Your story caught my attention right away with your first few words, “I sit and wait for it. Father got it. Mother got it. I’m going to get it.” What was the genesis of this story?
The loneliness of the brain is something. A brain alone can’t say what is real and what is not. Well, can it? I’m no expert. The brain needs comparison, I think. Have you ever touched something and not known if it was hot or cold? We name things to give them meaning, don’t we? But if you are the only one naming these things then what are they really? Something against something else. If you put the rock on the front steps and it is no longer on the front steps, did you really put it there?
There seems it be a very deliberate pattern of detail and repetition: the rocks, the family, God and the Bible are woven together in such a way that pulls the reader through the story. Can you talk a little about your process and how you came to using this structure?
By necessity every story has some kind of structure, but this one seemed to appear after I wrote it—not before or during, even. I tried to create questions, but I didn’t want these questions to become so overwhelming that they left the reader confused. So hopefully the repetition does just that—it defines the point at which a reader creates more questions and finds small answers in the structure versus the questions piling up so high that they are some kind of pile of mush.
There is also the dichotomy between chaos and order—Mae is motivated to maintain order in a world that seems to be spiraling out of control, both in a small sense (ice storms are shattering the windows of her home) and a larger sense (something is moving the rocks). To me, the structure plays between these two ends of the spectrum.
I’m curious about that man who comes to repair the icebox. To me, he seems to represent the devil getting Mae to sign a contract for her soul. Where did he come from, a decision to bring in outside pressure or did he just show up?
I live in a small house on a big plot of land. It’s only two of us here, but the exigencies of the outside world are real. The mail comes. Or the milk spoils. Or a glass breaks and we can’t just leave the glass like that all broken and jagged on the floor, we need to clean it up. We vacuum. We eat. The grass grows so high it’s at our knees. So one of us mows the lawn. One of us drags the garbage can from inside the garage, down the driveway, up the street, to the corner. And the garbage man comes. Then the cans are empty and someone has to go back down the driveway, up the street, to the corner and drag it back.
And there’s also this idea that people are suffering, dying even, with illnesses like depression and cancer, and the rest of us have no recourse but to continue in the face of such difficulties. I know there are certain things we are supposed to do: Be strong, live on—work, eat, sleep, buy iceboxes—sustain somehow. But as these hardships enter our lives and eventually, one by one, we become victims of them ourselves, it’s hard not to demonize the world as it is. Somehow a small thing, a spoiled piece of meat, can become the greatest obstacle. Yet despite the deepest pain we feel, most of us keep trying to live. Even though, maybe, it would easier not to. This makes the world a very lonely place.
You’ve created an interesting surreal world with this story. Who are your favorite short story writers? What short story has influenced you if any?
Barry Hannah’s “Love Too Long,” Donald Barthelme’s “The School” and Stanley Elkin’s “A Poetics for Bullies.” I love everything by Denis Johnson. And Paula Fox—have you read Desperate Characters?
What advice would you give to an aspiring writer?
Let people you trust read your work. You are not a one-man car wash. That would be impossible, right? Oh wait, car washes are mechanized now.