Renee watched the boy walk along the beach, thinking only of refusal. He was selling something towel to towel and whatever it was, she was sure she didn’t want any. The boy was skinny and pale, with wild red hair and freckles. A spray of acne across his forehead made her feel sorry for him and then made her feel old. She guessed she was twice his age. He was handsome, despite the acne, despite his dirty t-shirt and cargo shorts and unzipped backpack leaking magazines and glue sticks. He arrived at her towel and she draped a flowered beach-wrap over her still-pale thighs. Renee looked attractive without looking younger than she was, and most of the time she was proud of this.
He held a stack of handmade postcards, kaleidoscopic whirls of collaged Greek celebrities, headlines, ads. He shuffled through them and handed her a rose made of bikini tops and marble statues. “Send a card to the people back home?” he asked, in accentless American English. The stem of the rose was a single long leg. The thorns were high-heeled shoes, meticulously cut.
“Where are you from?” Renee asked, surprised.
“No way—mostly Germans and Italians here. Some dudes from UC-Davis at the hostel last week but they left. Now it’s just me. And you.” He stared at Renee as if she were an exotic animal, precious and possibly endangered. “I’m Tick.”
He asked how she’d ended up in Nafplio and she started her story in the wrong place, too early, so that she thought she must be boring him, taking about her sabbatical from work, the years she’d fantasized about a trip to Greece. This was supposed to be the land of her lunch hour romances, the novels of her airport layovers and waiting rooms: the strong-thighed women of Sparta, the oracles of Delphi, pledged to the Goddess until strapping soldiers tested their resolve; the difficulty of courtship in the Late Helladic in their language without love letters, whose written form included only numbers and nouns. Linear B script was meant solely for inventories. In her favorite novel, an ingenious suitor managed to write his beloved a poem, a list of the gifts he would give her: One woman, one gold bowl / One woman, one gold cup.
She’d begun the trip staying in youth hostels because they seemed more adventurous, but the lounges were full of people like Tick, drinking Metaxa and strumming guitars and looking askance at her, the middle-aged woman who clearly didn’t belong. In a youth hostel in Argos, the rooms were painted with large murals of drug paraphernalia. She slept in a bunk bed under a picture of a crooked hypodermic needle and thought: I am too old for this. I am not old, but I am far too old for this. A desk clerk had recommended Nafplio, a town sufficiently off the tourist trails that she could put the backpackers behind her and stay in a proper hotel without bankrupting herself.
She told Tick more of her story than she meant to, then stared down at the card. “Whose leg is this? Do you know?”
“Victoria Beckham. Posh Spice. I spray a latex glaze over the tops so the pictures won’t fall off in the mail.” He didn’t offer his own travel story, but he gave her his full name, Ticknor Cody Whitworth. Renee laughed and then felt badly. “I’m named after George Ticknor,” he explained. “He collected a lot of books and founded the Boston Public Library. My parents are professors.”
Renee imagined what they might have intended, the well-scrubbed Ticknor who wielded a lacrosse stick for his east coast school, wore polo shirts and got good grades. Tick’s scrawniness seemed new, or temporary, his T-shirt sized for breadth he used to work at. He had been living out of a backpack for the last eight months, he said, on sandwiches and takeaways, and Renee offered to buy him dinner.
At the restaurant Renee was garrulous with wine, with the stored-up silence of a solo vacation. She spoke about the vanished boyfriend to whom she was not sending mail, about her discomfort with having, at age 43, only a boyfriend, about the many boyfriends Renee worried she’d squandered her 20s and 30s with. She’d kissed a lot of men and found no princes. Just frog, all frog. Or perhaps she’d kissed and discarded men who would have been, if not princes, allowable substitutes. She’d trawled through the frogs in her memory, holding her loneliness up against their perceived faults, wondering if it could have provided sufficient cover. She had resolved to be more forgiving, more patient, to entertain possibilities. Tick was not a prince, or a long-term solution—he was far too scruffy and broke and young—but he was, in the moment they kissed, something possible.
There were conversational topics to avoid: they could barely name ten of the same bands. As children they didn’t play with the same toys or watch the same television shows. Renee talked about Land of the Lost and H.R. Pufnstuf and how a young Morgan Freeman gave phonics lessons on The Electric Company. Tick talked about The Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers.
He was rewardingly curious, though, asking sincere questions about Renee’s job in a dental practice. “I’m just the office manager,” she said. “I don’t have anything to do with the teeth.”
“Not even the big plastic ones with eyes? Like you use to show kids how to brush?”
“We don’t do pediatric. I get the catalogues, though. I could order you the Adventures of Molaropolis, Baron von Bitterbite vs. Mr. Mouth Guard.”
Renee was joking but Tick said yes, order them now. He needed the Adventures of Molaropolis. He could not imagine not knowing what was going on in Molaropolis these days. He dragged the two of them to the Nafplio internet café to place an order.
Tick had surprisingly bad teeth. Renee couldn’t help but notice. It was one more thing that made it impossible to imagine this happening back in Pittsburgh, her and Tick, Tick coming by the office to see her and all her co-workers asking each other, “Did you see his teeth?”
They spent nights drinking wine on the beach and then walked back to her hotel room, where Tick watched hours of Greek soap operas while she fell asleep. He almost never came to bed with her. Many nights he didn’t seem to go to bed at all. Renee would wake up to find him still sitting on the floor, industriously decoupaging. On a few nights she woke up, disturbingly, to find him curled at the food of her bed sobbing. “What’s wrong?” she asked, petting the length of his knobbed spine, but he wouldn’t tell her. Other nights Renee woke to find him gone.
They tried a club together only once. Tick disappeared, leaving her for an hour with their two shots of ouzo. She finally got up to leave and spotted him dancing, his limbs flailing like a seizure, meeting her eye with a look not of guilt, but of absent-minded pleasure, the surprised recognition of finding something he didn’t realize he’d misplaced. Renee assumed that night he’d end up with someone younger, another tourist or a beautiful young Greek woman. Part of her thought this would be right and good and appropriate, however painful. But Tick returned to her, as he returned to her every night, even if the night was morning, the hotel laying out its continental breakfast. She opened the door and he offered her a bouquet of warm rolls. One morning he had a package: The Adventures of Molaropolis had arrived. Renee ate rolls in bed while Tick read aloud, doing different voices for Demi D. Kay and Ginger Vitus.
Tick brought her weed one night and they smoked it in the dark on the beach. “H.R. Pufnstuf,” Tick snorted, suddenly getting it. “Puff and stuff. Puff some stuff. Puff and—”
“H—R—Pufnstuf, who’s your friend when things get rough? H—R—Pufnstuf—
can’t do a little ‘cause he can’t do enough.” Renee sang the chorus of the old show, and Tick joined in on the reprise.
“You’re much cooler than my parents,” he told her.
“I meant that as a compliment.”
“I know you did. That’s why I’m dying a little inside right now.”
Renee was already embarrassed by how much she’d told him that first night at dinner, about the various frogs. She didn’t dare say more about the most recent Frog, the one who said someday for years when she spoke of children; she was the one who’d broken it off, not because she no longer loved him, but because she was 43 years old, and she was terrified that someday had become nearly too late. The ache she’d felt for the last two years at every baby on the bus, every child in the park, had sharpened to pain, reproachful and insistent. She could hear now the someday for what it had always been—never, it’s not what I want—and blamed herself for forcing the Frog to lie, for allowing herself to hear only what she wanted. Newly single she’d still been unsure what to do: fertility treatments, sperm donors, if they worked at all, could total tens of thousands of dollars her insurance wouldn’t cover. Many adoption agencies wouldn’t even consider her, a single woman at her age, and the ones that would needed $25,000 up front that she didn’t have, years she wasn’t sure she wanted to spend, reams of forms to fill out, all of them asking in different ways the obvious but undignified question of why, why wait so long, why do this alone? She didn’t have enough money to buy herself a child, but she had enough for a trip. Perhaps, Renee had thought, she just needed some time away to help her make a decision. Perhaps the solution would present itself.
