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rr gwaltney

 

NEW NONFICTION




THE WORSE FOR WEAR:
A SOAP OPERA IN TWO ACTS

by R.R. Gwaltney



      In 1972, I could not dribble, punt or pitch. Nor was I good with figures, dates or theories. But I could spell any word in the dictionary. Well, any except for one. This talent has since gone the way of clackers, armpit farts and a 28-inch waist. But it was nice while it lasted. All 11 weeks. Let me tell you about it.

                                                                                                ACT I

      Sherri Drake got the first word. Exodus rolled off her tongue effortlessly. Bet she never even cracked an Old Testament.
      Scott Everett, lawyer’s son and future CPA. Whizzed past mortgage.
      White knee socks strained against Evelyn Smallwood’s sequoia limbs. Humongous. I meant homogenous.
      Barry Simmons. Tartar teeth and sweat rings. KO’d by knockwurst.
      Robby Robertson. Excelled at football but not at piano. Fumbled staccato.
      Ray Gwaltney. If a box of Twinkies fingerfucked Tinkerbelle. Exemplary.
      “Put away your pencil, Ray,” roared Mrs. Rollins, English teacher and spelling bee referee. I was using it to trace words on my palm. Maybe I could use my finger instead.
      “That’s against the rules, too.” Any minute, she’d pull out a stone tablet and stab a tarred and nicotined finger of her own at section 11, paragraph 6, clause 2a: Contestants caught tracing letters on sticky palms risk amputation of one or more digits.
      “We’re waiting, Ray.”
      Or was it exemplery?
      45 minutes later an announcement crackled over the intercom. “Congratulations to Ray Gwaltney for winning the school spelling bee.”
      My classmates were applauding. I felt like Dorothy when her house fell on the Wicked Witch of the East. I didn’t mean to do it. Honest.

      Later at home. My sister Trisha said, “What are you grinning about?”
      “I won the school spelling bee.”
      She was stirring a mug of gritty liquid. “You want some Tang?”
      “Sure.”
      “How did that happen?” She meant the bee.
      I didn’t know. “The county finals are in two weeks.”
      “What are you going to wear?”
      Good question. What about my Sunday best? Or better, only.
      In walked my father in his patrol uniform. Epaulets, clip-on tie, charcoal trousers and creases sharp enough to shave with.
      Trisha said, “Guess who won the school spelling bee?”
      He patted her on the back. “We’re so proud of you, honey.”
      She told him I had won. “We’re so proud of you,” he said minus the pat and the honey. “Now, how about cutting that grass.”
      Why couldn’t we live in Arizona where gravel was the only thing that would grow in your yard? “I’ll cut it on Saturday.”
      “No, you won’t. They’re calling for rain. And I won’t have it on Sunday.”
      I tugged on a pair of combat boots and sloshed off into my ever-lovin’ Everglade.

      Two weeks later. The county finals onstage in a school cafeteria. Traces of beef vegetable soup and bleach hung in the air. I kept looking for Trisha in the audience but couldn’t see her for the bright lights.
      A man in horn rims to rival mine and a seaweed comb-over ran through the rules. “Once you are given a word, you must pronounce it, spell it and pronounce it once more.”

