Robley Wilson

Three Stories

 
TERRORISM

The first time she has the dream, it seems per­fect­ly plausible—substantial and fac­tu­al, with all its details consistent—but because she real­izes she is dream­ing she is not deceived; she is a well-off, edu­cat­ed young wom­an with a white-col­lar hus­band and a new pink baby, and she knows this is not hap­pen­ing in the real world she will even­tu­al­ly wake up to:

She is car­ry­ing a bomb. 

This first time, the bomb is hid­den under her coat—it is win­ter, there is snow on the ground and a near­by river is frozen over, a black sur­face, chil­dren skating—and she feels it, a weight she cradles in her arms, even though she doesn’t see it. The worst part is that she hears tick­ing, too loud to be her wrist­watch, and she is afraid the bomb will go off. What a mess that will make! She thinks this, inside the dream, sup­port­ing the bomb under her coat, and she even remem­bers the sto­ry of the young Spartan sol­dier who hides a fox under his cloth­ing, and denies the fox to his supe­ri­or even as the ani­mal is devour­ing his vitals. What a strange, eru­dite dream this is, and how relieved she is to wake in her own bed­room, to look at the night­stand clock and see that it’s time to feed the baby.

Sitting in the kitchen at six a.m., spoon­ing pureed pears into her infant son’s cupid’s-bow mouth, she finds her­self pon­der­ing not so much the dream’s action as the dream’s cold geog­ra­phy: the river, and the bare wil­lows along the river’s banks, which she had for­got­ten when she first woke up. If only the trees had been cedars, it might have been the river behind the high school in her home­town. She won­ders if any of the chil­dren skat­ing might have been friends of hers, and she under­stands per­fect­ly why each dream ends as it does: if any of them con­tin­ues, the bomb will explode and at that very moment the world—not her life and not the lives of her grade-school friends or the life of the new pink baby—the real world will be fin­ished, oblit­er­at­ed, over and done with forever.

FORFEITS

One sum­mer after­noon when she was ten, Maude Hamlin ate a chip of horse manure offered to her by one of the boys at the sta­bles where they all took rid­ing lessons. She couldn’t remem­ber the context—whether it was Quaker Meeting or Simon Says or some oth­er children’s game involv­ing forfeits—but now, twen­ty-five years lat­er, she imag­ined that what she had done that day estab­lished the pat­tern of her life.

What did it taste like?” her daugh­ter asked, and Maude real­ized she ought nev­er to have told the sto­ry. She had only intend­ed it as an object lesson when Millie came home from school cry­ing about mean boys.

I don’t recall,” she said. “It was so long ago.”

I don’t believe you,” Millie said. She was a sus­pi­cious child. You couldn’t just tell her some­thing; you had to prove it. “If I ate shit, I’d remem­ber.”

Yes, I sup­pose you would.”

So what did it taste like?”

This was a dif­fi­cul­ty with chil­dren. If Millie were an adult, Maude would sim­ply say, “It tast­ed like chick­en,” and then they would both laugh and move on to a new sub­ject. The per­sis­tence of child­hood denied such civil­i­ty.

I sup­pose it was bit­ter,” Maude said. “Bitter and dry and full of straw bits.”

Her daugh­ter made a retch­ing sound. “That’s so gross.”

You asked.” She pulled a tis­sue from the box on the night­stand and dabbed at the tear stains on Millie’s cheek. “If you don’t want to know, don’t ask.”

#

She had told so many sto­ries about “the boy” that she no longer knew the truth. Was it the same boy—“the horse­shit boy,” her daugh­ter called him—who came to her win­dow one pre-dawn morn­ing in February and scratched at the glass until she woke up and let him inside because the dark was so cold? Was it an entire­ly dif­fer­ent boy, who cor­nered her one evening, just at dusk, behind the Edison School where the swing sets idled in a soft September breeze and the only sounds she remem­bered were the far-off rise and fall of a police siren and the scuf­fle of her feet across the school­yard stones as she fell with the boy on top of her?

How can you not remem­ber the boy’s name?” her daughter—who was old­er now, and curi­ous about sex —said to her. “It only hap­pens once in your whole life.”

I know,” Maude said.

She felt guilty about her igno­rance, as if she had some­how deprived her daugh­ter of a vic­ar­i­ous expe­ri­ence that might have proven instruc­tive. But boys were big­ger, stronger; you learned to expect them to do what­ev­er they want­ed. After all, what did their names mat­ter?

STILL LIFE

I’m parked in a super­mar­ket lot in Florida, a warm after­noon in March, when a Mercedes sports car pulls into the diag­o­nal slot fac­ing me. A young wom­an is at the wheel, and when she steps out of the car I “size her up,” as we used to say. She is tall and blonde, wears a white blouse that rides off her shoul­ders to dis­play a skin gold­en-tanned and clav­i­cles grace­ful as heron’s wings; her skirt is pale khaki, with a wide belt closed by a bronze buck­le; I can’t see her shoes. She clos­es the car door, rais­es her keys in a half-salute that trips locks and winks side­lights. She pays no atten­tion to me—probably she doesn’t even see me slouched in my seat—and strides toward the mar­ket. I watch her into the store. Her shoes are white and strap­py.

Ten min­utes lat­er, she comes back to the car, car­ry­ing a banana in her left hand, the car keys in her right. That’s all she bought;  a sin­gle ripe banana, and it’s not even in a bag. I know what you’re think­ing, but that’s not what I’m think­ing. I’m remem­ber­ing a com­mu­ni­ty-the­ater min­strel show in my home town, years and years ago. Fred Spicer, the prankster mem­ber of our town’s rich­est fam­i­ly, per­formed a song-and-dance called “I’ve Never Seen a Straight Banana”; the show ran for three nights in the town hall audi­to­ri­um, and Fred brought down the house every night. I watch the wom­an unlock the Mercedes, slide behind the wheel, dri­ve away, and all I can see in my mind’s eye is Fred Spicer, at the cli­max of his act, hold­ing one end of a banana that real­ly appears straight, until he takes his hand away to reveal the whole curved shape of it and the audi­ence cracks up.

~

Robley Wilson is the author of three nov­els, three books of poet­ry, and six sto­ry col­lec­tions. He has been a Guggenheim Fellow in Fiction, a Nicholl Fellow in Screenwriting, and was for 31 years the edi­tor of the North American Review. He and is wife, nov­el­ist Susan Hubbard, live in Florida with five unruly cats.