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Excerpt from November Storm by Robert Oldshue, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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November Storm

Iowa Short Fiction Award

by Robert Oldshue

November Storm by Robert Oldshue X
November Storm by Robert Oldshue
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    Oct 2016, 140 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Davida Chazan
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November Storm

That Thanksgiving, Andy was coming, so Doris thought the call was from him. "Maybe he's got car trouble," she said when the phone rang.

"Maybe he's got someplace better to go," said her husband, Ed.

But it was a woman from Wegmans, the grocery that had their dinner. "Because of the snow, we're canceling deliveries."

"It isn't snowing here," Doris told her.

"A foot by noon and two feet by tonight and wind chills of thirty below."

"They said a dusting or maybe nothing."

"That's not what they're saying now, ma'am. I'm sorry, ma'am."

It was shortly before nine, and, if Andy hadn't called, he and Jen and the grandchildren were out on I-90, facing the kind of storms there could be in upstate New York. When the boys were still swimming, the family had driven to a meet in Corning, in the winter, and the weather had gotten bad and then worse and there'd been talk of stopping the meet early. Some of the parents had taken their boys and gone home, but Dan had done well in his qualifying heats, and Tom was on a relay that would lose if he didn't stay, and Andy was too young to participate but was generally willing to sit and watch. By the time it was over, the snow was coming in sheets and there was wind, and, by the time they hit the Thruway, the road was a mess but Ed was beyond talking to. If we stop, no telling when we can start again, he kept saying. No telling how much work I'll have to miss and how much school for the boys and, even if we find a motel, how are we going to eat for two days? Now he was somebody's eighty-year-old grandpa stooped and swaying in her kitchen, his once handsome face puffy, his hair white and wild, his hands dusky and sometimes shaking, the backs covered with ragged, red spots.

"Well?" she asked when she'd given him the news.

"Well, what?"

"Well, what do you think?"

"What am I supposed to think?"

Doris thought how easily she or anyone could send him sprawling with a push. Instead she asked if they could get the dinner themselves, and the woman said they could.

"Could someone help us load it in the car?"

"Absolutely," said the woman.

"And you'll have it all ready?"

"I'll put it together now."

Doris told her they'd be over and hung up, and Ed waved his hands as if, after fifty-three years of marriage, he'd finally seen everything.

"Why'd you let them get away with it?"

"It isn't them. It's the storm."

"What storm?" he roared, pointing to the window and through it to their street, Royal Crescent. A snowflake drifted past, another, several. For a moment there were none, and then there were another two or three, and, by the time Ed had tried the weather channel and heard about a flood in Texas and Doris had tried Andy's cell and gotten a series of recordings, the flakes were more than just a few.

"What's that?" Doris asked when Ed had backed the car out and she'd gotten in, their places on the front seat separated by an old rubber boot.

"I want to get the buckle fixed," he said.

"Does it have to be today?"

"Yeah," he growled. "If it's going to snow."

The house across the street had been the Spectors', and, in the 1950s, when the houses had been built, Helen Spector had invited Doris and the other Royal mothers for coffee, and they'd sat in her kitchen and talked about their children and their husbands and their houses and the schools and what they'd seen on television or at the movies. As the kids had gotten older, the coffees had gotten fewer and then stopped, and then Dick Spector had passed, and Helen had sold the house to a couple with a motorboat who'd sold it to a man who lived alone and kept his shades drawn and the car in the garage with the door closed, and now it was owned by a woman with an eleven-year-old son and a boyfriend Doris sometimes saw and sometimes didn't. The next house was the Bromleys', Pete and Betty, whose son had weight-lifted with Dan and Tom when the two of them were doing it twice a day and drinking carrot juice and other concoctions that were fine with Doris as long as they paid for them and said what was in them and didn't leave them rotting in the refrigerator. They'd had a daughter a year behind Dan who'd been a cheerleader when Dan was playing football, but by then Betty was unhappy with the house, and they'd bought a bigger one a mile or so away, and, except once in a while around town, Doris never saw them again. In fact, of all the first families, there were just them and the Olneys, and the Olneys had a cottage in Maine they went to every summer, and Doris and Ed had a condo in Florida they went to every winter, and, besides, Ed had gone to college but a technical institute not a liberal arts college, and Doris had finished high school but that was all. The Olneys had met at Oberlin, and Sue had studied painting and sculpture and still took lessons and filled their house with pieces she'd done and others she'd collected and went to museum shows and lectures and films and read books and thought about them, and Paul was a chemist and worked at Kodak, the same as Ed, but the two of them might have been from different planets. They might have fought for different countries in the war, or so it seemed when the discussion came to politics, which, thanks to the women, it never did. Rather than watch Paul stiffen as Ed supported Reagan or even Nixon or mocked the do-gooding lame brains opposed to nuclear energy, everyone spoke in coded generalities until Ed began to fidget and then nod and Doris had to wake him up and take everybody home. Once the kids were gone, the two couples had settled into watching each other's comings and goings and promising, when they met, to get together soon.

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Excerpted from November Storm by Robert Oldshue. Copyright © 2016 by Robert Oldshue. Excerpted by permission of University of Iowa Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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