2016 Emerging Writers Fellows Reading

I'm Erin summers and before I start I just want to thank Sarah and Noreen and everybody here at the center and the other fellows it's an honor to read with you guys and I also want to say that it has been a crazy year to be alive on this planet and this is this place and this fellowship has been important in the storm so thank you I'm going to read the first few pages of a new story it's called Walt's up until her fortieth year there hadn't been a season of Marian's life that she hadn't had to grovel and beg send-off invoice reminders couched in manic cheer just checking in at 40 all of that changed she bought a house in the Hudson Valley that seemed occupied solely by Artie people and made a hobby of overpaying for furniture she spent five thousand eight hundred ninety nine dollars on an antique chest of drawers laughed as they loaded it into her car what's funny asked the guy with the dolly where to begin she said the children adjusted instantly they shrugged off their old lies like winter coats on the first real day of spring Marian never caught them pining or calling the friends they left behind she bought them anything they asked for and they asked for a lot soapy wanted a horse and Dave wanted a BMX bike it's not exactly fair is it she said to them horses eat tons of grain and have to be boarded BMX bikes eat almost nothing she loved them equally so she got them each one of each the horses live ten minutes away in the stable stable surrounded by green grass the BMX bikes lived in the garage one afternoon the children's father came to visit he walked around peeking into rooms and doing that low whistle of his the house was huge simple and old everything that impressed him he pointed at different features and pronounce their names wainscotting crown molding antique mahogany tall boy and at the stable steeds they're more in Zombie Sophie said to him the children had found the horses original names unsatisfactory as a policy Marion let the children do whatever they wanted and in return they worshipped her their father laughed zombie Marion reached out and touches touched the horses velvety nose she was afraid of him of his shuddering animal intelligence but seemed important to demonstrate that they were all together on one side against the chill and father what's wrong with it Dave chose it he's seven I know how old he is don't insult me why does this seven-year-old need a horse he's gone this whole time without once an Marian and without other things too the amount of Batmobiles he wished for and didn't get could fill a truck how could notional toys fill a truck as their father whose name was also Dave Marian felt like divorcing him all over again zombie sneeze the air in the stable was filled with particles of blonde dirt floating around and beams of light Marian took in a lungful and explained that the children adored the horses and were very sweet about brushing them and shoveling their dung and such which proved EPSA fact Oh that they deserved them you had to use words like Apes oh factor with the children's father if you wanted him to pay attention Dave senior laughed and said if you say so you want to see me ride a Sophie why not said Dave senior they got too stable manager to take to help take more doubt so if you rode him around while the rest of them leaned against the split rail fence she wore a round black helmet and sporty jodhpurs beyond the dirt enclosure a field extended to the tree line heavy clouds inched over it it was a spectacle the turn of muscles the blue creep of Thunder heads Sophie with her cruel posture and shiny boots like the officer of a preteen Calvary god she's a natural said dave senior now that he mentioned it Mary Marian could see that it was true she had an inborn lightness that seems suited for horseback possibly they'd found her calling they'd only had to vault about three social classes to do it the wind picked up and it was time to get Mort back inside Dave jr. ran on ahead to say goodbye to zombie Marian zipped up her new summer weight jacket pleased to have discovered purpose Dave senior strolled allah strode along next to her so you're what gonna live in that big house with the kids and do nothing that had been her plan but she could tell from his tone what he thought of it hardly she said I'm volunteering with Holocaust survivors the statement caused her mild horror she wondered how the Holocaust had ended up in the part of her brain she mind for self-serving lies his face showed admiration really absolutely she said it's the least I can do well that's nice that's really worthy he was silent after that she had found the one brand of moral superiority that actually worked on him why had she never thought of it before they went home and hauled the BMX bikes out of the garage and rode them in circles around the driveway Marion even took a turn and so did Dave senior that raindrops fell at intervals dotting the pavement I don't get it – Dave seen your pedaling how is it different from a regular bike Marian realized that he was jealous that he wanted a gift of his own he wanted the boring equivalent of a courser a BMX bike it was in her nature to let them all have everything to treat money like a cold river flowing over her palm she had always been like that even back in the city it had been part of the problem there for doing tricks she said and attempted a wheelie she fell off backwards and bashed her skull on a row of raised bricks that lined the driveway unconsciousness flared up like a black flame and filled her with deep relief how wonderful to lie in one's driveway for a moment feeling nothing when she came to they were all in the house someone had laid her sticky bleeding head on the arm of the sofa you're ruining it – Sophie Sophie pointing Marian sat up and looked at the spot dark red on the light blue upholstery and spreading will get ten new ones yawned Marian touching her gash head you shouldn't be so reckless at Dave senior you're four years old is that all she says she felt 60 at least a key and wise modestly triumphant like she'd want to fight she'd been reluctant to join in the first place you're setting a bad example for them – Dave senior he had a point she turned to the children don't do wheelies after age 39 Dave junior went into the kitchen and brought back a damp lot of paper towels press this against it he said finally a caring Dave's did Marian thank you baby she held the paper towels to the wound to the wound you shouldn't call him that said said Dave senior when boys are coddled by their mothers it messes them up for life and when elephants are raised without fathers they go on to rape rhinos she said what said Dave senior an article I read he looked at her annoyed she explained the males get poached it throws the whole thing out of whack you're really something he said breaking news said Sophie and they all laughed because she sounded exactly like Marion it was cozy in there for a second the bloody sofa the rain outside everyone bickering like they used to