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    The Best of Creative Non-Quiction Contest
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A Preview of Coming Attractions

     I'd hold the strap attached to his ears and mouth, lifting myself onto the leather saddle. One glass eye shone out of the right side of his head; its mouth, once bright-red and smiling, had chipped away to an unpainted put. His nose, too, was bruised, with gashes for nostrils. He had a brown mane which, extending from the crown of his head nearly to its waist, was made up of my grandmother's discarded wigs glued to the wood. Wrapping the reins around my fist, I'd slip my feet into the stirrups that hung from his waist. I'd bounce up and down to set the runner skidding across the floor. Then I'd sit up, lean forward, press my lips to the back of his neck, and exhort him. Infantile, naive, I thought I could talk to wooden animals. I'd wrap my arms around his neck and kick my legs back and forth in the stirrups. I'd lay my cheek against the side of his head, press myself to his curves. When he pitched forward, I'd scoot up toward the base of his spine, and when he swung back I'd let go of his leather strap and lean back as far as I could, so I was causing his motions at the same .time as I was trying to get in rhythm with them. I'd clutch him, make him lurch crazily toward the far well, jerking my body forward, squeezing my knees into wood. Then I'd twist my hips and bounce until it felt warm up under me, bump up against the smooth surface of the seat until my whole body tingled. I'd buck back and forth until it hurt, in a way, and I could ride no longer. Who would have guessed? My very first memory is of myself, in my own room, surrounded by sunlight, trying to get off.


Today—my birthday—I have to admit: my body is looking older. A friend says you know you're fifty when your mother's hand slides out of your sweater. I brush my hair, but it doesn't swing heavy like it did just a few years ago. I could handle the color damage by shaving it off to a punk gray stubble. But no—with my cellulite belly and full breasts, I'd look like a lumpy sumo wrestler without a shred of chic.

I admit it: I buy hippie beads, cut-off overalls and mascara to fashion a youthful illusion. All these subterfuges cost more than what I wore when young and thin, but that's to compensate for my mother's skin on my shins.

My aging single sisters agree with me: people can't even see us now. We've disappeared: dumpy, unloved, middle-aged. Many of us are firmly moral—TV, Harlequins, and Bill-and-Monica notwithstanding—so we don't go scouting, eyes sharp with hunger, for any affair. Our skin of wrinkles and sag at the neck conceal the same desire we had when young: a mate to love us, whole and soul, forever.

The odds aren't good; we acknowledge that. Still, we turn over at night, arms around the pillow, slipping into hopeful sleep. "If I exist," I murmur, "then he exists." It could be, you know—a mate no longer sole, with his own stubble, sending out his long-distance invitation: even if it's your mother's hands, I know it's you.

    Mary Hussman


were like a best friend, one of the most constant things in my whole life, I'm telling Susan, who looks at me with a mixture of kindness, confusion, and outright concern since I seem to be unable to stop talking about cigarettes, about how much I miss them in spite of the pride I feel for quitting the disgusting, and probably soon-to-be illegal activity; about how, when I listen to the American Lung Association's self-motivation tapes about relaxation and visualization all I can see is the lovely blue smoke of a Camel Light swirling through a shaft of sunlight, and that's all it takes for my other lonely senses to pipe up with their respective images: the crisp snap of a fresh package tapped against the palm of my hand, the sting and tang against the back of my throat after the first inhale, the fresh, earthy smell of a cigarette outside in April, the way my shoulders let go of the tension with each exhalation, the talismanic safety I felt carrying my packs and lighter; then I'm off into the philosophy of smoking as ritual, as part of my symbolic structure, and how now, without that tether between my psyche and everyday reality I'm unmoored, adrift until I learn to create other rituals for dailiness; but I stop now and look at Susan, and I suddenly understand that she can't understand so I sit back in my chair, smile a little sheepishly, and ask her if she wants another cup of coffee.


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