This week’s other featured books, “Waveland,” by Simone Zelich, “Knock-Off Monarch,” by Crystal Stone and “Hurricane Story,” by Jennifer Shaw, can be found by scrolling down below this post, or by clicking the authors name on our Author’s page.
THE BOOK: TRIP WIRES.
PUBLISHED IN: 2018
THE AUTHOR: Sandra Hunter
THE EDITOR: Lisa Graziano (Leapfrog Press).
THE PUBLISHER: Leapfrog Press is an amazing small press that promotes emerging writers with huge enthusiasm. It was started by Marge Piercy and her spousal unit Ira Wood, and is now run by Lisa Graziano and Rebecca Schwab.
SUMMARY: TRIP WIRES travels around the world, with stories, many in children’s voices, set against turbulent socio-political backdrops from Afghanistan to Syria to Columbia to America. The geography may change with each story, but all of these young people face the dilemma of being without resources even as they try to find and maintain relationships. Even as they accept tragedy and insurmountable challenges, they show humanity and grace, and remind us of the best in ourselves.
THE BACK STORY: The stories were published in various magazines over the years. I’d hear a news report about, for example, Voces del Secuestro in Bogota, Colombia, a radio station specifically for the kidnapped, and that sparked the question: what’s it like to be kidnapped? One minute you are buying groceries, and the next moment your life is wrenched away, and you don’t know if you’ll ever return to it. That led to other questions: what is this life we have? Are we entirely determined by environment? Adaptation is frequently non-volitional: does that change the essence of the person or merely bring fortitude, etc., to the surface? The writing is an ongoing investigation of cruelty/neglect juxtaposed against resilience, generosity, and compassion.
WHY THIS TITLE?: It comes from the literal use of trip wires as booby-traps that set off bombs during wars. It also refers to the barriers immigrants face in fleeing social unrest or actual threats and harm, such as those currently fleeing Honduras. There’s the additional reference to the kind of tripping that happens when one person’s assumptions about another’s culture can interfere with communication and even respect. We constantly trip in daily social interactions.
WHY WOULD SOMEONE WANT TO READ IT? Anyone who has ever felt marginalized, neglected, been without legal status, threatened or harassed, will be able to empathize with these characters, even though their stories are mostly set in far-away locations.
Foreword Reviews (book of the day 6/13/2018)
Metaphorical prose is abundant, achieving a poetic quality while evoking profound emotions and creating lifelike characters. Racism, classism, and injustice are captured in ways that ignite justified feelings of rage. TRIP WIRES is a beautifully written collection, both poetic and melancholic. Deeply moving in their confrontations of unimaginable tragedies, each story evokes a bold, emotional response. ” — Kate Asher, Foreword Reviews
“Within this poignant collection, there’s a thread that compels her characters to reach for survival, and it’s this gossamer wire, these small miracles of love, that electrify her stories. ” — Shilpa Argawal, Haunting Bombay
“Sandra Hunter writes with unflinching honesty and a profound love of humanity. Passionate and visceral, I found myself reading a line over and over tasting the power and stark poignancy of this collection ripping apart the wounds of injustice, racism, separation, the turbulence of human relationships and more. ” — Prem Kishore.
“Trip Wires by Sandra Hunter is excellent, empathetic, terrifying hard writing, and I was riveted by it. Each short story burns like a fuse headed straight toward explosives and I couldn’t put it down. No lie, I missed out on a day of cycle commuting because I wanted to read on the metro instead of having to put down this gripping collection and take up my handlebars.” –Philip Dawkins
AUTHOR PROFILE: I am a British-Indian-Portuguese-Dutch-Scots immigrant from the UK whose family was among the first Indians in a North London neighborhood. Because of racial prejudice I could often be the subject of stone-throwing or threatened attacks, so I learned how to run fast and, for a while, I was a 100 meters sprinter for the District Games! After I graduated from university in England, I spent two years in Kenya (Voluntary Service Overseas) and that helped me understand that I wasn’t British or Indian or any one thing. I no longer saw one place as home. I centered my ideas of belonging with friends and developed an abiding interest in the touch of small things that change or reveal relationships.
