Traveling Left of Center by @NChristie_OH is a Spring Break Bookapalooza pick #shortstories #fiction
Title: Traveling Left of Center and Other Stories (Unsolicited Press)
Author: Nancy Christie
Genre: Contemporary Fiction — Short stories
Traveling Left of Center and Other Stories details the experiences of characters in life situations for which they are emotionally or mentally unprepared. Their methods of coping range from the passive (“The Healer”) and the aggressive (“The Clock”) to the humorous (“Traveling Left of Center”) and hopeful (“Skating on Thin Ice”). In each of these eighteen stories, the characters’ choices—or non-choices—are their own. But the outcomes may not be what they anticipated or desired. Will they have time to correct their course, or will they crash?
Excerpt from “Traveling Left of Center”:
“Girl,” my mama had said to me the minute she entered my hospital room, “on the highway of life, you’re always traveling left of center.”
Mama was always saying things like that. She had a phrase for every occasion and would pronounce them with a certainty that I accepted as gospel in my younger days. But that time, I didn’t pay her no mind. I just went on painting my nails Passionate Purple, hoping that the sexy polish would catch the doctor’s eye.
I was justifiably proud of my hands, especially since, at that particular time, they were the only part of me that was skinny. A girl’s body sure takes a beating from having a baby. It took me at least a year to get my shape back after I had Robert Nicholas, and it looked like Rebecca Nicole wouldn’t be any kinder to her mama than her big brother had been.
I truly love my babies even though life would’ve been a lot simpler if I hadn’t gotten pregnant. I would’ve been able to do something with my life—like go to beauty school—instead of changing diapers and cleaning baby spit-up for days on end.
It was hard being a mother with no husband to lean on. But to give Mama her due, from the beginning she was right there ready to help me out.
“You’re having a baby?” The way Mama shrieked when I told her the news, you’d think she had never heard of it before. Granted, I was going to make her a grandma at the same time I became a mother, but I didn’t know why it was such a big surprise. Bobby and I had been keeping company for at least six months before I got pregnant.
“Good Lord, what will I say to the ladies at bingo?” Bingo was my mama’s one passion. She never missed bingo night at the church. “They’re going to ask me how it happened and what will I say?”
“Well, if they don’t know how it happens by now, they’re pretty damn stupid,” I had snarled back and then ran into the bathroom to lose what was left of my breakfast, thanks to the endless bouts of morning sickness.
All in all, though, Mama took it really well. Even when Bobby left me two months before the Big Event, she didn’t say too much, beyond the expected, “Well, I told you he was no good. He had shifty eyes. I saw that right away.”
Maybe she was right. I don’t know if I ever noticed his eyes. I was too busy looking at his sexy half-smile and the way his shoulders filled out those white T-shirts he wore. His arms were so full of muscles that he could barely fold his sleeve over the pack of unfiltered Camels he was always smoking.
Bobby had a way of blowing smoke out of the corner of his mouth that made me weak at the knees. So how could I refuse him? I never thought I’d get pregnant, not that fast anyway. It wasn’t like I planned it or anything, although I did picture the two of us in a little apartment with ruffled curtains and a new bedroom set from Furniture Plus.
So, it really wasn’t my fault. Little Robert Nicholas just happened. That was what I told Mama.
“Things don’t ‘just happen,’” Mama snapped. “Girl, you can’t do now and think later. You’ve got to pay attention!”
Mama was always preaching at me, always telling me how I needed to pay attention. Like that night when the policeman stopped me and Mary Jean Macabobby. All we did was go to the neighborhood bar after work for a few beers before we headed home.
I figured I was okay to drive since we only had to go a few blocks and nobody was out that late anyway. Nobody except the cops, I mean, and when I heard the siren, I knew I was in trouble. But I still swear that light was yellow when I went through it.
Luckily, he was best friends with Mary Jean’s big brother and let me off with a lecture and a ticket for an expired license.
“Who looks at their driver’s license?” I wailed, trying to get sympathy from him. But he just shook his head.
Then Mary Jean poked me in the ribs and hissed, “Shut up before he smells the beer on your breath,” and I clammed up pretty fast. Besides, my words were slurring a bit.
But he could have given us a break. It wasn’t like I did it on purpose. And I did look especially nice, too, with my hair all curly and my nails painted Russian Roulette Red—the latest shade, according to the manicurist at Nails-To-Go.
But that didn’t cut no ice with him. He didn’t even bat an eye when I let my fingertips rest on his when he handed me the ticket.
When I asked Mama for money to pay the fine, she gave it to me with a half-hour lecture along with it. “Don’t you know about drinking and driving? What if there had been an accident? You could’ve ended up in jail if he hadn’t been a friend of Mary Jean’s brother. You were just lucky! But you can’t count on luck all the time!” she said. “Girl, you’ve got to start paying attention!”
She wouldn’t let me drive the Buick on my own after that, which was how I ended up with Bobby. He had a candy-apple red Oldsmobile with seats covered in fake fur. That was where we did it the first time. Even now, my heart beats faster when I see a car with plushy seat covers.
So, in a funny kind of way, it was Mama’s fault that I got pregnant. And the fault of that policeman.
Buy Links (including Goodreads and BookBub):
Unsolicited Press: https://www.unsolicitedpress.com/store/p248/TLOC.html
If money were no object, where would you go for a Spring Break vacation and why?
I’d love to go to Greece. It’s been on my bucket list since I was young and fell in love with archeology, the Greek gods and goddesses, and of course, Greek food. And since it’s been a long, dark, cold winter here in Ohio, the idea of soaking up some of that Greek sunshine and sipping on ouzo is very appealing!
Why is your featured book a must-read this spring?
Spring break is the perfect time to dip into short stories. It’s a short-term commitment—just the thing to enjoy while on a brief vacation. And since the stories themselves run the gamut from humorous to serious, you can pick the one that fits your mood!
One lucky reader will win a $75 Amazon US or Canada gift card
Open internationally. You must have a valid Amazon US or Amazon CA account to win.
Runs April 1 – 30
Drawing will be held on May 2.
Nancy Christie is the award-winning author of two short story collections: Traveling Left of Center and Other Stories and Peripheral Visions and Other Stories (both published by Unsolicited Press); two books for writers: Rut-Busting Book for Writers and Rut-Busting Book for Authors (both published by Mill City Press) and the inspirational book, The Gifts of Change (Atria/Beyond Words). Her short stories have appeared in numerous literary publications, with several earning contest placements. Christie’s third collection, Mistletoe Magic and Other Holiday Tales, will be out December 2023.
The host of the Living the Writing Life podcast and founder of the annual “Celebrate Short Fiction” Day, Christie is a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors, the Women’s Fiction Writers Association, and the Florida Writers Association.
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