Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The following excerpts are from stories appearing in The Acorn Stories, copyright 1998, 2003. Read reviews of the book at Kirkus, Amazon.Com, (2nd edition reviews), and (1st edition).

From the story “Paying the Rent.”

I couldn’t help but notice how fat Lisa had become. She looked like one of those women who see themselves as big-boned, full-figured, girthful, well-rounded, plump—the kind who get blind dates as someone with “a nice personality.” She barely resembled her former self. Sure, she had always carried a wide load in the back, and her face retained baby fat all the way through twelfth grade, but I expected more—or rather, less—when, after a seven-year disappearance, she called to say “Guess who?” I still loved her bright blue eyes and bouncy blonde curls, but the rest of her looked like something created in a misshapen Jell-O mold.

From the story “Timothy Fast.”

“Very well,” said Memphis Lee. “But first, I have a gift for you.” He reached behind his back and retrieved something furry.

“A stuffed tarantula!” Ruth Feinstein grabbed the oversized toy from him and cradled it against her neck. “You’re so sweet. I’m sorry I called your place a dump and everything.”

Rubbing his temples, Timothy Fast said, “About those ties. . .”

“Look by the cash register,” said Memphis Lee. “We have the new graphics line. Senator Briggs was complaining about their violent imagery leading to street gangs and the disintegration of the American family, but the company made a contribution to his party, and now he calls them ‘the family values ties.’ I just love politics!”

From the story “Mae.”

As the afternoon train rushed by the graveyard, shaking the ground, an oak tree dropped an acorn near Cleburne’s grave. Mae wondered why nature made itself that way of acorn and oak remaking and dying and becoming something big to make something small to become something big, that way of making, that way of becoming, that way of everything becoming itself only to look for something else, and everyone else looking for everyone else looking to become, becoming in the process of looking.

Mae thought these things at her husband’s grave because she thought she and Cleburne would continue always in their becoming and remaking until the dying happened, but that somehow the dying would happen to both of them together, just as everything else happened to them both together. She always thought the becoming married made them become one, because she thought two people who existed as one for fifty-eight years could not become only one person who existed as one alone for even one minute, because this becoming . . . it could not lead to this point.

From the story “Oak.”

“Mom, there’s some things I’ve always wanted to say, if you would only listen. You have to forgive me, like I’ve forgiven you. I know it was wrong of me to get pregnant by some guy who isn’t worth marrying, but you know it was wrong of you to ask me to sneak off and get an abortion, so no one would find out—all to protect the Briggs family businesses.” Her voice grows louder as she begins to finally say what she feels inside.

“You and Daddy are the ones who closed down the only abortion clinic in Acorn. He’d roll over in his grave if he knew what you planned. Maybe you’ve gotten too caught up in high society. Maybe—” The machine beeps off. Shocked by her own words, Julie starts to call back and apologize, but she sets the phone down when she hears the trailer’s bedroom door slide open.

From the story “Mirrors: A Blackmail Letter.”

“You’re from Acorn, aren’t you?” Not a very good line, I suppose, but we really had seen each other before, made eye contact at the bank, the grocery, and the steak house. When male glances lock for a moment before diverting, eyes become mirrors.

You followed me back to Acorn that night, your headlights constantly reflected in my rearview mirror, the deep cadence of your voice constantly replaying in my mind. Separate cars—what better way to avoid conversation? And when you walked inside, you only talked about me, asked about me. I honestly knew nothing about you, except that you had just moved from Dallas, which you still visited constantly, and that you drove a nice car. Well, I learned about the Christian tattoo you got during a drinking binge, and I learned that you could talk like some kind of phone sex line. You should have mentioned your teenage son and your pregnant wife before that long talk in my kitchen, the long talk that happened after the time in each other’s arms.

From the story “Flip, Turn.”

I pulled myself up enough to see the alarm clock just across my room. 10:15! It had happened again: after dreaming during the night that my alarm clock was buzzing, I had gotten up and turned it off, realized I was dreaming, stayed in bed wondering whether I had also dreamed turning it off, then fallen asleep without turning it back on.

“Swimming,” I mumbled into my pillow. I was supposed to have met Jimmy Jacobs at Acorn College’s indoor pool around ten. Since I hadn’t gone swimming in weeks, I had no idea where my alumni I.D. was. I searched my disintegrating wallet, pulling out shreds of napkins, envelopes, and newspaper with scribbled numbers. Some of the numbers looked like combinations for P.O. boxes or lockers, while others looked like phone numbers, but none of them had words on them. My wallet housed numbers detached from their purpose. I thought I should keep them in case I needed them one day. But how would I know if I needed them, or which ones to use? Then I found a phone number with a familiar handwriting.

I could have called all the phone numbers to see if I recognized the voices of the people who answered. Then I could just hang up. Maybe that’s what people are doing—the people who call me then hang up. Maybe they sorted through old wallets and purses, found my number on a scrap of paper. After finding my I.D. in the dark recesses of my wallet, I stuffed all the numbers back in to recreate whatever equation they had formed, knowing I would probably not see them again until my wallet fell apart.

After pulling on swim trunks, T-shirt, and tennis shoes, I walked outside into Mom and Dad’s yard sale and suddenly remembered that I really need to get my own place.

Jimmy Jacobs wasn’t even at the pool when I got there. I decided not to mention it to my mother—never mind that I’m twenty-eight—because she would just say, “I’ve told you about that Jacobs boy.” From junior high ‘till well past high school graduation, no teenagers within a forty-mile radius of Acorn could get drunk, stoned, beat up, arrested, or pregnant without their parents asking, “You’ve been hanging around with that Jacobs boy, haven’t you?” By the time I graduated from college—a lot of good that did me, the new assistant manager at Ice Cream Dream—he was a husband, a father, and the pastor of Zionosphere Baptist Church.

From the story “Acorn Pie.”

People tell me a little more than they should. Well, a lot more than they should. Actually, people tell me way too much. Or they say too many things where I can hear them, which is just the same as telling me, as far as I’m concerned. Do they really think I won’t share what I heard with anybody? I mean, stories like these can’t just sit on a shelf in somebody’s brain. The more I think about it, the more sure I am that my neighbors want someone to tell their Acorn stories, that they don’t want to be just a small part of a small town in a big state in a big country. People aspire to leave something behind other than babies, a mortgage, and a nasty rumor or two. And they certainly want someone reliable telling it, like what my grandmother did when she chronicled the early folks of Acorn.