My stories have won the 2018 Lorian Hemingway Short Story Competition, 2017 Leapfrog Press Fiction Award, 2016 Gold Line Press Chapbook Prize, and four Pushcart nominations. Books: story collection TRIP WIRES, chapbook SMALL CHANGE, LOSING TOUCH, a novel. My favorite dessert is Caramel Insanity from Donut Friend—a vegan donut shop in Los Angeles. I find every possible excuse to take my students there on a field trip each semester.
AUTHOR COMMENTS: I am deeply interested in the shifting complexities of identity. I write about the outsider who may appear exotic but is easily recognizable. My stories follow the inhabitant of borders, the reluctant traveler, the displaced and the luckless aspirant to respectability or success. They are outsiders, and most of us have felt that way at some time. I believe if we recognize that, we are more likely to empathize with one another—and there’s nothing like connecting with someone out of the ordinary. It only takes 2 people to start a community.
AGAINST THE STRANGER
“Me against my brothers. My brothers and I against our cousins. All of us against the stranger.” (Saying attributed to the Pashtun)
Heartstop and careful finger off the trigger. I didn’t hear him. What’s wrong with me?
Skinny boy, yellow pants dragging in the dirt, head tilted far back to stare down his nose.
It’s one of those quiet deployments on the Afghanistan border. We’re on the outskirts of the outskirts. If we were any further on the outskirts we’d be pants.
One of those bombed-out towns just like you see in movies, except this one has three-leg goats that hobble and chew through the trash, and fat-tailed sheep with deep red furrows ploughed through their fleeces. Some of the little kids say nothing. Some of them shake. A lot of them shake. Their hands, their heads. One kid’s knee shakes like it’s a small flag.
We patrol. Around the camp, around the village, around the fields. You think it’s completely quiet, everyone’s inside, and then kids appear out of holes in walls, from inside bombed vehicles, from behind broken rocks, splintered trees. They watch us. We watch them.
We’re here to be friendly to the natives. I give it a try.
–You speak English pretty good.
The boy waves a hand, like he’s lord of the mud huts or something.
–You Pathan. Your eyes like mine, your cheek like mine, your nose like mine¾
–I don’t look like you¾
–You Pathan. But you fight with Americans.
–We’re not fighting.
The boy looks at me, the M4, walks away.
Where I came from: Chatsworth California. White rocks and cars hustling up and down Topanga Canyon. Chatsworth, the northernmost end of Topanga, where north runs out of road, becomes the rocky brown hills that spill back over into Stoney Point.
Hottest weather in the San Fernando Valley. Cool enough to have Stoney Point where the rock-climbing dudes hang out during the day, and the bottle-throwing teens hang out at night. Home of the Spanish land-pirates who booted the Native Americans out. Missionaries in 1769, Dad says. My Dad, the history-and-just-about-everything-else buff. Mutters answers to questions on TV quiz shows while he’s doing his advanced Sudoku. Speaks five languages, including Urdu and Arabic.
The kid’s back.
–Come, Pathan, I show you.
He tugs at me and my M4, ignoring the body armor, the heavy boots. I could crush the small bones of his foot with one step. He pulls me toward the small grey flat-topped building, the masjid.
We used to go to the masjid on Tampa Avenue. I was seven and my job was to walk slowly with Dad’s hand on my shoulder. We didn’t go often because the hip surgery wasn’t successful.
I stop. We’ve secured all the buildings, including this one.
–Imam says come. Put gun outside.
–Sorry, bro. No can do.
He throws his head back, doing his lordly pose.
— Nope. It’s just part of the uniform.
I’m a few feet away from the door. I check. Nothing moving.
The boy jerks on my belt and I can just see inside the masjid. He finally lets go and goes inside. Gun clutched to my chest. I can smell the cool interior, see the shapes of the people.
No one sees me. They all face the imam who sits on a small platform and begins to speak in Punjabi.
I am holding the prayers of my father.
A small boy runs to the front and clambers onto the platform. He folds himself into the imam’s lap. The imam continues to speak quietly, settling the boy against him.
Early morning in Chatsworth. My father is kneeling on his prayer mat in the playroom at the back of the house. He chants, his hands at his ears. He bows. He straightens. Finally, he stands, his hands in prayer, his eyes closed, his voice murmuring. He opens his eyes and I can go to him.
