Deb Olin Unferth
THEY COME TO IT EVERY day: eight lanes across, a complicated system of traffic lights swaying overhead, a tangle of arrows painted along the ground, signs of various sizes posted all around with additional directives for the motorist, and every day they wait for the lights to cycle through, the traffic to inch forward, their dashboard clocks marking what has been wasted on this dispiriting square of cement. They can’t be blamed if they are quick to honk, if they rev their engines.
They are aware these sounds—their engines and horns—might be heard by the businesses on the four corners, the food mart, the fast food, the dry cleaners. The air itself is so cluttered with wires and posts, many of the motorists may miss the small ranch house on the fourth corner, wedged into the lot before the strip mall begins, a house made of the cheapest beige siding, with large privacy dormers fastened on the windows so that the interior must be dark. When they do spot it from their cars, they think of the unhappy family who lives there.
But in fact the family is not unhappy, a single working mother with two small children. The mother cannot believe her luck, after all she’s been through. Her own house at last, its spacious rooms, modern appliances, its standing in an upstanding suburb where her children are carried to school by bus for free. How those new windows slide closed with a smooth thwack! Even a small backyard for them all to sit on a summer afternoon, the younger in a kiddie pool, the girl in the grass, the mother with bowl of pretzels on her stomach (where a deadly cancer grows). If the woman’s mother could only see her now, how proud she’d be.
DEB OLIN UNFERTH is the author of three books, most recently the memoir Revolution. Her work has appeared in Harper’s, The Paris Review, Granta, Tin House, The New York Times, and McSweeney’s. She is an associate professor of creative writing at the University of Texas at Austin.