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SmokeLong Quarterly

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Story by Kim Chinquee (Read author interview) August 15, 2004

I wore my grandmother’s lemon-colored skirt, and lit a candle with my lighter. I was sitting with the chaplain. We were in my grandmother’s attic, and we were drinking whiskey. He was 30, maybe 40. He’d been my grandmother’s helper when she couldn’t remember. I didn’t live there anymore, but had gone back for the funeral. He told me stories all about her, how she told him she dreamed of being in the opera, how she had wanted him to dance with her. After my grandfather passed away eleven years before her, she fell and broke her hip, and that kind of broke her memory.

“She always liked to dance,” I said to the pretty chaplain.

I toasted him, and he took a swig of whiskey. He was sitting on an old, dusty drum. My grandfather used to play it in a band, and he would march and I would follow in the float that my grandmother would pull on their John Deere tractor. It was for the Legion. I didn’t tell the chaplain about the time my grandparents told me that I couldn’t be their granddaughter any longer. It was when my mother decided she would divorce my father.

“She loved God,” the chaplain said. He was getting wobbly on the drum.

I didn’t tell him that I didn’t see my grandmother for many years, not until my grandfather’s funeral, and after her mind started drifting far away, I started seeing her more often. She remembered me more and more as the child before I was eleven. She gave me several different names that I would not remember.

My father loved God religiously since his mental breakdown. My grandparents said that if he’d had stronger Faith, it never would have happened. That was before I turned eleven. That was right before my mother left my father. Now my father lived with other hurting people, dwelling in an institution.

I sat on the dusty floor, pulling the skirt up just a little. Everything was clean the last time I was up here, but now there were webs and spiders everywhere, mice droppings, and everything was coated gray. I could hardly breathe. Everything was dusty.

“I fell out of love with God,” I told the chaplain.

He said he didn’t judge me. He smiled down at me. I got up and dusted off the record player, turned it on. I found an album, played The Elephant Waltz, which I so clearly had remembered. I took the chaplain’s hand. I pulled him up and danced around him on my toes, like a ballerina.

About the Author

Kim Chinquee grew up on a dairy farm in Wisconsin, served in the medical field in the Air Force, and is often referred to as the “queen” of flash fiction. She’s published hundreds of pieces of fiction and nonfiction in journals and magazines including The Nation, Ploughshares, NOON, Storyquarterly, Denver Quarterly, Fiction, Story, Notre Dame Review, Conjunctions, and others. She is the recipient of two Pushcart Prizes and a Henfield Prize. She is Senior Editor of New World Writing, co-director of Buffalo State’s Writing Major, and serves as the Association of Writers and Writing Programs Northeast Regional Council Chair. She can be reached at kimchinquee at gmail dot com.

About the Artist

A native of Ohio, Marty D. Ison lives with his wife transplanted in the sands of the Gulf of Mexico. He studied fine arts at Saint Petersburg College. In addition to the visual arts, he writes poetry, short stories, and novels. See more of Ison’s work here.

This story appeared in Issue Five of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Five
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