02 February 2017

new fiction: Fire, Fire

We heard Fire! Fire! and hauled out of bed like it was a real emergency. Pounded out the back door in our boxers and bare feet. Ranger barking. Michael dragging his blanket. The summer was a dark chill on our skins dragged from our blankets. As soon as I guessed it was Lenny, I knew we’d been duped. Pops’ truck wasn’t in the driveway, and mom was still in Indiana keeping her secrets. Saying she needed a real Indiana summer. Even Pops knew it was something else.
from "Fire, Fire," by Sherri H. Hoffman

Read the rest of my short story, "Fire, Fire" in the newest issue of  Potomac Review, Issue 60. This story is a chapter from the novel I am working to finish, The Wildish Boys.

You can purchase your copy of Potomac Review, Issue 60, online. Or if you are going to the 2017 AWP Conference & Bookfair in Washington, DC next week, I'm sure you can pick up a copy at their table.

01 November 2016

new fiction: The Audrey Hepburn

Meredith wills her voice up her dry throat. "It's a famous design, this dress. Did I tell you? The actress who made it famous?" 
The women peer at her, pins held between their lips as their fingers coax the bodice into place. Meredith can't stop talking. Roman Holiday. My Fair Lady. Academy Awards. Lifetime Achievement. She rambles on, sweating and breathless, words spilling out of her in what must be English-gibberish to the women as they move about her in an undulating whirl until the sash neckline lies naturally over her collarbones, darts fitted neatly alongside her breasts, bodice perfect above the flare of the gored skirt.

~ from "The Audrey Hepburn" by Sherri H. Hoffman

More than one of the expatriates in Rwanda encouraged me to have a dress made while I was there. If only for the experience, they said. A culture of dressmakers is something I could only imagine from historic references in the U.S., and I was intrigued.

In Butari, the fabric and textiles vendors held the second floor of the open market, and tucked into the center of the cement stalls, the dressmakers worked in a single open room. The rows of sewing machines were of various age, and the women seemed to work as one body, heads down, all machines buzzing with industry at once.

Prepared with my vision of the iconic dress made famous in Breakfast at Tiffany's, I looped through the fabric shops several times until I'd identified ta pattern I wanted, a small pattern of of blue over a cream backing. The vendors all had access to the same textile production, so it was available in more than one location. The aggressive shopkeepers put me off, and I made my purchase from a woman in a smaller shop with a soft voice and a baby strapped to her back.  She recommended a specific dressmaker and sent me to the galley of seamstresses to ask for her by name. Within minutes of meeting with her, she had my measurements and had sketched a pattern from my photograph. She took my bolt of cloth and instructed me to return in two days for a fitting.

Nothing could have prepared me for the experience. The seamstress I engaged along with a bevy of her fellows were boldly attentive and profoundly skilled, their expertise a reflection of a lifetime of professional practice. Within the week, I had a custom fitted replica dress blue-and-cream. I was beyond impressed.

As I left, the women told me that there would be a new market soon with a larger sewing galley. They hoped I would come back soon. Wrote indecipherable phone numbers and addresses into my notebook should I wish to order another dress.

I suppose I was not surprised that none of the women had ever heard of Audrey Hepburn. My hope that the older black-and-white film had circulated as far as Rwanda was overly optimistic. It seems like the closest theater was in Kigali several hours away. And in the end, it didn't matter. The experience became the context for my famous dress. One of a kind.

Tiffany's salesman: Do they still really have prizes in Cracker Jack boxes?
Paul Varjak: Oh yes.
Tiffany's salesman: That's nice to know. It gives one a feeling of solidarity, almost of continuity with the past, that sort of thing.
           ~ from Breakfast at Tiffany's

16 October 2016

ghosting reality

In Rwanda, there is an undercurrent of constant motion. Bicycles balancing enormous sacks of potatoes, full sets of furniture, jugs of water. On the road, streams of motos. Children on foot with a goat. Armed men in uniform goosestepping in single file. Women with buckets of wet cement on their heads going up and down the bamboo construction scaffolding. Women with babies tied on their backs. Congolese refugees hawking roasted corn cobs from the gutters. Even at night there is movement, undulation of voices, vehicles, or music from a radio. The entire landscape thrums with a collective breath that tugs at its horizons.

At the bottom of this hill, my father tells me, the local truck drivers claim there is a ghost. We are on our way back to Butare on the wide paved road guided by the reflection of an occasional painted center line. Down the hill, a solitary row of yellow street lamps marks the turn at the bottom. The ghost is said to be a beautiful woman who appears in the middle of the road. The fated drivers are at once captivated and terrorized so that they lose the road, miss the turn, upend their trucks in the tight groves of eucalyptus that hover at the edge of our headlights in the black night. More trucks have crashed here than anywhere else on this road, the only truck access between the country's two largest cities.

Based on a map, Rwanda is 9000 miles from my home state, but in that moment I could have been a child listening to my older cousins tell stories of the ghostly women on the Union Pacific tracks, engineers driven mad by the haunting perfume that lingers in the engine as it hurtles through the phantom shapes toward an uncertain end—tracks washed out or the trestle failed. Or perhaps it is the story of the White Lady of Spring Canyon, her husband or lover lost below in the coal mine, leaving her in perpetual mourning to take revenge on the luck of the living. 

Our world is not so large if we dare to look, our shared stories moving through similar shadows and spaces of reality, specters of story nuanced by universal circumstance or chance. The motion of reality captured in story, fiction undercut with truth, offers up a reflection of ourselves that reaches, at the very least, 9000 miles in either direction.

If you enjoyed my Rwanda story that was published earlier this year in Cimarron Review, "Stained with Lime," you may be interested to read the next story in the connected series. "The Audrey Hepburn" will premier in Delmarva Review Vol 9 on November 1, available in print and online. Watch this site for more information once the issue launches.

"Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn't."  ― Mark Twain, Following the Equator: A Journey Around the World