NEA Literature Fellowships

Elisabeth Sheffield

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(2012 - Prose)

Excerpt from 3 revenant files

everyone could see  how mark was treating me, everyone, both inside and out. one day after mark had gone back to the city and the boys weren't around maybe i'd sent them to tennis camp I don't remember anyway one day they all approached me. what can we do to help they asked. so i gave them each a different job  to the raccoons i said you can wash his dirty dishes, to the mice i said you can whisk away the dorito crumbs from between the sofa cushions in his study, to the ravens you can lift his soiled clothes up off the floor and drop them in the hamper, to the sparrows you can peck up the screw tops and beer tabs and shreds of pot and tobacco that litter the carpet around his desk, to the garter snakes you can siphon the dregs from his empty bottles, to the spiders and crickets you can dispose of the flies that buzz around the kitchen garbage can he never empties.           

then such a hubbub it was, everyone scurrying creeping crawling flapping flitting, slithering this way and that chittering squeaking squawking screeching hissing and chirping such a mad merry animation of friends. so that after when they all came up on my bed and said we're done, my eyes filled with grateful tears. unfortunately later after i finally got up and took a look around well i'm sorry to say they hadn't done such a good job. i actually started screaming.

but then i stopped because of course i had only myself to blame since i was the human and they were just animals without human standards of order or hygiene. they were just animals so of course the raccoons threw the dishes down like clam shells smashing them on the tiles after they washed them, that's what raccoons do. of course the mice left trails of droppings as they cleaned up the crumbs, that's their nature. of course the ravens and sparrows spackled the floors the counters the fixtures and furniture, of course the snakes remained coiled inside the yellowing bottles, of course the spiders spanned the doorways with their webs, how else could they catch the flies. of course the house smelled like the stinkiest zoo ever because why should they be toilet trained, they were just animals. so i stopped screaming because they'd only done the best they could. it wouldn't do to hurt their feelings. i'm sorry i said as i stood there in the middle of the kitchen in my blue chinese silk pajamas that i'd purchased online, it's just that i've never been so amazed. look at all the work you guys have done, the house is completely transformed.

there's just one problem however, mark's not going to like it. you know how boring he is, how he doesn't like anything to be different or funny. he's not going to be happy i said as a fly vibrated the web between the jambs of the mudroom door. and that will only make things harder for me.

well that really set them off next thing i knew they were all talking at once dashing around my feet hopping jumping tugging snagging the silk of my chinese pajamas purchased online the winged ones flapping around my ears so that it was really hard to tell where the idea came from it was a jostling mob a midnight madness of how dare he who does he think he is how can you stand it he won't let you be yourself he wants you to be someone you're not his fifties fantasy things just can't go on like this. no i really can't say but once it had been uttered everyone agreed. and now the room was suddenly so quiet it was as if there was no one there at all.

the idea remained however like a larvae in a cocoon quickening quickening until finally friday arrived and it was time to pick my mark up at the train station. we'll take care of everything they said. you just make sure he's happy they said, bring the macallens and some of the pills from dr. frolichstein. well i was happy to make mark happy especially since i knew he was unhappy he'd been calling all week about the on-line shopping saying things had gotten out of hand. things were getting out of hand but i was happy to make mark happy so it wasn't my fault. it wasn't my fault i was just trying to help him to relax, oh so hard to explain to remember. so hard to remember after what I've been through screwed by a spirochete i'd like to see them try remembering, try walking a few steps in my shoes.

(Published in Gargoyle Magazine as "i live in a hole.")

Elisabeth Sheffield is the author of two novels: Gone (FC2, 2003) and Fort Da: A Report (FC2, 2009). She is also the author of a critical monograph on James Joyce and poststructuralist and feminist theory (Fairleigh Dickinson Press, 1998), and various works of short fiction, which have appeared in literary journals including Pretext, 13th Moon, Denver Quarterly, Gulf Coast and Gargoyle. Originally from upstate New York, she has taught in both the eastern and western U.S., as well as in between, in North Cyprus, and in Germany, where she was a Fulbright lecturer in 1999-2000. Currently, she is an associate professor of creative writing at the University of Colorado in Boulder. She lives in Denver with the writer Jeffrey DeShell, their two young sons, and a whippet.

Photo by Jeffrey DeShell

Author's Statement

I was sitting in my office talking to a student when my husband called my cell. I did not pick up, figuring that it was nothing urgent, probably a question of what to have for dinner. Then he called again. I finally picked up and he told me that I needed to call this number at the National Endowment for the Arts immediately -- it sounded like I'd won an NEA fellowship. I broke into a cold sweat -- evidently my autonomic nervous system does not know how to respond to good news. In fact, I didn't entirely believe it was good news. Even after I spoke to the lovely and entirely credible sounding Maryrose Flanigan, I continued to suspect that I was the target of an elaborate joke.

A week or two went by and I finally began to believe. Not just in the fact that I'd won an NEA fellowship, but also in the novel I've been struggling with for the past three years (a portion of which constituted my writing sample for the NEA application). It's still a mess, but a mess I'm suddenly happy to muck around in. The money from this award, which I will use for travel and research, is fantastic, but more wonderful still is the ratification of the writing.