I suppose you need to go to the hospital – Dave senior after a while he lost consciousness Marion scowled no then she remembered they were insured now yes she said they went back out into the rain and got in the car thanks good hey everybody my name is Dan Sheehan and I'd also like to say just a huge thank you to Sarah Noreen and Rosie and John all the staff at the center and all my fellow fellows it's been fantastic to get to know you this past year just a wonderful experience in general so I'm going to read a section from a novel that's coming out next spring called restless souls and it's a tragic comic novel but this extract is not comic it's really really bleak so I'm sorry about that in advance and I think all you need to know is it's set in Sarajevo and Dublin during the 1990s and this is the passage about a suicide so Gabriel Hogan hanged themselves from the goalpost of our local football pitch where we shot penalties together as children the ideas that won't ever leave me none of us were where we should have been the day he dropped I was walking the beach less than half a mile away trying to decide whether I'd leave for America with Clara or stay put fencing myself a man who did his best thinking against the backdrop of dark sea swells mal was on what may or may not have been a date with a prickly local girl called Helen Tom was sprinting across a bombed-out Street somewhere in Sarajevo trying to dodge sniper fire maybe or maybe was sitting in a windowless back room smoking an overpriced black-market cigarette or listening to a crackling radio broadcast to help him understand the language or just sleeping beside his girl the were deep welts scratched at a Gabriel's neck when they found him like he might have had a change of heart one split second too late though probably it was just the instinct towards self-preservation that all creatures have when the noose is tightening I questions in the wake of it big existential questions pointless questions like how can you grow up alongside someone love them as fiercely as if there were your own flesh and blood and not know how can you share a home and a life and two decades of history with them and not see the change happening there was a time we couldn't have had couldn't have hidden that kind of darkness from me a time when it was just us and there was no one else we needed when he would have told me that evening and all that came after it it might never happen myself and miles standing silent on our suits and scuffed shoes with Eugene interets girls he had loved and chased away lives from the neighborhood from our school days from football teams long disbanded and forgotten all of us watching uselessly as they lowered its coffin into the damp ground he was buried in Glasnevin from the sprawling garden cemetery that houses everyone from fallen Patriots to unbaptized babies strategists and foot soldiers from opposing sides of the Civil War lie side by side there some of them brothers people leave bottles of stout and the headstones of alcoholic writers and flowers for general cut down in their prime there's a plot for the nameless cholera victims of a 19th century tenement outbreak and a giant round tower to have Daniel O'Connell the great liberator there's every kind of death imaginable in that cemetery and now there's Gabriel if the ten of us gathered at his graveside taking turns dropping fistfuls of soil down on top of them I thought about how many suicide victims sleep in that earth there are official certificates reading death by misadventure their newspaper obituaries vague and ashamed Gabriel's with an open casket but the makeup didn't fully cover the choker of purple bruising the rope left behind to this day the only person to use the word suicide in relation to his death aside from my 86 pints in her mid bout of nervous verbal diarrhea is one of the two idiot teenagers who stumbled across and well down in stolen cans of cider in the park they waited an hour before calling the police themselves over the prospect of being caught in a less than lucid state the notion that these two gangly panicked weights we're the only company Gabriel had at the end still makes my heart thump six days after the funeral one of them turned up on my doorstep all pimples and greasy hair and an oversized Metallica hoodie and started jabbering fretless me about how he felt connected to Gabriel since he found his corpse a lot actually used the word corpse like he was describing an extra from the Thriller video I let him finish there's something about this kind of trainwreck speechifying that transfixes me when he was done he blew some hair out of his eyes and made a move to walk past me into the house I put a hand out his down drew parted shoulder and looked at him solemnly for a long second before saying get the out of here you ghoulish little bollocks I've not for one second in the two years since this happened felt thought about it meanwhile the phones were still down in Sarajevo our first three letters didn't make it through I couldn't stop imagining them stacking up in an empty post office miles away from anyone while Tom lay unidentifiable on a metal slab in a crumbling morgue in a crumbling city ash on every surface Gabriel was buried two weeks before word finally reached him [Applause] good evening everyone I'm suma Ortiz Quintus and before I read I want to thank the Centre for fiction I'm receiving this fellowship was one of the best things that happened to me in 2016 so I really appreciate it I'm going to read a part of a story it's called it out of it and I apologize also because it's a bit dark but here we go hope you like it life was never the same for ELISA and her husband after the Arab peddlers car ran over their three-year-old son not that it had ever been easy between them but still when Juanita was buried four days later four days after being killed one man when was another man he'd gone completely crazy at the sight of his son his sons shattered skull crushed like an overripe calabasa against the sun-baked earth the accident happened right in front of the home they shared with the three little boys that were conceived in a hurry and born was barely a pause in between they'd married in haste also a few months after ELISA flashed her death I was at Quang Minh when while he was farming in the hill behind her parents house he's as good a prospect as you're going to get her mother encouraged ELISA agreed she was the eldest of 12 not a big sister but a force second mother by the time her third sibling came along when she was 5 at 13 as her body developed its womanly curves a mysterious hump appeared on her back it was a deformity the town's only doctor didn't have a cure for and the local good and Eddowes oils and prayers lacked the power to reverse she became known as Lahore ovum around the barrio and unkind whispers followed her around that she was jinxed a bruja that disgruntled spirits from the nearby cemetery had settled on her shoulders pregnant women fearing for their own unborn babies of their eyes and prayed