September 30, 2020: “Misunderstandings” by Glori Simmons

Last day of September, Story366!

Today is my father’s birthday. He would have been 88 years old today, though he passed twenty-three years ago, much too young. Today is the day that I choose to remember my father more than any day of the year; I flatly refuse to acknowledge the anniversary of his death, not a date I want to honor or even remember. Anyway, I try to spend my free time thinking about him, the nice times we had, everything he did for me. There was a lot, as he made a ton of sacrifices, working nonstop right up to the day he died. Because of him, I could go off to the college I wanted and major in what I wanted to, to do whatever I wanted to with my life. That might seem like a basic thing for a dad to do, but I run into so many people who didn’t have that opportunity, didn’t have parents like I had/have who supported me and my decisions, no matter how odd or far-fetched they appeared to them. I owe everything I am to my dad, to the chances he gave me and the lessons he taught.

Mostly, though, I just miss him, miss hearing his voice, seeing his face, and spending time with him. So, happy birthday, Dad. Love you.

Today we continue with another entry in a Two-Timers Week at Story366, where I cover an author for a second time. Our Two-Timer for today is Glori Simmons, this time for her book collection Carry You, out in 2018 from Autumn House as the winner of their Autumn House Fiction Prize. I first covered Simmons back in May of this year, reading from her other book, Suffering Fools. So, for a second time, let’s go.

The first story in the collection, “Female Driver,” is from the perspective of Sahar, an Iraqi woman living through two U.S. occupations—in fact, the story is cut into two parts, one set in each of the occupations (what we called “Gulf Wars”). The story begins with Sahar frantically approaching her house and unable to get through the gate, forcing her to climb over. When she reaches her house, her husband and children find her ragged and scared and covered in blood. Simmons doesn’t tell us what happened right way to set this scene, but the first explanation is that she hit a dog. Later we find out she hit and killed a kid; we also find out she was on the way home from her lover’s apartment, not where she was supposed to be in the city. In the second part, she—an Iraqi woman, remember—defies everyone’s advice and continues to drive, resulting in a carjacking at gun point. The story features one more major event, however, the real climax, someone she loves very much in the wrong part of the city, much like her years earlier, with similarly devastating results.

In the next story, “Misunderstandings,” we meet Clark, a pre-school kid whose dad is serving in Saudi Arabia. At the start of the story, we actually get Clark as an adult, serving overseas himself, thinking back to the incident described in the story. Clark takes us back to this time with his dad gone, when his grandma, Lola, was dying in the hospital, the setting for the entire story.

Clark spends weeks at the hospital with his mom, along with his Uncle Frederick, who’s currently not talking to his sister, Clark’s mom (this is the first misunderstanding, by the way). He spends his days playing games, eating at the cafeteria with his uncle, and basically asking his mom when they can go home every five seconds. Everyone does what they can, but Lola doesn’t have much time, so this is where Clark is going to be.

Clark wanders at some point, armed with a dime and a nickel he found in his mom’s car. He decides to go down to the cafeteria, where he’ll buy some of the butterscotch pudding he’d meant to try before. He gets down there and fills his tray, then takes it to the cashier. The cashier, of course, wonders where his mom is—they know this family at this point—and Clark lies and says she’s coming. The cashier comps Clark’s food—fifteen cents is a little short of the bill—and Clark sits down and eats his pudding.

Enter Don, a nurse who Clark knows well from his weeks in the hospital. Don sits down with Clark, worried where his mom might be, and Clark lies again, says she’s on her way. He also lies that Lola is getting better, knowing she’s not, and shockingly, Don calls him out: He tells Clark that his grandma is going to die, and tells him about death. This is a weird moment, some nurse taking on this level of honesty, a red flag in the back of my head.

Don offers to take Clark back up to his mom, and Clark agrees. On the way up, in the elevator, Clark wets his pants. That red flag moves to the front of my mind when Don takes Clark into a locked room, some sort of lost and found, and finds clothes for Clark to change into, along with a diaper. From there, he helps him change—adding the diaper into the mix; to note, Clark was not wearing a diaper before, already potty-trained, but again, Don is making a parenting decision for Clark’s absent mom and dad.

I don’t want to reveal anything else about this story, but wanted to get the creepy Don scene in to give the scope of this story, the real stakes. You know Don has to present Clark to the family with these new clothes on, and you’re right to be curious about how that goes down. You’ll have to read the story for yourself to find out.

Later on in the book, I found Clark again in “Peaches,” or at least in the background. We’re nearly two decades down the road and Clark has been deployed, is serving just like his father did. This one actually features his dad, Bill. Bill is in charge of some rail lines, fixing the crossing gates, and a man has just been killed by a train. There’s heavy suspicion that the gates failed, leading to the man’s death, meaning Bill would be seen as responsible. This is a shorter piece, the shortest in the book, but we still get a good sense of Bill as he investigates the crime scene, all the while thinking of the dead man’s family, and his own son, Clark, off in harm’s way. What Bill does at the scene might not be the most moral course of action, but this book is about survival in a lot of ways, and Bill survives.

Carry You is a drastically different collection than Suffering Fools, but both of Glori Simmons’ books prove that she’s a super-talented story writer, and pretty eclectic on top of that. Today’s book seems to trace people, and maybe one family more than other, as they navigate the horrors of war, what it does to people before, during, and after. Simmons is comfortable with bad people and bad situations, and of course, that makes for some good fiction. Here’s to a third collection sometime in our future.

One thought on “September 30, 2020: “Misunderstandings” by Glori Simmons

  1. Pingback: October 1, 2020: “JB and FD” by John Edgar Wideman – Story366

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