Montana Public Radio

Short Fiction Contest: Third Place Winner

Apr 13, 2015

"English/Lang Arts 1: Story As Primer"
by Sabrina Holland (Helena)                                                                  

VERB

Mine.

Pray.

Return.

ADVERB

Thoroughly.

Irishly. It’s not a word, but it’s how most of us do most things. We believe that every day above ground is a good day (I wrote that down, Grandma Stella), but we do get weepy. We have wakes. My friend Matt plays the bodhrán. I learned early that “Donegal,” and not “Silver Bow,” is the answer when I’m asked, “Which county are you from, dear?”

Then. Until recently, thought to be superior to “soon.”

Moderately. My father’s advice is to do all things this way, and I’m terrible at it.
Phenomenally. He has alcohol only on Fridays, and in moderation. He
occasionally misses mass. He forgives beautifully. I moved to Korea after three
weeks of planning, because I was too happy. I went vegan years ago. Months
after I created Butte High Students for a Free Tibet, I was interning for Senator
Burns.

NOUN

Gospel. Grandpa Dan was an altar boy at the Immaculate Conception Church
on Caledonia. It is entirely true that once, when he was holding the Word of
the Lord for Father during mass, blood appeared among the words of Saint
Matthew. Afterward, all of the boys were searched for cuts and scrapes, and
none were found. None.

Glass.

Bricks.

Sound.

PREPOSITION

Around. Drive to the Highlands and back. All better.

Underneath. Where the money comes from.

Throughout.

IMAGERY

A few days before I left Montana, I drove my 1986 Nissan truck into the mountains. The rusted mirror held the red and brown hills, carved neatly into mined shelves. The truck breeze snapped my braids through the window, and my hair, the color of copper, made the blue sky in the mirror brighter. Tom Catmull’s “Bernadette” on the truck’s only station, Montana Public Radio, took all the thin air.

When members of my mother’s extended family died, we would enter the terrifying Serbian Orthodox church in silence. Little Alycia and I, eyes so open, would cling to hands and dresses of the women we knew. We quietly ate and drank anything given to us: the povitica and the rice with raisins and brandy in it.

Babe’s fur cape slipped a little as she took my hand. “Honey, it’s fine. So you accidentally went on a date with your second cousin.” She shrugged. The fur was clutched in fingers like coral, rings like barnacles.Wrinkles and a laughed cough. “At least you know he’s not a Protestant.”

My father’s parents lived on Waukesha, just up a rise from the Anselmo mineyard. When we stayed the night in the always cool house, before my cousins and I were folded and kissed into thick sheets, my grandfather would pray the rosary. The quietest child got a nickel. I wish I had each of those little coins now, in my hands that are trying to remember where the Glory Be begins.

PLOT

Not so important.

SETTING

See “character.” Interchangeable.

CHARACTER

At the Finlen with Joe, sitting next to a retired priest. Father, as usual, was in his cups, and leading a spirited discussion. He turned to Joe and said, “Well, you know. You’re a good Butte boy, aren’t you.” Joe is not. He’s from Idaho. Whiskey near came out of Father’s old nose. We all agreed that Joe really did seem like a good Butte boy, and wasn’t it just a travesty that he didn’t have the grand luck of being born here? And Father proceeded to put his thumb in his whiskey and make the sign of the cross on Joe’s forehead. Ask Joe where he’s from now.

My after-school job was at a bar that had two resident cats; one had recently been on fire. The owner had vitamins from 1986 and a bicycle with ice skates welded to it, hanging from the ceiling next to one of the paint-by-number pictures of Jesus. My students waved when they walked by.

UNRELIABLE NARRATOR

Mary MacLane and I are doing our best, mostly.

THEME

In Missoula, while I poured a round of drinks, a man touched my arm and asked, “Excuse me, are you from Butte?” I brightened, and asked if I knew him. He said, “No; I could just tell.”

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From our contest judge, Caroline Patterson: "I chose 'English/Language Arts' for its unique primer-like structure that tells the story of growing up in Butte, whisky, stigmata and all.