Today, we feature Provo-based Tamara Pace Thomson and an excerpt of her short story “Laura.” An MFA candidate at Brigham Young University with an emphasis in fiction, Tamara also writes poetry and creative nonfiction. She is currently working on a collection of short stories that are all centered on a group of youth patients in a state mental hospital.
So . . . curl up with your favorite cup of joe and enjoy Tamara Pace Thomson!
Laura carried the laundry out of the laundromat herself. Who else would do it? Perhaps a maid in black patent-leather shoes? What a joke. Not even Steve would ever help her. The canvas bag bulged with kid underwear and socks. Who knew if Steve would ever show his sorry face again. Not that he even knew how the laundry got washed. He would happily wear his jeans until they had to be scraped off his skinny legs if it wasn’t for her. It didn’t matter. He probably couldn’t even figure out how to get quarters for the machines. And then, thought Laura, what a surprise that the clothes got clean at all in the dirty laundromat that smelled like hairspray and rubber toys.
What a mess. What a joke. All the cars in the lot seemed shiny and expensive. The concave back door of her Taurus screeched—corroded steel against steel—when she opened it. She heaved the bag (practically as big as her) in with piles of fast food wrappers, baseball hats, old CDs, and used up lotion bottles. A teenage boy and girl walked past—all cheer and self-absorption. He wore tight green pants and a fur boa—she had freckles and dimples and Laura remembered the girl she hated when they were state patients together—so long ago but vivid in her mind as if these fifteen years were fifteen hours and the girl had just arrived on the dorm, all gloom and crying when her mom left and Laura remembered her sitting with her knees pulled up to her head in the hallway, sobbing, and Laura heard the staff talking about her chart. “She’s a smart one,” said Tina, with her long black braid crimped over her shoulder.
And Laura heard Matt, another psych tech, say, “I went to school with her older sister—head cheerleader and homecoming queen—a bit of a snot.” And Laura could see so clearly Matt inviting the girl into one of the TV rooms and talking to her all interested and concerned, and after all this time how Laura still hated her, her soft arms and low top Converse without a star.
Laura remembered how smugly the girl with freckles said, “I like to rock climb,” and “I like poetry and French films,” like a little pussy when she introduced herself at the dorm meeting the night the new girl arrived. Laura was the dorm president and in charge of the meeting. The other girls sat rapt on the coral colored couches like the girl was a fucking celebrity and even now Laura could feel her eyes narrowing in disbelief—all the male staff just as enamored as the little lunatic patients—and the girl with her big white teeth that made Laura think of a horse and her eyes still red from crying all afternoon and she never wore mascara or lipstick and she flossed her teeth every single night even though she had to ask for floss from the office (dental floss being a hazard since Camilla tried to strangle herself) like the queen of personal hygiene. “May I please get my floss,” Laura remembered her saying to the staff each and every night.
In the laundromat parking lot, buildings and billboards cast long shadows on every car but Laura’s. After heaving the laundry into the back seat, she opened her door. Soda cups, half-empty water bottles, store receipts, a smashed box of tissue—languished in the heat of the car—the ashtray overflowed with butts, and the sour stench of resin-filled filters in the closed-up heat nearly made her sick. Damn the filth and the scum, thought Laura as she climbed onto the blistering seat then dumped the whole ashtray onto the asphalt without bothering if anyone could see her. The kids were out of school—the whole summer lay ahead like a white hot black hole—nothing to do and nowhere to go, she longed to take them somewhere cool, to the mountains, someplace with a pool like the campground in Tabiona where they went in June the year she was seventeen and in the State Hospital and they slept in giant teepees with wooden floors and swam for hours at a time, and the cooler was always full of Mountain Dew and Dr. Pepper, crisp and wet to be drunk whenever they felt like it, even after 5:00, and her therapist stayed all week, even slept in the same teepee and whenever her therapist spoke Laura felt understood and confident, soothed and comforted, and from the path to the pool was a view of miles of aspens and sage brush and the metallic turn of a stream.
But here, west of State Street, where she drove through the heat to her motel-turned-apartment, the swimming pool next to her apartment had half-crumbled into itself and it bred mosquitos in the puddle of rain and muck at the bottom. Here, in June, was just the guilt and fear of shifts in the convenience store—the kids at home, Steve god-knows-where, and her weekly AA meeting in the white-plastered basement of a church and the endless blah blah blah of sob story drunks with nothing to do but drink dirt-flavored coffee and talk about how their higher power this and their higher power that.
Laura waited at a light, the air in the car like a vacuum voiding her energy. From a black souped-up truck next to her a rabid guitar blared out of the windows. And she thought of last week’s AA meeting when the man with hair so blond it was white and whose mustache grew like a cowboy’s mustache said, “I’m Chris and I’m an alcoholic.”
“Hi Chris,” the crowd all responded like a bunch of kindergartners.
And Chris said, “I didn’t want to come to a meet’n” that is how he said it, meet’n “cause yesterday was the worst day that ever could have been. My mom and dad had my little nephews over to tend and they needed somethin’ for lunch so my dad got in his truck to head to the store and my little nephew, only four years old, he went runnin’ behind that truck and my dad didn’t even know it and now that little guy,” here Chris paused, his eyes were blue and oddly bright, “now that little guy is in heaven and I didn’t want to come here tonight, no I didn’t, but I knew this is the place I am supposed to be cause my god knows me and he knows I need these meet’ns and my little nephew is where he is safe and where he’s bein’ takin’ care of.”
And Laura felt the weight of it. This terrible thing that Chris, with his white hair and long mustache, told a basement full of drunks, and she felt the wordless glaring of something bright and appalling into her gut, and its weight and its brightness was too much and she didn’t want it there, lurking, leering at her, waiting for her to cry or to scream and so Laura thought, My god, what kind of higher power is that?
Tamara Pace Thomson has won numerous awards for her fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction, and for her critical work. You can read more samples of her writing in Inscape here where two of her poems and one of her short stories are published. She lives near Rock Canyon in Provo.