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Sample story: "This House"


The mother wondered out loud all day long if you weren’t all going to hell. No, you would say, to the first question of the morning. You could take lessons in this house. Intricate rules abused the rough men and kept them right.
Her movement and worry could heat the kitchen on its own. Stop moving, you would say on holidays, or during a day of heavy rain in the summer. Save yourself the trouble, just this once. She sighed and the idea itself renewed her.

You heard of wars, and other things. It’s terrible, she said. You knew it was. Some day, everything will change, she said, and those that keep their mouths shut will babble with such fierce power the ones that couldn’t shut up will have no choice. They that are fattened and gorged on money from blood will be sickened while the starved finally swallow their own pure hearts and grow to astounding heights. And the blind will see.

She couldn’t read, so she made up her own stories. She knew there would come a day.

You took a chance doing the wrong thing there. You walk in one night real quiet and that illiterate old woman is up in the light of the stove right away saying you’ve got liquor on your breath. You stink. But maybe you’ll get some sleep, you say.

You can’t swing at her but you want to. She turns shaking her head, crying, what the bottle done to your uncle.

Next morning, before she asks, you know you’re going to hell.

Look, none of this is going to happen, she says, without a gesture. You are not even listening.

Cripes, we’re all tired, someone says. A young one, mind you, a grandson. He’s the one who finally taught her to read. She wrote a long letter to you. You were gone then, but came back for the funeral.

It’s not that I’m not dead, she says. I’m not arguing that. I feel okay though. This is fine. In the ground would be too much.

The women and the men in the tiny kitchen hold napkins of food and mutter how heavy the coffin was. She walks around oblivious over the pearly floor and smiling at the young ones. You can’t catch her eye.

She doesn’t see the bottle on the table. The rum in her kitchen doesn’t make sense and maybe that’s why no one talks to you. Sometimes your wife.

The people smiling are all good. The things they say you can’t hear, but the people are all good. The one your brother married is sick but looks strong. Your sister is still hurt by the accident though she can walk fine. Your boy is stronger than you ever were.

The old woman will never look at you again. She sits writing at the table across and cannot see you. You may be thin air, fine, but she doesn’t even hear the sound of glass when you almost drop the bottle pouring.

You can’t read upside down. My oldest boy, she says, wanting to fight the hired man after his father died.

You were twelve that time and the man was across the yard. Before the old man died he told you look out for your mother and the simple math of it never made sense. The slow-moving big man died and the slight quick woman had too great a portion to bear.

The man wasn’t asking much and neither was your mother. Nobody is ever asking much, but you heard her loud through the sun and the dust and it was enough. That’s the time she rescued you.

She looks at you now and may speak.

You know she’s not there. Your wife is beside you with her hand on your back. It’s been too long, she smiles, to your brother in his worried old suit. He nods above his short fat tie and everyone smiles.

Come out tomorrow, you say. There are things to sort out.

Across the room your boy is sick of smiling. Don’t say anything, you think. Don’t joke about the coffin and don’t tell the boy it gets better and don’t touch a thing in this house.