Claudia Smith Chen

from Box City

1983, Houston, Texas. October­.  According to the Colonial Americans, this was the Hunter’s moon.  Trip found a big swath of vel­vet tucked away in Judy’s clos­et.  It was mid­night blue.  “This is what the guy meant when he sang about blue vel­vet,” Trip told Nora.   They cut stars from card­board and wrapped them in tin­foil, attach­ing them to the cloth, and sang By the Light of the Silvery Moon as he cut the cres­cent moon.  Their plans were to go trick-or-treat­ing across the city.   They might even go to the beach; last Halloween, Trip drove through the shal­low waters and let Nora stand in the back of the pick-up.  Sea foam glowed in the moon­light.  Trip drove all night, win­dows down, full of cof­fee and sticky donuts from the gas sta­tions.  Nora had fal­l­en asleep some­where along the jour­ney, and woke up the next morn­ing, feet hot under the blast­ing heater, taste of chalky can­dy bars in her mouth, the elas­tic band of her Casper mask itch­ing her chin.  They’d had pie and black cof­fee in a din­er and called Judy from the road.

There was a sparkle to every­thing that fall.  Trip said you could feel it, a crack­le when you reached up into the cold night air.

And then it hap­pened.  Not a date, exact­ly, but per­haps some­thing bet­ter than a date.  Trip and Nora had din­ner with Tamara.  Dick couldn’t pick her up, the details were fuzzy, and Tamara said she felt glum.  That was her word, glum.  She sat behind the ref­er­ence desk with a pre­tend scowl on her face, cup­ping her pointy chin in the palm of her hand.  Her hair was so shiny that night Nora could swear it was lam­i­nat­ed, and she wore it caught up in a loose bun at the nape of her Audrey Hepburn neck.  Trip was putting away equip­ment and he said, how about some moon food.  And she laughed.  Okay, she said.

This is the per­fect night for moon­cake.  You’ll see, when you go out­side, that Jupiter is nes­tled right beside the moon, brighter than any star.”

Is this true, Nora?” she asked with one per­fect­ly arched eye­brow raised.

It was.  Even with the city lights, you could see Jupiter right there at three o’clock.  They stood, the three of them, moon gaz­ing beside the old Gremlin.

Trip was hand­some that night, say­ing all the right things and nev­er going too far.  They went to a Stop and Go, and the three ate their Moon pies, and Tamara laughed and said she’d nev­er had any­thing so sat­is­fy­ing.

They end­ed up at a restau­rant clear across town, one Trip and Nora had nev­er been to but they didn’t tell her that.  They sat out­side next to an orange heat lamp.  There was an umbrel­la and float­ing can­dle for every table.  The wait­er brought chips and sal­sa and green glass­es of iced water.  Tamara drank two beers and Trip, four.  They talked about moon cakes, NASA, and cof­fee.  Coffee was their word of the day.

Coffee should be black as hell, strong as death, and as sweet as love, “ Trip said.. It was one of their games.

Turkish proverb,” Trip said, “Thank you for your cof­fee, seignior. I shall miss that when we leave Casablanca.”

Ingrid Bergman,” Tamara said.  She leaned back a lit­tle to sip her dark cof­fee, leav­ing a red imprint on the rim of her cup.  Trip and Nora had watched Casablanca on the late-night movie marathons more than a few times.  That’s who Tamara was that night, Ingrid Bergman, with her intel­li­gent eyes, her crisp white shirt under a navy blue sweater.

On the dri­ve back, she sang to them.  Her voice was a frag­ile sopra­no.  “I see the moon, the moon sees me, under the shade of the apple tree.  Oh let the moon that shi­nes on me, shine on the one I love.”

That was love­ly,” Trip said.

Thank you.  My Grandpa Paul used to sing that.  My Paw-paw.”

Which seemed like the per­fect thing for her to say, almost.  Nora didn’t like to think of Tamara with a paw-paw.  Tamara should have a grand­fa­ther.

They walked her to her con­do door and she said, “I’d ask you in for more strong cof­fee but it must be past Nora’s bed­time,” and blew them kiss­es from her kitchen win­dow.

Did you notice,” Trip said, as they drove away, “how she doesn’t smell like per­fume?  She smells like fresh flow­ers.”

Her nails are shiny but not pol­ished,” Nora said.

She buffs them,” he said.