to la vida hang for protection when they encountered her in the street men avoided her and by the end by age 24 when most women in the mountains had too many children ELISA was still unmarried so she took matters into her own hands and soon found herself tied to one man well then her youngest son was killed she discovered several things at Saturday afternoon that being a second mother to eleven siblings wasn't the worst thing to happen to her that having a hunched back was bearable after all that having a man wasn't necessary and that being whispered about and called names was unimportant no it was the death of a child that could break a woman and splinter a man completely apart the peddler arrived around noon around midday the powerful engine of his sturdy Chevy Impala easily conquering the uneven driveway that ran past Elise's house he traveled from town to town selling his wares offering credit only to women whose names and debts he kept in a marble composition notebook no one knew his given name which country he was from or if indeed he was Arab his Spanish was precise with rolled ours and sibilant s's and he never cut off the ending syllables of words like some in the mountains did he could have been a descendant from one of the thousands of motifs caused driven out of Spain centuries ago that made their way to Puerto Rico but no one really knew in any event he was an olive skinned sharpnose man with hazel eyes who went around selling goods from the back seat and trunk of his car which suffice to earn him the nickname of Al Arabiya he made the three-hour trip from San Juan to the center of the island through winding roads and hairpin curves that startled prayers even out of non-believers the backseat of his car arrived brimming with merchandise colorful dresses and flashy custom jewelry for the ladies sharp guavas and straw colored hats for the gentlemen frocks riddled with bows and flounces for the girls and shiny shoes to go with precisely crease pants for the boys he had something for everyone even for the Abuela's who only dressed in the unforgiving color of morning but like to wear delicate Monte just to church on Sundays which he claimed came directly from Spain when he cut them fingering the wispy head coverings as soon as word spread that it out of a had arrived women began to trickle down from the hills their hard saved dollars tucked snugly inside bras or hidden in worn purses cut securely under armpits children appeared out of nowhere to gather around the back of his car eager to discover the treasures hidden within waiting in suspense for him to lift the trunk like a magician and present with a flourish the strange toys and gadgets which until that moment they didn't know had been invented a ladder babe parked a short distance from Elise's house she and her children were the first to come out after handing out sweets by lettuce to the boys he said to her look what I have for you and pulled out a red flowing skirt from the backseat of his car it looks just like you he offered she loved it immediately she envisioned the soft material hugging her curves because after all there was nothing wrong with the bottom half of her body they engaged in their regular back and forth a hint of flirt clinging to their words $20 he began no señor I only have ten when up west I'll let you have it for 18 no no no no I only have ten she insisted 15 then nod yes and so on until he relented like always only for you he said with a wink because you're my favorite customer other women began to arrive ELISA stayed to watch as a bantered and bartered with an Arab and noticing what each bought and how much they spent finally after telling her five-year-old to watch his four and three-year-old brother she reluctantly went inside to make lunch leaving the peddler and his cars surrounded by women and children inside one man when was sitting in the living room on a plastic covered sofa watching his favorite variety show from an ancient black-and-white television she didn't bother showing him the skirt at least I never shared things like that with him he'd scold her for being wasteful why do you need another skirt he'd ask don't you have enough clothes where do you think you're going he won't notice I'm wearing something new anyway she reasoned and walked to their bedroom without a word she approached the misdemeanor of the old chifforobe standing guard over the over the unmade bed and scattered piles of laundry and how the skirt up against her waist turning this way and that children husband and lunch forgotten she imagined herself wearing the skirt to church the next day paired with a yellow blouse the one that fit perfectly over her back and the set of earrings necklace and bracelets earned from selling Avon products that still retain their gold wash she'd receive admiring comments from other women after the service ELISA what a gorgeous skirt and blouse a murmur as they looked her up and down she saw herself responding on our they come borrow the outfit whenever you need it after that she took a few turns around the plaza arm and arm with her sister Lucy past the groups of admiring men always gathered around the edges watching the parade of women sauntering by forgetting she was married for getting the hoe Toba on her back feeling beautiful in her new clothes ELISA was humming into the mirror in her mind she was taking another turn around the plaza just about to catch an admiring eye when the combined din of a car engine abrupt shouts and a horrified denial from one man well disturbed her fantasy disoriented she remained still allowing her surroundings to settle hesitantly around her as if emerging from a dream maybe if she didn't move she thought the sounds would reveal themselves be unrelated but when her has been released an unbroken string of anguished howls the new skirt join the jumble of clothing on the floor forgetting compliments and good-looking men ELISA ran through the house APRA sentimiento growing that tomorrow she wouldn't be strolling around the plaza after church in a red skirt and yellow blouse the decked in bright jewelry thank you hello thank you all very much for being here thank you also to the the Centre for fiction and to my fellow fellows I'm going to be reading the first few pages of a short story entitled the night porter oh the title of this story is oh my name's sorry uh Danny barber bum as a boy I followed the doctor's orders every morning began with 100 hand flexes as full of flex as I could manage than a controlled slow-release I took an ice bath followed by a bath so hot my entire body blushed pink I drank as much milk as my parents could afford I ate beef steak while they ate boiled beets throughout the day I made bargains with myself if I stepped over every crack in the sidewalk if I held my breath for two full minutes if I went a whole day without looking at my bad arm not even in the bath I swore not even in the mirror I prayed to God read the Bible and slept with the Good Book under my pillow I played up hands of poker me against a fake