The week after I told my mother about my pregnancy, my best friend Emmy found out her dad was being sent to Iraq. Like a lot of the dads in Morgantown, West Virginia, he enlisted as a reservist for drill pay, and that October, when their infantry unit was activated, over a hundred and fifty of our town’s men climbed onto an old beat up school bus and left for a place that, until then, existed for us only on televisions and in newspapers. Now the war infected our families, and Emmy handled it like the rest of the reservist’s kids: with silent acceptance and a vacant shrug of the shoulders. Like most important events that happen to you at the age of seventeen, her father’s absence felt like something she could not control.
And while Emmy’s home life became smaller and quieter, mine began to grow loud with anger and resentment as my mother Stella digested the reality of my pregnancy. She had always been a woman hungry for a buzz, but once she knew about the baby and my decision to keep the mistake Bobby Drinko and I made in the tattoo shop that summer in Virginia, her nightly happy hour started earlier and often lasted until sunup.
“Get me a beer, Lemon,” she would say when she got home from work, as she shifted her eyes away from my stomach and tried to drink herself into denial.
She began spending more time with her boss Simon, the photographer, and though she never admitted when it began, I was certain they started screwing around just weeks after he got the call that his work would appear in National Geographic. Simon grew up in Fort Collins, Colorado, a place that seemed as foreign and far away as Samarra, Iraq where Emmy’s dad had been relocated, and my mother claimed that because of his upbringing out west, he was more cultured and more interesting than the other men she met in West Virginia. He liked all the same late night television that I did, and he was really good at explaining how Spanish conjugations worked, one of the subjects I had fallen behind in since the distraction of the pregnancy, so I liked him okay, better, at least, than Denny in Philadelphia or Rocco in New Jersey. Except for the nights when the bottle of vodka seemed to last forever, he treated Stella and me pretty good.
October turned the spillway a dark rusty color as the trees changed from green to orange and red, and Emmy and I celebrated the end of the summer heat by hanging out at the lake every day after school. Sometimes we would do our homework and sometimes we wouldn’t, deciding instead to play cards or listen to music. By then Emmy was kissing a boy from our Calculus class, an unlikely long-haired guitarist named Dylan who worked after school as the poetry editor for the Morgantown High literary magazine. Dylan liked to listen to The Shins and he liked to smoke pot, but mostly he liked to drive me and Emmy around in her big blue truck since his parents never bought him a car and he usually had to ride to school on his dirt bike. He was the kind of guy that would never outgrow his long hair, that would never hold a nine-to-five.
“Do you think he’s too quiet or too artsy?” Emmy would ask on the afternoons at the spillway before he showed up. “Do you think he’s too nice? Or too boring, maybe?” She would say as she sucked on a cigarette and stared out at the water.
Kristen-Paige Madonia’s fiction has appeared in The South Dakota Review, Inkwell, and Pearl; in addition, her collection of short stories was recently listed as a semifinalist for the University of Iowa Press Short Fiction Award and the Spokane Prize. She is the recipient of the James I. Murashige Jr. Memorial Scholarship for Fiction, the Ronald Foote Scholarship for Short Fiction, and the 2005 Literary Women Festival of Authors Fellowship. In 2008 she was invited to work as a resident artist with The Studios of Key West, and last year she received the Marianne Russo Fellowship to attend the Key West Literary Seminar and advanced fiction workshop. She received her MFA from California State University, Long Beach; upon graduation she was named a Graduate Dean’s List Exceptional Artist and Scholar and was awarded the Best Thesis Award for the College of Liberal Arts for her collection of short stories. She was the inaugural graduate student in the English Department to receive the award. Madonia currently resides in Charlottesville, Virginia where she teaches creative writing and is at work on her second novel; “Sandstorms” is an excerpt from that project.