You sit in the back of the cab, a white boxy thing you think of as Soviet-made, you don’t know why, and the oily fumes come in through the windows on hot, wet air that barely moves. Your guide stretches forward and speaks a stream of words to the driver, soft, in that voice you like to lean in close to hear, to feel the breath on the skin of your face, your neck. (read more…)
My girlfriends always drove because they had cars, cool cars: a Monte Carlo, a Cadillac, and best of all, the Trans Am. Boy bait. And that’s what we were there for, after all, the boys. That, and a place that seemed about as far away as we could get from our land-locked suburban neighborhoods with low-slung ranch houses and two-car garages and flat, trimmed lawns. (read more…)
Two weeks in Paris, Philip and I. Him, teaching. Me…well, nothing really. Keeping house. Grocery shopping. Dinner. Playing Betty to Philip’s Don Draper. Our own little episode of Mad Men, only Mad Men in Paris. Up in my robe and slippers making coffee, toast and juice (but no eggs, let’s not get crazy; I don’t cook.) Kiss him at the door and push it closed and then turn back to the empty flat. (read more…)
My father died when I was fifteen years old; I was still a virgin. I know what you are thinking: non sequitur. What does one thing have to do with the other? I know what I am thinking: everything. (read more…)
“Your characters are so stupid,” the woman said. She sat at the other end of the table, directly across from me. It was a bright blue winter day, and the book club met high over the city, with views of the frozen lake and of snow piles going gray in the gutters. “I felt like slapping some of them!” (read more…)
I am certain I know where to find it; I can see it in my mind. It is in that basket where I keep old magazines, in the sunroom. Or maybe it is in the file box in the back bedroom. Maybe in the drawer near the loveseat or under the side table next to the couch.
There really aren’t all that many places to look, and yet…(read more…)
We were out at our house in Mount Carroll, Illinois for a quick turnaround weekend away. Mount Carroll is a small town just ten miles away from the Mississippi River, a quiet place where we try to step out of our Chicago city lives. Where we try to slow down.
So there I was in my writing room, a small space on the second floor with an artist table a great-great-great (or so) aunt stored her paints in and my mother used as her bedside table; a remarkably heavy “portable” typewriter made more than half a century ago…(read more…)
When the name showed up in my queue of friend requests on Facebook, I actually shivered. She found me. She: my first bully.(read more…)
“Coffee?”, Mrs. Coates asked. A peculiar, grown-up question. I said yes, the grown-up thing to do, and she poured the dark liquid into a paper cup marked with squiggly lines and set the cup in front of me. (read more…)
Ok, so we’re on our way to Northern Michigan, me and Philip–my now husband, my then boyfriend–and it’s the late summer of 2003. (buy the book)
I sit with my husband at a restaurant, and across the way near a large, haunting, abstract painting on a brick-face wall, another couple lean in toward one another, then away. (read more…)
My father didn’t believe in jukeboxes. I swear to God. “Damned things are all part of the syndicate,” he’d say. When I was ten, I didn’t know what the syndicate was. I knew the word somehow, knew of it: The Dick Van Dyke Show was in syndication, Father Knows Best, too. But the word didn’t fit for me here. (read more…)
STORIES & EXCERPTS
In the dream he is flying. Moonglow on his face.
We used to climb out on the roof when we were kids. Nighttime, under the stars. Big sister (me) and little brother. He was scared at first, so small and blond. Afraid of heights, afraid of falling. (read more…)
She sat behind the steering wheel of her car, hands at ten and two even though she was parked now, engine off, at the gas pumps. Cold dark. Winter morning. 1980. Iowa. (read more…)
The power had gone out. And I’d lost my keys. That’s the kind of day it had been. (read more…)
My mother was a toucher. She tapped her fingers on my wrist, and even though I was sixteen, not really a girl anymore, I loved it, the feel of her pink touch. Such small hands. You couldn’t help but notice. (read more…)
You’d think he’d be too old for this sort of thing. Hell, that’s what he thought. (read more…)
Officially it was senior prom, but Arnie said it was more like a regular party when you think about it, but a going away party with a bunch of kids we didn’t like that much all dressed up and crying and hugging—and why would he want any part of that? (read more…)
“Deer Story,” The Temple of Air