opponent and always made sure I won for years I carried a rabbit's foot in my trouser pocket I carried it even after the fur had fallen off and it was unrecognizable looking instead like the body of a wizened old mouse but the sometimes prick of the claws on my thigh gave me strength and the weightlessness of it the familiar shape of the thing in my pocket that gave me a column I'd rarely felt before my arm understand is half the length it should be my hand is limp my fingers shriveled sink of a tuber dug up from a city garden the fingers dangle as useless as growths as my arm always looked at like this was I born with it was it something that was somehow passed down from parent to child like baldness or poverty and now hangs over my life like a 6-foot ceiling do I have dreams of having two normal arms and pushing a lawnmower up a hill of driving a car with hands firmly on the wheel at eleven and one and in these dreams is a part of me aware that they are in fact dreams and that sooner or later I'll wake up have I thought of lying naked in the bath and carving my arm off at the shoulder joint like a wing from a chicken carcass have I pricked it with pins and tacks have I beat it with my good fist until it was modeled and purpled with bruise if I let my fingernails grow as long as talons because what the hell no one sees them under the tied off sleeve of my shirt anyway is the underside really marked up with shiny pink puckers where I've held it over candle flame does that mean the skin isn't exactly skin but something closer to aged leather is it true that I've never made love with a woman not because I've tried and failed but because I'm afraid of what their face would reveal when I took off my shirt is 142 days the longest I've gone without making physical contact with another human being and does that include bumping into someone on the street or trolley or train or taking my change from the Baker when I went out to buy a loaf of bread and were those 142 days something I cherished something that I came to live for and mark tally by tally on a piece of cardstock on my nightstand and when I walked the street or rode the trolley or train or took my change from the Baker was I sweaty with nerves but I'd be touched and like that my streak would end and were there other times like those 142 days say a time of 90 days or 75 days or 71 days or 68 days and when each Street came to an end did ashes settle over everything into that ceiling over my life lower itself from six to five feet and did I weep into my pillow until the stuffing was soaked through completely then begin my count anew years ago I was a trash thrower for the city I did one-armed push-ups lifted paint cans til my biceps swelled as tight as a cannonball the men called me freak they called me GIMP but I could still throw trash with the best of them my one good arm was better than two of theirs I lived in a cold water garret I was a Churchmouse living off crumbs every night my neighbor snored through the wall and in my dreams the sound became a train chugging through flat winter farmland yellow and white it wasn't me in the dream but if you put the train from above the war was the best thing that could have happened to me with only women to beat out for jobs I was a kid in a candy store with a $2.00 bill I became the night porter in a building downtown meaning a furnished basement apartment meaning the days were mine to sleep away in a room is dark and silent as a crypt meaning my dreams of a train became dreams of a ship's anchor sinking endlessly through an ink black sea thang [Applause] hello my name is Hafeez Lakhani and i too would like to thank the senator for fiction for this amazing fellowship and for amazing company among the fellows i'm going to read from page 84 of a novel that I'm just completing many thanks to the center and what you should know is that this is from the perspective of a man named Anil who has been in the US for about 20 years originally from a small fictitious town in India named rubble bindi and also at the time that he's reflecting upon he's been through a number of like businesses in the US and at this time he owned the Dunkin Donuts and has three children at school teacher reported a marine was quiet often watching other children rather than playing with them but for visits to music class led by Miss Alice woman with big red hair who always wore high-heeled boots a marine ran first in line her reservations all but dissipated early on it happened that miss Alice assigned a marine child's trumpet to play and though most children prefer to sample every instrument if given chance a marine found her way back to this trumpet week after week and then year after year it was after school music lab taught by Miss Alice which I'm marine who adored the red-haired teacher most look forward to twice each week music lab I laughed Amina in private because I was so pleased such a thing existed in grammar school we shared between five boys one textbook studies coming only from dictation after dictation they were funny to me these contrasts like music lab benefits of here versus there simply following from sky music lab this is good I said to Amina half-jokingly disciplined of music is good training for medicine now mrs. Ellis knowing lessons were impossible for us took time to teach Ambreen reading of music later she quietly allowed a Marine to bring brass Child's Trump at home at first twice every week after music lab insisting to Amina when she came to walk on Marine home that she needed instrument back before school next day but eventually allowing Umbreon to take Trump at home on weekend – what could we offer mr. Ellison returned what else – um brains embarrassment but on my insistence twice each week I mean I would after meeting school bus for twins who had no interest in music lab Anisha preferring serials like full house of non preferring American sports with neighbor boy Steve Feeney I mean I would carry the school box of assorted doughnuts for mrs. Ellis our small gift of appreciation soon came surprised product of Miss Alice's work from third row of a Marines fifth grade music concert Amina and I had not an Anisha between us listened enraptured when after five or ten children at once piped or stringed or drummed together like squeaky medley of almost music a marine on cue from Miss Alice began slowly to play trumpet as solo an opening note of her song her thin cheeks turned rosy just that they do when she cries brass of her trumpet shined under stage lights below a Marines eyes shut in concentration there in silence of cafeteria saddest musical notes I had ever heard fell upon my ears for two full minutes Marine song pierced my feelings stirring memories long ago hidden and buried inside low notes of her song I could not help but remember my parents and especially my father thin man with sagging stomach and deep thinking eyes like mine people said how I never saw him again after I left row bindi at 24 in somber notes of a Marine song I relived night of my departure from Bombay