Green Hills Literary Lantern

 

 

 

Something Like the Truth

  

 

No matter whose voice is speaking, when the phone rings at seven a.m. on a Sunday, there’s need on the line. This time it was Roseanne Metz, the public relations officer, saying, “Jack, we had a student die on campus last evening.” Because I was being called, I knew the student she was about to name was an Admissions Office intern, and I thought, before she went on, of Ellen Volpe, who seemed capable of suicide, someone who could swallow a bottle of pills and lock the door behind her. “The student’s name is Jolene Hirsch,” Roseanne finally said. “I’m calling to let you know because I’ve been told you were her assistantship mentor.”

Not suicide then, I thought, and murmured, “Thank you for calling” and waited, stepping into the living room where Jolene Hirsch, Ellen Volpe, and six other interns had stood or sat the night before.

“Her parents are already here. Jolene died early this morning from a fall on a flight of stairs near her dormitory. A memorial service is planned for tomorrow for the entire campus community, and it’s hoped that you would be willing to speak.”

I crossed into the kitchen, my bare feet moving across the floor’s cold tile. Roseanne sounded like a press release. How many others had received this call? Jolene Hirsch had been intense, but shy. She’d been the kind of student who might not have had many friends. But when Roseanne added, as if she wanted to sound more candid, “Unfortunately, Jolene was drinking before the accident,” I felt myself turn hot because Jolene, while she’d nibbled on crackers and hummus and raw vegetables I put out for her and three other vegetarians, had sipped continuously on wine coolers.

When I was stuffing a slice of chicken quesadilla into my mouth, she’d made a face and taken a swig from her bottle. “You might be eating clones,” she’d said. “I read that they’re in the food supply now. Doesn’t that make you sick?”

I’d smiled, keeping my lips together so the mess in my mouth didn’t show. After I’d swallowed, I’d said, “I think there are vegetables like that now, too.”

“That’s not the same,” Jolene had said. “They don’t have nerves or brains,” and she’d laughed, taking another drink before turning away.

As she’s been doing for six years now, my wife Stacy was spending the month of April three times zones away in California with one of our three daughters, so I waited until noon to call her.

“I don’t remember her,” Stacy said. “Have you talked about her?”

“Probably not.”

“And yet she was just at the house for your party?”

“She was an intern. There’s eight of them. They don’t all get talked about.”

Stacy was quiet for a moment, but I had nothing else. A girl was dead. Talking on the phone about her felt like gossip. Then she said, “There’s wildfire in the area. We’re worried here.”

“It’s on the news,” I said. “It looks to be six or eight miles away.”

“That’s close for a fire like this. They started evacuating in the development that’s four miles from here. If it moves there, we’re next. All there is between us and them is brush and forest. I thought it was so wonderful to fly here when the weather was still chilly at our place, but this fire has us worried.”

“I’m watering all your stuff,” I said. “It hasn’t rained here since you left. It doesn’t feel like April.”

“You don’t know what dry is, Jack,” Stacy said.

“I’m speaking at the memorial service,” I said. “Fire or no fire, I wish the hell I was in California.”

Though it was 12:15, as soon as she hung up, I opened one of the beers left over from the party and took a long pull. The phone rang thirteen times during the afternoon and evening. Only Roseanne Metz, calling back for confirmation around four o’clock, left a message. By then I was so deep into drinking, working on leftover wine coolers, that I was afraid to answer.

On campus Monday, still wearing my black, gold-striped sweat pants and college-logo t-shirt, I slipped into my office half an hour early and closed the door. I read emails, three of them from other interns saying they were too upset to conduct tours, not a big problem in late April with fewer tours scheduled. Another was from Roseanne Metz, who still wanted to confirm my part in the memorial service. I scrolled through a dozen more before I sat staring at the intern schedule posted above my desk, trying out first sentences for condolence in my head until I heard voices and stepped out to listen to the staff compare rumors.

The stories, it turned out, were consistent. The outside steps where she’d fallen were concrete and led into the student center basement. She’d taken the first three one at a time and then jumped to take the last four of them at once, catching her heel on the bottom one. ”It doesn’t seem that far,” the receptionist said. “She must have been drinking way too much to have that happen.” What everyone seemed to know was that when Jolene had lost her balance, she’d flown backwards instead of being flung forward, her head striking the edge of a stair.

