“Clean Up on Aisle 7”, Brittany Fox

Clean up on Aisle 7

I always sort of figured it would come to this. I ran my hands over my jeans and pulled the seat belt across my lap. Taylor rocked back and forth against the worn leather seat. He was sitting on his large hands, squishing them with his meaty thighs, while humming the chorus to the SpongeBob Squarepants theme song. He wobbled his head around, like a bobble head, silently forming the words with his lips.

I heard a light pop as my father opened the driver side door. The steel frame creaked and shifted, adjusting beneath the additional weight as he slid behind the wheel. I caught a whiff of the thick spiciness of his aftershave as he settled into the seat, leaning back against the headrest. I could see his thick, tanned neck through the open space in the seat. His dark, salt and pepper fringe lined the edge of his favorite Red Sox baseball hat. The worn folds had faded into a dusky blue and the seams looked a bit frayed around the edges after years of devoted exhibition.

When we were younger, Taylor and I would sit on our father’s lap and watch the Red Sox play on television. We’d snuggle up under our father’s arms and take turns wearing the old baseball cap, hollering and clapping our hands whenever Pedro Martinez struck any one out.

“He’s a machine!” Our father would cheer, jiggling our little bodies around on his bouncing knees. “What an arm he’s got!”

After the game had ended, we would spend the rest of the afternoon with our father’s hat. Taylor would stand on top of the couch cushion and pull his arm and leg back, just like Martinez, and pitch the cushy, pink nerf ball. I’d swing the plastic toy bat fast and hard, usually missing Taylor’s pitches completely. I’d always shake my head in disbelief at my big brother and say, “You’re a machine!” Taylor’s cheeks would pull into a wide, toothy grin beneath the frayed brim, with the bright red Boston “B” settling low over his forehead.

Looking over at the man-child next to me, I can still see traces of the little boy wearing the Boston “B”.  That same big, toothy grin was still there, but outlined in a few fine lines framing his mouth, a constant reminder of the time that has passed since those simple days of playing baseball indoors. We are both older now, basically on the verge of adulthood. However, for Taylor it was different. While my exterior matched my state of mind, Taylor’s body was a massive contradiction. He’s like a four year old child trapped in a large man’s body. It’s like his mind or his brain is stuck, unable to progress and move forward, and fails to grow up with the rest of his body. I guess this is why it has to be this way. This is the reason forcing my parents to make this decision. If they can live with themselves, admit that they are in way over their heads, then I suppose I can too.

“Ok, good. Here comes your mother,” my father sighed as he leaned forward to turn the key in the ignition. I felt the car begin to hum, vibrating my insides. I watched my mother as she walked through the back gate, closing it with a quick bump of her hip. She was carrying a cardboard box with Taylor’s name scribbled across the front in black sharpie. I watched her walk past Taylor’s window, her lips pulling into a painful smile as he squished his face up against the glass. The car thumped as she set the box in the trunk and closed the hatch.

Her cinnamon curls were bundled on top of her head and she had to duck low beneath the doorframe as she slid into the seat next to my father.  He reached over the center console and gently squeezed her knee. I watched as my mother took his hand and laced her fingers on either side. She sighed heavily and her shoulders sank a little lower beneath her fuzzy, green cardigan.

“Alright, kiddos. Everybody strapped in?” My father asked. He twisted his head around to check for himself, pressing his cheek against the gray headrest.

I looked up from my cherry fingers and smiled weakly. “Yeah, Papa. Ready whenever you are.”  

My mother reached around the back of her seat to tug at Taylor’s buckle, making sure he had fastened the clasp all the way. Sometimes he’d pretend to buckle up, but really only push the hook in half way. He usually would just pull it out once we were on the road. He hated wearing his seatbelt, didn’t like the feeling of being constrained.

Taylor smacked and clawed at my mother’s hand as she struggled to correctly insert the clip, securing him to his seat.

“Taylor, Honey, it’s ok,” my mother pleaded. Taylor began screaming, violently lolling his head back and forth and throwing himself forward against the back of my mother’s seat. I reached over and gently started rubbing circles between his shoulder blades.

