Every year I look forward to when the new Best American Short Stories comes into the library, and this year’s volume, edited by novelist Geraldine Brooks, did not disappoint. One story in particular, Allegra Goodman’s “La Vita Nuova,” first published in The New Yorker (and available online), has stayed with me, mostly because of the strength of the voice, which Goodman writes is “spare” and “wry.”
For some reason, it reminded me of Hattie, leading to the Flash Narrative, below.
I’ve always believed that consciously mimicking the style of other writers is one of the best ways to find our own voice, to try on new literary wardrobes, to see what fits, what looks good in a certain light, what we could never pull off in a million years. It’s a practice I hope never to outgrow.
Horse Traveling Is Coming Back
The morning air was a shock of cold, but the sunrise was bright enough to blind. She served a breakfast of pancakes and hamburger. Two plum pies baked in the oven.
The turkeys froze, Will said, between mouthfuls.
Thirty turkeys waited in the barn with the patience of the dead. After breakfast, she and Will hauled the turkeys into the front room in several trips. Overnight the headless birds had hardened into strange geometric shapes, wings and legs jutting out at unexpected angles. Will snapped the legs of the last five to fit them into the crates. Broken drumsticks would mean less money, but Lester LaCleary would arrive any moment with his Ford Model B pickup truck. There was no time for thawing.
With 450 pounds of turkeys on their way to Nebraska, Hattie began to clean the feathers from the floor, saving the best ones for a feather bed she planned to make for her brother for Christmas.
She fixed a noon meal for Will and Ben and Narvin, then another for John Gall and his three boys who arrived with a team and wagon just as she was drying the dishes. They had come for Red Cross Aid and to ask if they could collect cow chips on their land for heating. She gave them some groceries, which she immediately recorded in the Legion Auxiliary books as $1.95 worth of potatoes, cabbage, flour, sugar, salt, coffee and oatmeal. The boys didn’t say a word but ate two pieces each of plum pie and wiped their mouths with the shoulder straps of their overalls.
After supper John Sloss of Crazy Hole arrived on horseback to ask for Red Cross Flour, the last of which she’d given to John Gall. He visited awhile, talked of how no one in the area had gasoline, and ate half of the second plum pie.
Horse traveling is coming back, she said to Will when John left. It’s more than ten miles to John’s place.
But Will was already asleep in his chair, a single turkey feather resting just above his ear.