Trailerparkby Russell Banks
Get to know the colorful cast of characters at the Granite State Trailerpark, where Flora in number 11 keeps more than a hundred guinea pigs andscreams at people to stay away from her babies, Claudel in number 5 thinks he is lucky until his wife burns down their trailer and runs off with Howie Leeke, and Noni in number 7 has telephone conversations with Jesus and… See more details below
Get to know the colorful cast of characters at the Granite State Trailerpark, where Flora in number 11 keeps more than a hundred guinea pigs andscreams at people to stay away from her babies, Claudel in number 5 thinks he is lucky until his wife burns down their trailer and runs off with Howie Leeke, and Noni in number 7 has telephone conversations with Jesus and tells the police about them. In this series of related short stories, Russell Banks offers gripping, realistic portrayals of individual Americans and paints a portrait of New England life that is at once dark, witty, and revealing.
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The Guinea Pig Lady
The story of Flora Pease, how she got to be the way she is now, isn't all that uncommon a story, except maybe in the particulars. You hear often in these small New Hampshire towns of a woman no one will deal with anymore, except to sell her something she wants or needs-food, clothing or shelter. In other words, you don't have a social relationship with a woman like Flora, you have an economic one, and that's it. But that's important, because it's what keeps women like Flora alive, and after all, no matter what you might think of her, you don't want to let her die, because if you're not related to her somehow, you're likely to have a friend who is, or your friend will have a friend who is, which is almost the same thing in a small town. And not only in a small town, either-these things are true for any group of people that knows its limits and plans to keep them.
When Flora Pease first came to the trailerpark and rented number 11, which is the second trailer on your left as you come in from Old Road, no one in the park thought much about her one way or the other. She was about forty or forty five, kind of flat-faced and plain, a red-colored person, with short red hair and a reddish tint to her skin. Even her eyes, which happened to be pale blue, looked red, as if she smoked too much and slept too little, which, as it later turned out, happened to be true. Her body was a little strange, however, and people remarked on that. It was blocky and squareshaped, not exactly feminine and not exactly masculine, so that while she could almost pass for either man or woman, she was generally regarded as neither. Shewore mostly men's clothing, a long, dark blue, wool overcoat or else overalls and workshirts and ankle-high workboots, which again, except for the overcoat, was not all that unusual among certain women who worked outside a lot and didn't do much socializing. But with Flora, because of the shape of her body, or rather, its shapelessness, her clothing only contributed to what you might call the vagueness of her sexual identity. Privately, there was probably no vagueness at all, but publicly there was. People elbowed one another and winked and made not quite kindly remarks about her when she passed by them on the streets of Catamount or when she passed along the trailerpark road on her way to or from town. The story, which came from Marcelle Chagnon, who rented her the trailer and who therefore ought to know, was that Flora was retired military and lived off a small pension, and that made sense in one way, given people's prejudices about women in the military, and in another way too, because at that time Captain Dewey Knox (U.S. Army, ret.) was already living at number 6 and so people at the park had got used to the idea of someone living off a military pension instead of working for a living.
What didn't make sense was how someone who seemed slightly cracked, as Flora came quickly to seem, could have stayed in the military long enough to end up collecting a pension for it. Here's how she first came to seem cracked. She sang out loud, in public. That's the first thing. She supposedly was raised here in Catamount, and though she had moved away when she was a girl, she still knew a lot of the old-timers in town, and she would walk into town every day or two for groceries and beer, singing in a loud voice all the way, as if she were the only person who could hear her. But by the time she had got out to Old Road, she naturally would have passed someone in the park who knew her, so she had to be aware that she wasn't the only person who could hear her. Regardless, she'd just go right on singing in a huge voice, singing songs from old Broadway musicals, mostly. She knew all the songs from Oklahoma and West Side Story and a few others as well, and she sang them, one after the other, all the way into town, then up and down the streets of town as she stopped off at the A & P, Brown's Drug Store, maybe Hayward's Hardware, finally ending up at the Hawthorne House for a beer before she headed back to the trailerpark. Everywhere she went, she sang those songs in a loud voice that was puffed up with feeling if it was a happy song or thick with melancholy if it was a sad song. You don't mind a person whistling or humming or maybe even singing to him- or herself under his or her breath while he or she does something else, sort of singing absentmindedly. But you do have to wonder about someone who forces you to listen to him or her the way Flora Pease forced everyone within hearing range to listen to her. Her voice wasn't half-bad, actually, and if she had been singing for the annual talent show at the high school, say, and you were sitting in the audience, you might have been pleased to listen, but at midday in June on Main Street, when you're coming out of the bank and about to step into your car, it can be a slightly jarring experience to see and hear a person who looks like Flora Pease come striding down the sidewalk singing in full voice about how the corn's as high as...
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