Black Maps


From GLOSSOLALIA (winner of a Pushcart Prize and a Best American Short Stories selection)

That winter, like every winter before it, my father woke early each day and turned up the thermostat so the house would be warm by the time my mother and I got out of bed. Sometimes I'd hear the furnace kick in and the shower come on down the hall and I'd wake just long enough to be angry that he'd woken me. But usually I slept until my mother had finished making our breakfast. By then, my father was already at Goodyear, opening the service bay for the customers who had to drop their cars off before going to work themselves. Sitting in the sunny kitchen, warmed by the heat from the register and the smell of my mother's coffee, I never thought about him dressing in the cold dark or shoveling out the driveway by porchlight. If I thought of him at all, it was only to feel glad he was not there. In those days my father and I fought a lot, though probably not much more than most fathers and sons. I was sixteen then, a tough age. And he was forty, an age I've since learned is even tougher.

. . .

If I had known what my father was going through that winter, maybe I wouldn't have treated him so badly. But I didn't know anything until the January morning of his breakdown. I woke that morning to the sound of voices downstairs in the kitchen. At first I thought the sound was the wind rasping in the bare branches of the cottonwood outside my window, then I thought it was the radio. But after I lay there a moment I recognized my parents' voices. I couldn't tell what they were saying, but I knew they were arguing. They'd been arguing more than usual lately, and I hated it--not so much because I wanted them to be happy, though I did, but because I knew they'd take their anger out on me, snapping at me, telling me to chew with my mouth closed, asking me who gave me permission to put my feet up on the coffee table, ordering me to clean my room. I buried one ear in my pillow and covered the other with my blankets, but I could still hear them. They sounded distant, yet somehow close, like the sea crashing in a shell held to the ear. But after a while I couldn't hear even the muffled sound of their voices, and I sat up in the bars of gray light slanting through the blinds and listened to the quiet. I didn't know what was worse: their arguments or their silences. I sat there, barely breathing, waiting for some noise.

Finally I heard the back door bang shut and, a moment later, the Chevy cough to life. Only then did I dare get out of bed. Crossing to the window, I raised one slat of the blinds with a finger and saw, in the dim light, the driveway drifted shut with snow. Then my father came out of the garage and began shoveling, scooping the snow furiously and flinging it over his shoulder, as if each shovelful were a continuation of the argument. I couldn't see his face, but I knew that it was red and that he was probably cursing under his breath. As he shoveled, the wind scuffed the drifts around him, swirling the snow into his eyes, but he didn't stop or set his back to the wind. He just kept shoveling fiercely, and suddenly it occurred to me that he might have a heart attack, just as my friend Rob's father had the winter before. For an instant I saw him slump over his shovel, then collapse face-first into the snow. As soon as this thought came to me, I did my best to convince myself that it arose from love and terror, but even then I knew part of me wished his death, and that knowledge went through me like a chill.

I lowered the slat on the blinds and got back into bed. The house was quiet but not peaceful. I knew that somewhere in the silence my mother was crying and I thought about going to comfort her, but I didn't. After a while I heard my father rev the engine and back the Chevy down the driveway. Still I didn't get up. And when my mother finally came to tell me it was time to get ready for school, her eyes and nose red and puffy, I told her I wasn't feeling well and wanted to stay home. Normally she would have felt my forehead and cross-examined me about my symptoms, but that day I knew she'd be too upset to bother. "Okay, Danny," she said. "Call me if you think you need to see a doctor." And that was it. She shut the door and a few minutes later I heard the whine of the Studebaker's cold engine, and then she was gone.

It wasn't long after my mother left that my father came home. I was lying on the couch in the living room, trying to figure out the hidden puzzle on "Concentration," when I heard a car pull into the driveway. At first I thought my mother had changed her mind and come back to take me to school. But then the back door sprang open and I heard him. It was a sound I had never heard before, and since have heard only in my dreams, a sound that will make me sit up in the thick dark, my eyes open to nothing and my breath panting. I don't know how to explain it, other than to say that it was a kind of crazy language, like speaking in tongues. It sounded as if he were crying and talking at the same time, and in some strange way his words had become half-sobs and his sobs something more than words--or words turned inside out, so that only their emotiona and not their meaning came through. It scared me. I knew something terrible had happened, and I didn't know what to do. I wanted to go to him and ask what was wrong, but I didn't dare. I switched off the sound on the TV so he wouldn't know I was home and sat there staring at Hugh Downs' smiling face. But then I couldn't stand it anymore and I got up and ran down the hall to the kitchen. There, in the middle of the room, wearing his Goodyear jacket and workclothes, was my father. He was on his hands and knees, his head hanging as though it were too heavy to support, and he was rocking back and forth and babbling in a rhythmic stutter. It's funny, but the first thing I thought when I saw him like that was the way he used to give me rides on his back, when I was little, bucking and neighing like a horse. And as soon as I thought it, I felt my heart lurch in my chest. "Dad?" I said. "What's wrong?" But he didn't hear me. I went over to him then. "Dad?" I said again, and touched him on the shoulder. He jerked at the touch and looked up at me, his lips moving but no sounds coming out of them now. His forehead was knotted and his eyes were red, almost raw-looking. He swallowed hard and for the first time spoke words I could recognize, though I did not understand them until years later, when I was myself a father.

"Danny," he said. "Save me."



