Monday, March 30, 2015

#164: "Mirror Glimpses" by Randon Billings Noble

~This essay was first published in Emrys Journal, where it won the Linda Julian Nonfiction Award (2009).


“[M]irrors, which seemed magical in their properties, … were composed of only two primary materials: a plane of glass pressed up against a plane of silver  …  When a mirror was broken, the glass could be replaced.  When a mirror grew old, it only had to be resilvered.  It could go on and on.  It could go on forever.” – “Mirrors,” Carol Shields.

Over the sink in the bathroom of my grandparents’ summer house was a smallish round mirror and directly opposite it, over the toilet, was a medicine cabinet with a mirrored door.  These two mirrors reflected endless images of myself when I stood between them.  I tried to see into infinity with these mirrors, but it got too blurry. 
The small round mirror across from the medicine cabinet was wreathed in wooden roses.  The face that looked back at me from this mirror was also round and rosy, framed at the top by a precise line of straight-cut bangs.  My eyes were wide and dark, unshadowed by disappointment or compassion.  My teeth were new and awkward, the two front ones serrated at the bottom like a bread knife, but I was too young to try to smile with my lips closed or laugh behind my hand.  I never thought this face would change.  I thought my childhood would go on forever. 
Instead, I grew out my bangs and grew up. 

            Over the sink in the bathroom of the hotel room was a large flat mirror that spanned the length of the wall.  Directly opposite it was the shower with its skimpy cloth curtain that somehow managed to block the shower’s spray.  Everything in the room was cold and white – the tiles, the curtain, the walls, the lights. 
The face that looked back at me from this mirror was round and blotchy, framed by a white towel wrapped around my wet hair.  The skin below my eyes was puffy and dark, shadowed from tossing and turning on scratchy hotel sheets, and my shower had done little to revive me.  My mouth was closed, tight at the corners, wondering that the day would bring.
That afternoon I would start my first day at college, four states away from the place I called home.  I tried to spy the future in my reflection, but my eyes were too dark to see anything in them.

            Over the four sinks in the bathroom of my dorm were four square mirrors bolted to the wall.  Fluorescent lights flickered and buzzed from the ceiling and a steady drip came from the third shower stall.  The face in the mirror was always turning away, on its way to something else; the mirror was too scratched to really see anything anyway.
            Every morning I showered early and then twisted my hair into a braid that nearly reached my waist.  By late October my damp braid froze on my way to my early-morning French class and when I returned to my room I unraveled its crispy kinks to let them dry.  When my mom came to pick me up in December I told her that I had made straight A’s but that I felt like nothing existed below my brain stem.   My body had become a cup to carry around my brain. 

Monday, March 23, 2015

#163: "Madrid A to Z" by Kathleen Wheaton

~This story was previously published in Artisan, a Journal of Craft (2005).              

            Alice, who one cold February day abandoned her career as a Kelly Girl, sublet her small, bad-smelling apartment on Broadway and 107th Street and flew away to live in Spain, began to realize on the airport bus entering Madrid that the line between spontaneity and insanity was finer that she’d thought.  
            Brushing away doubt as though it were a spider, she hailed a taxi at the Plaza de Colon bus terminal, gave the address of the Pension Rosa – selected for the admittedly corny reason that it faced the Palace Hotel recommended by Hemingway – and insisted, politely but firmly, upon being allowed to inspect the room she’d reserved before taking it. 
            “Como mi casa en Nueva York,” she murmured, meaning that the room on offer was as dark and smelly as the Upper West Side studio, though the landlady accepted the perceived compliment with a faint relaxation of her scowl.
            Days later, reflecting on the pass her life had come to, Alice would recall that this had been the only occasion when anyone in all of Madrid had come even close to smiling at her.  

Monday, March 16, 2015

#162: "South Ozone Park" by Abdul Ali

~This poem was previously published in Fledgling Rag (2015).

South Ozone Park

                         in the inner city
                         or like we call it
                                  —Lucille Clifton


They walk in packs
sweet talking
baby ooo & ahh
can I get yo phone number?
Don’t be that way
pretty thang
& when they give a smile
gold plates flash
ring to chain,
gold fronts
toothy smiles
beaming from
chest to chest
a pinball game
until the night lights up
like Times Square
& the hood ain’t so scary
until patrol cars change
the colors of the sky
from black & gold
to red & blue.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

#161: "The Big Chicken" by Kerry Madden-Lunsford

~This story was first published in Shenandoah (1999).

