People Gotta Eat

by Sam Brunson

The way KT tells it, I wanted her before we’d ever said two words. She says she wanted me too, so that was fine with her. She knew right then that I was her one. All I knew was she was giving the checker a hard time, so it was my job to get her out of the store.  

She won’t pay,” said the clerk, but KT said she’d spent too much time finding her food to just turn around and walk out on it. She had two carts’  worth, the food all scanned, bagged, and in her carts, the receipt in the checker’s hand.  

What’s the problem, maam?I asked, even though she was younger than me. Store policy said that all women were ma’ams and all men sirs.  If a two-year-old had asked me where the diapers were, I would have said,  ‘This way, maam,and led her to aisle three.  

I just want my food,” said KT.  

She wont pay for her food,” said the checker. Both looked ready to cry.  Ma’am,” I said, we need your money before we can give you the groceries. ”  

I cant pay right now,she said. “How about I come back later with  the money?

“Are you hungry?” I asked. She dressed too well to be poor, but I’d heard about rich people who were so disconnected that the day their help quit-and their help always quit-their world fell apart. They didn’t know how to clean, cook, pay bills, or even buy food. I didnt want her to starve just because she was rich.  

“It’s not about money,” she said.  

“What then?”  

“You’re going to laugh.”  

“I promise I won’t laugh.”  

“It’s my credit cards,” she said. “I brought the wrong wallet-none of  these cards to match my outfit.”  

I burst out laughing, and she started to cry. We cried to pound out a  solution while the line got longer and longer and finally we decided that  I’d cake her purse, pick a credit card, slide it through the machine, put it back, and give her her purse back. She’d sign the credit card statement,  

I’d walk her to her car, and in the future, she’d stay away from chis particular Vons.  

After we’d loaded all the bags in her car, she gave me her number. I  protested, said that store policy didn’t let me pick up on customers, ma‘ambut she said that didn’t matter; as per our agreement, she was no longer a  customer of chis particular Vons. Besides, she said, store policy couldn’t keep customers from picking up on me. Then I told her that opposites attract notwithstanding-I didn’t go for that high-maintenance crap. She looked at me as she got in her car and started to close the door. She stopped, said, “And you think I’m shallow,” closed the door, and left.  

I was practically living with KT before I ever saw her other wallet, but  I still wasn’t prepared. She has the platinum, gold, and silver MasterCard and Visa from every bank I’ve ever heard of. She has a Discover card  (“Simple, black, elegant“), she has some novelty cards with custom designs and colors, and she just got the American Express Blue card. (“What do  you use American Express Blue for?” I don’t know. “) I dont ask how she keeps the bills straight or how she pays chem all on time. I don’t ask what I  wouldn’t understand.  

Tonight I ask, “What else can you make out of apples?”  

She looks up from her crossword puzzle to the sofa where I’m sitting.  “Have you cried apple pie sans le pie yet?” she asks. “Or applesauce  au natural?” 

“Naked applesauce?” I say. Then, “I can use other stuff, too, besides apples. This is important. Its my portfolio.”  

“I just think fifty dishes made of nothing but apples would really set  you apart.”  

We both start thinking. I’ve already got all of the traditional dishes,  like apple pie and crumble, applesauce, and apple cider. Jell-0 with shredded apple. I’ve caramelized and candied apples and dipped them in every sauce I can think of. I’ve got weirder recipes, like apple stir-fry and pork and apple. But I’m still short, and I need to get this portfolio out tomorrow.  

The whole theme portfolio is KT’s idea. Fifty apple recipes that’s a guaranteed year of columns for the Food section of any newspaper, or almost that many weekly segments on the Food Network or a local morning show. I used to talk to the shoppers at the supermarket and they’d point to something in their shopping cart and tell me in a whisper what their grandmother on their fathers side had made with that. I’d never cooked much until I started dating KT-boxed mac and cheese mostly but with her, I discovered I could remember the shoppersrecipes word for word. Some are the worst things youve ever tasted, but most are at least pretty good. And I’ve started seeing patterns, to the point now where I can innovate-like the contestants on Ready . . . Set . .. Cook. with practically anything you put in front of me. And it always turns out pretty good.  

So, we figure, why not get famous? The newspaper or TV will let people know who I am so I can get the financial backing to open my own restaurant, and then KT always interrupts me here with a kiss, because the only “and theneither of us wants to think about includes wealth and fame and paying someone else to keep track of all the credit cards.  

Tonight I’ve got Holst playing in the background. The Planets make me believe I can do anything even tonight when its so soft I cant hear the quieter movements at all. When my supermarket moved away from  Muzak, I voted that we tune in to a classical station instead. I told KT my idea on our third date. We were talking about music. She said shed listened to jazz as long as she could remember, her dad having had Miles  Davis’s whole catalog on vinyl and all, and I started talking about Holst and Aaron Copeland and my ideas for the supermarket. Candles, I told her, and elegant classical music. A maitre dat each of the automatic sliding doors would offer the customers a glass of champagne and describe the day’s specials. I wanted a mandatory jacket policy, I told her over the main course-a remarkable duck in a sauce I still dont know how to make-but I’d decided to choose my battles wisely. Maybe we’d do jackets in phase two, along with the new name, classier than Vons, and live chamber orchestra in the produce section.  

“Wouldn’t it be too dark?” she asked over dessert. People can’t see when they get old and affluent. How would old rich people see if what  they were pulling off the shelf was what they wanted?” My cake was baked with the assumption that “rich” and “good” were the same thing when it came to chocolate and, for the first time that evening, the cook was wrong.  But KT said her apple cobbler was divine.  

Seeing doesn‘t matter, I explained. My supermarket would become known for the quality of its foods, so it wouldn’t matter what you pulled off the shelf.  

“And price?”  

Price, I explained, is part of the experience. And that, under my plan,  would be what we were selling: the supermarket experience.  KT loved it and said she’d call my manager and suggest that the experience at his store might be even better were it more formal.  After I dropped KT off, I typed up, in detail, my proposal. I factored in the costs and benefits, and even ran it by my mom. The next day  I gave it to my manager, who promised to read through it. But when my  Vons made the change, the manager chose a top-40 station instead.  “Have you got apple cobbler?” KT asks me.  

“Of course,” I say, then realize I dont, so I jot down a quick recipe.  I love you,” she says. We’re not going out tonight, but she’s still dressed to kill. The electric blue dress I bought her to match her Blue card first like a  second skin, and she’s wearing the shoes she dyed to match it. Some women’s hair is only as perfect for prom and for their wedding day as KT’s is tonight. And her make-up-her make-up fills one of her bathrooms, just like her clothes fill one of her closets and spill over into the other.  I’m wearing sweats and the T-shirt my mom wanted to throw out three years ago. KT insists they don’t match, but I find matching a far too arbitrary criterion on which to base my clothes. “Besides,” I tell her, “it’s my thinking outfit.” She doesnt know what that means I don’t know what that means-so she can’t argue.  

“Who’s an experimental ’70s composer whose works are known for  their simple, repeated, melodic motifs?” KT asks. “Second letter A, because  it intersects with ‘Carver.”‘  

“John Cage?”  

“Works.”  

“Is this another theme puzzle?” I ask.  

