February 2013


The Sphinx 

Excerpt from Lily’s Odyssey, a novel, published with permission by All Things That Matter Press; its first chapter a Short List Finalist for the Eric Hoffer Award for Best New Writing

After I told Cal, he shook his head like shaking sand off, his arms resting flat on his captain’s chair. His resemblance to the Sphinx was interrupted when he snapped his lighter, and then it resumed when the cigarette smoke narrowed his eyes. The screen he’d drawn over his eyes since coming to Nicolet City remained in place as if the pulls had been broken; his nostrils flared as if scenting something bad; his lines on his forehead as if doing a trying procedure. When I tried to see his eyes through the veil of smoke he looked down to locate his ashtray and when he looked up there was that new expression I hadn’t been able to figure out. 

As if guessing I’d seen it, he exhaled smoke and said, “A hysterectomy would help level out your moods.” He picked up his knife and studied it as he balanced it on his index finger and with the tone he must have used many times that day with patients, “It would help end your romantic dreams, make you satisfied with your roles of a wife and mother. “When your hormones are stabilized it’d make my life a hell of a lot easier,” looking at me like he wanted to cut a part of me out with his knife (but anything was better than his veiled look) until he added, “you wander around here like a ghost in a B-movie. My relationship with Rachel and the other girls in the office is much better than with you. I married you to have a wife, home, and children. You’re the best in those roles and if you’re not satisfied you should accept whatever I give.” I got a coaster for his glass but he frowned and turned it so the pheasant on the coaster squarely faced him before adding, “You don’t even know why you’re so dissatisfied.” He laughed, “How can you not even know that?”

He was right—didn’t even have enough sense to know that, and his voice clearly reflected annoyance I wasn’t living up to my responsibilities. I sighed, nodded apologetically. A respected surgeon must know what he’s talking about and I’d let him down. Why couldn’t my dissatisfaction be removed with a 15 Bard/Parker blade he talked about? My dissatisfaction would look like balled mesh--but perhaps they’d find the dissatisfaction so pervasive they’d close me up with 000 silk—I wouldn’t want catgut.

Carol Smallwood co-edited Women on Poetry: Writing, Revising, Publishing and Teaching (McFarland, 2012) on the list of "Best Books for Writers" by Poets & Writers Magazine; Women Writing on Family: Tips on Writing, Teaching and Publishing (Key Publishing House, 2012); Compartments: Poems on Nature, Femininity, and Other Realms (Anaphora Literary Press, 2011) received a Pushcart nomination. Carol has founded, supports humane societies.



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