They visited the Palamidi Fortress that loomed over the city, a sweaty climb of 1000 steps to the top and achingly beautiful views of the Argolic Gulf. Renee read a pamphlet explaining that the fortress was erected by the Venetians in 1714. “Heh,” Tick said. “Erected.” On a weekday, the other visitors were mostly school groups. Renee walked by herself along the ramparts. When she returned to the courtyard Tick had infiltrated a snack break. Despite the lack of common language, he and some children had begun a mock battle between Venetians and Turks. Tick, leading the Ottomans, died extravagantly at the feet of a dark-haired girl, the mortal weapon of her pencil case buried between his elbow and side. A boy, excited by the heat of battle, kicked Tick hard in the ribs. Something in Tick flashed as he leapt, standing and looming over the boy. The child stepped back in surprise, almost fear. “Don’t do that,” Tick said. “OK?”
“OK,” the boy parroted. The children were being corralled by their chaperones, but the boy stood long enough for Tick to stiffly clap a hand on his shoulder. Like father and son, Renee thought. Awkward father and obstreperous son. But still.
She made her proposal the next evening. Tick looked terrified. “A baby?” he said, his eyebrows high and eyes round and bloodshot. “With me?” They were in a restaurant, the other patrons looking studiously away.
“It would be—with you, but it wouldn’t be with you. You wouldn’t have to support us. We’d just go our separate ways.”
“When?” Tick asked, and this was not the question Renee expected.
“When are we going our separate ways?”
“I don’t know.” Renee stabbed briefly at her spanakopita, answered his question with spinach in her mouth. “I have to be back at work at the end of September.”
Tick did the math. “Oh,” he said. “That’s weeks away.” He sounded relieved, and all of a sudden several weeks was all the time in the world, all of it anyone could want or need. He stared into his water glass. “So. You want a Baby Tick.”
“I want a baby. I’d be honored to have you be the father,” she added. “But I don’t want you to feel creeped out. You don’t have to really be a dad. I know how young you are. I’m sure you don’t want that yet. But I’m ready, and I’d be so grateful if you’d help me.”
Tick still looked confused more than anything, and Renee wanted for a moment to take it all back. She pictured a hyperactive infant with Tick’s vertical red hair and angry skin and felt doubts unfurl.
“Why me?” Tick said, his eyebrows knit together, and Renee wondered, why him?
“You’re smart,” she said. “You’re funny. You’re nice, and you’re good with kids. You like meeting new people. I’ve enjoyed spending time with you. And you’re not bad looking.” Renee enumerated Tick’s many fine qualities until they were both very taken with this person, this Ticknor Whitworth, whom Renee thought so highly of.
“What if I wanted to? You know, be around. Play with the little guy. Or girl.”
“Maybe,” Renee said, and her immediate evasion surprised her. “I wouldn’t want you to feel obligated.”
“I don’t even know where you’re going to be living, when you come back to the States. If you come back.”
“I could come to Pittsburgh,” Tick said, and Renee smiled tightly.
“How about you just think about the one thing,” she said. “Before you think about the other. How about you just decide on whether or not you’re willing to—help me. Just that for now. And maybe Pittsburgh we talk about later.”
Back at the hotel Tick showered, and climbed under the sheets smelling like hotel soap, his skin and hair still damp. He reminded her of something very fresh and new, like a plate still steaming from the dishwasher or a fluffy load of laundry. He had trouble that night in bed. Renee assumed that their conversation at dinner was distracting him, but it wasn’t the first time Tick had had this problem. Renee couldn’t help but take it personally however often Tick told her not to. He’d told her that she was beautiful, she was sexy. Told her that it was all him, just some stuff he’d been going through, nothing to do with her at all. His erections could flag quickly, especially as they paused for a condom. Sometimes he softened inside her. “Would it be better for you without?” Renee asked that night.
Tick paused, stilled. “If you want.”
He didn’t really seem to care, and Renee was a little offended. They traded standard assurances, that they were free of disease, that nothing terrible would come of whatever they decided.
“Then go without,” she said, and he just nodded. He didn’t ask if she was on the pill. She
expected to have the opportunity to tell him that she wasn’t using anything, hadn’t since she and the Frog broke up. She’d planned on seeing how he reacted. But because he didn’t ask, she felt strange announcing it. Renee wasn’t sure in that moment that Tick was even thinking about their conversation in the restaurant. But he did as she suggested, and Renee was unwilling to stop him.