I didn’t add anything. None of the interns who had begged off were scheduled until one o’clock. I told Marsha Walsh, my secretary, to get a few subs for the afternoon. “I have an appointment to talk about the memorial service,” I said, and she looked as if she wanted to remind me to take a shower first, but she nodded, and five minutes later I walked by the accident site.  I wanted to stop and examine, but there were students milling around, and I felt embarrassment wrap its thick arms around me the way it did when I slowed down for a house fire. Gawking was permissible if I kept moving, but it was taboo to park.

I drove the mile and a quarter to my house, stopping first to pick up two six packs at the convenience store. I bought warm to keep myself from opening one, but then there was nothing to do but sit in front of the television and stay away from the refrigerator for an hour and a half before I had to shower and change. At noon, while I ironed my only white shirt, I sealed wrinkles so deeply into the sleeves I reminded myself never to take off the jacket of my dark suit no matter how crowded and warm the reception afterwards might become. Three times I wove a gray tie into a Windsor knot before the wide end reached close enough to my belt to keep me from shame. I tugged it tight at my throat and pulled a beer from the refrigerator.

Just the one I had, but between the beer and the suit, I was sweating when I arrived at the on-campus service. I took a seat to the right of the President and the chaplain. Eulogies, it said in the program, my name listed the first of three. When Jolene’s parents were escorted to the front row, Mrs. Hirsch looked too old to have a twenty year-old daughter. I’d turned fifty-six a month before, and she looked older than I did. Even more unsettling, her husband walked with a shuffle that said fear of falling had become a priority.

“It is difficult,” I began after the chaplain offered an opening prayer, “to find the words that preserve us, keeping the stories of those we know and love from turning into secrets again . . .”

I spoke about talent and promise, how the short stories by a college junior predicted, not necessarily a life of literary fame, but certainly one of richness and achievement. It felt like the truth. Jolene had showed me a few of her stories, and they’d seemed ordinary. I praised her discipline--“sticktoitiveness,” I called it, citing my father’s constant use of the word as a form of praise.

And then I sat down and had half an hour to think about how Jolene had finished at least three of those wine coolers at the end-of-the-semester party I hosted twice a year, that her evening had started at my house where, since I’d taken my job, I’d allowed students of any age to drink. When the President, after the service ended, said, “We should talk,” I imagined defending myself by saying all of those students walked over a mile back to school because I didn’t allow cars. And when the President’s wife moved so readily alongside Mr. and Mrs. Hirsch as we left the chapel, I estimated the disgust he was already feeling.

The President slowed, and I kept pace until we were half a block behind his wife and the Hirsches. “What can you tell me?” he said.

I swallowed but kept moving, afraid, if I turned to face him, my fear would be transparent. “What do you want to know?”

“Something like the truth,” he said, and I had to force my feet forward in order to stay beside him.

“Well,” I started, pressure building in my groin. I glanced up, squinting as the sun reflected off the windows of the library that stood a block from the President’s house.

“We don’t have much time here, so let me put it a different way,” he said. “Give me three details about this young woman that I can use this afternoon.”

“Ok,” I said. “Her favorite writer was Alice Munro. She could name every organization on campus. She was a vegetarian.”

“Good,” he said, quickening his pace. “Now let’s get to work.”

During the reception at the president’s house, I met Jolene’s three sisters—seventeen, fifteen, and thirteen, ages that seemed even more improbable for how old her parents looked. All of them looked frightened. “Jolene was the smart one,” the thirteen year old told me. “She could be drunk and sit down with Mom and Dad at dinner and they’d never know.”

She hugged me like I was her brother, her arms half extended. “That’s why she was such a good writer,” she said before her sisters took her hands and backed her away.

A moment later, I felt a hand rest on my forearm, pressing tightly through my sleeve. “Mr. Elser,” a voice said from the side, and then Jolene’s mother was there in front of me. “Thank you for speaking.”

I lifted her hand and clasped it as I considered what to say. “This is awful,” I managed.

“Worse than that,” she said as Mr. Hirsch shuffled toward us.

Jolene had told me he was fifty-seven, but his hair, what remained of it, was near white, and he carried himself with the slight stoop of the elderly, the sort of posture that suggested a future of creep to cane to walker, and finally, to wheelchair. He was one of those men who turned seventy on his fiftieth birthday and subsequently never aged except through the legs.

Hardly anything worse than visible weakness could happen to a man, I thought, a conviction I was ready to defend. “Hello,” I said, “I’m Jack Elser.”

