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Smoking With Ashley Inguanta

Interview by Molly Gaudry (Read the Story) December 23, 2010

Ashley Inguanta

cigarette by SuperFantastic

What inspired this story?

I don’t remember the exact moment I started writing this story, but I do remember the general time in which I wrote the first draft, which was about two years ago. I just turned twenty-two and had my first same-sex kiss as an adult. This woman and I, we were at a party and I didn’t know too much about her other than she liked to draw and play the guitar. But she had such a strong presence, and I wanted to be with someone stable. So, this woman and I, we went on about two dates. One I remember particularly well—we went to Denny’s around 2 a.m. and ordered eggs sunny side “down.” After that, we got lost in a parking lot full of U-Hauls and referenced that joke about what lesbians do on the second date. I just threw my heart at her like a teenager would, played her Tilly and the Wall’s “Coughing Colors” on the piano and everything. A few days later she called and said she wasn’t ready to get into a relationship. And of course, like anyone who has to deal with rejection, you feel bad. You hurt, and even if you are too proud to recognize that hurt, it is there. And then, in time, you heal. When this woman told me she was not ready for a relationship, I remember trying to fall asleep and hearing my neighbor play the piano. That night, I found an odd peace in those sounds. But I didn’t write a thing. All I could do was listen.

What surprised you about it as you were writing it?

While I don’t remember the process of writing the first draft, I do remember revising the story, two years later, while sitting on my patio drinking cinnamon coffee. In the first draft, the reason why the girl felt so attached to the teacher was very vague. So when revising, I placed myself in the girl’s body for a bit, tried to see what she saw in that moment. When you are so incredibly hungry for love, bodies get distorted. We see our own bodies differently and we see other bodies differently, too. I dealt with anorexia for years. Back then, I saw the world as this hard, dangerous, unforgiving beauty. So in the story, this girl’s longing causes her to see the teacher’s body in a distorted way, her spine becoming a cat and a piano and feathers and gold, all at once. I don’t know how that happened, but it felt good to write it, like I really understood the core of this story.

Tell me about the grandmother.

As a kid, before she was a grandmother, she rode motorcycles and gave roses to boys and girls in bands. She stopped in her twenties when she crashed her bike and knocked out her two front teeth. She had to get replacement teeth and she hated them, how square and white they were compared to her other teeth.

Before and after she was a grandmother, she dated men and women, always falling in love with the ones who stole from her. Once, a woman stole her lung. Another time, a man stole a rib. Never her heart, though. The grandmother always kept a tight hold on her heart. Her daughter hated that. Her granddaughter admired the strength of her grip, the density of her fist.

Tell me about the last line.

Sometimes we all feel heavy, you know? Heavier than the pounds of our bodies. I don’t understand how this works, but things just get caught inside us. Once a cat got caught inside my stomach, and she slept in there, wrapped in a bed of geraniums. I had to get her out, so I talked and talked, talked to friends who were dead, friends who were alive, talked to my teachers, my therapist, until one day I decided to shut up and write, and the cat just jumped out of there. It was so simple.

The girl in this story has swallowed lots of heavy things. So has her mother. They never talk about this; instead, they just go through life quiet and angry, needing each other but too proud to say so. Once, the girl almost swallowed autumn but could not get it all down. So, in her stomach, there were a few oak trees, some golden leaves, one southbound bird. There were some leftover piano keys in there, too, from when she was very young and swallowed the ghost of the piano her and her mother no longer played. The bird made some music but was tired of his own call, so he took the ghost piano keys and made them part of his own body. And when the girl stopped to listen to her neighbor’s organ, she stretched her body on the carpet, elongating her stomach, giving the bird just enough room to get out if he needed. She wanted to feel lighter. And the bird, he knew she was hurting. He knew she wished her mother or some maternal woman would hold her, play the piano with her, sing her to sleep. He was hurting, too, living in a world where piano keys are unplayable ghosts, no wires and petals to make music. So when he heard the fullness of that organ, he left her body, headed south, taking her piano keys with him. Without that weight of almost-music inside of her, she was freed.

Is there anything you would change, looking back on the story now?

This is a tough question. I’ve been trying not to think about what I could change, because there is always something to change. Once, when I read my short story “The Tortured Souls’ Club” at a Maitland Poets and Writers’ event, and I ended up editing as I read, omitting certain lines, changing words around. It felt good to be able to do that, to have that freedom. But honestly, I think I am too close to “Inside” right now to view it with an editor’s eye. In a year, or maybe even in a few months, I’ll be able to find many things to change. The question is, though, should they be changed, or should they settle? There’s something magical about settling. If we never find peace in the stories we tell, we’ll never be able to fully delve into collecting more. Right now my basket is empty and I am ready to begin yet another harvest. The Florida orange trees are bright, their fields stretching like quilts. What a lovely place to be.

About the Author

Ashley Inguanta is a writer, art photographer, installation artist, and holistic educator. Her work has most recently appeared in Atticus Review, Santa Fe Literary Review, and the anthology The Familiar Wild: On Dogs & Poetry. Her newest chapbook of poems, The Island, The Mountain, & The Nightblooming Field honors a human connection with the natural world.

About the Interviewer

Molly Gaudry is the author of We Take Me Apart, which was shortlisted for the PEN/Osterweil and was a finalist for the Asian American Literary Award. She teaches at the Yale Writers’ Workshop and is the founder of Lit Pub.

About the Artist

SuperFantastic on Flickr

This interview appeared in Issue Thirty of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Thirty

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