Our theme for July is The Cento—a put-together poem, a patchwork if you will, of words from others. What follows is not a Cento and will not tell you what a Cento is, but we’re okay with that. We tell our writers to “be creative, ” and that’s what Karen Swallow Prior has been by writing a story that is a small treasure hunt for patched things. Come back later this month for more on The Cento—okay, for something on The Cento. July has plenty of time to patch together an explanation of this ancient Greek form.
I was home-but-not-home for the summer, home being my parents’ house, two miles up the road, down a dirt road and backed up against a creek running through forested land, not home being here at Grandma and Grandpa’s farm where I’d been sentenced to stay since The Cento School for the Gifted had released us students in early June.
I liked the farm all right, and Grandma and Grandpa, too, but I wanted to be home home, in my own room with my own stuff, like my patchwork quilt (handmade by my other grandmother), and everything else. The only time I got to stay there since heading off to boarding school was during breaks, after all.
We had just sat down to dinner—Grandma, Grandpa, Louie the farmhand, old Uncle Stevie who had arthritis pretty bad and who kept having to be reminded that he was in Maine now not Canada, and Ike, the neighbor boy who was here all the time playing with the kittens and steering clear of his drunk dad—when we heard a loud pop! and the dog started barking. Grandpa got up and looked out the window. “Looks like someone’s got a flat tire, ” he said, and everyone left the table to go outside. After a few seconds, I followed them.
I didn’t recognize the car, but I knew that long, streaked blond hair flowing out of the open passenger side window as soon as I saw it. I didn’t know whether to feel annoyed or triumphant at her bum luck. I leaned toward triumphant. I knew no one who deserved this more. We eyed one another cagily while the grownups conferred.
“I had the tire patched on Tuesday, ” her mom was saying. “Hoped it would last until payday.” The mom, I knew, was a waitress at the Beef and Bun, Home of the World’s Best Burger. The car was a rusty station wagon. I hadn’t seen that long blond hair or that haughty look on that pretty, pointed face for a long time. But it suddenly didn’t seem so long. She’d called me “fat” all those years ago, which I wasn’t, and it had taken me a long time and hundreds of miles of distance to feel a little less so.
“I can call my boyfriend to come put on a new tire, but his shift ain’t over until 7, ” her mom said. Oh, why couldn’t I be home in my room? I groaned silently. Why did my father have to work so much and why did my mother have to traipse all over Europe for the State Department, even in the summer?
“Well, we were just sitting down to dinner. We have plenty. Come in and eat while we wait, ” Grandma ordered, just like I knew she would.
Ike grabbed my hand as we all marched into the house, all of us except Louie, who went to find an orange cone to set behind the limp car on the side of the road. Ike’s fingers were stained red from the berries he’d eaten in the strawberry patch earlier in the day.
When we were all seated around the table, I stared guiltily at the plate I’d heaped high minutes before the interruption. I glanced sideways at the girl. Her eyes were fixed on a spoonful of barely warm soup. She blew on it anyway then put it into her mouth. “It’s good, ” she said, and lowered her eyes and her spoon again.
Buy a year of Every Day Poems, just $2.99— Read a poem a day, become a better poet. In July we’re exploring the theme The Cento.