I have been looking into schedules. Even when we read physics, we inquire of each least particle, What then shall I do this morning? How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing. A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days. It is a scaffolding on which a worker can stand and labor with both hands at sections of time.
On the first of each month,
a guest writer
how he or she spends the day.
March 1, 2018: Andrea Lewis
Narrow and tall, a moody gray, soft to the touch…all good, but the first thing to charm me was the title. What My Last Man Did. Ten stories that take us on a journey to the center of a family. “Tierra Blanca” leads us in with the voice of Hannah.
I had what I wanted. I was alone with Charles. He was driving and I was so nervous I was tearing little pieces off the edges of his road map.
I envied him these passions. If you had passions, you were living. Without them, you were watching–the way I was watching desert sand and half-dead creosote go by and wishing I’d stop craving attention from Charles.
The reader in me was getting comfortable, and then with this implicit exposition, a clever way to add backstory, the writer in me picked up her pencil and started to take notes.
I did not mention the sinkhole that threatened to suck me back into Galveston. Did not mention my sister Iris or how she once pointed a Remington over/under shotgun at a flesh-colored Chrysler Newport full of developers my mother had invited to evaluate our land. Did not mention…
Can you imagine a description that would bring paper towels to life?
The few boxes I had brought from Texas shared shelf space with boxes of brown paper towels that emitted the same alkaline aroma of defeat I remembered from junior-high bathrooms back home.
Toward the end of “Rancho Cielito,” you’ll discover stunning dialogue working in so many ways, but first, this lyrical passage that intertwines memory and place.
The heat of Galveston hits me as a thing measured more in memories that in degrees. Whenever I come home I find myself gauging heat and humidity by how much childhood grief they churn up. I never manage to separate the measurable from the immeasurable, the atmospheric from the melodramatic, the actual density of the air from the scents and sounds and sights it carries…The damp packed earth beneath the magnolias was our playground but even when I was small I watched the middle distance, as if my destiny might arise from the grooved line where the mangroves met the sky.
In “Queen Juliette” we take a leap back to 1895 and this description that both assures us it is 1895 and lets us know that fun things were happening even back then.
His wife paraded their daughter before me like a veal calf on market day. Seraphina Carolina Kincaid Gerrity. A lovely child, perhaps eighteen, overdressed and nervous under the ferret gaze of her mother. Mounds of alabaster flesh on display. The girl’s pink frock was so puffy she threatened to levitate to the punched-tin ceiling. She had pleasing green eyes and shot me the occasional mischievous glance. While my first thought was Frederick should meet this girl, I did find myself attracted.
Story number four, “Straight Next Time,” gives us a first sentence that curls its finger before us, luring us in.
Without Christophe, we would have perished on 12 August 1901.
The title story includes one of my favorite lines ever: “He kisses like he’s been to every world inside her.” And this.
I stole Cate’s dress off a high-nose white lady at the station. Stole her trunk and fenced the jewelry and a coat and alligator shoes. But the jiggly beads and shiny blue are Cate. Not just for the way she sings. Blue I’ll bet you anything is the color of her soul. I never knew a girl so happy and so sad at once. Smiling, crying, yelling, loving, eating, singing. She’s a runaway train no matter what.
In “Tchoupitoulas,” in addition to a terrific ending, another line I want to remember.
For Louis the world was maps, music, timetables, trains.
In the openings to the last four stories, Andrea’s range and skill is apparent.
“Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me” > Louis melds from the yellow afternoon into the tavern’s soft dark. Blinded, he goes by smell–spent matches, oiled wood, stale beer.
“The Empire Pool” > When I was nineteen my fiancé died. He died for England on May 10, 1943, in a mortar attack southwest of Tunis.
“Castle Bravo” > Carrington raised the silver coffeepot and forced herself to smile. She poured coffee violently enough to splash a few drops onto Alicia Parker’s pink dress.
“Family Cucurbita” > I had known Rick for twenty minutes before he told me about his wife’s dead uterus.
This collection is not to miss–the character development, the relationship between the two sisters, the slow build, the look backward to see how Iris and Hannah became who they are, the way these ten stories become so much more… What My Last Man Did won the Blue Light Books Prize, an annual award given to an outstanding short story collection or poetry collection on alternating years. The collection was published by the Indiana University Press in 2017. Its author, Andrea Lewis, is a founding member of Richard Hugo House–a place to read words, hear words, and make your own words better.
Come back on MARCH 1st to read how ANDREA LEWIS spends her days.