NEA Literature Fellowships

Patrick Ryan

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(2006 - Prose)

From the short story "So Much for Artemis"

Their neighborhood sat alongside a patch of swamp, and armadillos and possums sometimes crept out of it and waddled down the sidewalk. Glass snakes and black snakes wound across the road and curled up against doorsteps. There were palmetto bugs, slugs, rollie-pollies, and dragonflies. A turtle as big as a suitcase lived in a cavern beneath the house at the end of Jennifer's street. But when they played Wild Kingdom, it was about the lizards, which were everywhere. Jennifer had developed a very specific tracking system for the ones they caught in her backyard. They would name them, tag them by tying bits of colored string to their legs, and use index cards to keep track of the information: Zeus, 5 inches long, lime-green, white belly, found near back fence next to magnolia bush. Red string on right foreleg. They had never caught the same lizard twice, but if it ever happened, they were prepared to record its new location and note any changes in its appearance.

"Herman," Frankie said, holding up a lizard he'd caught against the warm, metal side of the swimming pool. Its stomach felt spongy between his fingers.

Jennifer peered at it and shook her head. "Artemis," she said, and wrote the name down on an index card. She pulled a couple of inches of blue thread from the spool her mother had given her, and bit it off. Frankie cupped his hands around Artemis and felt the lizard charging against his palms, ricocheting back and forth like a miniature Superball. Lizards were so fast, they sometimes seemed to vanish before his eyes: one moment they'd be clinging to the side of the house, or to the edge of the patio, or to a slat in the fence - and the next moment, they'd be gone. "We should do a magic show," he said. "We could be a husband-and-wife magic team, and we could have The Amazing Vanishing Lizard, and put Artemis in a box, and when we opened the box, he'd run away so fast, it would look like he disappeared."

"Red ants," Jennifer said.

"What would they do?"

"You're standing in red ants," she explained, pointing down.

He bent over and saw at least a dozen of them crawling over his sneakers and around the folds in his socks, heading for his bare calves. By the time he got done jumping and smacking at his legs, the lizard was gone.

"So much for Artemis," Jennifer said, still holding the piece of string.


She shrugged. "I don't like magic, anyway. It's silly. If we're husband and wife, we're an explorer team doing a study on Bigfoot."

"Okay," Frankie said.

"There's been one spotted right over there," she pointed to a corner of the yard where a thatch of bamboo stood higher than the fence behind it, "and they have to go investigate the sighting."

Frankie nodded. They started across the grass.

"The husband's always rescuing the wife from quicksand," Jennifer said.


"And she's his assistant."

He nodded.

As they neared the bamboo, Jennifer put one of her bird-claw hands against Frankie's chest and stepped ahead of him. She said, "You be the wife."

Patrick Ryan's first novel, Send Me (Dial Press), was published in 2006. His stories have appeared in The Iowa Review, The Yale Review, One Story, Ontario Review, Denver Quarterly, The Nebraska Review, and other journals.  The story "Getting Heavy With Fate" received the 2005 Smart Family Foundation Award for Fiction. He did his undergraduate work at Florida State University and is a graduate of the MFA Writing Program at Bowling Green State University in Ohio. Born in Washington, DC, and raised in Florida, he lives in New York City.

Photo courtesy of the author

Author's Statement

I'm intensely flattered to be the recipient of an NEA fellowship. The grant will translate directly into time to work on my second novel, which is about huckstering, cheating, swindling, and parenting.