NEA Literature Fellowships

Emily Raboteau

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(2006 - Prose)

From the novel The Professor's Daughter

"We don't wanna go," the boys said at the same time. It was the first Saturday of the summer, and they were salting a slug under the pecan tree out back.

Nanan Zanobia adjusted her pillbox hat. "What you mean you don't wanna go?" she asked, pointing her eyes at B. J., who was short, serious and round as a potato. "I know I don't have to remind you she's your mother." Then she pointed her eyes at Luscious, who was long, pretty and thin as a string bean. "And I know I don't have to remind you she's your sister." Nobody knew just how old Nan Zan was or how many other people's children she'd raised, but everyone agreed she had scary eyes. Her face was dark as a chestnut, but her irises were so light blue they were almost white. "Or am I gonna have to remind you with a switch from this tree?"

“No, ma'am," said B. J., looking down at his corrective shoe. For most of his early childhood he'd worn a brace on his right leg, which had been twisted inward at birth, and he still walked with a limp.

"But Nan, I'm supposed to help out Miss Pauline at the Curly-Q today," whined Luscious. He had a slight lisp and was rumored to be a pansy.

"You got a summerful of Sairdays to be Miss Pauline's shampoo boy. Today you're going to visit your sister up at the hospital and stop giving me lip, hear?"

Luscious looked down at the place in front of his bare feet where the salted slug was turning inside out like the wrong side of an eyelid.

"Good Lord. Is that one of God's creatures?"

"Yes, ma'am," answered B. J., pushing up on the bridge of his glasses, although they hadn't slipped down his nose. The slug was writhing and oozing in the dust, like a rabid tongue.

"What I tell you two about tormenting animals?"

"It's just a bug," mumbled Luscious, rolling his eyes.

"What I tell you?"

"Do unto others," they said at the same time.

"That's right. Everybody 'just a bug' to someone else who think they bigger and better. That don't mean they a bug. It mean someone else got a problem with they eyes. Now get in the house, wash up and throw on your Sunday clothes. We got a bus to catch."

Emily Raboteau is an assistant professor in the English Department at the City College of New York. She has an MFA in Fiction from New York University, where she was a New York Times Fellow. Her short stories have appeared in Callaloo, the Missouri Review, the Gettysburg Review, Tin House, Best American Short Stories 2003 and elsewhere. She is the recipient of the Chicago Tribune's Nelson Algren Award for Short Fiction, a Pushcart Prize, and a New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship. Henry Holt published her first novel, The Professor's Daughter, in 2005.

Photo by Chastity Whitaker

Author's Statement

The Literature Fellowship means I can leave teaching for a semester in order to focus on writing my second novel. It's a gift of freedom and time. It comes at a crucial moment. I'm so grateful.