Story and Novel Excerpts . . .
“Book of Lies” (short story) in Prime Number.37, April 2013:
Molly was under her bed. Robin tried to coax her out while Paul waited downstairs to take her to St. Louis for her summer visit. Six long weeks. “I don’t want to go!” Molly said.
“I don’t like Claire!”
“Molly, don’t be that way. Your daddy will be so disappointed if you don’t go.”
“I will, Molly,” Paul said.
Robin hadn’t heard him come in. She mouthed, “You try.”
“Come on out, Molly.” Paul got down on the floor. “Well, I guess I have to stay right here until you come out, baby girl.”
Molly kicked the bedsprings above her. “I’m not a baby.”
“Oh? Big girls don’t crawl under the bed and hide from their daddies.”
Robin stood back and watched. Paul was halfway under the bed now, talking to Molly. Robin couldn’t hear what he was saying. Finally, he crawled out, then Molly.
“That’s my girl,” he said. He gathered her into his arms and brushed tears off her cheeks. “Hey, it’s going to be fine. You can talk to Aunt Robin and the boys every day.” He looked up at Robin. “Right, Aunt Robin?”
“Right,” she said, but it irritated her. She had never been Aunt Robin; with Molly she was just Robin.
Molly’s things were already in the car. Paul carried her down the stairs. The departure happened as Robin had imagined it: she and Carl and David on the porch waving and smiling, Molly’s forlorn little face pressed against the car window. It’s only six weeks, Robin reminded herself. And yet she closed her eyes and imagined Molly moving away from her like a lesson in perspective, lines converging until she became a finite point on the horizon and then disappeared entirely.
“Pieces” (short story) in Prime Number.19, April 2012; anthologized in Prime Number Magazine, Editors’ Selections: Volume 2:
A gray morning on St. George Island. Low, threatening clouds, slate water, a blending of sky and Gulf except where the waves build far out and heave themselves at the shore, pound away at the beach and leave a sharp ledge where there should be hard, smooth slopes of sand. Today there are only broken shells, loops and tangles of seaweed, driftwood, debris.
Tire tracks on the sand. The beach patrol has come by early and posted red warning flags that whip in the wind like flames. Gulls halt and hover, treading wind like water, then surrender and settle in flocks and huddle close. Most days you can see the shallows and the deeps, know where to wade or swim, ride the waves on plastic floats, take out the Sunfish. But on days like this, the Gulf hides currents strong enough to pull a grown man under, sap his strength, and drag him out to sea.
*”Something Borrowed” in Good Housekeeping, October 2011
I’m waiting on my front porch out of the rain when my ex-husband Rick and his fourth wife Sherry drive up. Sherry gets out of their SUV with a big umbrella.
“Stay there, Beth. I’m coming to get you!” she shouts through the downpour. I meet her halfway down the walk. Sherry is not going to tell me what to do.
“Be careful, it’s slippery,” she says. She takes my tote bag and pulls me under her umbrella so mine tangles with hers. When we get to Rick’s Tahoe, she opens the back door, throws the bag in, takes my elbow and gives me a boost inside. My flimsy little umbrella sticks, and she stands there in the rain until I get it closed. She slams my door and climbs in the front. I’m pretty dry, but I bet she’s drenched.
Rick says, “Hey, Beth,” like I’m an old buddy he hasn’t seen in years.
“Hi yourself, Rick.”
He eases down my steep driveway, and once we’re out on the flooded streets, he creeps along, the windshield wipers whack-whacking as hard as they can but not doing much good. When he doesn’t take the interstate ramp, I can’t keep my mouth shut.
“Why don’t you take the interstate?” I ask him.
“Old Highway 29 is faster,” he says. “No traffic.”
*”Something Borrowed” was originally published as “Wives” in Halfway Down the Stairs.
From Spirit Lamp Jane Hamilton awarded the opening chapter of Spirit Lamp the “Best of Workshop” Award at Writers in Paradise, Eckerd College, 2011. The full excerpt appears in Sabal: Best of the Workshops 2011.
