Evening Street Press of Sacramento, CA is an independent press with a philosophy. Dedicated to the equality of all people, Evening Street publishes an anthology twice a year featuring poetry and prose of “clarity and depth.”
Evening Street Review #35, Autumn 2022 includes my newest story, Streets of Sorrow. A fictional tale inspired by events that took place in my hometown of Cedar Rapids Iowa, Streets of Sorrow is about a young writer meeting an old writer. As their friendship deepens, young Natalie’s new mentor teaches her to translate life into art.
The night my parents reported me missing, the police came over and searched the house. Missing kids can turn up in closets where they’ve dozed off playing hide-and-seek. The heating ducts in the old house conducted sound between floors, so I heard the doorbell, my father giving orders, my mother’s mousey squeak.
“We’ll search from top to bottom,” said an officer, heavy shoes on the staircase. Up, up, up to the attic. Their sounds faded, then grew closer as the party descended through the house. The men moved furniture, opened doors, pushed coats aside in the hall closet. They rummaged in the laundry room, looked behind the TV and shined flashlights around Dad’s dark office, its shadowy shelves heaped with his army gear.
I was there behind the furnace, holding my breath as lights swept over rucksacks, spare boots, camo fatigues, and MREs, the room reeking of army camps, dried sweat and worn leather. Officers shifted the desk and filing cabinet where Dad kept his red pens, teacher’s gradebook, past papers, and drafts of his letters to the editor. His draft notice, dated 1970, lay among the leaves of a faded photo album in the bottom drawer. Police beams directed at the furnace, and even behind it didn’t illuminate every corner. With my feet tucked in, I was invisible.
“We’ll search the neighborhood,” said the officer.
“The neighbors will be asleep, won’t they?” said Mom, “We can’t go knocking on people’s doors at this hour.” But off they went, up the stairs, convincing Mom that the neighbors would want to help. The front door opened and closed. Mom stayed home in case I returned.
In the morning, I overslept, so I missed them going out. Dad’s staff meetings started at 7:30am. Mom’s boss was a real jerk. The house was quiet from top to bottom. I used the bathroom and ate from the fridge. The phone kept ringing throughout the day. Of course, I didn’t answer. I watched TV until I heard Mom’s car. I was in hiding again before she got inside. Dad came home later, after a cheerful stint in the bar where he arrived around four o’clock most afternoons. He liked to share a pitcher of Miller Lite before the evening grind of correcting papers and grading tests. Maybe two or three pitchers.
“Did you hear from the police?”
“They left a message with the receptionist. No news.”
“I didn’t give them my work number. I can’t take personal calls during office hours.”
That night, I slept in my own bed. It was too dusty behind the furnace, even with a pillow and blanket. In the morning, I woke to the sound of the shower, footsteps passing my bedroom door, and bickering.
“I’m going to be late.”
“You’re late every day.”
“You sound like my boss.”
Down the stairs and out the door, they rushed. Their cars pulled away, one after the other. I slept another hour, then got up and washed the cobwebs out of my hair. Around lunchtime, I walked over to the school and from there; I went to the park. If I’d had 50 cents, I’d have ridden the bus somewhere, but my pockets were empty. I returned to school in time to hear the last bell ring, falling in step with the kids from my neighborhood.
“Didn’t see you in class today.”
“I came in late. Doctor appointment.”
I let myself in with my house-key, turned on the TV and sat down to finish a tub of chocolate ice cream. I rinsed it and buried it in the trash when I was done. The phone rang. Later, it rang again. I was on the couch when Mom came in from work smelling of copy paper, printer ink, and fading perfume. “Meatloaf for dinner tonight and no complaining,” she said as she passed. I hate meatloaf.
She came back a moment later, her face dark with emotion. “What are you doing?”
“Where have you been?”
“In the basement.”
“The basement? For two days? God damn you. We’ve been looking for you. The police came.”
“What is wrong with you? I’m going to have to call the police station and tell them you wasted their time. I’ll have to tell them they spent all that taxpayer money for no reason. That might be a crime, you know. You might go to jail for this.”
“They don’t put kids in jail.”
“Juvenile detention, then. Your father wants to send you to military school. But it’s too expensive.”
“I’m going to my room.”
“Stay up there.”
On the stairs, I met my brother. “Where were you hiding?” he asked.
Rock Salt Journal is a start-up online literary journal published from the coast of Maine. The project of passionate volunteers, the work featured in Rock Salt Journal, reflects the rugged beauty of New England shores and the folkloric traditions of its rich storytelling history.
