Thursday, May 6, 2010

Yukon River

("Yukon River," part of the Little America collection, now available from the Ohio State University Press, was first published by Missouri Review, where it was a runner-up for the Editor's Prize. )

I loved Sam J. Miller review on Blogging Brilliant Stories

Sam has some interesting thoughts about endings.

Here's how the story begins:

It’s mostly drunk Indians where I’m working at the moment. Better than mostly white guys. Indians just drink. White guys, it’s got to be you look like somebody.

ThereeOne night this guy Len shows up; he’s stopping in Seattle to get some final stuff before heading to Alaska. He’s going to settle on some land he bought, out in the bush, way up the Yukon River. He doesn’t think I look like anybody but he wants me to come with him.

Every night he waits for me in the Doughnut Hole two doors down. It’s a dump and nobody’s ever there but him and a bum lady Irene. Irene tells Len things she has learned from messages coded into license plates of cars that go by on First Avenue. She tells him he was burned at the stake in a previous life so not to worry about that again. He should watch out for green death rays though. Don’t worry about the other colors, Irene says. Len frowns, listening carefully so that Irene won’t feel bad. . . .

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Little America

Here's the beginning of Little America, originally published in Beloit Fiction Review, now out in the collection of the same name from Ohio State University Press.

They'd all blow into some hick town where Hank and Lorraine would put on a program in the hall they'd rented for the night. Gorgeous in aviators and rattlesnake books, Hank jumped and spun and flirted with the ladies and men alike as Lorraine chain smoked and flipped charts to show how people in other towns had gotten rich or improved somehow since they'd bought what Hank was selling. When it was over--sometimes even before it was over--they'd jump in the car and speed out of there, driving a hundred miles before stopping to sleep, hank singing all the way.

Billie--who spent the evenings watching TV in the motel room if they had one or reading romance novels in the back of the hall if they didn't--knew they were crooks of some sort. Beyond that, she didn't know much, such as where they come from or what their real names were. Even the idea that most people had a "real name" as opposed to the name you were using just then was something she didn't pick up until the third grade when the teacher asked why she was writing Barbara Miller on her papers instead of Billie Moore which was what she'd come in as. . .

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Starry Night

(To see the rest of "Starry Night," go to College Hill Review at,)

At five I go to the address on Lafayette Street. It’s a cocktail bar Kim read about in New York Magazine. It doesn’t have a name and there’s no sign; you just have to be in the know. That’s the kind of thing she loves.

I find the number on a big black door. It’s a horror movie type of door. The kind that the girl always pushes open and walks through anyway.

I push it open and walk through anyway. I go past the dark, shiny bar where lime-colored lights shoot up behind the bottles. Then, into a darkish room. Hundreds of tiny hanging lights are supposed to look like stars in a black night sky.

No Kim or Christopher yet.

Well, I certainly don’t mind sitting here alone. I order a Jameson and sit back. I’m almost the only one here. Maybe they should put up a sign.

But no, it looks like a lot of people have been reading New York magazine, because soon the place starts to fill up.

The little tables are so close together you’ve got to listen to everybody’s conversation. On my right are two girls with a bottle of white wine. One of the girls has a big secret that she can’t tell her friend. On my left are two other girls drinking orange martinis out of glasses the size of soup bowls. One of these girls has something she just has to tell.

I like New York and I’m not sorry I came, but I have noticed, it’s nearly impossible to drink in peace. . .

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Dominicans Only Ones Can Dance

"Dominicans Only Ones Can Dance" was published in Spindle

Silhouetted against the lights of the city, a small, wiry man in jeans and a tight sweater is dancing, holding an imaginary partner at arm’s length, his small hands high and delicate.

I stand in the doorway of the darkened room, but he doesn’t seem to see me.

Viv—what is left of her--is propped up in her bed, watching. She is little more than a skeleton. A white plastic tube runs from her nose to a torpedo-shaped tank beside her bed. She is motionless except for the labored breathing.

