreme Court decision in 1896 that made racial segregation constitutional, Plessy v. Ferguson.

David Cooper teaches English and African American Studies at Jefferson Community and Technical College in Louisville, Kentucky. He has published poetry in Mused Magazine, The Bluegrass Literary Review and The Kentucky Poetry Review. 42

New Southerner Literary Edition 2012


NONFICTION FINALIST

These are Not My Hands Christina Lovin

T

hey must have struggled. Any healthy living being struggles as the breath in the body is replaced with suffocating fluid. The mother’s strength and determination were incredible in her grisly, yet methodical labor. Just as the uncontrollable contractions of her uterus had expelled them from her body, the unbridled spasms of her dementia discharged them from her presence. The private horror of those minutes, as time resolutely advanced and the life of a small human ceased, followed by another, and another, one more, then yet another (the last), is unimaginable to any sane person. This is not my life. This is not my house. These are not my hands. These are not my children. I want so much to believe that these were the voices, the thoughts of the quiet Texas housewife as the hand with which she had nurtured bore down on the struggling bodies of her five children— plunging them one by one under the water (was it warm or cold?) in the very tub where their small forms had been gently washed so many happy bedtimes before. The dispassionate face, small and heart-shaped behind the mane of dark hair that washes in waves around the thin, rounded shoulders: I have seen Andrea Yates. Her blank eyes held only the reflected glares of the courthouse lighting and flashing cameras. Like the others— reporters, police, attorneys—who studied the calm, steady gaze, I could see only a void, the shape of what was missing, what was lost. The Yates family photographs (much like those found on millions of mantels or bookshelves across the country)—a totem pole of gaptoothed boys, another frame filled with the wrenching, gummy smile of an infant daughter—accompanied news broadcasts of the horror with increasing regularity, as if the faces of the dead become public domain, along with every aspect of the family’s life together, every detail that can be displayed scrutiny: The modest house, its image wavering behind the heat of Texas summer asphalt. The four boys, two dressed in brown paper grocery sacks, decorated as ersatz Native Americans. The shocked and confused neighborhood, the residents clinging to one another as the candles they hold burned low in the humid night. Pallbearers carrying the flower-covered caskets that are 43


heart-breakingly small. The father, still in shock, but stunned by a truth he cannot yet let himself believe: they are gone. All of them are gone, leaving him as the only real witness to the weeks and years leading up to these days of loss. I wept when I read that prosecutors were considering the death penalty in Andrea Yates’s trial for murdering her five children. The tears welled from some part of me that had not been probed for decades. Andrea Yates is not the only woman whose face, along with those of her dead children, is familiar to me. There have been others, but none so impassive and stoic in her madness. Perhaps my tears were for myself. I looked into the face of a woman who had watched as the final few bubbles of air escaped the lips of her last living child and rose to the surface of the cleansing water. I saw that those eyes held the depths of an abandoned quarry—clear, but unfathomable. Perilous. As well I know.

M

y first pregnancy had been full of excitement, anticipation and the expected morning sickness. I had been married for 18 months when a lingering episode of stomach flu turned out to be something more persistent. I had wanted to get pregnant even sooner, but time and financial constraints had made the consideration of having a baby out of the question. By the time it was confirmed that I was carrying a child, my husband was six months into his first position as an eighth grade English teacher in a small Ohio town. We had weathered the usual newlywed storms and felt comfortable in the newly constructed duplex we had secured through a friend. Even on a schoolteacher’s salary, this baby would be welcomed and cherished, whoever he or she would be. My labor was long and arduous, but with the help of some manipulation and the injection of contraction-strengthening drugs, my daughter emerged from my body. She was puffy and bloody, but with a full head of dark hair and eyes of some improbable shade of blue (mine are green, her father’s, brown). The low moans of the night, the screams I could not even recognize as my own and the pain—all were forgotten as I looked down at the strikingly familiar stranger at my breast. She was not an ordinary baby. I say this not from a mother’s pride; it is a fact. She was fat and happy from birth. At one week, she no longer woke up for that bane of new parents’ existence—the two o’clock feeding. By the time she was six weeks old, she would sleep for 12 hours, from six in the evening until six in the morning. She slept all morning. She slept all afternoon. She grew chubby, alert and healthy. I took her on walks, at first in the European-style baby buggy with high wheels and Mary Poppins-style hood, then later in a sleek, modern stroller. I loved her fiercely, and any disquiet I felt—the frustration and deep unhappiness—had no reasonable place in what was an otherwise idyllic domestic life. Guilt hounded me. I should be happy. I wasn’t. I tried to be a good mother, but some nagging sensation of being out of balance persisted daily. When my husband took a teaching job in the same town where I had grown up, I had my mother nearby to help and advise me. Friends I had known all my life were close by, my marriage seemed sound, and my child was beautiful and healthy. Yet the nagging sense of being on the verge of losing control was always there—palpable, but undefined.

44

New Southerner Literary Edition 2012


What was wrong with me? Those feelings of dread and despair were beginning to dissipate by the time my daughter was a cheerful 1-year-old. She was a delight with an astounding intelligence. The ability to reason was still many months away, however. The daily battle of wills that would continue between us until she had grown into an adult was then merely in the reconnoiter stage. My days were filled with Dr. Seuss and Sesame Street, along with dozens of dolls. Magnetic alphabets covered the refrigerator door. I enjoyed teaching her; she enjoyed learning. She was bright and funny. I found that I was content, totally wrapped up in the life of this little girl. I wanted my life to continue, just like this, forever. Things change. They always do. I had taken birth control pills for more than a year when I was first married. The small blue tablets always left me nauseated and lethargic, particularly at the beginning of each cycle. Stories of women dying from brain hemorrhages had begun to appear in the media. The Sexual Revolution had already taken its first casualties. I would learn that my own body was not without damage from the high doses of hormones used in those early days of ubiquitous compacts of tablets hidden in the medicine cabinets or nightstands of hundreds of thousands of young married couples and single women. Following my daughter’s birth, I had opted for a less hormonally invasive method of birth control: contraceptive foam. When, shortly before our second Christmas as a family (Mom, Dad, Baby), I began feeling nauseated again, I laughingly said that if I were pregnant, the next child would be named Delfen. This was after I cried. I did not want another child. Not yet. The prospective heat of a hot Illinois summer loomed ahead of me, with a due date in mid-July. And what a hot summer it turned out to be. July came and went in the heat of an exceptionally torrid Midwestern summer. Near the end of July, two weeks past my due date, I tripped and fell. Even the impact of a fall that rolled me over my huge belly, causing me to scrape my chin on concrete, had done nothing to hurry nature. By the beginning of the second week of August, more than three weeks past the scheduled due date, my obstetrician, who was planning a late summer vacation and didn’t want to deal with loose ends, decided to lend nature a hand. I was hospitalized the next day. By the afternoon of August 11, I was holding my second daughter. The labor had been swift, but again, drug-induced. The doctor had mercifully released the uterine fluid in an effort to shorten the intense labor brought on by medications. I had barely made it into the delivery room before my plump, fair girl was born. I was anxious to get home and be a family again, a family of four now. We had begun to look for a home of our own in the early spring of that year, while I was still able to waddle around and look at houses. The house we had decided upon was small—a two-bedroom Cape Cod, with a finished attic—but attractive, well maintained and near the school where my husband taught. We would be closing on the house in late September, moving in on October 1. My second daughter, however, was brought home to the rental house in which we had been living for over a year, the house with no air conditioning and little insulation. The house that is now gone, burned to the ground with some unfortunate occupant years later. The house in which the real horror began. 45


This new baby was not at all the easy-care infant her sister had been. She was terribly skinny and did not eat well. She moaned softly much of the time, even in her sleep, as if she were having nightmares or was in pain. She woke every three hours or less, around the clock. She grew longer, but did not gain weight. My frustration and weariness grew with each day. I was sick from contracting a stubborn UTI while in the hospital (the gift of a careless CNA). My energy was not returning as quickly as it should have. I began to feel the return of the despondency that had troubled me after my first delivery. This time the postpartum demons that had merely tiptoed through my mind before were wearing boots. Heavy black books, with cleats. And they were not alone. Memory is sometimes like a photo album: there are events imprinted on the receptors of the brain that are as vivid and frozen as the gaping ovoid mouth of Munch’s tortured soul as he stands, hands to his face, on a bridge (the bridge to what? from where? and who are the other people there?). My infant child, dead in my mother’s arms, illuminated by the bright light of the kitchen fixture above the white enamel table, the rigid jaw and bluish coloring of a corpse—I see it now if I allow myself to dwell on it, as distinctly and minutely drawn as Brueghel’s Triumph of Death. The details of such a moment, although unimportant, take on such a weight in one’s memory: the plastic glass of instant tea my mother had been drinking (the sticky teaspoon having dripped on the hard surface of the table next to the glass); the soft yellow of the blanket which held my lifeless daughter; the tiny disposable diaper she was wearing, one tab slightly unstuck and bent. I remember looking up and out the open door to the neighbor’s house to see if a light was on, if they had heard my mother’s scream: “She’s going to die right here in my arms!” My husband’s confusion and inability to speak, his only action to jump up and down and wave his arms. The disgust for him that welled inside me and remained from that moment on. The pale, cramped face of my daughter, her mouth clamped tightly shut. The small seconds that expanded as I witnessed it all. We’ve heard stories of mothers driven by some unknown force and empowered by adrenaline lifting an overturned vehicle from their child. We marvel at the keen sense of purpose they must feel as they raise the metal and rubber from the wounded body of their loved one. I no longer marvel. I will never wonder again how I would react under extreme pressure. I know. I never want to be put to that test again. From some well of anger and sense of “not on my watch,” my own body and mind sick, the strength and resolve to my save my daughter filled me. I snatched the stiff body from my mother’s arms and held her up by her tiny feet. “She’s not going to die now!” I cried, as I pressed my fingers between her locked jaws. The tiny tongue was firm and resistant as I pulled it from her throat and heard a small gasp as the breath was indrawn past my fingers and into her lungs. The color began returning to her grayish body, but the flesh beneath the fingernails was pale—the color of thin, skimmed milk. On every other night of her brief life, the baby had been fed promptly at 10 p.m. and put back into her crib to sleep until 2 a.m. or earlier. My mother had been spending the nights with us, relieving me of this tiring chore, allowing me to sleep in an effort to speed my recovery from the bladder infection that I could not shake and could no longer take antibiotics to cure. This night, 10 p.m. had come and gone. The minute hand on the big kitchen clock was hovering near the half46

New Southerner Literary Edition 2012


hour when I had aroused the baby from a fitful sleep to feed her. Even before the ambulance that would take us first to a local hospital, then on to a major medical center 50 miles away, had arrived, I was aware that the scenes could have played out differently, although the players would have remained the same: my mother, my husband, me … and a baby found dead in her crib hours later. “She won’t die today.” This, the only assurance given each morning for the first week. The gentle pediatrician and urologist who had become our allies in those weeks assured us that there was nothing we could have done to cause or prevent what had happened, although the real source of my daughter’s illness remained a mystery. The only known factor was that her ailments were related to kidney malfunction, both chronic and acute. The next weeks were those of despair, then hope, then despair once more. Two weeks after being admitted to the hospital, I was preparing to leave for my last trip to the hospital, this time to bring my baby home, but received a phone call that her temperature was again rising and she was, again, gravely ill. Resignation, rather than the fierce bravery I had felt on the night she nearly died, overcame me. It had been five weeks since my daughter was born. I was still sick from the infection I could not shake. I was still caring for a 2-year-old who I had to leave each day so that I could travel the 50 miles in hopes of catching the doctor on his morning rounds. I was exhausted, but I had not cried a single tear. I still had not wept when, 10 days later, my baby, who had weighed seven pounds, two ounces at birth and was 19 inches long, was brought home for the second time. She had grown three inches, but weighed nearly a pound less than when she was born. I have seen photos of children in Ethiopia or Somalia. I have weighed that frailty in my arms—it is the lightness of bones without flesh. A birdchild—this was my daughter. Just four days after bringing my precious child home, our family, now four of us again, moved to the new home we had purchased. Once the stress of the move was over, our daily life settled into a gentle rhythm like ocean tides, but with a dangerous, hidden undertow. The baby still woke every three hours and demanded a pacifier constantly, a habit she had developed while hospitalized and on intravenous feeding. The small scar on her ankle, where a tube had been inserted directly into her veins, was healing. The bare patch on her head, which had been shaved to provide an entry spot should the ankle cut not continue to hold the tubing, was growing back slowly. The scar that zigzagged halfway around her torso remained a shock each time I changed a diaper. A kidney biopsy, which on an adult would have been done with a needle, required an incision on an infant, but had revealed the cause of her illness: pyelonephritis, a treatable kidney disease of unknown origin. With medication and careful medical attention, she would survive and should thrive. We were again a family. I had not yet wept. I refused to realize that with each day my energy dwindled, my patience shortened, and I felt increasingly alone. Bereft. When one takes a step off a cliff, it is a certainty that he or she will fall. The disquiet I had begun to feel after this child’s birth, the despair I had stoically endured, began to grow steadily, almost daily. I would fall asleep with the baby in my arms, dropping her bottle and not even waking to retrieve it until she cried out from hunger. My patience grew not only thin, it became riddled with holes, sheer 47


as cheesecloth and less sturdy. I knew where I was going, but I didn’t know how to change direction, reverse or stop. I told no one of my fear, my pain, my terror. I refused to see a doctor, for fear of being torn from my family and locked in a gray room somewhere far away. I feared the cure more than the disease. My days were dread—the seconds ticked by in apprehension, the minutes moved in dragging dismay, the hours chilled by panic that some dark force was about to engulf us all. Some days I would beg my husband not to go to school, to call in sick. Sobbing, I would hang on his arms to try and physically hold him from going out the door. What if I hurt one of the children? That question, never spoken aloud, was always in the back of my mind. What if I killed myself? The answer to that I knew. I am far too polite to cause such an onus to fall on my family. I simply could not do that to them. Hurting the children would be easier—it made sense in the deep, slowly filling pit that my mind had become. My husband never missed a day of work to protect me or our children. He needed his sleep for his job, so I continued to wake many times during the night, as mothers do. For we hear our child’s cries in the dark, even those times when the male animal has grown deaf with sleep. A 2 a.m. feeding, a lost pacifier, a wet diaper—I awoke for each and all. I did my duty, paying a higher and higher price each day. And so did my children. I doubt that my daughters remember me standing in the doorway of their room, beating my head against the door frame until the pain would become blinding, screaming until they screamed with me, until we all would tire and I could sleep for a few precious minutes. I don’t remember the rest, or why or how I had even come to this. Perhaps it is just that memory is being kind, even though I don’t deserve that sort of generosity. The only image I have taken away from those weeks (or was it months?) is the body of my older daughter bouncing off the wall, back onto her mattress amid her favorite stuffed animals. I had thrown her. I can’t

My patience

grew not only

thin, it became riddled with holes, sheer

as cheesecloth

and less sturdy.