inside crowded Airport terminal where before boarding I bowed to my father for blessings his hand shaking with emotion emotion I could not distinguish between loss or hope he touched my shoulder with prayers gyum anima KU Barca thought being may you find great abundance in earning before he pulled me to his chest his stomach pressed against me and choking on tears whispered Mosca forgive me Anil forgive him for what I didn't know he had created so much dried fruit stall in Bazar was prospering my decision to apply the lottery was no reflection on him during a marine solo I imagined my father as I remember him that day in white shirt and white by Gemma thin hair neatly parted but somehow present here in Florida walking his crack sandals through Duncan admiring our sturdy commercial chairs our steel vats and back to fry twenty doughnuts at once I imagined him raising his hand before AC vents in the house were standing at steps of community pool and preparing to enter curls of hair on his chest gray and content matted in same thickness as mine but mostly I imagined my father's seeing children a marine creating this beautiful song with brass instrument he would not recognize her concentration as if she is lost deep in prayer thank you thank you all for coming my name is swathi Khurana and I'm going to be reading from the first few pages of my novel for which I'm very grateful for the Center for fiction support and supporting called the number one print shop of Lahore one September morning in 1945 in Liverpool a wooden crate marked Wellington inch through the oyster gray sky dangling like a from the crane like a pendant held by jewelers tweezers it was placed upon the top level of the kampala a turbine steamer along crates with mail to be distributed in Suez Karachi Bombay Sydney and Brisbane the rest of the ship was packed up with dishes woolens collared shirts biscuit tins tufted furniture penicillin stained glass lamps lace white glue sellotape film reels photographs bedsteads encyclopedias whiskey rum polo sticks riding boots saddles bridles lavender soaps geranium perfumes men shaving brushes and factories sharp blades assisted by two tugboats the kampala departed her horn was slow low and one I imagine as the wail of a rhinoceros the Wellington with its stenciled capital letters and Union Jack flag was poised to face the journey through the Mediterranean Sea to the Indian Ocean the sailors once they were far enough from land were thrilled to set aside the scratchy government-issue woolens and stripped to their light blue uniform shorts it was September 1945 after all the Atlantic floor was a graveyard of the war the kampala travelled over the innards of her sister ships the Dern era the Tripoli all of whom had been torpedoed by German u-boats for 18 days on the top level deck the British sailors leaned against the Wellington against the inked flag diagonals tracing the edges of the Flags perimeter with their fingers eating sardines dried dates and dehydrated potatoes and drinking very water a beer they splashed in the pool fashioned from an empty container on deck s and attempted to play table tennis on deck II the ball bouncing off the low ceiling girders while the boats wait side to side in near verticals the kampala rounded the jagged rock of gibraltar pushed through the mediterranean and entered port saeed on land two men and flowing white robes walked along some blanched estates carrying black umbrellas and tuning a reds transistor radio on ship sailors leaned against the Wellington furiously rolling cigarettes knowing they could replenish it Suez they squinted their eyes into the Sun and said the sand look like snow but they felt their skin sweat fifteen days later karachi came into sight the kampala past mangrove swamps and berthed at the newly constructed West Wharf the sailors waited for an available available crane at the bustling Karachi port to hoist the Wellington onto a bullock cart prolonging their farewell to the wooden box on the streets of Karachi the Wellington passed a convoy of camel drawn flatbed carts with long pipes call the students walking to lady Lloyd pier and a Russian man strolling by with the puppeteers wooden cross tied to a circus bear fascinated by the possibility of the crate toppling a group of young boys surrounded the slowly moving cart at the station the crate was he's on to a diesel train headed for Lahore for 20 hours the Wellington moved through sunlit orange desert through along the Indus Valley at dusk and past day breaking green farmlands early in the morning the crate arrived at Lahore Junction it was heaves and plopped onto another bullock cart accompanied by four men in turbans in varying degrees of purpleness when the cart was ready to move the man with the darkest turban stood straight against the crate his chest blocking the centre of the flag the cart rolled past Banda Bazaar for bowling pins bun saw bazaar for bamboo mats and Kashmiri bazaar for woman tea cozies it went past Empress Road through Donald town past the lunatic asylum and circle three-quarters around the roundabout into the town shift of zoom on to the number one print shop a letterpress typesetter and bindery owned by beer bob uncie my great-grandfather and when the Willington arrives six years after been ordered my great-grandfather was careful not to smash the stenciled Union Jack even at that moment he knew it could only be a matter of time until the physical vestiges of that flag would be worth saving because little else of it what it represented would survive my grandmother died before I could ask her about her father before I knew to ask her before I learned I was related to a man who bought a printing press and thought it could change his destiny my grandmother died before I could ask her about her mother before I discover that I was related to a woman who's on the verge of marching with Gandhi a woman who once believed she could change her country's destiny destiny is funny that way the great beauty has finally arrived and the war was over and yet my grandfather bear ball who was waiting six years for it was not prepared a different man would have been downstairs measuring space moving around this or that to make room instead this man was on the rooftop eating fried cauliflower and a lentil stuff paratha he was contemplating a lie down on the chair pie when he heard the Chokey czar yelling master gee master gee a big big big thing is here for you with the full belly beer Belle ran down the outside stairs along the back of the house snorting in the fragrance of his wife's roses and overgrown grape vines covering the servants outhouses he coughed out of breath out of shape in the corner of his eye very well watched the water Buffalo Lodge under the thick shade of the geometry he entered through the back entrance of the print shop gliding over the smooth marble floors like a Russian ice circus performer and there it was a gigantic wooden crate Wellington written under screen-printed Union Jack the box was too big impossible criminally gigantic