“Come on, Bud. You’re ok. There, there, now. Mom is just trying to keep you safe.” I was trying to remain calm, ease him down a bit, but my efforts only frustrated him even more. Taylor gets like this. Like any other fifteen-year-old boy, he doesn’t appreciate being told what he can and cannot do.

My father quickly climbed out of the driver seat and ran around the backside of the car. He pulled open the passenger side door and put his big hands on T’s shoulders to keep him from repeatedly pummeling the seat in front of him.

As a former lineman for the Boston College Eagles, my father is a gigantic human being. He stands around six feet and five inches tall with hands the size of dinner plates. He is a bit bulkier around the middle these days, but he still manages to run and lift every other day to keep his strength up. When Taylor hit his growth spurt, right around the end of his seventh grade, he dwarfed everyone in the house. My father is the one exception, but only in weight. Otherwise, Taylor stands just as tall.  Now, it’s nearly impossible for my mother or I to help constrain him when he has his tantrums like this.

With my father’s help, she is able to fasten the clasp and tugs the sleeves of her sweater over the green and purple blemishes scattered across her forearms. They never seem to go away. Her shoulders sag beneath the kiwi-colored fuzz as she sighs heavily. I watch her take a few deep breaths before fastening her own seatbelt across her lap. Her helplessness and exhaustion make my heart hurt.

Taylor began showing signs of Autism at an early age, beginning with his odd fascination with wheels. He would spend hours by himself in his room, turning his toy trucks and cars upside down, spinning the various plastic tires continuously. When we would go out with our parents, we’d have to keep a close watch on T. If we didn’t hold his hand, he would run off, making his way over to the closest parked car to run his hands over the craggy surface of the rubber tires. The older Taylor got, the more he seemed to withdraw, almost never speaking to any of us. If he was upset or angry, T would throw tantrums, screaming and repeatedly throwing himself into the glass sliding door of our back porch. He struggled to communicate with us and we continue to struggle with understanding him.

People have said stuff to my parents before, after they’ve seen or heard about Taylor. I’ve been there, with them when people have come up and said something, sometimes people we’d never met before. They’d touch my mother’s arm and look at her with big, wide eyes, “I could never do what you do.” Or they’d watch my father hold T in his lap, rocking him while he cries after falling down or not getting his way. They’d shake their heads sympathetically, knowingly, and say, “You’re a saint, Jeff. Truly a saint.”

Once, early one morning, I overheard my parents talking about it. As I padded down the hallway to the bathroom Taylor and I shared, I could hear their muffled voices, so I peered down the stairwell into the kitchen. They were sitting side by side at the round table, sipping coffee from a pair of matching yellow mugs. My mother sat with one leg tucked beneath the other and my father had his chair pushed back from the table, leaning forward over his knees.

“You know, I couldn’t believe it when Mrs. Preston said that to me today,” my mother whispered. “It just makes me so mad.” She had wrapped her arms around her thin frame, shaking her head and tossing her cinnamon spirals across her shoulders.

“I know Lyddie, me too. I mean, what do they expect us to do?” My father reached over to her and gently squeezed her knee. “He’s our son. If she had a son or daughter in the same position, she’d be doing the same thing.”

Once, Taylor ran open-armed through the cereal aisle in the grocery store, ripping box after box from the shelves. He tore open the containers and threw the bits of colored pieces into the air, emptying all the bags onto the floor. He then stomped on the piles, crunching the sweet breakfast flakes into rainbow dust.  He kicked the powder across the blue and white checked floor, screaming and pounding his fists against his legs.

I had been with my mother and Taylor shopping for groceries that day. He had wanted to add a second box of freeze pops to the shopping cart. When my mother told him not to, a look of utter dejection passed over his large, blue eyes. As my mother put the freeze pops back on the freezer shelf, she knocked a carton of Edy’s peach ice cream with her elbow, causing the entire shelf to come crashing down. The loud noise scared T, causing him to crap his pants.

He took off running, holding his hands over his ears. Unfortunately, we weren’t the first ones to find him in his cereal snowstorm on aisle 7.  The store manager, named “Tracy”, according to her nametag, beat us to him.

