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Everything Is Now

Everything Is Now: New and Collected Stories

Michelle Cliff
Copyright Date: 2009
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    Everything Is Now
    Book Description:

    Everything Is Now brings together all the short fiction of Michelle Cliff, featuring fourteen new pieces as well as the stories from her two previous short fiction collections. Touching on such vital themes as memory, the passage of time, familial relationships, the presence of death, and the cross-influence of cultures, Cliff’s stories are broad in scope, rich in substance, and urgent in their message.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-6816-8
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. My Grandmother’s Eyes
    (pp. 1-15)

    My grandmother’s eyes were green. The green of Ava Gardner. Smokey Robinson. The vale of St. Thomas, Jamaica. An iguana on a moss-covered rock. A wild parrot at one with the rainforest. The green of the shallows of the Caribbean Sea as seen from the air. There was so much green in Jamaica. I was told a songwriter–in Cuba as I remember it–wrote abolerofor her, after she proved elusive.Ojos Verdes.

    After her death I was going through some of her papers and found these notes on her life–sealed in a manila envelope in her...

  4. Everything Is Now
    (pp. 16-22)

    The midwinter day was glorious. Made more so by the fact that soon Cassandra would be wrapped in the legs of her lover. A fire alight in the hearth in the bedroom, softening the winter light. She turned her rented car—a red Chevy Tracker—onto a dirt road she was sure would lead to State Route 7 and to her lover’s saltbox.

    The snow had a bluish tint, reflecting the sky. Skeletal trees touched the only gray to the landscape. She opened the driver’s side window. Cold air flooded the car.

    “I have never been able to carry anything...

  5. Ashes, Ashes . . .
    (pp. 23-28)

    The family had a habit of falling, had fallen many times. Falls from grace. Falls from wealth, property. Fallen on hard times. Fallen angels. Falling stars.

    The family had exited Eden more or less willingly. They were not expelled from paradise exactly; rather, they were impelled toward a land of promise, which theirs was no longer. The family left Eden without a backward glance. That was a shame. But the place had become contaminated.

    Two died from their falls. One was two years old.

    The child was the adopted son of a doctor and his wife who had emigrated to...

  6. Then As Now
    (pp. 29-31)

    The first time she had heard Martha Argerich live had been anb evening at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Twenty years had fled since then. At least.

    In a row behind her –– she could see the evening as if it were yesterday –– she is blessed with a photographic memory –– sat a man of about fifty and his much younger companion. The younger man was holding forth, expressing in emphatic tones arcane facts to do with the history of tea. She found she could still hear his voice and wondered why.

    The spaces around her filled as people filled in, found...

  7. Muleskin. Honeyskin.
    (pp. 32-35)

    Flock of crows, feathered darkness, clack-clack against the leaded glass, clack-clack, each day at five without fail.

    It is January. In the distance the western hills are starkly lit.

    Crows are a constant in this place, fi sher crows up from the river.

    A history of Connecticut says they are the embodied spirits of those hanged here, when this, the highest point in the city, held the gallows.

    If this be true, and stranger things have been, then which is she?

    Which “well-to-do Goody Ayres of Wethersfi eld”? She who received the “devil’s instrument” –– in the language of her time...

  8. Belling the Lamb
    (pp. 36-41)

    A woman held together by shoelaces hoards her imagination in a small room in a small house in north London.

    She weaves and unweaves and reweaves the needlework in her lap, in her mind; her hands must never be idle.

    She is alert to the clang of her mother’s bell.

    Itisa clang rather than a tinkle. It vibrates through my brain. I put my fingertips to my temples to no avail. Her clang, followed by her bellow, is awful.

    I am thirty-two, housebound, and a virgin.

    That which I remember makes my hands tremble. The date is September...

  9. Crocodilopolis
    (pp. 42-52)

    By the time we arrived, at the beginning of September 1905, we had been traveling for one month, give or take a day. We landed at Alexandria, having embarked in Marseilles on the penultimate leg of our journey. From Alexandria we took the train to Cairo and there spent the night under the aegis of the British High Commissioner. We had sent letters of introduction ahead, the social instruments necessary for entry.

