Watching Oksana and Other Stories


Watching Oksana
Aleksei, with his lambent, sea-scorched eyes and fault lines of scars and only new memories, sailed under frozen skies. He watched his laundry dry on ships’ decks making certain nobody stole it. He sailed in blistering heat, in terrible storms that swung even the flat bulk of a grain carrier like a toy. He was only frightened when he stared into the huge darkness of an empty hold.

Then for the first time he came to America. Seeing a newspaper, he found he knew English. This was in Buffalo where a bumboat pulled alongside his freighter and he bought toothpaste and the New York Times. He was wary of America. He assumed any women he met would have AIDS; he assumed there would be efforts to entice him into spiritualism or buying a revolver. The newspaper, though, challenged his ideas. He was fascinated by the advertisements, by black faces in pictures.

By the fifth time he had traveled through the locks of St. Lambert and Cote-Ste. Catherine, heading west through the snaked route of seaway and lakes, he had lost his surprise. Read more…

The Temple of Amun
He lets the shade fall back. As a boy, he heard his mother rocking and rocking in the sleepless mountain night. He would pull himself over his window ledge, the summer moon casting silver between the trees, and see the top of her head as she arced forward on the porch below, flypapers she’d hung from the eaves barricading her from the circling bats. “Go to sleep, Ellie,” she called when he bumped against the window frame. Read more…

Mother Tongue new
When her sisters asked, Janice could not say exactly when it had started. She had been caught off guard. She’d been slow to assume that the bumpy road of her mother’s illness had made another odd passage, that her mother, who had never, not once in her whole life played with language, had a new short circuit in the hardwiring of her brain, that words, like the rest of her rattled new life, from now on would be unexpected. Read more…

Eleven Days to China
Think I wanted to give my firstborn to the Chinese and before they’ve even got their act together?  Not me. You can guess again.

I mean he did go. That much is true. A flight to Tokyo and then Beijing, but no way that took place because his mother said go on, kid, save the world. Read more…

Each Christmas, with infinite care and growing absorption, the child chose a gift. He watched her now. She rubbed the back of her hand along a stoneware crock. She peered through the glass at rows of necklaces and enameled pins and counted the feathers in a hat and squinted her eyes at the tiny, perfect bird that was sewn beneath its crown. Read more…

American Snapshot (printed in its entirety) 
There was a boy in the other fourth grade, in the class that was not designated the opportunity room. The boy was black and alone, and I do not remember his name. This was in the fifth year of five years in Ohio.  I remember him, though he is the only one I remember from the fourth-grade class that was not the opportunity room. He wore a white shirt, his eyes luminous in the dark hallway which snaked around the stairwell. Read more…

Laura runs with her towel along the beach.  She can smell the sea air on her lips, feel the sand pushing in between her toes.  The gulls call and she makes a small cry in her own throat she thinks is an answer back.  She tosses her towel on the sand and wades into the water.  Jamie is ahead of her.  He is doing somersaults into the waves.  There are swimmers out by the buoys, other children in the shallow water next to the cracks in the tidal flats. Read more…

She leaned back in the water, stared at the ceiling lights, traced their curved rims with her eyes.  She rolled over and in the deep water tried a surface dive, not quite afraid but curious at the slight sensation of pressure in her lungs.  She practiced her strokes off the wall, her half strokes, and maybe the start of a whip kick.  Marveled that she’d never before craved this rhythmic suspension.  Made a perfect somersault and came up with water in her nose but didn’t care.  Swam three solid strokes out, three strokes back, three out, three back. Read more…

Audio excerpts read by Emily:
From “The Temple of Amun
From “Eleven Days to China
From “Treasures

To explore further, look in Bonus Excerpts in Excerpts for Baseball Moments, Bar Scenes and Church Scenes.And look in Bonus Excerpts in Excerpts for Baseball Moments, Bar Scenes and Church Scenes.

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