Cat-Sue sings over the telephone into Jean’s ear, “We would just love to see the girls, and I’ve got a darling teenager to babysit, so we can all go out and party after the Saint Paddy’s parade.”
“Really,” Jean replies, slicing off a wedge of lemon meringue pie and eating it with her fingers before reaching under her sweatshirt to trace the lump in her right breast she’d found in the shower that morning.
“Plus,” Cat-Sue’s pitch rises. “I found a dance place where they play big band music in Underground Atlanta. You’ll love it. They’ve got a piano bar and they’ve even let me get up and sing!” She hums a few bars of “Yes Sir, That’s My Baby.
Henry-Lee gets on, roaring, “So, Jean, are you and Silas teaching those folks any English? Gotta speak English if they plan on enjoying the good life in this country! Something’s gotta be done.”
“Like what, Daddy?” she carves out a larger piece of lemon pie, inhaling it in one gulp, waiting for his latest C-SPAN soundbite.
“El Paso has the right idea if you ask me, putting up that big wall. They out to do the same thing out in California with high voltage electricity across the top! One jolt and their ass would be back in T.J. before you could say, ‘Tortilla flat!’”
“Have you ever thought about how fascist you sound?” Jean asks, licking meringue off the knife.
“Fascist, my ass! Got any better ideas? It’s the whole bastion of liberalization bullshit that’s got us into trouble in the first place. I’m talking about accountability.”
“I’m not getting into this with you, Daddy.”
“Into what?” he chuckles. “Now, wait just a goddamned minute, how are the children? Your Mama really wants to see y’all. I can throw some shark and state on the grill, and … hold on a minute … Christ almighty, Cat-Sue, the BĂ©arnaise sauce just burned. I’ve got a great recipe going, and it just boiled over! So Jean, are we on for Friday night?”
Before Jean can answer, Cat-Sue gets back on the line. “His sauce is fine! You know Daddy! Stomachs first! Anyway, darling, we’ll go to the parade on Peachtree Saturday, and Sunday, after mass, we can take the dogs and kids to the Chattahoochee River and let ‘em run wild. Y’all don’t forget to bring some green!”

Monday, March 2, 2015

#160: "Pierced" by William O'Sullivan

~This essay was previously published in the North American Review (2003) and was cited as a notable essay in The Best American Essays 2004.

            In Germany in 1981, miniature studs and thin gold hoops sparkled on young men’s ears like the white lights decorating the Christkindlmarkt in December. These same men wore gauzy Indian-print scarves wrapped loosely around their necks and clogs on their feet—a distinctly European, somewhat hippyish look that I didn’t have the nerve to try. The androgyny of these fashions—folds of flower against bristled neck, callused skin exposed through open heel—bypassed language but sank deep into the ground of my body. It was the pierced ear I was most fascinated by: unarticulated symbol, small glitter against flesh, subtle enough to be mistaken for a bead of sweat.
            A year in a foreign country, removed from the expectations of family and the reactions of friends, might have been the perfect time to make such a change in appearance—undoubtedly more remarkable in 1981 than today, but still relatively minor. Other American college students I knew did it: the artists, the pot smokers, the ones who listened to Modern English and the Clash, not Michael Jackson and Kim Carnes. I fell somewhere in between, hanging out with cheerleaders one night, New Wave weedheads the next.
            No one in my family had pierced ears at the time. As I imagined it, the unspoken rule among my mother and sisters had something to do with the pain, the body alteration, neither of which was desirable. (It never occurred to me that no rule prevailed, simply personal taste.) Even as I dreamed of having an earring—a hoop, always a hoop, I knew that right away—I understood I wouldn’t do it. It was, when you got right down to it, barbaric to punch a hole in the skin, to deliberately cause yourself pain.
            Then, a day or a month or a year later, a man would walk by—shirt open to the sternum and tucked loosely into jeans, sleeves rolled to the elbow to reveal forearms muscled like braided bread, a sliver of gold haloing his lobe.