‘”The Minimalists.’ The painters and authors have been pretty easy,  but the composers are killing me. I think I need to take a break.”  Me too. Hungry? I’ll make dinner,” I say, putting my notebook down. I get up to see what we‘ve got. Not much, tonight. “How about we  go out and buy a mango?” I call to her.  

“Can’t,” she says. “That would be cheating.”  

How about we go out and buy a mango at the farmer’s market?” I say.  “Farmer‘s markets aren’t conducive to commando shopping.”  “No they’re not,” she says. “Does ‘Wilde’ have an ‘e’?”  

“As in, ‘animal’?”  

“As in ‘Oscar.”‘  

“Does it need one?”  

“Yes.”  

“Sure.”  

“Done!” she says, looking at her watch. “Two hours, thirty-seven minutes. Then to me, “It’s the principle. She steps into the kitchen and slips her hands into my pockets. “If commando shopping doesn’t work at the  farmer’s market, then we don‘t go to farmer’s markets.” She looks over my shoulder at the counter.  

I was just thinking,I said. “Mango beef stir-fry.” We haven’t had mango anything since Henry‘s.  

KT claims commando shopping was premeditated, even the first time,  but I’m pretty sure I just grabbed the wrong cart by mistake. Since then,  though, we’ve never chosen our own groceries. We walk around the store until we see a cart without a person, grab it and beeline to the cashier,  where we buy whatever’s in it. Then we have to prepare our meals using only what face provides.  

People are most likely to leave their carts alone in Produce and Delibut they never have anything in the carts yet. The smart money steals its carts from Dairy.  

Not steals. When I told KT I felt bad about stealing, she said the shoppers hadnt paid for any of the food yet, so it wasn’t stealing. Still,  sometimes we take a cart that we fill with random food and leave it as an offering.  

Every cart seems to have the same basics, so we cry to choose our targets based on their specialty items. We‘re experimenting to expand our palatal experience, but mango eaters don’t seem to get separated from their carts.  

KT’s mouth is at my ear. Would a farmer’s market be open this late?”  she asks. We’ll find a cart with mangoes next time. I’ll recon the mango  section and give a bird call when I see someone take one.”  

The phone rings and KT goes to answer it. I’ve decided on a watercress chicken dinner because I need to use the watercress soon and can’t see anything else I could make, but I can’t find the almonds and,  when I open the freezer, I see we’re out of chicken. Tonight the kitchen’s kind of like when I play Scrabble-a lot of letters, a lot of useful letters like A and E, but no way to put them all together. The only combination I can see right now is watercress chicken without the chicken or almonds.  

The really funny thing is, we dont have any apples either. With my portfolio, you’d think I’d have apples, but they‘ve become as rare as mangoes.  I have to use my memory and my mind’s tastebuds as I write because I can’t actually make any of my dishes.  

Marc, it‘s your mom.” KT’s back in the kitchen and hands me our cordless phone.  

Marc, is that your girlfriend that answered the phone? This time  of night?”  

‘Tm doing great, Mom. How about you?”  

Mom laughs. “I was just wondering what you were up to.”  Dinner. ”  

You know, plans, goals, future. ”  

Are you talking in life? Or with KT?”  

Yep. ”  

“Well, tonight after dinner I’m going to bed, and tomorrow, when the alarm goes off, I’ll hit snooze a couple of times. Then I’ll get up and do day stuff.”  

“Does any of that day scuff involve a college degree?”  

I’m short one class for my degree. One Spanish class. Mom offered to tutor me; KT said she’d cake it with me; Luiz, a guy I know from Chile, said if I’d give him my 1.0. hed cake the tests for me. The trouble is, after six years of college, I’m burned out. I need to do something else. So what I say to my mom is, ‘Tm finishing a recipe portfolio. We’ll see what opportunities  ring my bell, then I’ll see about school.”  

“Great. In the meantime?”  

“If nothing turns up soon, Jim said he could use another checker.  Great future in grocery scores.”  

People gotta eat,” she says. That was the motto at my first job. We all got T-shirts that said, “People Gotta Eat,” and they had a picture of chis comically overweight guy, napkin tucked in at his neck, his fork and knife vertical in his clenched fists. Our manager wouldn’t let us wear chem at the score, so we’d go in with chem under another shire and stand there and snicker as we bagged groceries because we were fighting the system and the system didnt even know.  

“Mom, I love you,” I say, getting ready to hang up.  

“So when do we gee co meet KT?” Mom asks. You’ve been sleeping with her three months now. ”  

“Mom,” I say, turning red. KT snickers in the next room. I don’t know how she does it, but she seems to hear the blood rush to my face. ‘I’vbeen with KT for almost three months now; it‘s none of your business how  we sleep.”  

“Whatever,” Mom says. We just want to meet her before she becomes our daughter-in-law. Or the mother of our grandchildren.”  “Dont worry, Mom,” I say. We’ll probably come up next Friday.  Love you.”  

“Love you too. And dont forget apple cinnamon bread. I hear her phone click, then hang mine up. I grab a blank sheet of paper and scare writing.  

APPLE CINNAMON SWIRL BREAD  

Makes 2 Loaves  

Bread:  

I tbsp active dry yeast  

1/4 cup water  

2 1 /2 cups milk  

114 cup vegetable oil  

1/4 cup sugar  

2 tsp salt  

6 1/27 112 cups white flour  

FiLLing:  

2 Granny Smith apples, peeled and finely chopped  

I /4 cup sugar  

2 tsp cinnamon  

dash of nutmeg  

“Hey,” I say as KT comes back in the kitchen. Does she know I was going to ask her to marry me tonight? I say, “How about ‘People Gotta  Ear’?” She just looks at me. “I mean, for the name of my show?”  

“It’s true,” she says, not at all convinced. She looks over my shoulder.  “Mmmm. That sounds good. When are you going to make it for me?”  “k soon as you find a cart with apples.” I look back down at the paper. I need to finish writing so I don’t forget anything.  

Mix water and milk, warm in a microwave. Pour into a big bowl and add yeast. Add sugar, oil, and salt, and mix. Mix in flour, a cup at a time, until it’s too tough to beat anymore. Knead the dough on a hard surface, slowly adding more flour until it’s smooth and elastic and no longer sticky. Put the dough in a  greased bowl, cover with Saran Wrap, and Let it rise tiLL it’s doubled in size  (I to 2 hours).  

After it’s risen, punch it down and knead to get air bubbles out. Divide in half and roll each into a rectangle, IO inch by 13 inches. Mix fiLLing ingredients spread evenly onto the two Loaves, and seal edges by pinching. Place in greased pans and cook for 30 minutes at 350 degrees.  

I didnt think about KT again until I asked her out the first time. I’d worked myself up to emergency checker by then, the guy they call on the intercom when there are too many people crying to buy groceries, or when one of the checkers needs to use the bathroom.  

I was cleaning out my wallet and her number was there. I decided to do that date where a bunch of people ask out the biggest losers they can,  except it would just be me and her and I’d be the loser. Wed get thriftstore cloches and play tag in a grocery store and have a candlelight Taco Bell dinner. I’d even call her ma’am all evening.  

“Let me guess,” she said as I walked her to her door. ‘Tm supposed to  be like, ‘Ooh, yuck, cheap unfashionable clothing,and, ‘Like, Taco Bell?”‘  She sounded as blonde as she was. ”And then tomorrow you tell all your  checker buddies about this chick you went out with last night who doesn’t  even have a sense of humor.”  

