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Telling stories

The Expense of Hope

My husband’s grandmother turned 92 last week, and while we sat next to each other on the couch, she rubbed the kicking baby beneath my skin.  I wanted her to feel that squirming little life, because she can’t hear or see well. After our unborn daughter rolled inside me, Louise told me she’d live to see her next great-grandchild. Because I’ve cauterized a lot of the outlets of my emotion in the last two years, I made a joke.

“You said that last time, Louise. I think I’m done having kids. You’re going to have to find something else, because we want you around.”

I’m not hopeful like I used to be. It’s embarrassing, but it takes so much faith to believe something you want, something you work and wait and pray for, will actually happen. Hope gets whitewashed as flippant wishing, but committing to waiting for the possibility of disappointment is excruciating and exhausting. Continue reading “The Expense of Hope”

When we live stories we should hate

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One of the most memorable stories in the Bible for me comes from 2 Samuel 12, when Nathan, a prophet, goes to David to tell him an important story about an unjust man.

David, appalled by this man’s wickedness, swears he will punish him. That’s when Nathan finally clues him in:

“You are the man!”

The story about the evil man is about him, and what David perceived as a report of an impersonal crime committed somewhere in his kingdom reflected reality in his home, and sins in his heart.

We can read all day about racism and white supremacy and think it distant, but if we never ask how it would be possible that God might also send us prophets to reveal that we, too, are guilty, then we miss something. We are destroying ourselves.

Continue reading “When we live stories we should hate”

Dust and Grass

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There was chicken wire instead of a fence. It was nothing more than rusty, twisted wire caging dust and slouching, fading headstones in the middle of nowhere. All the sparse grass stayed out, as if cast from the perfect deadness of the small cemetery. It lay at the edge of the street of what was left of Baden, Iowa, a town someone in the German branch of my mother’s family had founded some time in the early to mid-nineteenth century.

My father parked in front of a building the same color as the unpaved road. Nothing was painted, and if it had been, it had been a long time since the last touch-up. Mom walked toward the cemetery to look for relatives, and my little brother and I wandered around what looked like a movie set from a Clint Eastwood western. About a half-dozen buildings with false fronts lined both sides of the street, and every one of them seemed emptied of life years before we showed up that summer afternoon.

Although the church wasn’t padlocked, it was vacant and likely without any congregants but a few field mice. The  general store had the only open door we found, but the windows were boarded shut. An old Pepsi machine on the front porch still had working lights, and I hoped we’d be able to get a Coke or Dr. Pepper. Mom didn’t trust how long the cans had been in there, so we left it disappointed and walked inside. One man stood behind the counter in a warehouse of dust and junk. Broken toys and tools sat on shelves and in cracked barrels. There were horseshoes and legless ballerinas in music boxes. I wound one and watched her twirl to a lullaby on a dirty pedestal, then closed the case. Continue reading “Dust and Grass”

Conclusion of “The Fault”

bones faultWhen he got home, she wasn’t there yet. Because this never happened, he assumed she’d gotten an angry phone call from Chelsea, who would have told her everything in such a way that he would be the stereotypically chauvinistic sex fiend. He would be unable to wait to explain himself or defend himself against her accusations and threats. So, he called her.

That’s when he heard her phone vibrating on the counter, right next to a half-emptied glass of room-temperature orange juice that had been left there for, he guessed, about nine hours and thirty-some-odd minutes.

He checked the phone, and saw that no one had called her all day except for him.

Draining the glass, he proceeded to corral the rest of the unwashed breakfast dishes to the sink. He’d only turned on the tap when he heard the door open and the jingling of her keys banging on the side of her thigh.

“You’re home early,” she said, before he could greet her.

“You’re home late—well, later.”

“I’m taking cues from you.”

She pushed past him to the refrigerator with her lunch bag and purse still hanging from her arm. Scanning the contents of the refrigerator, she reminded him that they were out of milk and shut the door.

“Were you in a hurry this morning?”

She wasn’t paying attention, so he repeated the question, this time with more concerned, projecting so she could hear him over the clanking of the dishes he was stacking.

“Hm?”

Again, he repeated the question.

“Oh, no. I mean, I guess. I didn’t sleep much, so I was slow starting.”