“What are you doing? Please, just stop!” she screeched. Taylor’s piercing screams rattled my insides as we rounded the corner. A cluster of customers stood at the opening of the aisle, drawn to miraculous man-child and the frenzy of frosted wheaties and chunked-up cheerios.

“Oh my goodness!” an older woman exclaimed as she pushed her half-moon glasses up the bridge of her nose. “Kids these days, sweet Jesus!”

Taylor had started kicking the empty cereal boxes at Tracy. My mother rushed forward and attempted to pin his arms to his side like Papa does when T loses it. She and I both fought with him, taking his punches, scratches, nips, and kicks.

“Taylor, come on. It’s ok,” I pleaded, doing my best to ignore the shocked murmurs coming from the customers who had stayed to watch the Taylor Briggs Show on aisle 7. I hated that. It made my skin burn.

“Excuse me, miss,” my mother panted, pushing the sweaty strands of hair from her forehead with the palm of her hand. “Would you mind if he used your restroom?” Taylor reeked from his accident and the seat of his pants looked damp, forming a wet mark across his khaki shorts.

Tracy crinkled her bird-like nose, flaring her nostrils as her small beady eyes roamed over all three of us. She jammed her hands against her bony hips and her thin mouth fell open, revealing a row of tic tac teeth. I half expected her to bob her head and cluck at us.

“We don’t have restrooms that are open for public use,” she spat, flipping her short stringy hair over her shoulder as she turned away from us. The black rubber soles of her shoes squeaked with her every step as she marched toward the front of the store, leaving us there amongst the massacred boxes of cereal. Taylor whimpered softly, running his hands over the back of his shorts. His blue eyes widened as he noticed the crowd of customers staring at him from the safety of their shopping carts. Tears dribbled down the sides of his nose, mixing with the strings of snot that oozed over his lips.  He looked down at the floor and shuffled his enormous feet, grinding leftover cereal bits into the floor.

My mother turned her back to the front of the store and the gawking customers. She pulled Taylor’s big frame into hers, wrapping her arms around his middle. He bent over, burying his face into her shoulder and I watched his back heave with every ragged breath he took in between sobs. My heart thrummed against my ribcage and I felt my throat swell up, squelching and suffocating any hope of speaking. She began rubbing his back, smoothing out the wrinkles of his cotton t-shirt, as if she were trying to wipe away the entire incident, erasing it from not only Taylor’s memory, but ours too.

After a moment, my mother pulled back and looked over at me. She raised her left eyebrow and her lips curled into a tight half smile. “You know what, fine then,” she looked up at Taylor. “Honey, let’s get you out of those shorts. Alleigh, will you get me T’s spare bottoms from my bag, please.”

So Taylor tugged his shorts to his ankles right there, in the middle of aisle 7.  A few customers gasped at the sight of his bare skin, shocked by the public nudity. He grinned at his audience, relieved to be free of his swampy undergarments and put his hands on my mother’s shoulders to balance as he stepped into the fresh pair of boxers and gym shorts. Taylor had just wanted to be comfortable.

I remember the horrified look on Tracy’s face when I skipped up to her register. “Um, excuse me,” I began, holding up T’s dirty shorts, an evil grin creeping across my face. “Can I have a plastic bag, please?”


Smiling, I look over at my brother. He is flapping his hands excitedly, squealing as he watches the wheels of the passing cars roll by his window. It was strange to think how quiet and still the majority of my future car rides would be without Taylor sitting in the seat next to me.

I felt the car ease to a stop in front of a two-story brick house with green shutters. I could see two boys with sandy blonde hair digging at opposite ends of the sand box, surrounded by plastic toys inside the fenced in yard. A few bicycles leaned against the white washed porch and I could feel that everything was going to be ok.

Taylor could be happier here.

It wasn’t like we were giving up. It was more like my parents had finally come to grips with reality. It’s a hard thing to accept when you can’t take care of your own kid, the person you created. I know it hurts my parents when they can’t help Taylor. His inability to communicate causes for a lack of understanding, and this is ultimately hurtful to all of us: me, my mother, my father, and especially Taylor.  It makes me feel inadequate when I can’t help my brother, when I struggle to comprehend what different things mean to him.