                                                                     /tü-'pA/ t-o-u-p-e-e /tü-'pA/

      He continued. “You have 60 seconds to spell your word. If time runs out, you are automatically eliminated.” Under no circumstance could we use any instrument to trace words on our palms. If English teacher Mrs. Rollins was in the audience, she would have already drenched her drawers.
      The spelling began. No one missed the first few rounds. Then a knock-kneed wisp of a girl from White Oak got the first dinger: reconnaissance. We all squirmed because no one knew it, wisp included.
      Me next. Rampage. Easy. My mother’s wild one came to mind.
      Oscar Anybody from Blue Creek spelled xylophone with a -z, leaving three of us. Two rounds later, teleology took out the redhead to my right. It was down to Godfrey Williams from Bellfork and me. I could see a curlicue growing from his chin. I wasn’t shaving yet.
      Interloper. Never heard of it but I spelled it like it sounded.
      Egalitarian. Godfrey nailed it.
      Licorice. Had to think a second but I swished it.
      Dinghy. Did Godfrey know it? He sure did.
      Poinsettia. Yipes! I forgot the final -i. But it was a good word to miss. Teachers and parents rushed the stage. I could see Trisha in the back. I knew she was proud of me.
      Education Superintendent Mr. Elwood J. Harvey informed us we’d both be competing in the regional championship in Wilmington. Somebody asked Godfrey and me to hold a dictionary of biblical proportions, then blinded us with a flash.
      Trisha was waiting for me, tapping a sandaled foot. We walked over crunchy gravel to her slate blue Mustang. I was buzzing with energy.
      “You looked like such a fairy up there,” she said.
      The next day, the Daily News ran a picture of Godfrey and me looking up words in a dictionary with this headline: WIZ KIDS PREPARE FOR REGIONAL BEE.
      “Too bad you had to lose to an Afro-American,” Daddy said. “What kind of name is Godfrey anyway?” I headed to my room, closing the door on Le-Mon and O-range Jell-O, the twin brothers my father knew for a fact existed.
      Afternoons were spent with my dictionary but the real preparation took place a week before the regional bee.
      “That hair has got to come out,” Daddy said wielding clippers better suited to boxwoods. He meant the three hairs growing under my arms.
      He sniffed from armpit to armpit, wrinkled his nose and like the finest sommelier, diagnosed. “Boy, you’ve got the goat.” No, there wasn’t a petting zoo in our backyard. Chez Gwaltney, it was perfectly fine to beat your offspring to within an inch of their lives and take the Lord’s name in vain on the hour. But a fatal case of body odor got you top billing at the Hot-as-Hades Pig Pickin’ on Judgment Day.
      Hard to believe this 200+ pound law enforcement officer had armpits as slick as a baby’s bottom, decades before male primates would trade in their chest hair and mono-brows for hot wax and tweezers. Not to mention Italy, where Mediterranean machos have the balls to Neet their Speedo lines. And balls.
      From the cradle on, I had been schooled on the evils of body odor. How many times had my father bewailed lending a cardigan to a cousin? No amount of dry cleaning could get that goat out. Daddy kept the garment as a reminder of the importance of personal hygiene and gladly placed it under any skeptic’s nostrils. Now mine.
       I sneezed. “Smells like mothballs to me.”
      “It didn’t in 1957, smartass.”
      I had recently won a grueling battle to let my cancer ward buzz cut grow out 3/8ths inch. What would he do if he caught wind of my pubes?
      I pulled up the sleeve of my t-shirt. “See? There really isn’t that much.”
      “Shirley!” he called to my mother. “Come have a look at this.” Daddy pointed with his clippers. “He can’t get in there and scrub like he ought to. What he needs is a good stiff brush.”
      I felt like a boat.
      At that precise moment Trisha floated through, teenage deus ex machina, on her way to drill team practice. “If I were a fourteen-year-old boy, I wouldn’t want anybody to clip the hair under my arms.”
      That was all it took. A cameo appearance by the golden girl and I could keep my underarm hair. And I have it to this day, thank you.

      I was thumbing through my Webster’s when Daddy opened my bedroom door, then knocked. “Get some clothes on. We’re going shopping.” On our way to WT Grants, he added, “No use in overdoing it. You might not win.”
      Seventeen minutes later, I was the proud owner of a cherry red sports jacket whose lone natural fiber resided in the paper tag in the front pocket stating:
      This garment checked by controller 37.
      On our way back home, my father observed. “People are always wondering why my children are such overachievers. You might not appreciate it now, but you’ve been exposed to things others only dream of.”
      Hee Haw, Ann Page Ice Milk and in-your-face domestic violence. He was right.
       “When other parents were taking their children to Disneyland, where did you go?”
      Thank you, historic Jamestown, for saving me from a lifetime of malt liquor and poontang.
      “And when everybody was getting World Book for their kids?”
      Encyclopedia Britannica, be on the lookout for an armed and extremely dangerous highway patrolman if I don’t go forth and multiply. But you have only yourselves to blame. You should have never sold that man the Cornucopia of Enlightenment on an installment plan.

      The regional finals. The auditorium of New Hanover High School was empty except for a handful of parents, siblings and teachers. And twelve contestants. Soft-faced bee director Mr. McGraw handed out name cards on cords to wear around our necks. Ray, as usual, hung heavy on my chest.
      We took our places onstage. The maroon curtains were ripped. Fluffy dust devils slumbered on the dark wooden boards. I spotted Daddy in the forest green forefather of my sports jacket. I felt better.
      Nineteen rounds and a hundred words narrowed down the field to two: Cheryl Anderson from Leland and me. Then something happened. Suddenly I could count dust motes in sunbeams, trace words in the dandruff on Mr. McGraw’s runway lapels. Pliancy and kibbutz and apotheosis unfurled before me. All I had to do was read them aloud. And win.
      Amazing what a set of Britannicas could do. Daddy was overjoyed. Not because I had won. He now realized my $14.99 wardrobe investment would soon pay big dividends when said garments became the centerpiece of an all-expenses-paid trip to the 1972 National Spelling Bee in Washington D.C. Mr. McGraw handed me a shiny loving cup and an official booklet of some 3000 words to study.
      During locker break at school, classmates asked me to spell antidisestablishmentarianism. At home, over Morton drummettes and pee-stained mashed potatoes, Daddy decided my mother would accompany me. Question: could she pick out her own clothes? Or would she be rushed to a clearance sale of the South’s finest non-woven fashions?
      The Cape Fear Tribune, my sponsor, called with our flight information.
      “Flight,” Shirley Gwaltney repeated into the receiver. “You mean like…?”
      Yes, Mother. Unless you are on a first-name basis with some Canadian geese heading north.
      The problem was her motion sickness. She got it changing light bulbs.

