Issue #249: Uche Okonkwo’s “Our Belgian Wife”

Contributing Editor Will Allison acquired and edited our latest issue, Uche Okonkwo’s “Our Belgian Wife,” so the pleasure of introducing it goes to him. The floor is yours, Mr. Allison! –PR

The story in our latest issue hit home for me as a parent. My sixteen-year-old daughter and I are currently negotiating the fraught dance that is a child’s transition to independence. My daughter is already very much her own person, but the impulse is still there for me to meddle in her affairs, to try to solve her problems and fix her mistakes.

The Nigerian mothers in Uche Okonkwo’s “Our Belgian Wife” suffer from the same misguided impulse. Marigold, an impoverished widow, only wants what’s best for her daughter, Udoka, and Marigold’s friend Agatha only wants what’s best for her estranged expatriate son, Uzor. So the two mothers conspire to arrange a marriage between their children.

Never mind that Udoka and Uzor are young adults, capable of managing their own affairs. Never mind that they don’t know each other. Never mind that Udoka is busy pursing a college degree. And never mind that she is already engaged to Enyinna, a devoted but poor shopkeeper. As I watched the mothers’ meddling spiral out of control, I was reminded of times I’ve tried to engineer good outcomes for my own daughter when all she wanted was for me to butt out. And I was reminded that things rarely went as I planned. I can only hope that I will have learned my lesson by the time my daughter is Udoka’s age. In the meantime, I invite you to join me in appreciating the humor and heartbreak that Okonkwo’s all-too-human characters wreak upon each other, and in welcoming a strong and distinctive new voice to our pages.

To read an interview with Uche Okonkwo, visit the stories section on our website.

Issue #247: Christopher Santantasio’s “Persistence”

Our new issue was selected and edited by contributing editor Will Allison. Take it away, Will! — PR

The first time I read “Persistence,” by Christopher Santantasio, I was reminded of one of my favorite novels, William Maxwell’s So Long, See You Tomorrow, in which the narrator is guilt-ridden over his failure to help a childhood friend fifty years earlier. As a reader, I have rarely encountered such a profound sense of regret on the page, and as a writer, I continue to be inspired by it.

Maxie, the narrator of “Persistence,” is haunted by a similarly powerful guilt. In 1960, when Maxie was twelve, her mother died, and she moved with her father to a small town in upstate New York. Maxie’s life in Clyde’s Creek was not a happy one. The only bright spots were the piano lessons she received from her teacher and time spent with her sole friend, Honey.

Honey’s life was no picnic either. As Maxie came to learn, Honey suffered severe abuse at the hands of her domineering older brother, Hubert. And as the only person who knew Honey’s secret, Maxie was the only person who could help. However, exposing Honey’s secret threatened to upend Maxie’s life as well. Suffice it to say that the choices Maxie made failed Honey entirely.

Like the narrator of So Long, See You Tomorrow, Maxie understands that her childhood actions were driven not by malice or heartlessness so much as by fear, confusion, and a child’s limited understanding of the world. Even so, Maxie struggles to come to terms with her behavior. In reading about this struggle, I found myself haunted by some of my own childhood mistakes, and I bet you will too. I also hope you’ll agree that Santantasio, despite being new on the literary scene, captures Maxie’s guilt with a sensitivity and depth that would make William Maxwell proud.

To read an interview with the author, visit the “Persistence” page on our website.

OTS 56: Erin Snyder’s “Escape from Vienna”

It’s always a pleasure to read submissions for our Teen Writing Contest. And it’s an extra pleasure to be taken to a time and place I’ve never been before. In the case of our new issue of One Teen Story, the time is 1945, and the place is war-torn Vienna. Tobias and Franz are riders in training at the Spanish Riding School of Vienna. An evacuation is underway. Bombs are falling from the sky.

That’s already enough to have me on the edge of my seat. To complicate things further, the only manner of quickly and safely evacuating the horses is by train, and most conductors aren’t willing to pull a train through an air raid to save a bunch of horses.

The ability to create believable tension in a short story is admirable; the ability to sustain it to the end is something to be celebrated. One Teen Story is very proud to be presenting Erin Snyder’s “Escape from Vienna” to the world of readers. You’ll never look at a Lipizzaner stallion the same way again!