    I do think that one of the only uses of Empire is ease of travel.

    The place was of course terribly hot. My skin seemed to retain the...

  10. Lost Nation Road
    (pp. 53-55)

    “You take a right out of the airport. At the second light take another right; you’ll be on town road 9. Look for a homemade sign ‘Lost Nation Road,’ if you don’t see a number. That’s what people around here know it as.”

    Soon after she leaves the airport she’s convinced she’s lost. The road is pitch. It’s about 11 P.M ., a Sunday evening in mid-July. In this part of Vermont the road signs are few and far between. It’s assumed the driver knows where he or she is going and how to get there.

    She is driving a...

  11. While Underneath
    (pp. 56-65)

    Once an enclave for the underachieving sons of New England money, the college had gone coed in 1970. The integration was half-hearted.Wowas added toMen:WoMen’s rooms with tampon dispensers hanging alongside the urinals.

    Underneath the campus was a network of tunnels dating back to the time when young men were accompanied to college by a manservant. The servant would run through the tunnels from the college kitchen preserving the heat of his master’s meals. The servant slept in a room adjacent to his master. His room faced the street; the master’s room faced the quad.

    The tunnels...

  12. Ecce Homo
    (pp. 66-70)

    The story, as I was told it, begins in Rome.

    There is a man who is a linguist. He is accomplished in several languages. Western and non-Western. He gets a job as a translator in the U.S.Embassy. He translates for Italians who clamor for visas. Jews among others.

    His is a low-level position for a man of his qualifications.

    He is black, which is of concern to his country.

    He is homosexual, but they seem unaware.

    He counts his blessings beside the Trevi Fountain.

    All in all he has been comfortable in Rome.

    His is an adopted country.

    He was...

  13. Water Signs
    (pp. 71-75)

    October is one of the most lucid months on the central coast of California.

    On October 7 she was driving down the coast, home from Point Reyes where she had been spending some time at the National Seashore.

    A vee of tundra swans sung over her head on the wetlands near Limantour Beach, their wow-wow sound encircling them. Early migration, she thought; they usually arrived later in the year, winter, all the way from the Bering Strait.

    A brown wren interrupted, his head thrown back, mouth wide, and a song huge for the tiny body came forth, and saltwater stung...

  14. It’s All Yours
    (pp. 76-81)

    A woman, about sixty or so, is living in a small house in the Sierra Nevada, not far from Truckee.

    In this part of California there are approximately two people each square mile.

    The woman has a two-car garage even though her house is quite small. In the garage right now is a two-tone (beige and brown) Plymouth Valiant; “Detroit’s finest hour,” her ex-husband used to say. Her son would disagree.

    Under a black plastic tarp next to the Plymouth is a 1959 hunter green Stingray convertible. Vintage, magnificent. This car belonged to her son—his pride and joy—hard-won—...

  15. Carnegie’s Bones
    (pp. 82-86)

    Not only that. Another dinosaur was christenedApatosaurus louisae—after Carnegie’s wife. Apatosaurus is also known as brontosaurus—thunder lizard—some honor, eh? And they named the great SaguaroCarnegiea gigantea—this is a stickup. Fleshed and skeletal.

    [I wanted to live where I could smell the sea. I have spent my life among inland waterways. In Pittsburgh near the confluence of the three rivers—above the black-smoked delta. Here, alongside the Green River, nesting in a sandstone gorge. Excavating bones.]

    I run a motel in Vernal, Utah. We’re located between Dinosaur Gardens—featuring full-size replicas—and the turnoff for...

  16. Dream Street
    (pp. 87-96)

    The boy lived in his family an inconvenient stranger. He remembered one particular afternoon. A cold rain, not unexpected; they lived where it rained a lot. “Often rebuked . . .” He held in his hands an anthology of English poetry borrowed from the local Carnegie library. The air inside the small farmhouse was heavy with the smell of roasting beets. The damp of the outside seeping inside. Dark, earthly. And the beets, sweet. The only sweetness to be found inside these walls. Too soon the sweetness would be disappeared, be devoured. All that would be left to him: cold,...

