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The Old Priest

The Old Priest

Anthony Wallace
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    The Old Priest
    Book Description:

    The Old Priestis a book of transformations. From the cigar-smoke-and-mirrors world of casino life, to the collection's title character morphing into a goat-man before the narrator's eyes, to a family drama upended by a miniature dinosaur in the backyard, Anthony Wallace writes about life-changing events. The characters seek to escape their earthly boundaries through artifice and fantasy, and those boundaries can be as elegant and fragile as a martini glass or as hardscrabble as an Indian reservation. In these eight vividly detailed short stories we encounter cheating husbands, neurotic housewives, out-of-control teenagers, desperate gamblers, deluded alcoholics, and a host of others who would like a chance at something more. Some face the consequences of their actions, while others simply begin to see what they've been missing all along. Through wry, ironic prose-and what feels like firsthand experience-Wallace describes a comic and often misguided search for self-knowledge in the most unlikely locations-like the Emerald City, a low-rent gambling den where a cocktail waitress dressed as an X-rated Dorothy offers gamblers more than a Scotch on the rocks; or the Bastille Hotel-Casino, where a dealer dressed as an eighteenth century footman deals five-dollar blackjack to a reminiscing Holocaust survivor. Occasionally a real demon appears, but the collection is mostly about personal demons and the possibility of exorcising them. The stories inThe Old Priesthave to do with time and memory, and they convincingly open out beyond ordinary daily time to reveal something else-the present moment, perhaps, but a larger, more mysterious conception of it.

    eISBN: 978-0-8229-7920-3
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. The Old Priest
    (pp. 1-43)

    The old priest is a jesuit, brainy and fey. He smokes Pall Malls fixed bayonet-style in an onyx and silver cigarette holder and crosses his legs at the knee. He tells stories as if he is being interviewed for a public television special on old priests. A small, guttural chuckle serves to launch one of his very interesting anecdotes: it’s a kind of punctuation that serves as transition, like a colon or dash. You bring your latest girl to see the old priest, you always bring your latest girl to see the old priest.

    “Mildred, what are you doing with...

  2. Snow behind the Door
    (pp. 44-60)

    “I miss that little street,” I say to my grandmother over coffee. “I miss that street and all those people. I can still remember their names and what they looked like.”

    We live at the seashore now, far away from the narrow Philadelphia street where I spent my childhood and where my grandmother lived her married life. Not long after my grandfather died she came here, to the Jersey coastal town of Limit. “Too many memories,” she told me when I came back from Boston to find her in a different place, a different life. “I had to go on...

  3. The City of Gold
    (pp. 61-83)

    Couples do different things when they’re about to break up. Charlie and I fly to New Mexico. We spend the afternoon in the lounge of the Albuquerque Hilton, drinking margaritas and listening to a flamenco guitarist. They don’t proof me. I look older, I’ve always looked older. Charlie tells me I wasbornolder.

    “I can come out here and get a leg up,” Charlie says, licking salt from the rim of his glass. “If I’m going to work in the casino business then I should make as much money as I can.” He’s got on a lime-green golf shirt...

  4. Jack Frost
    (pp. 84-94)

    He calls me bobby like he really knows me, but I’ve never laid eyes on this guy before twenty minutes ago. But anybody can walk up to the blackjack table where I slap the cards five days a week and look at the plastic badge on my uniform and call me Bobby, and no introduction is necessary. That’s the business I’m in; people want to recognize and be recognized. It’s a business about making people think they’re big shots while you fleece them, a con game more than anything else. And I don’t mind it, the familiarity that is, and...

  5. Upstairs Room
    (pp. 95-106)

    I’d been gone three days, shacked in west Atlantic City with a bad-tempered cocktail waitress named Irene Smith, but Irene Smith was not entirely the point of it, as Irene herself eventually learned. I called and said I was coming back to pick up my things.

    “I’ll fall on bended knee when you arrive,” she said to me over the phone.

    I came up the stairs and stood for a moment inside the door of her sitting room. It’s a spare room we fixed with a TV and a beat-up love seat, plus a pair of old highboys I had...

  6. Have You Seen This Girl?
    (pp. 107-122)

    Darcy comes on a bus, across america she travels, smiling face and daisy-colored hair and chin cleft like a broken heart.

    “Hi Darcy,” Howard says. “Hi Darcy Darce Darce Darce Darce!”

    “Hi Howard,” Darcy says. “Hi there Howie How How How How!”

    “We don’t have much space in this place,” I hear myself saying. “Darcy will have to sleep on the couch.” I didn’t want her to come at all but Howard said, “It’s my sister, Christine. What do you want me to do?”

    Darcy put in some bad time with a guy in Absecon, New Jersey. Darcy is always...

  7. The Unexamined Life
    (pp. 123-154)

    Jack had the furniture pulled into the center of his bedroom and covered with a canvas tarp. He put the roller dripping with black paint into the tray when he realized that Miles and Claire were standing just outside the open doorway.

    “I’ve decided to redecorate,” Jack said, leaning his elbow against an aluminum stepladder. “What do you think?”

    “We can’t leave you for five minutes,” Claire said. “That’s what I think.”

    “It’s my room, right?” Jack asked. “I mean, am I right or am I right?” He was wearing white running shorts and a pair of black Doc Martens...

  8. The Burnie-Can
    (pp. 155-170)

    In the early summer of 1966 my grandmother captured a baby dinosaur, or maybe it was a fully grown dinosaur, just a small one. She trapped it under a clothes basket. It was early in the afternoon, just after lunch, and she and my mother were the only two people at home. It was a hot July day. My sister Ailie and I were off swimming at a nearby lake. My father and grandfather were both at their jobs, down at the Owens-Corning plant, working on their asbestosis. When the dinosaur arrived my grandmother was out in the backyard, taking...