 

***

 

Trip began lock­ing the garage door on Nora.  Nora came home from school one day and wait­ed for him to come out, but he nev­er did.  The door to the garage opened into their kitchen, so Nora and Judy could hear him in there as they ate a tuna casserole.  It was almost nine already; Judy had messed up with the casserole.  She wasn’t used to cook­ing, but Trip was tak­ing less inter­est in domes­tic tasks.

Nora sipped her sun tea.  Trip was moan­ing.

Pipe down in there,” Judy said, and then it was qui­et.

I for­got to put the Ragu with the casserole,” Judy said.

It tastes okay Mom.”

Judy smiled, close-lipped.  She tapped her fork again­st the plate.  “Do you mind doing the dish­es?”

No.”

Judy stood up and walked to her room.  After clear­ing the table Nora fol­lowed her.  Judy was lying on her back in bed, still in her heels, star­ing at the ceil­ing.  Her arms were fold­ed at her chest.

I’m just tired, Nora.”

The next Saturday Trip missed work.  The library was with­in walk­ing dis­tance, so he sent Nora to tell Tamara he wouldn’t make it that day.

Bring her this,” he instruct­ed, hand­ing Nora a chain neck­lace made out of prim­rose petals.  She doubt­ed it would hold up over the long walk.  It would prob­a­bly wilt before she got past the wrecked Zider Zee.

Am I sup­posed to tell her any­thing?”

Trip was sit­ting Indian-style on his sofa, and his eyes weren’t on her.

No.  No mes­sage.  Just the jew­el­ry.”

Tamara smiled when she saw Nora but seemed annoyed when she hand­ed her flow­er chain.  “He should call in if he’s sick, Nora,” she said, “tell him not to send you in like this again.  I guess this once is okay.”

Nora couldn’t look at her.  She gazed at the papier-mâché worms hang­ing from the ceil­ing instead.  One of the book­worms was wear­ing horn-rimmed glass­es and read­ing a book about the plan­ets.  She grabbed some­thing off the shelf with­out look­ing at its cov­er and went to one of the read­ing car­rels.  They were the only two peo­ple in the library.  She sat there for about ten min­utes, but her eyes couldn’t focus on the words.

Bye, Tamara,” she said. “I’ll tell Trip what you said.  I think he might have food poi­son­ing or some­thing.  He real­ly is too sick to call, you know.”

I’m sor­ry to hear that,” she said, “I hope he gets over it soon.”  She looked down at her hands.  The tips of her mid­dle fin­gers were ink-stained.

In fact, he has a migraine.  A crip­pling migraine.  Probably exac­er­bat­ed by food poi­son­ing.”

Nora thought she doesn’t believe me.  Or, she does and she real­ly doesn’t care that Trip might have been poi­soned. It struck her that send­ing your twelve-year-old niece to tell your super­vi­sor that you can’t come to work was not the sex­i­est move on his part.

But Tamara rest­ed her hand on Nora’s shoul­der.  “I’m sor­ry, Nora,” she said.

What did she say?” Trip asked when she returned.

I told her you had food poi­son­ing.”

Did she say any­thing about the flow­ers?”

No.”

Trip nod­ded.  He was still in the same spot of the sofa.  He hadn’t changed his clothes from the day before.

I don’t think she real­ly under­stood,” Nora told him.

Trip looked at her, final­ly.  He smiled.  “Oh, she did, Nora.  Some things just go unspo­ken.  You see, we had sex­u­al rela­tions.  And when a wom­an of Tamara’s breed­ing and ele­gance has sex­u­al rela­tions, it means some­thing dif­fer­ent than it would to you or to me.  She did.”

But Tamara was leav­ing, he said, mov­ing to California, with Dick Bandle.  Nora and Judy came home to find the wall in between the liv­ing room and the kitchen sledge ham­mered, sheetrock in crum­bles at the foot of the hole.

What is this?” Her moth­er asked.

I thought it would give us more space, cre­ate an open fam­i­ly din­ing area,” Trip said.  “But now, I’m think­ing, I like this effect.  How about a mural, ruins, or a rocky cliff?”  Trip was lying on his back, look­ing up with beseech­ing eyes.  Sweat trick­led down his fore­head and he start­ed rub­bing his face.  His arms and hands were dust­ed with plas­ter.

I knew it.”

Knew what?”

Don’t test me, Trip.”