I nodded mutely. She leaned forward and kissed me. “I had a wonderful rime.” She started to open the door, then turned around and looked at me, hard. “And stop being as shallow as you think I am.” Then she stepped inside and left me staring at the door. I kept asking her out, and I cold myself every time I called that this was the last date, that this time the joke was on her. At the end of every date she kissed me and told me not to be as shallow as I thought she was. Then sometimes she’d say, “There’s more where that came from,” but she’d never cell me if she meant the kiss or the lecture. I didnt tell anyone we were dating.  

‘Tm dying of hunger,” she says. “So how about a midnight snack?”  “What happened to dinner?”  

“It’s 10:30. Dinner would have been at seven.”  

“But doesn’t that make it too early for a midnight snack?”  “How about that apple bread? I mean, without the apples?”  I explain the amounts of time involved in making bread, especially the letting it rise and how, if she’s dying, she’ll be long dead before it’s done. Plus itll be way past a midnight snack and we don’t have any  yeast, either.”  

“But I’m still hungry,” she says in her blonde voice.  

“What have we got?”  

She looks around the kitchen. “What can you do with grapefruit?I  pick three grapefruits up and start juggling. It’s the only thing I can do with grapefruit. I’d cold KT that that shopping cart wasn’t for us, but she had her heart set on the “cute yellow peppers” that matched her nail polish and, as it turned out, cost three times as much as green peppers but dont taste much different. It almost didnt matter, though-KT made me wait to cook them until she was wearing an outfit they matched.  

We decide on cheese quesadillas, mostly because we have cheese and tortilla shells and a little bit of salsa. We mix up raspberry Kool-Aid to go with KT’s dress. I serve grapefruit halves piled with sugar for dessert, and I  just eat the sugar, which has a mild citric tang.  

KT’s not supposed to know that I went ring shopping last week, but she does. I stayed for their jewel school where they taught princess cut,  flawless, and karats, but diamonds still all look the same to me. I don‘t have any money for a ring, but my credit card, plain gray with red and yellow circles, has a couple thousand dollar limit, so that’s how I paid. They say two or three monthssalary, but right now that would be zero, and I  don’t know that KT would go for a ring that cheap.  

Did I tell you about my dream last night?KT asks as we do the dishes. The dishwasher is broken, so for now we do all of our dishes by hand. We agreed that we’d both wash whatever we used during the day,  and do the rest together after dinner, but that never worked, and all of our dishes have become the rest. Tonight KT’s washing and I’m drying and putting away. I’m not allowed to look at her because she’s got an apron on over her electric blue dress, which is actually a dry-clean only electric blue dress. She’s filled the left side of the sink with soapy water and lets the water run on the right side. I once explained to her about droughts and conservation, and she explained right back about she was paying rent and utilities, and we left it at that.  

After she rinses the soap off the dish, she puts it by the sink where I’m standing, my back to her. I wipe off the water and the occasional soap bubble, then put it where I’ll be able to find it tomorrow. I keep my back to her the whole time.  

“I dreamed I was running through sunflowers, happy. I think I might have been naked, but it didn’t matter. I didn’t care what I was wearing. I  could have been dressed like you. What I really remember are the sunflowers and being happy.”  

“Do you want to go up and meet my mom next Friday?” I ask.  “Sure,” she says. “Okay, you can look.”  

I turn around and she blows a big pile of suds in my face. We’re wrestling, we’re on the floor, she’s kneeling on my arms, pinning me down.  “What do you want?” she asks, looking down into my eyes.  Mango,” I say.  

‘Tm serious,” she says, and I say, “So am I.”  

“In two months, you’ve heard from everybody. Let’s say they all say no,  weve got our chef, or no, our Food section is good enough already. Let’s  say even they want to say yes, but I don’t let you go, I stay here kneeling on your arms as the phone rings, two weeks, you can’t get it, and they  decide you were just kidding and give your job to someone else?”  

I think for a minute as she shifts around, trying to put as much pressure on my arms as she can. “How’s this?” I say. “I don’t get the job because they don’t want me or you keep me here. I start booking appearances at clubs until I develop an underground following. Word spreads,  and one day a guy shows up at our door. He’s an agent; he never says he is, but the way his cigarette hangs in his mouth, the way he says, ‘I  hear youve got talent. Show me what you’ve got,’ makes it pretty clearSo I create my stunning signature dish and he says, ‘Let’s make it happen.’  We make a demo and he takes it around. Meantime, the major labels are sniffing around, looking for me. The agent gets a TV producer bidding against a restaurateur until I’m getting six figures after my agent’s  fifteen percent.”  

She lets me up and claps. I take a bow, step out of the kitchen, then come back. She claps harder, begging for an encore, but I’m frowningThats not right,” I say.  

KT stops clapping. “Why not?”  

“This is the kitchen. Kitchen is food, and food is now.” KT just looks at me. “What I mean is, food is present, is current. You can’t think about  future food because mentally you eat it and then the future is gone.”  “So where-”  

“The back porch. I’ll be right there.”  

As she steps out, I grab our one bottle of champagne. It was in an old lady’s cart, along with Lactaid and cat food. The lady had just stepped to the deli counter and I knew I’d need champagne sometime for a special evening. The cat food I decided to toss, although I tried to think of something I could make with it. I never told KT about the champagne. It was only good as a surprise. As I was running with her cart, the old lady called out, “Good luck, son,” but I didn’t stop.  

I empty all of the ice in our freezer into the blue Tupperware bucket we use to mop the floor, then put the champagne bottle in. I grab the two nicest glasses we have and follow her outside.  

“What’s this?” she asks.  

“I thought tonight should be special.”  

“You’re not breaking up with me.”  

I look up at the sky. Even in the city the stars are breathtaking. “I  dreamed last night I was up in space. I was negotiating a trade agreement with an alien who looked like Godzilla, only smaller. When I was done they told me that to seal the bargain, little Godzilla was going to eat me.  To tear me limb from limb. They told me like it was the best news in the world, like they were all jealous that I was getting eaten alive and not them. The thing is, I was elated, too, until I woke up and thought about it. Then I started shivering. I couldn‘t stop shivering. It felt so normal in the dream: you negotiate a treaty, then you get eaten. What kind of life  is that?”  

“But you’re not proposing tonight either, are you?”  

We sit holding hands for a few minutes, looking at the sky. I point out the constellations I know and make up a few others. KT asks how long it takes to get to my mom’s place and what Mom’ll think of her. She asks if  I’ve ever thought about being a dad before and what I thought of the rings  I looked at. I tell her she’s not supposed to know about the rings, what if that’s why I’m not proposing tonight, and she just winks at me. I tell her  I’m seriously considering taking that Spanish class and she asks, “Why?”  

The champagne is still too warm, but we have a couple glasses anyway.  Then KT goes in, but I stay on the steps outside. I try to think of all the girls I’ve ever dated, but KT’s is the only name I can remember. “Call me,  KT,” her note had said, and I just stared at it in the parking lot, trying to figure out what “KT” stood for, until I finally realized I was supposed to say 1r.  