And when you see it there on the side of the road (above it, really) it’s already too late. You know. “Don’t,” you say. Out loud maybe. But it doesn’t matter what you want (or don’t) it’s too late already, and it’s hitting the ground on all fours then up again and into the lights, into the way but in the air still, bounding, and for a second you hope—maybe believe—it will clear. It will beat you, you hope, over that spot in the road, or rise high enough so you might pass underneath. But no. Of course not. You clip it as it springs up, feel the impact of all four ankles at once hit the front of the car, watch—foot hard on the brake where it’s been since this started—as it lifts and tumbles, sideways up and over, an antler taking a stab at the top of the windshield, a road map of cracks spreading out and down the shatterproof glass. And it’s behind you now. It fills the mirror, big and brown and coming down like something stuffed and heavy. You squeeze your eyes closed to absorb its landing, and when you look again it’s gone. And that’s when you swerve—too late, but it couldn’t have mattered any earlier. (You find out from the handsome neighbor with the scarred wife that it’s a path they all follow in rut like they are, third killed in a week in a quarter mile. Killed by the rut.) But still, you swerve, and ahead, the man you thought you loved but know that you will leave—in his own car driving home in tandem from a bar in the city—sees your lights weave out of his rearview then in again and then out as you pull to the side of the road and sit there, shaking. And his taillights flash white and he’s backed his way to you, jumps out of his car and in shirt sleeves, with his hands jammed down his pockets, he bobs foot to foot outside your window. “What,” he says and his breath is white shadow against black sky. He doesn’t know. And you’re mad that he hasn’t noticed; it’s just another thing he’s missed. “A deer,” you say when you open the window finally. “Stay there,” he says then (for the first time. But not the last.) And you do this time while he runs around in the cold in the weeds, to his car and back, in the weeds again. For the smallest moment you think maybe, just maybe, it wasn’t hurt, just tripped more or less over the hood of the car. But then the man you know you will leave comes back, his eyes bright in the dark and his hands trembling, holding—of all things—an X-acto knife. “This won’t do,” he says, “it’s not enough.” And you know exactly what he means. Then he tells you to go on home, get the neighbor to bring a gun. (The neighbor’s a hunter you’d found out over burgers on the grill. They both—he and she—used to be. But his wife—nice woman, too bad about her face, one whole side scooped out from eye to chin—won’t even eat meat now and hardly leaves the house.) So you do what you’re told, drive on the last three miles alone, the windshield a kaleidoscope of darkness. You’re crying now and it’s hard to see, thank God it’s a straight shot of highway. And in the nice little subdivision, suburbs in the country, split-levels and townhomes where the man you are leaving built you a brand new house (like maybe that’d be enough), you pull into your drive and run to the neighbors’ and when you pound, he’s there in a flash. And you notice again how handsome he is. You remember how his back felt when you rubbed against him, his whole self a warm wall between you and the cold air of the open refrigerator, his hands choking the necks of the beers, and you reached around him for yours, flattened your breasts to him, wanted him. And the man you are leaving was out there, with the burgers and the wife, but you were inside with the neighbor who turned around and smiled so small it looked like it hurt. Then he circled one icy hand under your shirt and let it get warm on the low curve of your back. And outside there was small talk and quiet, and inside there was nothing but this. But tonight his wife’s there, too, in shadow behind him. It’s always dark in their house, you can’t help but notice. And they listen while you tell and he’s half out the door when you remember this: “Got a gun?” You say and he stops dead, one hand on the doorknob, his face draining, white. And his wife steps back and turns away. But it’s just a quick moment, a small shift, before he says “I got something.” And he spins off in his truck and you make your way across the lawns to your house and inside and crawl into bed, clothes and all; and under the warmth of the blankets you shake and you pray. You don’t even know if you believe in God, but shouldn’t you apologize to someone? You didn’t mean to do it, but you did it, and you asked to be forgiven, it wasn’t your fault, but you were was sorry, so sorry, so very, very sorry. And when your head was packed tight from the praying and the crying, you rolled onto your back—still, finally—and stared at the ceiling. You waited in the wide bed you shared with the man you are leaving, watched for the white columns of his headlights to come through the window. And then out of a dream starting, you hear voices, and the neighbor says somewhere outside the window “accident” and “shotgun” and “face” and “fault.” And you put it together in the dark, about the neighbor’s wife. The part that seemed missing. And you get it now, you’ve figured it all out. He did it. He’d shot half her face off (an accident, what else could it be?) yet still there they were. Together. And you hear the man you used to think you loved outside the window, too. “Oh my” and “Christ man, I’m really sorry,” and his voice sounds different than you’re used to, sounds soft and thick. But then they’re laughing, the two of them, and the neighbor says, “We’d better gut this sucker,” and you hear “Yeah, baby, fresh meat!” And whatever you’d started to think in that moment when his voice went soft, about changing your mind, about staying maybe, was gone. You hugged the blankets over your heart and turned your back to the window and knew in that way you knew when you’d hit the deer (there just isn’t any other end to this story) it was already too late.
CHAPTERS & TEXTBOOK EXCERPTS
“I Go On Running”
“Taking the Long Way”