Monday, October 20, 2014

#146: "Things My Mother Never Taught Me" by Kirsten Clodfelter

~This story originally appeared in The Iowa Review (2010)

Ally and I went through our felon-dating phase in November. My felon had served a few years for embezzling 200,000 dollars from his software company. His brown hair was starting to gray, and he kept it parted down the middle, longer in the front, like a style from a fashion magazine. He had the most perfect eyebrows I’d ever seen, beautifully shaped, with only a single stray hair between the brow and the eyelid of his right eye. I read his facial expressions solely by the way his eyebrows changed. I noticed them especially when he’d smile at me from my bed, one arm bent at the elbow and resting behind his head, watching me pull a clean T-shirt from the top drawer of my dresser. He could’ve been a model. When I told him this, he closed his eyes and said nothing for a long time. Finally, “There are disadvantages.” He picked at the loose elastic in the waistband of his boxer shorts. I didn’t know what to say. Instead, I turned on the radio. At least Ally’s had stolen a car.
            Before that it’d been surfers, brothers, just eighteen months apart. It was a disappointment, Ally and I dating two guys who were related. We wanted their childhood stories to be separate, so that she and I would have something to talk about after they left, when we sat at our plastic kitchen table eating microwaved bowls of tomato soup.
The younger one was mine. I watched the way his eyes often followed his older brother around the room. Even if it were Ally or I who was speaking, he was looking at his brother, watching for cues. I wasn’t even sure if he realized he did it. When we were all together, I’d hide my mouth with my hands so he couldn’t see the way I smiled at this. It was sweet. But his tan was better than mine. His stomach was tighter, more toned. He looked at himself a lot in the mirror, but I don’t mean to say that it was like dating a girl. He just made me feel self-conscious as he watched me pull off my gray linen pants and my black tank top.
Before summer ended and the breeze that blew in off the coast made it too cold to sit outside without a blanket or a sweatshirt at night, we gave the brothers back to the ocean. They were too distracted. Their hair was always stiff. Their sandy boards sometimes knocked things over on our porch. We liked them better when they weren’t pulling the neck strings of our white bikini tops, when they were silent and alone and facing a wall of blue and then becoming the blue itself, maneuvering the exact angle of the foot or the arm, striking a perfect balance above the shifting water.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

#145: "Nice Soft Wife" by Susannah Felts

 ~This story was previously published in The Nashville Scene as second-place winner in the 
Annual Short Fiction Contest,  (2003).

The subject is Darwin. I am the substitute. I am here to press buttons on the VCR, shush mouths, distribute and collect worksheets.
The kids are sophomores wearing jerseys in the colors of rose, ecru, or moss. You might be surprised how many males choose rose. But moss is the favorite, regardless of gender. I too would go for moss if I were required to wear a school jersey. “Ecru” sounds like an African mammal to me. The ecru dashed across the Serengeti.
            “What kinda name is that?” a male student asks me after I’ve written mine on the board. His hair is plastered to his skull with a perfumed substance, and he wears a band-aid on his neck. I know what he’s asking, but I don’t know what to tell him. It’s the name I’ve had all my life, but I know nothing of its history. The guy I live with, Dennis, thinks this is unfortunate. He suggests a trip to the library, an afternoon spent doing research. “You should know where you come from,” he says.
Dennis’s surname means “the plentiful hearth” in Old English. When he first told me this, my first thought was: Will I become A Plentiful Hearth?
            “Fairy-princess name,” I tell the student now. “What’s with the bandage?”
            “BB. Dude shot me. Want to see where it went in? Had to extract it with my ma’s tweezers.”
            “That’s okay. I’ve seen lots; they all look the same. Take your seat, the bell’s about to ring. But good use of ‘extract,” I tell him. “Extract” is number seven in this week’s Vocab 20. I know this because I subbed for Ms. Schenk’s English class yesterday.
He pumps his fists in the air.
            The bell doesn’t ring; it caws like a crow. This is crow month. Last month was pigeon. That throaty pigeon noise was hard for me to hear, sometimes, but the kids’ ears grew accustomed to it after just a few days. Then they began the mimicry. Now they are all cawing, getting the perfect gurgle to the higher-pitch beginning of the caw, until I drop a Biology book on my desk and bellow, “LADIES AND GENTLEMEN!”
It’s the same in every class.
            Despite this, I am a fan of the rotating birdcall bell system.
            “What’re we doing today, Ms. Princess?” calls out the male with the pellet wound. I give him the slit-eye.

Monday, October 6, 2014

#144: "Joy to the World" by Leslie Pietrzyk

Editor’s note: Yes, I am the writer being featured this week! Forgive this self-indulgence, but I was very pleased to learn this weekend that this essay was listed in the “100 Notable Essays” section of the new edition of Best American Essays, so I thought I would put to good use my very powerful position as editor and founder of Redux.

~This essay previously appeared in PMS: poem memoir story (2013).  

            It’s mid-December, a morning of doing errands, a day like any other day, except that everything is going remarkably well:  I find a great parking spot.  The post office isn’t crowded when I arrive to mail my packages, though the man behind the counter tells me there’s been a line all morning, “until right about now.”  Find another great parking spot.  Stumble across the perfect Christmas gift for my hard-to-buy-for friend at a locally-owned boutique.  And so on.
            Last stop, the grocery store, where my luck continues, and the guy working produce locates in the back the last bag of parsnips in the building.  Parsnips are a key ingredient in the velvety-lush root vegetable soup I want to make for dinner tonight.  “Bet you’ve never seen anyone get so excited about parsnips,” I joke to him, and he laughs pleasantly.
            So things are moving along, and I’ve committed to a check-out aisle, unloading my cart onto the conveyer belt, doing my usual tidy job of it:  heavy stuff up front; frozen foods, meat, and milk grouped together; produce in one section, poisonous cleaners in another; fragile things at the end.  I’m daydreaming about the array of Christmas cookies on the covers of the food magazines, so I don’t notice the person in line ahead of me until she snaps, “I told you I can’t lift more than five pounds!  Those bags are too heavy!”
            She’s an older, stocky woman with short, frosty blonde hair and a worn, beige, padded coat that’s hanging open, unzipped.  She glares at the cashier, an African-American woman who might be called “big-boned” or maybe just “big”; she’s imposing.  I don’t recognize the cashier; this grocery store chain has been going through round after round of upheavals in management and union talks, so there are a lot of new cashiers, as well as new arrangements for getting the groceries checked out and paid for as quickly as possible.  Now there are often dedicated baggers, and today there’s a fortyish Latina woman with her hair yanked into a severe ponytail standing at the end of the lane, stuffing products into a tattered brown paper bag imprinted with the name of another grocery store. 
            The cashier says, “Excuse me?”  I have the sense that she, too, daydreams in the grocery store, flashing products across the scanner as she thinks about saxophones or new curtains or Christmas cookies, the register’s ding-ding a distant annoyance.  She holds a small carton of Egg Beaters in one hand and does not ding it through.