Sunday, May 25, 2014

#130: "Knot and Pull" by Kimberly Groninga

~This essay first appeared in North American Review (2008).

            Knit. Click click. Purl two. Click click. Knit. Click click. Purl two. Click click. When the tiny metal tapping grew louder than Lydia’s voice, I knew I needed to pull back to my larger surroundings, settle into my whole self. My eyes moved beyond the metallic needles to Lydia’s hands—bumpy and aged, busy—then to the red garment growing in her lap, a gift for the bishop’s grandchild, she’d said. Looking, finally, to Lydia’s face, I realized two things: One, her lips were moving. And two, it was a good thing I was taping this interview.
            I swallowed hard and darkened my eyes with their lids. The bishop’s wife offered coffee. Today I sipped water, instead, recording stray words—rice, classes, pray—while checking off bullets on my list of prepared questions.
            Lydia spoke of her home in Jerusalem—of daily checkpoints, poverty, and blindness. But Lydia herself drew my attention more than her words. Especially her hands. The way they could knot and pull and click and twist and tie one long string into a continued set of loops that was something. They did this independent of her retelling of the string of events that looped her life. While her mind and speech relived a past kindness, her hands created a physical object with an actual purpose. While retelling the childhood story of her own fading sight, two inches of fabric emerged from the machine of her hands. Clearly her fingertips could see the yarn. Pointed index fingers trapped and released its red body, pinned it to the metal, and then let it go. In rhythm. Knit. Click click. Purl two. Click click. “Our cupboard was empty (click click) and I brought from home my rice (click click) but I was not needed (click click) to cook my rice, for neighbors (click click) brought us enough rice and sugar (click click) for all the girls.”

#129: Intruders by Jo-Anne Rosen


~This story was previously published in The Florida Review (1989).

Every morning at six, weather permitting, Herr and Frau Leopold climbed the wooded hill next to their inn and descended to a clearing, ringed on the north with tall firs and opening on the south to the lake. They deposited deck chairs and baskets, stripped to their bathing suits, donned plastic caps and ran without a word into the water. Franz Josef cut effortlessly across the surface. In the water he did not feel his seventy years. Karla preferred to float on her back and look up at the circling gulls. If she tilted her head she could see the snowcaps on the Alps.
Then they returned to the clearing, and as the day progressed, moved their deckchairs around it in a semi‑circle, following the sun.
Early in the morning Franz Josef read the newspaper from beginning to end. As the sun rose, his eyelids grew heavy. He adjusted his chair to a semi‑reclining posi­tion and took out a volume of Schiller to read between naps.
Karla busied herself knitting scarves for her husband and son. At least that was her intention. Anything might distract her — a bird, a squirrel, a cloud. While Franz Josef dozed, she would swim again or stroll along the shore and look at the sunbathers. She would have liked to speak to some of these people, but of course it was not possible to sit down half‑naked and insinuate herself into a conversation. From a distance, then, she wondered who they were and where they came from.
By late morning, the Leopolds might be joined by a few guests from their inn. No one so invited was gauche enough to play a radio or tape‑recorder. No one wished to sit in the shade. Thus they all moved in quiet stages together around the clearing. When it had filled completely with shadow, Franz Josef and Karla returned to the inn for dinner.

Monday, May 19, 2014

#128: "What Didn't Happen" by Anika Fajardo

~This essay was originally published in Dos Passos Review (2011).

          I was born in Colombia. This is true. I was born in a Spanish-style whitewashed hospital that was later leveled by an earthquake and rebuilt in its likeness. I was born in a small city in the southwestern Colombian mountains, and my father congratulated himself with tragos while my mother swore and labored, screamed and pushed.
            I began my life in Spanish. This is true. Zapato and leche were my first words. I crawled on wooden floorboards and encountered tropical insects as big as soup bowls. I teethed on mango seeds, masticating the sweet yellow flesh until my tiny pearls appeared in pink gums. This is true.
          And if my mother had never taken me back the U.S., if my parents had never parted, never fought over me, never fallen out of love, if I would have grown up in that rented house in Colombia, I would have heard the peals of the iglesia’s iron bells. When my amigas went to mass with their abuelas, my hippie parents—a mezcla of American progressive values and Colombian pride—would have kept me at home, my mother reading aloud chapters from a dog-eared copy of Winnie-the-Pooh.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

#127: A Night at Sea by A.H. Wald

~This story was previously published in Green Mountains Review (2005).            

Nine days into the heat, Simon walked up the hill at the edge of Bird Cove. At the top of the lane, a patch of wildflowers caught his eye. That might help. Catherine liked the yellow ones the best, or maybe it was the blue ones.  He could never remember.  To be safe he picked some of both, and then for good measure, tramped into the scrub and broke off a few stems from a struggling wild rose bush.  That would do it, if they didn't wilt on the long walk home.
Like everyone else, he was unaccustomed to such thick, wet heat that made glue of the air and turned the ocean warm; a heat so powerful it could pull water from the skin even during sleep. The shimmering haze erased the contrast between shadow and light, and bleached out the colors of the land, so he could barely make out the cottages on the other side of the cove.  On the beaches, the smooth stones steamed like bedwarmers and the barefooted children scampered over them with small cries.  The seabirds stopped flying and floated on the calm harbors.  Farmers worried about the newly planted hay. Grass wilted, hens were put off their eggs, cows gave less milk and the milk they gave soured quickly.
              The heat had come after a deep spring cold had held on well into June, making the herring run late and weak.  Then, it swelled rapidly, just as the month turned, until no one could imagine how August would take it away. Simon thought that one day the people along the Nova Scotia coast would come to understand how exotic the heat had been, how long and how strong its grip, and they would call it "the heat wave of '09", but right in the midst of it, without the telescoping effect of time, everyone just called it "the heat".
            Last night he had slept poorly again. Catherine had been the one who wanted to live so far out of town, in the cottage where her grandfather Robinson had lived with his second wife.  Simon would have been happy to rent a room in the village until they could afford a real house.  But she wanted her own place, even if it was nothing more than a two story shanty on a rise that caught every breeze and gust coming through. In the winter, he'd ignore the draft and Catherine's prodding as long as he could, then he would run his fingers over the sills and doors, and stuff the gaps with rags and newspapers.  In the summer, it held the day's warmth firm throughout the night.  When the weather was seasonable, it was pleasant.  But in the past week, it had become an oven, gathering the pulsating heat through the thin boards and baking them without mercy.