  17. Columba
    (pp. 97-104)

    When i was twelve, my parents left me in the hands of a hypochondriacal aunt and her Cuban lover, a ham radio operator. Her lover, that is, until she claimed their bed as her own. She was properly a family friend, who met my grandmother when they danced the Black Bottom at the Glass Bucket. Jamaica in the twenties was wild.

    This woman, whose name was Charlotte, was large and pink and given to wearing pink satin nighties—flimsy relics, pale from age. Almost all was pink in that room, so it seemed; so it seems now, at this distance....

  18. The Ferry
    (pp. 105-116)

    The cars on the ferry below decks were kept from the waters of the harbor by a slender gate. Once in a while a car might slip its emergency brake and slide forward. Were it a car at the front of the line, the gate would break its momentum, giving slightly, returning the force it received like a slingshot.

    The boy’s mother was dating a man who drove a’ 59 Chevy with dual controls; freaky thing. The man, whose name was Jimmy, borrowed the boy’s new sports coat at his mother’s request so that she and Jimmy could go to...

  19. A Hanged Man
    (pp. 117-123)

    There is a clearing in the woods. A heavy rain has fallen the night before. Water stands around the foundation of a building in the clearing, seeping into brick. The slate roof is washed clean, shingles glint in the early summer sun.

    A brick walkway in the form of a cross leads to the front door of the building. It is lined on every side with roses, begun with caution and formality, now loosed, each challenging the fitness of the other; thorns from one cane cut into the cane of another, drawing blood. Musk, Damask, Isfahan, Old Blush, captured on...

  20. A Woman Who Plays Trumpet Is Deported
    (pp. 124-128)

    She came to me in a dream and said, “Girl, you have no idea how tough it was. I remember once Billie Holiday was lying in a field of clover. Just resting. And a breeze came and pollen from the clover blew all over her and the police came out of nowhere and arrested her for possession.

    “And the stuff wasred. . . it wasn’t even white.”

    A woman. A black woman. A black woman musician. A black woman musician who plays trumpet. A bitch who blows. A lady trumpet player. A woman with chops.

    It is the...

  21. American Time, American Light
    (pp. 129-135)

    As the leaves thinned the days shortened and the winter light cast everything cold. As the cold advanced quiet became the village—all sound was muffled. But for the fingers of ice cracking like gunshots in the night when the tree branches could no longer bear the weight of frozen water.

    A lake formed in a valley, soft hills ringing around it. In these hills the forest waited. Beyond the homes of summer people, boarded and shrouded in winter; beyond the hill towns named Florida and Peru (with a longe) and Baptist Corner; beyond the churches, some abandoned,...

  22. Burning Bush
    (pp. 136-145)

    Last summer the forest shuddered as a Winnebago passed through, obscured by foolish fire.

    The paper blazed a headline in Second Coming type—ELDER SISTER MISSING: POLICE FEAR FOUL PLAY—starker, darker than the one the day before.

    The missing sister was a seventy-five-year-old odd quantity, so people thought. Not someone anyone really knew, certainly harmless enough. Who would want to hurt such a little old lady? A rounded little woman with a covered head and soft brown coat who walked up and down the main street of the village, eager to speak with almost anyone, whom a few remembered...

  23. Screen Memory
    (pp. 146-159)

    The sound of a jump rope came around in her head, softly, steadily marking time. Steadily slapping ground packed hard by the feet of girls.

    Franklin’s in the White House. Jump / Slap.Talking to the ladies. Jump / Slap.Eleanor’s in the outhouse. Jump / Slap.Eating chocolate babies. Jump / Slap.

    Noises of a long drawn-out summer’s evening years ago. But painted in such rich tones she could touch it.