I want to know, what did you know?   I’m talk­ing about home improve­ment, Judith.  We can go to Handy Dan’s and for a few bucks, and some Sherwin William’s paint, I can make this look like the moon.  A moon­scape.”

That was when Judy bent down and spit on him.  He wiped the spit­tle as if he were rub­bing it into his skin.

Trip, you make me want to hit you,” she said.

Nora went to her bed­room to look up at the fairies her uncle had paint­ed for her.  Tonight their wings seemed obscene, ugly – blood-tinged.  They looked like some­thing girls should cov­er up, like tit­ties.

Trip need­ed a job, Judy said.  So he went over help want­ed lists, same as he’d done every cou­ple of sea­sons in Nora’s mem­o­ry.  “I can’t find any­thing,” he told Judy.

What do you mean?  You have a high school edu­ca­tion.  Your limbs work.  You can deliv­er piz­za.  You can answer phones.  Just get out there, okay?”

The day they took the baby start­ed out just like any oth­er day, with Trip dri­ving her around, ask­ing her to wait in the car while he popped in to get employ­ment forms.  They pulled up a the Stop And Go, the same one where they’d bought moon pies with Tamara not long ago.  Before get­ting out, they saw a wom­an step out of her car with a cig­a­ret­te in her mouth, pump­ing gas.

She shouldn’t have a cig­a­ret­te around gaso­line,” Nora said.

No,” Trip said, “She could kill us all.”  He start­ed to dri­ve away and then he paused.

Nor,” Trip said, “look at that.  She has a baby.”

There she was, in the back seat of the woman’s red car.  The baby was gor­geous, may­be the most beau­ti­ful baby Nora had ever seen.   This baby had lots of black curly hair; it was wear­ing a stained onsie with a fat Strawberry Shortcake char­ac­ter on front, so the baby must have been a girl.  You could see, even from a dis­tance, that the baby had amaz­ing vio­let blue eyes.  Movie star eyes.

It’s a baby so those can’t be col­ored con­tacts,” Nora said.

A wom­an like that has no busi­ness with a baby like that,” Trip said.

The wom­an stum­bled a lit­tle bit to the garbage can.  She wore very short cut-offs, so short you could see some butt cheek.  Her hair was long and blonde and when you looked at her face, it didn’t match her hair. It looked old.  She walked away, like she might be going to the bath­room.

Wait, she is just leav­ing her baby?”

That was when it hap­pened.  Trip said, “Stay in the car.”

Are you going to call the police?”

No,” he said.  “Do what I say.  If some­one sees me, I’ll get arrest­ed.”

He looked one way, then the oth­er.  Then he walked over to the woman’s car, opened the door, and took the car seat out with the baby inside.  He smiled at the baby as if he knew her.  Then car­ried it and put it right in the back of the Gremlin.  The baby was smil­ing right back at him; Nora could see she had sev­er­al dim­ples.

Trip got behind the driver’s seat and pulled out.

Trip,” Nora said, “we are tak­ing a baby.”

Yes we are.”

Nora looked back as Trip drove through neigh­bor­hoods, as if every­thing were nor­mal.

Trip.|”

Trip was ruff­ing up his hair in the back.  “Quiet, Nora.  I’m think­ing.”

But Trip.  The car seat isn’t even secured.  That isn’t safe.”

They pulled into a pub­lic school park­ing lot, and Trip got out to buck­le the baby in.

That wom­an is going to miss her baby.  We are going to be arrest­ed!” Nora said.

The baby start­ed say­ing “Nanananana.”

How old is this baby?” Nora asked.

How should I know?  Maybe like five months.  Or eight months.  I don’t know,” Trip said.

I’m scared.”  She said it but she wasn’t sure if she was or not.  What they had just done was wrong.  But it felt okay.  It felt kind of nice, actu­al­ly.  The baby was even cuter up close.  Nora clapped her hands.  “Pat-a-cake?”

The baby smiled.

That wom­an is going to” – Nora said.

That wom­an was a crack whore, Nora.  Do you know what that is?”

I don’t know what she was but if she was a pros­ti­tute, she might still miss her baby.  We just broke the law,” Nora said.

We lib­er­at­ed this baby.  How do we even know that was her baby?  Get back in the car, Nora.”

Nora did.  Trip start­ed dri­ving.

We could have called the police.  For her leav­ing her baby like that,” Nora said.

This is our baby,” Trip said.

He pulled onto Telephone Road.  Nora knew where he was going.

I don’t know,” she said, “I think we could get in a lot of trou­ble for this, Trip.”

As soon as I saw her, I knew.  You did too.  This is Lucy, Nora.  You know it.  This is our Lucy.”

Nora felt a shiv­er pass through her, and it was the feel­ing, she thought right then, men and wom­en must feel when they sud­den­ly know they are in love.  When they see that things are what they should be, feel­ing their own spe­cial place in the uni­verse.  And years lat­er, hold­ing her daugh­ter Elizabeth, she would shud­der at the mem­o­ry of it, of the right­ness she felt back then.

But Lucy would have gold­en hair.  Like Tamara,” Nora said.

No,” Trip answered, “she must have dark hair.  Like yours, Nora.  It has to be like yours.”

It had been at least twen­ty min­utes and the baby hadn’t cried, hadn’t pooped.  She didn’t seem hun­gry.  Trip drove around neigh­bor­hoods with flow­er trees in front, with side­walks.  These were the kinds of neigh­bor­hoods where you saw jog­gers and lit­tle bak­eries.  As Trip drove, Nora climbed into the back­seat to watch Lucy.  The baby was twirling her fin­gers, gaz­ing at her hands with her brow wrin­kled.

Hey Trip, this is a smart baby.  She’s look­ing at her hands like, hey, how do the­se things work?”

She is learn­ing how to manip­u­late them.  I’d say she is about sev­en months old,” he said.

But with so much hair!”

Yes, she does have a lot of hair,” Trip said.  “She’s per­fect.  An excel­lent baby.  There is no way that baby girl came out of the wom­an we just saw.”

He drove them to Safeway where he parked the car and told Nora to wait with the baby.  He said he need­ed to think about the right way to do this.

Hey, Lucy,” Nora said and as she did Pat-a-Cake with “L” for Lucy the baby stared at her intent­ly.  Her eyes were the most beau­ti­ful eyes Nora had ever seen out­side of a mag­a­zine.

He came out with a bag of dia­pers and three jars of baby food.

Bananas,” he said, “your first food, Nora.”  He turned around and spoke to the baby, “It’s too bad you have to wear that gar­ish out­fit.  But you will have some prop­er clothes soon enough.”

They drove to a park, spread­ing the afghan over the grass.  It was a good day for the park, not too cold, although Lucy only had the onsie so they rubbed her arms and legs a bit.  Trip changed Lucy’s dia­per expert­ly; she lift­ed her legs up for him, and he hand­ed her a stick to hold while he did.  The dia­per was very wet so he let her bot­tom air out a bit.  She made cir­cles in the air with the stick.

Can’t she choke on that?” Nora asked.

Of course, but we’re right here, watch­ing her,” Trip said.  He rubbed the soles of the baby’s feet, and then her palms.  He touched her nose.

You have a nose,” he said and the baby laughed.  He did it again.  “You have a nose.”

Trip,” Nora said, “I think we should bring her home.  We can say we found her.”

We love her, of course,” Trip said, “that is how it had always been, how it always will be.  But she belongs with Tamara.”

How do you know that?”

You know it,” Trip said.  He was squat­ting down in front of Lucy, mak­ing spi­ders in the air with his hands.  It was sur­pris­ing­ly grace­ful, beau­ti­ful real­ly, with his long fin­gers.  His voice was soft, con­tem­pla­tive.

But she might just call the police.”

We have to trust that she will know what to do,” Trip said with­out skip­ping a beat. “Just as I had to trust that your moth­er would know what to do when you came.”

I wasn’t left in a bas­ket by her door,” Nora said.  But for a moment, she won­dered.  They nev­er had talked about this.

No, you weren’t,” Trip said.  He ruffed up Lucy’s bunch­es of dark hair and she opened her mouth wide.  You could see two teeth push­ing through her gums.  Her eyes were sparkles.

The last time I saw a baby with eyes like that, it was you,” Trip said.

I see what you mean,” Nora said, touch­ing Lucy’s hands with her fin­ger­tips, “I wasn’t with a crack whore but I was a bas­tard.”

Lucy rolled over on her bel­ly; the afghan was bunch­ing up under her as she start­ed to scoot.

She likes us,” Nora said.

She likes it out­doors,” Trip said, “Babies always do.”

He took Lucy up in his arms and stood, lift­ing her up high.  It must have felt like fly­ing.

