The New Quarterly contained a story with a line that made me hurl the magazine across the living room. However it also had a short story I didn’t see on first pass because it was on the page facing the cursed line. The cursed line said this: “Old-woman smell infiltrated the house, perfume and powder.” Who are these snotty scentless people who write so disparagingly of their elders? Never mind. The editors redeemed themselves as I shall explain. I was between books and craved a smackerel of good words in pleasing order to digest. I retrieved the Winter 2018 edition of The New Quarterly from the carpet where it landed when flung, and it folded open fortuitously to a story called Moccasins Over Stones by Laura Schwager.
It is the kind of story you must place in your lap from time to time, to allow yourself a moment to think. You lay it face down with its wings spread wide and its words tickling your thighs because you read a line that whisks you into a memory:
Her stories gave me roots, and no matter what had been taken in the middle of my growing up, I wanted to believe there was something more.
You know sometimes when you swallow and you can feel the gob of saliva travel from your throat, knock open the flap in your esophagus and splash into your gut? Or when you’re outside on a hot summer day and there’s a thunderstorm a brewin’ and you swear you hear the first thick drop bounce on the hot pavement forming a tiny fountain? And then rain as thick as chain mail clatters around you and you run for cover because you’re about to get soaked or struck by lightning or both? That’s how that line felt to me.
The line pushed me to my desk to write about an episode from long ago that suddenly needed telling. So in part I loved this story for being a catalyst and for pulling on something that needed releasing. Laura Schwager’s story touched and lifted me at the same time. Isn’t that the mark of a good storyteller and a marvelous story? I think so.