Lying in Bed
Polly Samson
When she tells Len she is pregnant, he says "Oh, God ... What are you going to do?" He's just a boy, she thinks. And he has Charlotte, another girlfriend. And he may not even be the father.

He disappears soon after a dinner, and she thinks, "A bun in the oven!" Or as the women at the clinic tell it, she begins to think of it as a gift: "waiting nine months to open a present."

The taxi driver doesn't want to take her to the hospital, "I can't deliver a baby," he tells her. They have to send for the midwife, because by now she is pushing herself "into the wave roaring in her ears:"

    It sounds like her own voice screaming but it is coming from across a valley and echoing back at her.

And when it comes, it's a beautiful girl. As they told her, "It is as though she has opened a present. 'Oh look,' she seems to say, 'a mother, just what I wanted.'"

§   §   §

We try to review a book of short stories at least once a month. That means over time, we've probably done well over two hundred. The turkeys we usually stay away from reviewing ... unless they are by the famous or the precious. Because it's no fun poo-poohing writers who may just be learning their craft.

And it is a craft: you have to use the words craftily. Characters --- believable characters --- sketched quickly. Story with enough turns (such a short space!) to keep us going. A certain art in phrasing. Like, "'Oh look,' she seems to say, 'a mother, just what I wanted.'"

Five short story collections a year may make the grade; some even make us think that we may have stumbled onto a new Donald Barthelme, or Kafka. In the last five years, there are several collections that earned our precious star:

  1. Daniel Kehlmann's Fame;
  2. Lester Higata's 20th Century by Barbara Hamby;
  3. Ann Harleman's Thoreau's Laundry;
  4. Behind Closed Doors Her Father's House and Other Stories of Sicily by Maria Messina;
  5. Intercourse by Robert Olen Butler;and, at the top of our list,
  6. Abbott Awaits by Chris Bachelder.

We were on the edge of adding Polly Samson to that august list. Unfortunately, there are two or three turkeys in this collection that pop up gobbling. They are better left unnamed. But at the same time, there are four that are wonderful. In the title story, we find Sally lying, as she lies with Gregory, who she is not all that fond of, but, as her mother said, "she had made her bed. And now she was lying in it."

Or, if you do nothing else, read all about Leoni's present, looking up at her, looking "so surprised, as if she has opened a present." And, too, read of Simpkin, the old gardener, who talks to the moss roses, "they get quite curled some, and then the flowers burst through, unfolding their petals, pushing all that moss aside. Like a birth, every one of them. Petals of blood and wine."

And finally, don't miss ... I beg you ... don't miss Caroline. Who has to find a nanny for the two kids now that Colin has moved out (when he talked to her, he tended to wear a "reasonable-man-talking-to-an-imbecile look.")

Caroline has plans for Colin, and plans for his new sweetie (Sky!) ... so she puts an ad in the paper. And in comes Sophia,

    Her face was a smooth oval framed with softly curling chestnut hair that fell to below her shoulders. The eyes were slanted, green like a cat's, the lashes thick beneath arched brows.

Her voice? A voice "as soft as carmel."

You ask now why we should reward icky Colin with such a lubricious nanny (he will be spending considerable time with her and the two children --- and with Sky --- on a summer trip to the continent). Why present that creep with such a lovely companion? Is Caroline mad?

She says to him, "I suppose the children might quite like to see where you live." Sky is going to be out of town.

    I think Sophia should go with them. It's important for them to have a continuity of care and I would feel happier about their being away if she stayed with them.

"There, she had said it. She felt sad. She felt wicked."

    This was what she had been planning and her plot was working perfectly.

"The cold spite in her head was ruling the warm pains of nostalgia in her heart as, over the remains of the bottle, she finalized the details.

Poor Sky.

--- Lolita Lark
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