When I asked her if that was her middle or last initial, she just laughed. ‘Tm Catherine, with a C, Nicole Davis,” she said. I went by  Catherine, too, until one day a girl I knew signed my yearbook ‘KT.’ It was the coolest thing I’d ever seen, but I couldn’t use it at my high school. ”  

“Why not?”  

le would be like showing up to a party in the same outfit as your friend who’d told you where she bought it, and that’s how you decided to get it. You just don’t do that. So when I went off to college I started celling  everyone I was KT, Kay Tee.”  

Did you ever see your friend again?” I asked.  

No. I heard she was killed in a car crash going home for Christmas her junior year,” said KT.  

I dont know why I don’t propose tonight. The ring’s in my pocket, I  love KT, I know she’d say yes. It’s not like there’s someone else, or even like  I’d wane someone else.  

If I go in now, I’ll shuffle my portfolio crying to make it more attractive. I’ll cry and figure out how to make apple souffle, or the best way to combine apples, Shredded Wheat, and scrambled eggs. I’ll turn on the  Food Network and read the paper‘s recipes during commercials. But out here it‘s the stars, the limitless open space. I wish I knew what to do.  

KT cracks open the door. Marc?she says. “Ir’s lace.” She closes the door softly and she’s gone. There’s something sad about tonight-we should be celebrating and calling everybody we know, but instead we’re just going to bed. So rather than think about it, I get up. I need to sleep;  some of us have work tomorrow.  

Sam Brunson wants you to know the recipe in his story works; he came up with the concept, and his mom served as Baking Consultant. Sam graduated from BYU in English and is currently crying to pick a law school to go to in the fall. Since leaving Provo, the goatee has replaced the mustache as his facial hair of choice.

Poetry in the Dark

by Josi Brewer

ALL the books I read

are full of dazzling heroes,  

always sure of themselves.  

I die with envy of them.  

So wrote Pablo Neruda in 1958. I thought of these lines as I drove myself to Blanding the day I started my first real teaching job. I was to teach a summer reading and writing class for a program called Upward  Bound. The goal of the program was to give at-risk students a head start on higher education. The high schoolers I would be teaching had agreed to come to the College of Eastern Utah for a month during their summer vacation to attend college courses that they would receive credit for and,  we hoped, confidence from.  

Most of the students whose profiles I’d seen had unusually rough things to deal with in their lives. Abusive step-parents, drug and alcohol abuse, juvenile detentionthe list was unfairly long for kids so youngUpward Bound was, for many of them, their one chance to avoid rewriting that list and their one chance to go to college.  

I thought about them as I drove. I’d watched Dead Poets Society until late the night before. That week I’d also seen Mr. Ho! Land’s Opus and Stand and Deliver. Ir was a tradition in my family of teachers to psych ourselves up like char. The teachers in the movies were my “dazzling  heroes.” I wanted to help students overcome immeasurable odds as those teachers had. I wanted to ride a white horse into my classroom with my standard of knowledge and the beauty of ideas and rescue those in educational distress. I had been instructed to challenge my new students and encourage them at the same time. I had been given no curriculum, and as had constructed one I had prayed for guidance. Gripping the steering wheel hard that first morning, I found myself again murmuring, “Lordplease help me know how to help them.”  

An hour later I paused outside the door to my classroom, breached,  straightened, and walked in. Twenty pairs of eyes turned to me. “Good morning, class,” I said.  

There were a few scattered responses. I wrote my name on the board. I  called the roll. Two students were missing. I was already worried. The rules of the program said that the students must attend each session of every class they had signed up for.  

Twenty minutes after class began, two boys entered the back of the room. They were dark boys, one tall and lanky, the other shorter and thin.  The tall boy shot a look of contempt at the group of his peers upfront and he and his friend sat in seats on the back row and started talking. I rook a  deep breach and went to chem.  

“Gentlemen,” I said in what seemed like a teacher’s voice, “join us upfront. We’re getting to know everyone.”  

I dont wanna know them,” the short boy sneered, gesturing at the group in front. The tall boy laughed-a short, sharp exhalation of breath that had no real mirth in it.  

“Come on up,” I said, hoping to sound stern. I turned and walked away as if l expected chem to follow. To my relief, they didThe students sat in a circle and as my eyes lighted on each one, I saw enormous potential. They had been chosen from schools in our district,  the San Juan County School District, and from the Moab schools, though those schools are in Grand County. San Juan County is one of the largest counties in Utah, and it is also one of the least populated. The  majority of these students were from the Navajo Indian Reservation chat  starts just below Blanding and runs south until I lose track of it in  

Arizona and New Mexico. I surveyed the smiling eyes and flashing teeth of each of my students and grinned myself, however unprofessionally,  until I glanced at the two newcomers.  

Where there was light in the faces of Russell, Tom, Alicia, and  Lorraine, there was first vacancy then darkness behind the eyes of the new boys. Their names, I noted from the roll, were Wilson and Robert.  

The next day my supervisor, Danny, came to talk to me. He was concerned that Wilson and Robert were using methamphetamine, but he had no solid evidence and he wanted me to watch for symptoms. He transferred Robert out of my class to split them up, but Wilson stayed.  

Wilson Hatathle was the taller boy. He had hatred behind his eyes and his features were always drawn into an expression of disgust. He curled his lips back from his teeth and grimaced when spoken to. I was sure, though, that somehow the beauty of the literature we studied would touch even this sullen kid who looked more like a middle-aged man hardened by life. I had seen communication heal. I had seen knowledge enlighten. I believed in the power of the written word and the strength that came with learning to express oneself. I knew that I could help him“Remember,I told myself, “Langston Hughes‘s Prayer:  

Oh, God of dust and rainbows, help us see  

That without dust the rainbow would not be.  

“There‘s more to him than the dust,” I said, “I’ve got to see past it.”  I watched him as he slouched into class late the sixth day of class. He walked with his shoulders slumped, head down, and when I spoke to him he raised those hard eyes to sneer.  

“We’ll be doing poetry in the park tomorrow,” I said. They had been working hard, slogging through chapters from A Room with a View and turning in journal entries well over the half-page requirement, so I devised a  poetry unit that we would integrate into our curriculum every Thursday.  There was a lovely woodland park about two miles up the mountain and I  had spoken to my supervisor and commandeered a van for the outings.  

I assigned them to write their own poems, one a week. They commented quite innocently one day that only white people wrote poetry, so I pulled out Langston Hughes and we began to listen to the voice of the other on the mountain in early summer.  

I let the students read as we sat on the grass in the shade of the big cedars in the park. Squirrels and robins came inspecting us, and the students seemed more at ease here than in the classroom. Well, most of themWilson never seemed at ease. He was tense and cagey, fidgeting during the readings and scowling when he should have been applauding his classmates for their bravery. I wondered if these were symptoms or just personality quirks, discomfort, or possibly embarrassment that he was reading poetry here, so out of his element.  

He seemed always to know where to sit so that our time would run out before he had to read. Grateful he was there at all, I didn’t push him. The third Thursday, though, brought his turn to read. He sat scowling at the copied sheets, then started on the two poems he was assigned to read. “I, too, sing America,” he started, his voice low and sullen.  

I am the darker brother.  

They send me to eat in the kitchen  

When company comes,  

But I laugh,  

Wilson’s voice grew stronger, snarling,  

And eat well,  

And grow strong.  