Here though, it will be different. I know it will be weird living at home without Taylor on a daily basis, but it wasn’t like I was losing him. By letting him go and going along with my parent’s decision to send him to a home, I am finally able to help him and offer him support. It makes me feel relieved and good on the inside to know that people who will work to understand how to help him every day will surround Taylor. Not seeing him every second of every day is definitely a lonely feeling, but for Taylor, this is perhaps better for him. We don’t understand him, nor do we completely understand his needs. Taylor needs this and so do we.

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Nazanin Joon by Cajal Rutti

1979. I was only five years old while my left tiny hand was grappled by my older sister who had been told by her dying mother to take care of me because I was extra special. That was during the Iranian revolution. Large masses of Persians along with me and Mina, my sister, were rounded up by the Basij-e Mostaz’afin, literally “Mobilization of the Oppressed,” a police force created by Muslim clerics. Mina swiftly navigated through the agitated swarm with a vexed countenance, held my hand tightly. If it wasn’t for her grip that encompassed my little hand, I would have lost her in this black cloud of angry voices. “Nazanin Joon, you must keep up. We don’t have much time.” Mina said soothingly with an undertone of roughness. I looked up at her, seeing the sun peek over her head. I was blinded but I vibrated my head, answering her question. She pulled me ahead causing my head not to catch up with my body until a few seconds later. I tripped over the hard blacktop among the throng that seemed to scatter as the Basij came. As Mina stopped momentarily to brush me off, the red glared over her black hair. A Basij officer walked up and blocked the sun behind her, grabbing her shoulder. He demanded to know why she had not put on her veil yet. Mina said, defended herself in Farsi as translated, “Officer, you must allow some time for me to adjust. I did not learn of these rules until you barbarians bombarded the streets demanded us to change right away after so many years of the Reza Pahlavi Monarchy. Don’t you think that is a tad unfair?” The Basij officer replied, looking “I got orders. Put on your veil right now.” “I have not purchased a veil yet but I assure you that I will never wear a veil in your presence.” She buzzed in Farsi, angering the Basij officer. She picked me up into her arms as she faced the Basij with a brave masquerade, trying to cover up her fear. Not saying another word to the shock-faced Basij officer, walking away in haste. She did not get far before the Basij officer felt offended and brought the whole hive and surrounded Mina.
Shivers of dread encompassed each vertebra on my spine as they intimidated Mina. I hid behind Mina’s ethnic skirt as her eyebrows increasingly becoming more wound up, strengthening her bravado façade. She crossed her arms, trusting me to stick to her like spots on a Persian leopard cub. “What now?” she murmured to herself, although it was loud enough for the Basij to hear. The insulted officer responded in Farsi, “You are a woman and you shouldn’t be disrespecting an accomplished officer like me. In matter of fact you are too westernized for this Islamic Republic of Iran. You will have to come with me.” Mina darted back and forth, grabbing me, trying to find a hole in the forming blue hurricane of ignorantly eager uniforms tightening around her. Mina hunched over me protectively, telling me quickly that if anything happens to her to run as fast as I can and never look back. Exactly that had happened as an unpredictable nameless perpetrator from the angry horde grabbed one of the blue uniforms and led me to escape out of Mina’s skirt. I ran under people, swung around their legs until people started to disperse. I slowed down to a brisk walk, feeling that last jolt of adrenaline in my system. I kept walking as I wiped my teary eyes, wondering what I should do next. Memories of toddlers who were able to do the most difficult math proofs and were able to play like Mozart shot through my mind. Math proofs and Mozart-inspired music never made sense to me but I always could remember things. I walked into the busy airport, remembering which Terminal that my older sister Mina had gotten off from her arrival in America just two days ago. I also remembered the whole flight schedule for the upcoming month that my teacher had given me to test my ability to remember the information which led to the conclusion of me having Eidetic or Photographic memory. According to my perfect recall, I went into a complacent airplane that had its cargo door still open with the loading ramp. It made me feel safe. I snuggled in the cargo nets and went to sleep and woke up to two American policemen discovering me. I had remembered that Mina said to run and never look back. I tried to run but I got so tangled up in the cargo net that they caught me before I was able to escape their hold.
