NEA Literature Fellowships

Nicholas Montemarano

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(2002 - Prose)

from "To Fall Apart"

One year before the fire in my mother's closet, my sister and I were six years old. It was summer. My mother took us to the park, where we played the way children play. I don't remember what we were doing. Maybe I was throwing a rubber ball against a wall and waiting for it to bounce back to me, and then feeling the rubber slap against the palm of my hand, and then throwing it again. Maybe my sister, with her fingers, was digging in the dirt where the grass had ceased to grow. Maybe with a white rock we were scratching our names into the side of a water fountain, or into the handball court wall. It no longer matters what we were doing. What matters is this: at some point after we had been playing for a while, an hour, maybe two, my mother said to my sister and me that it was time to go home, but my sister said she wanted to stay a little while longer, and my mother said no, it was time to go home, we had had enough time in the park, but my sister stomped her sneaker on the ground and asked if she could please stay a little while longer, just another ten minutes, she wanted to finish whatever it was she was doing, her fingers creating a world in the dirt, but my mother said no, it was time to go home, and my mother made her face into the face I knew meant she was angry, and for a moment my sister went back to whatever it was she was playing with, she did not move as quickly as my mother wanted her to move, and then my mother started to walk towards the car. I followed my mother.

How will she get home? I said.

That's up to her, my mother said. She has to learn to come when I tell her to come.

My mother got in the car. She opened the door for me. She started the car, and then asked me if I was getting in. Or did I want to be left behind with my sister?

We can't leave without her, I said.

It's your last chance to get in the car, she said.

I could see my sister in the distance, running towards us, calling for us to wait, don't leave without me. I'm coming, I'm sorry, please wait for me. I was begging my mother not to leave without my sister, but my mother closed the door and started to pull the car away.

I yelled for my mother to stop, I was coming, I didn't want to be left behind.

My mother stopped the car. I got in, and then she drove away.

In my memory, I see my sister running for the car.


It is the type of park with plenty of lights, and sometimes at night there are runners, and you can lie on the grass, even if you are alone, and watch the sky. You can close your eyes and listen to the runners breathing, their sneakers on the pavement.

On the spot of earth where the water fountain was is grass. Under the grass dirt.

I have scraped paint from the place on the handball court wall my memory tells me is the place my sister and I carved our names.

Under the white paint was more white paint. Under that paint, more.

Author's Statement

I feel not only honored to have won a grant from the NEA, but also relieved, financially and psychologically. After living check-to-check for 6 years as a graduate student, I've spent the past 2 years teaching 3 or 4 classes per semester. I was quite high upon receiving the news that I had won an NEA grant, and will use the award to complete my second novel, Terrible Grace. Anything that provides me with time & support to write makes me very happy, but a nod from the NEA is extra special.

My first novel, A Fine Place, was recently published by Context Books. My first story collection, Cancer (which includes "To Fall Apart"), is forthcoming from Context. I used a fellowship from The MacDowell Colony to complete my third book, Note to Future Self, stories and a novella. My stories have appeared in DoubleTake, Zoetrope, The Gettysburg Review, and many other journals. I'm starting in Fall 2002 as Assistant Professor of English at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, PA.