I knew where I was going, but

I didn’t know

how to change

direction,reverse or stop. I told no

one of my fear, my pain, my terror.

48

New Southerner Literary Edition 2012


remember why. I turned and left the room, heedless of her wailing. She was not hurt physically, but that little girl who had been so brave and independent became sullen and fearful. Understandable, but unforgivable for a mother to be the cause, rather than the cure. She grew into a confident young woman, strong and resilient, stronger than I, for she sought help to deal with the demons we encountered together, along with those she discovered alone. Her maturity and understanding of life have served her well in the roles of wife and mother. Her sister, also a wife and mother, grew from an infant at death’s door to a smart, beautiful woman. Her first child, a girl, has her mother’s strawberryblonde hair, round cheeks, pouty Swedish lips, and her father’s gray Irish eyes and long legs. She is beautiful. Her baby brother is the vague image of his maternal grandfather, the husband and father who could not find the fortitude to help save his dying daughter’s life or his wife’s sinking sanity. I feel nothing for the man whose genes are evident in my first grandson, but remind me what was lost back then. I did recover. The doctor I finally consulted prescribed Valium. I took one, slept it off on the sofa and threw the bottle of pills away. A month later, the same doctor prescribed amphetamines for the same symptoms. I never had that prescription filled. My pastor prayed for me, then offered some genuine help: a real live person to give me aid in ways that a desperate mother appreciates, but is hesitant to request: washing dishes, doing laundry, bringing meals, babysitting. I thank a God I no longer even trust to exist for His man, but I claim my recovery as my own. I was one of the fortunate ones; one of many who make it through the thick muck of some hormonal morass that for so long went unacknowledged by the medical community. They are the few who don’t emerge on the other side, on solid ground, for whom I weep now. I can cry now for those who cannot cry—like I could not back then—whose tears have dried up under the searing heat of their psychoses, whose feet have become heavy with the increasing weight of what is their madness. My tears are for those who are so far removed from their own lives that they no longer recognize themselves or their children. The face of a once gentle mother from Texas haunts me, as she looks out from beneath lank, brown bangs, squinting against the glare of bright lights into the television camera. I am drawn to look deeply into those dark eyes. They are empty. And dry.

Christina Lovin is the author of What We Burned for Warmth, Little Fires and the forthcoming, A Stirring in the Dark. A multi-award-winning poet and two-time Pushcart Prize nominee, her work appears in numerous journals and anthologies and has been supported with funding from the Kentucky Arts Council, the Kentucky Foundation for Women and the Elizabeth George Foundation. 49


NONFICTION FINALIST

How to Play the Washboard, in Five Easy Steps Erin Fitzgerald

Step 1: Lose your mind. This step is the base for the whole process, so it is important not to mess it up. Let’s start with rule #1: Do not confuse losing your mind with hitting rock bottom. Although the two can happen simultaneously, they are not the same thing. I am not talking about going a little crazy, or falling into the clutches of some substance for salvation—that’s amateur business. I’m talking lose. it. altogether. A total scramble. Lose words. Lose the ability to speak. Lose pride. Lose friends. Lose touch. My method for step one was typical. I failed many times before I succeeded. I hit rock bottom, thinking that was sufficient. I was naïve. When success finally found me, I had been awake for two days. The rest of the details are as foggy as they are unimportant. I was in good hands, meaning not my own. I struggled to form words. I saw things of dreams in real corners. I knew no one I saw, and I knew everyone I saw. I crossed in and out of pockets of time. At some point, I lost touch with words. I could not understand them, but knew they held answers. Without them, I was heartless. Without a pulse. Alone. Step 2: Have regrets. The trick to step two is keeping your head out of the water. You will need some air after step one, so remember to take breaths. People will forever be telling you to “let it go.” Don’t listen to them. You can’t let go what you never truly had. Hold your regret close to your chest, and let it jumpstart your pulse. Hold it like an autoharp. Let it burn with every beat. This step took me several months to complete. I had had regrets before—to a fault, at times. The difference is, I had never been stingy 50

New Southerner Literary Edition 2012


enough with them. I threw them around like casino dice. I just gave them away. The completion of this step came in the middle of the night, with a jolting realization that regret goes beyond remorse. Regret encompasses all things, regardless of one’s own control or intention. The heart hides from regret. The mind tears it apart. The pulse keeps it alive. I completed step two when I discovered my heart, mind and pulse were not in the same place. My heart was stuck at rock bottom. My mind was up in the air. My pulse was right where it should be, surrounded by blood and bone. I was ready for step three.

Regret

Step 3: Make lots of pie. Discover your roots. Make peace with them, and with your regrets of ever neglecting them. Understand the importance of cold butter and good flour. Make pie crust. Discover the joy of easing your hands into the bowl—after the fat has been cut into the flour, but before the liquid is added. Don’t be stingy. Indulge in this feeling. You need it more than anything right now. Ruin several pie crusts, by feeling the flour for too long. Respect the powers that live in the heat of your own hands. Cry often. For step three, I started with my family cookbook. I called my mother. I asked lots of questions. Step 4: Find your center.

encompasses all

things, regardless of one’s own control or intention. The heart hides from regret. The mind tears it apart. The pulse keeps it alive.

Your center is the point from which your pulse emerges. Your rhythm comes from this place—from your own blood and bone. Many have described this as a still place, and for some people, this may be true. Don’t let anyone tell you where your center is. Only you can find it. I spent years trying to be still, at the urging of others. I was advised this would help me to achieve balance, and find my center. Those giving the advice were well-meaning and helpful. They believed what they preached, so I believed them. I tried and tried and tried to embrace stillness. I suffered through countless futile attempts to find peace in the absence of movement. I was thinking in terms of the body, and not the mind. This was my mistake. I finally gave up and faced my own truth. I am not balanced, and I am offcenter. The core of my being is not still. To find center, I had to get in tune with my pulse. This cannot happen when the heart is stagnant on the ocean floor, 51


Just pick up the washboard. Hold it close, where you held your regret in step two. Feel the pressure. Lay your palm flat on the textured metal. Feel the cold. Run your fingers along the wood frame. Press your chin into the side of the wood. Get to know the grain.

while the mind flies carelessly above the surface. The three have to meet and merge—right where the blood spurts, just behind the ribs, just under the part that swallows. This step is the most painful. You may experience lurching or heaving. Don’t give up. Keep moving, in whatever way your body dictates. You will know this step is complete when you find yourself alone on the couch, squeezing your chest with crossed arms, rocking back and forth to the sound of your own pulse. Keep your eyes closed. You will feel it in your ears, your neck, your legs, your head. Let it rock you to your core. This is your center. Step 5: Pick up a washboard. Once you have successfully completed steps 1-4, the rest writes itself. Just pick up the washboard. Hold it close, where you held your regret in step two. Feel the pressure. Lay your palm flat on the textured metal. Feel the cold. Run your fingers along the wooden frame. Press your chin into the side of the wood. Get to know the grain. Feel how it is different from the middle. Tap your fingers on every part, just to get a sense of the sounds. Settle into your own skin, with every bit of your heart, mind and pulse. Now you are ready to play. NOTE: If you are still unable to find your rhythm, go back to step one and start again.

Erin Fitzgerald is a community arts enthusiast who writes songs, stories, segments and snapshots. She lives in Louisville with her brilliant children, who inspire her every day.

52

New Southerner Literary Edition 2012


NONFICTION FINALIST

The Illuandas Elizabeth Glass

E

very night when I was 10, the Illuanda Indians got me out of my bed and took me across the street to the Reed’s yard, which was five acres in the middle of our neighborhood. I was their new leader, an old soul, born anew in 1967, and it was 1977 when I was old enough to be so special they took me in as their medicine woman. The Illuandas were an ancient tribe that had lived on that property hundreds of years earlier. They wore orange leather pants and tops with beautiful fringe. The tops had intricate beadwork that the women taught me how to do so that I would be able to make it by myself when they were no longer able to appear to me. They taught me their ways: how to hunt buffalo, tan their hides, and make clothes and instruments out of the leather. Some nights I wore my headdress I had gotten from the South Union Shaker Museum with my grandmother and carried the American Indian doll purse, which was a dark-skinned doll with a purple leather dress around it that zipped up the back. Other nights I took the drum with stretched cream-colored leather, or I took my handheld drum there. I hadn’t wondered why a Shaker Village museum sold those things; I just knew they were important because they brought me closer to the Illuandas. I tried to tell my grandmother that summer when we went to the Shaker Museum how important the Indian items were to me, and how much closer I was to the Illuandas, but she poo-pooed me and dismissed it. The school counselors, though, were very interested in them. I went to them every day to tell them about the Illuandas, and how important I was to them. I loved making the trip down the hall to the office where I would be taken seriously and listened to. I told Mr. Abbott* and Mrs. Matchem, a rapt audience, about the flowers the Illuandas taught me how to make into a poultice to cure ailments, and to make soup out of wild onions and flowers that I practiced making in my mom’s cast iron cauldron during the earlier days of summer break. I taught my sister Callie how to make the soup, but when I tried to teach her other things, she hollered for Mom. It was important for me

53


to teach everything to Callie. The Illuandas were willing to have her join the tribe if she would believe in them, but she had to get second-sight before they would take her to the Reed’s yard at night and begin training her. She wasn’t willing to open her mind that way, which worried me about when the end of the world came. The day came when Mr. Abbott told me that he would like to send me to the University of Louisville for them to study me. I was so proud. I was in touch with other worlds, and they were going to learn from me. I told my mom with a puffed up chest of importance. “No,” she said. I argued. She told me, “I’ll go down and talk to the counselors tomorrow.” I was sure that she’d see their insight, but when she got there, she asked, “Does this happen at a certain time each day?” Mrs. Matchem checked her calendar. She was surprised to learn that it was always just before 10:30 a. m. “What subject does she have at 10:30?” Mrs. Matchem went to my classroom and asked Mrs. Caruso, then came back and told my mom, “Math.” My mom humpfed and said, “Elizabeth doesn’t like math” and left. She told me not to go to the counselors anymore, and when I tried they turned me away. The Illuandas still visited me nightly until we moved when I was 11, but I didn’t mention them often after that. It wasn’t until I was 22 that I did get studied. I was reading a chapter for my Abnormal Psychology class while I worked on my masters in counseling psychology; a small paragraph of no more than six sentences described temporal lobe epilepsy (TLE). It was a type of epilepsy that caused heightened sensations, feelings of uniqueness, and seizures that resembled “temper

His office

resembled that of a lawyer’s more

than a doctor’s and

seemed set up to be

intimidating. “When did

you begin having these so-called seizures?”

“All my life,”

I answered.”I’ve

always had them.” He had me

describe them,

then said. “You’re

just having temper

tantrums and want

an excuse for them, aren’t you?”

54

New Southerner Literary Edition 2012


tantrums” with flailing hands, screaming, hair pulling, kicking and other psychomotor activities. The seizures could also be small, involving staring, and the patient could also be unreachable during those times, or experience déjà vus, where you feel like you’ve done something or been somewhere before, but you haven’t, and jamais vus, which is when you have done something repeatedly, but have the overwhelming sensation and thought that you haven’t ever done that before. Although TLE mirrors bipolar disorder in many ways, it is caused by seizures and not a chemical imbalance. I read that paragraph and immediately knew what was wrong with me, something I had been searching for since I was a child. I went to a therapist at the University of Louisville Counseling Center and told her what I thought. The psychiatrist, Dr. Stein, was there and asked me to describe my seizures. I told her of all of the times I had no control and when I had what seemed to be horrible behavior outbursts, and that I never remembered them afterward—I pieced them together based on what those around me said—and that I had to take a nap afterward. She told me that TLE is quite rare, but it did sound like I had it, so she referred me to a neurologist. The neurologist I saw, Dr. Botts, didn’t do a physical exam. He took me into his large office and sat me across the desk from him. His office resembled that of a lawyer’s more than a doctor’s and seemed set up to be intimidating. “When did you begin having these so-called seizures?” “All my life,” I answered. “I’ve always had them.” He had me describe them, then said, “You’re just having temper tantrums and want an excuse for them, aren’t you?” I could have cried. I felt helpless, finally having found out what was “wrong” with me, feeling in large part insane; I wasn’t being taken seriously. “No, that’s not it,” I said. “Well, you go on home to your husband and straighten up. There’s no reason to think you have temporal lobe epilepsy. It’s very uncommon. You read in your book what you thought would be something to excuse your behavior, and now you just want to blame your bad behavior on it.” I stood up. I had just gotten married and was already having trouble, in large part due to my seizures. I knew I couldn’t control them and they would end my relationship. As I stood to leave, Dr. Botts said, “Let me ask you one more question. Have you ever had a déjà vu?” “Yes,” I answered. “All the time.” “How often is ‘all the time’?” I thought about it. I knew that everything hinged on this question and I wanted to give him an answer that showed I had TLE, but I didn’t know what the proper answer for that would be, so I answered truthfully. “Six or seven.” “Six or seven ever?” “No,” I said, “six or seven a day.” He sat up. He had been leaning back in his executive desk chair the way my dad, an attorney, did when he knew the whole story already, or when he was lecturing someone—be it me or one of his clients. The doctor’s eyes had 55


opened wider, then went back to his regular look. “Well, I don’t think it will show anything, but I’ll order this EEG for you. You have to stay awake 24 hours before the test. Can you do that?” I nodded. “Just because of the déjà vus, I’ll go ahead and start you on Tegretol. If you were to really have it, you’d need a much stronger dose, but this might help you with your troubles.” Walking into the hospital for the EEG with my (then) husband Dennis, I felt foolish. It seemed neither he nor anyone else believed I had TLE, which made me feel crazy. What if the test showed that I didn’t have epilepsy and I was simply out of control without a cause? In my memory I had my pillow, a blanket and a stuffed animal with me when I went to the hospital, but I know I didn’t—that was how powerless I felt. During the EEG, I sat in the recliner after having 20 electrodes hooked to my scalp that would measure my brain waves. I was so tired. I had not been allowed to drink coffee to stay awake, though Dennis had because he stayed up with me so I wouldn’t fall asleep. The test involved sitting in the chair and having my brain waves measured during regular times, with strobe lights going off toward my closed eyes. When I was done, the technician wouldn’t tell me anything, just that I should hear from my doctor the next day. I didn’t. So I called him after two days, but he didn’t return my call. On the third day, I got a call from my mom. “Well, apparently you have it.” I was quiet, then asked, “What?” “Dr. Saunders, Michele’s psychiatrist, called and she has seen your EEG. It’s being passed around the hospital because it’s the perfect example of someone with temporal lobe epilepsy, and that’s apparently really unusual.” This was 1990, pre-HIPAA, and even so it was within the same hospital, so it’s conceivable that could still happen, but it was surreal finding out from my mom, through my sister Michele’s psychiatrist, that I had TLE. I called the neurologist’s office again. It was a Friday, around 3 p.m. If I didn’t get hold of him, I wouldn’t hear back at least until Monday. “He’s on vacation for the next three weeks. He’s going out of the country,” I was told by the receptionist. I told her what I had heard. She seemed skeptical, but I got a call back from his assistant. “What is it you heard?” she asked. When I told her what my mom said and how it got to her, she put me on hold. It wasn’t long before she came back. “I need to try to reach Dr. Botts. He’s going out of the country, and I don’t know if I’ll be able to tell you anything if he’s already gone. I’ll call you back.” Calling me back was quite a process. I worked in a school building running an after-school childcare program, and the only phone was down the hall in the Home Economics room. I had a pager—this was before many people had cell phones—so she had to page me, and I called her back from the Home Ec room. When I reached her, she said, “I caught Dr. Botts on the airplane. He said to immediately up your Tegretol. Do you have some with you that you can take?” I did. “Take it right away. And double the dose he had you on.” I got off the phone and went to the nearest water fountain and took another Tegretol. I felt crazy, vulnerable and relieved. I slid down the wall. Three kids 56

New Southerner Literary Edition 2012


were with me, waiting to go outside and play. It was a small program at the time, and I was the only staff. Six eyes stared at me as I sat on the floor and cried, then I took the children outside, and we had the best afternoon we had had that entire fall.

W

hen I was 10, Dad had me tell his best friend, another lawyer named Mr. Hammell, about the Illuandas. I told him of their history—how they were killed by white men and wiped out, that they were a regal and proud tribe and had mystical powers, and they now lived within stardust and appeared only to me. He asked why I was chosen as a new one. “Because I’m special,” I said. “Because I can see them.” I told him how we danced around a fire far into the morning hours, that they took me out of my bed at night and left me on the floor in the mornings. Later that night, two laughing attorneys came into my room and picked me up out of my bed and put me on the floor. They shushed each other and giggled like the girls in my class did when I had seizures. I heard them say “Indians” more than once. I pretended to be asleep while they moved me and stood in the doorway talking. After they left and I was falling back asleep, I was cold. At least the Illuandas covered me up when they brought me back to my room.

Dad had me tell his best friend ... about the Illuandas.... He asked why I was chosen as a new one. “Because I’m special,” I said. “Because I can see them.” I told him how we danced around a fire far into the morning hours, that they took me out of my bed at night and left me on the floor in the mornings.

*All names are changed. Elizabeth Glass, of Louisville, Kentucky, has master’s degrees in creative writing and counseling psychology and is the recipient of grants from the Kentucky Foundation for Women and the Kentucky Arts Council. Her writing has appeared in a variety of journals, including Still. 57


FICTION FINALIST

You’re Not Thinking of Me Alan Naslund

M

y father and I do not agree about the origin of those outstanding mule deer antlers mounted up on the prairie stone fireplace of the lake house. To Hob, those beautifully curved points came from a hunting trip with Deeter, one where the two, father and firstborn son, trekked up into the high country of the big mountains one fall while I frittered away my time in college. Well, it may be so, memory can deceive us I have read somewhere, and the fact is I have my own set of antlers the old man gave to me and which he said he found in the lakehouse garage when he retired from farming and bought that more elegant place. As it turned out, the lake-house pair of buck antlers, bigger and more perfect, even than the contested pair, I hired someone to mount on a more professional plaque when I lived in Louisville, Kentucky. I still have them. I don’t show them off to my academic friends, some of whom are avid animal rights partisans. Now as to how the contested pair was acquired. When I lived with my father, each and every fall and as a matter of the just economy of the country, he bought a landowner’s deer tag for each of the boys who qualified under the game laws by age. As far as we boys going out and hunting, Hob usually killed the deer represented himself, or “filled the tags” as it was called, or else he had one of his friends do the actual shooting when he went out with them, and I only took my tag out with him one time. That was in my sophomore year in high school. While the rest of the USA ate hamburgers, roasts and beefsteaks, you see, our family in Montana survived our winters well enough on deer burgers and other forms of venison. This diet certainly cost Hob less than slaughtering his own beef, which in the words of Quintius Curtius, the Roman farmer, he could otherwise “turn into money,” but my mom cooked the deer too done I thought, and only years later did I taste a real, tender, hunter’s stew cooked for me by the son of a lumber man from Mississippi, but that’s another story. This is about Hob and meat hunting, or rather, my version of that common activity.

58

New Southerner Literary Edition 2012


By the way and before the story proper, this is how Hob got his reputation as meat hunter. One fall not 20 miles from our own flat barley fields and in the more dramatic up and down fields of ranchers in the Track Mountains, fields fragrant with the pitch smell of conifers, Hob, my dad, was hunting mule deer. He was out there with friends, each hunter in the party scouring a separate gulch, hoping to find whatever deer were laying up there during sunshine hours. Hob surprised a small herd of these grey deer, fat on the tender leaves of mountain shrubbery, resting in tall grass by a trout pool in a woodsy bend of Clear Creek. No one around but Hob and the deer. So the story goes. Hob shot one deer and it fell, and the rest milled around nervously, spooked a little, looking over the tall grass, but unable to see Hob in his hiding place of scrub pine. Since there were four other hunters in the party, all with deer tags, all needing deer, all far away in other gulches or draws, Hob shot another deer, and it, too, fell down in the tall grass. The deer were practically on display for him, circling around the dead deer, confused, but, on the basis of some mood known only to deer, unwilling to run. Or maybe the deer couldn’t see the fallen deer either, just like Hob. Of course, in the end he shot the whole herd of five deer, one after the other—two spike bucks and three fat doe, one for each hunter in the party. Thereafter, Hob the meat hunter! So it was in my sophomore year again that Hob asked me that strange question, would I, Cleve, like to skip school Friday, go out with him to hunt deer in the Breaks of the Missouri River and come back late on Saturday? Strange business to me because Hob

The deer were practically on display for him, circling around the dead deer, confused, but, on the basis of some mood known only to deer, unwilling to run. Or maybe the deer couldn’t see the fallen deer either, just like Hob. Of course, in the end he shot the whole herd of five deer, one after the other—two spike bucks and three fat doe, one for each hunter in the party. 59


had no time for me usually except to put me to work on one of his machines, a hay baler, a beet cultivator—I don’t know what—half the time asking me to skip school for that sort of thing. I really don’t think I wanted to miss school to go hunting, although I had the usual high school boy’s unexamined prejudice against school. I’d missed school enough for Hob and his hearty recruiting tactics: “We got fence to fix before those cows … We got hay to put up before that rain … ,” and besides I had a hard time imagining myself actually shooting a deer, not to mention Faye in town, whom I usually saw on Friday nights, at least to sit with her on her mother’s couch, maybe to go to a movie if there was money. However, I had a fascination with Hob’s firearms, and it must have been on that basis that I told him I wanted to go. I did, indeed, want to tote that thirtythirty around in the Badlands, as the Breaks were locally named. I was drawn to go. I was led to go. It would be wrong to say I wanted to go. So the hunting trip began to happen. “See this, Cleve?” Hob said. “This is your own deer tag. You want to carry it along with you, so fold it up and put it in your pocket.” Hob could be winning and kind. He smiled. For a second he actually beamed at his boy. I’ve never said he couldn’t be winning and kind. Despite my better judgment, I could feel a father and son or a manhood ritual forming around us, engulfing Hob and me, a ritual that, perhaps from long, lone times in the farm fields, we both completely disbelieved. However, it was a ritual or rite that Hob had no control over and to which he, too, was subject, a kind of order of the thing that Hob never committed to words and probably understood mostly by that Montana feeling that there never were any words for some things and, in fact, there weren’t supposed to be. Words. I thought about my shooting problem instead of trying to expand my new smile. What the hell use was a smile if we were about to enter into the essential thing that men did, what fathers did with their sons to put them in touch with male customs and values which usually didn’t include smiles? As for the deer, I knew and could feel in my arms that I could just put the large animal in my sights and blow it away. I had done that, conscienceless, with pheasants, but here was different. I had always heard you had to run up to the still living deer with your own sharpened hunting knife and cut its throat until the blood washed big and maroon like a river on your hands and wrists. And then, you see, a deer, unlike a pheasant, would be as big as I, and that seemed to have a meaning. I had, after all, seen the all-too-conscious, fattened ewe or wether selected out of the band and hanging upside down by its hocks, uttering short and stifled bleats both questioning and terrified, yellow eyes rolling to each of us involved in the butcher in turn—I holding the rope in a halfhitch—as the neighbor who knew the old custom deftly applied a sharpened blade to the pink skin of the farm animal’s throat and the blood flowed to answer those forbidden but logical questions of the sheep once and for all. So Hob, the meat hunter, and I, his son, got in the family Mercury and headed out of the farmyard with our hunting paraphernalia thrown in the backseat any which way like junk, Hob’s way. Hob kept one loaded rifle in its case in the front seat, because, as he said, “It’s hunting season, and we’re hunters, Clevey. 60

New Southerner Literary Edition 2012


We don’t know where the deer are yet and neither does anybody else.” The deer could come out of the brush through the barrow pit on the way to the Badlands. My favorite of guns here was an old 30.06, a Remington bolt action, I don’t know what model. Hob, unsatisfied with the action some years back, had welded a split half of a one-half inch ball bearing onto the lever. It looked crude, the electric weld and his inexpert grinding of the bead, but he was satisfied, and, besides, as everyone knew, he was a dead shot. We were going to pass through the Track Mountains in a couple of hours, and there were plenty of deer there. Plenty if you could see them. That’s where Hob had shot the herd. The overall plan was, though, to go where deer could be flushed from coulees, and where deer were big—the Breaks of the Missouri, as I said. For a while Hob quizzed me about school as we rode along, and I got expansive and idealistic way beyond my real interest in school. Sure, I was a good student, but I laid it on so thick he quit asking me anything, and I was sorry I had tried to sound important. I asked a few successful questions about finding deer, what we were going to do when we got there but soon fell into silence too because I knew next to nothing about the actual ways of deer hunting, over the years having ignored what Hob and my brothers did with such enthusiasm in view of my other interests. For me these other interests were school and the exploration of the body of my girlfriend, Faye, and I could not talk about the latter. I realized much later that Hob really didn’t have anything to talk to my brothers about in a congenial way except about what he and I were doing now, so wary were we all about his work demands in those days. To talk about work would just bring up a longstanding bitterness between father and sons. As long as I could remember, however, in the fall there were several deer hanging in a cottonwood tree in

I realized much later that Hob

really didn’t have

anything to talk to my brothers about in a congenial

way except about

what he and I were

doing now, so wary were we all about

his work demands in those days. To talk about work

would just bring

up a longstanding

bitterness between father and sons.

61


the backyard, venison aging in the cool weather. So maybe here was something I was missing. Had I even wanted to go out with them? Never. And so my heretofore ignorance of hunting and its channel of acceptable family talk was logical, even natural. As we reached the Track Mountains, where even relatively close distances were now blue, and the rolling ground revealed a stimulating series of colors quite different from the monotone, tan prairie, Hob pulled the car off the road onto the dirt approach to a hayfield, and I couldn’t help noticing, as I always did when we came up here, that exposed earth in this place looked black and volcanic, dramatically alive, possibly rich with minerals or something like that. We ate our lunch up in that cooler environment. When I released my milky sandwich papers, which flew away from the car window into the tossing invisible wind, the papers marked the pristine distance like flags. I had a sense of the air’s cleanness, and I promptly felt embarrassed. Should we be letting that debris float away in the wind? Hob did not tell me that I shouldn’t throw the wrappers out. In fact, everybody did that sort of thing back then in the country no matter how goddamn beautiful it was. So we reached the hunting ground. Grey and tan Montana earth stood carved up as though from immense violence. Deep gullies and coulees draped themselves like folds in land that all led down to the Missouri River. Every part of the Badlands seemed alike. I could see no particular reason that Hob had stopped us at this spot rather than another. “Here we are, my boy,” Hob said, and pulled off the road onto the approach to fenced pasture land owned by operators far larger than Hob. Wind seemed very insistent here, toneless as it worried the parched soil and grass. That wind was a part I hadn’t expected. Deer must have a hard time in such a wind, wherever they were, I thought, if the deer were at all like me with ears like mine, easily bored. But then I corrected myself. Naturally, my father was not thinking about the private lives of these deer. “How soon will it be dark?” I asked. “Oh, don’t worry about that,” Hob said. “We got four or five hours. We can find something. Remember Uncle Charlie and me? We came out here last year, and I got a deer in three hours.” “Where are we going to look for them?” I asked “I’ll tell you what,” Hob said, “I don’t know just yet. We’ll look around and see where each of us should go.” We were out of the car by this time, and Hob was looking left and right at the landscape that receded down toward the obscure and powerful river we never intended to see. “Aren’t we going to hunt together?” I remember asking. “Lots more efficient if we split up,” Hob said. “Cover more ground, see more deer. “It’s a big country,” I said involuntarily. “You won’t get lost,” Hob said. “After you go down coulee, all you have to do is come up coulee and you’ll end up on the flat. From there you can see the road or at least a fence that will take you to the road.” “I’ve never done this before, actually,” I said in hopeless and mild explanation. I was always mild toward Hob, even when I was inwardly enraged in those days. 62

New Southerner Literary Edition 2012


At this point I was genuinely alarmed. I didn’t want to be alone in such a big country. “I think you need to put that bright jacket on,” Hob said. “It’s hunting season for everybody else, too.” I put on my American Legion boxing jacket. Lightweight cotton, bright blue with yellow arms, it was cut out in the raglan style and had the outline of a boxing glove in soft deer skin sewn on the back. The night before Hob had insisted that I bring the jacket. He was more proud of the club jacket than I. Benny, my sparring partner, always managed to hit my ears, and even on this hunting trip, the small cracks in the skin of my ears next to my head stung slightly. Hob said when I got too big, the punches might hurt my brain, but in the meantime I would learn not to fear kids from town this way. Hob laid out the hunting strategy. Each hunter was to follow the ridge of a separate, deep coulee in the direction of the river for about an hour, watching for game. The coulee would widen, and it would be intersected by smaller gullies and might be obscured by these scrub pine trees, but I was to try to stay on the main run, as Hob would stay on his. Then each was to come back up coulee to high ground again, picking a path in the bottom of the next-over coulee until he was out. If we didn’t find deer or flush them out that way, Hob would be surprised. I followed the high ground along the edge of my coulee, carrying the leveraction rifle, exactly the kind you saw in Western movies. It was a heady feeling moving down toward the hidden river, carrying lethal protection. I liked the drama of it, but I knew it was unreal, that I really needed Hob to show me the correct feeling, but by the time I had gone 50 yards, I looked around to find that I had completely lost contact with Hob. Maybe he had unexpectedly gone down toward the bottom of the grassy top to take a leak. You had to stand or work next to him a long time to know what the correct feeling was with Hob anyway. Nothing happened on my passage down coulee, no deer, except that there was increasing cover toward the river that lay far below, and if there were deer they would have been obscured by the trees and brush. I was in thick timber where tree trunks were obstacles when I got as far as I thought I should be going. I would have liked to walk back out on my own coulee that I already knew, but I picked the next one over as I was told and began to scramble down the steep bank of the gully for my turnaround. Here I saw my first real sign of deer. Animals had pressed a foot trail into the bottom around rocks and trees. The wind didn’t blow at all, and it looked like there was forage, since the grass along the edge of the trail showed green here and there. A deer could have a nice time here. I followed the game trail delightedly, as though a deer. Not far along the trail my eyes were drawn to a brown bundle high in thick pine overlooking the trail. The thirty-thirty was heavy compared to a twenty-two, and I knew how powerful it was. I raised my gun. There was a sound of wild, enraged screaming, high-pitched tearing, in my head. A wounded mountain lion was presenting all its fangs and claws, blood running from its mouth in my mind’s eye, attacking its attacker. I lowered the gun with weakened, trembling arms that 63


What was the hunter’s lost signal? I thought I could do no better than whistling, so I kept on. This for an hour, but no sound and no word in return. Maybe I thought Hob would whistle back, discreetly revealing his position without human words of care or comfort that would scare the game away from our guns. No whistle came to my ears, though. 64

New Southerner Literary Edition 2012

felt barely hooked to my shoulders in their sockets. I could not trust the accuracy of my shooting with an unaccustomed gun. With a twentytwo I would know where I was going to hit. I circled up the bank and around the trail. Tired by then, played out, I felt I was behind schedule with Hob. It was time to hurry up the coulee to the car, or next I would be inventing and shooting deer. It was getting late, too. I needed to be with Hob, but taking a shortcut over the trail had got me lost. Was lone coulee over, or was it three or four? Whistling seemed a good idea, and I whistled loudly, afraid to shout for help or to show overt fear. I whistled and whistled, expecting Hob, somewhere in his coulee would hear me and signal back. What was the hunter’s lost signal? I thought I could do no better than whistling, so I kept on. This for an hour, but no sound and no word in return. Maybe I thought Hob would whistle back, discreetly revealing his position without human words of care or comfort that would scare the game away from our guns. No whistle came to my ears, though. Still whistling, I decided to move up to the top again. I whistled and climbed through scrub pine and brush. Out of the pleasant bottom, the growing stuff of the Breaks country was of a cranky sort—the brush resistant and springy as steel. This was a hell of a place to go for recreation, and a worse place to spend the night lost. Watery light came from the sky now at a low angle, and I was up to my armpits in brush, feeling more panicky as I climbed. Now I knew I was probably going away from the car!


Then something deafening bloomed in my ears, jolted me backwards into spiny branches. And then again, the same powerful, machine-like noise. A highpowered rifle was exploding something like right on top of me, and my reflex was that I had been shot or at least shot at, dodging, tumbling part way down the slope in escape. I re-focused quickly, found myself looking up through branches and whips of greasewood toward a sky where high clouds were collecting a faint rosy color. I knew I wasn’t shot. I did what I knew Hob expected: pulled myself together and stood up slowly and carefully in my bright jacket. Three yards above me on the slope, Hob, chest and head rising above thorny green cover, gazed at me with a mild and thoughtful look on his hunting-cap-sheltered face, rifle with telescopic sight held firmly, barrel up. We didn’t talk much, father and son, as we hiked to the bottom of the coulee again and up to nearly the top of the other side and a terrace where the bunch grass was very high. Slogging up the incline, I could see the arch of a russet antler, streaked with ivory, curving above the tawny grass. I had seen enough deer to know that this was a huge one. In fact I cried, “It’s an elk. For God’s sakes, it’s an elk,” as we came up on Hob’s grand, dead mule deer. I was glad it was dead, and Hob didn’t have to rush up and slit its throat to remove all the living blood from its body. Hob thought this was a pretty significant buck, a strange thing for him to think, since a doe would have been better meat. Hob never shot worthy bucks. We gutted and dressed the exotic body of the deer, still warm, its hair gray as an army blanket, our sharp knives laying the bristly fur open to gleaming white fat along the belly, on the inner thighs, everywhere, exposing bright rivers of quiet, scarlet veins, frozen, petrified red in the tallow, Hob’s hatchet splitting the pearly sternum with soft, expert blows. Then he and I arduously brought it up to the flat and tied the carcass to the front fender of the Mercury and draped its hugeantlered head up over the hood, so we could drive through the town of Sandy-Up on our way home, showing our trophy off to the local hunters and housewives. I meanwhile brooded on the words my father had used to explain why he didn’t whistle in his turn out there in the field and the puzzle of me coming out of cover almost exactly at his stand. The word “decoy” particularly rankled me, although I could see the logic. “Every time you moved, that big guy moved a few feet,” Hob had said and explained quite unnecessarily how he didn’t want to reveal his own position, so miraculously close to the car, while the trophy buck moved slowly but surely out of his own cover in effect at my fearful prompting.

Alan J. Naslund has enjoyed a career as a university English professor, teaching in the United States, Japan and South Korea. His book of poems, Silk Weather, was published by Fleur de-lis Press, Spalding University.

65


FICTION FINALIST

Creme Brulee Chris Helvey

S

tairs, smooth and dark and glowingly polished over decades by human palms, curled above him into the darkness of the upper floors. The old man paused for a moment and caressed the railing with the palm of his left hand. He kept the horsehead cane in his right one, resting his weight on it, weaving slightly as though caught in a rising tropical wind. Memories washed through his mind, and he stood there with his eyes open, seeing nothing but the memories until a nagging little creature who lived at the back of his brain roused him. He swallowed, blinked and shuffled toward the elevator door, gleaming like old silver on the other side of the octagonal foyer. Ten years ago, he told himself, maybe even five, and I would have climbed those stairs. Hell, there was a day when I could take them two at a time all the way to the seventh floor and not even be breathing hard at the top. His head shook a little as he moved, stoop shouldered, across tiles that had once been white but were now the color of last year’s straw. “That him?” The young waiter fingered the diamond stud in his left ear. “That’s him, the man I’ve been telling you about. I was wondering if he would come.” “Thought you said he always came on this day.” “That’s right, he always has, leastways as long as I’ve been working here, and that’s over 30 years. Why, it wouldn’t seem like a real August the 24th if he didn’t show up. Still, with his failing health and all, I just wondered.” The young waiter ran the palm of one hand across his face as he watched the old man. His acne felt worse today, he frowned. “Looks like a dead man walking. How long has he been coming here?” “Son, I couldn’t rightly say. He had been coming here long before Eulas Jackson arrived on the scene. I remember, just as clearly as if it was last Tuesday, old Arnold Washington telling me to be on the sharp 66

New Southerner Literary Edition 2012


lookout for him. He was already famous then, him and his wife. Now there was one sweet lady. Always had a smile for everybody. Oh, they was a handsome couple back then, very distinguished looking. Mannerly too, always made you feel important, never complained about nothing—not that they had any reason to. I seen to that for sure. Straighten up now, son. Here he comes.” “Evening, Mr. Cathcart. So good to see you again this year,” Eulas said. The old man curled his lips up at their ends and nodded. “Evening, Eulas. Evening, sir.” By the time the young man remembered to nod Mr. Cathcart was already halfway to the elevator. He paused for a moment and nodded at the young girl behind the hostess stand. “Evening, Louise. You’re doing well, I trust?” “Yes, sir.” “And your mother and grandmother?” “They’re both fine, sir, just a little older and slower.” “Aren’t we all. Now you be sure and say hello for me.” Damn, he looks old, the young waiter murmured to himself as he watched Eulas put a large hand on the old man’s upper left arm. Looks like an old buzzard. Positively ancient. “Here, let me get that for you, Mr. Cathcart.” “Why thank you, Eulas.” “Nice weather we’ve been having.” “Lovely for August. Humidity’s been down. Humidity now, that’s what makes it feel so awful, like some heavy old wool blanket has been wetted down and slung over your shoulders.” The old man raised his head and gazed into the eyes of the man with one finger on the elevator button.

“Nice weather

we’ve been having.” “Lovely for

August. Humidity’s been down.

Humidity now, that’s what makes it feel

so awful, like some heavy old wool

blanket has been

wetted down and slung over your

shoulders.” The old

man raised his head and gazed into the

eyes of the man with one finger on the elevator button.

