Hurt People by Cote Smith

The relationship of siblings is a complicated dynamic; not quite friendship sometimes, sometimes not quite love.  No one has shared understanding of parents like siblings, and with them we navigate what can sometimes be the war-like environs of childhood.  No wonder the sibling relationship is a rich minefield for fiction.

Cote Smith’s “Hurt People” is the story of two brothers, thirty-two months apart, referred to solely by how they reference each other in birth order: elder and younger.  They are each other’s confidantes, playmates, protectors and co-conspirators.  When they need it, they are each other’s cheer.  At the outset of “Hurt People,” the brothers sleep by the fan like “sister cats” and their desires are simple: they want the temperature to reach seventy-two degrees, the mark at which their ever-working mother will allow them to go to their apartment complexes pool. 

“Hurt People” is set in a town that has “more prisons than restaurants.”  It’s a town of surrogate fathers; Rick, their mother’s co-worker, who gives them rides around the driving range; the police officer who gives them baseball cards from his car.  At the pool they encounter Chris, a guide into a more adult world of seediness and sexuality, whose introduction triggers the change in the story. 

People ask me what we look for in stories.  Upon first reading “Hurt People,” I was struck by how acutely Cote’s young narrator observes his world.  The city has only one siren, “with only one sound, which it used for all of its warnings.”  To point out a spot on his temple where he has been bruised, the younger waits in his mother’s customer service line.  The elder’s back heaves a “big sigh.”

The voice is subtly styled, idiosyncratic.  The dialogue has no missteps.  “What is your opinion of having the best mother on earth?”  the boys are asked.  “I’m in favor of it,” the elder replies.

This is not a coming of age story.  Rather, it’s a story defined by the fact that its narrator does not come of age, instead has to observe his older brother grapple with a chilling encounter without being able to follow or help.  For a young narrator with a professed desire to “want in on whatever the elder did and thought,” who experiences “panic” whenever he is unable to see his brother, these are devastating stakes.

This is Cote Smith’s first published story, and the launch of our “Introducing New Writers” series.  Subscribers will notice this issue will arrive in a custom envelope announcing it as a fiction debut and inviting you to congratulate the author on our blog.  This year we will host readings in the current hometowns of two of our writers who have published their first fiction with us.  First up is Lawrence, Kansas on May 2nd to celebrate “Hurt People.”  This series is made possible by a generous grant from the NEA, recognizing One Story’s consistent goal to support and showcase new voices.

Supporting new voices is a passion of ours.  I’ve seen young writers become discouraged and give up.  I am a young writer and I give up 15 times a day.  Writing fiction is hard.  But, I’ve also seen how One Story’s editing process and publication can change young writer’s lives.  10% of our writers are published for the first time in One Story.  You should consider becoming a subscriber.  It’s $21 a year.  You get 18 issues.  Every issue we publish gets another person’s story into the world; kids in prison towns in Kansas, girls grappling with their meteorologically obsessed fathers, love stories told in letters, stories about Superman’s girlfriend, swimming stories set in Madagascar, stories that are extended bar jokes, stories about messed up guys who work in hot dog factories.  We tell these stories to connect, to build community.     

To read an interview with Cote Smith, click here.  I hope you will enjoy “Hurt People,” and the introduction of a bright, new literary voice.

13 thoughts on “Hurt People by Cote Smith

  1. Hello, Marie-Helene! What a nice idea this new series is! And where’s the second reading going to take place? Why not Philly? Our very own Sam Allingham debuted in ONE STORY, right???

    Best to you all,

  2. Amazing story. I had to take a deep breath at the end before I could actually say ‘wow.’ I loved the voice and I loved the use of ‘the mother’ and ‘the elder’ etc…Cote Smith is definitely a writer to look out for. I’m sure he’s already been snapped up by an agent.

    Congrats to him and for One Story to being the first publication to embrace his work.

  3. Very cool story. What is it about the secret lives of kids in swimming pools.

  4. A great story. It took me a little while to get into his style, but once I settled in the ride was great. Having lost a brother a long time ago, this really pulled at the ‘ol heartstrings. Congratulations to Cote Smith and One Story for another job well done.

  5. Congratulations to Cote Smith on a story that’s eerie, elegant, and compelling. The dynamic between the brothers is spot on, and I loved what he said in the interview about refining at the sentence level. Looking forward to reading more from him, and more of One Story’s new voices. What a superb idea!

  6. This is a fine story indeed, one of the best I’ve read in One Story. I’m going to have my creative-writing students read it. And I’ll be looking forward to more from this writer.

  7. I love this story and am delighted that Cote Smith mentioned Gary Lutz in his interview. I love Lutz’s stories.

  8. After the first paragraph, I said silently… Leavenworth. Six prisons in one town, as I recall. The graduation equivalent of Lutheran Seminary was the Call Service for the doctoral graduates -where you learn where you will begin living next month. When it came my new husband’s turn, rather than merely announcing the town’s name like the others, the Dean quipped, Richard, you’ve been sentenced to Leavenworth. An appropriate loom indeed, Cote, to work such a shattering story.

  9. The first paragraph of this story is great. Just like Cote said in his interview–each sentence is carefully crafted. Very readable despite the scary subject. Loved it. Please continue to publish new writers!

  10. This was a great story. Completely enthralled from the beginning. I wrote a short post for Short Story Month here. I’ve completely, utterly fallen in love with you all at One Story.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *