Please send check or money order for "Alison Hicks"
to: Greater Philadelphia Wordshop Studio
Please send check or money order for "Alison Hicks" to:
Greater Philadelphia Wordshop Studio
Synopsis of Love: A Story of Images, a novella by Alison Hicks
Penelope, a married woman in her early 30's re-encounters
the man for whom she'd experienced an intense and unrequited first love.
This encounter brings back to her that tangled relationship, challenging
her previous understanding of herself and the courtship of her husband
Peter and the early years of their marriage. She must undertake the
task of separating reality from projection, and decide what mixture
of illusion and clear-sightedness can be called love.
This novella is a small, perfect miracle of understanding of how the heart works -- for and against us. I loved it the same way one loves anything or anyone capable of opening the heart a little wider. Such intelligence, grace, and bravery! You will fall in love with Alison Hicks and all the characters she has created.
-- Phyllis Theroux, author of Giovanni's
"Everything about Justin. . .was a metaphor."
So says Alison Hicks' protagonist, Penelope, in this intense, lyric
story of one woman'sand every woman'scoming of age from
the inside out. In Hicks' novella we hear the clarion voice of a novelist
at home in the usual terrain of the poet. Although Love, A Story
in Images is set on a night at Penelope's tenth college reunion,
both reader and character travel up and back and sideways across layers
of time and insight as Penelope comes to terms with her mercurial,
unrequited romantic entanglement with moody Justin, and the deep bond
she shares with her husband, Peter. Time is compressed into snapshots
and snapshots displayed as a poet would display them, connection between
images created as much by the silences and juxtapositions as by the
language on the page; the tale communicated in the spaces between
pieces as much as in through the facts in the narrative itself. What
stuns is the way the threads connecting images are never lost or tangled
or even unduly obscure. "Think of her as Penelope," Hicks
says of her protagonist as we embark on one woman's mythic journey.
"She's insisting on being mythicalweaver and unraveler."
-- Liz Abrams-Morley, author of
Only a writer as smart and meticulous as Alison Hicks
could compare sexual passion to the heat generated under the magnifying
lens of critical study, and make me want to go back to college to
re-experience what I missed.
-- Elizabeth Mosier, author of My Life as a Girl
Excerpt from Love: A Story of Images (AWA Press, May 2004): Chapter 4, pp.77-81.
They'd chosen the shortest, steepest way up the mountains to the east of the valley where they live, a wilderness unviolated by roads, where every spring since coming out there, Peter had told her, he made a pilgrimage, after school let out, before the summer drought, and now he would take her.
Driving to the trailhead, through hardscrabble ranch land, then turning up the wash, in the distance they pick out the profile of a movie set, not the famous one on the other side of town, but another one they hadn't known about, a lonely, cardboard cutout against the foothills, dissolving and re-forming, mirage in the afternoon heat.
He wakes her before dawn, and they scramble out of the truck into a surprising cold. Shivering, they pull on their clothes. A first glint of sun winks off the windshield, fingers the side of his face as, precariously, she lifts his pack as high as she can to him and he bends to shoulder it, and then, bending deeper, he hefts hers to her, she struggles into it, he straightens to catch her as she wavers backwards, adjusts her straps.
This trail is rarely used, not easy to follow. They thread their way further up the wash, crossing and re-crossing the dry stream bed, alert for cairns, and fight through the tough, unyielding manzanita on the banks, that tears at their backpacks, whips their bare legs.
At the clearing by the well, where they stop to rest, the ground is moist and cow bones are scattered, half-buried in the hardening mud. She likes bonesmy Georgia O'Keeffe fetish, she jokesand pulls at a rib, runs her hand along its convex top edge, fired hard and smoothed perfectly by the sun. The bottom edge, that has been resting in the ground, is softer, pockmarked, has a greenish cast.
"I dearly hope you're not thinking of carrying that thing with you," Peter says.
"I guess it doesn't make any sense to add to the weight. I guess I could still get it on the way back" She's hesitant, though, to leave it, holding onto it for another minute.
Peter looks at her. She tosses it away.