67


“Oh yes, yes sir, that sure is right, Mr. Cathcart.” Eulas smiled at the old man. Failed considerable since last year, he thought. Wonder if this year will finally be his last. Then his eyes started stinging for no reason, and he pressed the 7 button and the elevator hissed upwards. “You’ve been well, Eulas?” “Oh fine, sir, fine. And yourself?” “Still hanging on. Old age is rough on a fellow. You have to battle all the time, and still you fall behind.” He nudged Eulas’ shoulder companionably. “Don’t say I didn’t warn you.” “No, sir, oh no, sir. I wouldn’t say that. Fact is, I know you are right, from experience you might say.” “Well, expect you do at that. How long have you been working here at the Madison, Eulas? Must be 30 years.” “That’s right. Was 30 years the 15th of March.” “You’ve seen a lot of people then.” The elevator jerked a little and the door opened smoothly. Eulas Jackson put his left arm across the doorway. His right hand gently cupped the old man’s elbow, and he began to steer him toward the private room at the back. “I’ve seen a lot of people. I sure have. When you consider it all, I’ve seen a lot, period.” They walked slowly, content with the pace and the moment. Quiet reigned on the seventh floor. It was segregated by black lacquered screens into shadowy islands of privacy. Although the entire floor was one large room, half-walls and archways and innovative table placements gave the illusion of a half dozen small rooms, segmented like the rattles on a rattlesnake’s tail. Except for emergency lighting they were all dark, all except the room at the end of the snake. There a dozen candles flickering on a banquet table and recessed lighting laid down a soft landing pattern on the ceiling. Not that the old man really needed any guiding lights. He had been coming this way each August 24 for years, 55 to be exact. He moved with a slow, cumbersome confidence through the dimly lighted passages, tapping his way with his cane like a blind man, feeling Eulas’ hand against his elbow with a satisfaction that only came with the companionable years. On the first floor, behind the hostess stand, a young girl picked up the telephone from the shelf under the slanting top and dialed a number she didn’t have to look up. She was in her early 20s, with large dark eyes and skin the color of warm cocoa. Even in the subdued lighting, her eyes glittered. “He came, Momma. Came again this year just like you said he would.” “I never doubted it, child, never. Did he come alone?” “Yessum.” “I’d heard she’d passed. Guess I just didn’t want to let myself believe it. That’s so sad, him coming alone after all these years. I don’t know how he stands it. I truly don’t.” The phone line crackled. The voice on the other end of the phone sighed deeply. The older woman fell silent for a moment, memories crowding together in the corridors of her mind. Then she cleared her throat. “And how’s he looking? Can he get around much? I ’member you telling me he was on the cane last year.” “He’s mighty feeble tonight. Eulas had to help him to the elevator.” 68

New Southerner Literary Edition 2012


“My, but it’s awful to get old. I recall when he was the most vigorous man I ever saw, the very picture of health.” “Momma, he inquired after you and Grandma. Asked to be remembered.” “Ain’t that sweet. Mr. Cathcart always was the nicest man, a real gentleman, one of the old-fashioned kind.” “You’ll tell Grandma?” “Sure will. She’s right here with me. We been watching the Braves on the television. You know your Uncle Carl, he used to play for—” “Sorry, Momma, I’ve gotta run, more customers coming.” “Bye, baby-child,” the woman said to the dial tone.

“Y

our coffee, Mr. Cathcart.” Eulas smiled and nodded at the silver pot in his right hand. “As I remembered you always like coffee with your meal. Decaf, I believe.” Mark Cathcart looked up and nodded, returning the smile. “That’s right, Eulas. I don’t sleep as well these days, so there’s no use aggravating Morpheus.” Eulas poured with a steady hand. Steam swirled up from the dark liquid, hovering for a few seconds in the quiet air like a delicate silver mist. “Why don’t you grab another cup and pour yourself some, Eulas. I seem to be in the mood to visit.” “Oh no, I couldn’t do that.” “And why not?” “Why, Mr. Cathcart, ’cause you’re the customer and a waiter can’t sit down and drink coffee with a customer.” Mark Cathcart massaged the bottom of his face. “Thought the customer was always right.” “Well, he is, but—” “But nothing, Eulas. Go on now and get a cup and join me. I know you keep them on the second shelf of that mahogany cabinet over there. I insist.” “Well, I don’t—” “Am I not a good customer, Eulas?” “Oh yes, sir, Mr. Cathcart, for over 50 years. I’d allow that makes you a very fine customer.” “And the customer is always right?” Eulas frowned. “Yes.” “That settles it then. Besides, you and I have been hooking up this way for a long time, a damn long time actually, and I think it is about time we had a cup of coffee together.” Eulas rubbed his mustache. Lately, in the old gilt-edged mirror that had been his mother’s, there had been a silver tinge to the black. Under his hand, he smiled a little. “All right, if you say so, Mr. Cathcart.” Eulas walked across the room. He was glad it was evening and his legs had loosened up. Some mornings the old arthritis was so bad that he could barely shuffle to the bathroom. He retrieved another bone white china cup and poured himself a cup. He added two spoonfuls of sugar and a splash of cream from the china pots standing on the black lacquered tray that resided on top of the mahogany cabinet. He hadn’t bothered to carry the tray to the table; Mr. Cathcart always took his coffee 69


black. Eulas Jackson carried his coffee carefully to the table and eased into a chair directly across the table from the old man. “That looks like muddy branch water, Eulas. You must use cream.” “Yes, sir. Just a splash. I use half-and-half at home.” “Where’s home?” “Well, now, my birthplace was in Cadiz, Kentucky. But we moved out of there back when I was still in school. Daddy hooked on with the L&N down here. A buddy named David Davis got him on. He ended up working there for 33 years. Was chief conductor the last four.” Eulas Jackson blinked away the memories and came back into the small upper room. “Sorry about the rambling. Anyway, these days I live over on Warwick, number 137 Warwick.” He glanced across the table at the old man. “Warwick is over on the south side, Mr. Cathcart, down by the old fairgrounds.” “Yes, indeed, I know Warwick. At least I used to. For years my uncle Alex had a mechanic that lived over there. Don’t remember exactly where. Think it was the fourteen hundred block. Remember the house though, a little yellow clapboard with roses out front, red roses, lots of them. Tom, that was the mechanic’s name. He sure could grow roses, absolutely beautiful roses. Was a great man, with a Studebaker, too. Did you happen to know him? Think his wife’s name might have been Annie, or maybe Frannie.” Eulas took a sip of coffee. “No, don’t think I ever heard of an auto mechanic on Warwick. Studebakers, you say.” “Yes. Course, he could work on any model. That was back in the days before they computerized cars. But Studebakers were his specialty, those and Chryslers.” “I used to drive a Chrysler. Had me one of them big old Newports. Bought it off a fellow that had got laid off by a bread company. Forget the name of that company now. Drove that car for years. Absolutely loved it. It was a rare treasure, don’t find ‘em like that these days.” “My wife always liked the way a Chrysler rode. We had a New Yorker for years ourselves.” The old man shook his head and sipped at his coffee. It had a full-bodied, robust taste. Traveler’s House always served superb coffee. He knew for a fact that they ground their own beans. “You married, Eulas?” “No, sir. No way no woman could stay married to me. I’m a private man when I’m off work. Makes me hard to live with, being turned that way. I ought to know, been doing it for over 60 years now.” Both men chuckled a little and sipped at their coffee, their eyes wandering around the room, seeing things they had seen before, allowing their gaze to linger now and then on an object that jumpstarted a memory. The room grew very quiet. Eulas could just hear the faint wheeze of the old man’s breathing. It was a faraway sound, as if it were coming from some piece of machinery in the basement of the old hotel. He could see the old man’s eyes cloud over and knew Mr. Cathcart was seeing something that had once been cherished. Eulas kept his body as still as he could, only now and then sipping at his coffee and stretching his legs out when they wanted to cramp. Traffic sounds died slowly out on the street, while in the quiet room the 70

New Southerner Literary Edition 2012


candles flickered and the puddle of coffee at the bottom of the old man’s cup grew cold. Time slid by unnoticed, like a dark cloud on a cold dark night. Finally, the old man blinked and took a deep breath, his chest rising and falling. He dabbed at his eyes with a corner of his linen napkin. “It’s hard, Eulas.” “I know it is.” “Fifty-four years, two months, three days, seven hours and nine minutes. That’s a long time.” “Sure is.” The old man shook his head. His white hair rose and fell. It had once been thick and a glossy mahogany brown. Now it was the color of aged cotton and as fine as silk. Turning his head, he stared out of one of the high narrow windows that opened onto Commerce. “I miss her, you know. Miss her every day, every damn day.” Eulas merely nodded. As the Bible said, there was a time for everything. He knew there was a time for loving. He remembered reading once in a book a Kentucky man named Fenton had wrote that love is like a ripe peach, and you had to take it when or where you found it. Eulas understood. No point in letting something you love just sit around. Why, if a man was lucky enough to find even a slice of ripe peach, or a slice of love, he had better enjoy it right then and there. Cause things had a way of passing and what was sweetest always seemed to pass the fastest. Then only the memories remained; faded, but still lovely, like the petals of a flower pressed between the pages of a favorite book. For several minutes the waiter sat quietly with his shoulders against the chair back and his feet stretched out under the table, watching the old man he had known for over 30 years. Eulas was good at waiting and watching. He had a lot of practice. A private-turned man gets a lot of that sometimes. The old man was very still. Only his breathing body seemed to be in the room. After a long time Eulas could hear the bells at the Church of Christ striking. They rang nine times. As quietly as he could, he eased up out of his chair and crossed the floor. He went out of the room and used the house phone near the elevator to ask the young waiter to tell Chef Rick not to be anxious. Mr. Cathcart’s supper would be later than usual this year. Then he wandered slowly back to the last room and leaned against the door frame where he could keep an eye on the old man. Just in case. Inside the old man’s mind fragments of 54 years, two months, three days, seven hours and nine minutes whirled like so many colored glass marbles, spinning and turning and tumbling and rolling over themselves, clanking together now and then with a sharp, high glassy sound. He remembered long walks through damp woods and goldfinches on purple thistles and meadowlarks rising against the sun and slow dancing with sweat running down his face and the ocean at night, white-capped and mysterious, and she was always there, intertwined with each memory fragment. He recalled the way her little finger curled and the way her hair spiked in the morning when she got out of bed, and her slow spreading smile, and the way she lifted her eyes, and the way moonlight played peek-a-boo in her hair, and the way her face looked in the glare of neon as they passed through strange towns on one of their all-night 71


trips. All these things and a thousand more, spinning and turning and tumbling and rolling over themselves. And then there was a lump in his throat, and it was hard to breathe, and he reached out for her hand, forgetting, for that moment, that it would never be there again. Then he was back in the little room at the top of the old hotel, and the candles were flickering a mellow yellow light, and someone was playing a violin very faintly, and he felt all the memories shift fractionally in his mind, and he wanted her so much he felt like crying. But he didn’t cry, and tears wouldn’t bring her back anyway, since, he believed, in some enigmatic, glorious way she was there and always would be there, as long as he came to the quiet little room on the seventh floor of the old hotel on the 24th of August. So he swallowed hard and smiled at Eulas, leaning ever so casually against the door frame. “I think I’ll order now.” Eulas stepped into the room with supreme dignity. “Yes, Mr. Cathcart, and what will you have this year? I expect you know our menu by heart. Chef Rick told me last week he would fix whatever you fancy.” The old man leaned his head back against the chair and smiled. Candlelight reflections danced in his eyes. “You know, Eulas, I think I’ll have the Louisiana quail in raspberry sauce, with wild rice and green beans.” “Yes sir, and crème brûlée for dessert like always?” The old man nodded. Eulas Jackson started to turn to go, then just for a moment he let himself forget and pressed the palm of his right hand on the old man’s shoulder. The old man looked up and put his right hand on top of Eulas’. They smiled at each other across the years. The violin music was very soft, and candlelight fluttered in an unseen breeze.

All these things

and a thousand more, spinning

and turning and

tumbling and

rolling over

themselves. And

then there was a

lump in his throat, and it was hard

to breathe, and he

reached out for her

hand, forgetting, for that moment,

that it would never be there again.

72

New Southerner Literary Edition 2012


“You know what, Eulas?” “No, sir, Mr. Cathcart. What?” “The order I just gave you.” “Yes sir.” “That’s what I ordered the very first time.” “Your wedding night supper?” His face widening in a mystified smile, Mark Cathcart looked up with suddenly young eyes. “Why, yes, Eulas. That first night was our wedding supper. How did you know? I don’t believe I ever mentioned that over all the years.” Eulas smiled down benevolently. “Sometimes, when a man really, truly treasures something so very deep in his heart, it just sends out a message, a song carried on the wind that other people who treasure things deep in their hearts hear and understand. I’m a man what treasures things, beautiful special things, I surely am. I cherish and look at them whenever I start to feel the lonelies coming on. The truly beautiful things might fade just a little over the years, but they never totally leave a man, not as long as he’s living.” Eulas cocked his head to one side, his eyes glittering like jet as he peered across the years. “And you know, Mr. Cathcart, I’ve got me this notion, been studying on it for years, that maybe when a man passes, those treasures don’t pass with him, but float free and drift around this old world waiting for another heart to open.” For a moment Eulas Jackson was living again in another time, when a few special treasures had found their way into his heart. Then he blinked and came back into the room to find Mark Cathcart smiling at him in a way that put him in mind of ripe Georgia peaches, and he patted the old man on the shoulder, and then they were very still, listening to the sweet night fall softly all around them like God’s own benediction.

Chris Helvey’s short stories and poetry have appeared in numerous journals and reviews, including Kudzu, The Chaffin Journal, Best New Writing, Modern Mountain Magazine, Bayou and The Dos Passos Review. His chapbook, On The Boulevard, was published in 2011 by Finishing Line Press.

