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Getting Out of Janesville
An industrialist … owns … an elevator company. Or a factory that makes parts for elevators, or pulleys, or hinges for sliding doors. He took over the business from his older partner. He finds out … well, he always knew, but he has to tell it to someone else, his daughter, an equestrian … he inherited the business because this older man, his business partner, was in love with him. This partner killed himself in a spasm of despair, leaving the business to this carefree boy, as he thought of the young partner, now a middle-aged man and father of an equestrian. The industrialist feels deep shame at how he came about his wealth. None of it was his idea. He makes up a story about a device he patented, something so small no one had given any thought to improving it … got him where he is, he says … except that one day he decides to tell his daughter the truth.

Meanwhile, one of the workers in the hinge factory … does very little. Drinks a lot. His wife has a plan to bring in some cash by selling Persian kittens. But first she has to steal a Persian cat. Well, she has one, but she has to get another. She steals a tom from the stable of the equestrian. The daughter of the industrialist is so feckless she has no idea that her frivolous barn cat could be making someone else money. The wife gets away with this theft. The tom fathers more Persians. The worker couple’s life becomes a hell with these kittens everywhere. Well, it’s the cutest thing ever, these kittens, but they require a lot of care, and dressing up in bows.

Their son … lives wild on the street. He does go to school, but he has a rich life outside of school, with frogs in ditches. He loves the kittens and gets angry and sad every time his mother sells them. She sells a whole litter very quickly, and the trailer goes from full of kittens to just the grumpy mom cat and the barely containable gray tom. This economic cycle causes a simmering fury in the son.

The son gets a job … at the stable of the equestrian. It’s conveniently not that far from the trailer park. No one has ever said anything to this kid except to shoo him outside or yell at him to stop yelling. He has no idea that his mother’s Persian kitten business spouts from this very barn he’s now mucking out. The son is good with horses, despite his temper. He walks them, feeds them, and even cleans their hooves, but doesn’t ride them. Only the lovely, spoiled daughter of the industrialist actually mounts them.

One day … something happens. The horses are antsy, and won’t come out of their stalls. They kick, and toss their heads. There’s a whole feeling about their behavior, like they’re wild, but logical. They’re reacting to something unseen. Well, that’s what we expect of animals. They express themselves through movement, whereas all the people in this story are pretty held in.

If we could get to it quickly … just move it along … the veterinarian … and the daughter. But then the son … way the veterinarian looks at him. He’s an educated man, calm, and beautifully muscled … wrestle together with the daughter’s favorite mare … panicked … if only … “no choice!” … dig a pit with an excavator the son has to go hire from the … way she falls … says he’ll never get over it. Complete tangle of erotic touch and the thunk of the mare into the pit.

All of them sweaty. Stink of dung and urine, perfume of the equestrian and the vet’s pure masculine aftershave.


The industrialist … far removed from the writhing organism. Paler and sicker. Throat cancer. Last chance coming soon. A chair in sunlight, but indoors, facing a houseplant.

Worker’s wife with the kittens … wrists in dish water … terrible blankness behind her forehead. “This … purr factory drives me bonkers,” she tells her sister. All the sucking up to wealthy collectors. Vet drops the son off at the family lair, steps in to see the cats. Drunken father calls him … well, the vet is from a foreign country, came here when he was three. Put off by the cat piss soaked deep into the couch cushions, as well as the racial epithet, and yet … leads to deeper understanding of the son. A look passes.

Why not? Does it mean … but then … and the …

… equestrian … uncontrollable rage … strikes her father across the face. “Why didn’t you …?”

“… I only …”

“Don’t you have …?”

 Disgrace. Total shame. Deep in her pores, now wretched with …

The vet and the son look up at the sky through not much of a bedroom window. Surprising amount of yard sale-ing going on, up and down the rows. “All those people pawing through junk, while we’re lying here …” Tenderest thing that ever happened to the son, but he can’t forgive …

way the mare turned her head and …

sound of … flies, blood, and …

globs of her spit on her neck, and the … behind the … stillness and the …

“Ever thought of getting out of Janesville?”


An interval here … exhilarating rush towards action, but when it’s inevitable … kind of need a delay. Industrialist slumped in his chair, dirt from the houseplant scattered in an arrow-like trajectory from the broken pot. Equestrian roaring off in her little car, while meanwhile, the son … and the vet … quiet Saturday interrupted by the … runs out in the … drunk dad screaming … vet holding his pants up, shirt in his hands and blood all over his chin … “You little … ! Don’t come round here, you …!” Ellipses first a tick, now usefully blotting out this particular word … let you imagine from the several to choose from. “Don’t you touch my … People like you … Fuck off, you …!”

so it’s okay to take a break. Let’s go briefly to … Florida

The sweat poured down the back of her knees walking the two blocks to the mini-mart to get more mango juice. The sky seemed thickened, melted glass capped down over the town. A minute without air conditioning was like … Girls in halter tops poured out of a convertible. Long line of half-gloomy, half-chattering men waiting for employment outside the Home Depot. Scribbles of pelicans over the bay.

She sat on a bar terrace, tamarind margarita, you can’t get that back in … tells all to her boyfriend Dougie who …

This isn’t the equestrian. It’s a completely different woman. Maybe she was best friends with industrialist’s daughter up to a point, but they got sick of each other. They had a grasping relationship ending in a clawing fight, complete with torn ear lobes. That was pretty early on, before the … secret … just some people needing no excuse to be bitchy, because after all … if they’re going to wear their nails like that … “No really,” she said, “if I wanted to be there, I could, but it’s like as soon as I’m here, I’m thinking about being there, and then when I get there, it’s like it’s all misted over with this unholy domestic glow. It’s fake. I know it’s fake. It’s, I can’t help it. I just want, for once, to be, you know, not thinking about being satisfied.”

All this wasted on Dougie. Even the act of having a conversation was so … remote? The way we used to talk?

Better to mull in silence, the salt from the rim cutting into the remnant of a pimple. That corner of the terrace provided a uniquely framed view of the Home Depot parking lot where the men now returned from wherever assorted trucks and school buses had hauled them when she’d been out twelve hours earlier.

“Hey babe?”

“Yeah, dude?”

“ …?”

“Dude, I’m just … thinking, okay?”

Because they’re in Florida, their position on the terrace is glorified with a gigantic orange ball sinking into serene water, streamers of pink snaking along the blue, the whole thing so … so … validating? And the pelicans! “Look, dude! Pelicans!”

“You can’t shout ‘Pelicans!’ every time we see pelicans. We’re in Florida, babe. There’s tons of pelicans.”

“But that’s the point …” the equestrian’s former friend muses.

They went back to the suite and had bad and quick sex. Brandi sat in her robe looking out the glass doors. If he doesn’t pick that … condom off the … floor, I’m gonna … But had dude ever picked the condom off the floor? Dude might have asked her what she thought of the sex, and she would have said, “Fantastic!”

These thoughts … almost built a little shack. A board here, a window there.


 … creating a sense of having missed the main action. We were talking about leaving, but now we’re going back. Act of integrity, actually. The event here has shifted sideways, the industrialist pretty much finished before he even got started, and now it’s all being paid out through this Lebanese vet, so mysterious are the criss-crossings of the industrialist’s world.

While mom and dad are at the yard sale … naked melee topped off the twist of limbs. Images of the mare … the hole he dug with the rented backhoe … “You killed her…” Stench of sweat from somewhere deeper than armpits, central core animal visitation momentarily calms him, but then … Son lashes out. Regrets the sex, of course, what it might mean … thonks the vet in the face and keeps flailing.

The vet staggers out of the trailer. Sight of the bare torso an affront to … drunk dad and his drunken buddy pelt him with … kick his … sense of his own worth built up despite … and then reduced to … can’t escape the …

Kick in the head. Kick in the groin. “You little …! Take that, you …!”

“For pity’s sake!” just before he …

Wouldn’t think something like that would happen here, in this day and age, and not even after dark yet, but it’s …

Trapped between the little lanes of the aluminum hulks, where they continued to …

Should have said “For fuck’s sake” and they might have reacted, but …

You know he spoke French, the vet, and his little sister was so beautiful.


All that’s left is for the vet to … wake up out of his coma. Face by that time almost recognizable again. Family has been praying over his bedside. “Won’t you please forgive …” They’re adamant. These people they live among, they’re animals. They don’t know. “You have to say you forgive what they did, and then we can go back to being …”

Vet can’t ask, where’s the son of the man who put me in this state? If he would apologize, then I would forgive, sort of blurs through his mind. Stares at the curtains drawn across a window that shows when it’s open only an air ventilator and the other wing of the hospital. Shadows make the white beige, and the beige brown. His mother plays the piano in the family lounge down the hall. Nurses bring her their patients’ excess flowers, admire her piled-up hair. Shut up with the … Chopin! he wants to scream, but he’s well past screaming. In fact can barely whisper.

Staggers across the room, dragging the IV …

Never going to get those hours …

Trapped in a spiral of … literally circling of the … rotation of water down the shower drain and the … slowly subsiding foam and …

Equestrian concludes the sale of the hinge factory as quickly as possible. Loads of cash, paid out the workers and what they do now is their own business so …

lands up in Florida, passing a few days with her cousin before they head to … Had no idea her old school chum slash enemy was still in the …

Chill between her and Brandi solved with one big hug and compliment. “But what are you …? I thought you went back to …?”

“No, I never want to see that place again. I was going to get my realtor’s license, but then I … someone hired me to decorate so I …”

Turns out Brandi’s real passion is throw pillows and bed skirts. The arrangement of objects in a room. Making things nice and cozy and kind of peaceful. Not cluttered, you know?

Equestrian finds it impossible to express interest in this, but she … sees that Brandi has an interest.

“That’s great. That’s so great.”

“Sorry about your dad. That’s so sad.”

 “Yeah well.”

“Oh my god oh my god oh my god!”

 “What the fuck, Brandi?”

Stretching one talon out to point at the pelicans.

Can the equestrian just … see the … pelicans? Just look at them? Using the animals to resolve all the … first the mare and then the … or water, even … make everything else provide the reprieve we somehow think we deserve …

Otherwise a kind of grinding repetition without the …

Grace? As if, with the disaster the equestrian left behind. No earthly duty to keep making hinges when the … “Look, I didn’t create this mess,” the equestrian might have said, but nobody asked her. Nobody even implied that she had any obligation to … just playing her part, which might be a cushy one from the outside, but “I’ve suffered,” she would have said if anyone asked her. She’d seen some terrible things. Absolutely. Awful.

Background so resonant, shadows even … recreate the whole scene in reverse, blank space around the figures and the …

But no, morally, like, doesn’t she have to … like … say the words? Or even put her hand on her arm? Some sort of tender gesture, that one of them could claim, or remember, or go on with or … Maybe one woman could touch the other woman’s hair, and then the …

And of course, absolving everything … the … sunset.


Angela Woodward is the author of the novels Natural Wonders and End of the Fire Cult, and the collections The Human Mind and Origins and Other Stories. She won a Pushcart Prize in 2017 for her Conjunctions story "New Technologies of Reading."