it swallowed the daylight until now nothing in his cramped shop had blocked the Sun not the black platen presses the wooden type cases or the gray metal files on a regular day the Sun would plunge to the cracks of the jute curtains but today beer bobbled a darkness and yet there stood as longing the thing he wished for and the thing that made his workroom dark and unusable one more too big idea he thought a flash of Kothari came to him the shiny round man with this chubby hairy fingers hair strangled by the sick gold rings filled with giant polished stones prescribed by his astrologer made the taste of curried cabbage from lunch come up beer balls chest how soon would beer ball have to start paying that lizard man who took every businessman in these parts of Lahore how much money would it take to finally get clipped Ahri's calloused foot with talons as nails off his neck thank you hello thank you my name is ke GU I just want to say a big shout out to the Centre for fiction for granting us this fellowship thank you for the invaluable time and space to create the support has been incredible and especially thank you to Sarah our champion for the wonderful work that she's done for us and to the other fellows it's been wonderful to share this experience with you and to get to know you and I wish you all the very best the work is titled a fine thing and it's a collection of linked stories the storyteller is young effets who assumes the voices of multiple characters and tells their stories tonight I'll be reading an excerpt from the opening pages of the book just a quick cast of characters gigi is a filles grandmother dobo is her uncle and grace is her aunt they live in Houston thank you the tenants at Gigi's house whereas multivariate as they were a constant they paid little to no rent so there weren't boarding as much as they were just visiting like uninvited relatives who showed up in a storm and a bind and left only when their tanks were full and the skies were clear they stayed for days at a time months what felt like whole lifetimes they were homeless transient fresh-off-the-boat many came back years later to pay their respects and fill our wallets with their gratitude their noise was enormous – Gigi's dismay doors were left or left ajar or otherwise slammed shut the air conditioning system wide inefficiently against the open windows pots of water were forgotten and boiled away on the stove covering the metal with a fine foot though wiped away easily at the touch of a finger the house groaned under our combined weight struggled constantly to meet our symphony of demands there was a grind of the garbage disposal system working on bones the numerous hot showers toilets being flushed grass forgotten and grown wild before haphazardly blown leaves were raked into piles and left to blow over again gutters dive rating rain and debris to the site of the house were perennial II clogged grease-stained fingers drummed against the walls there was a constant flight of food from the fridge the decimated pantry and the struggle to keep it stocked the incessant beeping from the microwave the drag of curtains against the daylight in the creak of bed springs at night all of this had seemed so great choreographed by none other than Gigi who at the helm of her great ship steered us all to what we were assured was the promised American Life of satisfaction milk and honey of the five bedrooms in the house only Gigi's remained single occupancy I slept on a bunk bed that was commandeered nearly every weekend by a pair of heavyset cousins one a severe bed wetter their mother pulled into the driveway long enough for them to hop in or out of the car before she peeled away with a honk to Gigi whatever she did with her weekends was beyond me and maybe it was because she wasn't actually our blood but Gigi never pushed too hard to find out to adjacent rooms served paying guests one room was currently occupied by a young man from Ghana desi who was a student of medicine at a university downtown the final room remained empty and held its breath like an installation on permanent display waiting for its audience I begged Gigi to let me pack into that room and claim the plush queen bed but she promised the backhand if I can asking so end of discussion I understood the rooms importance when an unfortunate woman and her three small daughters occupied at four months her husband couldn't tolerate another pregnancy and forced her to spend the final months of her condition out of his doors but smoke but mostly the room was held for the occasional entire family that want that one a Visa Lottery or had found some other bit of fortune that brought them as a whole unit to the state's the Treasuries of whole lifetimes were then sheltered in two dressers a closet and tucked into the queen bed Saturdays are spent in the garden while the house recovered the back yard was large unusual for the neighborhood Gigi had the gift of greens and she quickly turned the barren backyard inside bounty to the right were the bed were the beds of leafy greens the squashes and the petite garden eggs tomatoes climbed a broken ladder that was hammered to the fence to the left were all of the peppers the heavy bells on their delicate branches the neat Scotch bonnets the Takashi and their Andrew Leigh angry bunches along the entire back fence were neat rows of bright corn the yank okra and the sorry patch of Earth Gigi had given me to keep the flowers didn't need coaxing the hibiscus sprung to life on its own accord Gigi's only frustration was a magnolia tree in the middle of the yard years ago when she moved in the HOA advised for the cut down the tree and make room for a pool it would do wonders for her property value Gigi refused and in all that time the tree had refused to give its white blossom Gigi had been boarding people long before I came to live with her she came to the States in her 50s became a citizen in five years and by 65 she had the benefit of retirement she still worked part-time at an assisted living community sometimes called ALCS which was run by a penny-pinching Nigerian woman who insisted on paying her under the table working at the ALC and opening Hausa borders was how gg survived in the robust 90s economy I asked gg why she chose Houston when she first came to America which was to say what special hold that this place had that issue that it should become the place where our family would be transposed and replanted where it would root and rot gg shrugged and said that she liked the weather it was that simple though it had been over a decade since I last saw Nigeria I understood Houston's three-season pattern humid hot wet where as similar as where as familiar is the mid-year rains back home when the roads turn to mush the windy season when the yams were harvested and fertile ground was blown seaward assuring in a new year and the hot season when everything shrank back to a solid core one could move from Southeast Nigeria to Gulf Coast Texas and never once have to reflect on the weather because those climate