73


FICTION FINALIST

Compound Fracture Elizabeth Glass

H

e watched me with a fierce, toxic look full of the wickedness that only members of the Westboro Baptist Church should be capable of. All I was doing was sitting with my date—a woman I hoped would become my girlfriend—in an empty movie theater. We were holding hands, and there he sat, on his knees turned full around like a kid who had been told “No” when he asked for popcorn because he was allergic to butter (a lie), and we had a jumbo tub of the stuff with extra butter that dribbled down our faces. He glared with the fury only deep revulsion can bring—and that’s when he said it: dykes, not a nice word when spoken from someone with spittle at the sides of his mouth, spit that sprayed on us, peppering our faces with mucus-filled hatred. He stood up then, yelling that we were going to hell with the whole fire and brimstones stuff, so I asked him if his hell included haters; oh and how he stared at me then—with small constricted eyes, his pupils just a dot, a small one like when you leave a rolling ball pen on paper a moment too long. He stood up and started yelling, “Dykes, dykes, dykes!” and when we just sat and looked at him apathetically, he stood up on his seat, a movie theater seat, and then it happened: he fell. His front foot slipped, almost imperceptibly at first, and then it was twisted into the back opening that allows the seat to fold down. He nearly righted himself, but then he fell, and we all heard it: crunch, then pop, and it was broken. His foot was still in the hole—the absence at the back of the chair— and he lay on his shoulders on the ground screaming. My natural reaction was to jump up and help. I made a move to when he yelled, “Don’t touch me, you’re filthy—tarnished with evil and sin. If you touch me, I’ll see to it that you go to hell.” “And how will you do that?” I asked. I sat back in my chair and put my arms on the armrests. My arm touched Cheri’s, but she moved it away quickly like I had shocked her. He gritted his teeth and grimaced when he moved. Spitting when

74

New Southerner Literary Edition 2012


he talked, he said, “You’re a fucking whore, no better than that one from the Bible.” “One in the Bible? Mary Magdalene?” I asked. He nodded, tried to straighten again and get his foot out the back of the chair, but twisted worse and screamed. He nodded his head. I stared at him. Cheri sat in silence, her eyes big, looking between me and the man. “And you say ‘fucking’?” His face twisted with pain. “I didn’t say that,” he said. “And Mary Magdalene? The woman who was Jesus’ friend, perhaps even his lover?” He reared up like a pitbull, biting his teeth together as he launched for me, then fell back. He was sweating now; it dripped from his hair, and his shirt was soaked. “Aren’t you going to help me?” I put my hand to my chin and stroked it like I was deep in thought. Cheri got up, pulled her purse to her and walked out. When I looked back at the man, he had passed out. His leg was so twisted into his chair I was afraid to try to move it to release it. He looked like a bear with its leg stuck in a thick metal trap. I wanted to leave, to follow Cheri, but I called 911 on my cell phone and waited for the ambulance.

T

he EMTs walked into the theater. I don’t think they expected what they saw. The man was still out, his leg bent like a branch being woven into a wicker basket. I stood to leave. Five employees came in and watched them work before a woman, obviously a manager, ran in. “What—?” She looked at me.

He reared up like a pitbull, biting his teeth together as he launched for me, then fell back. He was sweating now; it dripped from his hair, and his shirt was soaked. “Aren’t you going to help me?” I put my hand to my chin and stroked it like I was deep in thought. Cheri got up, pulled her purse to her and walked out. When I looked back at the man, he had passed out. 75


I shrugged and pointed to the man’s leg. “Is he okay? People in the next theater said they heard yelling.” I nodded my head toward the man. “It was him.” I started to leave, but the manager blocked me. “You need to fill out an incident report about what happened to your husband. But you can come back later if you want to go to the hospital with him.” “I’ll do that,” I said. I have no idea exactly how it happened, but after a whirl of movement I was being shoved onto the back of the ambulance after the stretcher with the hateful man. I’d only been trying to get out of writing a damn report. “What’s your husband’s name, ma’am?” “He’s not. I’m not. I need to get off.” The ambulance’s door slammed. “His name,” the EMT said. “George. I need to take my own car, though” I said, then we were moving. The siren screamed, and I could see the red lights flashing through the darkened windows. The ambulance guys kept calling the man George. He didn’t respond, but I didn’t know whether it was because his name wasn’t George or because of the pain. I took out my cell phone to call Cheri, but the EMT told me to put my phone away and strap in. I wondered if it was the law to buckle up in an ambulance like it was in a car. I turned to ask the guy, but he was attaching an oxygen tube to “George.” “What happened?” the guy asked. “Not sure exactly.” “How did this happen?” I looked at George. He looked peaceful, like my nephew Ian when he sleeps, but paler and slightly gray-tinged. “Is he dead?” I asked. “Ma’am, I need you to focus. How did your husband get his leg stuck in the chair?” He waited. “What’s your name?” It was getting dark out and it sounded like the tires were going over wet roads. “Is it raining?” I asked. “Listen, Rainy, I need you to concentrate. I know your husband is hurt, but one of you needs to be able to tell me what happened, and he can’t do it.” I looked at George. He looked like shit. I wondered again if he was dead. “He was talking to a lady who was in the theater. He got mad at her and jumped onto his seat.” “What did the woman do to make him do that?” “Nothing.” He exhaled and rolled his eyes like a teenager. “You’re going to have to tell the police anyway.” “She was gay. He doesn’t believe in that sort of thing,” I said. The EMT shook his head. “Damn.” “You don’t either?” I asked. He unhooked George from his oxygen and got on his feet, bending into an L-shape while he stood in the ambulance. He glared at me. “You don’t believe in gays, either?” “I believe in tolerance, ma’am, like I’m tolerating you and your husband right now.” He turned away and slipped his name badge off and set it on a 76

New Southerner Literary Edition 2012


shelf while he prepared to take George out since we had pulled up to the ER ambulance bay.

I

n the hospital, someone in scrubs handed me George’s lightweight jacket. “Stay here. You have paperwork to fill out. They’ll bring you back after he’s registered.” I started toward the door, then remembered I didn’t have my car. We were miles from the theater. Maybe I’d call Cheri, have her pick me up and drive me to the car, but that wasn’t really the best idea. Even though she might think the situation was funny, I was sure I was going to have to woo her again before she’d see me after the George incident. I walked out the ambulance entrance and was on my phone giving the taxi service the name of the hospital when the woman in scrubs came outside. “Ma’am, we need his paperwork filled out.” “I have to go. I don’t belong here. Not with him,” I said. His words had sounded so much like what my brother Donn yelled at me when I came out that it turned my stomach. “I’m sorry if this is hard for you, but we do need his papers filled out. You can sit out here for it,” she said, handing me a beat-up particle board clipboard, “but you do have to complete them.” I stayed outside for about 10 minutes, then went back inside. I held the clipboard against my breasts. “I don’t, I mean—here.” I handed the clipboard to the registration clerk. “Thank you. Now if you have a seat,” she said, glancing down. “This is blank.” I nodded. “Please fill it out. It’s difficult while you worry. Do you want to be with your husband? Would it help if you got to sit with him while you complete them?” I shook my head and walked across the lobby. I looked at the vending machines and, in spite of knowing better, got a black coffee. I took a long gulp. It burned my mouth and throat and tasted the way a public restroom at a city park smells. I put the worthless foam coffee cup on the floor, got a Dr. Pepper and drank half of it at once to get rid of the coffee memory. It didn’t work, so I drank the rest down and got another. I was dialing Cheri’s number when the doctor came out. “Rainy?” he asked. I nodded. “We’re taking George to be X-rayed, and he’ll probably need an MRI after that. We’ll know more after those.” “What’s wrong?” “We’ll know more after the tests.” “The woman, the one who made him so upset he stood on his seat, can she be sued?” The doctor shook his head. “Let’s find out what’s wrong before you even consider that.” He walked away briskly, leaning forward, his head in front of him so much I thought that he’d hit it on the door, but the doors swooshed open before he got there. My knee was bouncing the clipboard and his jacket on my lap when his wallet tumbled onto the floor. It was a tri-fold nylon one with Velcro closures 77


and was covered by planes, trucks and trains. Figured. Only someone socially immature would have a kid’s wallet. Or someone with kids. Kids. A wife. I should try to reach them. I opened it to see if I could find anything about them and shuddered at the sound of the Velcro ripping. That sound has always gotten to me, even when I was small. There were a few pictures of two little boys tucked into the place where money goes. I saw his driver’s license and pulled it out, then found his insurance card. There was no other info—only two tens and a couple credit cards. I filled out the paperwork using the information from his cards. His name turned out to be Randy Georgia DeGoss. Georgia? Family name, I guessed. Having a girl’s name might have explained some of his hostility toward me—I bet he got picked on as a kid, but it still didn’t give him a right to call me all those names. I took his paperwork and IDs to the counter. “Can you please give his wallet to him?” I asked. “I’m sorry Mrs.—” she looked down, “—DeGoss. We can’t assume responsibility.”

His name turned

out to be Randy

Georgia DeGoss.

Georgia? Family name, I guessed.

Having a girl’s

name might have

explained some of

his hostility toward

H

e was asleep when I got ushered back to his room. He even looked like my brother Donn from that angle. I hadn’t seen Donn in over a year. Strange since we’d been so close before I told him I was gay. George heard me and his slit eyes came open a bit. “Lori, you came back. Praise heaven, I knew it would happen.” I sat in the chair at the foot of his bed, having decided to just be quiet. “Lori, come up, darling. Hold my hand. I forgive you everything.” I stayed still. He tried to get up and cried out, so I finally walked to his side. “Lori,” he said, taking my hand. “I’ve been so—what the—? Who are you?” “I see you’re awake, George. I bet you’re glad to have your wife,” the doctor said as he pushed through the curtain that covered the sliding glass door of George’s room in the ER. “Not Georgia. Randy. First name.”

me—I bet he got

picked on as a kid,

but it still didn’t

give him a right to

call me all those names.

78

New Southerner Literary Edition 2012


“Mr. DeGoss, we’ll be admitting you, but first surgery.” “Why? What’s going on?” George asked. “You broke your leg in three places—one a complete break across the tibia. How did this happen?” Randy closed his eyes. “He ...” I started. “I don’t know,” Randy said. He shook his head and frowned. “It really hurts.” He looked about to pass out, and I was glad the doctor said Randy could have more pain medicine. “Mrs. DeGoss, are you going to be with him? We need to put restraints on him if he’s alone because he’s been trying to get out of bed by himself, and he can’t do that.” I let out a breath, then nodded. “Rainy. Call me Rainy.” “Randy and Rainy. That’s nice,” the doctor said before he left.

“A

re you that woman?” I heard. I was asleep in the chair by Randy’s feet. “Yeah. I can go. I’m sorry I’m here. It’s been a weird, long

day.” “No, don’t go. Tell me how she is,” Randy said. I waited. “Who? Cheri? I don’t really know. She left and I haven’t talked to her.” “No, Lori.” Randy looked down. “I really messed things up with her. I’m glad you came even if she didn’t.” He seemed to be in less pain, so they must have been pumping him full of painkillers. A couple hours earlier he had awakened screaming and tried to get up. I held him down and yelled for the nurse, who came in and gave Randy a shot, and after that he fell straight to sleep. “How are the boys?” I nearly answered how my nephew Ian was. Randy looked even more like Donn while he was on painkillers, the creases gone from his face that he held pinched before. “The boys, they’re cute,” I said. “I saw the pictures.” “Are you good to them?” “I’m sorry, I think—” I said. “Does Taylor still dress that way?” “Really, I don’t think I’m—” “Can you bring Taylor to see me? And Henry. Lori doesn’t have to come.” I shrugged and nodded. “Okay, sure.”

R

andy was in surgery for hours. They gave me his phone, wallet and keys, and no one would take them no matter what I said about releasing them of any responsibility if Randy didn’t get them, so I stayed. I thought of my family—how I was missing Ian grow up, was living away from my mom, dad and friends—and decided I was moving home. I wanted to see Donn, Ian and the rest of the family and be nearby. I wrote my brother a letter on the back of the hospital’s Privacy Practices papers. My coming out, which Donn said was embarrassing, wasn’t reason for me to be living 600 miles from home in a 79


city where I barely knew anyone. When Randy was in recovery, they came to get me out of the waiting room. “Thanks for staying. I forgot your name. I always call you ‘Her.’” “Rainy,” I said. He wouldn’t remember this anyway since he was just coming out of anesthesia. “Well, Bea, after my grandma. Beatrice, but I go by Bea.” “Is Lori here? Is she coming, bringing the boys?” “She’s coming,” I said. She was, too. I had called and cryptically told her what was going on. I said I was with the hospital and let her think I was a nurse. I’d said I’d text her from George’s phone when he was out of surgery, which I had done a few minutes earlier. “Tell her I’m sorry,” he said. I nodded. “I shouldn’t have done that.” I stared above him at the clock, wondering how long I’d have to be here, why I was still there, and who would be with me in the hospital if I had to go or if I’d have to be alone. I hoped Lori would hurry. I’d called Cheri, but she didn’t answer. She did when I called from Randy’s phone, but when I said her name, she hung up. Randy was out again when I looked back at him. He mumbled something, pinched the bridge of his nose. “I’ll be better if they can come around again.” It was hard to make out, but I understood. I didn’t say anything at first. I waited and thought he had fallen asleep again, then I awakened him and asked, “How?” He hadn’t been sleeping. “He can do what he wants. How he wants.” “Say it,” I said. I was getting frustrated. I’d lost my Saturday on him, any chance I had with Cheri, and now I couldn’t get my brother cursing at me out of my head, which I was afraid I’d hear if I sent the letter. “Taylor. He can be a girl.” I squinted. “How so?” “Dress up. Dresses. Makeup.” He fell back to sleep. It was about 10 minutes before a nurse came to check his vitals and woke him up. We went through preliminaries again, though he remembered my name correctly. “You said dresses and Taylor?” I asked. “It’s okay. I’ll be good.” “Good,” I repeated. It tasted like bitter chocolate. “Good isn’t enough.” He struggled to sit up but noticed his leg in a brace and lay back. “Great. I’ll be great. I won’t say a word. It’ll be fine.” “Fine.” I waited. “’Great?’ you said.” “He can dress how he wants. I don’t care.” “Don’t care.” Sour words. I looked at the concrete walls, more prison cell than hospital room. Some of the newer hospitals looked better than this, but this recovery room hadn’t been remodeled yet. The walls were the color of unripe bananas, too fresh, too new, not tested or ripened. “Please. He can be himself, whatever self that is.” “Better.” I thought for a minute, “What about your church? How will they feel?” “I don’t go to church,” he said. “The stuff I said, that’s from the Internet. It isn’t your fault,” he said. He had finally remembered who I was. I gathered my 80

