6 Micro-memoirs

Beth Ann Fennelly

A Study of Reading Habits


When I was a girl with a book in my hand I could go to a place so deep no one could follow.  No one cared to, except my mother, an affectionate woman who smarted at her lack of companionship.  She must have felt bereft to watch me sink beneath the surface.  She must have stood on the shore and wrung her hands, the retreating waves eroding the sand beneath her feet grain by grain by grain.  She must have looked to the horizon and seen her own dear daughter gone from her, even the long dark locks, eel-graceful, succumbing.   

Sometimes, in the deep, I’d hear an echo for a long time before I recognized what I’d been hearing: my name.  My mother, calling my name.  

Yes, Mom?  I’d ask, lifting the globes of my eyes.

It’s time to set the table, Honey.  


I’d place the book belly-down and rise, though I could see (we both could see) dinner was still a good way off.


I don’t go in so deep anymore.  Can’t, in fact.  I suppose, over the years, my body grew too used to being hauled into the oxygenated air, my lungs grew less capacious.  Also, I’d begun to hear the voices from the surface so distinctly.  Now, I’m hooked the first time they call my human name.  

The Coming of the Coming of Age


We were vacationing on a small lake in Canada.  I’d walked the pineneedle path to the store, the kind of place lichened with shingles, bell on the screen door, bowl of water for the store dog.  The kind of place that sold a bit of everything, beef jerky and buttons and shoe polish and fly paper.  I cased the tiers of candy.  I was six, would have been happy eating nothing but Pixy Stix and Pop Rocks and Bottle Caps.  Lik-M-Aid Fun Dip and candy cigarettes that gave a puff of chalky sugar.  

Waiting in line, I felt a hand settle onto my head: the woman behind me, conversing with the clerk.  She began stroking my hair.  I waited, obedient, patient, to pay, and the woman continued chatting and stroking, rhythmically, unhurriedly, my hair an instrument she strummed to lyrics about summer traffic, worse than last year, eh?  And did you hear Mary’s eldest is moving home?  

Then it was my turn, and as I addressed the clerk, the woman behind snatched her fingers back as if they’d been scorched.  “Oh!” she cried, and I turned.  “I’m sorry, I’m terribly sorry! I thought for a minute you were my daughter!”  I gazed at her, surprised only at her embarrassment.  Of course she’d want to pet me.

Diet of nothing but sweetness, expectation of nothing but affection.  You can imagine what this world would make of me.

Expiration Date


Every time my mother visits now, she brings a stack of yellowed papers from her attic.  My girlhood artwork, some of it forty years old.  We flip through together: a menu from the Mother’s Day dinner I cooked her when I was ten.  A letter from camp.  A coupon book, crayoned for her birthday, 1979—free foot massage, free breakfast in bed.  I’d given the coupons the expiration date of New Year’s Eve, 1999, the most impossible distance conceivable, a day I knew would never come to pass.  

We don’t talk about why she’s going through her things.  Her prognosis is good.  But she’s 75.  

Last summer, at the consultation before my mother’s double mastectomy, I questioned the surgeon about the silicone implants.  They don’t last forever, right?  How long before Mom would need a replacement?  Fifteen years, he said, meeting my eyes.  No more questions.

New Year’s Eve, 1999: Not the impossibility it had seemed.  That date has been ceded to the territory of the past.  The same will hold true, eventually, for the day my mother will die.   

I’ll be left alone, curator of the archives.  Bearer of this coupon good for a free hug.

Low Budget Car Dealership Commercial


My high school theater troupe was offered the gig, fifty dollars each to play volleyball on the beach by Lake Michigan, with a giant pickup truck in the background.  

It’s shameful but I’ve always loved an audience.  With the camera rolling I entered a never-before-and-never-again zone of skill and sass.  At one point the camera guy ran to my side, whipping his black power cord behind him like a snake, and got a close up of my supplicant wrists perfectly bumping a ball to the center.  


Months later I saw the commercial.  After the shot of my wrists, the camera cut to the triumphant, lightly-misted face of a model who had absolutely zero teenage acne.  

Wunderkammer, Strahov Monastery Library, Prague


It is indeed a cabinet of wonders: for example, there’s the narwhal tusk, passed off for centuries as a unicorn horn, and the two whale penises which, even now, bear the false label, “elephant trunks,” to prevent prurient thoughts.  

I Was Not Going to Be Your Typical


mother of a teenager lament my daughter my daughter’s friends bodiless as car horns indistinguishable as fine airborne particles  

of filed fingernails  yet you saunter through the door  your

Styrofoam Sonic cup long as your femur          no one is who you hung out with

nothing is what you talked about you speed-inserter-of-the-ear-buds  filching my favorite sweatshirt                   which almost flatters me  

until you explain “Tomorrow is 80’s day at school”        I know


you don’t want to hear me       reminisce       about the years in which I fed you

from my body  how naked on my naked chest      you’d scrunch-smell toward my milk   blind and earnest     as a worm                            drunk years     


those were drunk years            yet even after those drunk years  there were years           in which your every bite   was proffered from my hand    jar of pureed peaches       snug in my palm            pop of lid            tink      of plastic-coated spoon            every third spoonful scooped from your fat cheeks deposited back on the pillow of your tongue    until                    all done              my two-note song     

all done       your face a messy plate I could lick clean         which I

sometimes did yea   even if it was green beans I licked you                   

you never had bad breath    in those days          not even in the mornings