I can tell you all the license plates in order in this big parking lot I am standing in right now. I can recite passages word for word. Hell, I can recite a whole book if you dare me. I don’t know why I can but I can never tell you. I suppose that could be due to my speech impediment. Even if I could enunciate carefully, I would still not tell you in fear of becoming a guinea pig in their governmental experiments. I worked as a night janitor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology for five years since I was seventeen. Those professors always left their work on the blackboards in their classrooms. Sometimes those puzzles they left on the board fascinated me and I wanted to solve them but I always resisted. I have learned puzzles of these sorts are dangerous for the fact that they could expose me. The raggedy hum of the ceiling air conditioning appeased my fear. All I know is those puzzles are dangerous for me and I must never solve them. I can solve these irresistible proofs only in my head where it can be safe and put into my mental storage in case I needed it again. I would purposely go into each of these classrooms gawking at the blackboards while mopping, solving their puzzles. It was like stealing candy from a baby.
There were times when I wondered if my gifted memory was a curse or a blessing. I could hack into a bank and memorize credit card information and steal their money as I always have done with foolproof plan, never getting caught. I always wrote small cyber notes to the owners, telling them that I would pay them back one day somehow. There were times when I remembered things that were painful to remember. The thing about memory is that it is absolutely impossible to control what you can remember and that if you do not remain in control of your mind, they will pop up when you least expect it. I can hear the exact grisliness of that cruel man who took Mina and the velvety feel of her skirt being soaked by my tiny hands as I hear that monotonous hum in the air conditioning. Each practiced motion of the mop, I can smell the frozen air that burned my nostrils in that street when I was five years old and I can see the bold lettering of the language of Farsi, clear and crisp as day. The only way I could try to blur these memories is to solve these puzzle that occupied half of my mind as I mopped. I always tried not to remember that horrible day. There is one thing I have always wondered…what happened to my oldest sister who had protected me with her life. As far as I know she had been taken captive and who knows what she went through. I imagine they weren’t pleasant.
One lonely morning, I decided to go to a quaint café for a cup of coffee. Shimmers of silver on pigeons’ wings decorate the cloudy blue sky where the sun refuses to appear. I sit there on one of the couches, becoming familiar with the leathery smell. This grey-haired, tan-skinned lady show up asking me, “Are you Nazanin Kordgharachorloo?” “That depends on who is asking. Nazanin is dead and buried in Elm Cemetery,” I reply. “Oh that is a shame. I had great news for her. Who are you? How did you know Nazanin?” she inquires. “Never mind who I am. The question is who are you?” I spit back bitterly. “Oh, Excuse my manners. My name is Soraya Hassanpour. I am a social worker helping a client from Iran look for her sister. My eyebrow rises as my curiosity piques. “Are you sure you wouldn’t know where Nazanin is?” Soraya pushes. I remained calm, thinking if I should now tell her my true identity. I demanded identification and paperwork authenticating her profession as a social worker. She sits down eager to show me her file, as if she already knew it was me that she is looking for. I looked at this picture of my eldest sister who looks exactly as she looked when I was a toddler but she seemed more weathered and aged. I become glad that I got at least one part of my old life back.