From FREEZE (winner of a Pushcart Prize)

At first Freeze Harris thought Nam was a crazy nightmare, an upside-down place where you were supposed to do everything that was forbidden back in the world, but after a while it was the world that seemed unreal. Cutting ears off dead NVA had become routine; stocking shelves at Kroger's seemed something he'd only dreamed. Then, on a mission in the Iron Triangle, Freeze stepped on a Bouncing Betty that didn't go off and nothing seemed real anymore. It was like he'd stepped out of Nam when he stepped on the mine. And now he wasn't anywhere.



From FIRELIGHT

Jimmy hadn't planned to break the windows; he hadn't thought about it at all. He'd just been walking around the neighborhood, as he always did on the Saturdays his mother's boyfriend came to town. He'd left the apartment so quickly that he'd forgotten his mittens, and he walked with his hands balled in his jacket pocets. He thought about going back to get his mittens, but once when he'd gone home before he was supposed to, his mother and her boyfriend were in her bedroom with the door closed, making noises. He knew what those noises meant because one day at recess a third-grader named Evan was talking about what grown-ups do in bedrooms. "It's the same as dogs," he'd said. Jimmy couldn't imagine his mother doing such a thing with anybody, especially that vacuum salesman from St. Paul with his thick glasses and hairy ears. And maybe she didn't do it after all. Maybe they were in her bedroom because she was too tired to sit up in the living room and talk. She was always tired, even though she didn't work at the cafe anymore, and she spent most days in bed anyway. But what were the noises then?



From TORQUE

The day after his wife left him, taking their three-year-old son with her, Larry Watkins took out his circular saw, attached the metal-cutting blade, and carefully sawed his 1974 Cadillac Fleetwood in half. It was not an impulsive or crazy act, as his neighbors might have supposed. He had spent almost four hours the day before making the proper measurements, drawing the cutting line with a magic marker, and chaining one bumper to the garage wall and the other to the Chevy so the two halves wouldn't spring together when he cut the frame. And in a way, he had been planning this moment ever since 1985, when he came back to the U.S. after two years of guard duty and beer drinking for Uncle Sam in Germany. To celebrate their release from the service, he and his buddy Spence had rented a limousine for an hour and cruised around Virginia Beach, drinking Scotch from the limo's bar and looking at girls through the tinted glass. Spence was talking away about his plans: he was going to catch the next bus to Albany, marry his girl, and go to work in her father's office supply store. Larry hadn't given much thought to his future, so when Spence asked him what he was going to do when he got back to Minnesota, he said the first thing that came to his mind: "I'm gonna get me one of these limousines."



From THE BIGS

I am a baseball player. I come here from the Dominican Republic the home of Juan Marichal because baseball can't make you the same much of money in the Dominican League. That is why I live in the U S of A and play baseball for the Arkansas Travelers which are a team in the Texas League but live in Arkansas. The Arkansas Travelers are a team which is called a Double A team, meaning not so good as Triple A or Major Leagues--what everybody call The Bigs. Everybody here want to make it to The Bigs. There is no Bigs in the Dominican Republic and that is why I am living here so miserable and now that my family leave me I am more miserable ever than before. The only time I smile is after when I win a big game or if I forget for some minute and think my little Angelita is waiting at home for me to kiss her for goodnight. But tonight I am more miserable than I think a dead man because Coach he suspend me off the team and all because they leave me.

FICTION COLLECTIONS
11 stories from previous collections plus 6 new stories.
Winner of the AWP Award for Short Fiction. "Black Maps is a moving, impressive, deeply rewarding collection from a very talented writer."--Lorrie Moore (To read excerpts, please click on the title above.)
"The stories are executed with verve and wit, and one of them--'Shards'--is terrifying enough to have vexed my sleep for two nights running. A fine collection."--Tobias Wolff (To read excerpts, please click on the title above.)
ESSAY COLLECTIONS
Seven essays on such subjects as writing what you don't know, point of view, the music of syntax, epiphanies, structuring story collections, and the role of contradiction in the creative process. (To read excerpts from these essays, please click on the title above.)
ANTHOLOGIES
Thirty-two essays on the craft of poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction by past and present faculty of the acclaimed Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA in Writing Program. (For the Table of Contents and an excerpt from the Preface, please click on the title above.)
A showcase for the finest contemporary examples of nearly 75 traditional forms, ranging from ballads and sonnets to kyrielles and pantoums, by nearly 200 poets, this anthology demonstrates how today's poets have experimented with the old forms to make them "new" and relevant to our times. (To read an excerpt, please click on the title above.)
An anthology of the finest poems and short stories published in Crazyhorse, the journal Raymond Carver called "an indispensable literary magazine of the first order." (To read an excerpt, please click on the title above.)
POETRY COLLECTIONS
Winner of the Fleur-de-Lis Press National Poetry Book Competition. "Compassion, humor, restless intelligence, and flawless technique come together brilliantly in You Are Not Here to create poems of real tenderness and classical restraint."--Maura Stanton (To read excerpts, please click on the title above.)
"Jauss sees the exercise of style as a form of pilgrimage to the human heart. And he knows the heart in all of its intricacies, misery, and splendor. It is hardly the fashion anymore to label a book as noble--but no other word will suffice."--David Wojahn (To read excerpts, please click on the title above.)
MISCELLANEOUS ESSAYS AND INTERVIEWS
Selected essays and interviews on the West Memphis Three, the craft of writing, jazz poetry, minimalism, Anton Chekhov, Flannery O'Connor, William Carlos Williams, James Wright, Stephen Dunn, Lynda Hull, and other writers and subjects. (To read excerpts, please click on heading above.)