They drove to the town­house.  It was Saturday, so Tamara was most cer­tain­ly at home.  Trip pulled over when they were about a block from the house.

It has to be you,” he said, “you have to be the one to bring her.”

Nora nod­ded.  She unbuck­led the car seat.  “We’re going home,” Nora told Lucy, “okay hon­ey?”

She walked with the baby on her hip.  Lucy fit there just right, like a piece to a puz­zle.  Nora hugged her tight, and then released.  The baby rest­ed her head again­st Nora’s breast.

The only time Nora had been here was the night of the moon­cakes, and she had nev­er been inside.  If felt impor­tant.  She rang the bell.  She tried to remem­ber if she had met Lucy the dog that night, or only seen her when they were spy­ing.

The dog didn’t bark.  Tamara answered the door right away.  She was wear­ing jeans and a fuzzy cream-col­ored sweater.  She looked angelic.  Like Grace Kelly.

Nora?”

Hi Tamara.”

Come in,” she said, open­ing the door wider.  “And who is this?”

Nora stood for awhile, once in the door­way, hold­ing Lucy.  The room was kind of dark.  There was a pile of dirty clothes beside an old tele­vi­sion in the cor­ner.  The sofa was beau­ti­ful though, soft orange shot through with gold­en threads.

Sit down, Nora,” Tamara said, “Do you want a coke?”

But Nora kept stand­ing.  Lucy was twirling her fists and mak­ing siren nois­es now.

Tamara walked to the kitchen, which was open to the liv­ing area, and poured two glass­es of ice water.  She hadn’t real­ly looked at the baby yet.

Where is the dog?” Nora asked.  She sat down on the sofa with Lucy in her lap.  Tamara hadn’t looked over at the baby much at all.  Lucy leaned for­ward, reach­ing for some­thing on the cof­fee table.  Nora held her tight.  She didn’t want to let go of her.

Oh,” Tamara said, “she died.  She died two days ago.  I buried her in the yard.”  She sipped from the glass of water, look­ing over the rim at her guests.  “Well,” she said, and sighed.  “She was old.”

Yeah.  And too fat,” Nora said.

She came to me that way,” Tamara said.  “I guess you could say she found me.”

They sipped their ice waters, and final­ly Tamara said, “Why are you here Nora?  Without your uncle?  And why did you bring this baby?”

Nora took anoth­er sip of her water.  It wasn’t hard, with Lucy in her arms.  It was like she belonged there, and Nora could feel when the baby was going to reach for some­thing.  But then Lucy reached for the glass and when Nora pulled it away it spilled cold water down her arm.  Her hands start­ed to shake, and Lucy made a lit­tle cry.

Tamara sat there beside them, her back straight, wait­ing.

You look nice,” Nora said, “were you about to go out?”

Tamara didn’t answer, just crossed her legs, set­tling back into the sofa.

This baby,” Nora said, “She’s Lucy, Tamara.  She is Lucy.”

As if on cue Lucy opened her mouth wide and said “Ahhhahhahh.”

Tamara’s face broke.  Lucy looked up at it and start­ed to cry.  That was when Tamara took the baby in her arms, kissed the top of her head, stood and bounced her gen­tly, say­ing “oh, oh, oh.”

She’s ours,” Nora said, “we found her.  Me and Trip.  She’s all of ours, she came to us and we found her.  We found her.”

But Lucy was cry­ing hard­er now, bur­row­ing her head in Tamara’s lap.  In a moment they were all in an embrace, the soft sweater again­st Nora’s wet face, and they were all cry­ing, the three of them.  The baby was rout­ing for Tamara’s breasts, pound­ing with her lit­tle balled-up fists.  When they final­ly broke apart Nora could see Tamara’s face all screwed up and red, ugly with tears, her nose slight­ly run­ning.  She was cry­ing as hard as the baby.

You have to take her, Nora,” Tamara said and when she hand­ed the baby back Nora saw that her chest was red and scratched.  The baby cried for a long time again­st Nora before she passed out, all of a sud­den, and the cry­ing stopped.  Nora kept her eyes down on Lucy; her hair was sweaty, and she slept with her arms hang­ing straight out.

When Tamara spoke this it was with the well mod­u­lat­ed, pro­fes­sion­al voice she used in the library.

Nora,” she said.  “This baby has been breast­fed.  Someone loves this baby.”

