Medium 9781574411850

Let's Do

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In the nine stories of Let's Do, various calamities strike ordinary Midwesterners, who cope with a mixture of good intentions and ineptitude. Balancing humor with painful clarity, author Rebecca Meacham pulls readers into the lives of characters who struggle with—and more often against—change. "Rebecca Meacham has one of the freshest voices I've encountered in a long time. Blatantly wise, she creates stories that are deliciously subversive, brave and outrageous, reminiscent of a young Alice Hoffman. As the lives of her characters get derailed, they move with the damaged grace of walking through broken glass on tiptoe. This is a writer whose words speak with emotional resonance about the resilience of the human heart--a beautiful, authentic talent who knows that when you turn life upside down, you get good measures of both trouble and laughter, a lesson the very best writers recognize early."--Jonis Agee, judge

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let’s do

were denied their one shot all year to belt their guts out in wigs and boater hats. But they had a point, Alan admitted. “There were just nine characters in the show,” he told me. “And one of them was a mute.”

So this year, it’s back to crowd-pleasers, which is why Alan chose Guys and Dolls. Besides Geneva and me, two other people are helping with auditions—reps from the parents’ association, here to protect their children’s interests. Bob and Mary are their names, I think, or something equally upstanding. They’re both wearing patterned turtlenecks, one with strawberries, the other golf clubs. I’m nervous sitting next to them, since I’m sort of a scandal myself these days. It turns out that the last director left more than greasepaint in his wake. My baby boy is due in May, and I’m beginning to show under my smocks. The director ran off to Moab, Utah, to photograph the hoodoos. Which makes sense to me. He was the kind of guy you’d imagine would work best with giant rocks.

But that’s all over now and only Geneva and Alan know about my situation. Otherwise, I’ve kept it pretty quiet. Or tried to. I haven’t told my family, which technically is just two more people: my mother, who lives hundreds of miles away, and my older sister, Anne, from Albuquerque, who wants to visit in

 

good fences

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can rows without worry—the nearest neighbor lives sixty acres away.

This afternoon on his way to the mailbox, Bill stops to whistle for Delia, his wife’s toy collie, a lapdog with long, burrcatching hair. An impractical dog for a life in the woods, but

Delia is good company, and Bill doesn’t mind stopping every few yards to coax clumps of snow from her paws. Wind stirs the trees, snapping the ice-covered branches. Even in stillness, the woods crack and clamor; after two years, Bill is amazed by the racket.

Packing up their home in Grand Rapids, he had listed for Lynn all the noises they’d leave: their young neighbors’ stereos and allnight drunken barbecues, the sudden tear of a motorcycle down their street, the crunch and groan of nearby highway construction. Think of it, he had told her: the doorbell will never ring as you step in the bathtub. He had been trying to convince her that some losses were good, like the job that no longer kept him on the road. But he had been wrong—the middle of nowhere was surprisingly loud. In the summer, whippoorwills and frogs chirp until dawn, and throughout fall, turkey vultures rustle in the trees.

 

weights and measures

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we i g h t s a n d m e a s u re s

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your mom to cry with you so you shut it off, just shut everything off and reroute the pain to your fingers. That feels better, removing the pain from your heart. She tries to hold your hand but it hurts so you pull away.

Then your Dad calls from the steps, Honey? Let’s go see the apartment, and you feel your legs moving, carrying you down to his voice. The car ride is quiet. Out the windows are gray tarpatched streets, gray sky, Stop-N-Go, Marathon. Four stoplights from your house he turns the car. After two speed bumps you’re parked by a door, a brown ugly steel door in a tan ugly building, flat and lonely and square as a Monopoly house. You don’t know what to say, what he wants to hear. All you can see of your mom is the seat in front of you and the crumpled corners of

Kleenex. Somewhere deep in your belly is an ache just like hunger, but you shut that off too, you won’t feel that either.

C’mon, let’s look inside, your Dad says like you’ve rolled into

Disneyworld, but instead of mermaids or dwarves you see only that door, his hand jingling keys and the colorless sky.

 

let's do

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had hung low with angry black clouds and they were lost and exhausted, and when they saw the neon-lit “vacancy” sign, they both sighed. They had been young and in-love enough to laugh at the cobwebs, the fusty pictures of flowers outlined in yarn. They had slept under a quilt sewn from old dresses, curling into each other like puppies, or socks.

She had all but forgotten about that trip. A little sound escaped her throat.

“Good?” breathed the interviewer. His tongue probed her ear.

