In 2012, we established Ploughshares Solos, a digital-first series for longer stories and essays, which is edited by Ploughshares Editor-in-Chief Ladette Randolph. New Solos are published regularly and are available for download on your Kindle, Nook, iPad, or Kobo.
It was only June, but Steven Darby knew his summer was already gone.
The lobby was a crunch of necessary blues, blues from a lifetime, blues stored up and colonized. On the floor-length, brocade drapes, silver vines and chrysanthemums crawled on a pale blue background. The walls were painted throttled midnight blue. Blue Oriental rugs tic-tac-toed across the floor. Two nearly purple wall lamps glimmered, and under a Gothic chandelier sat a woman who looked ahead like a spectator at a closed-circuit TV horse race or a miracle at Lourdes.
There is a story, always ahead of you. Barely existing. Only gradually do you attach yourself to it and feed it. You discover the carapace that will contain and test your character. You find in this way the path of your life.
—Michael Ondaatje, The Cat’s Table
I have cultivated an approach
Obviously out of step with my peers, but I can’t stop now.
—Charlie Smith, “Calling for Clare”
Jimmy Ludlow, Senior Class President of the St. Bonaventure High School Class of ’72 and chair of the Silver Reunion Committee, is literally run off his feet. His wife kneels beside him, applying an ice pack to his twisted ankle. Seems he carried too many winter coats in too big a rush across the cafeteria, blocked his line of sight, slipped on the newly waxed floor, and landed flat on his back. Poor Jimmy.
When Josh Cooper met Marybelle Evans he’d been out of the majors for thirty-five years. He’d had a brief, but distinguished, pitching career a thousand miles north in Boston, where he’d won Rookie of the Year in 1972. But that gig had come to an abrupt end in 1973 when he’d tried to fire a fastball past Boomer Johnson, the ball meeting flush with the thick end of Boomer’s bat and shooting back at Josh in a blaze of light and a burst of stars.
In the months after my friend R.’s death, I suffered bouts of shame deeper than any I’d experienced before. These were often followed by unreasonable fits of anger, which had me shaking my fist at drivers when I was walking and shouting at pedestrians when I was driving. At least I considered them unreasonable at the time, which is why I didn’t tell anyone about them. Now I might accept all this as ordinary, a natural part of the grieving process, as inevitable as my eventual recovery.
The other camels hobbled nearby snort and chuff and in general make a lot of noise betwixt them. Though they are called ships of the desert, these camels are nothing like our fishing boats. They are good for milk and their turds are spectacularly fire-worthy. But none of us have yet figured out how to operate these beasts. When the Belgium Bactrian Society’s Sustainability Team brought them from Kyrgyzstan, they sent along a camel expert.
Say what you will about the patient in twelve: to me he was not an exceptional case. None of them were. Strictly speaking it is never the dying who are exceptional, for the dead will always outnumber the living. It is we who are the imperiled minority—we who plod on alone in the shadow of what’s to come.
Absent-Minded Professor Joke: A famous mathematician works in the city at a university and lives with his family in the suburbs. One day they make a short move to a three-story, slate-gray Victorian house with red shutters the next street over, a move his wife oversees while he’s at work. He leaves his old house in the morning and returns at the end of the day to the new street, but can’t find his new house.
For breakfast, Jake takes six plastic vitamin bottles out of the cupboard and empties one of each onto the counter: iron, B-12, zinc, C, E, and a multi for good measure. He yawns, lines the tablets up on his hand, takes a diet Mountain Dew from the refrigerator, and washes them down in a single fizzy gulp. The shock of cold carbonation gives him a head rush. He has to steady himself on the refrigerator door.