May 7: “Hotei” by Paul Griner

Happy Saturday, Story366. Another beautiful day today in the Missouri Ozarks, another day spent with my family, out and about, and another win for this blogger’s beloved Chicago Cubs.

The most interesting thing that happened to me? I found the world’s smallest bathroom. We ate at this little Mexican restaurant today, had really good food, and on the way out, I stopped to use the restroom. As soon as I opened the door, I saw the toilet right there. I tried going inside, and there was an inch separating the door from the front of the bowl, if that—I checked for an indention in the wood, certain I’d see one, but didn’t. Still, no room to stand. No room to sit. I wasn’t sure what to do, what anyone did. So I left. Then, I decided that wasn’t a good idea—long drive home—and I tried it again.

Through a series of a contortionist’s manipulations, configuring myself into positions I had not thought possible, I was able to go to the bathroom. Then I had to undo that to wash my hands. Then I had to get out . The funniest part was, when I was leaving, the guy working at this place saw me, and our eyes met: He knew. He just knew. He didn’t apologize, didn’t laugh, but he knew. And then he kept eating his chicken fajita.

Today’s book is Hurry Please I Want to Know by Paul Griner, out from Sarabande. This is another book that I saw on a lot of the Best of 2015 lists I read at the end of last year. I hadn’t read anything by Griner before, not even in lit journals. So I had a completely new adventure ahead of me.

Looking at table of contents, I noticed that Griner had a lot of stories in his book, meaning he writes shorts, which I like, but didn’t expect. Reading into the book, though, and getting through the first six entries, it seems like there’s an every-other pattern here, one short, one longer story, etc. The title of the book can be found at the end of the first story, a one-pager entitled “Animati” that I absolutely loved. The next story, “Newbie Was Here,” one of the longest stories in the book, is also a great story. I kept reading, but as soon as I finished “Hotei,” I knew I had my story.

“Hotel” starts in an urgent care facility, the protagonist/narrator in the middle cubicle, waiting for care on her broken finger. No privacy, she notes, and observes the women waiting on either side of her, one with a full-body rash, another a pregnant woman in with obvious signs of a miscarriage. That’s all in the first few sentences, so Griner starts well, a setting, a character, and several directions the story can go. An A+ start in my book.

As much as I like a good full-body rash story, Griner focuses his lens on the pregnant woman and her miscarriage. Our protagonist is super-concerned about her because, as you might guess, she’s had some miscarriages—it’s clear that it’s been several—herself. Her broken finger no longer her concern, even though it’s excruciating, and she leaves in order to get out into the parking lot first so she can follow the woman when she leaves. It’s not clear whether she’s trying to help this woman or if she’s somehow stalking her, morbidly fascinated with a situation she more than empathizes with. When the woman leaves, our protagonist indeed follows her like a detective in a cop show.

Again, Griner has set himself up to go anywhere with this. At this point in the story, this protagonist could do anything, be it with the woman from the urgent care or not. But we’re in a car, we’re in pain, and we’re emotionally charged, really, really close to committing a felony (at least on the personal space level). I like this about Griner’s work, as he seems to have this skill, to set himself up for great turns, setting his readers up for unpredictable endings. Or heck, middles. All of this is still around the halfway mark. I was ready for anything.

If you’ve read Story366 at all, you know I won’t reveal much more about the story, spoil what happens, as one goal of mine is for you to go out and read the story and still get something new out of it. I’m not going to break that streak here. I will say that the next scene in “Hotei” takes place in an Indian restaurant, not where the protagonist, or I, saw the story going after urgent care. I’ll also say that Griner continued to surprise me, delight me, and the ending is better and more perfect than anything I was imagining. Made me pick it over five other really good stories, in fact. I love this piece.

Though I do wonder what happened to that woman with the full-body rash. Probably got a salve or something.

A really great day again with a really great bathroom story (I for some reason have a lot of great bathroom stories) and a great book—Hurry Please I Want to Know by Paul Griner—to end things off. Tomorrow’s Mother’s Day, so maybe it’s not my day to have another great day, but I’m looking forward to it, anyway. I have a good feeling.

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  1. Pingback: May 8: “Jack Kerouac Is Pregnant” by Aurelie Sheehan – Story366

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