                                                                                                ACT II

Sunday June 4th
      9:25 am Departure day. Mama and I drove to the Ramada Inn in Wilmington for brunch in my honor. Capital letters on the marquee spelled out: WELCOME RAY GWALTNEY SENCLAND SPELLING BEE CHAMP. For those weaned on World Book, SENCLAND = Southeastern North Carolina.
      10:37 am We shook hands with managing editor Mr. Bob T. Yates and a tanned woman in a harvest gold pantsuit, JoAnne Broderick, who belonged to a category yet unknown to me. She was not a:
      ◻ maid;
      ◻ waitress;
      ◻ beautician;
      ◻ doctor’s wife;
      ◻ nurse;
      ◻ secretary, or
      ◻ teacher of:
                  o (Sunday) school, or
                  o piano.
      She was the Tribune’s education editor and would cover my story all week. The wobbling front row of my grandmother’s church would have given their porcelain eyeteeth to nudge Harvest Gold into a cozier occupational cubbyhole: Virginia-Slim-smoking likely-divorcée. Finally, a sin worse than body odor. But I liked her and her throaty laugh.
      11:41 am They took us and our luggage—on loan from my grandmother, the only person we knew with a matching set—to the airport.
      12:08 pm On the boarding ramp, we were greeted by an Avon fragrance and its proprietress, Meg Baldwin, also stewardess, as her Piedmont Airlines nameplate stated. We posed for a quick snapshot for the newspaper, circumstantial evidence of our violation of the World Health Organization’s limitation on the number of synthetic fibers per human square inch.
      12:10 pm We took our seats.
      12:16 pm “It’s like a big graceful bird,” Mama said, looking around the cabin. I nodded, praying for takeoff procedures to begin. Soon.
      12:17 pm “It’s like a big graceful bird,” she said to a lady across the aisle who gave her a weary smile behind dark sunglasses.
      12:20 pm The cabin door closed. We began to taxi.
      12:21 pm “IT’S LIKE A BIG GRACEFUL BIRD” she shrieked and I blended into the mustard yellow upholstery of 7B.
      12:42 pm Avon asked if we wanted beverages. I said Coke but Mama declined. “What’s wrong? It’s on the house, you know.”
      “A little queasy, that’s all.” Mama took a little white bag from the seat pocket and unfolded it. She looked to see if anyone had theirs out.
      12:44 pm The stewardess noticed the motion sickness bag. She bent over us, wafting toxic clouds of Sonnet and cawing “are you all right?” in sixteen Southern syllables.
      12:44.008 pm Mama managed not to bust the bag with the thrust of her pipin’ hot, vacuum-packed, Ramada Inn brunch hurl.
      02:07 pm We took our first taxi ever to the Mayflower Hotel, headquarters of the National Spelling Bee. After registering in the plush lobby, we tried to carry our own luggage to the room since we had it on good authority that District of Columbia bellboys were grossly overpaid. Mrs. Broderick insisted on having it brought up by two men in red suits who got right in the elevator with us.
      “Let’s have dinner eightish,” Mrs. Broderick said when we reached her floor. “In the Cutlery Room downstairs.”
      The doors closed.
      I was about to wet my breeches. Supper at eight p.m.? Why, it would almost be dark by then.
       08:01 pm We met Mrs. Broderick in a candlelit booth. She was nursing a glass of brown liquid. Liquor by the drink. The civilized world. She handed me a manila envelope with my name on it. Nametags and a WHO’S WHO AT THE BEE fell out.
      “Let’s see what they wrote about you, Ray.”
      Name. School. Hobbies. Favorite musical group. The Osmonds!
      “Where did they get this information?” Flames leapt off my red-hot ears and threatened to melt Mama’s 100% virgin orlon wig. She rested her mug of Sanka on the table. “They called one day when you were at school.”
      “All you had to do was look at my 45s.”
      Favorite TV show. Dark Shadows? “That isn’t even on anymore!”
      “Well, you used to like it,” she said. I thanked my lucky stars she hadn’t said The Banana Splits.
      Mrs. Broderick suggested we get plenty of rest. “You’ve got a jam-packed week ahead of you.”
      Capitol Hill, the U.S. Mint, the Smithsonian. The FBI!
      She exhaled a blue ribbon of smoke. “On Wednesday, you’ve got the White House reception with Tricia Nixon Cox. And don’t forget, competition begins Thursday.” She stabbed a skinny cigarette in the ashtray. “If you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to be somewhere quick.”
      The White House. What on earth was I going to wear? How about that trendsetting buy-one-get-three-free lace-up tee we found at a sidewalk sale? Or its partner in crime, a zippered ribbed top that so flattered my milkless udders? Or maybe my lucky red sports jacket. It was the White House, after all.
      [Fast forward 40 years into my Italian future. L’imbarazzo della scelta they say when one is overwhelmed by the variety of options at hand. The corresponding English is spoilt for choice, but the literal translation—the embarrassment of the choice—suits my 1972 wardrobe options to a T.]