Tomorrow,  

I’ll be at the cable  

When company comes.  

Nobody’ll dare  

Say to me,  

‘Eat in the kitchen,’  

Then.  

Wilson looked at me with those flinty eyes.  

“What is Langston Hughes talking about here?” I asked quickly.  42 

es CO p e  

Revenge. It was the first comment hed ever made.  

“Yeah, I said, trying to be encouraging, “that’s part of it. What about the voice he uses? Do you think it’s effective?” Nobody answered. “O.K.,” said, think about that. Voice. Think about the conscious decisions the poet makes to say what he has to say in a certain voice. Go on to the next  one.” Wilson glared at me. Everyone was reading two of the short poems today and he still had one to go. He flipped the page over to the  Gwendolyn Brooks poem I was going to use to talk about rhythm. It was catchy. He began to read:  

We Real Cool  

The Pool Players.  

Seven ar the Golden Shovel.  

We real cool. We  

Left school. We  

Lurk late. We  

Strike straight. We  

Sing sin. We  

Thin gin. We  

Jazz June. We  

Die soon.  

Wilson threw the sheaf of papers to the ground and stood quickly.  “You did that on purpose,” he said, fixing me with his eyes.  “What?I asked.  

“You made me read that so I would feel all bad about being cool.”  “No-” I started.  

“You want me to know I’ll die soon?”  

“No, I want you to see that poets use rhyme and rhythm deliberately. ”  I tried to keep my voice steady as I watched him pace around the group.  My instinct was to stand and be authoritative, but I stayed seated, looking  

43 

up at him nonthreateningly. The other students froze. I suddenly wanted to be one of them, not responsible for anyone else, not, for heaven’s sake, in charge. I felt my heart jumping. Neruda’s next stanza pushed its way into  my brain:  

But when I call for a hero,  

outcomes my lazy old self;  

so I never know who l am.  

Teache~ I thought. I have to diffuse this situation. Wilson stood glaring.  I stood slowly. “We’ve got to get back,I said calmly and turned toward the van, the keys pressing hard and painfully into my palm. I didnt look back.  

That seemed to be it. He sunk into sullenness, quiet seething disdain for me, his classmates, and the time he had to spend with us. While I  watched daily the progression of my other students, I watched his regression. He brought his CD player to class and listened to music loud enough that I could hear it at the front of the room. I called him up and spoke to him about it, but every day was the same. I finally had to confiscate it and that day he wrote a journal entry that was black murder and revenge.  

Two days later I turned in progress reports. Wilson had handed in three of the seventeen assignments, mostly short in-class writing assignments. Of the three he turned in, two were very well observed, sharp, intuitive, and sensitive. The other was the murder piece. It was dark and not well organized. It showed none of his earlier potential. I had seen him working on the other assignments; he just hadnt turned them in. So when Danny came to me and asked my opinion on dismissing Wilson from the program, shook my head.  

He’s smart,” I said. “He could do the work. ”  

“Bue he’s not doing it. These grade reports show that he‘s failing.”  I know, I said miserably, “but he could still pass the class if he cried.”  “You told him that. He obviously doesn’t care about passing the class or earning credit. Why dont you give him a deadline, say next Monday, and if he hasnt turned his work in then he’s out of the program altogether. ”  “Okay,” I said, but it was not okay.  

I talked to Wilson chat day after class.  

You’re intelligent,” I said. “You can do this work. I know you have some of it done already. I’ve seen you working in class. Bring it to me by  Monday and youll be fine.” He looked at me with those cold eyes and grunted a response as he walked away. I was not reaching him.  Danny called right after class on Monday. “Well?”  

No. Nothing. He said he forgot.”  

“That’s it then.” Danny’s voice was kind. I was quiet. “You can’t make him succeed, Josi. He has to do chat on his own.”  

I know, I said.  

Tears ran down my cheeks as I signed the slip chat said he would fail my class, just another in a long string of failures that Wilson Hatachle could chalk up.  

“Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair,” I read to the class on our final  Poetry in the Park gathering.  

It‘s had racks in it,  

And splinters,  

And boards torn up,  

And places with no carpet on the floor 

Bare.  

You said it, Langston, I thought. I looked around me at the faces of my students. They were eager, happy. They’d gotten their grades this morning.  All of chem well above the C they had to have to go to Florida for the culminating summer activity.  

“This is the only A I’ve ever gotten! My mom will be so proud!could still hear Lorraine‘s voice ringing in my ears as I read:  

But all the time,  

l’se been a-climbin’ on,  

And reachinlandin’s,  

And cumincorners,  

And sometimes gain’ in the dark  

Where there aint been no light.  

So boy, dont you turn back.  

Dont you set down on the steps  

‘Cause you finds it‘s kinder hard.  

45 

Don’t you fall now 

For I’se still goin’, honey,  

I’se still climbin’,  

And life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.  

I realized I was crying again.  

Three months later, on a hot afternoon in Cortez, Colorado, my nephew Kelland and I swung by McDonald’s. My grades were long turned in, and all I was thinking about was the transformer beast borgs Kelland and I would get in our Happy Meals. I glanced up to the window to take the drinks, and my eyes widened as I saw a familiar face.  

“Hi, Miss Brewer,” Wilson said with a smile-not the hard, dry smile  I remembered, but a genuine warm grin.  

“Wilson! It’s good to see you. What’s going on?”  

“I got a job.” He gestured with his hand, still smiling. “I moved in  with my sister up here, off the Res.” He looked me in the eye. “I just got  out of rehab.”  

“Wow,” I said. “That’s a tough thing. I’m proud of you.” I didn’t know if that mattered to him or not, but I was proud and I wanted him to know it. “How about school?”  

‘Tm not going to school, but I plan to go back next year.”  “Good. Do. You have a lot of potential.” He looked shyly away.  “Anyway,” I said, “you look happy.”  

“I am,” he said. “I guess I got a wakeup call chis summer.” This time it was my turn to glance away. A pang of regret came over me. Many nights since I signed the slip that ended his chances with Upward Bound, I had lain awake thinking of what I could have done, how I could have reached him, how I could have given him a hand out of that pit he had seemed to be sinking into. He had gotten out now, it seemed, on his own. He handed me two Happy Meals and then smiled.  

“Here’s an extra toy,” he said.  

“Thanks, Wilson.” I situated the food and got ready to pull away.  “Miss Brewer?” I looked up, and his brown eyes were clear, focused.  “There’s a lot about the past couple years I don’t remember,” he said  frankly, “but I remember when you said I was intelligent.”  The car behind me inched closer, and I smiled at him. I didn’t know what to say. I wanted to say what Langston Hughes had said:  So boy, don‘t you turn back.  

Dont you set down on the steps  

‘Cause you finds it‘s kinder hard.  

Dont you fall now 

What I did say was, “Good luck, Wilson,” and I pulled away.  “Aunt Jos?Kelland asked around a mouthful of plastic as he cried ttear open the transformer beast borg with his teeth.  

“Yeah, baby?”  

”Are you sad?”  

“No.I cook the bag and opened it, pulling out the beast borg.  “I see tears.” His brow furrowed, and I reached over and ruffled his shock of white-blonde hair.  

I smiled a little and thought maybe I could hear Wilson’s voice and  Langston Hughes’s words from “Theme for English B. ”  

But it will be  

a part of you, instructor.  