Without speaking, Mr. Hirsch took my hand and fixed on me, the room shrinking to the pinpoint of his face like an old television picture diminishing to a centered dot.

“George, this is Mr. Elser,” Jolene’s mother said, speaking as if she’d just returned from getting a glass of punch. Mr. Hirsch squeezed my hand and let go, but his expression didn’t change. “Jolene’s mentor in the Admissions Office.”

“I’m sorry,” I said, “I should have something to say here, but I don’t.”

Jolene’s mother smiled. “Some things have no words for them,” she said.

I wondered if both of them had looked younger two days ago, whether grief could crease a face, draw moisture from the skin. Or anticipation, I thought then. Three more daughters to send to college. I felt nauseous, as if I were catching her despair like a disease.

“Thank you for being kind to Jolene,” she said at last. “To her work.”

What I had sensed when her husband had touched me returned. This woman had read my once-a-semester evaluation comments. I wondered if she’d read any of the stories Jolene had written over the past three years, what she might say to Warren Zale and Cynthia Waxman, the fiction professors who were standing together across the room. “She worked hard,” I said.

“Of course she did. But now that’s all past, isn’t it? Now she’s done with working.” Her hands twisted my suit coat. “I’m fifty-three years old, and now my daughter is a story.”

I watched her face for the first sign of rage, but only resignation settled upon her. “I want to do something in her memory,” I blurted, a fresh burst of sweat breaking out on my forehead. “I’d like, if you’re willing, to begin a scholarship fund in Jolene’s name.”

She kept my coat in her hands and drew closer. “You’re so kind,” she said, and I thought, for a moment, she was inspecting my sweat, gauging something.

“I’ll pledge $5,000 to get it started,” I said. “It’s the least I can do.” I thought I might throw up, that she might tug my coat off to evaluate the sweat stains and wrinkles on my shirt. She leaned up and kissed me on the cheek, releasing my arm and stepping back beside her husband who was staring at me as if he’d just entered a class reunion after forty years of separation.

I made an excuse about using the bathroom, and though there was one on the ground floor, I climbed the stairs that led up from a hall that divided the house to search for another one. For five minutes I sat on the edge of a bathtub behind a locked door, willing myself to relax. No one tried the knob or knocked. No one was in the hall when I stepped back out, but when I glanced through the doorway of the bedroom across the hall, I saw suitcases sitting open on the bed, and I pulled the door shut, steadying myself against it after the bolt clicked into place.

As I started down the stairs, I saw Mr. Hirsch standing in the hall near where coats would be hung if it were winter. Now, there was just the long, polished bar and a few dozen wooden hangers bunched together at the far end where Mr. Hirsch stood holding a drink half-filled with ice cubes.

I paused on the landing of the two-tiered staircase, looking down at the pink crown that showed through the wisps of white hair combed across Mr. Hirsch’s head. Suddenly, without turning, Mr. Hirsch tilted his head back until his eyes found me. His throat was so arched I could see his Adam’s apple working as if he were swallowing something before he spoke.

I waited while Mr. Hirsch swallowed a second and then a third time with his eyes rolled up at me. At last, he spoke. “I know how endowments work,” he said, his voice steady. “You have quite a long way to go.” I glanced down the stairs to see that no one else had drifted out of the two large reception rooms. I walked down the carpeted stairs without looking back at Mr. Hirsch. When I reached the bottom, I headed directly to the front door, hearing the President’s voice say, “Jack, how wonderful of you” as I stepped off the porch.

I didn’t pause. I followed the brick path until it ended at the sidewalk. Let him think, for a while longer, that I was modest. Or generous.

Hours later I sat outside eating tortilla chips with bean dip while I drank beer. Dinner seemed impossible, but the chips and dip and beer gave me something to do while the sky darkened.

When I heard knocking on the front door, I blew out a breath and stood. “Ok,” I murmured, but there wasn’t a car parked along the street, and I went around the corner of the house to look. A boy who looked to be college age pulled his hand back from the brass knocker and stepped off the porch. “Brett Helms,” he said. “Jolene’s boy friend. I wanted to talk to you at the reception, but you were up and gone before I could reach you.”

“Let’s go sit on the patio,” I said before I thought about how I hadn’t cleared the table, but Brett Helms sat down as if he didn’t see five cans clustered there. I took it as discretion. Nearly offered him a beer. Instead, I nudged the bag of chips his way. “No thanks,” he said, and he rose from his chair and stood by the low wall that angled up to meet the back of the house.

