I wouldn't be telling the whole truth about last week if I didn't say that it's been an exceptionally lucky week. I don't know why I haven't said it sooner--maybe it's just that I've been excessively sensitive about boasting, or even talking about myself lately. But since life isn't always kind like this, I'll let you know what's up.
"Modernism" is going to run in the inaugural issue of Serving House this Spring.
Four pieces--"The End of England," "Irreverence," "The Mother Sits Down on the Bed," and "Bunny"--are coming out in 40th Anniversary issue of The Iowa Review, due this August.
And "What Might Life Be Like in the 21st Century," published last fall, won the Glenna Luschei Prairie Schooner Award. (Yay!) Because it's not already available on-line, I'll post it here, followed by a short interview about the piece conducted by Timothy Schaffert.
What Might Life Be Like in the 21st Century
Sleek black hair. Blue, blue eyes. No other reason she’d have talked to Mr. Science, who would have looked past her to the other mothers even if I’d built an atom smasher behind the school. The topic of discussion was my science fair project, “What Might Life Be Like in the 21st Century.” I’d waited until the night before to throw it all together, as I’d done with every homework assignment that year, out of some protest I couldn’t put a name to. What was the point of saying the here-and-now was good for us? My protest must have shown up in everything I did, from my matted hair, to my refusal to speak a word in class, to my walking off the field whenever I saw a fly ball coming in my direction. I was ready to go to sleep, though I hadn’t even started my day. So no surprise Mr. Science led my mother to the corner of the cafeteria, sat her down away from the other mothers, and told her, in a slow, deep voice, that he saw no future for the likes of me.
What was it like to take in those words? Did it hurt to hear them? Did they excite her? Or did she relax into the hot scratchy wool of her skirt as a patient might listen to the gravest diagnosis? No wonder my perfected city didn’t look like the other projects on the table. No wonder she couldn’t take in the shiny houses I’d drawn without wanting to head for the door. And in that moment, when it was still possible to turn back, she might have wanted to touch Mr. Science’s face. Instead, she turned her head and saved herself from that apology. She looked out toward the other mothers, tried to picture herself among them, happy and glistening, and listened to what she could of his words.
“Science fair projects,” he said, with an easy, cruel smile curving his mouth, “are about proving what’s already known and finding the evidence to support those claims. I have to be honest with you. That’s not what I’m seeing in your son’s project.”
“And his grade?” she said, with hope, as if she hadn’t even heard the half of it.
“Well,” he said, and held up two hands, letting them hang in the air. “If I give him an F, maybe it’ll teach him a thing or two.”
“Thank you,” she said, and stood up. She gathered her scarf and gloves. And drove home, calming herself by counting the trees along the way, as if she’d finally found the key to help me live.
What could I say to her delivery, her looking about the living room--chair to table to desk to chair--as if its proportions had become more spacious in her absence? She sat down across from me, face shining, eyes deadly cool, in the hopes I’d finally get it. I couldn’t tell her I didn’t care about proof and evidence. I couldn’t say that that world didn’t want us in it, because who among us even had the words to make those claims? That world? That world was a funhouse, full of mirrors reflecting nothing but my tossed-off homework, my drowsing shoulders, the thick, drab poison of me, me, me, me, me. I wanted to be more than that sad little nothing. I wanted to roll in the grass with the animals. The future? So what if it ended up letting us down? I was ready to get there. I was ready to rattle its gates, even if I couldn’t see past the houses, parks, and boulevards I’d drawn on that smudged sheet of posterboard.
The future arrived: that much I was sure of. And though it didn’t have the fires and punishments that transfigured their dreams, it did have all those other things, and more. The human touch? She ached for it, starved for it. Why shouldn’t she eat the sweet rind she’d been wanting for herself? That must have crossed her mind every time she saw me walking down the street, past the orange trees and the palms, away from her. We knew exactly what it was she deserved, but the city was already ruined.
Read the Prairie Schooner Interview about the piece.