You are white 

yet a part of me, as I am a part of you.  

That‘s American.  

Sometimes perhaps you don‘t want to be a part of me.  

Nor do I often want to be a part of you.  

But we are, thats true!  

As I learn from you,  

I guess you lea rn from me 

although you’re older-and white 

and somewhat more free.  

Good tears, Kelley,” I said. “They’re good tears. ”  

A Mixture of Cathedrals

by Scott Cameron

Gothic was a matter of vocabulary and style until I climbed halfway up  

the tallest church tower in the world. Somewhere along the way,  twisting up the tight, curling stairs I realized that pointed arches and vaulted ceilings aren’t just architecture; they are a way of life. In my humanities 101  course, mansard roofs, naves, and flying buttresses had no context; they were pictures and diagrams. But inside the Ulm Cathedral, I discovered that vaulted ceilings are an attempt to re-create the heavens, to capture the ethereal in stone and the dark rooms hidden above them were an escape for monks to ascend from the mundane. As I walked up the tower steps, I  learned that a cathedral is a way of mixing religion, art, and the day-to-day grind of stone masonry. Germany had caught me off guard; I loved the rolling hills, the cathedrals, the old men riding rickety bicycles, but wasnt in my place; I needed the Wasatch mountains to be just outside my window. I had found beauty in riding trains through Bavaria where cornfields ended abruptly in a solid wall of pines and in listening to  Croat refugees speak of bullet-scarred homes and the beauties of mixing milk and Coca-Cola, but I felt out of place.  

Out on the walkway, next to the cathedral’s tallest spire, looking  between iron bars and buttresses, trying to memorize the southern part of  

Schwabenland, I realized chat for the first time in over a year, I wasn’t lost anymore. I can’t explain it, but standing next to the spire, I found myself.  The cornfields and refugees had become a part of my sense of place. They were a way of seeing the world.  

I tried to capture chat way of seeing by writing about the deep-colored  Bavarian autumn. In Utah, autumn is sudden and brilliant orange. But in the steep-hilled valleys of southern Germany, autumn feels older. It comes more slowly, and the colors are more subtle-rust instead of scrub-oak orange, and the trees are so chick you know they are hiding something in their shadows. I didn‘t have too many chances to walk through the forests;  I just watched them from train windows.  

In my journal I tried to explain the comforts of drinking Kool-aid and talking about Arkansas with an American serviceman and his family. The first time I met the Glovers, I knocked on the door and was greeted with,  “Just a second, were necked” “Necked” meant naked, but they weren’t really.  They were lounging about in underwear and pajamas. Once my friend and  I were allowed inside, the Glovers would start telling stories. John said chat in Arkansas Renee had kept a whole bevy of animals: three dogs, two cats,  five rabbits, a turtle, a raccoon, and a baby skunk. In Germany, they only had room for two dogs. Rocky was a small, long-haired mutt chat liked to hide behind the recliners when company came, and Budge was an immense black lab mixed with something else. When he was excited,  Budge would start urinating all over the place.  

I had always thought of landscape as being what you physically see, but the Glovers became part of my landscape. In Bamberg, they were my family.  I was learning about Arkansas and Oklahoma; I was learning what it means to have five-year-old Ashley Glover sit in my lap and whisper slightly spitting secrets directly into my ear.  

I’ve written poems and stories about ninety-year-old Frau Nossek who walked with her arm in the crook of mine, telling me about Prague and  Saint Francis of Assisi. But I’m afraid I won’t ever truly write Frau Nossek or the ritual of visiting here. Every Tuesday and Thursday my friend and  I would arrive at two, and Frau Nossek would have two boccies of German multi-vitamin juice waiting for us. I never realized chat you could mix eight or nine different types of fruits into one boccie of juice, but the  Germans seem to believe they have mastered it. Nor did I realize chat visiting a ninety-year-old woman would be one of the highlights of my week.  She would tell us about growing up in Sudetenland, about sleeping in a  room over the barn and about one horse that would kick its floorboards in the middle of the night. Frau Nossek’s stories weren’t simply events; they became a part of my way of seeing. I became fascinated with Catholic  Saints and Frau Nosseks devotion of donating all of her stamps to the  Franciscan monks. Writing was a way to place myself in the context of my experiences in Germany.  

Germany enlarged my sense of place, broadened it beyond Mount  Timpanogos and Provo, Utah. Now when I walk in the Wasatch mountains,  I see them differently. Sometimes I see pieces of Bavaria-I see Staffleberg and Krammer’s peak. I remember I have to go back to Germany to climb the Zugspitze, its tallest mountain. And when I read Rilke’s poetry or  Raymond Carver’s story “Cathedral,” I understand them differently. I hear elderly German men speaking to one another, and I see the stained glass windows in the Ulm Cathedral. My sense of place, my way of seeing the world, had to incorporate Germany.  

Consequently, when I came home after two years there, I had to reacquaint myself with mountains. I started running trails. I thought I knew the trails I was running. I had walked them dozens of times, but I had forgotten them. Or maybe I never really knew them until my ankles were sore from misplaced steps on jutting rocks, until I had made my way past aspen-bordered meadows filtering morning sun, or until some rock ripped a crescent half-moon scar on my left knee. I ran because I loved the motion, because I loved chasing after vanishing elk. I didn’t run to find my place, to connect myself to the landscape, or to see the world in a new way,  but that is what I found in running. The small patches of avalanche that I  ran across in the end of winter were a part of me; the hail that I ran through on grey afternoons was a stinging reminder of the sky and my body’s physical connection to the landscape. Mountains and running crept into my writing and reading. The two monarch butterflies I saw locked in tenuous gyration became a part of my poetry. Standing under a waterfall,  watching the rising sun, I found a perfect way to start an essay. Similarly the need to write about a dead grasshopper in the middle of the sidewalk caused me to look at insects in a different way. Now I notice yellow jackets stunned by the cold and frozen to the pavement. And once while hiking in the foothills surrounding Spanish Fork, I read Yeats’s “Second  Coming.” I not only read about falcons flying in widening gyres, but saw them-perhaps not falcons, but red-tailed hawks spiraling in the wind. I can’t be sure if Yeats transformed the foothills or if the foothills changed Yeats. But I noticed, for the first time, that hawks playing in canyon winds signaled a new world, a new way of seeing things.  

Landscape isnt merely a matter of mountains and foothills. It is a way of mixing myself with what I experience-a process of discovery. I used to think that most people had a specific place where they could feel at home,  and if they extended beyond those boundaries, they would find themselves bewildered. But I don’t think so anymore. I can mix Frau Nossek‘s saints with my own. And I can believe that St. Francis spoke to birds even if I’m not Catholic, because I believe my grandfather speaks to birds, and sometimes I imagine that birds speak to me. When a blue heron leaves its stillness and seems to defy gravity with the precise calculations of heavy, beating wings, I remember to be surprised by life. I remember that details like yellow jackets on pavement and Ashley Glover sitting on my lap are important. I remember that I shouldnt catalog my experiences and separate them as science or art or religion, as familiar or unfamiliar. I need to take the mountains of Germany and blend them with Timpanogos because both can teach me about the other, and both teach me to appreciate what I  see. I can’t look at the cathedral in Ulm as an edifice to someone else‘s religion; its verticality and vaulted nave are a chance for me to imagine the heavens.  

