June 14, 2012 / Creative Writing
In “The Canyon, Age 8,” the poet Timothy E. G. Bartel describes a certain coming-of-age brush with a minor sin, one that leaves him “tasting his new words.”
September 24, 2015
Her name was Shoshana, and she was beautiful.
Beautiful in the way that women on the way to some place are.
The part on the side of her headful of hair, a futile attempt to tame it. Shoshana never looked neat or proper. Even her hair was in transit.
She met Michael by accident. (She did many things by accident—her way of moving in the world.)
He was standing outside the small elevator, large enough to fit one person, with his oversized bag. A man who had been traveling.
She stood beside him, waiting for the doors to open, assuming when they did she would step in alone and disappear down the shaft without a word.
But Michael had other ideas. It was he who moved first, he who claimed the tiny space his own, leaving his bag in the hallway.
The elevator was smaller than a coffin. Shoshana stepped in after him. She pressed her body against his, her face turned sideways as it rested on his chest.
The doors closed behind her, sealing them inside. And they ascended.
Shoshanna was serious.
Serious about life and what it had to tell her.
She ate meals quickly, and only when necessary, so as not to waste her time. (Never coffee. Never dessert. What would be the point?)
Stronger than appetite was the instinct to be ready, poised to seize the moment when it came—the moment that might change everything.
And so it seemed the wildest of sybaritic fantasies to find herself lying beside Michael in bed, fully clothed, listening to him tell jokes. (It was the middle of the day.)
Michael with his boyish smile, young for his years. And though they were the same age, she often felt like his big sister, charged with keeping her wayward brother amused.
She loved being Michael’s lover—was as serious about this as she was about everything she did—and she waited and watched, interested.
The wedding came as a surprise.
Both to Michael and Shoshana.
To have one’s future shaped by close body contact in a clearly not up-to-code elevator seemed ludicrous.
They married in a hotel overlooking a lake.
It could have been Switzerland or upstate New York—where, she didn’t care. So long as there was water.
Shoshana was vigilant.
Her most striking feature—besides her hair—being her gaze.
Fierce, intent, focused—hers was a hawklike demeanor, not so much predatory as interrogative. There was little that she missed.
Michael moved by feel, like a blind man.
He was her hands. She was his eyes.
And so they navigated the world, like savants.
Shoshana was impatient.
She found babies and small children boring, especially her own.
Their little lives, the same rote round of eating-and-sleeping, bathing-and-dressing, home-and-school.
She watched them closely, kept them safe and whole.
But they never surprised her, rarely varied from their love of steady and same.
Shoshana was deliberate, though she didn’t leave a note.
On the table, Michael found three peanut butter sandwiches wrapped in waxed paper, three glasses of milk, and three bananas.
Coffee was brewed in the coffee pot—three cups.
He hadn’t seen it coming. (He never did.)
The ground shifted, subtly, beneath his feet.
Shoshana was lonely.
She liked the feeling and welcomed it as a friend.
She walked along the docks, watched the boats on the water, and waited to see what the weather would bring.
She bought chocolates for the children, packed them in boxes, and dropped them at the post office. (She chose the stamps carefully—rare roses, jazz singers, endangered species.)
She thrilled at the thought of the boxes arriving.
Shoshana was moved.
By the sky and by the sea.
By the birds that toed her balcony. (She fed them the crumbs from her morning toast.)
By the letters that never arrived.
By the elevator in the lobby—the one she walked past every day on her way to the stairs—the one she considered entering and did not.
Shoshana was beautiful.
She rode out to sea at the wheel of the rented boat, her hair wild in the wind.
She gazed and gazed at the blue waves that lapped the bow, the trail of her white wake.
The harbor grew small and disappeared behind her.
She cut the engine, climbed out on the prow, and felt the world rocking beneath her, everything ancient and everything new.
The sky filled her, wide as mercy.
The empty boat floated for days.
Angela Alaimo O’Donnell
Angela Alaimo O’Donnell teaches English and creative writing at Fordham University and serves as Associate Director of Fordham’s Curran Center for American Catholic Studies. She is also a regular columnist for America magazine. O’Donnell has published four collections of poems, including her 2015 collection, Lovers’ Almanac, two chapbooks, and three other books, The Province of Joy, Mortal Blessings, and Flannery O’Connor: Fiction Fired by Faith. O’Donnell’s work has appeared in many journals, including the Christian Century, Commonweal, First Things, Potomac Review, Relief, Studies in Philology, Windhover, and Xavier Review. Her work has been included in a variety of anthologies, including The Catholic Studies Reader and Teaching the Tradition, and she has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, the Best of the Web Award, and the Arlin G. Meyer Prize in Imaginative Writing.