Black Lawrence Press
July 6, 2017

We Have a Winner :: The 2017 Big Moose Prize

We are thrilled to let you know that we’ve selected a winner for the 2017 Big Moose Prize! And the winning manuscript is…

shens 128The Good Echo by Shena McAuliffe

Shena McAuliffe has published stories and essays in Conjunctions, Gulf Coast, Black Warrior Review, Alaska Quarterly Review, and elsewhere. She earned an MFA from Washington University in St. Louis, and a PhD in Literature and Creative Writing from the University of Utah where she was a Vice-Presidential Fellow. She was awarded the R.P. Dana Emerging Writer Fellowship at Cornell College, and is now a Visiting Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana.

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Excerpt from Part 1 of The Good Echo

Big Moose WinnerA FALSE START

Apologies are in order. I am, after all, only a boy ghost sorting stories. Switzerland seemed as good a place as any to begin. In Switzerland, cows wear charming bells around their necks and boys stand on mountaintops with alpenhorns bellowing. Plus, I’ve always been fascinated by trains—all that clack and whistle. The weight they carry on their wheels! As a boy, in Cleveland, I used to put a penny on the tracks and wait. After the train passed, the penny remained: bright copper smashed thin, the faint, stretched shape of Abraham Lincoln or the Indian head.

But we’ve already missed so much. Let me begin again. I promise to return to Switzerland, but so much happened before that, so much before me, before Clifford and Frances even knew each other. And so much happened after me, before Switzerland, after Switzerland. Switzerland is just a point on a line, a fly in a web.

Another fly: my funeral, which Frances recalls like a page in some sad photo album. My swollen face. My closed eyes. My pressed and starched collar. My fingernails, clean and trimmed as they never were in life. She missed the dirt that nested beneath my nails. Without dirt, they were not my hands. Then came the foggy days, when she walked to and from the cemetery, before she decided not to go anymore. And my Aunt Elizabeth’s long stay in Cleveland, during which she did not speak to Clifford, not even once, and the house was too silent, as if it were waiting for everyone to gasp and resume breathing.

Winter arrived, and the ground froze around my body, and my body froze within it, and the snow fell upon me. A crow plucked the fading ribbon from the dried bouquet that adorned my headstone and trailed it through the sky to its nest. Frances went to bed early and slept late, getting out of bed only when Elizabeth arrived at the house and bustled into the bedroom with tea. Clifford kept working every day, cleaning and pulling teeth. He worked harder than ever, scheduling appointments from breakfast to dinner, sometimes working straight through lunch.

And then, somehow, when the fog began to lift, and Elizabeth went back to Ontario, and the flowers opened on the pear tree that grew beside my grave, and Frances stopped visiting the cemetery every day, the silence shifted. When Frances and Clifford sat in the living room in the evenings—he reading the paper, she reading a novel or doing embroidery—the silence began to feel something like a candle’s flame, warm and moving and lively. And that was how Frances knew she’d live with the sadness, and so would Clifford. They held this new thing between them now. Their grief was a shared thing.

For my father, my death was the second major detour from his life plans. Typhoid Fever had been the first. He nearly died at twenty, his first year in Grand Forks, North Dakota, where he had moved to start a dental practice of his own. When the fever broke, he awoke changed, blinking like a newborn in the sun. He returned to his family’s farm in Ontario, and then went with his Uncle Donald to Mazinaw Lake, to pray and recover his strength. Donald had been a school teacher at an Ojibwe Reserve school and he taught Clifford his first lessons in nutrition, which he had learned from his students. At the lake, Cliff and Donald lived on berries and fish. They trapped rabbits and dried the meat. North Dakota was in his past: Cliff needed a new plan.

He moved to Cleveland and lived in a rooming house. He rode the streetcar to and from work, admiring the wasp-waists of women in long woolen dresses and the soft hair piled high on their heads, their pale, smooth cheeks and long fingers. Then he met and married Frances, who was not beautiful like the wasp-waisted women, but had bright eyes and a keen mind. She asked good questions and she listened when he spoke. She was, above all, a reasonable woman. She would be the mother of his children. Together, they built the Inn at the lake. Then they had me.

When I died, his plan shattered once again. There would be no brood. There would not even be two children. There would not even be one. It would be him and Frances until they died. Him and Frances and his patients, who wanted him to drill into their teeth and remove the rotting pulp, but he refused to do it anymore. Root canals were dangerous, he said. Unnecessary. Some of his patients left him for other dentists, men with broods and wasp-waisted wives and conventional notions about dentistry.

So there was my death, and there was everything that followed. They found themselves on a trail by a sparkling stream, walking between villages where houses were built from ice, or in a place where the houses were built from leaves or from mud, and they kept walking, and the trail branched again, and they found themselves eating berries they had gathered along the way, or they found themselves eating insects, and sending samples of insects back to the lab in Ohio to test their nutritional content. They had never expected to eat a mealworm in their lives, but here they were eating mealworms, and the mealworms crunched between their teeth like sunflower seeds or half- popped popcorn kernels. And days opened like flowers, surprising them both.

 

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The Good Echo will be published in November of 2018. To see the full list of the 2017 Big Moose Prize finalists and semi-finalists, click here.

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