Scott Cameron is graduating from BYU chis April and is planning on heading to Boston University to further his education. He can’t seem to escape writing about nature and personal experience. This doesnt mean that he has actually prayed to become Jack Frost, but he has definitely thought about it.

Twelve-inch Zippers

by Jessica Buck

Theres nothing here,” Mom called from my closet, waking me. What was she rummaging for?! turned my face, hiding one ear in the pillow.  “There’s nothing here,” she repeated, her voiced muffled in racks of clothes. I watched through my eyelashes as she burrowed out of the closet and stood before my bed. A minute passed, but when I offered no solution she turned for the door.  

Mumbling about REM cycles and the need for sleep, I threw back the covers and kicked my feet free. She was throwing dresses out of her own closet when I settled on the edge of her bed, pulling my legs under me and yawning. “Theres nothing to wear,” she told me, “and the dance is  tonight.”  

“What about the black one?” I asked. “Velvet always looks nice, and  black is semi-formal.”  

Mom stepped out of the closet, looking like I’d hit her. “Mark gave me that dress,” she countered. Mark the ex-fiance.  

We have to have something else that’d work,” I tried again, thinking through each closet in the house. But nothing formal was the right size.  My attention turned back to Mom and I saw she was still in her bathrobe.  

“You can’t buy a new one,” I told her. She just couldn’t, no matter how she hinted, no matter how bare her eyes looked without liner. She evaded my gaze, confirming my suspicion. “We’ll find something here-you know  we dont have money for party dresses.” It’s a single adult dance, I wanted to add, not the prom.  

She paused, then moved with a new idea. “I could make one,she said, and she paced the length of the bed. “I have enough time, if I’m fast,  and I could make it short enough to dance in, full enough to twirl ”  

“That could work.” I grasped the compromise-she was a good seamstress, and it would cut the price in half. “If you think you’ll have time.”  

An hour later, we were on our way to the fabric store. With me driving,  she was free to paint her nails, two coats of purple.  

A few minutes from the store, I braved the topic of Allen. You know I  don’t like him, dont you?” I hoped my careful tone balanced out the mutiny. “You can do so much better, you’ve thought so yourself-”  

“You don’t know him,” she put in. “He’s so deep and ambitious-”  “He works in a potato plant.”  

“But you don’t know his hobbies. He goes caving all the time, and  takes pictures of bats-”  

“And how many times has he actually gone since you’ve known him?”  The moment hung between us, long enough to count a dozen telephone poles in the window. Mom fanned her fingernails in front of the heat vent. “You don’t know him,” she said again.  

I pretended to watch the road. Allen will be just like the rest, I wanted to tell her. I’m so tired of screening all your boyfriends. At a red light, I  slowed the car and glanced out the left window. I never Like your boyfriends.  

The light turned green and my foot switched from the brake to the gas. I went out with Ryan again last night, I wanted to tell her. That’s three times, and he’s still interested. We watched a movie, after his parents feLL asleep,  and he rested his arm on the couch above my head. I didnt know he wanted to put his arm around me at first-I just left him waiting, shifting his arm on the back of the couch. With my eyes scanning left to right, I tried to choose the best lane.  

“I went out with Ryan again last night,” I began.  

“Did you have a good time?”  

“Yeah, we watched a movie.” I looked toward the passenger seat,  hopeful.  

Do you chink chis polish needs a topcoat?”  

The turn signal flashed green from the dash and I counted the pulses one, two, three. Exhaling, I followed the light into the parking lot. “No,  Mom, just leave it as it is.”  

Familiar aisles of rayon and rickrack eased the tension from the drive.  The store reminded me of Moms years as a seamstress when the money was better and Dad still lived at home. I’d never learned to sew-somehow  I couldn’t follow my mother‘s hobbies-but I’d learned the width of a good hem and the right material for a dress.  

What we need is something classy,” I said, flanking my mom down the first few aisles. “You love the way rayon drapes, and we could find something dark enough to be formal She was going to the dance with Allen whether I liked it or not, but I still wanted her to feel beautiful.  We avoided anything floral and discussed the extra time it would take to line a thin fabric. Despite her expertise, she fingered several clothes without making a decision.  

Ohh. I pulled the bolt from the rack and traced the silver threads between my thumb and finger. The base was gray rayon, rich and heavy,  embroidered with silver roses. It managed feminine and formal at the same time, with the feeling of grace my mom deserved. I looked up and caught her eye, and we both grinned. “This is you,” I told her. It’s perfect. ”  

After Mom approved the weight, price, and cotton content, I loaded the bolt into the curve of my elbow, snugging it against my waist for easy carrying. Mom checked off the details as she shopped, switching into seamstress gear. “We already have the pattern, so all we need is a zipper,  and thread and ” She opted for the invisible zipper, worth the price because of its quality, she assured me, and spent five minutes matching a  spool of gray thread.  

Once home I avoided the sewing room. I’d done my part,  hadn’t I? Despite my efforts in the store, I resented the project. I wanted her to have a dress, sure, but not a date. Still, my conscience pricked me as  I threw dirty cloches in a bucket and pounded downstairs to the laundry. I  felt guilty, but why should I help her dace Allen?  

33 

I threw the washing machine lid open, but it crashed down. The bucket teetered against my hip, held by one hand while the other whipped through the air to cool my pinched thumb. Why did she have to date at aLL?  The bucket toppled, and I dropped to my knees to pick it up.  

Lumping the fallen clothes together, I sighed, tired of the old debate,  tired of the men who came and went and moved their clothes into the closet, only to leave again. They never brought what they promised, and I  hated them all, hated when they left me to mend the pieces. It’s okay, Momwe’ll be okay-I remember kneeling with her when Dad left, rocking her in the space between the bed and wall. My arms remembered wrapping across her shoulders, thin arms, barely reaching past her neck to cradle her head.  When he left, when we rocked, she turned her cheek into my small frame and loosed her tears between us, sharing the pain of a divorced woman.  

Kneeling in my pile of dirty socks and jeans, rocking slightly, I shut my eyes to remember. When she slept, I would climb into her bed, offering an excuse for the king-sized mattress. Somehow I hoped my body between the sheets would convince her that she wasn’t alone, even though she was.  Her shoulders shook, and I pulled my knees toward my chin, sleepless.  

After Dad, she married Gary, but two protection orders and a broken wrist forced her into an empty bed again. Do I just attract the wrong type?  she asked me, Do I deserve this?  

No, I told her, No, you get to learn and choose. YouLL get it right. But, as  I helped her button shirts around her sling, I wondered if it would heal straight.  

She tried to marry Mark, but he called from Pittsburg the week before the wedding. Cancel the flowers, he told me, it’s better this way, forgive meand don’t forget to return my car. I cursed at him, words I didnt know I  knew and never felt sorry for. Hanging up the phone, I turned to her again. Only now, my arms were longer and her shoulders were smaller,  thin like eggshells boiled too long. When they called me about her over dose-Zoloft and Excedrin, downed with Nyquil to double the effect-the receiver seemed strange in my hands. Why had I left her alone, even for a  night? I slid against the wall to the floor, crumpling both knees to my chest and rocking by myself.  

