South Dakota

by Mary Miller Read author interview June 15, 2008

It was a summer program. He was like a teacher and we were like students. We carried backpacks and sat around a table in tennis shoes. The man who was like a teacher had a new wife. She was pregnant, which made her look less shiny. All of us who had imagined sleeping with him imagined it less now and with some difficulty.

The fat girl sat next to me. She had recently lost a good-sized dog. She was still fat but under the impression that she was quite thin.

The fat girl imagined her chances decent.

She didn’t look pregnant from the back. Sometimes people said this about pregnant women but you could not say this about the teacher’s wife. At lunch we all sat together and watched her eat bricks and slabs of things. The teacher’s plate was fair game though he had the kind of body that appeared to be eating itself. When lunch was over, she wrapped up any remaining crumb and carried it off.

I befriended the fat girl, encouraged her delusion. I thought I saw myself clearly. After lunch every day, I stripped the blanket off my bed and laid it in the grass, watched clouds float by while she poked at her bones, which were new. She pushed her shirt up so everyone could see her outie. The fat girl was from South Dakota. She had taken up the cause of South Dakota. No one thought anything about South Dakota, I told her. South Dakota had never occurred to me at all, though the capital, I believed, was Pierre.

On the last night, the fat girl and I drank while we waited for the teacher to show. There was a party, this kind of people on one side and that kind on the other. We were paying to mix, so we walked up to people and started talking and they talked back. Mostly what we said was how great they were. The teacher showed up late, alone and ring-eyed, looking like he looked on the jackets of his books. He drank vodka on ice and we stood around a table with him and elbowed each other every time he looked away. The drinks were coming out of our pockets.

The fat girl and the teacher talked bands and zines, the culture of celebrity. I looked from one to the other of them, back and forth, nodding and smiling with raised eyebrows. His hands fell on her arms and she flipped her hair to remind me how thin she was. They laughed with their mouths open wide. She told him about South Dakota where she lived on a farm, in a house between her parents’ and grandparents’. She lived by herself, she said, and I saw her moving around a kitchen: boiling water and looking out the window with socks on her feet, answering the telephone. The things I imagined her doing in that house seemed very curious, though she was doing the same things people did in houses everywhere.

The teacher alleged the early onset of a hangover and went back to the place he was staying with his wife. The fat girl and I walked back to our dorm. I had the urge to take her hand as we passed a swing set. We climbed the stairs and sat in the room with the telephone and stove, a gathering place, while people on the balcony smoked. Tell me again about South Dakota, I said, and my hands fell on her arms but she pulled them away.

–“South Dakota” was first published in elimae. It appears here by permission of the author.

About the Author:

Mary Miller attends graduate school and works at a children's shelter in Mississippi. She writes a lot.

About the Artist:

Robinson Accola creates artwork for SmokeLong Quarterly as needed.