I don’t think so,” Nora said.  But now, with the baby again­st her, in this dim apart­ment with the wom­an she’d lis­tened for so many hours yet only spo­ken to a hand­ful of times, Nora knew of course that it wasn’t how Trip said.  That you could want some­one or some­thing more than any­thing, but that didn’t mean you could claim it.

They sat down at the table after Tamara brought out a big yel­low blan­ket and rest­ed the baby girl on it, plac­ing a pil­low on either side of her.  Then she put on some chamomile tea and served them two lemon squares.  Outside, it was get­ting dark.  Tamara took Nora’s hand in hers, and they both looked over at the baby.

Tell me exact­ly what hap­pened, Nora.  Tell me where you found this baby.”

And then it all came out, gar­bled, all but the part about tak­ing her from the car and see­ing the crack whore with the cig­a­ret­te. Nora told her of how they’d found the baby out by the toi­lets, in her car seat, by the Stop and Go.  Abandoned.

Terrible, ter­ri­ble,” Tamara said in her librar­i­an voice.  There would be no more embraces.  “Maybe a vic­tim of a car jack­ing.”

She called the police, and they came, and they drove out to find Trip.  He said the same, that they had found Lucy by the Stop and Go, in her car seat.  No charges were pressed.  One of the police­men gave Nora a fake gold badge, as if she were five years old or some­thing.

Will you tell us?  If you find her par­ents?” Nora asked him and he smiled down at her.

You did the right thing,” he said, “going to a respon­si­ble adult, young lady.”  Another car came, and a wom­an from social ser­vices took Lucy into her arms.  The baby woke up and looked scared and mad, with all the­se peo­ple and flash­ing lights around her.  She stuck her arms straight out and made her lit­tle baby body go stiff as a board.  Nora nev­er saw her again.

After the police had gone, Trip stood in the door­way and glared at Tamara.  He stood per­fect­ly still, in that way he could be, so that you almost won­dered if he were alive.

Thomas,” Tamara said, qui­et­ly, “I’m going to ask you both to leave now.  It’s been a long day.”

When they drove back, Trip sang the same tune over and over again.  “Oh Lamb of God, that Takest Away the Sins of The World, Have Mercy Upon Us.  Oh Lamb of God, that Takest Away the Sins of The World, Have Mercy Upon Us.  Oh Lamb of God, that Takest Away The Sins of The World, Have Mercy Upon Us.”  He wouldn’t stop singing, and as he sang loud­er and loud­er, Nora knew bet­ter than to tell him to please stop.

 

***

 

With Trip spend­ing most of his days on the fold out sofa in front of his black and white tele­vi­sion set, Nora could stay at school with her moth­er until five or she could walk home.  She walked.   After about ten blocks, there were few­er gar­dens, more bur­glar bars.  A small apart­ment with punched out win­dows seemed emp­ty, but obvi­ous­ly wasn’t, because there were a few bicy­cles parked out­side and an over­flow­ing dump­ster.  That was some­thing else about Nora’s neigh­bor­hood; there was a lot of fur­ni­ture piled behind lots and apart­ments.  There were more dogs tied out and more chain link fences.

The dog across the street didn’t growl, just lunged.  “He don’t like white peo­ple,” the girl who lived there told Nora.  She said her name was Jackie.  Nora walked on by and thought about the TV screen.

Trip’s screen.  It was smudged, blurred with fin­ger­prints and gunky deposits.

It’s nice out­side,” she lied, inter­rupt­ing Trip’s tele­vi­sion pro­gram when she got home.  Their lawn was over­grown with mush­rooms, fire ants, and prim­rose.

Yes,” Trip said, “every­thing is bloom­ing most reck­less­ly; if it were voic­es instead of col­ors, there would be an unbe­liev­able shriek­ing into the heart of the night!”

~

Claudia Smith’s short shorts have appeared in numer­ous antholo­gies and jour­nals. Her flash fic­tion col­lec­tion The Sky Is A Well And Other Shorts was reprint­ed in Rose Metal Press’s book A Peculiar Feeling of Restlessness; her sec­ond col­lec­tion of flash­es, Put Your Head in My Lap, is avail­able from Future Tense Books. Quarry Light, Claudia’s debut book of short sto­ries, will be avail­able from Magic Helicopter Press in November. Box City, from which this excerpt is tak­en, is a nov­el in pro­gress, part of which appears in Quarry Light.