Next Up in The Wordstock Ten: Samantha Hudson's "Reprieve"

What's a wife to do? Seek a reprieve, I suppose.

And so the wife, Maura, of "Reprieve" arranges for piano lessons for "the Vanden girl," a 14-year-old neighbor named Catherine, each Sunday afternoon. The husband will give the lessons. The music will assimilate with the afternoon air. Maura will lie by the pool.

"Reprieve" is is thus imbued with tremendous atmosphere and meditative quiet. Just barely under the surface, though, the drama is explosive. Maura will not tolerate her husband, and as the years go by does she become attracted to the Vanden girl? If so, it's a neat trick, as the husband fixates on on another possible lover, Daniel Hammond. Whatever the relationship--Catherine as surrogate daughter? Catherine as lost sibling or resurfaced childhood best friend?--that relationship is loaded with significance.

But as soon as I discuss this story, assertions melt away. To even raise the possibility of a physical attraction between Maura and the Vanden girl is preposterous--there's no evidence for it. This story is all about impressions of events, but where the events described are clear, the impressions are likely to be quite different from one reader to the next.

I suppose a small excerpt should be given by way of demonstration. Here's how it starts, our first taste of these three inscrutable characters:
Sundays were what Maura used to call a reprieve. Then, he wasn’t sure how she meant it.

“Peyton,” she’d say, “isn’t it about time for your reprieve?” and he’d shuffle off to the den, where he had begun giving piano lessons to the Vanden girl from a few streets over. Maura had set it up, when the Vanden girl was around fourteen. That first time, Peyton had waited on the piano bench. He’d worn his suit from work even though it was Sunday, but as soon as Maura had pushed the ratty Vanden girl into the room and shut the stained glass parlor doors behind her, he’d known it was unnecessary. The Vanden girl didn’t require suits. She wore shorts, sandals, and a purple halter top. Where did he get that word, halter top? Teaching at the high school had pushed all sorts of unnecessary things into his head, things he ran across unexpectedly and unhappily.
This story sets up perfectly the final two stories in The Wordstock Ten 2007 edition. I'll be writing up those two stories--"Corinth Behind the Counter" and "Minor Theatre"--just in time for the 2008 edition.

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