      08:52 pm. Mama said, “I want to get something to read at the newsstand. And you can look in the gift shop.”
       “I think I’ll go up to the room and get some shuteye,” I said, cringing to hear the terminology I parroted from my father’s reruns. Cattle rustlers and private eyes got shuteye. I needed sleep.
      08:55 pm. I pressed 9 in the elevator and looked up at the fleeting numbers. What was that? There, in the ledge over the doors. All pink and brown. A pamphlet. Or magazine. Mama would like that. Maybe I could stop her before she threw away 60 hard-earned cents on Good Housekeeping. I opened it. A man and a woman uncrinkled before me. Where were their clothes? And what were they doing with that German shepherd?
      The ninth floor lit up with a bright ping. I rolled up the little treasure and slipped it in my pocket. Elevator doors opened. A bright light shone in my face. The police! I tried to breath but oxygen was nowhere to be found. I looked down at shoes on a swirling carpet. Mine. I forced them to move. I looked up. Rooms 901-925 »». I obeyed.
      I heard feet padding toward me. Mrs. Broderick. Had she dashed up to the room for her umbrella? But she was on a different floor. Or Tricia Nixon Cox. Maybe she had a room here. Feet approached me. White lace-ups like a nurse. My mother’s! No. A maid with fluffy towels. I met her eyes, smiled weakly. Remembered to breathe. 921. The key. Where was it? I patted down my pants. Found it. Click and I was in.
      08:59 pm. I went to the window. Closed curtains. Turned on lamp. Peeled pages from palm. A man, in nothing more than chest hair and a nightstick, stood over a woman on all fours. She was naked, too. The caption: Officer Oh’Tool apprehending a repeat offender.
      Click. Click. Mama’s key in the lock! Crammed magazine between mattress and box spring. Pulled up covers. Warmth pulsed through my body. Was this how love felt? A bare-chested Burt Reynolds had come to me twice in my dreams and, though his visits had ceased with the cancellation of Dan August, I had awoken, knowing the feeling was mutual.
      My mother tossed a Ladies Home Journal on the bed. “Are you all right? LPN Shirley Gwaltney cupped a hand over a surface that looked like snipers had opened fire on it with Red Hots: my 14” acne-ridden forehead. “You’re not coming down with something, are you?”
      No, just this nagging nymphomania that creeps up on me when I least expect it.
      Anita Bryant glared from the pages of a magazine. My mother’s, that is.

Tuesday June 6th
      9:07 am. We were waiting outside the FBI when a lady clicked by with a poodle on a leash. I thought of my little wonder under the mattress. What if the maid found it! Would the FBI arrest me here in front of my fellow contestants? Mrs. Broderick would really have something to write home about.
      4:06 pm. Mount Vernon. We boarded a steamer on the Potomac in a thunderstorm. The water repellent qualities of a Zsa Zsa Gabor Glamor wig, aided by ample crop dusting with dry shampoo, formed a plaster cast that left Mama high and dry. I looked like the winner of the First Annual Liberace Lookalike Wet T-Shirt Contest.
      9.19 pm. After dinner, Mrs. Broderick and Mama decided to have drinks at the hotel’s piano bar. I said, “I’ll go up to the room and look over my word list.” I soaked in their nodding approval and excused myself, trying not to run to the elevator. In the cool darkness of 921, I locked myself in the bathroom in a ménage à trois, or quatre, if you counted Spot, Rover or Fritz.
      9:32 pm. One complimentary soap bar later, I limped to the bed and stared at my word list. Did the woman in the magazine have children? If she got pregnant, would she have puppies? If she had three or more puppies, how would she nurse them with just two teats?
      10:11 pm. Mama came back, pulled off her wig and iced her face with cold cream. “To be such a nice place, they sure do skimp on soap,” she said.