patterns were along in our bones so many Nigerians came to Houston because someone usually a family member but sometimes a friend told them that there were opportunities there and they weren't wrong Houston was a perfect incubator for enterprising hot-blooded people so already accustomed to the indelicate act of uprooting and resettling in the early days of the newly minted country Nigeria census students and droves to study abroad the 1960s and 70s saw a huge migration of Nigerians who left home for fashionable Britain cold nearly inhospitable climes and the often outright hostility of the people but in the 1980s America opened up to Nigerians in a new way and this time we came by choice and for us when we come we want to truly arrive always in style with pomp and circumstance even when there is nothing dignified about the journey it is common knowledge that anywhere you find them Nigerians are one of the immigrant groups with the highest success rates we had that astounding ability to thrive anywhere to absorb and be absorbed in return doable cited was unsurprising Troon I just worked hard still when doba received the call from the people that Gigi's work he claimed that all that hard work was her undoing they had called it momentary confusion delusion they said that Gigi had returned from an extended lunchbreak without having eaten she was on one of her fast so perhaps the cause of her mania had been an angry hunger she had upset one of the patients and oftentimes belligerent grown white man with a severe learning disability she had repeatedly called him mama my child when the poor man coward and refused refused to respond she grew and fenced and grabbed him by the shoulders and shook him as one might be tempted to shake an unresponsive child she was on the verge of serious physical violence when they finally pulled her away from him the man had been greatly disturbed by the incident and had consumed two jars of peanut butter to cope they phoned dobo to please come and collect his mother before further necessary action was taken dildo complained this is exactly the kind of thing he didn't like to be a part of but he left his office anyway got in the car and drove across town to pick his mother up it was only exhaustion Deborah assured them his mother had led a hard life and the signs were beginning to show she was not feeling herself an interpretation of which could mean that she was physically ill maybe dehydrated but Gigi had the magic of multiplicity in her not feeling herself could have also meant that she was entirely but she had entirely stepped out of her skin which that she was an alien in her own body with Gigi's nothing ever meant one thing everything was related when there was rhyme or rhythm and history to all of it there was nothing that couldn't be divided and traced back to something that came before for instance according for her the telephone was around long before anyone thought to call it a telephone in all of Ebola and villagers had been using the talking drum for centuries to communicate full complex messages with a stroke of a hand on panned hide so you see she said we invented the telephones before America was even America 4gg everyone and everything was in relation to each other and functioned in service of something else there was no such thing as individuality if you want to be alone she used to say go to the wilded go to the wilderness and see if you don't find demons we're waiting for you she cited numerous prophets from the Bible who had been tormented by none other than themselves she said that no one is just one thing in your blood or all of your dead family members you carry them all and they all live through you your life is for them so that they may go on I could just imagine all of my ancestors packing into me like a bunch of Moochie relatives couchsurfing in my body for 80 years if we were so lucky I was a vessel for multitude I don't like the sound of that I needed privacy in order to feel myself but Gigi said that Christ was always there our ancestors – there was nothing that was indivisible even me she said I had so so many inside of me everyone suggested that Gigi take some time to recuperate – take it easy she fought them all and we took it as a sign of her good health the ALC relented and allowed her to return to works but only on dobos assurance that Gigi would receive extra help at home and I did an additional pair of eyes the idea was raised to find a live-in assistant but Gigi revolted she refused to be watched over by a stranger and certainly not in her own house few solutions presenting themselves checked but not checkmated she gradually consented on the condition that the extra care come from one of her children even though mother and daughter had never known peace it was decided they grace would move into GG's house everyone gladly dropped the issue and for a brief moment all was quiet at 11:00 11:00 sky Crest Drive hi I'm Marie Holmes thank you to everyone who made tonight possible and thank you to all of you tonight for being here I'm going to read from a novel that I'm working on from page 94 which there are only that many pages because of the support of the Center for sections and big things the main character's name is Maddie she's a lesbian she's pregnant about 34 weeks and she is checking into a psychiatric ward come on this way the nurse showed Maddie the art room where a few student collages hung on one wall like in elementary school they peeked into another room a blue toned conference room that could have been in any office a lot of the groups will meet here said the nurse she used a key on her lanyard to open an adjacent door it was a small supply room wire shelves reaching to the ceiling did you bring anything up with you from the ER Maddie shook her head okay so this should be quick then because part of this is I'm supposed to inspect your belongings but we'll do that when someone brings them up did you come in with shoes yes do they have shoelaces on them yes okay so we'll have to hold on to the laces but you can have the shoes if you want to try wearing them without the laces for now I'll just give you some no slips socks the nurse grabbed another pair of the seafoam green socks let's see how should we do this usually I use the room but it looks like your roommate is in there and I don't want to disturb her a roommate Maddie stomach sank and the baby kicked as though in reaction the nurse grabbed a hospital gown and use one of the neckties to attach it to the steel bar of the show unit then she grabbed another corner of the gown and tied it to the shelving unit right across from it and made an uneven curtain with a fairly steep downward slope that'll work she looked at it sideways I think Maddie pulled the edge of one of the gowns she was wearing into her closed fist okay so you stand on one side here just stay here the nurse lifted the gown curtain and past under it Maddie could see the top of her head where her shiny ponytail was gathered and below the legs of her scrub pants from the knees or so