My newest story, Of Course, I Didn’t, appears in the Fall 2022 issue, NOW LIVE at rocksaltjournal.com. Check out this fresh take on the tall tales and sea stories of days gone by to support the emerging writers and artists featuredin Rock Salt Journal.
Published first in Backchannels, Issue 4 March 2020
Before the wildfire some years back, Grandpa George’s summer place was an ageing cabin, a relic from a time when the mountain resort was a novelty to city dwellers, a picturesque place to get away an hour’s drive from downtown.
In 2012, I was working as a bookseller at Barnes and Noble, the year they launched the first Nook e-reader. The Nook was the company’s effort to compete with Amazon’s market-changing Kindle. My fellow booksellers took an interest, learned the features, and celebrated with every unit sold. I flinched at the prizes awarded to the top Nook sellers. “Why the long face?” the assistant manager asked.
“This is going to put us out of business. They’re asking us to sign our own pink slips.” Fourteen months later, Barnes and Noble closed our location. It seems we didn’t sell enough Nooks. Or maybe we sold too many.
But I bought a Nook of my own before the year was out. I can count on one hand the number of paper books I’ve bought since then. Even with the employee discount. Over time, I upgrade as new models come out. If you have the Kindle app on your iPad, that’s cool, too. As digital formatting improves and the vast catalogue of book titles increases year by year, e-readers and tablets save space on our bookshelves and give access to millions of books, newspapers, and magazines in seconds. If it cost me a boring job I’d had for too long anyway, the Nook also became my new library; the one with hundreds of titles that I can throw in my bag and pull out at will. I’m Hermione Granger with her magic camping sack.
Young people buy more e-books than their parents and grandparents. Earlier this month, E-books.com reported that 62% of e-book sales come from readers 18-45. College students and 20-something’s account for the largest share, 26% of total E-book sales. Maybe it’s too predictable. Is it any surprise that the young are quicker to embrace a digital alternative to the paper volumes of old? Weekend garage sales abound in my neighborhood, overflowing with the unwanted possessions of a by-gone generation. The days of dining tables for ten and home libraries with thousands of titles are passing. Surviving relatives pile them up for sale, clearing the clutter. Their own favorite novels, textbooks, histories, and gossip rags live on devices the size of steno pads. No dusty shelves or cardboard boxes required.
Am I suggesting you donate all your books to charity? Good luck. Goodwill, Salvation Army, and other local organizations are so inundated in my neighborhood, they turn me away from the donation point. “No room for those. Too many books already.” Should we save trees by eschewing wasteful paper books in favor of digital versions? Well, maybe. But I consider the environmental consequences of e-waste, too. At least trees can grow back.
So, meet me at the corner of Paper Street and Pixel Avenue. Bring as many books as you can fit into your backpack.
Anyone can create a list of outstanding books to read. If you want bestsellers, promising new writers, or classics to revisit, there’s a list for that. If I throw together another one, is anyone even looking? With that in mind, the following is not a list. These are not suggestions. You’ve heard enough of those. Read on if book recommendations bore you.
The Prize-Winning Novel makes every literary list. When they come out, publishers promote them as the latest gift from a living god. That’s what they are. They are worth revisiting, revealing more of themselves on a second or third read. Google Hilary Mantel, Joyce Carol Oates, or Toni Morrison (sadly deceased).
The Debut Novel has a special buzz. The publisher loads the cover with rave reviews from notable writers and critics. “… best debut this year,” they might say, or “… destined to join To Kill A Mockingbird as a modern classic.” The products of aggressive searches for the next big thing, they may feel a little forced. But they are inclusive, reflecting the Own Voices and young talents whose bold fresh stories move the conversation forward. Read Jonathan Escoffery’s If I Survive You, reviewed here. Look for Sour Heart by Jenny Zhang and Zadie Smith’s debut from 2000, White Teeth.
The Old Standby is like Saturday jeans. These books are worth their inch on the bookshelf. When it’s time to take stock, face facts, and lighten the load for the moving truck, these old friends always make the cut. Have you read John Kennedy Toole’s Confederacy of Dunces? Try Shirley Jackson’s Haunting of Hill House, Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove, and Donna Tartt’s The Secret History.
