A man and a woman have a chance encounter in front of a “smoked nut stand” somewhere in the city. The man was walking to the cobbler to get his shoes polished – shoes that held nostalgic value for him. The man and woman (Maeve) had been friends—maybe even more than friends—in college and now they were meeting on the street after a lengthy absence. From start to finish, if we’re to tell what happened in the story, the above mentioned would be accompanied with: they talk, they talk more, walk back to get nuts, then to a diner or a bar (“I don’t remember which,” the narrator tells readers) and then converse a bit more, and that’s it.
It’s a slightly askew story, despite the straightforwardness with which I just explained its happenings. There’s something complex about the story’s texture, its structure—we get a back story toward the end—“We’d almost slept together once” which arrives three-quarters the way through, but even that isn’t as off-kilter as maybe the way the information about the two unfolds, as if the narrator is trying in real time to make sense of things from his past: “How do you talk about the meaning of things?”
It’s the question, I think, the narrator is aware of throughout, and while we learn of Maeve—who held strong opinions, wrote movies, and at one point was quite an orator at parties, delivering her “tastes and hatreds”—we also learn a thing or two about the narrator through what Maeve declares about him: “You stood in the corner at parties…You wanted to add to the conversation…But you kept yourself buttoned.” And later, “That’s how I remember you now: sitting, licking your little lips, looking down and in.”
It isn’t all serious, however. The narrator has his moments of humor: “We sat on a bench and ate our nuts… I was pretty sure I had gum on my ass.” And on that same bench, thinking of who he was when he’d first met Maeve: “I thought of those days. I didn’t want to say anything, but I didn’t want to keep being seen as the same.”
And while the narrator shows his motivation—or perhaps we could call it his revised agenda (remember, he was going to run an errand)—we also see the evolution of the smoked nuts throughout, as the narrator tells readers:
“Still, I told her what I thought. The nuts, a mistake. But hadn’t they given us something to eat outdoors? Some flavors on a nice day? There was nothing more worthless than really good food asking for attention, getting itself talked about…The nuts had brought a pleasant pressure from the past. A memory can lodge in your throat like a stone, an unhusked drupe. It was painful but it was right. You cough it up or you swallow it down for good.”
There’s something useful for writers here on how to effectively use an object: repeat, repeat, evolve. The smoked nuts are mentioned in the first line, and thereafter, we see them appear again, and yet again, until they’re understood differently, as is the narrator’s new perspective along with what he wants for himself, as understood in the above quote.
But the narrator isn’t the only one with a privileged view of the object. Of the smoked nuts, Maeve claims to the narrator: “Those weren’t good…They smell better than they taste—that’s well known.”
Check out the full story here.
Walker Rutter-Bowman lives in Washington, DC. He earned his MFA in fiction from Syracuse University. His work has been published in Nashville Review, Tin House Online, Harvard Review Online, and Full Stop.