Issue #245: Joe Cary’s “Disembodied”

Our new issue, “Disembodied” by Joe Cary, is about family, legacy, kindness, generosity, and the possibility of magic. It’s also about fear, rotten luck, and flat-out destitution. For all its admirable qualities—and there are many—it’s the voice of this story that brought me to my knees. The unnamed narrator is a second-generation homeless man living on the streets of New York City. His only agenda is a simple one: get through today so that he can get through tomorrow. He expects to be met with difficulties. He expects to encounter judgmental looks from strangers, suspicious glances from cops, hunger pains, challenges when it comes to looking for a place to sleep or even a safe place to sit down and have a thought. He lives in a world so consistent in its daily unwelcoming of his presence that it’s almost become a dependable place. And then something unexpected begins to happen—something that defies even his college-educated, street-smart mind. Hats off to the author, Joe Cary, who says in our Q&A that while drafting “Disembodied” he read the story aloud so many times (in order to get the voice right) that he “can nearly recite it.” That hard work has paid off, and we’re the lucky readers who get to reap the benefits.

OTS 55: Katherine Xiong’s “White Jade”

I was nine when I lost one of my grandparents and fifteen when I lost another. In both cases, I remember every detail about receiving the news: the shock, the tears, the hugs, the consolation. What I don’t remember was thinking that one of my parents had just lost one of their parents. Call it selfishness or shortsightedness, I just couldn’t see my parents as anything but parents, which meant that I couldn’t picture them as someone’s child—someone they’d just found out had passed away.

The narrator of Katherine Xiong’s “White Jade” is wiser and far more generous than I ever was as a child or a young adult. She learns in the opening paragraph of her grandmother’s death and then travels with her mother back to China for the funeral. At every step of the way, she observes and listens to and processes her mother, and she’s able to tap into the complexity of emotions her mother is experiencing. No parent is a parent without having once been a child. No parent can resist measuring themselves against the parents who raised them. Between one generation and the next are layers of hopes, desires, resentments, and regrets. Throw death into the mix, and the emotions become all the more tender—even raw.

“White Jade” is an incredibly sophisticated and accessible portrait of three women bound by more than just blood. For good reason, it’s one of our Teen Writing Contest winners. We’re thrilled to publish it, and we’re thrilled to introduce you to the work of Katherine Xiong.

To read an interview with the author, please visit the stories page of our website.

Issue# 244: Brian Panowich’s “Box of Hope”

I’m always interested in the story behind the story. That is, the inspiration that had to be there in order for the story to come into existence. In the case of “A Box of Hope” by Brian Panowich, the inspiration was a tragedy—the death of the author’s father—and the original idea was to imagine a conversation the author might have with a younger version of his dad. As is so often the case with inspiration and creativity, the result is something very different.

“A Box of Hope” takes place on a front porch over a period of roughly half an hour. A wake is going on, and the deceased’s fifteen-year-old son, Will, is grieving, brooding, and mad enough to punch someone. Then along comes Jack: his father’s younger brother, a man Will has never met, a man his father wasn’t close to, a man his mother despises.

Our new issue is, in part, an investigation into the nature of hope and the trust it brings with it. Hope can take many forms and can spring from some very unlikely sources. It can be as unexpected as it is welcome. And it can be anything but simple. For me, the most interesting takeaway from Brian Panowich’s story—and the thing that first drew me to it—is the oft-overlooked reality that hope can sometimes be complicated.

To read an interview with the author, visit the stories section of our website.

OTS 54: Micaiah Saldaña’s Dear Jamie, Love Rory

“Dear Jamie, Love Rory” is a story about siblings. But more specifically, it’s a story about love. Jamie is a soldier stationed in Afghanistan. Rory and Nikki are his sisters. They don’t always get along; in fact, one of the few things they have in common is their love for their brother and the fact that they miss him so much. And they’re about to embark on a road trip together.

