Sleepovers by Ashleigh Bryant Phillips
English | 2020 | General Fiction/Classics | ePUB | 3.6 MB
Hailed by Lauren Groff as “fully committed to the truth no matter how dark or difficult or complicated it may be,” and written with “incantatory crispness,” Sleepovers, the debut short story collection by Ashleigh Bryant Phillips.
This collection takes us to a forgotten corner of the rural South, full of cemeteries, soybean fields, fishing holes, and Duck Thru gas stations. We meet a runaway teen, a mattress salesman, feral kittens, an elderly bachelorette wearing a horsehair locket, and a little girl named after Shania Twain. Here, time and memory circle above Phillips’ characters like vultures and angels, as they navigate the only landscape they’ve ever known. Corn reaches for rain, deer run blindly, and no matter how hungry or hurt, some forgotten hymn is always remembered. “The literary love child of Carson McCullers and John the Baptist, Ashleigh Bryant Phillips’ imagination is profoundly original and private,” writes Rebecca Lee. Sleepovers marks the debut of a fearless new voice in fiction.
Sleepovers is the winner of the 2019 C. Michael Curtis Short Story Book Prize, selected by Lauren Groff.
One time I was there close to supper and we were swinging on her swing set and the church bells started ringing a church song. We had a bunch of her beaded bracelets on and they was making lots of noise when we swang up and down. I told her we were making music. All we needed was a big ol’ drum to beat on like Hi-a-wa-tha. Jun-a-lus-ka. Pow-ha-tan. She thought that was funny. Her backyard has roly polies, no grass, and a big mean dog tied up at the edge of it. She hates to feed that dog. His name is Butchie. I watch her feed him. And one day that dog jumped on her and knocked her down. She got up and came to me with her elbow bleeding. She told me she had fell on a busted bottle. The blood was coming out quick but she didn’t cry. Their backyard has dog food cans and cigarettes and broken bottles all over it. I found a piece of glass and pulled it down my hand like people in the movies. And the blood came out and I didn’t cry either and I held her elbow. Our blood mixed together. And we found a clean spot in the dirt where it was cool and we sat there long enough for us to be blood sisters.
I did a rain dance in the front yard like she showed me how to do. I put my hands to the sky just like her. And I danced so much! Grass got stuck in my toes! And the bottom of my feet turned green! But I got mad cause I couldn’t get it to rain. Mama says the corn needs rain real bad now.
Everyday morning I check my hairbrush for a brown hair like hers. And today I found one. It’s proof of my native blood. I put it in an envelope to the father thunder god. I think he’s an eagle with spreaded out wings and turquoise eyes. I write a letter to him, but at the end I remember I don’t know his address. And I know that she knows it. And I bet if she don’t know, her grandmamma knows. So I need to go ask them about it.
I ask Mama if I can go to her house after dinner, but she says that I can’t go over to her house no more. She says that her daddy hit her mama till she was ’bout dead last night. So I’m gonna go and try to slip her some secret notes. I can get some tape from the kitchen drawer, walk up to her house at night and tape it to the seat of her swing. I think that’ll be a good place for her to find them. I want to tell her it’s gonna be okay. And we’ll keep telling each other things like that. But what happens is I never end up leaving her any notes. We go to different schools. Her daddy leaves them, stops fixing up the balcony. More and more of it falls in the yard. By the time I go to college the yard’s all soggy, shit white.
And last time I was home, Mama sent me uptown for an onion. And I saw her working there in J.J.’s. She was real pregnant, shoulda been off her feet. I went to her checkout line and all she said was “Hello” like you’re supposed to do. And when she opened the cash register, the drawer bumped her big baby belly. And while she counted my change, I thought about her in that house, floating alone in the middle of that waterbed, tracing shapes on her belly. And when she handed me the change, her fingernails grazed my palm.