Mark had not been the latest, but Mom’s suicide attempt had killed my hope for the right man. Couldn’t she stay alone? Wasn’t alone better than wrong? For both of us?  

The way my fingers shook, lifting to my wet face, startled me. I thought of Ryan, waiting with his arm on the back of the couch. I sighed, still rock ing, tired of the old debate.  

She’d marry Allen, settling for him because that‘s all she thought she deserved. They’d spend a few months finding out why it wouldn’t work,  then he’d move his clothes out of the closet. No, I didn’t want to mend it all again. I couldn’t cut or pin or fold her dress, knowing each step brought her closer to the dance.  

Then why did you help her buy the fabric? I shoved the thought aside,  throwing it like the laundry in the bucket. But as I climbed from my knees, hoisted the bucket, and pulled the washer knobs, I knew. She’d feel beautiful again in that dress; she’d remember, for a night, that she’s worth silver thread and invisible zippers. One scoop of soap churned in the rising pool, and I lowered the lid, carefully.  

J. . ;>” ess1ca.  

Carrying the empty bucket past the sewing room, I leaned my head into the doorway. “Yeah?”  

Jess, the zipper’s too short.”  

I stared at her. Behind the sewing table, fabric clung to an old dress model. The skirt and bodice were cut, but the hem had not been rolled and the jacket was missing. And the back hung open.  

“Are you sure?”  

“We bought a twelve-inch, but we need at least a sixteen.”  I glanced at my watch, already knowing she would send me. Six-thirty and the dance was at eight. Half an hour there, half an hour back-we’d never make it.  

Jess, could you go back for one? Would it be out of your way?”  “Yeah, it would”-! regretted the response as I dug for my keys-“but  I’ll go anyway.”  

“You’ll find a sixteen-inch, right? And come straight home?”  “Yeah, and I’ll be home in time. I smiled, meaning it as an apology.  My fists jammed through the arms of my coat. “Before eight, right?”  My watch read seven twenty when I pulled back into the drive, thanks to a little speeding. “Mom?” The sewing room was dark. I flipped on the work lights, but my hand hesitated on the switch-I saw the dress model.  

35 

“Mom?” The mannequin stood as tall as a woman, limbless, headless,  shaped with knobs to adjust its waist, hips, and bust. Her skin stretched over an hourglass frame, skin thin enough to stick pins through, but more disturbing were the clothes-instead of silvered rayon, my mom‘s floral sundress hung from the form, pinned over a white T-shirt.  

My gaze dropped to the floor where gray folds lay fallen around the base of the stand. “Mom? I’m home.”  

When I found her, she was sitting on the edge of her bed winding  Velcro curlers into her hair. She looked up at me, her face still bare from the morning.  

“I brought the zipper. Sixteen inches.”  

“Would you help me with my hair tonight? I never know what to do with it. ”  

“Mom, what about your dress? Did you pick a new one?”  You could pull up the sides with a barrette, couldn’t you, so they  won’t fall out when I dance?” She paused mid-curler, afraid I’d say no.  “Yeah, I’ll pull the sides up. ”  

I watched as she finished the curlers, waited while she moved through each piece of her make-up bag. She offered no explanation for the dress,  and I knew better than to ask again-she wouldn’t have answered.  

When she was ready, she sat on a chair in front of me, placing her head at my shoulders, letting my hands unwrap the curlers, flip through the ends. You’ve always had beautiful hair,” I told her.  

As I combed, she breathed a deep sigh that trembled as it fell back to her lungs. I didnt have enough time.” She spoke softly, making me witness to a confession. I shifted two strands between my hands, straining to hear. I wanted to finish, but the time ran out. It wasn’t enough. ”  I wasn’t enough, I heard between her words.  

From her tone, so soft, I knew she felt very young, very small. For her,  I regretted the zipper falling short, the time falling short, the hope of a life falling short every time. “You tried, you did your best,” I assured her,  catching her eye in the mirror. Mom, no one could have finished. You did  your best.” My hands moved back and forth, smoothing her hair between them. I loved her for trying-I’d always love her for trying.  

With each strand, I held the curling iron away from her ears. Wed settle without the dress tonight, I decided, but I wouldn’t let her feel less than beautiful. With care, I tucked each curl into a crown, pinning it with swift fingers and setting it with spray.  

36 

“Hell be speechless when he sees you tonight, no matter what  you wear.”  

She brightened at my support. “He’s such a dancer, Jess, he makes me feel like I’m flying-but what can l wear? I tried the sundress, but ”  Her smile folded at the eyebrows, suddenly distressed. I imagined my mother dancing in a T-shirt.  

No, wear the black velvet,” I told her, “lc’s the best dress you have.”  She moved to argue but wavered, knowing I was right. “Give it a new  memory.”  

When Allen knocked, I considered leaving him on the seep. Instead, I  lee him in and offered small talk, but what could I ask a man with no children and an affinity for bats?  

Mom lifted into the room, melting into her girlfriend’s smile. In her heels and knee-length black, she looked coo fine co be paired with his Levis and ponytail. Bue despite the contrast, I smiled-she was beautiful. And his jeans were black, she mentioned later, and the gray tail tucked under his collar. Such compromise. She slipped up next to him and kissed him hello.  

They paused in the doorframe, linking fingers, turning to say goodbye.  I felt suddenly like a parent, hoping he’d drive safely and get her home on time. I ignored the impulse to give her a curfew or cell her not to make out.  

You look fantastic,” I said instead, loud enough to prick Allen’s manners.  

“Yeah, hon, you look great.” Pare of me was glad he took his cue.  She turned to him, beaming in the compliment, and tilted her chin to kiss him again.  

I’m sure they found their coats and made it to the door, but I said my goodbye and retreated to the sewing room. Allen’s headlights flashed through the window when they pulled from the drive. Would Ryan, wondered, ever work in a potato plant? Would he call from Pittsburg?  

I pulled the new zipper from its sack and edged my thumbnail across its ridges. Three times, I thought, three times, and he’s still interested Last night, when he walked me to the door, we paused in the porch light.  “Jess?” To make up for the movie, he slid his arm behind me. A breath stalled my lungs and jittered against my pulse.  

His eyes caught mine then dropped to his shoes. “Ic’s cold our,” he  managed, and I wondered at the smile tugging his lips, the slight shaking  of his head. “Colder than last night-they say itll snow. Through my eye lashes, I watched the boy who was trying to kiss me, the boy who was talk ing about the weather. I lee my fingers reach his hand.  

He looked up and the moment hung between us, long enough for me  to wonder if he would ever grow a ponytail. The porch light buzzed. I  counted pulses-one, two, three-and considered the weight of his arm  around my waist.  

Now, stretching the zipper to full length, my fingers were steady.  Twelve inches, I thought, plus four. Invisible. Closing my hand around the  zipper, I turned to the dress model. Feeling bad for her pins, I knelt in the  space by the wall to remove the sundress and T-shirt. Still kneeling, I lifted  the gray folds from the floor and rested chem on the form’s shoulders, tracing  silver threads between my thumb and finger. 

Jessica Buck-“The problems of the human heart alone can make good writing,” Faulkner said, because only that is worth writing about. Jessica is an English major from Shelley, Idaho. She moves furniture when shes angry, loves jazz, and drinks hot chocolate by the window when it rains.  And she hopes her life makes it to the final draft.