Oh, how I love the clear, straight ahead sentences in Nell Freudenberger’s terrific short story, Hover, collected in the 2014 Best American Short Stories. Hover is the story of a newly divorced woman, mother of 4-year-old Jack D., who is barely hanging on. She follows the “rules” of the newly separated, trying to make the transition as seamless and painless as possible for her boy. The parents and boy have dinner together each time he transitions from one home to the other. They explain everything and plan on giving him calendars so he can visualize his schedule. When Jack becomes obsessed with death, she tells him he won’t die for at least 100 years (an answer she’s practiced) and, she lets him choose his own comfort toy from the grocery store, in his case, a bag of King Arthur flour, which he sleeps with and carries everywhere, including to school. The flour appearing at school just about sends Jack’s dad, Drew, over the edge:
“Jesus,” he said, and used my name, which he never does. “Why the fuck do you let him do that?”
“Because he wants to. And I didn’t want him to feel embarrassed about it.”
“You’re supposed to feel embarrassed about things that are embarrassing! How else do you learn?”
“What’s embarrassing!” Drew sighed, as if someone had just sent him a big assignment that hadn’t previously been part of his workload.
This mother/ex-wife/writer struggles in her rut of uncertainty and malaise and sorrow. You can feel it in her overindulgent actions toward her boy, and in her observations. Near the start of the story she stares out her window down upon a flat roof, “where the wind rolls a basketball, bleached white, back and forth across a damp depression in the tar paper.” You can also see her wavering existence manifest in her sudden ability to hover, just a little bit, inches above the ground, and only when she’s “doing mom stuff,” cooking, tying a shoe, sitting in a parent/teacher meeting. This narrator has a very tenuous hold on her life.
As with any great story, the problem in Hover also becomes part of the resolution. Barely hanging on turns out to be just the solution she and her boy need. Near the end, in a beautiful moment on the playground, time slows, we see “brilliant needles of light,” we smell the cedar play structure, we hear the characters breathing, and just for a moment, barely hanging on becomes a gift.
Find an excerpt from the story here.
Sometimes we’re all just barely hanging on, and for those nights, I give you pie for dinner. You’re welcome!!
Shelby’s Mom’s Pumpkin Pie (modified)
15 oz pumpkin
1/3 cup brown sugar
4 T molasses
1/4 t ground cloves
1-1/2 t cinnamon
1-1/2 t ground ginger
2 eggs, slightly beaten
1 cup 1/2 & 1/2
unbaked 9″ pie shell
Mix ingredients in the order given. Pour into unbaked 9″ pie shell. Bake at 425 degrees for 15 minutes, reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake for 45 minutes longer, or until set.
Treat yourself, go find Freudenberger’s story, make a pie, pour a glass of wine, steal some time to sit and read.