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Skinny Dipping

Long-listed for the Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award and finalist for the Crawford Award. Title short story listed for the 2000 O. Henry award.

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Blood, Trapped Under the Nail

About 6 weeks or so ago I slammed the porch door into my thumb while I was letting the dogs back in. Though the pain subsided after a few minutes, I’ve had since then a little demarcation of blood underneath my fingernail, pressed flat like a rose in the pages of a heavy book.

Time is very very slow underneath my thumb. The dissipation is happening, but it will still be awhile. A few weeks ago it still had that dark violet tinge to it; now it’s more like a scumble of red paint, a bit fainter around the edges and in a few interior spots. It’s very odd to carry this mark; it’s like an amateur temporary tattoo that nonetheless was made of strong, deep, almost uncontrollable ink.

I could say it’s a nice reminder of my own clumsiness but actually I think it looks cool. It does on occasion remind me of that door, this house, which we’ve almost lived in 10 years now, which is pure unreality. Talk about time moving very very quickly anywhere except underneath my thumb. And yet it’s a struggle sometimes to have the house feel like a home. Even after 10 years. The snow and ice have been particularly vexing-problems with the vent to the hot water heater, a tiny leak over the sink (and our roof is only a year and a half old).

These are just domesticities, though. We have a roof, we are lucky, we do not have to take to the streets for cruel injustices. I worry though about suburbia (and I would have never thought I’d ever ever live 10 years in suburbia). This type of place-even an inner ring suburb-is such a historical anomaly fueled by low fuel costs and the nightmarish utopias of land developers and car dealerships, who certainly had their hand in altering American culture after World War II. These were not stupid people, though, however manipulative they were of both aspirations and geography. And so, 50+ years later…well, it’s taken some time for their vision of America to stick, to really stick. The older neighbors we have, first or second generation in this neighborhood, are really awesome; but those of my generation are disconnected, rootless, incurious. In that sense it is only half a neighborhood-and I am certainly not absolving myself on this front. Oh, sure, you go into the core cities’ neighborhoods and it can be different and well-meaning and sincere and the neighborhoods treat National Night Out seriously. But-and this trend will only be accelerating, fast-the core city neighborhoods just cost more, you will pay a premium to have that “experience”, and when gas hits $6 a gallon the people who can’t afford it are going to be living in the places they can least afford, in the outer rings, subletted McMansions, no buses, abject schools least-common denominator public services, old cars with bad gas mileage… this is the working class wasteland, this will happen when the suburbs cease to be embedded in dreams of development and merely become places to survive in the middle of nowhere. Those tipping points are all around us.

All are my brethren-of late I am trying to live by this credo and treat it as an almost physical law. But the biggest challenge for this has been out here, when it’s so easy for me to construe people as sallow, rude, clannish. Are these essences or defense mechanisms brought about by pains I don’t understand and can’t articulate? (At most I can reconstruct and write along the edges, which in the end are my own edges.) In the day-to-day it’s so easy in my own rush and bluster to respond with my own defenses. But I bank on-I have to-on the latter.

Meanwhile, spring will come, the yard will be spruced, the blood will continue to dissipate…

Sun, February 6 2011 » Life Studies, Polis

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