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Pins and Needles

Pins and Needles: Stories

Karen Brown
Copyright Date: 2007
Pages: 192
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt5vk3sm
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  • Book Info
    Pins and Needles
    Book Description:

    In Pins and Needles, Karen Brown explores love and loss between mother and child, husband and wife, close friends, and virtual strangers. In many of these stories, Brown shows how love emerges as infidelity—incongruous and disruptive, threatening the stability of daily life. In “She Fell to Her Knees,” Nell inherits the neglected house in which her mother died years before, and begins an affair with the neighbor. The narrator of “Apparitions,” who has recently returned the blind grandson she was raising to the care of his mother, invites a confused young man into her home. In “The Ropewalk,” a bartender haunted by her abandonment of her own child aids a customer in a struggle for custody of her daughters. A pregnant teenager in “Unction” comes to accept the reality of her situation while working a summer job counting parts in a bookbinding machine shop. Annie, the young mother with a tragic past in “Pins and Needles,” leaves her infant daughter to go on an errand in a snowstorm, and picks up a boy she doesn't know. What remains a constant in these stories is the tangible presence of the natural world. Each story moves toward the moment in which its characters, navigating loss, learn acceptance. Like the single mother in “Destiny,” they see their lives happen—“all around, just then, forever.

    eISBN: 978-1-61376-074-1
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-x)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  3. unction
    (pp. 1-12)

    They gathered each morning at seven o’clock in the bookbinding machine shop, in the back where the parts were stored in long, narrow, metal bins and stacked on metal shelving to the ceiling. Fans spun the dusty heat. They drank cups of dark coffee. They moved, their teenaged bodies dull and inarticulate, to the plywood counter where thick sheaves of computer printouts listed the parts they needed to count. It was a summer job, this inventory. Lily was pregnant, seventeen, and no one knew, not Orlando, the young draftsman, who taught her to drive his Renault, or Tish, the owner’s...

  4. she fell to her knees
    (pp. 13-27)

    Nell met him the first time she went to the house. He came across the backyard with his drink. His clothes were rumpled, as if he’d been lying down in them—a dress shirt, a pair of gray trousers. It was a weekday afternoon. They stood by the seawall and he asked her what she was doing there. The ice in his drink slid around. His eyebrows came together, laughing at her. He had sandy hair in need of a trim. He was the neighbor and had noticed her car. He could fill her in on a number of things...

  5. breach
    (pp. 28-39)

    On our third day they find the boy’s white dinghy upturned, scuttling back and forth in the breakers on the sandbar. It is midmorning. You are still sleeping. The beach is dotted with children excavating sand with their toes, gathering at the water’s lapping edge to point and wonder. No one knows what the thing is until a man in a cottage further down rises with his coffee and binoculars and makes it out. He bangs on the cottage door next to ours and rouses the boy’s father from last night’s stupor. The father emerges in his madras shirt. I...

  6. beautiful
    (pp. 40-52)

    She was just Lorna when she applied for the job. She wore bangs and cutoff jean shorts and flip-flops. She went with her new friend, Yolie, who was already a bartender there, her exposed skin sticking to the seat of Yolie’s car in the Florida heat. Yolie told Lorna he would like her, not to worry, and pulled her through the door into the darkness of the club. The expanse of it was empty and wide and dank, the oval shaped bar was lit underneath by yellow bulbs up on a dais in the center of the room, and all...

  7. apparitions
    (pp. 53-63)

    I saw Auntie Sister in my grandmother’s barn when I was five. She sat in her black habit on a bale of hay in a shaft of sunlight. I waited nearby for her to notice me. Once, she had come to my house and sat on our front steps, her eyes full of laughter. Pieces of her dark hair snuck out of her wimple. She gave me a white leather-covered missal with gilt-edged pages, a silk ribbon bookmark, and colored illustrations—Jesus in all of them, a golden half-moon floating over his head. In the barn she sat still, imperturbable,...

  8. confessions
    (pp. 64-74)

    She chose the motels. The first time, they met at the one that sells tropicals in back. There was the handwritten sign up front—A Plethora of Plants—and old, fifties-looking neon flashing Sunny South Motel. Just one strip of rooms with doors the color of a nail polish she once liked back when she wore sundresses with little ties on the shoulder, when she had dreamed of having a daughter and smooth muscled arms from lifting and holding her. Peachy-pink, the inside of a whelk. How she had wanted him. How that drove her there, the wanting maneuvering the...

