Nebraska Center for Writers

Nebraska Center for Writers

by Timothy Schaffert

THE BARK AND SHRIEK OF A DOMESTIC DISPUTE slipped in from the street, through a window at the front of the store opened a crack to let in gusts of cool air. The shop was frequently sweltering, as the condos upstairs were overrun with the elderly. In particular there seemed to be a surfeit of septuagenarian divorcees in greasy fur coats succumbing to mange, always flaunting their grandfathered-in kitty cats (pets were no longer allowed), and constantly complaining to maintenance of the cold. Because of the onion-thin skin of this slow parade of battleaxes, Plum and Peach sweltered in the winter months. "Ooh, it looks like an ugly one," Peach said, walking to the front to watch the couple pass. She stood at the door on tiptoes to see over the blue-finned, red-nippled mermaid (reading Colette) painted on the glass.

"An ugly what?" Plum said. She walked to the window seat and raised a slat of the blinds. "An ugly husband? An ugly wife?"

"An ugly fight. Look how he's getting in her face like that."

"But she can't just walk away, can she?" Plum murmured. "Is he going to slug her? Should we call the police?"

"No, he won't slug her," Peach said. "At least not until they get home. Then bap, a knuckle sandwich."

"But maybe not," Plum said. "Maybe things are different when they're at home. In the dark of their kennel. At home, they just break open a bottle of us-against-the-world and anesthetize. Maybe it's only when they're out in the city, faced with everything they don't got, that they turn on each other."

After a silence, Peach said, "What am I doing, Plum?"

"That little lover's tango got you thinking," Plum said, sitting on the cushions of the window seat, drawing her knees up, putting her arms around them. "It's like a metaphor. For your affair."

"Oh, stop," Peach said. She sat next to Plum. Peach's skin was all goose-bumpy, and Plum reached over to rub some warmth into her arms. "Everything can be a metaphor for an affair," Peach said. "Because, our feelings for other people, that's all anybody's ever really thinking about, at any given minute, isn't it? Am I happy alone? Am I happy married? Am I having enough sex? Am I having too much? Is he unhappier than I am?"

Reprinted with permission
from Devils in the Sugar Shop
Copyright © 2007
by Timothy Schaffert
Unbridled Books

by Timothy Schaffert

A NIGHTLIGHT NEAR NINA'S BED lit the room enough for Hud to see Nina sleeping still in a cowgirl costume, still even in boots and prairie skirt and western shirt printed with yellow roses. A straw hat hung on the bedpost. Hud tugged on Nina's skirt and she woke peacefully, too peacefully, Hud thought. "You shouldn't be sleeping next to an open window," he whispered, and Nina sat up in bed and puckered her lips for a kiss. Hud kissed her, then said, "Any creep could come along. Aren't you afraid of creeps?"
"Oh, sure," Nina said, shrugging her shoulders.
"Let's go for a drive some place," Hud said. He opened the window and lifted the torn flap of the screen.
"OK," she said, standing up in the bed, "but first, don't you like my costume? We went to a party."
"It's nice," Hud said.
"I'm Opal Lowe," she said, and Hud was touched that she dressed up like Opal Lowe, his favorite country singer. He'd taken Nina to a county fair a few weeks before to see Opal singing in the open-air auditorium. ... Nina had loved it and had hummed along as Opal Lowe sang about her man's habits, of how he had liquored her up on Wild Turkey, lit her Old Golds, made her need him like water.
... Hud jotted a note in crayon: "I'll be back with her before sunlight, before you even read this," and left it atop the rumpled covers of the bed. Nina crawled onto his back, and they slipped through the torn window screen. He imagined never returning with her, imagined his picture next to her picture on fliers sent through the mail.

