2021 Reading Challenge

2021 Reading Challenge
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Excerpt: Folk Songs by Trauma Surgeons by Keith Rosson AND a $50 Book Spree Giveaway!

Today I’m pleased to introduce you to Keith Rosson’s new collection of short stories – Folk Songs by Trauma Surgeons – and offer both an excerpt (behind the scenes with the Tooth Fairy) and an opportunity to enter a $50 book spree giveaway! Enjoy…

About the Book
With Folk Songs for Trauma Surgeons, award-winning author Keith Rosson delves into notions of family, grief, identity, indebtedness, loss, and hope, with the surefooted merging of literary fiction and magical realism he’s explored in previous novels. In “Dunsmuir,” a newly sober husband buys a hearse to help his wife spread her sister’s ashes, while “The Lesser Horsemen” illustrates what happens when God instructs the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse to go on a team-building cruise as a way of boosting their frayed morale. In “Brad Benske and the Hand of Light,” an estranged husband seeks his wife’s whereabouts through a fortuneteller after she absconds with a cult, and in “High Tide,” a grieving man ruminates on his brother’s life as a monster terrorizes their coastal town. With grace, imagination, and a brazen gallows humor, Folk Songs for Trauma Surgeons merges the fantastic and the everyday, and includes a number of Rosson’s unpublished stories, as well as award-winning favorites.

The Excerpt
From “Baby Jill” by Keith Rosson

BABY JILL

On Wednesdays, Gary comes to collect the teeth.

• • •

The things Gary has parked in the driveway on various Wednesdays: a pop-topped Vanagon with a constellation of faded stickers across the rear window. A pink Corvette. A Hummer the color of a traffic cone. A motorcycle and sidecar. A mail truck. Usually just regular cars, regular things, but sometimes ones like these.

I wonder sometimes about the neighbors.

Also on Wednesdays: how I jump when he rings the doorbell. Every time. You’d think I would grow used to it after all this time. I see his form through the dimpled, hazy glass of the front door, and I open it and there is Gary. He’s a short man, handlebar mustache, the fabric unspooling in the bill of his baseball hat. I have never seen him smile. I’ve watched him grow old, seen the back of his hands grow their first few mottled spots, faint enough but there. Before Gary was Luis, and before him, Etienne. Before that, I don’t even remember anymore, which bothers me when I let it.

Hi, Carol, he says.

Hi, Gary.

Got everything squared away?

Sure thing, I say. Come on in.

Always like this: Gary steps into the house and takes off his hat and stuffs it bill-first into the back pocket of his jeans. We walk into the spare bedroom, Gary taking the lead. I trace the hallway wall with one hand; it makes a noise as faint as a whisper. Gary stands in the doorway with his hands on his hips, assessing.

Every week we do this. Every Wednesday.

The room is empty save for the tens of thousands of teeth carpeting the floor. Mounds of them. Hills and valleys of little pale teeth. The room is not particularly big, but still. Sometimes Gary has to really force the door open, really work at it. Skeins of daylight sift themselves through the gauzy curtains.

Gary, not one to be impressed by the quality of light or much else, grunts and says, Looks like a twelve-binner.
Or a ten, or a fifteen. He’s never wrong, either. He always calls it just right. He packs them snug—I’m not allowed to touch the teeth once they’re home, but I can carry the bins—and he’s always right. They’re heavy, those packed bins, and it’s a chore to carry them out to whatever car’s in the driveway.

Speaking of which, it’s a rust-shot Plymouth Newport this time, unwieldy as a battleship. Gary grabs the bins from the trunk, puts gloves on and begins shoveling the teeth in. Always by hand. I don’t know. When he’s filled one, he stacks it in the hallway, where I’m standing and smoking.

This is how it’s always been. Before Gary was Luis.

Gary says, Shouldn’t smoke, Carol.

I laugh, blow a jet of smoke at the ceiling.

At least not inside, he says. Brings down the property value. His voice echoes; besides the teeth, the room is empty.

It takes a while, but he fills the last bin and we do a sweep of the carpet, making sure we haven’t missed any whole teeth. There are always fragments, every time, the common detritus of their living: crumbled teeth, flaked enamel, the tiny nubs fractured off from decay or simple fragility.