“Jolene always made herself throw up when she was drinking,” he said. “She barfed right before she left the room on Saturday. Skinny was important. Even when she was drunk she remembered to throw up.”

Brett Helms seemed determined to say something terrible, but then he went silent and looked around at all of the plants that surrounded the patio. “It’s like a jungle out here,” he said.

“Somewhat,” I said. “for sure. My wife buys a potted plant for our anniversary each year, but these seventeen are the only survivors.”

“Fuck,” Brett Helms said, maybe letting me know how stupid anniversary talk was.

“Sorry,” I said. “I just wanted to explain about how they do better now that we live in North Carolina and they can stay outside nine months a year.”

“No lie,” he said. “A fucking jungle.” Brett Helms, I realized, was drunk. “She cried, you know,” he said. “She’d show me the things Zale and Waxman wrote on her stories, and she’d be crying, but she never cried when she showed me your evaluations.”

They were generous, I almost said aloud. “She was a good guide,” I said, and when Brett Helms backed up one step, he nearly smacked his head against a pot hanging from the cast iron bar Stacy had had put in the summer we’d moved.

“You have characters here that aren’t seen at all deeply,” he said as if he was reading Zale’s and Waxman’s comments from a page. “Let them stay in a scene more than momentarily and see if that pressure might give them something that suggests complexity.”

Brett Helms recited another half page of comments before he came out of his trance and switched back to conversation. “I tried to call you last night, but you weren’t picking up. I knew you were there. I could feel it.” He took a deep breath and let it out between his pursed lips. “Jolene read your evaluations over and over. I think she was trying to memorize what it was that pleased you so she could do more of that for somebody else.”

I looked from one plant to another, willing to hear Brett Helms out. “I don’t know what she saw in that fucking job of yours,” he said. “It’s all so canned over there. Did you ever walk along on one of those tours? And here it is she’s like somebody in one of her own stories. There’s always somebody dying in them.” He paused, fingering the rope that held the hanging pot. “Fuck,” he said, “if I had any balls, I’d call you out for serving her drinks on Saturday and see what happened.”

“It’s ok,” I said. “I’d deserve it.”

His eyes locked on mine. “You just think you do,” he said. “You’re just imagining you had something to do with Jolene’s life.” He pivoted and punched the large flowerpot. It rocked up and back, but didn’t fall. I thought he might have broken his hand, but his face showed no evidence of physical pain. “See you around,” he said.

He cut across the back yard, heading, I figured, back to the college. Not once, while I watched, did he touch his hand. When I laid my hand on the flower pot to assess how hard it was, I discovered it was made from something like rubber, that it was so light it gave against my fingertips.

An hour later I lay in bed holding a notebook. Without Stacy around, I had all of my paperwork arranged where she slept, and I thought, despite the beer, that I could sketch out a proposal for extended travel into territory where the college had never recruited heavily. All I had to do was make a case for generating name recognition more than three hundred miles away.

While I sat there, the phone rang three times at exactly ten minute intervals, but no one left a message. When twenty minutes passed without another call, I told myself whoever it was had given up, but the notebook had turned foreign, like one that might be filled with calculus formulas or history notes from decades ago. One of the student interns was sure to have mentioned the party at my house. It didn’t take Brett Ellis.  

Showered and shaved by 5:30, I went to the office at six a.m. I finished everything necessary for the day by nine o’clock, and then I turned off the lights and locked the door. When someone knocked, I held my breath and waited two minutes before I let myself shift in my chair.

The day before the party Jolene had turned in a rough draft of a story about new roommates on the first day of college. She’d brought a copy to the party and handed it to me. “I know it sucks,” she said, “but there’s Admissions in it, and I want you to read it and tell me if it sounds real.”

“Making the ordinary new is hard,” I’d finally said, thankful that the words seemed to surprise her.

“Ordinary,” she said, using the index finger of her right hand to brush her hair from where it swept in front of her eyes. “That’s me, all right.”

Standing in my living room, a beer in one hand, I curled her manuscript into a cylinder, and for a moment I thought of raising it to one eye and peering at her like a pirate examining a passing ship. Instead, I let it uncurl, glanced at it, and tapped it against my hip, and when she stayed quiet, I laid it on an end table under a lamp. The first line had read, “I felt sadder than I’d ever been when my parents got in their car and left me in my new dorm room.”

