Old Roads, New Stories: Extra Credit If You Read This at Work, by Rob Carney

Extra Credit If You Read This at Work

By Rob Carney

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Old Roads, New Stories: A Literary Series 

My wife Jen is telling a story about work. She teaches at Meadowlark Elementary (Go Larks!), and there’d been an issue with one of the boys there—he’s on the autism spectrum—so she was trying to talk to him about what happened while they walked down the hall, only she couldn’t because he wouldn’t walk side by side. He kept moving around behind her. She’d turn and smile and say, “It’s hard to talk to you when you keep on walking behind me,” and he’d step behind her again. Turn, and step—a kind of dance.

Anyway, before I can fix my thoughts into words, like Maybe this is an eye-contact thing, or Maybe he’s embarrassed, so he’s using you to hide behind, Jameson, our ten-year-old, says, “He’s used to always standing in lines.”

Of course that was it. That was it exactly. School is an all-day shepherd drill in lining up to do anything.

How much of life is like that, obvious once it’s been pointed out? Enough there’s an olden-days story about it, where these blind guys are standing by an elephant, and the one in the back thinks the tail is a rope, and another thinks its ear is a pterodactyl, and me—right now I’m the third guy—I think that it smells like hay bales and dust so it must be a barn in eastern Washington about 60 miles north of Ritzville, a barn where this girl is ducking chores for an hour and wondering if women in the city really do that: get their feet tattooed and wear dresses the color of lipstick? She’s been to Spokane, but that’s not how they looked there. And the bridges were nice, but the waterfall was just a waterfall. And she’d hoped the boys would be deeper-eyed from knowing things, but they weren’t. And pretty soon the hour’s up, and the horses still need brushing. You could call that another kind of story about work. The kind that you just tell yourself.

And here’s one more. What happened was a phrase came to mind, a phrase that I didn’t even like, which ought to be a recipe for ditching it and moving on… for skipping writing altogether… but then another line came and made fun of the first, so I was hooked. Maybe it’ll hook you too:

“Tell Us One of Your Recipes”

If they say, “Turn left
at the wind’s nest,”

that’s a tree. It’s bark
is just bark, so don’t get lost,

don’t listen
to their nine names for whatnot.

If they tell you their rain
is the most skilled kind,

then walk away.
Already, your food should taste better.



Rob CarneyRob Carney’s new book The Book of Sharks is available now from Black Lawrence Press. Previous books include 88 Maps, Story Problems, and Weather Report.
Read poetry by Rob Carney appearing in Terrain.org: 6th Annual Contest Finalist, 4th Annual Contest Winner, and Issue 30. And listen to a new radio interview with Rob Carney, and here’s an older radio interview.

Header photo by cocoparisienne, courtesy Pixabay.

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