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Peter K. Hixson’s Writing
A sad little fence runs from these dunes
down to the water,
dividing the private and the public.
Its single row of rough-cut sticks,
broken here and there, twisted together with rusting wire,
bending as if to follow the wind
as it sweeps down the shore.
Miles of sand,
untouched by those who say they own it,
left to the sparrows
who flit here and there over its debris,
like mad fighter pilots who have lost their prey,
And the gulls,
who ignore this weathered collection of board and wire,
crisscrossing its line,
like vagrant caretakers sifting the sand for a handout,
until with lifted wing
they become a fleet of ancient airships
leaving for some distant mission.
Who shall say what is owned
when the sand piles against the fence row,
sifting its way to the other side,
and the waves angle inward,
sidling with sly grace across its imaginary line?
And what consequence upon wave and wing
whose marks of trespass are soon swept away
by the conspiring wind,
their only witness
this broken row of boards half buried in the sand.
ORDINARY HERO (short story excerpt)
The First Presbyterian Church of Dry River weren’t much to look at. Just white clapboards with a cross at the peak. Web Newcome, a deacon for 22 years, had cut that cross from an old walnut tree downed by lightnin’. When it fell, it tore off the original so Web figgered it was the hand of God tellin’ him to make a new one. Web never did nothin’ halfway and it took six men to winch it up there.
Inside was simple like the outside. The roof timbers and boards was white wash stained, the yellow pine floors varnished, and the 12 big casement windows kept plain except for a small wooden cross glued in the center—more of Web’s doin’ with the last of the walnut. Aside from a nursery room, a bathroom and an office, that was it.
The Reverend Thomas Xavier McKnight (Rev. Tom if you knew him) called us together twice each Sunday at 7:00 for the farmers and 9:00 for those who liked to sleep in a little. Most Sundays, two services just about got the whole town to church.
But today was different. Twas Thursday and me and Rev. Tom was here at 2:00, preppin’ to remember Carl Sauers’ boy, Travis, at a 3:00 service. I had to set up foldin’ chairs on the grass outside the windows, the church’s pews, 15 on each side, only enough to hold maybe 150 of the faithful. I figgered five at each window oughta handle the overflow.
Travis was only a month old when he died. His granddaddy, Jake, took it hard. Guess anybody would. Losin’ a grandson and a daughter-in-law. Got to be hard. Real hard. I finished settin’ up the communion table and headed back to the Rev.’s office to get them brass candle sticks. He was fussin’ over his sermon, real ornery and flustrated ’cause it weren’t goin’ right, and had to, seein’ it was Jake’s grandson we were buryin’.
“How do you spell ‘egregious’?” he said as I opened the storage closet.
“What’s it mean?” I said.
“Means bad, real bad. You know how to spell it or not?”
“What the hell’s that? I asked you how to spell ‘egregious.’”
“Not even close.”
PAS DE TROIS (short story excerpt)
The winter sun fades into the pallid sky, its colors frozen into a slate-like gray, the day growing old before its time. You don’t notice. You’re too busy arguing with Howard. Eight dance pieces built of muscle and bone, fueled with sweat and pain. Months of work coming to a climax. You agree on the last three lighting cues, run them twice and decide to call it a night. As you walk toward your car, Howard shuts down the parking lights, the darkness a seamless wall of black, a single flake of snow drifting past on a whisper of air.
You’re not ready to see your father, so you stop for coffee at Starbucks. You’re the only customer. The waitress, Cheryl, a dancer in your company, brings you a French roast, adding a cookie next to your cup. She pours herself a coffee and sits across from you. Her body is obviously feminine, but hardened with the rigors of class and performance. Good, but not brilliant technically, she leaves the audience breathless when she moves.
“You know, Anna, you’ve got to eat more,” she says as you break off a piece of molasses cookie.
“Talking about the weather with Papa doesn’t take a lot of energy,” you say.
“That all you talk about? The weather?” she asks.
“No,” you say, not wanting to talk about it. “On good days, we actually have conversations.”
“My grandpa was like that.”
“The one who raised you?”
“Yeah. He and Grandma. Everyone else managed to die young.”
“I remember your grandmother died three years ago when we were on tour in Chicago.”
“Grandpa died in April.”
“I’m sorry. You must miss him.” You see her eyes flash with pain.
“I do.” You sip your coffee. She stares out the window. “He taught me how to dance.”
“He was a dancer?”
She turns back toward you.
“The Bolshoi Ballet. He defected in the eighties to come here to care for my mother.”
“Cheryl, you never told me this.”
“You never thought much of my technique. I didn’t want you to think he wasn’t any good.”
You wonder at how little you know about those close to you, your words tossed out so carelessly, without thought to their effect. She’s not just your student, your dancer. Someone else was there first.