    A line of girls wait their turn. Gathered skirts, sleeveless blouses, shorts, bright, flowered—peach, pink, aquamarine. She spies a tomboy in a striped polo shirt and cuffed...

  24. Election Day 1984
    (pp. 160-168)

    A woman stands on a snake of a line in the back of a born-again church in a coastal town in California. In places the line is slender, in others it bunches like a python after swallowing a calf, in a shot fromWild Kingdom.This is the polling place.

    On the wall to the woman’s right is a map, straight pins with colored heads indicating the positions of missionaries. She glances at the map, to see if any pins are fixed to her native land. Indeed. Her island so small that the huge blue head practically obliterates its outline....

  25. Bodies of Water
    (pp. 169-192)

    An old woman is sitting in the middle of an icebound lake. She has a basket and a Thermos and is herself wrapped in layers of wool and down. She is seated on a campstool. Her lips move.

    She is singing to bring in the fish, she would say, should you ask her, gather them into the round opening at her feet, cut with the saw now wrapped in a flannel rag set beside her on the ice. She has spent a lifetime cutting. Ice. Wood. Stone. Her maul handled anew many times by now, her wedge gray steel, no...

  26. Keeper of All Souls
    (pp. 193-198)

    November 2 was the day Sam made.

    Just after the hullabaloo of Halloween, as hand-carved pumpkins shriveled on folks’ porches and stoops, the parade of weekend leafpeepers diminished, and fall began to bump against winter, Sam’s day came and went.

    The air was crisp, the church glistened white on the common, fallen leaves crunched underfoot, the sky reflected in the cold waters of the lake.

    A postcard, yes, but it did look like that.

    A rack of postcards spun inside the door of SAM’S SERVICE STATION, as the sign in front read. Spun slowly, urged on by the hot-air vent...

  27. Transactions
    (pp. 199-210)

    A BLONDE, BLUE-EYED CHILD, about three years old –– no one will know her exact age, ever –– is sitting in the clay of a country road, as if she and the clay are one, as if she is the fi rst human, but she is not.

    She is dressed in a boy’s shirt, sewn from osnaburg check, which serves her as a dress. Her face is scabbed. The West Indian sun, even at her young age, has made rivulets underneath her eyes where waters run.

    She is always hungry.

    She works the clay into a vessel that will hold nothing


  28. Monster
    (pp. 211-217)

    My grandmother’s house. Small. In the middle of nowhere. The heart of the country, as she is the heart of the country. Mountainous, dark, fertile.

    One starting point.

    My grandmother’s house is electrified in the sixties. Nothing fancy. No appliances. A couple of bare light bulbs sway on black queues in the parlor, dining room, cast a glare across the verandah, cutting moonlight. Now scripture can be read at all hours, no fear of damaging eyes.

    There are two pictures on the walls of the parlor. Two photographs, hung so high the images are out of reach, distorted as they...

  29. Contagious Melancholia
    (pp. 218-222)

    “Did you notice they didn’t even have a piece of evergreen tacked to the walls?”

    “Poor devils.”

    My parents, sitting in the front seat of the Vauxhall, are reminiscing about a visit just completed, to the house where an old family friend, Miss Small, and her invalid sister, live. We visit them only on Christmas, the most exciting day of the year for the likes of us. We recognize how fortunate we are.

    “How the mighty are fallen.” In this sliver of the island such language applies.

    Almost the same exact exchange takes place year after year, followed by a...

  30. Down the Shore
    (pp. 223-225)

    Neptune. Long Branch. Navesink. Sea Girt. Manasquan. Atlantic Highlands.

    Pinball. Boardwalks. Saltwater taffy.

    “Don’t dwell on the past so.”

    Cabins in a rectangle. Wading pool in the center. Knotty pine inside a cabin. Lying on a cot, a girl can’t sleep; she is counting the knots. The pine smell is overwhelming. She gets no comfort from it. She connects it to the disinfectant they use at school. What is happening, has happened?

    What is she wearing?

    Why can’t she sleep?

    Where are the grown-ups?

    Getting loaded?