He makes pancakes and flips them in the air. He makes one with a “T” for Tak. He makes one with a “D” for Dad. We eat them with lemon and sugar.
Next door, Mr. Windsor cranks up his Christian music. Dad tolerates the death and torture (the emblem of suffering and shame) but other songs make him mad: “I come to the garden alone … and he walks with me and he talks with me and he tells me I am his own.”
–To sing about God in this way as though he is some¾some¾boyfriend.
Inside the masjid it is cool. I come to the garden alone.
The murmuring inside the masjid is faint.
The air is singing in my ears.
The sweat runs into my eyes.
One of my buddies finds me leaning against the wall.
–Fuck’s goin’ on? You dehydrated already? Dumb fuck.
He takes me back to camp and throws a bottle of water at me.
–Get your shit together, Tak. Lucky ol’ Lefty didn’t see you.
Lefty is our sergeant, with a habit of using his left knuckles to crack soldiers over the back of the head.
My buddies swear affectionately at me.
–Bastard standing there holding his—
–Lookin’ for some action, eh Tak?
Dad says air conditioning is unnatural. Our house sweats in the summer. When I was little, he sat by my bed and fanned me with my mother’s white silk scarf. It smelled like the sea.
We have a blue inflatable pool on the cracked back patio. We sit inside with our knees bent up. Dad says the Chatsworth heat is like the summers in Peshawar. The ice-cream cart man who ding-ding-dings along Nordhoff is like the ice-cream seller in Peshawar. The women with the rugs slung over the wire fences along Topanga are like the women who spread their rugs out in one of the Peshawar markets. I learned to spell Peshawar before Chatsworth.
Back on patrol. This time I’m ready when I hear the faint rustling. I don’t even look up.
–What are you doing?
Beat. A thud as the kid drops out of the tree.
–You not see me.
He lifts his chin towards the masjid.
–You carry dis gun but you not so tough.
He might be able to hide in trees, but the kid has no whispering skills.
–I myself can kill you. I have knife.
He pulls out a tiny broken blade.
–Have you heard of a quiet voice?
–Dis my quiet voice. Give me American candy.
–Ok. I’ll get some.
He stands up straight,
Like there should be a round of applause.
I try a high-five but he misses my hand.
Dad wanted me to go to college. I was all for car mechanics. Good with my hands. But he wouldn’t give it up. All the men in our family have been to university. So here I am. Books for blood, ha ha. Tour of Afghanistan, just across the border from Pakistan where I still have two ancient aunties and four cousins, all much older than me.
Sunday afternoons with the old school photo albums. Two faded women in saris and four untidy kids with mad hair and teeth-that-don’t-quite-fit grins. Even if you don’t know them this is your family. Dad gently turning the curled pages.
It’s a tiny noise but I grab the kid and almost flatten him as we drop next to a jeep.
Cautious footsteps. It might only be the kid’s father. How am I going to explain that I’m hiding behind a jeep with his son?
I check Hamasa. His eyes are huge. He puts both hands over his mouth.
I worm myself forward so I can see around the rear tire.
Shit. Lard-Ass, the unit incendiary device.
I have to ID Hamasa and me and hope he doesn’t shoot on reflex.
Hamasa puts his mouth right up to my ear:
–We survivors. We stick together. Right?
–Shh. I’m gonna ID us so we don’t get shot—
Hamasa jumps up,
I snatch at him. I’m yelling, Don’t shoot!
Lard-Ass: from zero to 100mph,
–You fuckin’ little shit¾
I don’t know if he means Hamasa or me.
–I walking, American. Dis my place.
–Get outta here!
Lard-Ass strides over and grabs my collar like they do in the movies. I struggle to get free but he swings me about with one hand.
– Why didn’t you ID? You a fuckin’ pedo as well?
–He’s a friend, not a sex buddy. You wouldn’t know the difference.
Lard-Ass slams me to the ground. We’re all trained to withstand pain. But this guy has to be 270. Almost twice my weight.
–Say again, bitch?
I’m coughing too hard to say anything. I turn onto my side and get up slowly.