New Southerner Literary Edition 2012


backpack and sweater, stood up and stretched. “Where are you going?” “It’s time I go,” I said. “Lori will be here soon anyway.” “Stay. And listen, I know it isn’t your fault, Taylor isn’t.” He coughed. “My fault?” He nodded. “How would it be my fault?” “I know you were around then.” He coughed again. Irritation from the trach tube. I stared at him. “I always thought Taylor was because of you.” He coughed again so I lifted the bendable straw in a Styrofoam cup to his mouth. “Thanks,” he whispered. He looked at me again, saw me rigid. “Lori was right to leave me.” “Because of Taylor,” I said. “I wasn’t nice. You know that.” He had better color than he did earlier, when he was still in the ER, and looked less like Donn now. “No, you weren’t.” I couldn’t imagine Randy putting up with his son dressing in anything girly, especially not girl’s clothes. I wondered which of the little boys in the pictures dressed up, hoped he’d grow out of it. It would be easier for him that way. If he didn’t, I hoped Randy would really come around. It seemed unlikely. “Lori was right. I’ll let him be.” “He may stop as he gets older, or he could be a ‘pink-boy.’” “Pink-boy?” “Likes dressing like girls. Prefers it.” I wasn’t sure if I was egging him on, taking up for Taylor—or Lori—or just speaking the truth. I understood why Lori would leave him over this. “I want them back.” “Them? Lori, too?” I asked. “No. Well, yes, but no. The boys. Lori’s gone from me.” He looked me right in the eyes, “I’ll live with that.

“I wasn’t nice. You know that.” “No, you weren’t.” I couldn’t imagine Randy putting up with his son dressing in anything girly, especially not girl’s clothes. I wondered which of the little boys in the pictures dressed up, hoped he’d grow out of it. It would be easier for him that way. If he didn’t, I hoped Randy would really come around. It seemed unlikely.

81


It’ll be okay.” I almost repeated “Okay,” but that word about losing his wife would probably be fine. When Janie let me see my nephew after I came out, Donn blew up and then blamed me for losing his wife. If I moved home, when I did, I knew Janie would still let me see Ian even if my brother wouldn’t. I looked at the clock. I could leave soon and was grateful. I hoped he meant what he was saying. “Talk to Lori. If you mean it, she’ll probably allow it,” I said, then stood. “I’m going to go look for her.” As I was leaving Randy’s room, a small blonde woman walked toward me in the hall. Another woman, about my size with short dark hair similar to mine, had her arm around the blonde one. They kept coming toward me. I was frozen, watching them look at room numbers. It was Lori. Lori and her partner. Her, as Randy called her. “I’ll be here. Be strong,” “Her” said as Lori started to walk into the room. “Go on in. He’s waiting for you both,” I said. I took an envelope and stamp out of my backpack, then headed out to where the sun was beginning to peek over the parking garage. I’d have to walk, but it was nice out, and I’d been sitting a long time.

Another woman, about my size

with short dark hair similar to

mine, had her arm

around the blonde

one. They kept

coming toward

me. I was frozen,

watching them look

at room numbers. It was Lori. Lori and

her partner.

Elizabeth Glass, of Louisville, Kentucky, has master’s degrees in creative writing and counseling psychology and is the recipient of grants from the Kentucky Foundation for Women and the Kentucky Arts Council. Her writing has appeared in a variety of journals, including Still.

82

New Southerner Literary Edition 2012


POETRY SEMIFINALIST

Pruning the Rubber Tree Leigh Anne Hornfeldt Because you want it to grow out then up, to fatten first before reaching the corner of the water-stained window sill where the most light enters. For the third time in as many hours a neighbor materializes behind a storm door and turns his face west to east in another kind of hesitation. His bulging knees like ancient softballs, spider veins splintering his anatomy, all heading the same place. Aren’t we all heading the same place? You turn the kitchen shears from palm to palm. Want, thirst, ego shimmy up the blades. Everything bends toward its purpose. Whether this is intentional you cannot say but because you want this tree to grow out then up, to grow right, you locate each knuckle, force the blades together then open together then open. Milky white fluid oozes from the wounds, and when you’ve finished—amazement. The gingery roots of your hands whole and strong and everything ripening under your skin and your neighbor at his door again, head wavering like a weather vane before a squall. Leigh Anne Hornfeldt lives in Kentucky with her husband and three young sons. Her poems have appeared widely in journals, and in 2012 she was a semifinalist for the Mary Kay Ballard Poetry Prize and received the Kudzu Prize in Poetry. 83


POETRY SEMIFINALIST

Some Men from Kentucky (for Ron Whitehead) Jinn Fuller Some men from Kentucky carry a rough perfume of seasoned new-split wood You never know when they may bring you a brace of squirrels and say, Can a girl from Baltimore make dinner out of these? The ones with calloused hands faces scarred from young-man wildness who’ve sworn off fistfights and sometimes leave poems tucked in the folds of line-dried sheets Once they were wildboys wandering creekbeds and woods imagination their first mind-altering drug and to a man they still adore memories of uncomplaining hardworking mommas who fed and welcomed strangers to the table Older now they know a thing or two about easy laughter fierce loving their sparkling eyes irresistible in every season

84

New Southerner Literary Edition 2012


Photo by Jinn Fuller

Jinn Fuller is a poet, visual artist and actor transplanted from Baltimore, Maryland, to the banks of the mighty Ohio River in historic Clarksville, Indiana. More of her poetry and visual art may be found on Facebook; search for “Jinn Bug.�

85


POETRY SEMIFINALIST

Cordawood Susan Ishmael-Poulos

I didn’t know the dimensions Of a cord of wood. One word, jumbled Tumbling From my father’s mouth, Cordawood. All I knew was weight Rough-edged bark Splinters like shanks Ice-crusted split trunks. Stackable fuel. Dropped tailgate One deep step up in heavy boots Three logs fumbled Tumbling From pickup bed To snowy earth. My father’s leather gloves Swallowed my hands. Even back then, he didn’t bend down Or raise his arms above his head Anymore. The unloading became my dance Step, lunge, dip, ball change. Heat rose from my shoulders The last gasp of sweat Hovered over me as I moved, In a cloud of body breath.

86

New Southerner Literary Edition 2012


My father’s eyes followed my work Stopwatch in hand, Timing my rhythm. The coach’s whistle dangled, still, Around his neck. My only currency was youth. Perhaps, I thought, He envied the deeps bends of my knees The high hoisting of logs The dance steps from Pickup to woodpile. Perhaps he missed himself— The boy who could stack wood As fast as this daughter. Or maybe he merely grieved the glory Of being swift. I pondered his certain Desire for youth— And he clicked the stopwatch. I realized as I stood, panting, Waiting for the praise That didn’t come He only thought of fire.

Susan Ishmael-Poulos is a 10th-generation Kentuckian living in Texas. In 2009 she co-founded WhatWomenWrite, a blog for writers, and is completing a novel about race, corruption and the bourbon industry set in 1950s Kentucky.

87


POETRY SEMIFINALIST

2010 Mary Anne Reese

You dipped buttered toast in cinnamon and sugar, strained the custard seven times. When we moved east, you softened your mountain sound to a drawl. You veered from the wheel of hurt to the wheel of fortune and back. You could hear it snow. You dyed spike heels to match your dress and tied a scarf beneath your chin. You could name the wildflowers and birds. You wove an oval braided rug blue as your eyes. You ordered yourself a mai tai and me a Shirley Temple, both served with a cherry.

Mary Anne Reese is a Cincinnati attorney with a graduate degree in English from Northern Kentucky University. Her poetry chapbook, Raised by Water, was published by Finishing Line Press.

88

New Southerner Literary Edition 2012


POETRY SEMIFINALIST

The Provocation of Massah Chad Gilpin Verily, I say unto you, If ye have faith, and doubt not, ye shall not only do this which is done to the fig tree, but also if ye shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea: it shall be done. —The Gospel of Matthew It is as though we doubt still the fig tree: Like Abram gone into Hagar, we have supplanted; our dubiousness has divided the bloodline, pitted the inheritors and impugned the covenant. I stand like Zachariah come from the temple, and dumb, as from a harrowing vision, before this barren land. Bread rained from Heaven, the Virgin conceived, the branches withered— and yet we test: In place of faith we make signs unto ourselves casting mountains wither we will and, out of fear of emptiness, filling even the valleys. Kayford Mtn., W.V.

Chad Gilpin was born and raised outside of Lexington, Kentucky, and is a graduate of the University of Kentucky. Most recently he co-authored and participated in a National Geographic Young Explorer Grant focusing on mountaintop removal strip mining.

89


NONFICTION SEMIFINALIST

A Community at its Best Brian Lowry

T

he evening of April 30, 2012, will long be a date that our family remembers. I had returned home from my workday, tired. Melinda and our 12-year old daughter, Kelsie, were seated in our living room playing a trivia game. I soon joined them. At 5:30 p.m., one of the roosters crowed from the orchard. Melinda asked if I thought I should get the feeding and watering chores taken care of since I was more-than-usual tired. Because the sky was darkening and the air was warm and humid, I told her that it might not be best to go out just yet. We heard then two distant claps of thunder. They were not coming in very short intervals. In fact, nearly 15 minutes passed before we heard additional thunder. We were contemplating a trivia question, which Kelsie had answered correctly about Australian sheep drovers, when a charge that sounded and felt like an exploding bomb rocked the house. The earth trembled. The three of us sprang up from the couch, our eyes as big as Leghorn chicken eggs. We walked about the house quickly. Believing it had been lightning hit, we were keen to find the source of entry. The fire alarms pierced our ears with their shrieking. In the utility room, the phone rested on the floor, eight feet away from its base on the wall. It was astounding to imagine the force that had kicked it that far and to see that all the wiring attached to its base had been ripped from the wall. A dark black charcoal arc stained the wall around the base, but there was no evidence of fire there. Within the next few seconds, we made our way upstairs and immediately smelled smoke and sensed heat. As I walked through our bedroom, I realized for the first time that my breathing had escalated and that my heart was battling against fear. We walked to the balcony, opened the door and stepped out on the deck. We looked up at the long expanse of soffit above our heads. Smoke rolled from the vent holes not unlike that seen when corrugated fiberboard expels smoke from its ribs. I told Melinda that, though I still did not know where the source was located, the house was without doubt on fire. I ran back down the stairs and called 911. I reported to the attendant my name and address, 90

New Southerner Literary Edition 2012


telling her that the house had been struck by lightning and was now on fire. She kindly reassured me, gave me instructions not to stay in the house longer than would be safe. She told me that she was dispatching the fire department. By this time, no more than three or four minutes had passed, but our minds were processing and planning as if three or four hours had come and gone. It was strangely similar to the experience of a dream wherein many events unfurl over a seemingly long period of time until one wakes up, looks at a clock and realizes that only a few minutes have passed. Melinda quickly gathered up Kelsie and our two house dogs, Buddy and Molly. She got them out to my car while I called my sister, Joyce, to tell her what was going on and to ask that she come get Kelsie. Melinda grabbed all the pictures she could find while I began packing out our musical instruments. After my sister had taken Kelsie and the dogs to her house, Joyce’s husband, Steve, Melinda and I filled both of our vehicles with as much of our belongings as their interiors and trunks would hold. Once full, the three of us stood alongside each other in the driveway. There was an immovable moment when we simultaneously witnessed deep, black smoke billowing from both gable ends of the house. I remember thinking that a force like a muscular smithy cranking air to his forge controlled the events taking shape in our attic and Kelsie’s bedroom. I could not imagine a greater force subduing him. Melinda and I hugged then. Steve carried upon his face the heaviest kind of worry and compassion. It was as if we were reading together the thickening plot of a novel that we inferred would end with our house, its furnishings and the rest of our belongings reduced to a massive ash heap. Nevertheless, for Melinda and me, there was a distinct moment when an inexpressible peace replaced all of our fear and mounting grief. It was perhaps the quickest movement toward acceptance and trust, in the midst of tragedy, that we have known. I cannot explain the experience other than to count it as a merciful gift imparted to us. Soon thereafter, the first volunteer firefighters arrived. Our neighbor and fireman, Bill Pfaffenbach, was first on the scene. Immediately behind him was another neighbor and fireman, Jim Moon. Melinda walked briskly with Bill into the house and up the stairs to the attic. Bill was carrying a large fire extinguisher. He later told us that he was expecting that things could not be all that bad in such a short time. However, when Melinda and he opened the attic door, that expectation was altered in the twinkling of an eye as flames scurried up the fly rafter and adjacent rafters over Kelsie’s bedroom. Jim had just moments before passed our house on his tractor, pulling a planter behind. When he saw Bill coming our way, he turned his equipment around at the end of the road and high-geared his way back to our farm, parking in the field across from the house. I told him what was happening. He was much surprised, as he had not seen any smoke when he passed those few minutes earlier. Before the two of us reached the front porch, the first fire truck arrived. Immediately thereafter, a most unanticipated and moving thing occurred. The men and women of our rural Leota community pulled their cars, trucks and, 91


They were ... determined and persistent enough to organize a circle of active human compassion that stretched from our front door to their waiting cars and the trailer. Despite the rain and heavy smoke, they helped us get far more items out of our house than we could have ever gotten out on our own.

