| February 2013
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Since the mid-1980s, Laura McHale Holland has contributed to the Noe Valley Voice in a myriad of ways. She started out writing the occasional feature, and as time went on became the go-to writer for Store Treks and Short Takes. She was an associate editor for the paper and had a column, “This ’n’ That,” which covered milestones in neighborhood residents’ lives. “That was particularly rewarding because I got to spotlight all kinds of creative and worthwhile things people in the neighborhood were doing,” she says.
The Voice is pleased to return the favor, spotlighting McHale Holland’s second book, a collection of her flash fiction titled The Ice Cream Vendor’s Song (Wordforest). She defines flash fiction as short stories of 50 to 1,000 words. In 2011, she decided to post one flash fiction story per week on her blog, www.lauramchaleholland.com. “I found that I really like the genre,” she says. “I used to write songs in the 1970s, and while I never got anywhere with that, I think the discipline of telling arresting stories in songs paid off in writing very short fiction. The stories are varied, but they all tend to take everyday people and experiences and tilt them in unexpected directions. The world of the stories is similar to the one in which we live, but the rules are a little different.”
For almost 20 years, McHale Holland lived with her husband Jim and daughter Moira on the Upper Noe end of Sanchez Street (she’s also step-mom to Jim’s two sons). In 2004, they moved to Rohnert Park in Sonoma County. She runs the editorial department for a financial services trade publication based in Santa Rosa. “I feel part of my heart will always be in the old neighborhood [Noe Valley], especially having raised a family there. The memories of that time are so rich.”
Her first book, Reversible Skirt (Wordforest, 2011) is a childhood memoir about a difficult subject—the effects of a parent’s suicide on surviving family members. It won a silver medal in the 2011 Readers Favorite book awards, and is available as an ebook and in paperback. Her new book is only available as a paperback for now but will soon be out in ebook format. Readers can find out more at her website or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
by Laura McHale Holland
They Knew Not
Keys in hand, she shuffled up the drive. She’d had a long day cashiering at a nearby convenience store and was picturing the wilting veggies in the fridge she’d have to use right away or toss. She didn’t notice the package by the front door until her sneaker bumped it.
About the size of a shoebox, the parcel was wrapped in brown paper. Her name and address were printed in bold black letters. No return address. Once inside, she unwrapped the package. It was just an empty cardboard box.
She tried to squish the box so it wouldn’t take up too much room in her recycling bin, but it was surprisingly sturdy. It wouldn’t even smash when she jumped up and down on it, nor could she cut it with scissors or a box cutter. So she threw it whole into the bin. It was carted away a few days later.
The next week, she arrived home and found a package wrapped in brown paper. It was the same, empty box, or one exactly like it. She buried it that night in the middle of her backyard.
The next morning a sapling stood where she’d buried the box. Over the next several months it grew into a sturdy tree that flowered and bore an exotic fruit: blue pears. She thought the pears might be poisonous, but she couldn’t resist tasting one. It was delicious, sweet, juicy, intoxicating.
She took a wheelbarrow of the pears to the local farmers market, where word of their delectable taste spread quickly. Every week thereafter the tree produced more exquisite, azure pears. And every week she went to the market and sold them all.
People couldn’t get enough of them. Children cried for the taste of their juice; judges on the bench fantasized about biting into their cerulean flesh; restaurants clamored for them; artists drew murals of sparkling blue pears in the town square. The local newspaper wrote a feature article about her pears. She said the tree had grown in her yard on its own. She didn’t mention the box. Who would have believed her anyway?
She quit her job and developed a booming cottage industry. She made all manner of products from her prized pears: pies, cobblers, jams, jellies, soaps, lotions, balms, perfumes, incense, even blue pear charms and other trinkets. She and the town prospered for decades until one day, old, gray and feeble, she took to her bed.
She left her home, business, and considerable savings to her nephew and his wife. But the precious pear tree died the day they moved in. A couple months later, an empty box appeared at their door. They were having guests over for a barbeque that night to celebrate a state-of-the-art outdoor kitchen they’d put in right where the pear tree used to flower. They used the box as kindling for their fire pit. The flames were deep blue and mesmerizing.