“So good,” Estelle said, raking her nails up his back. She glanced at her watch, though there was no reason to, nowhere that she had to be. By now, her husband was probably home from work, packing boxes, waiting for her to return so he could claim this lamp, that chair. Or he might be unpacking at his new apartment, the first floor of a Queen Anne in the crumbling heart of the city. She hadn’t seen it but he had described it in detail, the paint peeling like eggshells, the shutters askew. A fixer-upper, the kind of place she’d embraced when they first started out. Back then, Estelle had been the kind of girl who looked forward to things. There had been a voice in her head, the voice of countless

 

the assignment

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the assignment

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city’s inaugural marathon, and she was the hometown favorite, and as she bounced past each checkpoint—tiny, freckled, sinewy but not stringy, wearing an orange sports bra and her hair in a ponytail—he could focus only on her. So much so that his producer wondered, watching the tape, if any other runners had shown up that day. She had placed second, but told everyone, as she winked at Carter—a woman who winked—that she’d gone home with the real prize. Lately, she was running twenty miles on

Saturdays. But last weekend, she had been spooked on a long run through the park. She had been dwelling on it. For his part,

Carter was keeping an eye out, escorting her nearly everywhere, installing chains on her doors, staying over.

Still, attacking his girlfriend was a whole other matter. He said, “Jen, haven’t you had enough of that already?”

“That’s why I want you to do this, Carter. To condition me.

In case I need to defend myself, again.” She put her legs together and reached over her toes. The other night, he had painted her toenails, the only part of her that seemed to get kind of ugly.

 

worship for shut-ins

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grew high—spring in southern Ohio. Then, like the accident, she turns a corner into the path of a shattering blow. She stands helpless against the pull of water, of gravity. Before she wakes, everyone cries out to her—an ugly, baffled sound—and Valerie can only listen.

Her waking hours are just the opposite, silent as empty pockets. The mornings are quiet when Cass should rattle her tags; the floors are still. No one watches over her small apartment, discerning threat in noises, and Valerie is a bumbling keeper, shaky as

Barney Fife. With one exception—when the dog fell mysteriously ill this winter and had to be hospitalized—Cass had been with her every day for seven years. After the divorce, when Valerie started buying wine in gallon cartons, Cass was excellent company. The dog sat close as Valerie watched T.V. and rode shotgun on scenic drives, and out of gratitude, Valerie would walk her through the pet store, letting her sneak bones. Wherever Valerie took the dog, people stopped to talk. They asked about Cass’s spotted tongue, her tail curled like a question mark. In this way,

 

tom and georgia come over to swim

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t o m a n d ge o rg i a c o m e ove r t o s w i m

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of boxed waffles and paper-wrapped T-bones. Lingering in the chill, she takes out an ice tray; she’ll have a quick Beam and Coke before Tom and Georgia arrive. She’ll mix it light, pouring almost all Coke: a little something sweet and cool on her throat, but with enough edge and weight to steel her insides.

Pauline was surprised to see Tom and Georgia at the 5-Star today, out and about, even shopping, like any other day. Since their daughter Carrie’s funeral a few weeks ago, it seems like their front door hasn’t opened, though cars line the curb all the way to

Pauline’s mailbox. Every time she drives by, Pauline is struck by how everything outside—the volleyball net and plump rhododendrons—looks exactly the same. But when she wheeled her cart into produce this morning, there they stood, Georgia touching the rough husks of cantaloupes, Tom staring at the grapes in the cart. Pauline chattered stupidly about the clumsy new paperboy, the slow mail this week, anything just to fill the silence between them. Pauline noticed their cart was absent of its usual fruit pops and cereal. Her own cart seemed too full of such things, garish with cartoon colors.

 

simple as that

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Wearing the robe, she believes it’s possible for sorrow to be whipped into frothy peaks—to be made confectionery—and so dissolve, melt away like sugar in rain. It seems possible that in this way, her husband’s absence could shrink to granules, something easily evaporated. Something that would leave and actually stay gone, and not return for forgotten books or visits with the dog.

But he does not want to stay gone, her husband tells her at every chance he gets. He does not want the marriage to be over.

He calls from work every day and leaves rumbly, rambling messages. He e-mails her with haikus for their dog, with the requisite lines about sniffing, peeing, birding. He attempts good cheer on a limited budget. In their separation, he constantly surprises her with clichés, and this, along with everything, is very disappointing. Lila had expected more from him, something swashbuckling in reconciliation. But then, she had also expected a more innovative break-up. In fact, what enrages her lately is that the break-up has made her a cliché—a jilted wife, a spurned spouse, a Dear

 

hold fast

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self-righteous. “Try stubborn. You’ve been a codger since you were twenty.”

He smiles, remembering Eloise, and loses track of what he is saying. Luckily, before things get too embarrassing, Grace picks up. “Hi, Daddy,” she says, her voice raspy, like she’s been asleep.

Grace is thirty-eight but calls him her Daddy, and Ted is glad for it. Joanne started calling him Ted when she was a teenager, which feels wrong, even now.

He had raised his daughters as he thought a father should, with love and sternness, but at a safe distance from their daily dramas. He provided a full table and advice about practical matters, like buying bonds and dressing appropriately on airplanes. When he was young, Ted would tell them, men wore ties when they traveled and women wore stockings, sometimes gloves. Eloise tended to the details. She knew which boy Joanne liked, which girl was teasing Grace, and consulted him only at a crisis. But while

Joanne outgrew the histrionics and is now a cheerful, married mother of two, Grace stayed edgy and dark. She is self-critical and grim and never wears make-up. Ted cannot quite read her.

 

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