NEA Literature Fellowships

Rav Grewal-Kök

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(2016 - Prose)

from "Rodrigo Rey Rosa"

He felt like a different man in his new apartment. At night, when he walked over the pine floors and through the wainscoted dining room, when he inspected his shiny kitchen and the study with its bookshelves that reached almost to the ceiling, he no longer wanted to be elsewhere. He still worked into the evenings, but now he tried to come home in time to broil a chop and drink a glass of wine before he went to bed. If he did go out, it was usually to walk the streets of his new neighborhood. The night air in the valley was clean; there was always a hint of salt. Rodrigo kept his eyes down. He came to recognize the neighborhood's dogs but not their owners. He slept well in his bedroom, which faced away from the street. Sometimes he woke early and went outside, or read a novel for an hour before he showered and dressed, just as he'd done when he'd been a student. He didn't visit bars as often. Entire months passed in which he didn't sleep with a woman. And though his old friends still got together at their steakhouse, Rodrigo began to make excuses and didn't always join them.

At dawn one day, Rodrigo stepped outside and saw mist drifting along the roofs of the darkened houses. The street was empty, but he heard gulls calling from somewhere out of sight. He began to walk in the direction of the cries. The street rose from the valley to a ridge. From it he could look back over his house to the hills that marked the neighborhood's opposite border and, beyond them, to the towers downtown. Rodrigo paused at the summit, taking the sharp air deep into his chest. He was panting from the climb. On the other side, the street dropped away into the mist. Though the gulls were still hidden from him, they were crying more distinctly now. Rodrigo decided to keep walking. That morning, he was thinking of the sea.

It was two miles to the beach. The street fell and rose and fell again, its blocks soon becoming unfamiliar. The row houses gave way to newer homes, small apartment buildings, bars, clothing boutiques, furniture stores. Even this early, the traffic had thickened. The day was brightening, with patches of sky showing through the mist. He could see the birds now, as they circled in light and cloud. Rodrigo climbed one final, brief rise, and then he was standing over the shore. A few men and women were running near the surf on the otherwise empty beach. Rodrigo looked left and right and realized he had stood on that headland before. Rosa's old building, a three-story contemporary, was a block to the south. This city, he thought, was full of surprises. Rodrigo walked closer. The curtains to Rosa's old apartment, on the building's first floor, were lime-green: a different, much brighter shade than he remembered. They were drawn shut. Rodrigo didn't linger. He turned and began to walk home.

Rav Grewal-Kök's stories and essays have appeared or are forthcoming in the New England Review, Missouri Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, Gulf Coast, The Literary Review, Little Star, Third Coast, Five Points, Santa Monica Review, and elsewhere. He is an associate fiction editor at Fence. He lives in Saint Louis with his wife and their two young children. In the summer of 2016, he will be moving with his family to Los Angeles.

Photo by Yasmin Grewal-Kök

Author's Statement

I have been writing for a small circle—for myself first, then my wife, one or two friends, and the occasional magazine editor who takes an interest in a story. Into that close, quiet world comes this gift. I appreciate the money, and the freedom it represents, but the award means much more than that to me. It's a spur to keep going. It gives me hope that these hours (and months and years) alone in a room may, one day, have more than private significance. I'm very grateful.

I have been writing a novel about exile, race, violence, desire, shame, fatherhood. It's set in Punjab, Puerto Rico, Vancouver Island, and other places that formed me. The NEA's generous support will, I hope, help me finish the book in 2016.