Tuesday, June 28, 2016

#206: "Stroller" by Nancy Geyer

~ This essay was first published in Alaska Quarterly Review (2007).

            She’s standing on the bridge that spans Six Mile Creek, where the flats on the city’s south side begin. I see her from a block’s distance, milling about the steel guardrail, hands free of the baby stroller a few feet away. The stroller looks skeletal from behind, thinly padded and with few embellishments or conveniences. Its thin canopy is stretched forward against an absent sun.
You probably can’t buy those new anymore, I think to myself, to the extent I’m thinking about it at all.
It’s well into November, and after having coffee in town I’m walking home along Cayuga Street—past Sam’s Wine & Spirits, past the public library and the APlus, where you can refuel with gas or candy, past the Holiday Inn and its faint piped-out music. The Inn faces the new municipal parking garage where once, from the sidewalk, I mistook a security camera pointed down the glass-enclosed stairwell for a telescope aimed at the hills. For this is where my mind begins to loosen up, where purpose yields to possibility now that the errands are done and my civic persona has receded a bit—sensing, without being conscious of it, that I’m no longer likely to run into anyone I know, if there's anyone to run into.
            “It certainly is cold this morning!” the woman says, turning toward me when I reach the bridge. She’s wearing a white quilted ski jacket that makes her seem bold.
            “It certainly is,” I respond, passing briskly by because of it. I dip my head toward the carriage, though, the corners of my mouth beginning to pull up.
            Nothing, not even a doll.
            “Where’s the baby,” I almost blurt before I catch myself. The question is almost pure reflex, but I’m afraid it will come out sounding meddlesome—or, worse, accusatory. And so I continue silently on, barely breaking my stride.

Monday, June 20, 2016

#205: "Transit Info" by James Reed

~This story previously appeared in Apalachee Quarterly (1996).

The passenger in back bothers no one.  He is quiet and polite.  “Good evening,” he says as his ticket slides down the chute.  “Thank you,” as the door hisses open.  The driver notices him only because he favors two separate stops some eighteen blocks apart and because often he walks.  She sees him forty or fifty feet from his destination, the steak house corner with the big Cadillacs and Lincolns and the vans unloading families in the lot.  This is a total of thirty-six blocks from his point of origin, undoubtedly his job.  It must take him half or three-quarters of an hour.  She herself would never travel such a distance on foot, but she is portly and given to short breaths after two flights of steps.  A sixteen would fit her except through the hips.  A seamstress friend, whose girl she watches between shifts when the child gets home from school, alters her dresses and is discreet enough to cut out the labels.  She knows the styles the driver likes and buys them on sale and then is reimbursed.  The rest is considered an exchange.
Arlis is a pure-bred genius with a Singer machine, and handwork doesn’t trouble her in the least, but she is unable to curb the driver’s appetite for sweets.  Any bonbon proves irresistible.  It’s not as if she craves candy or schemes for it.  A large refillable of diet lasts the whole day’s driving, and she only nibbles at some fruit or has a small sandwich with Venetia in the afternoons, but let her see a Hershey bar or a Whitman Sampler box, and her money practically flies out of her billfold.  She’ll have part of it unwrapped and in her mouth before she starts the car.  And once opened, it will not last the night.  “Its life expectancy is nil,” she tells Arlis.  Just last night she watched Jimmy Stewart fly across the ocean in some rickety tent-flap plane, and as the screaming Frenchmen carried him away on their shoulders, she wiped her fingers of their last trace of chocolate.  It’s not the wanting it that infects her, but the having it.  That’s why she could not take a job like Candy Boy’s, which is not his real name but what she calls him.  When she sees him the words just appear in her head.  Candy Boy.  They’re there before she can say, “Hello.”
He rides that last run, usually sits behind Manny, and is a touch overweight but hardly so you’d notice.  Really he’s just soft.  Outside his job, she doubts he does much.  She suspects he lives with his mother and is not the type to’ve moved back in despite the grey in his hair she’d bet money his mother cuts.  Every couple of weeks, it just looks lopsided, usually on Wednesdays.  That makes it Tuesday nights that he comes home in his black pants and red knit shirt, both wrinkled, baggy, and ready for the wash, and sits in the chair dead center in the kitchen.  She ties a sheet around his neck and clips and buzzes until her squint through the humid air steaming with pots of boiling cabbage tells her, this will do.  Then she sweeps up the lank curls while he washes for dinner.  And changes.  She cannot abide the stink of sour ball flavorings on his clothes.  And he showers to take it off his skin.  It must be good and hot or she will not serve him at her table.

Monday, June 13, 2016

#204: "Pluma Piluma and the Utopian Turtle Top: A Bedtime Story for Women Writers" by Chauna Craig


~This essay was previously published in Calyx (2003).


Pluma Piluma and the Utopian Turtle Top: A Bedtime Story for Women Writers

based on many true stories

            Once upon a time there was a little girl named Pluma.  Pluma Piluma, a name given her for the pure sound of it.  In those vowels you could hear the purr of a motor, something smooth and sleek readying itself for faster days, liquid fuel like molten lava and not a harsh consonant on the rolling horizon of those letters.  Nothing to signal stop.
            That’s how a little girl’s life should start.  Purring possibility.  Horizons.  The pure sound of it.

            Gertrude Stein in Tender Buttons described sound like this:  “Elephant beaten with candy and little pops and chews all bolts and reckless reckless rats, this is this.”  A sentence I love for how it curls and creeps and cruises from my tongue to my ear.  Sound.  Reckless reckless rats, this is this.

            I used to drive.  All-American pasttime.  In Montana the roads are infinity signs stretched , long, sloping to the endless horizon, empty like the beginning and the end.  Once upon a time, speed on those roads was limited only by words:  “reasonable and prudent.”  I liked the sound of it.  And then, as always happens, someone realized that words carried meaning and meanings carried people and people carried themselves way too fast.  So stop.  Replace the sounds.  Follow the numbers. 
I used to drive.  I sometimes still do.
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