Sunday is here, Story366!
The Karen is on her way back from her weeklong retreat in Tennessee, just a few hours from home. Before she left, I dreaded her absence, partly because I wouldn’t get to see her, partly because I’d be shouldering the week alone. I knew she’d be doing her thing, taking some much needed her-time. I also knew that all the appointments, all the rides, all the homework, all the questions, all the everything, would fall under my column. Considering everything that encompasses, plus my job, plus the COVID nonsense, it was a tall order.
I think I pulled it off, however (knock on wood). Before she left, I’d hoped to take care of some major household task, do something like paint our bathroom, reorganize our basement, or clean the gutters. Nothing like that formulated, and really, it wasn’t even close. I liken those goals to that first day of summer break, when I think I’m going to write seven books, lose fifty pounds, and accomplish every other life goal I’ve ever had because I have three months off. None of those things have ever happened, and our bathroom is still all naked drywall and peeling wallpaper as I type this.
Still, the boys and I got our stuff done. We Scouted. We cleaned up. We finished their first academic quarter with relatively good grades, considering. We’re healthy. The cats are coming together. I feel rested.
No matter what happened here this last week, I’m glad to have Karen coming home. I can’t wait, really, just a few-four hours until she pulls up. I can take just about anything in this world, any task, any trial, any setback, but with her here, it’s always a million times easier, a million times better. Then it’ll be Monday, and together, we’ll take on the next thing.
Yesterday I finished a Two-Timers Week here at Story366, so today I was back to new authors (or at least those I haven’t covered yet). I start back with R.L. Maize‘s collection, We Love Anderson Cooper, out from Celadon Books in 2019. I’ve not read Maizes’ work before, despite some steady journal publications, so going in, I was eager to see what she does. Let’s talk about that.
The title story leads us off and it’s about Markus, this kid about to have his Bar Mitzvah, but at the same time, ready to come out to his parents. He has a boyfriend, a kid from Hebrew School named Gavin. Gavin’s not out yet, either, and wants to keep it that way, but Markus has other plans.
Markus tries to tell his parents, who seem accepting, but he never gets it out. In the meantime, he’s memorizing passages from Leviticus, the book with the anti-gay verse that all the anti-gay Christians like to quote. Markus has to read this in front of the congregation as he become a man, but doesn’t want to. His mother, still unaware, says to say it and not mean it, to think the opposite in his heart.
Markus decides he’s going to come out at his Bar Mitzvah, while up on the pulpit, instead of reading his speech and reciting his verses. Markus recalls a kid who came out during his valedictorian speech, a kid who later became famous, interviewed all over TV, his speech a hit on YouTube. Markus starts to picture the fame he’ll receive, but at the same time, Gavin still wants no part of this, not ready, his parents not the liberals that Markus’ are. The boys agree that if Markus goes through with his plan, he’ll leave Gavin out of it.
The Bar Mitzvah scene, in the middle of the story, is awkward and tense, but Markus spits it out, comes out … but outs Gavin, too. The ceremony turns into chaos, the rabbi wanting him to leave, the congregation cheering Markus on, and Gavin bolting before Markus can talk to him.
From there, Markus has to deal with the aftereffects of his actions. He has his Bar Mitzvah party, anyway—no refunds on the hall, DJ, or food—but Gavin doesn’t come. He and Gavin don’t talk for a couple of days, and when they do, Gavin’s still sore. The boys have their first real sexual encounter, too, but it’s sooner than Markus hoped it would be, him relenting to Gavin’s pressures simply because he feels he owes his boyfriend.
At the same time, Markus gets some of that fame he craved, kids at school suddenly thinking he’s cool. A reporter calls for a TV interview. People who had never talked to him before are suddenly inviting him to sit with them at lunch, to come over for parties.
I don’t want to go any further into this piece, as I need to leave something for you to discover. It’s a tense and moving story, though, this kid really caught up on the whirlwind of his life, of his choices, including the ones he makes and the ones he doesn’t make.
“Collections” is about Maya, a retired woman whose lover, Peter, has died from cancer, who is suddenly finding herself in an undesirable state, on top of her general grief. Maya had worked for Peter as his caretaker and cook before the two fell together as lovers. She then moved in, from her meager apartment, and lived the life of a wealthy woman, Peter quite well off. When Peter got sick, she nursed him until death, only to find out she wasn’t in his will and his daughters did not know of her relationship with their father. Maya is suddenly back at her rundown apartment, no money, no job, no way to make a living. She trades the fancy adjustable bed she took from Peter’s house (while his daughters were en route) for some work on her apartment, which is how she meets Alberto, the handsome handyman. Alberto offers her a job as his collections agent, and this is how Maya finds out that so many of Alberto’s clients haven’t paid him because he slept with their wives or daughters. When Alberto starts courting Maya, she had to decide what it is she wants, and more importantly, how she wants to live.
The last story, “Ghost Dogs,” features Paula. When we first meet Paula, we see her life is falling apart. Maizes slowly reveals what happened to Paula to get her into this funk phase. We see that her realty law practice has all but gone under, her home office a disaster that even the housekeeper won’t touch. Her husband, Roger, has been recovering from cancer. We find out her two beloved dogs, Tanner and Pedal have recently passed, but not how.Because of all this, their relationship is strained. Eventually, we find out the backstory, that those dogs died, at just five or six years old, when Paula was out on errands. She picked up Roger’s chemo drugs, then ran into a client’s office to pick up some papers, only to come out and find the dogs had eaten Roger’s deadly meds. The dogs soon die, and things between her and her husband, and her and herself, are never quite the same for Paula.
I enjoyed the time I spent with We Love Anderson Cooper, R.L. Maizes’ fine debut collection. Maizes already has another book out this year, a novel named Other People’s Pets, so things seem to be coming together for this talented author. I like the impossibility of the life situations she places her characters into, even enjoying the pain they endure as they attempt to navigate. These are important-feeling, high-stakes stories, and Maizes seems right at home, bringing them our way.