Backhand Stories: The Creative Writing Blog

He couldn’t recollect her name. What he remembered was the place she told him she came from. “I’m from a wonderful town called Sewickley.” She pronounced it carefully and distinctly, as if he were a slow second-grader. Perhaps if she’d said “My name is Suuusan,” he would have remembered her name, but the town was what stuck. “It’s near Pittsburgh. It may sound like it has a funny name, but it’s a wonderful town. A wonderful town.” It was like a little lecture.

What was so special about Sewickley? She wasn’t explaining. Lots of trees, he guessed, lots of single-family homes, good schools. The sort of place everyone came from. Up to then, he’d spent his life moving with his family from one such place to another, and one or two classmates he’d known in the different schools from each of those towns seemed to have wound up just down the hall in his dormitory.

He caught himself as he realized his mind was wandering, and she saw it. She broke off the little lecture. Maybe he’d been in the running, maybe not, but now he was certainly dinged for not paying attention. The way to get into a good university is to pay attention, or seem to. There’s extra credit if you make the right remarks. Whatever the test was here, he’d failed it.

Why, he wondered in later years, did he keep coming back to that little encounter, and why did it make him feel so acutely that he hadn’t made the grade? She’d thought that whole talk through, he gradually came to understand. Likely she rehearsed it. Maybe this was the fiftieth time she’d done the whole routine. It was her version of the admissions process; she was working her way through an applicant pool. She was looking for the one guy who’d pay attention to her little lecture all the way through, or at least seem to..

Almost certainly, he reflected, she found him.

John’s writing has appeared, or will appear, in Byline Magazine. Dark Sky Magazine, The Dartmouth Review, DOGZPLOT, Holy Cuspidor, Literal Translations, the Los Angeles Reader, New Partisan, and Written Word. He has degrees in English from Dartmouth College and the University of Southern California.