Stonework is published by Houghton College, a Christian liberal arts college located in New York’s rural Genesee Valley. Stonework seeks a diverse mix of mature and emerging voices in fellowship with the evangelical tradition. Published twice a year, the journal reflects the arts community at Houghton College where excellence in music, writing, and the visual arts has long been a distinctive.

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  • Issue 6
    Poetry by Paul Willis and Thom Satterlee. Fiction and interview with Lori Huth. Essay by James Wardwell, and student poets from Christian campuses.
  • Issue 5
    Poetry by Susanna Childress and Debra Rienstra. Fiction excerpt by Emilie Griffin. Art from Houghton's 2007 presidential inauguration and a forum on women writing.
  • Issue 4
    Matthew Roth--new poems. Diane Glancy--from One of Us and an interview. John Tatter-on gardens and poetry. The Landscapes of John Rhett. Stephen Woolsey--on the poetry of Jack Clemo. James Wardwell--on Herrick.
  • Issue 3
    Poetry by Julia Kasdorf, Robert Siegel and Sandra Duguid. Fiction by Tom Noyes. The portraits of Alieen Ortlip Shea. An anthology of Australian Poets
  • Issue 2
    Thom Satterlee - Poems from Burning Wycliff with an appreciation by David Perkins. Alison Gresik - new fiction and an interview. James Zoller - Poems from Living on the Floodplain.
  • Issue 1
    Luci Shaw — new poems with an appreciation by Eugene H. Peterson & Hugh Cook — new fiction and an interview

Thursday, May 01, 2008

The Fourteen Steps

~ Linda McCullough Moore

I’m in this group. I won’t say it’s Alcoholics Anonymous, but I won’t say it’s not. These people are over the moon when it comes to secrecy, protecting everybody’s privacy all over the place. I’d go so far as to say that your average member of A.A. knows more personal information about other people’s lives than your average shrink. The organization is an untapped personnel resource for the CIA; you could torture these people and they’d take a deep draw on an unfiltered cigarette and blow smoke in your face as you applied the thumb screws. It’s dogged and fierce loyalty, or, it could be that they didn’t pay a great deal of attention to the stories when they heard them in the first place.

I do. Pay attention. I practically memorize other people’s lives. I take these mental photographs that I develop after dark, enlarging them to double/triple size, and, I colorize like crazy.

Take this new girl today. She says her name is Nancy – this outfit has more Joes and Nancys than a person would believe, unless of course the name creates a chemical imbalance: I rule out nothing. Anyway this Nancy tells the eleven men, a full half of whom are homeless or have been or will be, that she grew up in a house with five-and-half bathrooms, the half appearing when I print that mental photograph, as half a room with half a toilet, half a sink and this monster claw foot bathtub sawn in two. She doesn’t realize half the men assembled think that she describes a rooming house where the bathrooms are shared - though not without complaint and yellow stains and dripping lingerie - by fourteen families.

“How many people precisely used these bathrooms that you mention?” I ask the question during the Q. and A. with which I have single-handedly embellished the twelve step program. I call it STEP THIRTEEN. I’m hoping it might catch on nationally. It is by far my favorite part of the proceedings. And I am quite convinced I’m not the only person in the world who might just have a few unanswered questions. “How many people would you say shared these five-and-a-half bathrooms?” I say.

“Three,” she says in a voice that suddenly betrays the slightest vestigial tinge of aristocracy. “Three, on paper.” And I have this image of a tinkling trio of not-yet-house-broken, but potentially very aristocratic, dogs, tinting the paper she describes.

“Three people for five-and-half bathrooms?” This hardly-veiled disgust issues forth from a man who to my knowledge has not spoken once before, not here, perhaps not anywhere.

“Well,” this Nancy says. “In fact the half bath was shared among the maids,” a fact which conjures up an image of young, nubile bodies, three at once, attempting ablutions in the flow of warm and hard-won bath water leaking from the truncated tub.

“You’re still talking one-and-two-thirds bathroom per person,” another Joe chimes in, no effort wasted on attempts to hide his frank disapproval.

Personally, I’m not unhappy with the direction this exploration of Nancy’s plumbing history is taking. It’s never made a large amount of sense to me that if you are a declared drunk then it necessarily follows that the road to your sobriety lies in regular discussions of the kind and quantity of booze that other drunks so religiously once drank, and might again. I’m a big fan of reinvention, starting with the wheel.

“I think,” Nancy is saying, “that I do not exaggerate when I say that at no time during the 24 years I lived in that house were all five bathrooms in working order at the same time.”

“No wonder you took to drink,” one of the more laconic Joes says.

“Give her a break,” Joe Three says. “Don’t judge till you’ve walked a mile in her shoes.”
“Or pissed five times in her five bathrooms.”

Nancy giggles. She may be the child of well-plumbed privilege, but my guess is she might well have suffered from a dearth of brightly colored speech.

“How big was the house?” a new Joe seems to want to know.

“Pretty big,” she says. “My grandfather knew a lot of famous people and they used to come to stay for months at a time. They had some pretty wild parties.”

“Booze flowed free?”

“You betcha’,” Nancy says.

There is a moment of respectful silence, while each of us imagines our brew of choice inhaled from bottomless vats through straws of 14-carat gold.

“I don’t suppose there was any sort of wine cellar on the property.” This Joe’s voice is soft with hope.

“Two,” she says. “One deep, one deeper. I used to play in them and throw pebbles at the bottles. It was like a cave, only with shelves and lights. I haven’t thought of it in years.”

“What happened?” Joe five says.

“I don’t know, I guess I just grew up.”

“No, no, I mean what happened to the wine?”

“Oh, I don’t know. . . .”

“So it might still be there.”

“I guess. I went away and never came back home, and then the place was sold to some lady writer. They said she was from Argentina, was a dancer.”

“So the wine might still be there?” This Joe voices hope for everybody in the world. “We could go there. We could see it. We could go together. You could take us in your car. We could start right now. We’re skinny, most of us, we could crowd in.”

The Joes all nod, except for one who says, “We could not drink any of it, so why go?”

A few Joes agree.

“A wine tasting.” I speak for the first time. “Did no one ever hear of that? Not drinking, tasting, smelling, sniffing, inhaling, rolling droplets on the tongue, allowing tiny drips to trickle down.”

“And cheese,” a Joe says. “Stilton to test a strong wine’s mettle, cheddar to give a red a real run for it’s money, running Brie for the Chablis.”

“And crackers, I suppose,” the one particularly chubby Joe chimes in.

“Of course crackers.”

“And meatball grinders.”

“And hundred year old brandy.”

“To sniff.”

“To sniff.”

And reverie settles in, it drifts down like the lightest covering, a silky down and no one speaks. We drink in what we drink in.

“We’ll go there together one day.” A Joe reads an official proclamation.

“We will.” An oath is taken.

“We will sit in the drawing room and let the servants fetch and pour and carry.” I say this. I’ve always be a big fan of the servant thing.

“And before we’re done,” the old Joe says, “we’ll flush every blessed toilet in the place.”

“We will,” the Joes all say. “We will.”

And just like that we make a covenant, attest that we, to a man, to a woman, will never, never, rule out, not entirely and forever, the wild sweet possibility of that amazing grace.