Nothing grew from the ashes; no more empty boxes appeared at their door. But they didn’t suffer, for they knew not what they’d burned. ¹
Better Things to Do
He pads to his office window and opens the blinds. Sun bathing his face, he loosens his shirt collar, sighs, closes his eyes. The warmth lulls him, and he groans, repelled at the thought of the presentation slides in his laptop. He gulps a breath and another and another as sunbeams flow in and around and through him, filling every crevice in the room. Then his phone beeps, a reminder of the morning staff meeting.
He spins from the window, snatches his laptop, and dashes out his office door. His mind crackles with percentages and profit margins as he darts toward the conference room. Racing through the reception area, he glances in the wall mirror and sees a halo pulsating around his head. A 21st-century Jesus, he has a halo, a halo.
He drops his laptop on the reception desk, rips off his employee badge, and slaps that on the desk, too. Then he struts out the front door. His father is calling him. He has better things to do than stay at work. ¹
She is a rainbow fading as she loads the laundry. He is an old Chevy idling on the couch. He sees a brilliant arch of color turning as she reaches for the Tide. She turns toward him and sees a fast ride down a dirt road on a long-ago sun-burned evening.
She shakes the detergent box and hears seashell and driftwood chimes. She pours the powder into the washer, closes the lid, turns the dial. The machine rumbles, the waterfall comes.
“What would you like for lunch?” she asks.
The coffee table is a creaking pier, the carpet a beach of turquoise sand. “I think I’d like…”
He closes his eyes and becomes a boat drifting in a leather sea. She sits in the rocker facing him. She rocks. She rocks. She rocks and becomes the wind. She becomes the wind blowing him to shore.
He opens his eyes.
“What would you like for lunch?” she asks. ¹
The Ice Cream Vendor’s Song
The day his father drove away, Danube watched the Jeep sweep the house, yard, and block of laughter as it roared out of the parking place, down the street, and around the corner. Danube stayed on the porch as blackbirds preened in the branches above. He remained as neighborhood friends chased the ice cream vendor’s melody. He stayed on as the sun flung purples and oranges and reds across a gray-blue sky and as crickets sang into the void where his hope had been.
The first few nights after his father drove away, Danube fell asleep outside, and his mom carried him to bed. Then she insisted he come inside for supper, then earlier and earlier, for he had homework to do and chores and a future to build from marathons, tests, and kisses year by year.
Now, a father himself, Danube drives a Jeep; he doesn’t know why. And when he visits his mom, he sits on the front porch in the late afternoons, his arm around his son’s shoulders, and he feels melancholy squeeze his heart momentarily, until he takes his child’s hand and runs block to block, chasing the ice cream vendor’s song. ¹
Pierce wakes up the morning after. Yolanda, still sleeping beside him, had been wrong about the world coming to an end. He wonders how his wife of twelve years, the mother of his children, could have been so stupid, so snookered in. Yolanda had even seemed disappointed last night when they’d watched the news on TV. Not much had happened: a twister ravaged a section of southern Nebraska; another levee broke along the Mississippi; a plane carrying 186 people disappeared over New Hampshire; a 5.5 earthquake hit San Luis Obispo, California; a few terrorists were detained at O’Hare airport and managed to shoot a customs agent before they were overpowered. But that was it.
Pierce smiles at the sunshine coming through the bedroom curtains, as it always does on clear days. He swings his legs to the side of the bed and slides his feet into his comfy, fleece slippers. He takes a step, but there is no floor beneath him. He falls down, down into a vast, black sky, and spins far away from his home, his neighborhood, his life.
He screams as he loses sight of the earth, and Yolanda stirs in her dream. She wakes up and wonders where Pierce is. It isn’t like him to leave for work without kissing her goodbye.
She sits up and stretches while swinging her legs to the side of the bed. She slides her feet into her slippers and stands up. The floorboards creak as she makes her way down the hall and looks in on her children, still asleep, surrounded by stuffed animals in their beds. She smiles and shuffles into the kitchen, where she sees that Pierce didn’t take out the garbage last night; of course, she thinks, he was too busy hounding her about what a fool she was for believing the world was about to end. Irked, she pulls the garbage bag up from the can and vows she’ll give Pierce what for when he comes home. ¹
The Noe Valley Voice invites you to submit fiction, creative nonfiction, photographs, or poetry for possible publication in Other Voices. Email OtherVoices@noevalleyvoice.com or write Other Voices, Noe Valley Voice, P.O. Box 460249, San Francisco, CA 94146. Please include your name, address, and phone number, and a self-addressed stamped envelope if you want items returned. We look forward to hearing from you.