As soon as I looked at her again, I saw that she had been watching me read. “That’s all bullshit,” she said. “I should have just started with the truth. My roommate thought I was weird because I didn’t follow my parents to the parking lot when they were leaving, and then I didn’t even watch them get in the car from the window.” She waved toward the top page of the rough draft. “My roommate did. She watched my parents and waved, and I thought she was pretending to be me standing in the shadows like she did.”

Jolene had hesitated then, as if she expected a suggestion for revision, but I’d remained quiet. She’d looked at the pictures of my three daughters lined up on the nearby bookshelf. “They’re older here than in the ones in your office,” she said.

“What?”

“Your daughters,” she said, but she’d pointed to the manuscript. “You know what my roommate said, Mr. Elser? ‘Your Mom and Dad both looked up here. I thought you’d want to know.’”

“Good,” I said. “Now your reader’s listening,” and she’d looked puzzled.

“That’s not good,” she said. “That’s ugly.”

“That’s why your reader wants to know more.”

“I don’t know why,” Jolene said, yet she promised to revise.

All year I’d noticed Jolene in the fitness room at six a.m. every Tuesday and Thursday, the mornings I worked out, going early because I was supposed to be in my office at 8:30. She came by herself like the other half dozen skinny girls who were always on the elliptical machines, all of them churning the pedals for an hour. I’d never seen one of those girls leave except the times I’d arrived late, 6:30 or 6:45 to do twenty minutes of pedaling and twenty minutes of free weights before the football players arrived for weight training at 7:30.

The heavy girls always came in pairs. They chose the treadmills and walked them on “level” in silence, looking straight ahead through the glass wall as if they were afraid of passersby. They exercised in sweat pants with baggy shirts. The skinny girls all wore earbuds; they wore shorts that showed their boyish thighs.

Once, when I went at 6:45 on a Friday, trying to make up for three consecutive nights of drinking, Jolene was there, and I realized she worked out every day, grinding out hundreds of miles per week.

My office phone rang fifteen minutes after the knocking. Marsha, the display read, so I picked up. “I knocked, but you didn’t answer,” she said.

“Sorry, I was in the middle of something.”

“The President would like you to come to his house for a few minutes during the lunch hour.” She paused, and I looked at the door in expectation. “To say goodbye to the Hirsches. They want to thank you for everything.”

She paused again. “$5,000, Mr. Elser. Everybody’s heard about it. Do you want me to set it up for ten years at $500 annually so you complete the donation by the time you retire?”

“I’ll take care of it,” I said, hanging up before she could offer something less per year until her estimation of when I would die.

I checked the news on the Internet without turning on the light. The wind had shifted in California, and the fire had stalled. I’d call Stacy at five after I made it home. For now, there was plenty of time to go to the campus center.

I’d had knee surgery at fifty and recovered, but after I took the first three concrete steps one at a time and jumped, I felt a shock of pain right up from my ankles through my knees and hips and into my shoulders. And then, except for a persistent ache in my repaired knee, it dissipated and was gone. I’d cleared the bottom step by more than a foot.

I walked back up and stood on the landing a second time. Nobody was watching. I chose a spot to aim for three inches from the base of the first stair and jumped the last four steps again. This time I felt more pain, but I’d landed less than six inches from the bottom step and barely swayed. An ending had rushed up to meet me but blown right by into the past.

In early April, just after Stacy had flown to California, a consultant had come to campus to evaluate admissions and financial aid. During the first of his two days here, I’d arranged for him to speak individually with Jolene and three other interns.

The day ended with dinner and preliminary talks, but the consultant said he was happy to stay at the restaurant for drinks, that he wanted to stay out of his motel room as long as possible. “Jack’s your man,” someone said, and I laughed. “I know what you mean,” I said. “I have an empty house, and it’s only 7:30.”

Two drinks later, the consultant leaned my way at the bar like a conspirator and said, “Those girls you had me talk to this afternoon were the kind you might risk your job for.”

“Once upon a time,” I said, playing host.

“They’re so fuckable,” he said. “It’s a good fucking thing I don’t work your job or I’d be out on my ass.”

The words followed me to the President’s house. The consultant had expected me to say something like “Fuck, yes.” As if he had a reason for such confidence. As if he knew me.