He’s got this crazy grin going on.
–Know what? You don’t even look American.
He points a finger at me.
I look like my father. He says I have my mother’s hands. I don’t remember her hands. I was two, my father says.
She died of a gentle heart.
I don’t know what Lard-Ass is talking about. I look like every other grunt out here. My buds call me dune coon. It’s a joke. You’re our boy, Tak. Yeah, I’m their boy.
The quiet buzzes as I walk the fence.
A thin high sound. It’s a bird’s wail. It’s a dying goat.
If you like-a den-a shoota poota rin-in it
Oh ho HO, ho ho HO ho. . .
Around a corner, squatting on a tree stump: Hamasa. Weird. He almost looks like one of the Pakistan cousins.
–Tak! We survivors! Where is candy?
–Jesus. I’m working, buddy.
–You no Christian.
— Christian no say Jesus.
–Hamasa, your father will be worried—
He waves his hand,
–No fader. No mudder. Bomb kill. Two, five years. Many people die dis place.
The hawks hanging high above broken stones in Peshawar. This is not my memory. It belongs to my father who saw the Indian planes, houses exploding like bad fireworks, people jig-sawed under the rubble.
This village has few houses intact. About the only building without damage is the masjid. These days, the bombs have moved on to other targets. And in other villages, other Hamasas are talking to other Taks about how their fathers died, how the restaurant exploded, and how they don’t hear so good anymore.
Hamasa settles himself against a fence pole.
–You don’t have god? Everybody have god.
Hamasa looks pitying. I want to smack him.
–Den where you go when you die?
Hamasa wriggles with laughter.
–Den you die here and go nowhere. I go paradise. You stay in dirt!
–Listen, no one’s dying and I gotta work.
He clicks his tongue.
–You not work. You look birds.
He’s right. I’ve been looking at the birds. Dad knows all the bird names. Crow, bluebird, hawk, and all those small brown ones. A robin made a nest outside our house, over the carriage lamp. All those little fuzzballs, poking their bald heads out. When the parent birds came to the nest, the babies sounded like tiny lasers. Pew pew pew.
–I’ll give you candy this afternoon.
–What? Oh, stick together.
He hops, pleased as if I’ve given him a gift.
We’re patrolling the village. Life is one endless patrol. When I get back home I’ll be patrolling our house, the street, the masjid on Tampa. When I go out on a Friday night, I’ll be patrolling the bar.
–Tak. You come. I take you.
I’m getting used to him appearing suddenly.
–I’m not going to the masjid.
Hamasa flicks his hand in lordly dismissal.
We secure and re-secure these buildings, but you never assume anything. I’m scanning 360 as I follow him. We leave the main street, which is basically a wider dirt street than the narrow one we’re on now. Maybe this isn’t a good idea. I don’t know this kid. Maybe I should go back.
Checking: skyline, ground-line, any corner, any uneven shape in the road, by the road, a little back from the road. Any movement, any stillness. Every nerve is jumping and I’m waiting for the electrical surge to go coursing through me any second now.
Hamasa stops, comes back. Tugs me towards a narrow alleyway, points to a small door.
–I can’t go in there.
–Is okay, Tak.
Hamasa glares at me,
–Dis my ‘ouse.
–Hamasa, man, I can’t come inside your house. I’m not allowed …
If his scowl could get any bigger. He throws his head back and I remember. He’s the head of the family now.
–Listen. I’ll just come to the door, okay? I can’t come inside.
But the small door flies open and a tumble of short people rushes out.
Four of them. The smallest is a boy. The girls are 6, 7, 8 or something. They cluster around me grinning and shouting ‘allo, owayoo.
Hamasa hisses at them and they stand in a line. He commands,
Dina, Asal, Maliha, The boy can’t say his name and the girls tell me. Babur. He hangs back. One of the girls picks him up. She has a pink hairgrip. Babur has a pink hairgrip, too.
They want to touch my uniform, my helmet. I hold the M4 out of the way. They ignore Hamasa who is trying to order them back into a line.
I want to tell them that I have cousins who look like them. Used to. The picture Dad has is from when they looked like this, grubby t-shirts and torn shorts. Babur’s nose is running. One of the girls wipes it on his t-shirt. They all talk at me like I can understand them.
