Snow, Houston, 1974

Snow, Houston, 1974

Published in The Virginia Quarterly Review, Vol. 78, No. 1, Winter 2002.   Through the window next to his bed, Buddy watched his father build a wire cage to house a light bulb to keep the bougainvillea bush warm. The weatherman had warned that it would get down to the 20’s that night, a record low for Houston. As usual, Buddy’s father had appeared after the ten o’clock news, and Buddy waited for him to pass beneath the back porch light, his white lab coat like a ghost. Now, he knelt in the back yard, steam puffing out from the hood of his heavy jacket. Trip let himself in the backyard gate, offering to help, but Buddy’s father waved him away. By that time, a pink blanket glowed on the wire cage. Trip stood there a moment, hands in his pockets, then slipped up the steps outside Buddy’s window. From the kitchen behind his bed came Trip’s and his mother’s muffled voices. Buddy put on a jacket like his father’s, leaving his feet bare. The bright yellow kitchen was filled with plants his mother had brought in. Trip leaned against the clothes dryer near the back door, grinning at him through his scraggly beard. Buddy’s mother sat at a yellow table in the middle of the room. “Where do you think you’re going?” she asked Buddy. “Outside,” Buddy said. Outside, the night air stung his face. Without turning to him, his father said, “What do you think?,” admiring the pink lantern the blanket made. “It’ll catch fire,” Buddy said. His father glanced over his shoulder, but the hood of his jacket hid his face. “Is that right? How come you know everything?” Buddy hadn’t meant that. His toes felt like icicles on the rough cement. “You better go inside,” his father said. “If you get sick, I’ll have to fix you, too.”   Read the rest at The Virginia Quarterly...

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The Burning Bed

The Burning Bed

Published in Ninth Letter, Issue 19, Spring / Summer 2013.   I lived at that time in a one-room studio apartment on Beacon Street in Boston’s Back Bay.  The room was bare and cavernous, with high ceilings and scuffed wooden floors, a marble fireplace I never used.  The walls were a smoke-stained cream color.  Tacked on to the main room were a windowless shower and kitchenette whose yellowish tiled walls seemed built to be hosed clean, if necessary, and a walk-in closet, where I wrote.  That was why I’d moved to Boston, to write, and all of it — the sirens screaming down Beacon from Mass General, the students shouting outside my window at night — seemed charmed, the faux-Victorian brownstones and flickering coach lamps, even the gutter-slush, which I navigated my first winter in tennis shoes, rich with resonance. All of this was before I woke one morning to find my bed on fire.  There were no leaping flames.  It was late fall, but I had few sheets or blankets.  I woke to an unpleasant warmth against my face.  When I understood what was happening, more than fear, I felt shame, which by then had become my constant companion.  I dragged the futon mattress off its frame and opened the bay window.  On the side of the mattress where I’d lain was a black crater in the stuffing.  Embers curled and twisted inside.  By then, I was coughing, my throat and chest burning from the smoke. That spring, I believed I had fallen in love with a fellow student at my writing program.  The woman — let’s call her Kate — was already engaged and living with her fiancee.  At the beginning of our affair, I had some perspective on how it might turn out; but perspective, of course, wasn’t the point.  As she said, I was inevitable, meaning that she knew that when she went to graduate school, she would meet someone; and if I’d had my wits about me, I might have said the same about her.  After our first kiss, I fled to a bar, feeling a vertiginous, not unpleasant, slippage.  She was to have been for me the amelioration of a lifetime of loss.  She was also terrifically sexy, small-boned, with a dancer’s body and a flatness and throatiness in her voice which drove me wild, which seemed both strange and homely.  She had...

