NEA Literature Fellowships

Vestal McIntyre

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(2006 - Prose)

From the short story "Foray"

The white sun on white sand, the shrieks from below and the whimpers from above, the cushion of adult conversation behind, and me in my little circle of shade perfectly content to turn my back on them all. Then the shadow fell. The brats ran shivering up the beach to be forgiven their crimes and embraced with towels. The adults started thinking about dinner. The cloud of canyon wrens appeared again as if its lovely dipping and soaring had never been interrupted. And I took down my umbrella and read on, exempt from resentment and the threat of interruption for anything but dinner, because I had, a week before, saved my Mongoloid cousin, so there!

Exempt--or so I thought until that evening. My mother approached me on the deck as a Roman Candle lit the circle of cousins red, then blue, then yellow, and the smell of sulfur rose from the beach. Raymond, honey, May and I were talking this afternoon. Vance is so unhappy here. He can't play with the others. He's too old, and they're mean to him. How would it be if, since you're spending your days reading anyway, you read aloud to him? Come on, Ray, try it just for one day as an experiment. He understands more than you think. And he looks up to you, especially after...

Unlike any other event of note that summer, whose story was told and retold ad infinitum, ever increasing in grandeur or hilarity, the story of the rescue wasn't repeated after the day it took place. It was the Gospel of Me; they kept it in their hearts, not on their tongues.

Ray, I don't want to have to insist...but I insist. Just a day or two, as a favor to me.

Oh, all right, Mother.

For a year or so, I had been trying out calling her Mother, although in my mind she was still Mom. It always made her wince. What a prick I was!

The wavering light from the beach went out with a hiss. Awww, said Grandy, don't throw it in the river! You're a litterbug!

It burned! cried the brat.

So the next morning, as mist rose from the river, Vance followed me across the scarred sand. It was chilly, but I always started early, and if he was going to read with me, he'd have to follow my rules. He knelt, and I reclined in the beach chair, put a towel over my legs, and pulled from my backpack, not whatever I had been reading, but my secret weapon, as heavy as a brick and twice as big. I heaved it into my lap, perhaps with a little grunt, and shot a sidelong glance at Vance to gauge his reaction. There was none. His glassy eyes rested on the book without fear. Maybe he was so overwhelmed by the situation itself that objects lost their meaning. I opened, skimmed through introductions and forewords, and began, Call me Ishmael...

Vestal McIntyre was born and raised in Nampa, Idaho and attended Tufts University. His stories have appeared in Open City and Tin House magazines, as well as several anthologies. His short-story collection You Are Not the One, published in January, 2005 by Carroll & Graf, was a New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice. Vestal lives in New York City.

Photo by Jodi Gibson

Author's Statement

The Literature Fellowship is a great honor for me, and comes at the perfect moment. I believe it will allow me to complete a first draft of the novel I’ve been working on for two years. I plan to use the money to cover my personal expenses this spring during a five-week residency at Yaddo, an artist’s colony in Saratoga Springs, New York. Also, I will use it to spend part of my summer writing in Idaho, where the novel is set.