Two Stories by Roberta Allen

BOMB 60 Summer 1997
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The Unnwashed Glass

How I longed to linger on that north shore beach and look through the seaweed for iridescent shells thin as tissue paper, for limpet shells, and scallop shells, and other shells abandoned by little crabs, but instead, I went with her to the house of a woman she had recently met, a woman I didn’t want to know, who invited us out on the porch, where we sat in front of a garden with purple hydrangeas, of a type I had never seen before, while she told me with a pseudo British accent that she worked in publishing, and I drank from a tall glass what I thought was only spring water even though it had a strange smell and taste. It finally dawned on me as the woman was discussing with her the Republicans, and other things I had no interest in discussing, that the substance which hadn’t been washed out of the glass before the woman poured water in it was scotch. For the woman to have given me an unwashed glass, was to my way of thinking, either careless or insulting, but no more careless or insulting than the treatment I was likely to receive at the hands of the one who had brought me to her house, the one I was visiting on the north shore, and I wondered if this woman, whose porch we were sitting on, knew, through some sort of mental telepathy, to treat me as badly or as thoughtlessly as the one who claimed to be my good friend, and who had made at least one reference that weekend to being just that before proceeding to do things even my own mother wouldn’t have done, in the days when my mother, who has since lost her edge to old age, treated me as badly as she did.

 

Remark

Our leader is smiling at a tall Bozo man she thinks is a hunk and flirting brazenly by moving her brows up and down like a female Groucho Marx when our launch pulls out of Dire, a port on the Niger River where, detained three hours, we watched, with more than a little trepidation, soldiers strike curious villagers across the back with rifles for venturing too close to our luggage which soldiers searched for guns they suspected us of smuggling to the Tuaregs in Timbuctoo, who attacked this checkpoint twice, and with whom they are at war, ample time for our leader to have made this Bozo man’s acquaintance, which she didn’t do when she had the chance, but now feels sorry about I imagine, though she doesn’t show it and she doesn’t tell me that she is. I, on the other hand, wave tearfully at a skinny little barefoot boy in a tattered t-shirt with red and tan stripes who, clutching the Bic pen I gave him, skipped beside me down dusty paths, dappled with goat manure, past women with calloused hands pounding millet in mortars with pestles and men carrying sacks of grain from pirogues, charming me with his laughter and big dark eyes, which is the reason why our leader says that I only like males under twelve, a remark which I, under the circumstances of having to be in close contact with her ten more days, choose to forget, though I know that I will remember it later, and it will probably eat at me, but by then, she will be home in Arizona and I will be back in New York.

Roberta Allen’s book of stories Certain People was recently published by Coffee House Press. Her other books are Amazon Dream, The Daughter, The Traveling Woman, and Five Minute Fiction. She is also a visual artist in the collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

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Originally published in

BOMB 60, Summer 1997

Featuring interviews with Barry Le Va, Jane Dickson, John Lee Anderson, Lydia Davis, Judy Davis, Peter Greenaway, Roger Guenveur Smith, David Del Tredici, Alfred Uhry, and David Armstrong.

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