Conjunctions:55 Urban Arias

That year we lived on Holbrege in a small one-story house with a patch of dirt in the back Sheila always talked about making a garden out of. Everybody else on the block lived in similar houses and during the long summer we all spent weekend days on the small concrete slabs that were the best anybody could do for porches. I don’t remember any of our neighbors’ names, only that we sometimes drank a few beers together and talked about how could it be this hot already and not even June. I was an adjunct in the English Department. Sheila was a poet who didn’t believe universities and poetry had anything to do with each other. She got a job waiting tables at the Golden Wok and it was there that she met someone, another waiter. Before she got the job there we used to eat there sometimes. The Golden Wok was cheap and open late, a big sprawling place that even when it was filled with people had a way of looking empty. I left Lincoln the following year and have not been back to Nebraska since, except for a few times driving across it on I-80. I never stop in Lincoln for gas. When I lived there I was told that it had once been a beautiful city. This was before, apparently, they ruined it by building too many highways, and for a smallish town, even if a state capital, Lincoln did seem to me to have an inordinate amount of highways. Still there was the Sunken Gardens with all the flowers in a kind of bowl and also the houses on Sheridan Boulevard. Sheila and I would drive up and down Sheridan Boulevard and look at those houses. Once she pointed to one of them and said, in all seriousness, “Who would we be if we lived there?” Her bare feet were on the dash. I remember that particular house. It was big and white with what she had called a porte cochere. Sheila was from the South and she said such stupid little outdoor garages were common there. Another time she said, “Hang the rich by their own petards. My father used to say that—and he was rich. It means by their own umbilical cords, or something like that.”
     I remember hearing that at one time Lincoln was the licorice capital of the world. Maybe it still is. Near our house was a little park with a couple of netless tennis courts and I used to sit at a picnic table and read for class. I remember reading To the Lighthouse out there and coming to that moment where Mr. Ramsey, in the dark of the morning corridor, reaches out for Mrs. Ramsey not knowing that she’s already dead. It happened, like most things, offstage.

Bard Fiction Prize winner Peter Orner is the author of two novels, The Second Coming of Mavala Shikongo and Love and Shame and Love (both Little, Brown); and three story collections, Esther Stories (Back Bay Books), Last Car Over the Sagamore Bridge, and Maggie Brown & Others (both Little, Brown). His memoir, Am I Alone Here? (Catapult), was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. A new collection of essays, Notes in the Margin, will be out next year. Orner’s stories have been anthologized in Best American Short Stories and twice received a Pushcart Prize. He has been awarded the Rome Prize from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the American Academy in Rome, a Guggenheim Fellowship, a two-year Lannan Foundation Literary Fellowship, as well as a Fulbright to Namibia. He is a Professor of English and Creative Writing at Dartmouth College and lives with his family in Norwich, Vermont.