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The Constraints of a Neck Brace

“So I guess now would be a good time to tell you that I hate hospitals,” Patrick said.  We were there because I’d fallen off my horse, because the fall had been a bad one.

I took my eyes off the black man in front of me.  He was talking to a fat white guy behind a desk and glass window.  He was telling the guy behind the glass that his arm had been dislocated.  The black man’s sweatshirt was gray and had a skeleton’s ribcage printed in red on the back of it and it was hanging off one of his shoulders.  It was tacky and I had a sick feeling that when he turned around I would recognize him as someone I had bought drugs from.

I turned around and looked at Patrick.  His hands were shoved in the front pockets of his Levi jeans and his feet were planted three feet apart as if the white linoleum was holding them hostage.

“Babe, I’m sorry, but I can’t move,” he said, “I’ll stay right here, but I can’t move.”

I could see the sincerest, most loving look of fear in his eyes.  I stared at him and blinked a few times, but I couldn’t see him anymore.  I could only see my older brother’s face the moment he realized that my dad was about to hit him. He’d run.  Later, his childhood friends would joke and yell “Run, Tyler, run,” but only when my dad wasn’t around.  The truth was they were just as afraid of him as my brother was.  And in that second before he started to run, Tyler had looked at me.  I’d felt so helpless.  I’d never had to run from my dad or feel the back of his hand across my left cheek, but I’d wished I had.  I’d wished it so that now my brother and I could know something about one another.

“Miss?” the fat man behind the glass said.  I turned my eyes from Patrick’s face to his.  I couldn’t believe Patrick hadn’t started running yet.  The fat man had just sent the black man and his dislocated arm to a chair close by in the waiting room and told him the nurses would get to him when it was his turn. “How may I help you?”

He had on light blue scrubs and there was a white nametag hanging from the left breast pocket on his shirt, but I couldn’t read it.  He would have been attractive, maybe, if he had been normal-sized.  I could tell by the look on his face that he didn’t think anything was wrong with me- I had just walked in on my own, with all limbs intact and all veins still housing my blood.  I took a step forward and was right in front of the glass wall.  I didn’t look, but I knew Patrick was still there, and I knew he didn’t move closer with me.

“Hi,” I said, wanting to ask about the black man.

He asked me questions that I can’t remember answering.  I felt like I was a sophomore in high school being questioned by the dean again.  It’s weird telling the truth and wondering if you’re lying because everyone else thinks you are.  For instance, I’d told the dean I wasn’t selling weed and that I had no idea who on campus was.  I never said his name, but when Andrew Hayes was kicked out of my prep school, I’d felt like it was my fault.  Now I suddenly wanted to run before everyone in the hospital turned into everyone I went to high school with and started cursing me to my face.  One time, two boys stood on a balcony and flicked quarters as I emerged from underneath it.  I was too much of a coward then to say anything or even acknowledge the coins hitting my calves and back.  I just counted the blades of grass growing in the cracks of the brick pathway, trying not to walk faster.  That was an unlucky existence, I remember thinking- constantly struggling for a break to the surface, wondering your whole life how things would be better if your seed had only blown a few feet in another direction.

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Saints and Sinners: Final Revision

He hadn’t locked the door, I thought, hustling into the suite with my arms weighed down.  Who doesn’t lock their door in Manhattan?

“Yo,” I heard from the living room.  Grumpily, I pushed through the chic little black and white hallway to the source of the sound.  “Carver?  Carver, Jesus, I thought I told you to lock up.”

“Babs, baby, who’s gonna break in while I’m here?” he crooned, lounging sphinx-like in a plain black shirt and boxers on his expensive leather sofa.  He looked too perfectly posed to be comfortable; I assumed he had heard my heels on the marble in the hall and suitably prepared himself.

“Fans, for one.  Here—mail and your water.”  I hefted the paper shopping bag in his direction, spilling envelopes.  He snatched it from me, eager for his weekly ego-feed.  I placed his hot water on the vintage glass side table.  He always asked me to get it from Lalo’s on 83rd.  When I reminded him he could boil his own, he told me the Lalo’s had ‘better water.’  And damn him, he could tell if I just filled it up in my own tap and stuck it in the microwave.  His taste, I felt, ran less towards the flavor and more towards sending me out of my way.

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“Travel”, Allison Stansberry, Dec. 15

When I was fourteen, my father and mother and I left Iowa for a short time so that my father could find work in Florida, my father believing that there were oil rigs that he could easily work on down there. We had never been anywhere. This was before my mother left my father and I for a used car salesman named Michael Connelly. This was before I lost my virginity to a boy named James Harold in the back of one of Michael Connelly’s used cars. This was before my mother left me to learn how to put lipstick on by myself, that too much powder made you look older, that blue on the lids of my eyes didn’t suit the brown iris’ underneath. This was before all of that. This was before I had my own daughter. This was before I held her in my arms and had the strongest wish that my own mother was there with me. This was before all of that. This was seventeen years before all of that. This was when I was fourteen and green and innocent and ripe to learn about anything and everything and before I fell out of love with the world and before I fell back in love with it. This was when I was young.

