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Story by Steve Edwards (Read author interview) October 2, 2017

Collage by SmokeLong Quarterly

My therapist Leo says, “So how are the warts?” and I look down at my hand, the three little discs of salicylic acid on my pinky and ring finger, and tell him the medicine’s working, they’re slowly melting away. I tell him it’s my hip that’s been bothering me. I’ve got this tear in my labrum—the cartilage in the joint. It’s something that happens to forty-year-olds with too much bone in the rounded balls of their femurs. My wife laughs at the word labrum because it sounds like labia, like I’ve torn my labia, though that’s not usually the kind of humor she goes for. I don’t know whether Leo would find it funny. Or if he’d laugh if he did. He’d just say, “Interesting.”

I tell Leo the first orthopedist I’d gone to said they might want to shave down the bone in both joints, though they didn’t know for sure whether that would make a difference in the long run because they haven’t been shaving bones like that long enough to know definitively whether it works.

I don’t like the idea of shaving down a bone. I tried to make a joke about that—about the word bone—that my wife didn’t think was funny. Not like labrum anyway. Which wasn’t that funny either.

Not really.

My therapist Leo says, “First orthopedist?” and I tell him I’ve got an appointment to see another one in September. The first guy said he could do arthroscopic surgery but that really he’s more of a shoulder specialist, and that I should see a hip specialist. My GP had tried to send me to that guy, the hip guy—Dr. Simoneau—but everyone who reviewed him online said he was a jerk, so I went with Dr. Carter, who my wife had gone to when she banged up her knee pretty badly last winter after slipping on ice. She liked him, and he’d given her a cortisone injection. I thought maybe he’d give me one, too, but he just looked at my X-rays and MRI and said I should go see Dr. Simoneau the hip guy. And so even though Simoneau’s a jerk, I called him for an appointment. But technically, I tell Leo, the appointment counted as a second-opinion, which by his office’s rules meant I had to wait two weeks before scheduling the consultation.

“How’s the pain?” Leo asks.

“Not too bad.”


“Unless I tweak it. It’s like a shot of electricity right up my spine if I tweak it. Which is really no fun, you know.”

Leo glances at something out the window, a bird taking off, or an airplane in the sky. It’s bright outside, a Tuesday in late August. There’s a long line of traffic on Bedford Street, the stoplight on the corner cycling green to yellow to red. I tell Leo that even the receptionist I’d talked to on the phone at Simoneau’s office sounded like a jerk. She kept saying my first orthopedist would have to send over my records, and I kept telling her that there were no records, that he’d just said to go see Simoneau. But I finally got my appointment—so now I hobble around and wait.

“Yes. That’s good,” Leo says and lets out a long breath. Then he looks at me and his eyes flash and he smiles in that way that means the chitchat part of our hour has been fun but it’s time to get to the real work.

“So,” he says.


He’s got a mustache—Leo. When I first started coming last fall it was a full goatee but now it’s just a mustache, gray like wet cement, and flaring yellowish just under the nostrils. He used to be a smoker obviously. Maybe still is. I describe him to my wife sometimes but never quite peg him right. He’s nice. I don’t know. He’s funny. He falls asleep sometimes. Or he doesn’t fall asleep, per se—his eyelids just get heavy. It’s an after-lunch thing is what I like to think.

“So,” Leo says again.

I can feel the salicylic acid in the discs on my warts, the lightest little burn. I rub them and look out the window after the bird Leo saw. It was a starling. I can’t think of a single funny thing about starlings.

On the wall Leo’s got this Zen poster. A bunch of people are walking a big bridge across a river. Two ladies in kimonos carrying wooden umbrellas. A little kid with a toy. And this guy—maybe an old guy—hunched over a cane and struggling along like maybe it hurts him to walk. Like the ladies and the kid can just stroll right over the bridge but it takes this guy forever. But what else can he do? Last week I told Leo I’d been thinking about hanging myself with a belt in the bathroom at work. He asked me what kept me from doing it. I said I’d never been one for hanging around.

I get glib when I’m nervous. Leo knows that. My wife knows it too. But she said if I didn’t try to get happy she was going to leave me. So here I am. Leo looks at me and looks at the Zen poster and looks at me again.

“That’s me right there,” I say.


Up in the corner is a guy in a little rowboat, rowing himself out of the scene. I start crying when I point him out.


Notes from Guest Reader Ryan Ridge

Interestingly, flocks of starlings are called murmurations. In ‘Starlings,’ Steve Edwards’ prose murmurs and sings with a soft, elegant dignity that massages your heartstrings.

About the Author

Steve Edwards is author of the memoir BREAKING INTO THE BACKCOUNTRY, the story of his seven months as caretaker of a backcountry homestead along the Rogue River in Oregon. His writing can be found in Orion Magazine, The Rumpus, Electric Literature and elsewhere. He lives in Massachusetts.

This story appeared in Issue Fifty-Eight of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Fifty-Eight

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