Wednesday June 7th
      10.52 am. I put away the giant pink back scratcher I had just bought at the Lincoln Memorial. It was time to meet our North Carolina congressmen at the House of Representatives restaurant. Congressmen Bradshaw and Humphreys signed our beautiful paper placemats and menus, which we promptly stowed away as proof for unbelieving Senclanders. Totally unnecessary. A photographer placed me between our honorable representatives on Capitol steps and instructed me to discuss issues of interest to the youth readership back home:
      ➢ Did Joe Namath have a hairy dick? If there’s a God in heaven.
      ➢ Were Charo’s boobs real? Who cares?
      ➢ Would Ben Cartwright’s sons ever gang bang me? Keep your fingers crossed and legs wide open.
      2:44 pm. A bus whisked us to the White House for an official tour. Inside, we were listening to our guide’s explanation when a thick man in gray took Mama aside.
      “May I see what you are writing, ma’am.” It wasn’t a question.
      Blue from oxygen deprivation, she surrendered her notepad with details on the Presidential china collection. He ripped out the pages and returned the pad. “Security regulations.” Shirley looked like Bambi staring down the wrong end of a twelve-gauge shotgun.
      Me, I was basking in the afterglow of two consecutive anti-bacterial sessions with hotel soap. Daddy would be proud of me. This repeat offender was 100% odor-free.
      3:47 pm. Tour completed, our guides escorted us to the Jacqueline Kennedy gardens. Contestants formed a line to shake hands with the First Daughter who stood under a grape arbor. Parents jockeyed for position with their cameras beneath a punishing sun.
      The heat retained by my slacks began to focus on my strip-mined crotch. My mother, Polaroid dangling from her neck, stood with the other parents in the shade. That morning in the hotel, she could not decide which purse to bring to the White House: (a) her leather saddlebag with western trim and four-inch SG initials vs. (b) a smart macramé knit tote made of bleach bottle inserts decorated with felt tip marker, lovingly handcrafted by a patient of hers at the hospital.
      Needless to say, Clorox won by a country mile. I hope that patient died an agonizing death.
      Each contestant got a split second to meet the President’s eldest daughter. Between pigtails and cowlicks, I caught a glimpse of a bright cocktail dress and yellow hair. She reminded me of someone at church. Or somebody’s big sister.
      4:12 pm. I heard Mama say, “Why she does look like a China doll,” echoing the press’ nickname for her and sending flocks of graceful birds my way. Only three contestants separated me from my rendezvous with royalty. Rivulets of sweat tracing the backs of my knees, I paused to admire my father’s concern for White House security. Should my sizzling genitals self-combust, these flame retardant garments would hold the blaze to an acrid smolder until I located the nearest punchbowl or birdbath.
      4:15 pm. My turn. More than a China doll, looked like she’d been rolled in flour. Very pretty, though. Who did she remind me of?
      The First Daughter glanced at my nametag and offered her hand. “Nice to meet you, Ray.”
      Was I supposed to curtsy?
      “Have you been studying?” she said.
      You could say that.
       “I’m sure you’ve seen lots of new and exciting things in your week here in Washington.”
      You could definitely say that.
      Then it hit me like a two-ton Webster’s. Of course! She was Officer Oh’Tool’s repeat offender.
      Avenging angels swept down with bright swords, eager to lop off my cabbage head and the seven pounds of hair attached to it. The President’s daughter? America’s sweetheart? I fell to my knees, blinded by heavenly light. “Somebody. Anybody. PLEASE forgive me.”
       “Too late now, Ray. First round elimination is your just dessert,” said the angel with Virginia creeper eyebrows and a pronounced lisp.
      I snickered. “Surely you mean desert with one –s, derived from the French.”
      The angels fluttered heavenward, the hems of their gowns muddy and frayed.
      4:16 pm. Tricia Nixon Cox woke me by cooing, “Best of luck, Ray,” then searched for the next nametag.
      Mama rushed up, choking on canapés and estrogen, camera poised. “Got it!” she said.
      The shot slithered out from Polaroid Hell into my mother’s hand. Shapes began to sharpen. Grapevine tendrils crept into focus. An arbor branched out. A yellow blotch became the First Daughter. And that brown smear had to be my elbow. Or a changed diaper.