A Bestseller moves a gazillion copies, gets made into a massive movie franchise, making the writer rich and famous. These things are fun. They are called “un-put-down-able.” Other euphemisms include “beach reads,” “lighter fare,” and “guilty pleasures.” Good ones don’t come along often, and the inevitable sequels are nearly always second rate. Not much staying power, either. The top titles of 2012 were Fifty Shades of Gray and The Hunger Games. Thoughtful reads to return to for deeper insight? Or (maybe more than) slightly embarrassing?
Vintage Children’s Books are a minefield. Old titles often contain language and images that reflect the norms and assumptions of earlier generations. Feared for stirring up charged memories and reinforcing negative stereotypes, they are also a reservoir of our history and heritage. We can now show ugly attitudes for what they are (destructive, short-sighted, and immoral) and further the important progress underway in our children’s generation. I don’t recommend these books, but when you find one, be brave. See if there’s more to learn from having a tough talk with a young person than lobbying the library to remove it from the shelves.
Most readers have a to-read list long enough to roll right out the front door. If you’re a glutton for punishment, check back here from time to time for more thoughts on books to read (or avoid). Follow my blog for updates on recent stories, book reviews, and articles. And enjoy your day.
The Streets of Sorrow, a short story inspired by true events, will appear in print in the coming weeks. Accepted for publication in Evening Street Review‘s fall edition, my piece tells the story of an old writer and a young writer. Not nearly as hopeless as its dire title, The Streets of Sorrow tackles the mysteries of memory, art, and shared human experience.
Print editions are for sale at eveningstreetpress.com.
My newest story, Of Course, I Didn’t, has been accepted for publication this fall in the online literary magazine, Rock Salt Journal. Told in the first person and weighing in at just 800 words, it’s a quick, thoughtful read. Themes of isolation resolve into the quiet comradery of kindred spirits.
Look for Of Course, I Didn’t in the October 2022 edition of Rock Salt journal at rocksaltjournal.com. While you’re there, you’ll find a curated selection of short fiction, creative nonfiction, and photography.
Oak trees shade the windows of the room, filling it with green light like water in a still pond. I can’t take a nap on this sofa, its awkward cushions sliding, its antique headrest brooding. Gran looks in and says, “Be still.” The mantle clock is ticking. Three hundred seconds equals five minutes. Then three hundred more. Not a whisper. Not a dripping tap. Pop’s ghost asks Gran for a dance in the kitchen to an old tune on the AM radio. The oak trees drop their leaves one by one, the mantle clock keeping time with the dance steps.
The scene is a locker room before a boxing match. The out-of-shape Champ lies on a massage table, tended by a curvy masseuse. Before him, a TV is showing his inspiration tape, the 70s classic, Dolomite. If you know the 1996 movie, The Great White Hype, you’ve seen this before. Though the Champ has let himself go, he’s a better fighter than the opponent he’s set up to face. Dolomite, his inspiration tape, puts a fire in his ample belly. “Alright. Now I’m mad,” he says, as he strides out to win in a foregone conclusion.
Though there’s not a lot of room for analysis in a little-known (but totally awesome) 90s comedy, there’s plenty to say about inspiration tapes. Artists throughout history have turned to muses. Beautiful women, breathtaking landscapes, and classical mythology have been wellsprings for creatives seeking sparks of genius. Dreams coalesce around the moments of clarity offered by our muses.
For me, it’s the 1984 Milos Forman Oscar-winner, Amadeus, a biopic of Baroque composer, Wolfgang Mozart. My grandparents, both music teachers, considered it educational. As a girl, I eyed the elaborate costumes, wigs, and period sets. But Grandma and Grandpa directed my attention to the music, particularly scenes of music being written. “Watch the artist at work,” they nudged me, in awe of Mozart’s immense talent. “This is the life of a genius.”
In Amadeus, Mozart is troubled; overworked, underpaid, and out of luck. Brilliant but mad and often drunk, he’s the subject of admiration and jealousy. Royalty and high society celebrate a rival composer, Salieri, who knows himself a lesser artist and seethes with rage. Mozart will succumb to sickness and death, leaving heavy debts and an unmarked grave while Salieri fades into obscurity, embittered by God’s indifference. If you could have popular success or doomed genius, which would you choose? What if it destroyed you? What kind of artist would you be?
Okay. Now I’m ready to write.
Muses hide in plain sight. Our inspiration tapes are born of our roots, reminding artists (and pugilists) of what drives us. Relics from our formative years, they deepen over time as we saturate them with meaning and memories. Whatever adversity we face, they make us believe we will do this. An athlete will dominate his sport. An artist will become immortal. Our inspiration tapes open the door to our best work and truest selves.