  9. the ropewalk
    (pp. 75-88)

    I never named my daughter. She lives with her father on the coast of another state where it snows, and the snow melts as it lands on the salt marsh, on the brackish still water of North Cove, on the gambrel roof of the house we bought together. When she was born I handed her over, a small bundle weighted with sleep. I remember only a red, wrinkled first, the smell of milk on my blouse. Now, she may have a new mother whose hands smooth down hair I imagine is my husband’s color. She has my grandmother’s eyes and...

  10. pins and needles
    (pp. 89-104)

    It began in snow. Annie met him outside of Wegman’s. He pulled off his knit hat and spun around when he saw her. His friends kept walking toward their car, making groaning sounds, like they were used to this. The snow made lacy patterns on his peacoat’s shoulders. She didn’t like the way he wet his lips before he talked, as if he worked hard over what to say to her. What he had to say to her didn’t matter. He was a boy from the college, and she was a married woman with a newborn. Her husband was home...

  11. on the lake
    (pp. 105-118)

    It was spring when his grandmother died, the funeral nearly an hour’s drive in the light rain, with trees budding bright against their wet black limbs all along Route 44, through Avon, Canton, and New Hartford, and Paul insisting we listen to Clapton, and his sister telling childhood stories of their father, who died five years before in a murder-suicide involving his second wife. I wore a gray wool skirt and the light rain beaded up on the front of it. The waistband was too tight, and I worried about being pregnant, alternately believing and disbelieving it. We went first...

  12. destiny
    (pp. 119-128)

    Marianne is named after a song by Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. I named her myself—her father doesn’t even know we’re alive. He’s probably still driving his pearl-white Chevelle down some turnpike every night, plugging in eight-track tapes of the Raspberries, who sing out the open car windows, “Please go all the way,” to any teenage girls within earshot.

    I’ve vowed that I will not let Marianne be fooled like I was. I’ve been trying to set an example—staying chaste, uninvolved—but sometimes I find myself imagining Marianne years from now, at fifteen: brown hair streaming under...

  13. mouth of friend and stranger
    (pp. 129-136)

    I saw him first. He was safe in his group of friends, his friends cushioning us from each other. I didn’t know him. I had my copy of Lowell, just purchased from the used bookstore, and I sat alone. We were at the Cuban restaurant, outdoors at the plastic patio tables lit by tiki torchlight. The mambo band played. Or we were in the dim space on the swiveling stools of the bar next door. We were passing each other on the sidewalk by the beauty salon in the Mediterranean-style plaza—Cuts for Ten Dollars. Any of those ways. He...

  14. the returning
    (pp. 137-147)

    The night Fay’s grandmother died a balmy wind shook the leaves on the mango trees in the backyard. Everyone gathered at the house, which the Realtor, later, advertised for sale as a “dollhouse.” It was Fay and her father and her aunt and uncle. Fay’s mother stayed at home. “Call me when it’s over,” she told Fay from her bedroom. Fay could not remember what her mother had been doing, just that she had called to her on the stairs, and the door had been open only a crack, and the darkness beyond the lit stairwell seemed dense and unfathomable....

  15. dead boyfriends
    (pp. 148-160)

    In the lot behind Junior’s garage, buried in tall summer grass, are the hulls of cars in which Nan once had sex. Above her the elms wave and whine with insects. She treads the grass down in her sandals. Her hair sticks to her forehead, the back of her neck. Junior saunters along ahead of her with his same slanting shoulders and slouch, his black stringy hair threaded with gray now. They aren’t looking for anything in particular yet. She had gone to the garage and knocked on the scarred wooden door in back, and he had opened it and...

  16. galatea
    (pp. 161-176)

    I married William in upstate New York before he turned out to be the Collegetown Creeper. I took his last name and became Margaret Mary Bell. I was named after my father’s cousin, a wayward nun, who as a novice with the Benedictine Sisters of Regina Laudis took off with three other sisters for a mission in California and was never heard from again. I often imagined them driving in a sky-blue sedan with the windows down and the bright sun on the hood. The air on their faces is cool and smells of wild flowers blooming in the highway...

  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 177-179)