Friday, June 18, 2010

Reading #1

Chapter One

The rainclouds have bypassed Tucson again. They’ve released their blessed contents not on the hot city center but instead on the subdivisions, the stick-and-stucco tickytack. When Virginia Walker was a kid there’d be a monsoon every July afternoon at four o’clock. Now they don’t come until dinnertime, or in the middle of the night.

Here at the beginning of a new century, when she’s supposed to be filled with Hope, she stands nauseated on the hot sidewalk outside Bookman’s and watches another cool dark storm in the distance as it relieves the undeserving morons who settled in the sprawl: the transplants who warm the asphalt and the atmosphere itself with their cars, who create a shimmering island of rising heat that misdirects the storms, that changes the weather itself.

It’s the Fourth of July, 2009. Virginia’s heat allergy is acting up. She pauses queasily at the cement trash barrel outside the front door of the bookstore. Its metal opening is dotted with glistening gobs of chewing gum. On more than one hot afternoon, she’s lost her lunch into this garbage can. At six years old, her mother holding back her hair; at 17, a rum-spiked slushie from eegees exacerbating the heat nausea; and again at 29, caught by the shock of morning sickness as she came out of Walgreen’s with a home pregnancy test in a plastic bag. Now 45, she leans over the can, just in case. The woman who sells tamales out of a grocery cart lays a firm hand on her back. “It’s okay, mi’ja,” she says.

Virginia smiles to ward off the kindness of this stranger. It’s 107 degrees out here. As a kid at play in the baked backyard of whichever low-rent house the family was occupying, these summertime attacks would send her mother dashing to the kitchen for a baggie of ice, which she’d apply to the top of Virginia’s head. Her mother would fill a kiddie pool and the two of them would sit in the shade, dumping plastic cupsful of water over one another’s heads.

Virginia heads inside the store and lowers herself into a tattered reading armchair. She’s come to meet her husband, Theo, for a Saturday afternoon matinee at the Catalina Theater next door, but she’s arrived too early. She parked at the wrong edge of the lot and trudged through the heat under the white sky without her sunglasses. The glare off windshields sparked her headache, a warning she should have known better than to ignore.


  1. Starting out a serialized reading at a city council meeting is brave. But in the first paragraph referring to a majority of the city's residents as "undeserving morons" (a description that might apply to many of the council members and audience alike) is doubly brave.

    Maybe it's the description, the glistening gobs of chewing gum, but I swear, I *know* this trashcan. Amazing how such a battered object could reveal much about Virginia's life and about her life as a reader.

    Why is hope capitalized?

  2. I swear, John, it was the "undeserving morons," --not to mention "the idiots in charge of Tucson" the following week--that caused me more anxiety than anything else about starting this project.

    Hope with a capital H refers to the summer following the Obama election--when the gloss of national optimism has begun to wear off. I'm still undecided about that capitalization. Count on a poet to zero in on this!


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