Particularly Dangerous Situation
by Patti White
Available January 2020
When I say that it is best to be two-dimensional during a storm, I mean that pieces of paper travel well in the wind. A tornado can carry a photograph 200 miles and set it down without a crumple or tear or even a hint of dampness. So if you cannot hunker down in a safe place you must become as paper. Think of flatness. Extend your arms and press your body to the ground. Then if the tornado takes you, it will bear you up in tendrils of cloud, in long white fingers of condensation. The storm will let you drift and waft and settle like a leaf on a field of cotton. Or on a patch of concrete. In either case, it is better to be light and flat, to be paper, to carry an image of something long past and fading.
When I say that a tornado can carry paper a great distance, I mean that cattle will be transported to another pasture and skinned alive or dead by whirling gravel. That rocking chairs will appear on alien porches and pickets from a wrought-iron fence will arrow into a bed of bearded iris. A crystal teardrop from a chandelier, a boxed set of state quarters, an empty suitcase, a teacup and saucer, these will be caught in a divergent current until dispersed by the collapsing supercell. When I say a tornado can carry paper I mean the updraft will lift trucks high above the ground and crash them down on your head. Trees will be plucked up out of the earth and replanted elsewhere. And no one will know where anything came from. Except for the cancelled checks and receipts and you will see those on television, along with the child's shoe and the skeleton of a cat.
When I speak of these things perhaps you will think of the Biblical rain of frogs. Or the rain of blood that soaked Richard the Lionheart. I tell you these signs and wonders are in fact so commonplace they appear in meteorology textbooks. Frogs get sucked up as a waterspout passes over the pond. Rain becomes infused with Saharan dust or the soot from coal fires or the spores of microalgae. Trentepholia in the Inter-Tropical Convergence Zone. Iron oxide from dried swamps. The small detritus of the world borne aloft and mixed with the humid air of the Deep South. This is what you will see: A red rain staining your clothes. The frogs sliding off your skin and hopping away.
No one ever forecasts displacements or discolorations. But what I want to tell you is that whatever falls from the sky was once a part of the earth. That some things will fall more slowly or in places more unexpected than others. And that it is well to be two-dimensional in a storm. Think of flatness. Be the paper.
"Heat is Heat"
Mouth Trap by Rebbecca Brown
The truck turned past fields and paddies while heat held him in its grip gasping with nothing but a gun and desire to drown the water that presses, swamps him.
What do you think the woods would want without the sun to slash them green? he said while the truck bumped over a road choking hope.
He said I would like to break this heat, bottle it up, sell it to the frostbitten, save it. No way else to explain but cold is cold and heat is heat.
The migration of birds across rivers and valleys from icy nights swamped with water wavering vision moved toward someone who thinks he can capture heat bottled and stuffed.
The dead are practical. He takes his gun slings it over a shoulder and shoots blustered feathers into falling. He says There should not be sadness. The dead are practical all piled up.
Think about it he says. In the dirty water the thrashing fish tease worms. What would we do without the heat of the dead to sustain us?
Excerpt from the title story, “The Paper Life They Lead”
The Paper Life They Lead: Stories by Patrick Crerand
Morning on the Pepperidge Farm box is not all chocolate and cheese. The three of them—the farmer, his wife, and the boy—dot the whiteness like breadcrumbs on an apron. It is always cold and it is always morning. When the farmer walks, his feet leave no tracks in the white powder. He is on his way to cut and winnow the tufts of winter wheat that strafe the land below the hill. His hands are small and weak. The wind blows in cold streams and stops him. He scans the horizon and stomps his feet warm. The ache in his knee keeps his leg crooked at a painful angle. It throbs and with each step the ache seeps up his leg and into his groin, then to his heart. He daydreams in the pink reflections the white field leaves on the undersides of his eyes. He can see the day ahead of him: The boy and he will scythe the wheat flat, remove the stalks and then throw the heads in the air, letting the wind take the husks, catching the heads in a basket. They will eat a few to check for blight. The jagged berries will cut up the roof of his mouth if it is a healthy crop. The blood will salt the blandness of the wheat. He can already taste the blood. He limps off again.
~ from the essay " Sacred Spirit Medicine: “Sacred Spirit Medicine”
Pleasing Tree by Brooke Larson
How did we get here?
God was my youthful drug of choice. I’ve heard descriptions of the euphoria and hard fall of heroin that uncannily resemble the experience of my girlhood prayers. Curiously, I never had that experience when I tried heroin. I never felt anything out of the ordinary when I took ecstasy. My non-experiences of these drugs baffled others and greatly frustrated me. Drugs would always seem modest in comparison to my mutterings in pajamas at my long ago bedside.
~ from the short story "Turkeys"
I AND YOU by J. David Stevens
On Thursday, Raymond’s father picked up the athletic permission forms from the high school. Then he took Raymond to buy cleats. He made a production of handling every shoe in The Sports Authority—bending them at the toe, knocking his fist against the molded rubber bottoms—before selecting a discounted pair one size too small with soccer balls on the heels. Raymond didn’t complain. Over the weekend, he knew, his mother would return the shoes and select a pair the proper size, depositing them in his closet without comment.
~ from the short story "I Am the Voice Calling in the Desert"
“What on earth are you playing?” my mother asked one afternoon when she stepped out into the yard to hang up the wash. I was barefoot, streaked with dirt, and I’d torn my shirt.
“John the Baptist,” I said.
I must have been quite an affront to my mother in that moment. It broke her heart that I could never manage to keep bobby socks from slipping down and getting sweaty and crumpled in my shoes, and here I was, looking for all the world like a mental patient.
“John the Baptist wasn’t a girl,” she said, reasonably. “If you set your dolls up on the patio you could play school.”
I shrieked and ran around behind the garage where I could kick up dust and preach my sermons in peace.