My story “The Circle” is in the current issue of The Gettysburg Review. (And, ahem, my name is even on the cover! Yes, of COURSE it’s spelled correctly…this is a top-quality journal with an excellent team of smart, dedicated, and extremely careful editors.)
This story is close to my heart because it is the first one I wrote that addressed this part of my life, and it led to the collection of linked stories I recently finished. I was inspired to write “The Circle” after a breakfast conversation at VCCA (Virginia Center for Creative Arts), when the poet I was sitting with talked about how she was teaching a class that focused on the literature of subcultures. I walked to my studio and thought, “What subculture could I write about?” Then I wrote the first draft of this story, in about 2 days. (Here’s a short write-up of that pivotal writing moment in 2011.)
Here’s where you can order a copy, should you so desire. The journal is also available at many university libraries and often at Barnes & Noble. (The cover shows a beautiful picture of skyscrapers…with MY NAME on the back!) This is one of my favorite journals, so I also recommend subscribing…I’ve been a steady subscriber for at least ten years.
Finally, here’s a glimpse of my story:
The church door was locked, so the group stood in the May evening, a cluster of seven women and one man, none of them saying much of anything beyond murmurs about what time it might be, and that surely someone would come soon to let them in. It was a Lutheran church, or maybe Methodist—one of those churches that blurred a bit for not being imposingly Catholic like the churches she had known growing up in Chicago. This was a church that was more like a school: functional, not worshipful, nothing to inspire. That was okay. Impossible to imagine she would feel inspired ever again.
The church was located in Virginia, off a Beltway exit she had never taken—Little River Turnpike, which was a charming, old-fashioned name for a road, though the buildings and houses along it were like everywhere else—and not too far from the Beltway. Standing silently, she heard the distant drone of traffic.
She worried that she would be the youngest one. She worried that she would be the oldest one, though the man was surely older than she was; he had to be in his late forties. Still. People sometimes looked old when they weren’t.
She was thirty-five, turning thirty-six in September and couldn’t wait to not be thirty-five. Like being a child, caring intensely about a birthday.
Across the cluster stood a woman with shoulder-length, wispy, white-blond hair—not colored but naturally that way—and the blue eyes a country singer might have. The woman’s arms were pressed rigid against her sides, perfectly straight and stiff, as if someone had told her not to let them move, not even a little bit. Her cheeks were pink, as if from the sun or wind, a natural pink. There was a trick she had learned from her mother, “Find one person in a group who you could be friends with. That settles the butterflies.”
Her. The white-blonde woman.
But picking the white-blonde woman didn’t mean she would smile, or go talk to her, or do anything but stand in this shapeless, formless clump, waiting for the person who was supposed to come and unlock the door for them, the person who was going to show them what to do, the leader they would follow.
Ruth Feinstein is a social worker who specializes in grief and grieving. When the newscasters report that grief counselors are available to students in a school tragedy or to office workers following a shooting, Ruth might be one of them. “How can you do that?” people ask at parties when she tells them what her job is. “It’s so depressing,” they announce, as if they somehow know Ruth’s life, and on and on they go, about how sad it would be to be around sad people talking sadly about sad things. Finally, there’s the point where Ruth always says, “What’s sad to me is people who cut themselves off from feeling. That’s what’s sad to me,” and she stares in a lingering way, making clear the unspoken conclusion to the sentence: That’s what’s sad to me—assholes like you.
She’s the one with the key to the church, and she’s running late now, at seven-thirty, because five-fifteen was the only time her doctor could squeeze her in, and when they work that hard to squeeze you in, it isn’t because they’re anxious to give you good news. So she leaves her office early to drive all the way out to the doctor in Reston—rush hour traffic is hell times two—and once she gets there, she parks the car and sits in it, hands staying dutifully on the wheel in the proper position. …