Literature for Marginalized Mothers: 101
By Kelley Cunningham
Sign up today! Classes now meet at the Middle School since that unfortunate plumbing incident at the VFW hall.
Course Number 123: Continuing the “Literature for Marginalized Mothers” series, this semester we are offering “The Classic American Short Story”. Here is a quick synopsis of the stories we will be covering:
The Lottery by Shirley Jackson
Everyone gathers around the preschool on that late spring morning. Moms wander in, some fresh from the video store/dry cleaner/supermarket rounds. Every year they gather, nonchalantly exchanging everyday small talk. They all know what will happen; none think they may be the unlucky one. The circle tightens. A name is pulled from the hat. The preschool teacher reads it: Nancy Wilkens. All turn to stare at Nancy as she shrieks in disbelief. "NOOOO! It can’t be me. There must be some mistake! Pull out another name!" All the other mothers regard Nancy with silent contempt. They shuffle back to their minivans, their station wagons, their SUVs. Nancy is left alone at the preschool wailing and screaming at her fate. Yes, this year, it’s Nancy’s name that was drawn. It’s her turn to buy the munchkins for the class holiday party.
Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge by Ambrose Bierce
She is standing on the bridge. The Windstar has a flat tire and she is faced with the prospect of changing the tire herself because she absent-mindedly let the AAA lapse. She is feeling overwhelmed by horror at this turn of events. How did she get here? Is it all a dream? She thinks: are those really my ghastly children in the car, fighting over the one Gameboy that still has working batteries? She looks down into the swirling river and suddenly she jumps in, escaping her fate. From under the cool water she can hear her kids whining, but as she swims she leaves them further and further behind. She is free! Crawling out of the river many miles downstream, she begins to stumble through a long, peaceful glade. On through the forest she walks, then runs. Something wonderful is waiting for her. It’s coming into focus now. What is it? It’s...a man! Yes, it’s that Viggo guy from "Lord of the Rings", waiting for her with open arms. She runs towards him with abandon. SLAM! She is suddenly snapped back to reality by the sound of a car door closing. Her little boy has gotten out of the car and is peeing off the bridge into the churning water below.
To Build a Fire by Jack London
Her husband was working late again, and as she watched the snow pile up she knew she would have to shovel it. She located the one snow shovel without a broken handle behind the overloaded recycling bins. She even found the Winnie the Pooh kiddie shovel in the crawlspace. Out they all went into the bitter cold. Soon she realized her shovel was the heavy one that snow always stuck to. Why didn’t she go to Home Depot to get a decent one when the snow was first forecast? She began to feel colder and colder. The dog slunk at her heels, sensing her despair. A fire! That’s what was needed to warm everybody! The thought of a crackling fire kept her going. Shoveling complete, she went right to the fireplace with newspaper and matches. The dog watched excitedly. She struck a match, and the newspaper burned beautifully. But the Duraflame just wouldn't catch. Shivering, slumping in defeat, hands black from newspaper ink, she gave up. The dog approached her apprehensively, sensing the end was near. He sniffed her feet and then padded away.
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving
The Sleepy Hollow Charter School was buzzing about the upcoming Halloween party. Most of the gossip involved a woman legendary in her ability to extort volunteer hours out of the even most reluctant parents. All of the moms were a little afraid of her, for it was said that she haunted hapless mothers with endless phone calls if her efforts to recruit class trip drivers went unrewarded. Her name was Heddy, and this Halloween she had railroaded the local U-Pick farm into donating thirty mini pumpkins for the children to paint at the party. Finally the big day arrived. Just as the children sat down to enjoy their carob-chip, gluten-free cookies, Heddy saw it. The big bowl of peanut M&M’s. “WHO BROUGHT THESE PEANUT M&M’s INTO THIS NUT-FREE ENVIRONMENT?” Heddy thundered. All the moms quaked in their Nordstrom booties until one mom came forward. “I did, Heddy. I wasn’t aware of the No Nuts rule. Sorry.” Heddy was not satisfied. After the party the unsuspecting mother drove home, only to realize Heddy was following her in a huge, black Ford Expedition. The last thing she saw was a huge pumpkin hurtling towards her head. The next day she didn’t show up at school. There were rumors of foul play, but no one ever challenged Heddy again, and Sleepy Hollow Charter School remains a safe, nut-free learning place to this day.
The Cask of Amontillado by Edgar Allen Poe
Tonight was the night: my first evening away from the house and kids in months. My husband was due home from work soon to take over. I made sure the jammies were on the bed so my husband wouldn’t dress them in Hefty bags, claiming it was all he could find. Finally I heard the door open. He was home! I ran downstairs, so happy was I to see him and to know that my hour of delivery was close at hand. I ran through the details of the evening. “Are you sure you can manage?” I asked. “I could get the babysitter to come and help...you seem so tired”. “Nonsense! I can do this! Show me where the kids are.” “Follow me” I said. Through the twisted catacombs of the back hall we stumbled, bruising our feet in the gloom on stray K’NEX pieces and wooden blocks. Finally, we reach the niche we call a playroom. All the kids were there, each engrossed in their own dark pursuit. He looked around, a little stunned, as I began to back away. “Well, have a good night” I said. “I’ll be home late, don’t wait up”. He suddenly looked panicked. “Wait...where are you going?” “Just to the movies with the Amontillado’s. You’ll be fine”. I backed away further. The kids approached him and locked him up in their embrace. He struggled to break free. The kids said “Come on, Daddy, play Mousetrap with us!” As I closed the door behind me I heard him scream.
The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County by Mark Twain
Calaveras County Elementary School’s first grade has a class pet, a huge bullfrog named Jumpy. Every weekend the children take turns bringing Jumpy home. This Friday it’s the Webster family’s turn. The whole family is very excited. Everyone, that is, except Mrs. Webster. This is because Jumpy has to be fed live crickets. As if that isn’t bad enough, Mrs. Webster is forced to drive to three different pet stores to find the right ones. Finally returning home, she finds Jumpy has escaped from the cage. She searches frantically, thinking he could be anywhere. Suddenly she sees her toddler sitting in the playroom with Jumpy on her lap. “Don’t move!” shouts Mrs. Webster. “We don’t want to scare him off!” She approaches Jumpy slowly, but Jumpy just sits there. She realizes that the toddler has fed Jumpy all the marbles from the marble maze game. Not only is Jumpy not jumping, but he’s also looking a little ill. Back into the car she goes, hoping the pet store will have a bullfrog that will pass for Jumpy on Monday morning.
Need more Kelley? A hefty collection of her great essays, What's the Matter With Mommy?, is now available on Amazon.com.
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