The following is an excerpt from the story A-hole in Germantown by Mickey Hess, appearing in Annalemma Issue Six. Image by Charles Bergquist.
In fourth grade, Lynn was assigned to write to a pen pal in a foreign land. Her classmates chose Paris, or Australia, or Tokyo, places there were movies about. She chose Iceland. Why? Because she knew nothing about it, because neither did her classmates or even her teacher. Her pen pal correspondence with Halldor Laxness, Iceland’s most renowned novelist, was tacked to classroom walls. But it was overshadowed by the letters her classmates received.
Her friend Sarah received letters that were also carefully folded origami. Her name written in Japanese characters on ornate sheets of paper folded into swans. Lynn, on the other hand, received a bag of dried fish, stories about how Iceland was founded. She corrected these stories. She bought a pack of red gel pens and mailed the marked pages back to Reykjavik, referents corrected, tenses changed. Her mastery of the Icelandic language was remarkable, Laxness thought, particularly for a nine-year-old girl from Louisville,Kentucky.
Her concise paring of sentences, the way he came to rely on her editing: “now criticizing, now praising my work, but hardly ever letting a single word be buried in indifference.” But that last letter he got from her, just as the school year ended…
Dear Mr. Laxness,
This is the last letter I have to send you. You’ve been a good penpal. Keep writing. Most of your stories are good.
Thirteen years later, Halldor Laxness has moved to Louisville, Kentucky. Renowned novelists do this. After James Joyce published Ulysses, he moved there and opened a semi truck dealership. A lot of people don’t know that. Laxness has purchased a shotgun house in Louisville’s Germantown area. All his neighbors are officially unemployed, except for various entrepreneurial activities such as making and selling crystal meth or running perpetual yard sales. Once, a man tried to sell him a meatball sub out of the back of his Chrysler LeBaron.
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Mickey Hess is the author of Big Wheel at the Cracker Factory (Garrett County Press). His work has appeared in Quick Fiction, Ninth Letter, Pear Noir, and other journals. He is an associate professor of English at Rider University.
Charles Bergquist is a human man. He is a director, designer and photographer living in California. He loves the moon and hasn’t slept since 1998.