One Teen Story is excited to be presenting this impressive piece of fiction by Micaiah Saldaña, one of the winners of our Teen Writing Contest. Written as a series of letters Rory writes to Jamie, it is both funny and touching, and it is a testament to patience and personal growth. One of the things I like about “Dear Jamie, Love Rory” is that it’s two stories in one: we get the road trip (and who doesn’t like a good road trip?), and we get an intimate portrait of two sisters on a path toward mending their strained relationship.

As long as the Airstream trailer doesn’t make you claustrophobic and Mittens (a slobbering Mastiff) doesn’t drool on you, you should enjoy this one-sided epistolary.

To read an interview with Micaiah, please visit our website.

Issue #242: Michael Hawley’s That’s How You Dance the Mambo

I’ve lived in New York City for twenty years, and I’ve seen it change an awful lot. But say that to someone who’s lived here for thirty, forty, fifty years or more, and they’ll laugh, roll their eyes, and wave your observations way. Then they’ll tell you what real change looks like.

The main character in Michael Hawley’s “That’s How You Dance the Mambo” is Albert, an elderly man who is doing his best to live in the moment, even while the moment rains plaster dust down on his head. Most of his dear friends have shuffled off the mortal coil. His landlord would love for him to give up his apartment. His nephew wants to move him into a retirement home outside of the city. And his long-time neighbor, Nestor, has found a hundred-dollar bill and wants to go to dinner—but that means venturing out into a landscape neither one of them feels comfortable calling home.

“That’s How You Dance the Mambo” is a rendering of a present that’s out-of-true with its past. It’s a faded and crumbling love letter to New York City, and it’s a story, as the author says in our Q&A, about resilience. Let the dance lesson begin.

 

Issue #240: Gwen E. Kirby’s Mt. Adam at Mar Vista

Our new issue, “Mt. Adams at Mar Vista,” was sparked by a conversation the author had with a group of friends following a school shooting that had been in the news. The fact that she now can’t recall which school shooting is as chilling as the story she’s written.

No one dies in this story. There’s no bloodshed, there are no weapons, there’s no mass evacuation. We’ve recently seen what an amazing force young people can be when they’re galvanized by a tragedy—and what’s all the more impressive about them is that they’re kids. Brave, angry, focused, articulate kids. In its way, “Mt. Adams at Mar Vista” underscores that by investigating what it’s like when kids in a similar situation try to get on with the business of being high school students.

As Gwen E. Kirby says in our Q&A, this is not “an explicitly political story.” At the same time, it revolves around a topic that, against all reasonable thinking, has become politicized. When what happens to one of us can happen to all of us, when what happens to some of our kids on an average school day can happen to any of our kids on an average school day, and we disagree on whether or not that matters—our definitions of winning and losing need to be redefined.

Issue #239: Eric McMillan’s We Go Together

This month’s story comes to us via contributing editor Will Allison, so I’m turning the bridge over to him for the introductions. Take the com, Will! — PR

I was first drawn to Eric McMillan’s “We Go Together” by the story’s setting—a U.S. army base, 1996, near the Korean Demilitarized Zone—and by the author’s résumé, which includes ten years of military service in Bosnia, Korea, and Iraq. I was hoping the story might inform my understanding of present-day tensions between the United States and North Korea, which it did. But it turns out the story’s chief mission is much broader: an exploration of race relations within the U.S. Army.

“During the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq,” says McMillan, “I was assigned to a battalion support platoon. Most of those soldiers were African-American, eighteen- to twenty-year-olds. I was a white, twenty-four-year-old college kid in a position of power. If that scenario sounds inherently problematic to you, it is. But in the army, you’re not supposed to act like it is.”

Though “We Go Together” is set in Korea, McMillan draws heavily upon his experience in Iraq. The story’s central relationship involves Lieutenant Woods, a white officer assigned to transform a motley, mostly black platoon, and Sergeant Burrell, a respected black section leader who chafes at Woods’s by-the-book leadership style. When crisis befalls the platoon, the two men’s capacity to work together is put to a high-stakes test.

Along the way, the story mines the inherent tension between the army’s ethos of meritocracy and its reluctance to acknowledge institutional racism. There’s also a lot of fascinating army-speak, which is its own kind of poetry. We hope you enjoy McMillan’s ear for language—and his story—as much as we did.

You can read our Q&A with the author here.