A vision woke Luther Biggs, as they often did, more and more as he grew older. He heard Leona Pinson’s voice calling him out of a deep sleep, the way she used to do when she was a little child, when he would curl up on the bare floor near the stove in the Pinsons’ kitchen while Herbert Pinson was gone off somewhere to cut timber. In the vision Luther saw Leona standing at the pump in the yard, a freezing rain falling. She ran her hands over her swollen belly. Her eyes glimmered brighter than the rest of her, they shone with tears and fear and told him to get his stiff bones going, to get out on that icy road and come, come to her right then. Luther knew the birthing had begun, and he was afraid for Leona. With Herbert Pinson dead there was nobody in that house who cared whether she lived or died, and one—her brother Raymond—who might be glad to be rid of her.
“Appendix,” published in Crescent Review:
Tonight the lights in the operating room seem unusually bright. The glare makes Cynthia’s eyes ache. She squeezes them shut and then relaxes them and keeps them closed for a few seconds.
I can do this. I can do this blindfolded.
The sterile instrument pack lies unopened on the tray, but she knows exactly how she will place them for Dan, knows how to anticipate his every move during the surgery. The instrument he wants will be in his hand before he even asks for it. They have performed it so often, this smooth, rhythmic dance without sound.
Cynthia forces herself to open her eyes as the rest of the three-to-eleven team drifts into the room. Everything is loose and high this time of night. Someone switches on the stereo and rock music blares. The anesthetist takes his place on the stool at the head of the table and runs a check on his lines and monitors. Cynthia hears the phone ring in the holding area. In less than thirty seconds, her friend Julia, one of the scrub nurses, sticks her head through the double doors. “Hey, folks! Look alive in there. That little girl is on her way up.” Cynthia doesn’t turn around and look at her. “Hey, Cynthia! What’s eatin’ you, girl? You okay?”
Cynthia takes a deep breath, turns, and smiles at Julia. “Sure, I’m okay. I’m just tired, that’s all.” But Julia is already disappearing into the holding room.
When Dan Bowman bursts through the double doors, he holds his arms out in front of him, bent at the elbows, his hands open toward the ceiling. The gesture always reminds Cynthia of some sort of supplication to the gods. His eyes sweep right past her. She can’t read his expression above the mask.
Take off the mask, Dan. Talk to me.
“From This Distance,” published in Arkansas Review:
Carved out of red clay and left unfinished, the cellar stays cool and damp even in the middle of summer. Moisture collects on the walls like beads of sweat. Iris likes this place. It smells like cornfields after days of rain when the corn has begun to mildew in its husks and go to ruin. On wide shelves cut into the earth wall sit jars from past seasons: jellies and jams, canned tomatoes, cucumber pickles, homemade corn relish, watermelon pickles—enough to last them for years. She walks over and sets her basket down. She stacks some of the old jars to make room for thses new ones. She takes an old jar of plum jelly down and looks at the date: “July 1955,” their first summer in the house. She walks over to the little window and holds the jar up to the light. Still good. Not cloudy at all.
“Signs,” published in Blue Crow:
I sat in the chair beside the window, and I dozed, too, until a sound like wind startled me awake. A flock of goldfinches—there must have been a hundred of them— covered the patio outside Mother’s room. Some pecked at the grass emerging from the cracks. Others clung to the brick walls where the building made an L-shape twenty yards away. I hoped she was still asleep, but she wasn’t. She was sitting up, staring out the window.
“Don’t be afraid, Mother. They can’t hurt us,” I said, but then the birds rose up into the air, chattering and circling and swooping, and one of them flew into the glass, and then another, and another. Like hail stones, these little birds came at the window. I put my arms around her and shielded her eyes until it was over. The whole thing couldn’t have lasted more than a few seconds, but my own heart was pounding. I got up to close the blinds and saw the stunned birds floundering on the ground, the rest still diving and calling around them. I snapped the cord hard.
“I’ve never seen anything like that in my life,” I said.
She covered her face with her hands and said, “I have.”