Only her hair, thick, elegantly waving, is still glamorous and young. Movie star hair, still.

“Hey, Viv,” the man is saying. “You stepping on my foot. You got to follow me now. OK, we’re dancing hello. Now, I’m dancing, well, what’s your name? You say, ‘Well, my name is Viv and I bet you’re Eddie. I heard of you Eddie, you’re just about the coolest guy around they say, best dancer in NYC.’ Oh yeah that’s me. No point trying to deny it when the truth’s the truth, right? Now let’s dance.”

With his hands held high to lead the imaginary Viv, he takes three steps, swiveling his hips with the first three moves, then throwing out his hip on the fourth, eyes serious and straight ahead. Hands up, he spins her, watches as she twirls under his arm.

The music is loud, but does not blare. Guitar. Flute maybe; a bit of horn.

The song ends and Eddie punches the button on his CD player, takes out the CD, and puts in another one.

“OK, OK, I know Tango’s your dance, really. OK, here we go now.”

He holds his arms out in front of him and looks ferociously straight ahead.

“Slow, slow, quick quick, slow,” Eddie counts. Slow I said! Don’t tell me that’s how they teach you down in Florida! These Cubans and whatnot? These rich guys can’t dance for nothin’ man. Eddie got you just in time. Dominicans only ones can dance. Aw, too soon!”

The song is over and he pushes the button on the box.

“OK, whew, now, we got to get a drink. No, got to drink. Here, drink.”

He comes around to the bedside stand and picks up a small plastic cup with something darkish in it, and Viv sips.

“Nope, all of it or Eddie’s gonna be mad. Eddie’s gonna say, hmm, maybe she don’t even like me. Maybe I got to look over this new chick peeking in at the door. But, naw. See how she drinks that old stuff for Eddie. Aw, she does like me a little bit after all. Got me a lady can dance the Tango I better stick with it. Beautiful lady too. Look at that all that silky hair. Guys be jealous of me. Little O-2 now, here we go.”

He holds a different cup while she sips.

“OK, breathe real nice and rest for me now. Rest now. Let me just sit beside you for a minute, till maybe you catch a nap. Whew, got to catch my breath too. Eddie’ll see you tomorrow about this time, OK? I know tomorrow’s not my day, but you act nice, you try a little harder to eat, I might pass by anyhow. They tell me you’re not eating. You gonna eat a little more or what?”

Viv nods.

“OK then.”

Eddie sits a moment longer, his own eyes closed, head back. Viv closes her eyes and her breaths seemed to come a little easier.

In a few minutes Eddie snaps himself to, packs his stethoscope and a blood pressure cuff into a blue shoulder bag, picks up the CD player and comes out into the living room. He takes a maroon leather jacket from the table, puts on a matching leather baseball cap and motions me to come out into the hallway.

“I’m not sure what this doctor told you,” he says, “but Viv’s not doing so good. She has a large mass in the lung. It’s too widespread to operate.”

“She’s dying?”

“I’m only the nurse. But what I can tell you is that she has a large inoperable mass in her lung and that she’s getting weaker every day.”

“Does she know.”

“Yeah, I think she does now. At first she was saying it was just the same old emphysema. But I think she’s making the switch now. You see a lot of people, you get so you can tell when they more or less get it. You see them start thinking about their good things. Like, she told me about her going dancing with some Cuban dude in Florida is why I bring in the box for a minute. Bring back some good times maybe. Too bad it had to be Cuban is all.”

“How long does she have?”

“She can probably live a little longer if she’ll take more nourishment. She could go fairly soon if she doesn’t. It’s good you’re here. You known her long?”

“Not long.”

“Well. She wakes up for a minute, maybe you get her talking about her good things. Memories and shit. When she was young. When she was hot.”

He gives me a quick up-and-down look.

“OK, baby, gotta go. Say, you ever been to the Bronx?”


“Well, we got to go up and look around one time.”

Monday, January 12, 2009


"Souvenir" was published in Local Knowledge, 2009