on down and her shoelace free brown clogs the expensive slip-on kinds with the heel bands lesbian shoes now take off one gown and just hand it over to me maddie untied a gown and toss it over this for college she thought we'd be in a sorority together and this would be a shower theme and the other one socks too Maddie looked down at her bulging stomach was the Linea nigra getting darker she wondered or was it just that her perception had changed after seeing herself in full view in the shower are you wearing underwear yes I mean kind of for the hospital one's perfect I'll toss them and get you a fresh pair Maddie was surprised by how quickly she felt the cold all right now I'm sorry about this I need to ask you to do five jumping jacks jumping jacks Maddie repeated yes five of them yes just to make sure you aren't you know hiding anything the other option would be a cavity search and I'd rather not put you through that okay Maddie swallowed understood they don't have to be too too vigorous I just need to see your feet move Maddie covered her dark nipples with the palms of her hands and pushed in her breasts she jumped her feet out to the sides and they obediently slapped the linoleum her belly bounced with the impact she wondered if she jumped hard enough she might be able to get some contractions going get herself sent back to labor and delivery which now seemed like some sort of luxury hotel of its fresh paint and fresh flowers and non contraband shoelaces too and Mattie counted silently three and four and five and she wiggled her feet back together and lowered her hands to her belly there was a little taps down below and she imagines the baby reaching up to give her a high five hey everybody thank you all for coming I'm Daniel de Stefano a quick heartfelt thank you to the Center for fiction and Sarah Navid and everyone here and to the other fellows it's been such an amazing experience and I can't wait to read all of your your wonderful books someday in the future near near future hopefully I'm working on a novel called the things I do for you which is about three generations of an italian-american family and this chapter is from the third generation it's called la paz' I studied abroad in Italy and though I tell people the semester was the most transformative experience of my life truth is I was terribly lonely the whole time missing my parents of all people and pining for a girlfriend back home whom I eventually cheated on with Brooke Helden a round-faced North Carolina girl cheating on her own boyfriend feeling an adult-sized guilt hanging off us like someone else's clothes we each dumped our significant others within days of arriving home lied to our parents and met in DC where we quickly discovered whatever nugget of chemistry spurring us to cheat in the first place that never made its way stateside I never think of the Colosseum the canals of Venice the espresso the food God not even the food whenever I think of Italy but rather the shame of letting one relationship fail and another to never take root returning home to immediate singledom and overbearing parents who might not only not list anymore but became downright vindictive towards as being something I could ever miss and then came the new loneliness in me that had felt like a person who'd smuggled himself home in my luggage only to stock me around every room in America all of this was Italy's fault not mine so I hated Italy I regretted ever going there ever thinking I was Italian ever being naive enough to believe love was as transferable as a baton in a relay race to the end of your days past breezily onward from her to her to her so when ET while planning our honeymoon asked you ever make it to Sicily I just told her no isn't your family from there only my mother's father look at how cheap this is no I said taking her laptop flying into Rome then take a sleeper car to Sicily it'll be even cheaper look at you Rick Steves Edie worked all through college she went to Ireland once with her entire family to meet some distant cousin before he died she still wears the enormous green reunion shirt whenever we paint something but she's never been to Italy and has always wanted to go come on to Tsavo she said taking her computer back we should do this she knows of my cheating fiasco but not how terrified I am that some ember of loneliness has been kept burning all these years only to be stoked by a return to its source still how nice a do-over could be rather than the empty chairs across from me my first go around there'd be Edie my wife by then stirring her cappuccino than licking foam from the spoon asking me how to say such and such an Italian and me racking through every file in my brain to find the right word for her we should I told her and meant it our already married friends warned us not to spend the whole cocktail hour taking pictures we didn't not to get too drunk we did not to book the honeymoon flight too early the next day we did and that it was okay if rather than having sex after the reception we just wanted to sleep but we couldn't wait to finally be alone calling each other mrs. mr. while undressing and making silly jokes so this is what consummating feels like only to stop at one point and it acknowledged this is different in a good way yes in a good way and now standing in termini station a measly 24 hours later not entirely sure whether I'm still hungover or already jet-lagged I'm amazed at how familiar Italy is the mechanically female voice tending off the marble to announce delays always delays that Jacob's Ladder click click click click click of the arrival departure board updating itself the frustrated crowds of people gawking up to the board as it's waiting for a sign from on high then grabbing their bags and scattering frantically to their trains he's too busy rifling through our luggage to join me at the infirm at sea on a desk where the clerk immediately began speaking to me in English he helps me book our overnight train to Sicily points to which Benari oh it will leave from and direct me to where we can store our bags for the day when I returned to eating she has our whole suitcase filleted open on the station's floor and is too busy ransacking through every compartment to notice me booked our train where's that toiletry bag I remember seeing it on the hotel floor reminding myself not to forget it and forgetting it my birth control was in there why pack that there maybe I was a little preoccupied with getting married to you FairPoint I know they're all Catholic here but we can find some Italian birth control I'm not taking Italian birth control just pull out III say she zips up our bag and we walk only a few paces before I have to ask did you really put it in that bag she stops Paul just ask me what you want to ask me don't you still want to wait don't you we are not even out of the goddamn train station yet and we're already looking at each other with raised eyebrows congratulations Italy you have sucked me again [Applause]

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