Reprinted with permission
from The Singing and Dancing
Daughters of God
Copyright © 2005
by Timothy Schaffert
Unbridled Books

by Timothy Schaffert

IN HER SECONDHAND SHOP, Mabel stretched out on the fainting sofa, feeling tipsy from the summer's heat, not knowing, for a moment, if it was June, July, or August. She shook up a leaking snow globe, the white flakes settling in the laps of lovers on a gondola. Mabel had read in a book on antiques that the snow in snow globes was once made of sawed-up bone. Though Mabel was very young, she often pictured her demise, often hovered above her own Valentino-like funeral with women collapsing and broad-chested men singing impromptu bass tremolo. She'd like to donate her skeleton to a snow globe maker, liked thinking of her remains forever drifting among the plastic landscapes of a souvenir. Mabel watched her sister Lily put on lipstick in front of the mirror of the decades-old nickel gum machine. Sometimes Mabel wondered if she'd been separated at birth from her real sister, for Lily and Mabel shared no resemblance. In a fairy tale, Lily would have been the fair sister of goodness, goldilocked and rosy-faced, and Mabel the nasty one, made up of pointy bones and thin skin and a hank of black hair.
Lily wore only a thrift-shop bra, a pair of jeans, and thick glasses, without which she was only a few blurs from complete lack of sight. After one last drag from her Virginia Slim, she ground the cigarette out in the palm of a mannequin's severed hand.
"I don't know how you can smoke in this heat, Lily," Mabel said. "Everyone's quitting." It had been a terrible summer, and the heat had killed a fifteen-year-old boy in the fields; he dropped dead from a heart attack at eight in the morning cutting tassels from the corn for five bucks an hour. The black-eyed susan by the railroad tracks had blazed yellow for only a week before burning up from the sun. There had never been a better summer for running away to someplace temperate, Mabel thought, fanning herself with an old Omaha World-Herald-twister kills five-the whirling dust of yellow paper making her sneeze. Mabel and Lily Rollow lived alone in this junk shop in the country. Tiny hand-painted signs along I-80 directed motorists (antiques 4 mi., antiques 3 mi.) onto Highway 34, then off onto gravel roads past a stretch of corn and bean fields and pastures overgrown with tall musk thistle. The gray house stood next to a large, outdated satellite dish in the middle of eighty acres of farm land long left fallow, a few miles from the little nothing town of Bonnevilla (pop. 2,900).
Lily held a tissue to her lips to blot her lipstick. The tissue, marked with the red shape of her kiss, floated softly from the tips of her fingers to the floor. Her boyfriend Jordan had called to say he bought a car and wanted to take her for a ride. At nineteen, he was two years younger than Mabel and a year older than Lily. He was sexy in his tight concert T-shirts and with a clip-on silver hoop over his left eyebrow.
Nights, Jordan came to Lily with gin in the hot months and bourbon in the cold. Even before she noticed his one scarred wrist, Mabel had seen in Jordan an inadequacy for the rough-and-tumble of the world. His breath always smelled of the cheapest wine; Mabel could taste it when she smelled it, a remembered sip stolen as a child at a funeral, and she yearned for its vinegar sting at her throat. Should he ever reopen the wound of his right wrist and this time die, she thought she might fabricate a romance between him and herself and confess it to Lily at the peak of her mourning. Mabel could almost feel that lie waiting in her mouth, hidden beneath her tongue like an unswallowed poison.
"It's not just any car," Lily said. "It's Starkweather's. Sort of. It's not the '49 Ford Charlie owned, but the one he stole from the Lincoln couple he murdered-the '56 Packard." Jordan and Lily were fascinated with the stories of Charlie Starkweather and his fourteen-year-old girlfriend Caril Ann Fugate. Mabel's grandmother had once told of how frightened she'd been those nights on the farm before they caught the killer.
Everybody across the state was terrified, she'd said. All the teenagers were afraid to go to drive-ins or out in the country to park and neck. Mabel's grandmother stood those nights at the window hearing thousands of noises coming down along the still and empty country road.

Reprinted with permission
from The Phantom Limbs
of the Rollow Sisters
Copyright © 2002
by Timothy Schaffert
Blue Hen/Penguin Putnam

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