Jolene, three days ago, had drifted back into the living room as the other students were leaving. After she’d looked at the photos of my daughters, she’d said, “You’re so young to have children so old.”

“Not so young as you think,” I’d said.

“You’re just saying that. What are they, thirty or something? Did you start having them when you were still in college?”

“No,” I’d said at once, hearing in her tone that thirty was the brink of middle age.

She’d smiled. “But right after, for sure.”

Right then fifty-six sounded like something terrible, and I remembered joking with Stacy about going over the speed limit on my birthday. The crowd had thinned to four, and she’d moved from picture to picture so slowly that I began to feel myself stir as I studied her thin, toned body, the way her breasts sat high on her chest and swelled the tight blue blouse she wore. The way I could see the definition in her calves and thighs through her snug, beige slacks. The way, on the wooden floor, her small heels tapped as she moved. And when I heard voices from the kitchen say, “See you, Mr. Elser, thanks,” I answered “You’re welcome” in a voice that shifted higher.

The door slapped shut to silence, and Jolene laid one hand on my arm then, just above the elbow and nearly whispered, “You’re not that old” before she clattered across the kitchen calling, “Hey, wait up.”

The Hirsches’ youngest daughter was standing outside the President’s house, waiting, I thought, like a child who had been promised punishment if she came back inside to ask when they were going to leave. “What a house,” she said. “You ever stay overnight here?”

“No,” I said. “I work here. I’m not a guest.”

“Isn’t it kind of like being a guest when you work some place? You’re there for a while and then you leave.”

“In that case, the President’s a guest in his own house.”

Her expression turned guarded, but then she gave a short laugh and said, “You still remember when you were in eighth grade?”

“Sure. Algebra and junior high basketball and chasing after Nancy Jarvis.”

“Was she hard to catch?”

“I kept trying.”

“I mean did anything happen? Did you catch Nancy Jarvis?”

I glanced around the spacious yard, trying to figure what she was seeing—the perfectly weeded flower beds, the carefully trimmed shrubbery, the flight of stairs built into the hillside where the lawn ended, twelve flat stones that were ornamental now that a row of forsythia had grown in so thickly above them that no one had used those steps, I imagined, in years.

“No. Not really.”

“Then how could you stand it?” she said, sitting down on the lawn and drawing her knees up to her chin. “Take care,” I said, already moving toward the house.

“Yeah, whatever, right?” followed me inside where Mr. Hirsch seemed to cower as I approached him and his wife in the large living room. It was a look I hadn’t seen since college, when there were fights every weekend in my fraternity house. It came to me that fear became anxiety when it aged.

“I’m the one who asked President Hoy to call you,” Mrs. Hirsch said. “You’ve been so generous I’d like to give you something in return.”

She led me into the dining room where a folder lay on the table. “These are all of her stories,” Mrs. Hirsch said. “I want you to have them.”

“No, they’re yours.”

“I want them to be somewhere else than a box under her bed.”

I thought of the revision Jolene might have made to that story that turned out to be about a character so like herself grieving over lost love for her parents. Only Mrs. Hirsch would have glanced at it, and she may not have read past that early desperation to the redemption Jolene would have provided for her narrator without earning it.

“At least let me Xerox them and give you the originals,” I said. “After a while you might be glad you kept them.”

“No, I’m certain of this. Knowing someone who cared for her has her stories is like they’ve been published.”

I stared at the manuscripts as she undid the loop of colored string that tied the folder together. She fanned them out, and I counted nine stories altogether. My eyes went directly to the new one, scanning the beginning. “I didn’t follow my parents to the parking lot when they dropped me off at school. I stood in my room and imagined them turning around at the bottom of the stairs and looking back up, waiting for me to appear.” Either before or after she’d made herself throw up, Jolene had changed the first paragraph before she’d left her dorm room.

I gathered the stories together and retied the folder, slipping it under my arm. I let Mrs. Hirsch hug me like a mother, silently and extended, her breath on my neck, the sadness of her arms around me so unbearable I thought, for a few seconds, I was earning something.

 

Gary Fincke’s collection, The Killer's Dog, which won the Elixir Press Fiction Prize, was published in 2017. Braddock Avenue Books published his novel How Blasphemy Sounds to God in 2014. An earlier collection, Sorry I Worried You, won the Flannery O’Connor Prize. West Virginia University Press will be publishing The Out-of-Sorts: New and Selected Stories late this year.