Gary starts taking the bins out to the car. Sometimes I’ll help; usually I stay inside and vacuum the carpet. Recently—maybe before Baby Jill and maybe not—I have felt a curious halving at the sight of all that newly-returned blue, that sky-blue square of carpet where previously, just moments before, thousands of teeth lay mounded and still like little carapaces. Part of me is overjoyed, a sense of completion at what we have done, a sense of wholeness. But there is a part of me that feels a clanging hollowness, a kind of sad and empty thunder. Like I’m, I don’t know? An automaton, maybe? A marionette. Just performing a function.

Before Luis there was Etienne.

Gary pokes his head in. His hat is still in his back pocket; he’ll put it on somewhere between the front door and the car before he drives away. His hand is wrapped around the molding of the bedroom door and I see the crude green lightning bolts tattooed on each finger.

Gonna get going, Carol.

Okay, Gary.

See you next week.

I’ll be here, I always say.

Gary drives away and I am in the house.

I’ve done this for so long it has become more than the simple cadence of ritual.

By now it’s become mythology.

• • •

After Gary leaves I get on the computer in the den, telling myself I will not look at anything about Baby Jill. I will not. This resolve lasts for exactly two cigarettes and then I am back to scouring the news sites and watching the videos of the fire on YouTube. The video of her rescue has been viewed over four million times. Maybe people are looking for other things than I am. But I think I am trying to find some sign of whether she will live or not live. As if we could divine any answer from the grainy, jittering footage of a house fire.

People have left terrible comments on many of the websites and I spend hours refuting them, challenging them, intimate with its futility, my stomach cinched in a tight knot, a mixture of fury and hopelessness—almost the same way I feel looking at the just-vacuumed carpet. The sun limns the houses across the street, paints the sky a searing pink fading to purple.

I stare at the photograph, the terrible and now-famous one where some photographer snuck into the hospital where Baby Jill lay in a bed. She has, we know, received third degree burns over ninety percent of her body. In the photo, she is swaddled in bandages that look so white and heavy around her tiny little frame. The only holes in the bandages are where her pink mouth shines, and around one glittering blue eye. There’s an obscenity about it, mostly in the slowly unfolding horror: She looks like a snowman. A snowbaby. She does.

• • •

Enamel. Dentin. Cementum. Pulp.

Periodontium, alveolar bone, gingiva or gums.

Tiny teeth, baby teeth.

I was birthed and sustained in lore.

In tradition and belief and all the trappings of ritual that accompany them.

• • •

There are moments, okay, where I hardly seem to be here at all.

• • •

The child is sleeping, of course. The night is deep with shadows. I hear the dim murmur of traffic downstairs—this is an apartment building—and also the metronomic snore of a man in the room next to this one. The child’s comforter is blue with little white dogs on it.

Simply being here is all that’s necessary. The tooth is gone from beneath the pillow, cast to the floor of the house I live in, the money is there beneath the child’s head. The family will remember everything differently—the mother tiptoeing in with a few dollars, taking the small tooth in trade. She will feel a bittersweet tug in her chest when she thinks of it tomorrow. This is the great and silent engine of myth at work, the locomotion of it that propels us all.

I don’t know how long it is that I stand there, but the man in the other room coughs and it brings me back. This has been happening more and more, this curious drift within me. This distancing.

I should be gone—it should only take seconds, my presence is really all that’s needed—but I do something I’ve never done before and tuck a curl of hair behind the little boy’s ear. His eyelashes flutter and one hand flexes in sleep and then relaxes.

• • •

Harlan Fero pled guilty at his arraignment today. He cried. I saw it on the news. Baby Jill’s father owed him money, he told the judge. A gambling debt. Baby Jill’s father refused to pay and Fero set the house on fire in retaliation. I didn’t think anyone was home, he said. No lights were on, no car in the driveway.

What we all want to say to him: They were sleeping. The car was in the shop, Harlan Fero.

You people, I think. All of you people.

I watch the video of the rescue again and again, the jumpy footage of the fireman in his mask and greatcoat pulling the little smoking thing from the house, the doorway itself bloomed with fire, his arms wrapped around the darkened little form cradled in his arms that we all know now is Baby Jill.

Copyright Keith Rosson, 2021

About the Author
Keith Rosson is the author of the novels The Mercy of the Tide (2017, Meerkat Press) and Smoke City (2018, Meerkat Press). His short fiction has appeared in Cream City Review, PANK, Redivider, December, and more. An advocate of both public libraries and non-ironic adulation of the cassette tape, he can be found at keithrosson.com.

The Giveaway
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