    Maybe she’s not alone?

    Driving past such a place thirty years and thousands...

  31. The Store of a Million Items
    (pp. 226-234)

    As children we had our seasons, apart from grown-up, growing seasons. Our own ways of dividing time, managing the elliptical motion of the Earth, life on a spinning planet. Our ways were grounded, uncelestial. Light years were beyond us; black holes not yet imagined. Our idea of a matter-destroying entity was the sewer under the city, stygian, dripping, where Floridian Godzillas survived on Norwegian rats.

    No, our seasons were set by the appearance of something in The Store of a Million Items, on Victory Boulevard, between the Mercury Cleaners and the Mill End Shop. The store was a postwar phenomenon,...

  32. Stan’s Speed Shop
    (pp. 235-240)

    “Don’t you think the sound of men’s voices raised in harmony is a holy sound? You know, like the Beach Boys.”

    I was lying on the grass in the July sunlight, reading. The voice was coming from somewhere above my head.

    My aunt had warned me that the son of a rich man she knew was crazy; although harmless, she insisted.

    Once you’re told someone is crazy, anything they say may be used to support the claim. Here was a case in point. His ecstatic question unsettled me.

    I looked up. “Hello.”


    He was not dressed as another rich...

  33. Wartime
    (pp. 241-248)

    The year was 1974. I was walking on a dusty road above Cherbourg, wasteland on each side, on my way to the D-Day museum. There’s not much to do in Cherbourg. Last night I sawThe Poseidon Adventuredubbed in French.

    A man is following me in adeux-chevaux.About ten yards behind me. As I go faster, so does he, but he maintains a distance, the pursuit. I can hear Cat Stevens on the radio. I worry that this is a wasteland. I hope he’s only playing.

    He persists, coming closer, and I turn and we make eye contact....

  34. Art History
    (pp. 249-258)

    I pick up theNew York Timessometime in 1992 and find your name. My heart catches. We are twenty years from a summer filled with each other, and now I hear you laugh, and I sound foolishly romantic, now death is around us.

    The first winnowing, a doctor said, cold. And if she is right, who will be left standing? This feels like a rout.

    Riding uptown in a cab one spring evening in 1990—it’s important to get the years right; so much is happening, so fast—passing a bar called Billy’s Topless, Angela musing, “I wonder if...

  35. Rubicon
    (pp. 259-264)

    The rubicon sported but one neon sign in the window, advertising a locally brewed beer that no one within memory had ever ordered. Underneath the sign, in the right-hand corner of the glass, was a printed notice, WE RESERVE THE RIGHT TO TURN ANYONE AWAY.

    The name of the bar was painted over the front door, the letters forming an arc above the entry.

    This was the quiet end of the island, away from the skyline, the Statue of Liberty, the Quarantine Station at Ellis Island. This end of the island imagined another history. The Rubicon sat on a stretch...

  36. Apache Tears
    (pp. 265-269)

    A pache tears is a small community thirty miles east-northeast of downtown Los Angeles. Unlike most of the communities that impinge on the city, Apache Tears is discrete, the secret of a canyon as the desert begins, set out by a railwayman who longed for his hometown and worshipped the orderliness of a grid.

    Apache Tears is the kind of place where, at the end of the twentieth century, milk is delivered to the front door, placed on porches in wooden boxes stamped in red APACHE TEARS DAIRY , contained in glass bottles with cardboard stoppers stamped in black HOMOGENIZED....

  37. A Public Woman
    (pp. 270-276)

    In her room she saw what she thought was the apparition of a knight dressed in silver, with a plumed helmet. The plume appeared black in the black-and-white of midnight but could have been crimson or indigo. The figure did not vanish when she opened and shut her eyes, and she reckoned — however much reckoning anyone can do in the dead of night, suddenly woken — he could not be inside her mind.He must be in her room.

    Slowly the silver coat, glinting in the dark of the small bedroom, the one she kept for herself, marched toward her and she...

  38. Back Matter
    (pp. 277-279)