The ascent is nearly vertical, and they fall silent, absorbed in their individual efforts, the loads pressing through their shoulders down into their backs, the rhythm of their panting, sweat pouring into their eyes, sun leaching the water out of them as fast as they gulp it down.
When they hit the first pines, the trail turns into a switchback, and they pause, look down on the ridge over which they've come.
Peter checks their water, and the map. "There should be a spring in a little while here, if it hasn't dried up."
They've emptied all the canteens save one. They take conservative swigs from it, and still thirsty, trudge on. She is thinking how everything aches, her back, her feet, her legs, but that feeling her body like this is not entirely unpleasant. It's not just that she feels virtuous or accomplished (before, she hadn't known if she could carry 40 pounds on her back up a mountain, and now she knows she can). The complaints of individual parts and muscles are like whiny children clamoring for attention, as if she and they are getting acquainted, as if before she had taken them for granted, not even known they were there.
They nearly step in the spring; it gurgles out of the hillside, over the path. They pull out a canteen, kneel in the mud, taking turns painstakingly holding the lip just under the bubble of water, but above the ground. When the canteen is full, craving the cool sweetness, reckless and exhilarated, they drink the whole thing down.
When they arrive at the top, exhausted and dazed, they wander off the trail, make a camp in the pines. It's fragrant, soft. They eat as darkness falls, and afterwards, as they lie in their bags, Peter unhooks the front peak of the tent so they can see, and points out the stars.
Three days, they have the mountain to themselves. They play explorers in a strange, new land, they are primitive, bathing in the pools where spring runoff catches and has not evaporated yet, sunning on the sculpted rocks. Their bodies are different, having turned both harder and more flexible. Her hair is wild, her legs scratched and dirty, their feet white and swollen when they take off their boots and socks, his scent musky and ripe, hers yeasty.
She watches as he breaks wood for the fire. She should be helping, but she loves to watch him when he's focusing on a task. Somehow mental discipline shows in him physically, his features and body both relaxed and alert, taut and supple, a grace radiates from him, she wants to touch. From behind, she grabs him around the waist, buries her head in his back.
"Well" he says, turning around.
He takes the bags from the tent, unzips them, spreads them on the pine needles. He comes over to her, they melt into each other, sinking down, and he penetrates her as the moon rises.
The last night it rains. So unusual at that time of year, they haven't bothered to bring the rain fly. Huddling in the tent, they try to avoid touching the sides so as not to break the surface tension, but there's not enough room, they can't help it, freshets trickle in and flow into each other, growing greater. They're swamped. The foot of her sleeping bag is soaked; she twists herself half on top of him to keep warm, cramped, no place to move, counting the hours, his infuriating snores, till dawn.
At first light she can't stand it anymore, she's up, cursing, running in circles to keep warm, calling to him.
When the sun angles higher, he comes out, they spread everything out to drytakes hardly any time at alland pack up. Already, a few clouds tease on the horizon. They look at each other, calculating how long they have to get down the mountain and out of the wash. Here, with rain there's always danger of a flash flood; they've heard the descriptions of the sudden rumble, the surge of water that can't be overrun, seen pictures of the twisted, unrecognizable debris left behind once the scouring rage has passed.
Coming down, she can't keep up with him, tired, she steps up onto a boulder and her right foot slips. She slides, foot landing hard, her knee buckles under her, she's down. She breathes heavily, in syncopation with her heartbeats; her leg muscles twitch. Her pack is wedged against the boulder; she doesn't have the energy to lift it and herself.
"Can't we stop for a minute," she calls to him. She can just make him out, over the next few boulders. "Can't we eat something?"
"We should get a little farther first, " he calls back.
"I can't," she says and starts bawling, her fatigue and frustration venting themselves.
He waits for her to finish, hunkered down the way he's taught her to rest without taking off the pack, knees bent, back flat, forearms resting on his thighs.
When she recovers, she's embarrassed, thinks he will
be angry, disgusted at her weakness. She struggles up, expecting him
to start ahead, bracing herself for a comment, but he waits for her
to reach him, doesn't say anything, straightens up, and they go on.