92

New Southerner Literary Edition 2012

in one case, storage trailer, into our front yard. They were careful not to interrupt the work of the firemen, but determined and persistent enough to organize a circle of active human compassion that stretched from our front door to their waiting cars and the trailer. Despite the rain and heavy smoke, they helped us get far more items out of our house than we could have ever gotten out on our own. More importantly, they were present as an immediate example of faith, hope, and charity. They acted without asking. They acted without overweening pity. They acted because they saw that there was a job to be done and they wanted to do it. And so, for the next hour or so, while we were still able to get into particular parts of the house, though the rain never slackened and these friends became increasingly drenched, they continued on in what I would call the most elegant, impromptu dance of friend reaching out to friend in a great circle that seemed to tie our home within a bond of love. In the global economic world of change or die, cut and run, race and climb, expand or get out, community has become little more than the accumulation of assets that contribute to personal prosperity, convenience and increased consumerism, all at the expense of meaningful relationships. However, in the ancient culture of small farming communities, membership means far more than individual pursuits of happiness. In a genuine community, members still take the time to know and help one another. They preserve the memory of their shared relationships through stories they tell when they gather for church fellowships, when they put up hay, when they break beans together or when they visit on a front porch. From settings like these, new stories sprout and grow. As a young boy, I never tired of hearing my mom and dad talk with aunts, uncles and neighbors on Sunday evenings,


swapping and embellishing familiar stories. In the early years of our married life, Melinda and I enjoyed the immeasurable gift of listening to her parents and farm neighbors speak of family and township memories that reached as far back as the Pigeon Roost massacre of 1812. To know others well enough to carry these stories in each other’s minds, even when apart, draws connections that are intimate, strong and enduring. Nevertheless, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, my mind, bent with the appeal of recognition and monetary promises, cast off the old ways in order to pursue a career with a Fortune 50 company. When I came again to my senses and left the corporate world in 1994, I felt very much like the prodigal of old who wanted to return to a world of fellowship and love rather than wallow in the shallow world of individuality, disconnected from any meaningful roots. It had finally occurred to me that this new profitcentered life that I had chosen knew absolutely nothing of community health or the prosperity of the affections. In the corporate world, deeply personal loyalties and shared joys and griefs were no match for extravagance. One merely gained or lost in personal obscurity. When Melinda and I moved away from the corporate economy and built a home on her ancestral lands among the Broadys, Comers, Richeys, Miners, Collings, Murphys and other families whose lines went back in this place to the time of the Delaware Indians and the Passenger Pigeon, we knew that old ways and traditions were not the bane that the movers and shakers of the global empire made them out to be. We learned that one could go home again and could find solace there that surpasses all the promises of the global economic empire. We have learned anew that roots, traditions, earth, family and rural community continue to offer a place to dwell and truly be at home. For the last 23 years, the country hamlet of Leota, its surrounding woodlots, cultivated fields, old farm houses, familiar family names, white-washed clapboard churches and connected people have given to us a place to engage in the fellowship of shared work, gathered rest and unpurchased pleasures. The fire and its damaging aftermath, Melinda’s recent battle with breast cancer and the death of a dear friend have reminded us that grief and loss are inescapable experiences that shape souls for the eternal. This one, good farming community has done more to restore our faith in mankind and confirm God’s purposes for brotherly love than we could have ever imagined. That we are deeply grateful needs to be said. The modern, supposedly techno-sufficient world looks at little farming communities, like ours, through the lens of condescension. This critical, demeaning eye says something very disconcerting about the obscured vision of most CEOs, institutionalized organizations, corporate-sponsored politicians and businessmodeled schools. With the help of the 2005 Supreme Court decision in Kelo v. City of New London, their overarching reach has gained an unparalleled breadth through eminent domain law. Their power to overtake anything or any place in the way of their growth models swells almost completely uninhibited. The level of their efficiencies of expansion through condemnation and consolidation now carries the support of our highest laws. These so-called innovative institutions, dedicated to the proposition that 93


rewards are utterly dependent on documented measures of predetermined worth, find no fault in dismissing the least of these, our brothers. They have their reward and that reward holds up the competitive edge and economic growth as the ultimate justifier of just about any action that leads to their definition of success in the world. A better innovation would be a revolution of thought and action grounded in the earth and in local, genuine communities that reaffirms the unparalleled significance of cooperation over competition. In a world like ours, to have family and friends who respond to the needs of their neighbors, regardless of whether it’s merited or not, is a gift that heaven holds dear and earth cultivates into harmonious song. After the fire, most of our house was still structurally sound. Smoke and water damage required that the entire house be emptied, some rafters and stud walls rebuilt, siding and roofing replaced, all carpeting replaced and much wiring and plumbing redone. For three-and-ahalf months we were able to stay on our farm, grateful to a remarkable group of firefighters, grateful for the watchful eye and strong hands of a rural community, grateful for our daughter’s immediate, deeply intense prayers, grateful that our insurance carrier allowed us to live out of a camper rather than stay in a distant hotel and grateful to a local, independent business, King’s Quality Restoration, and their good staff for restoring our home while building with us new friendships. It may take a lifetime, or longer, to return our thanks, but this will be our intention and our pleasure in this place.

In a world like ours, to have

family and friends who respond

to the needs of

their neighbors, regardless of

whether it’s

merited or not, is

a gift that heaven holds dear and

earth cultivates

into harmonious song.

Brian Lowry, middle school counselor, naturalist and farmer, writes from Meadow Glen Farm near Leota, Indiana. His wife, daughter and he devote much time to their sustainable farm where they grow vegetables, fruits, herbs, perennial flowers and native plants, and care for a variety of livestock.

94

New Southerner Literary Edition 2012


NONFICTION SEMIFINALIST

The Art of Hanging Laundry Zola Troutman Noble

H

anging laundry on the line on a sunny summer morning is one of my favorite chores. Who would think? I have a dryer. Why not throw the clothes in the dryer and turn it on? It’s much easier. I admit that’s tempting, but I have all winter to do that. And in winter, I savor the warmth the dryer emits. But in summer, I snag any excuse to go outdoors. In fall, winter and spring, I’m busy with my teaching job, and it seems I’m always in a hurry to complete my household chores so I can get to my paper grading, or to some of the things I love to do—knitting or reading a good book or writing or visiting with friends. But in summer, I can look at my house and my chores and see them in a fresh way. I can actually enjoy them. Though some women may think I’m crazy, I’ve found a kindred spirit in the writings of Kathleen Norris. In The Quotidian Mysteries: Laundry, Liturgy, and “Women’s Work,” Norris writes, “I still hang clothes on the line—for the exercise, for the pleasing ozone aroma of clothes dried in sunlight, and sometimes, in winter, as a means of combating cabin fever.” Though I don’t have the latter problem, I can add another reason for hanging laundry—it connects me to my mother line. My grandmothers and my mother hung clothes on the line, and I cannot help but think of them when I’m doing it. I thank God for them. It’s a kind of spiritual retreat for me, though short lived. It nonetheless revives my spirit, as it does for Norris, who sees household chores as making “order out of chaos” or “sorting through … the odd pieces of a life in order to make a whole.” Hanging laundry is also a way of being in the moment. Norris says household chores “have an intense relation with the present moment, a kind of faith in the present that fosters hope and makes life seem possible in the day to day.” But I don’t want to become overly ethereal about this. Hanging laundry on the line is earthy. It is a physical action that takes me out of doors to enjoy the sunshine and the air, and it calls me to the art of living in the moment. 95


Down the stairs to my musty basement I go to fetch the oversized laundry basket I bought many years ago at Dixie Pottery in Abingdon, Virginia. It’s a reed basket, the color of yellow oak, not the plastic K-Mart variety. One handle has broken off. I pull wet clothes out of the washer and pile them into the basket; I hoist the basket to my right hip, and I stretch my right arm across the top to grasp the handle. I balance the basket with my left hand underneath to compensate for the broken handle. The basket full of wet clothes is heavy, and each summer I tell myself to buy a laundry cart on wheels. But as long as I can still carry my basket, I suppose it’s good to challenge my muscles. When we moved to our current home in 2002, there was no clothesline on the property, and no place close to the house to stretch a long line, as was my custom, so my husband went out and bought me a fold-up clothesline on a metal pole. Open like an umbrella, it looks like a giant four-sided spider web, I suppose, from a bird’s view: short lines near the pole lengthen as the line spirals toward the outer edges. To the west of our driveway, the former owners of our property had cemented a place for a flagpole, a small, circular cement mound poured around a metal pipe in the middle for the pole. The clothesline pole fit perfectly into that hole. It’s a little too close under shade trees, which can be a problem now and then if birds build a nest over the lines, but that’s happened only one summer in the 10 years we’ve lived here. When I reach the line, I set the basket down and breathe in the fresh morning air. That’s the best part—the fresh air. The air is clear and clean. It’s a good day to be out of doors, a good day to dry clothes outside. I straighten my back and put my hands on my waist, my fingers almost touching at my back and massage my low back a moment, a gesture that brings to mind my grandmother. I see her standing in her apron gazing across her garden, straightening her back and massaging to ease the ache from stooping to cut her asparagus. My grandmother who hung clothes on the line, too. My practical grandmother who never wasted a thing if she could help it. I feel her smiling at me when I’m hanging laundry or canning or gardening. Not every summer morning is a good drying day. The sun needs to be shining, the sky blue and clear. A partly cloudy morning will do, but clear sky is best—along with a slight breeze and low humidity. If the breeze is too stiff, the sheets billow like sails and flip across the top of the lines. If the humidity is too high, drying time is longer. If rain is in the forecast, I keep a close watch on the sky, so the clothes don’t get a second rinse. I pause to find a rhythm for hanging the clothes. This is part of living in the moment, of relaxing and enjoying the process of hanging clothes, of creating art on the clothesline. And I admit that sometimes I must remind myself to savor the moment. To pause. To plan. To see. My first load consists of the white and light colors, some with a splash of pink or yellow or lime green or robin’s egg blue. To the inside of the lines, I clip the pillow cases and small items—my blouses, T-shirts, socks and underwear. When my daughter became a teenager, she warned me one day not to hang her underpants and bras on the line. It hadn’t occurred to me that she might be embarrassed, but she let me know in no uncertain terms. Now I think of her when I hang my own delicates on the 96

New Southerner Literary Edition 2012


line, and I arrange them so that they are on the inside of the spiral, close to the pole. Then I can hang the sheets on the outside to shield them from prying eyes. I smile at my arrangement. Who is going to see them anyway? My neighbors are not close. We live on five acres with lots of tall trees. The next load is dark colors, which means mostly my husband’s clothes. Why is it that men’s clothes are darker and more somber looking than women’s? I sort out all of my husband’s plaid boxer shorts and pin them one by one on the line. Then his button down shirts, his T-shirts, then his pants and socks—everything seems to be gray, black, brown or navy, with bits of red, yellow or green splashed among the plaids and stripes. Granted, my jeans are among them, too. Now the line is full of alternating dark and light sections, somewhat like a pinwheel. Next I start checking to see if any of the white and light clothes are ready to take down. Removing the clothes from the line should not be done haphazardly. This I learned many years ago when I was at a friend’s home. A storm was approaching and she was busy with her children, so she asked me to take the clothes off the line for her. I hurriedly unclipped the pins and dumped the clothes into the basket. When I brought everything into the house, she scolded me for not folding her clothes. “They’ll need ironing now,” she said. Funny how little remarks leave permanent impressions. Now when I take down the clothes and carefully fold each piece, I think of her. Part of the joy of hanging clothes on the line is remembering the people who are important in my life—my daughter, my friends, my mother and my grandmothers, especially. I feel their presence. I remember when my mother got her first dryer and didn’t have to hang clothes on the line anymore. I wondered why she still did it. Years later, I discovered what she knew about drying laundry outdoors. With all our gadgets designed to make life easier, we lose the art of living in the present. We miss the “quotidian mysteries,” as Kathleen Norris explains: “It is a paradox of human life that in worship as in human love, it is in the routine and the everyday that we find possibilities for the greatest transformation.” For a few moments, I am transformed by my activity, and I carry with me throughout the day the peace it gives me. That evening as I spread the clean sheets on my bed, the fresh “ozone aroma” fills the air. The perfumed smell of dryer sheet can’t compete. That’s the final blessing of line-dried laundry.

Zola Troutman Noble is associate professor emerita of Anderson University, Anderson, Indiana, where she taught writing for 24 years. Now she is pursuing her own passion for writing, along with knitting, genealogy, hiking and grandchildren.

97

New Southerner Literary Edition 2012  

Finalists, semifinalists and winners of the 2012 contest.

Read more
Read more
Similar to
Popular now
Just for you