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Pictures of the Shark

Pictures of the Shark

Published in Epoch, Vol. 51, No. 3, Winter 2003.   On the freeway, the tires of his father’s car made heartbeats, like the music in Jaws which signaled the great shark’s approach.  Everywhere Buddy went, the shark followed –grinning, deadly, a silent friend.  Buddy sat in the back seat, wedged next to suitcases his father had lugged out of the woman’s apartment; the woman sat in front, in Buddy’s place.  All the way from Houston through Dallas, her thin, breathless voice had fluttered over roadsigns and billboards, license plates and historical markers, circling what a good time they were going to have together on their trip to Universal Studios, in Hollywood. “It’s so nice that we can all finally be together,” she said.  “I think we’re going to be special friends, Buddy.  Don’t you?” The woman paused, waiting for an answer.  Buddy pressed his forehead against his window.  Outside, a freight train appeared to move slowly backward.  At night, trains moaned past the house where Buddy and his mother lived, where his father used to live; Buddy wondered if any of the cars he saw would pass his mother’s house.  He closed one eye and framed the picture he would take, like leaving a note in a bottle.  His mother’s camera was a thin black plastic rectangle whose lens was grimed with sand from trips to the beach with his father long ago.  Buddy hadn’t told his father that he had his mother’s camera.  The night before, he’d slipped it into his suitcase so he could get pictures of Bruce, the mechanical shark from Jaws, at Universal.  His mother had caught him and said it would’ve been okay for him to bring it, if he’d asked; now, she had said, he’d have to take some pictures for her. “Buddy?” his father said.  “Answer Mary.” In the rearview mirror, his father’s eyes floated, watching him.  That morning, Buddy had followed him down a long hallway at an apartment complex which looked like a set in a disaster movie, ready at any moment to be destroyed.  His father had knocked on a door, then opened it impatiently.  Inside, the woman, who stood barely taller than Buddy, backed away.  Buddy had stared at her pale, sleek arms, and could not help comparing them to his mother’s, which were plump and jiggly.  Ashamed, he looked at the woman’s face.  She studied him anxiously...

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King Elvis

King Elvis

Published in Night Train, Vol. 1, No. 1, Fall 2002.   When Buddy Turner was nine years old, he wanted to see Elvis Presley Live! In Concert at the Hofheinz Pavilion. The show was a month away, but the ad in the Houston Post warned that tickets would soon be sold out. When Buddy told his mother about the concert, and the price of the tickets, she said they would have to ask his father. “What’s he got to do with it?” Buddy said. His mother gave him a look. “He’s your father.” “So?” “So we’ll have to ask him first.” For almost a year his father had been away, and Buddy had imperson- ated the King, donning a white vest trimmed with gold brocade and colored beads, singing and gyrating his hips on the front porch for the neighbor girls, Cara and Darlene Knight. Some of the older neighbors, retirees from Hughes Tool up the street, who his mother said had earned the right to eternal silence, complained about what they called his cat- erwauling. Buddy wanted to remind them that the King Himself had sung on street corners in Tupelo, Mississippi, but his mother said some- times people didn’t care to be persuaded.   Read the rest at Night...

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The Rumpus: In the Eye of the Hurricane

Regionalism often finds its mode in the pastoral, and in the American South—the South of the Louisiana and Mississippi Gulf Coasts, the South of bayous and piney swamp lands, not Faulkner’s savage wilderness or William Gay’s Faulknerian dystopia, but the South of Tim Gautreaux and Walker Percy at his most lyrical, zydeco to stark delta blues—this has meant a kind of aching tenderness, writing that makes its diffident case for the region’s beauty. In his superb debut collection, The Southern Cross, winner of the 2008 Bakeless Prize, Skip Horack paints the landscape of Southern Louisiana with a poet’s feeling for language and an intimate knowledge of people and place. The Louisiana Horack creates is both generative and broken, salvific and ruined, marked in ways large and small by Hurricane Katrina. Read the rest at The...

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The Rumpus: Flannery on the Couch

Flannery: A Life of Flannery O’Connor is a lushly detailed, compulsively readable narrative, the result of painstaking research and an obvious affection for its subject. Brad Gooch, author of a well-received biography of the poet Frank O’Hara, renders in continuous, novelistic fashion the story of O’Connor’s extraordinary artistic development, her swift rise to fame, her return to live as an invalid with her mother, her almost superhuman courage in the face of her debilitation by lupus, and her death at the age of thirty-nine. Gooch seeks to weave a unified whole out of O’Connor’s life and art, the cultural and religious influences which shaped her, the multiplicity of voices – barbed, generous, at times innocent and longing – of her letters. And yet at times, the lyrical, urbane sensibility of Gooch’s narrative, its focus on the psychological, misses its mark. Read the rest at The...

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