NEA Literature Fellowships

Mary Ann Taylor-Hall

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(2006 - Prose)

From the novel Come and Go, Molly Snow

I spray on the window cleaner. I clean the first pane. Till dinnertime, I know, they'll be listening for the sound of breaking glass.

Lights, they call these little panes.

Light of lights, light at the heart of light: it's the pale yellow, nearly white old tomcat moving down the path out there, tail high. The same bastard that caught the squirrel yesterday evening. . . .Cat, stone path, bleached straw on the garden, all the same color.

I'm looking out through wavery panes on the wide, pale August weather. Two squirts for each light, then clean away the little film of grease and every insect speck, polish it with a paper towel. Into the corners and along the edges. Am I a good girl?

Oh don't, don't.

Fat uneven rims of glazing show through to the inside. Tiny air bubbles in the old glass. The women who've cleaned these long windows before me probably go all the way back into slave times. An unbroken line of women watching the same world I'm looking at waver every time they moved their heads. Oh, I wish I could see them now!

A long line of women, exactly right here, in the light, and gone, a long line of men and women and children, frogs, crickets, orioles, here and gone, trees, even, at last, here and gone, a steady wind blowing souls, little scraps of life, east to west, some lit up with the mica shine of consciousness, but going west all the same.

I used to raise my eyes to the stained glass windows at the front of the church in Lake Grace, hoping for a way out. Is there a way out? I used to pray, Don't let Mama die, don't let Daddy die, don't let Dexter or Connie or me die.

Crank-handled pump over the cistern, rock path to the garden. Daylilies everywhere. The peach tree, its branches lifting back now.

I get the stepladder for the outside, because the house is set up on a three-foot-high rock foundation where the hill drops down beneath it. I set it up carefully among the bedraggled zinnias and nasturtiums and one last spindly delphinium. Now I'm looking in on Ona's kitchen, her deep world. Empty now - they're showing they trust me. Someone moves around upstairs, running water.

A little steam rises from the boiler of peaches. I'm from somewhere else. Mars. No. I'm a ghost, spooking around outside, looking in on something called the Land of the Living. Round cherrywood table, high-backed chairs with blue cushions tied to the seats. Woodstove, rocker in the bay. A bouquet on the mantel, from me. Those orange flowers I found growing in the North Fields.

"What's the name of this flower, Ona?" "That's butterfly weed, Carrie." Butterfly weed, okay. Once I knew the names of a lot of things. Then for a while my mind swept itself clean. Now I live in a different world, with all new names to learn. Boiler, root cellar. Butterfly weed, jewelweed, Araucana hen. I'm feeling my way, but it's not the way back.

The day's heavy. Something on the outskirts wants to move, but can't budge the heavy slabs of shadowless light. This haze will gather together, make a gray cloud, late in the afternoon. The cloud will move over us. We'll hope for rain, but there won't be any. That's what drought looks like—like it might rain. Where the glare hurts your eyes the most is where the sun is. A dead leaf, caught in a cobweb, stirs in a one-leaf breeze.

And dead and gone come into me again, without warning. Dead. Gone. A big bell in my chest, a heavy clapper, gonging up, then down. What you love isn't here anymore. A terrible soundless striking. Gone. Gone.

A native of Chicago, Mary Ann Taylor-Hall was raised in central Florida and graduated from the University of Florida. She received an MA in English Literature from Columbia University and has taught at Auburn University, Miami of Ohio, the University of Puerto Rico, and the University of Kentucky. Her short stories have appeared in such periodicals as The Paris Review, The Hudson Review, and Ploughshares, as well as in several anthologies, including Best American Short Stories and The Available Press. She has received a grant from the Kentucky Arts Council, and a previous grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. Her first novel, Come and Go, Molly Snow (W.W. Norton) was a Barnes & Noble Discovery selection. She has recently completed her second, Hotel of Temporary Blessings. A collection of short stories, How She Knows What She Knows About Yo-Yo's, (Sarabande Books), was a BookSense 76 selection and Foreword Magazine's 2001 Book of the Year in short fiction. She has recently edited Missing Mountains (Wind Publications), an anthology of Kentucky writers opposed to mountaintop removal coal mining. A volume of her poetry is forthcoming this summer. She has lived for thirty years on a farm north of Lexington, Kentucky.

Photo by Rebecca Howell

Author's Statement

I think you could call this stage of my career the consolidation stage. What I want to do with my grant couldn't be more basic or concrete - I'll use it to bolster my ability to pay the bills and buy the groceries while I sit quietly in one place and try to complete a novel that means everything to me. For most of my adult life, it has woven itself in and out of the more doable projects that have engaged me, refusing to give up the ghost. I feel I may finally know enough to write it.

The grant means that I'll be able to work on this novel without taking a teaching or editing or schoolbus-driving job. I put it aside four years ago in order to write a novel (which I've recently completed) called Hotel of Temporary Blessings. During those years, I wasn't able to make much money. I have been counting on that novel's sale to finance the finishing of this other book, but, as we all know, in today's market that's like counting on the lottery. I am very grateful for the security this grant affords me to gather my time and concentration to the work I still am called to do. The book won't be completed during the grant period, but I'm hoping--through frugality and right living--to make the money last for a year and a half.