Thursday June 8th
      9:11 am. I stood in the Mayflower ballroom, chandeliers reflecting in mirrors. Parents tightened bows, straightened collars, patted down frizz while perspiring offspring dry ran syzygy, detumescence and quincunx. Men with multiple cameras and press tags took position. This was war. The 46th Annual National Spelling Bee.
      Mrs. Broderick appeared out of nowhere in a cloud of nicotine. “Nervous?”
      “Not really.” I felt empty, actually.
      “Good. You need to stay focused.”
      Queen Bee Madge Ferguson handed out placards with names and numbers. I found my place onstage. Fourth row. Someone tapped a microphone with a loud boom. We jumped as if our chairs were wired.
      Judges scooted up to tables straining under dictionaries, tape recorders, egg timers and the kind of bells you saw on hotel reception desks. Photographers crept into position. This was happening too fast.
      9:33 am. Bee director Mr. Marion Hudson emerged from golden curtains, sparking a burst of applause. After retracing 46 years of tournament history, he introduced Mr. Alvin Kramer, moderator and owner of a slick pate and plaid jacket. From behind fishbowl lenses, he read the rules.
      Contestants were not required to pronounce a word before and after spelling. Upon request, judges could define it, use it in a sentence or identify the language of origin. Time limits were to be strictly enforced.
      The spelling began.
      Without a moment’s hesitation, hendecagon, muscovado and zwieback struck down their respective victims. An Oklahoman stood before the mike tracing tachometry with a finger on the back of his placard. And no one dared utter a word of warning. Back at Northwoods Park Junior High, Mrs. Rollins gnashed teeth, meat cleaver poised and ready.
      Words flitted around us like vampire bats. Some I recognized, others total strangers. Lagniappe, usquebaugh and infundibuliform. Who could have possibly known them? It was my turn.
      My less-than-Hushpuppies whimpered to the stage front. A mike so old it had probably been stolen from the Lawrence Welk Show.
      Spotlights burned holes through my retinas. Did I have a fever?
      The moderator’s lips moved.
      “Could you repeat that, please?”
      His lips moved again. This time, I could have sworn I heard something:

                                                                                                /'silf/

      I scanned the front rows for dust motes sailing on sunbeams. A fresh snowfall of dandruff to revive me. Giant words unfurling out of nowhere. I stared into the lights, a possum on a country road about to meet his steel-belted radial Maker.
      A judge offered a definition. “A young, slender woman. Like the President’s daughter!” he roared, balls of fire and wicked laughter exploding in the air. I shook off the voice, rattling my teeth. I opened my mouth to speak but only sand sifted through my lips to a pile on the stage.
      The plaid jacket repeated:

                                                                                                /'silf/

      A hush settled over the audience. Nobody knew it. Especially me. I spelled it the only way I could: s-i-l-f. The sharp ping of a reception bell pierced the sound barrier.
      Show some imagination, Ray. S-y-l-p-h. First round elimination as sentenced. A woman beckoned me to the side of the stage.
      “The important thing was getting here,” I heard echo seven times, accompanied by winces of sympathy and first aid whacks between my shoulder blades. Apparently, I was not the only one without imagination.

Friday June 9th
      9:07 am. The competition continued. I watched from a folding chair in the audience with my mother and Mrs. Broderick. Six hours later, a Texan with Buddy Holly glasses won. Macerate, from the Latin macerare. Luckily, we had the Grand Gala to look forward to that evening with its orchid centerpieces and the exciting debut of my mother’s western bag on the Capital’s VIP scene. I prayed my pet pimple Mauna Loa would erupt in the privacy of 921 and not into the vichyssoise they would be serving.

Saturday June 10th
      8:49 am. Goodbye to the ninth floor. My treasure trove elevator. The Mayflower. The Lincoln Memorial. We boarded our return flight. No Canadian geese. No graceful birds. No Avon. We soared over the muddy Potomac and were back in Sencland before we knew it.

      Back home, I searched for a hiding place. How about this stack of Sports Illustrated I subscribed to in order to gawk at athletes without arousing suspicion? Instead, I tucked Officer Oh’ Tool under my mattress hoping he would apprehend me, too. It was the first place Mama looked when she changed the sheets.
      Holding it by a single page like a dead mouse, she said, “You’re disgusting.”
      You could say that.






A North Carolina native, R. R. Gwaltney has been living in northern Italy since 1984. When not translating waffle iron instruction manuals or eavesdropping on his centenarian neighbor, he enjoys writing essays on his life experiences. His work has also appeared in Porcupine Literary Review, Flyway, and Apalachee Review. He is currently writing a novel.





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ISSUE:
S P R I N G
2013


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THE WORSE FOR WEAR: A SOAP OPERA IN TWO ACTS
by
R.R. Gwaltney

CAUGHT BETWEEN SKY AND WATER
by
Laura Callanan

INTERVIEW
with poet
ARTHUR TULEE
by
Sarah Sarai


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