September 24: “Paco, Dreaming” by Rosellen Brown

Happy Saturday, Story366! Today is harried. My boys and I are set to head out to Cub Scout camp for an overnighter, but of course, I have to get my post up before I go because this is one of those campouts that does not encourage blogging and laptops and machines that light up when plugged into a wall. Can’t wait to get to camp and get set up, but between this blog and the reading hangover—Laura Hendrix Ezell read at MSU yesterday and was amazing—I’m a bit frenzied, with a few steps to go between now and then.

So let’s get to it. Today I read from Rosellen Brown‘s collection Street Games, a book I picked up when Brown came to visit Bowling Green quite a while ago. That was actually her second visit to BG in about seven years. The first time, right when I got to BG in ’95, she talked a lot about Before and After, her book which had recently been turned into a movie starring Meryl Streep and Liam Neeson. She talked about that a lot, revealed some on-set details, like meeting with Streep, who was researching the role. It was the first time I’d ever heard talk about that aspect of writing, the film world, and it seemed glamorous and exotic. Both of her visits were memorable, mostly, though, because she’s a terrific writer and reader, and at the same time, extremely generous as a visitor.

Street Games was reissued by Norton in 2001, which is the version I have, but actually came out originally in 1974 from Doubleday and then again in 1991 from Milkweed, making this the first three-time release I’m reviewing for Story366 this year (in case you’re keeping track), and by far, the oldest stories as well. I jumped around Street Games, taking in a piece here and there. To note, the stories are all about people living and working on George Street in New York. In fact, each story has a heading at the top of the first page in addition to the title, an address, Brown traveling up and down the block. She tells the stories from the people who live in the apartments, the duplexes, and the houses, along with a few businesses, such as the bodega on the corner in the opening story, “I Am Not Luis Beech-Nut.” Today I’ll write about “Paco, Dreaming,” however, about a family living at 251 George, in the basement apartment.

“Paco, Dreaming,” does feature a character named Paco, but he’s not really the protagonist, not right away. The story is about his mother, Ines, who is up early, cleaning and cooking while all her children, pets, and other various relatives sleep. She is on fire, the house sparkling, and has shifted her attention to the food. Distracted and hurrying and taking her skills for granted, Ines tries to unclog the blender with her hand, something stuck in the blades. Just like that, she hears a snap, blood is sprayed across the entire kitchen, and her fingers are no longer attached, a crimson mixture inside the pitcher. Everyone’s sleeping, so Ines has to wake her most trustworthy offspring, Paco, who, after some panic and wonder, takes his mother to the emergency room. There, she’s repaired, at least as much as is possible at this point, coming out with a boxing glove-sized cast.

And really, that’s the forward-moving plot of the story, though there’s a lot more going on thematically and structurally. Right after Ines loses her fingers, there’s a scene change to a disturbing place not far from George Street, where Papi works, a place that sets an odd tone. The last scene, on the way home from the hospital, shifts to Paco’s point of view, revealing a bit of his consciousness, his take on this event. So, not a traditional story by any means, at least in not how it’s told, and I like those surprises that Brown made, over forty years ago. “Paco, Dreaming” is about more than just a traumatic and macabre home accident. She gives the family in 251 George a more holistic approach, exposing us to a trio of people instead of one.

I’ve read a few of Rosellen Brown’s books now and have enjoyed all of them. She’s certainly one of our most enduring talents, and Street Games, an early book and her only collection of stories, is worth taking a look, all these years later.

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