They try to pull me inside, but Hamasa says something brief and sharp. They reluctantly let go.
–I tell dem you my friend, Tak.
–Hamasa. You’re a lucky guy.
He pulls a face.
–Too much sister.
The girls sense his complaint and jeer at him.
–Tell them you’re my best buddy.
I can see his chest puffing out. The girls laugh. One of them, maybe Dina, says something.
Hamasa clears his throat.
–Dey say you come eat for us here. Tomorrow.
I don’t know how I’m going to do this but Hamasa looks so proud, so skinny.
–That’d be great.
–Okay. And you bring candy for dem.
Hamasa doesn’t waste any time. Walks right up to the fence.
I grabbed a handful of candy after I made my 2pm report. I drop it into his cupped hands.
–Memenems, gom! Yes! I get many afghanis.
–You’re selling it? He looks scornfully at me.
My buddies laugh as Hamasa saunters off.
–They get candy from all of us, Tak.
–Sell it in the market.
–We’re boosting the economy.
I grin and shrug like I know I’m a gullible idiot.
I wish I’d paid more attention when Dad was telling me about the cousins. I’ll write him after night patrol and ask him for their names.
We’re running. We spread out and cover like we’ve been trained. We split into groups so we can circle around and cut them off. The enemy.
We’re running along the village perimeter, trying to ID the enemy, trying to keep our heads down. We want to overtake them before they can do anything else.
Explosion. The grenade throws us like matchwood.
I scrape myself out of the thorn bushes. I can’t see any of my guys.
Got to move. Got to get back to my guys. Get ready to run when I see this flash of yellow pants. Fuck. Hamasa.
You don’t just stand up. You don’t run out in the open. You don’t yell.
I’m full tilt towards him when he turns and runs to me.
Explosion. The ground jumps up and we’re pounded back against something that guts whatever breath I have left.
All I know, when I can move again, is that I’ve still got hold of Hamasa.
We’re shoved up against some skinny-ass tree that doesn’t give us any protection. There’s a shallow ditch and I roll both of us into it. I try to shield him.
His breath is rapid. I can feel his heart-beat, hamster feet running the wheel.
I wanted a hamster but Dad said they died too quickly.
My breath comes but it’s slow. Shock, I guess.
Dad says praying is what keeps him focused. He says prayer is his way of taking care of me. Says the craziest things.
When I write him I’ll tell him about this dumb kid who doesn’t know any better than to run around in the middle of a raid. I don’t know if that’s me or Hamasa.
Hamasa is staring at me. I lift my hand to touch his hair. It feels like he’s dunked it in car oil.
–Wait—for the gunfire—to stop. We’ll get—to camp.
My breath is weird.
–No guns, Tak. Dey stop now.
He can’t hear the guns. Maybe he can’t hear anything.
He looks down. I look down.
Blood pooling in his shirt, my shirt. All over us.
–Hamasa. You’re gonna—be ok.
He is shivering. He opens his hands. Torn afghanis and tootsie rolls.
If I could find where he’s bleeding. You apply pressure to stop the bleeding. I know all about pressure. I aced the class.
He sings something. Why is he singing? I don’t understand the words. I can hardly hear his voice. Maybe it’s the gunfire.
He puts his arms around my neck.
–Tak. I care you. God love you.
–Buddy—gotta get you—out—
I can’t remember where I’m supposed to take him. Out of here. Somewhere away from the guns. I can’t hear the guns.
Dad would shake his head. Dad would make pancakes, one with a D and one with a T. T for Tariq.
Hamasa is crying. I can’t hear him. I can’t hear anything.
He says something and I concentrate hard.
— We survivors, Tak
— Stick together.
It’s almost funny because with all the blood, we’re pretty much stuck together now.
LOCAL OUTLETS: Mrs. Fig’s Bookworm, Camarillo: http://www.mrsfigs.com.
My website: http://www.sandrajhunter.com
PRICE: $14.95 hard copy, $11.95 Kindle.
CONTACT THE AUTHOR: http://www.sandrajhunter.com, click on “contact” to reach me via Twitter, Facebook, Linked In or a direct message.