We had traveled in a small red Oldsmobile, all of our possessions packed away in four suitcases, everything that we would need for those four months. I watched the outside scenery fly by from my car window, the colors of the landscape blending together, going from grey to green to blue as we passed into Florida. Heading on I-75, we stopped in roadside trailers that had names like Betsey’s Rest Stop or Big’s Cafe outlined in bright lights. It took us five days with all my father’s detours to get there. I would sleep, curled up against the back door, feeling the vibrations in my head from where it rested on it. At night, my mother and father would take turns driving while the other one slept. Sometimes though, I would wake up to them talking. I knew that I was supposed to be asleep, that I wasn’t supposed to be let in on these quiet moments in their lives, this contented quietness between my parents. I wanted to know their secrets, so I would keep quiet. This was long before Michael Connelly and when my parents seemed to think that screaming was the same as talking. This was long before my father and I were left and my mother had told me, “I’m sorry but I can’t make you happy, and I’m not happy myself.” Before she left. Just like that. Gone. I hated her for so long after that, for leaving my father and me. For making my father look at me like I was her. Later though, I realized it wasn’t Michael Connelly she had left us for but that she had left us for herself. I suppose I realized this when I had a daughter, when I felt the fear of loving a child. But, when I had my daughter, I also held her in my arms and promised that I would never leave her like my own mother had left me.

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Comment to Heathermctague’s “Bobby in ‘Sweethearts'”

I agree with the mind-boggling part about Russ, mostly because of Russ’s attitude towards Bob. I found their relationship to be highly abnormal, and almost unbelievable at times. I thought it highly unusual that a father would allow his only child (from another marriage, no less; it would seem less strange if he and Arlene were the parents) to develop such a playful relationship with a convicted felon. In class, people argued that Bobby was no monster, but simply misunderstood. Misunderstood he may be, but someone at the level of desperation that drives them to commit armed robbery is not an appropriate figure to have around your child. Russ obviously cares for his daughter, and I can’t reconcile any parent who loves their child allowing them to ‘hang out’ with such a person.
Everything about Bobby disgusts me. He wails and whines about going to prison, but here’s the newsflash, Bobby: people who point guns at other people go to jail. Man up and own your crime. Russ doesn’t seem to actually like Bobby, but his passive nature is infuriating. Bobby threatens to hit his wife, and Russ makes small talk with him. He’s violent, he’s Russ’s wife’s ex, and he’s completely intolerable from the picture we get of him, and yet…Russ does nothing. I don’t understand the relationship between Bobby, Arlene, and Russ at all. He brings nothing to Arlene but fear and anger. I can’t find any redeeming qualities in this man, and find it outrageous how the characters tend to ‘stick up’ for him.

Original Comment: http://fpf.blog.sbc.edu/2010/09/23/bobby/#comments

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Comment to BrittanyFox-Response to “Shame in Richard Ford’s Children”

Brittany, I agree with you about the fact that the characters stuck between adolescence and adulthood, especially in terms of Claude and George “Children” is a coming of age story, but isn’t truly about childhood at all; it consists of the state of ‘inbetween-ness’ that the narrator George and his friend Claude are experiencing.
Here are these two boys, who experience law breaking, violence, cruelty, and the need to prove oneself as a man (shocking topics for Ford, I know). Watching these two, we wonder where they will end up in life. Will they turn to the ways of their fathers, a violent, cruel man in one case or a deceitful adulterer in the other, or will they find some other avenue? Claude seems to be following his father; the fact that he sleeps with Lucy seems less like the move of an awkward young man and more like a son trying to assert dominance over his father by ‘taking’ his woman. We also see him try to assert dominance over Lucy and George, when he threatens to kill Lucy several times and mocks George in front of her. George seems on a slightly more even keel, but this is simply because we have a view into his mind. He is the one who converses in more depth with Lucy, about other people’s judgements, shame, and secrets, showing that he is more aptly able to express his feelings than Claude. In the end, the narrator looks back, and his final lines are that, “We were simply young,” which they were. They just weren’t “Children” anymore.