“Oh.”

“Thanks for doing the dishes, by the way. I have no desire to do anything tonight. I’m thinking of skipping out on the art center, too.”

“Wow. Already?”

“I’m not quitting. I just need to regroup. I can’t start out running on low. I don’t know. I am exhausted.”

He paused, and let go of his question about her suddenly renewed interest in ballet, not because he knew the answer but because he thought of another question.

“Hey, speaking of dishes, have you seen my chip bowl? I couldn’t find it the other day.”

“It was broken.”

“What do you mean, ‘It was broken’? You mean you broke it.” Continue reading “Conclusion of “The Fault””

Communion from “The Fault”

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The confusion of cell phone alarms and plug-in clocks battling each other with beeps and MIDI ringtones woke them five hours later. She kicked off the duvet, jumping up to make coffee.

While he showered, she cooked an egg for herself, and pulled out a box of cereal out for him, then poured a glass of orange juice for herself. They traded places in the bathroom as soon as he walked out. When he entered the kitchen, he realized that she hadn’t set out the bowl, spoon, or milk. Yesterday she kissed him, last night they’d had sex, and today, she forgot to leave his food on the counter. Just when he thought he was beginning to read her again, she would forget things that had been routine for the past several years that even though they were mundane, foregoing them seemed like sacrilege. It was childish, he knew, to expect such service to continue forever, but it seemed that she had been purposeful—defiant, even—in doing something so incompletely that was for him.

He could only remember one other morning when she had forgotten breakfast. They were late for work and had run from their tiny apartment down the stairs because they realized it was nearly eight, and though they didn’t know much about the area, they knew the difference between the printed and the actual train schedule: what should take an hour would always take more. Having smoothly pressed pants took precedence over a healthy first meal of the day. To remedy the omission, as they were speed walking to the bus stop that drove them to the train, she insisted that he wait just a minute while she exchanged a handful of quarters for a cup of coffee poured into a Styrofoam cup and a huge, sticky glazed doughnut to a nearby vendor.

Grinning, she hustled to keep up with him and balanced the pastry atop the cup. They barely caught the bus but were lucky to find a seat open. She took the window seat, jamming her tote between her legs and the wall to free her hands for distributing the elements. The edible lid kept most of the coffee from sloshing out, but the coffee soaked the underside of the doughnut so much that by the time they could eat it, it had half-dissolved. Giving him their cup to hold, she broke their bread in haste, dividing it equally as possible. While he sipped the burnt and already chilling coffee, she licked the glaze from her fingers. They took turns passing the coffee between them, both commenting on how bad it was, yet she insisted it was “romantic” to eat breakfast on the bus. He agreed with her, and reached into her space, grabbing for the remaining soggy bit of doughnut that she held in her right hand. Immediately, she popped it in her mouth and swallowed it, trying to keep from snorting it while she laughed at her victory and their play.

Continue reading “Communion from “The Fault””

Breaking, from “The Fault”

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Photo by Krista Mangulsone

When they reached the door, the knob was cold, and it wasn’t “eightish.” It was 9:37 p.m. She was surprised that she hadn’t stayed later on purpose. What had taken the most time was talking with the class coordinator at the art center. She was positively thrilled to have a volunteer instructor signing up.

“So many people want part-time gigs right now with the economy, you know.”

The woman at the desk leaned toward the office window, inviting the new teacher into her tedious chinwag.

“If you ask me, it’s usually just an ego boost for the prima donnas who never made it.”

The short, chubby woman wore too much rouge, but she was attractive, radiating the same kind of quirkiness that trinket shop owners in American tourist trap towns label as “sass” or “creativity” that is expressed in multi-colored reading glasses, spunky short haircuts, excessive eye makeup and bauble-wearing, and an inexhaustible admiration for Joni Mitchell and Emerson Lake and Palmer.

These kinds of women always have mints or chewing gum, she thought, as she allowed the talk to pass beyond her face and float toward the gargantuan local impressionist painting behind her. She tried to listen or empathize, but all she really wanted to do was get upstairs to check out the mirrors and see if they really had a decent practice space. Continue reading “Breaking, from “The Fault””

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