Original Comment: http://fpf.blog.sbc.edu/2010/10/06/shame/#comments

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Comment to “Door in Your Eye” by Allisonstansberry

You talked about redemption in Wells Tower’s work, and how the absence of it seems to be a major presence in many of his stories. However, I found “Door in your Eye” to be one of the more redemptive pieces so far.

Our narrator is Albert, a man who does not reach very far for very much. His diary entries are simplistic, only the weather, because he does not want to seem like a salacious reporter in his own journal. His paintings are tiny, just a playing card sized piece of sky. I am sure that if Albert confessed his dreams, they would be small, ordinary, and if they began to become fantastical he would immediately wake himself up. This man of small wants is drawn in by the ‘prostitute’ next door, at which point he immediately begins to open up. The moments he shares with this drug dealing woman are tender, and he finds connections in their scars and stories. The redemption here isn’t so much that Albert will start afresh, or be a better person, because he’s eighty three and headed towards the end of his life. No, it’s that Albert finds peace with Carol, at least for a few moments. The coming together of these two wounded souls is a very comforting image for me. This is pure speculation on my part, but I get the feeling that Albert might start painting larger skies from now on.

Original Comment: http://fpf.blog.sbc.edu/2010/10/10/wells-tower-door-in-your-eye/#comments

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All Right

I went home for a month for Christmas right after Jessica’s mom was in the car accident and I called Nicky Forrester for the first time in a while.  The drive from Boston to Michigan was comforting in a familiar way with the static in the old Nissans radio and the eddies of snow swirling in the streets. I heard about the accident from my mom, and I saw the tire marks on the asphalt at the intersection where the car had failed to stop and hit her while she sat innocently and unassuming at the red light.  That road gets salted better now.

Nicky had been my best friend all through high school so I haunted the trauma ward with him and Jess while they waited patiently for something, anything, to change in the report Dr. Greene brought out every morning, and every afternoon at four o’clock.  Nicky had brought home graduate school applications and Jess had brought her college applications, so spent the majority of the time with Mr. Forrester silently watching football drinking coffee and trying to wean myself off of cream and sugar to see if I could learn to like it black.  A week went by, and so did Christmas, nothing had changed and I was down to a pack of Splenda when Nicky and Jess had to go back to school.  I drove Nick to the Detroit airport on a Sunday morning when they sky was bright and we really got to talk for the first time.  We sounded like adults, we talked about what we were going to do, and I couldn’t help but think about how old I felt, even though we were only twenty-two.  I wasn’t filling out applications for school, I was filling out applications for jobs, and the thought of working construction for another summer, and then maybe forever pressed in the realization that I was stagnant, like I wasn’t wandering through life with everyone else as their change came in a whirlwind like a twister of leaves in the fall, bright and with a snap of cold and wonderful, but standing and watching as the globe spun around me, and I got old and waited for something to happen like I had been waiting all week.

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The Bubba Stories

What I love about “The Bubba Stories” is the fact that the plot is not unique at all.  There is nothing new in a story about a coming of age story of a girl going to college and telling lies, which is essentially what the plot is what it’s boiled down.  However, Lee Smith is able to take that story that any girl who goes to college and tries to find herself can identify with (some, like us, more than others because of the setting,) and understand.  It covers so many cliche topics like moving away, the desire to be interesting, loss of virginity, and that feeling of helplessness after a first love, that I would argue is what makes the story so compelling.

Cliches are Cliches for a reason.  They are around so often because at the heart of the matter there is something so true about them that they are inescapable.  It’s the way we sympathize with the character that makes this story so successful.  We care about her, we understand her and feel like we know her, she isn’t just another nameless faceless teenage girl, she’s more developed than that.  This is what I struggle with in my writing.  I wish that I could take a subject that is overworked, and reshape it into something new.  How is she able to create such a full character without giving us her entire life story and background?  In fact, what pieces of the background that we do get are made up, the stories about her fictitious brother Bubba, so it’s not even the truth.  That, to me, is the biggest feat of the story.  Creating a character so fully developed in so little space that can bring a tired story back to life.

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