Afterwards, Tick slept, and Renee watched his still face, his closed eyes. He looked strangely beautiful in a fragile way, like Greek statuary reduced to a head or a torso and a placid, immovable expression. “Tick,” Renee whispered, and when he didn’t move said, “Tock.” She put her hand in his hair and tugged it gently back and forth. “Tick tock,” she said. It was so rare that she saw him sleep. He looked very vulnerable. He made her want to do something for him, although she was not sure what that might be. He looked like he needed something and she didn’t know what.
He was in the bathroom when the phone rang the next morning. It was an American voice on the other end, a woman. “Do you know a boy named Ticknor Whitworth?” she asked.
A boy, Renee thought. Tick as a boy. There was a long pause.
“This is his mother.”
“Oh.” Renee was startled, reluctant to announce that Tick was in the shower, with all that implied about their relationship. “I can have him call you.”
“Is he all right?”
“He’s fine. Is there a problem?”
“I just need to make sure he’s okay. I lost track of him after Corfu. When his friends
left. One of them called from Dubrovnik. They said he was scaring them. I don’t know what they should have done. They said they thought they could send a message by leaving.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“I believe they thought it was the right thing to do.”
“Professor Whitworth,” Renee said, because the woman’s occupation was the sole thing she knew about her. Renee paused when she heard how ridiculous it sounded, as if she were enrolled in a difficult class and needed help with the material.
“Ava,” Mrs. Whitworth said. “It’s Ava, please.”
“Tick was already in town when I got here. He’s been on the mainland for weeks.”
“I’ve been calling all the hostels. He told someone in Patrai that he was headed to Nafplio. The hostel there said he’d moved to the Pension Dioscouri. I described him to your desk clerk. She said she couldn’t give the number but she’d connect me. She said he was staying there with an older woman. She said you were a dentist.”
Renee wondered what Mrs. Whitworth was picturing. What was ‘an older woman’? Than Tick, almost anyone.
“I had an extra bed,” Renee lied. “And the local hostel’s pretty down at heel. He was traveling on a budget and I thought I might as well offer.”
“I glad someone’s looking after him,” Ava said, not without suspicion in her voice, and Renee wondered if what she was doing with Tick could be called looking after.
“Is he still using?” Ava asked, and Renee almost answered “Using what?” before her throat clamped closed in the rush of recognition. Of course. Of course of course of course. The lightning of him, the flint and the spark. The frantic energy and confusion and the way he was too old to act so young, too young to look so ragged, his graying teeth and angry skin. Renee’s face flamed; below her stomach her insides clenched, as if last night was something her body could disallow. Ava took her silence as confirmation.
“I’m glad you’re there. You’re making sure he eats?”
Renee nodded, said yes. She was making sure Tick ate. She was doing that much.
“Can you tell him to check his email? I’ve written him—I don’t know how many times I’ve written him.”
“What’s your name?” The woman’s voice was suddenly sharp and needy.
“Are you a mother, Renee?”
She was silent. The water shut off in the bathroom. “I have to go.”
“Let me give you my number. It’s a new cell phone. Can you give it to him? As a mother,
I’m asking you. Please help send him home.”
The woman recited the number and Renee jotted it down automatically on the hotel
notepad. The bathroom door began to open and Renee hung up without making any promises, any plans, without comforting the woman or saying goodbye.
Tick emerged, flushed and wrapped in a towel. “What?” he asked when he saw her staring. “Enjoying the view?”
Renee’s left hand was still hovering by the phone, her right still holding the pen.
“Who were you talking to?”
“Nobody. The front desk.”
“You made notes.”
“It’s—a number we’re supposed to call if we have any complaints. A customer satisfaction thing.” Renee ripped the page from the notebook. “You have any complaints?”
“Nope.” Tick frowned slightly as she folded the note tightly into halves, quarters, eighths. “You’d better get ready, if we’re going to make that bus you wanted.”
Renee nodded, stood and carried the note with her into the bathroom.
Every gesture, every possible conversation, felt more difficult than simply going through the motions of the day. She packed her sightseeing bag: camera, water bottle, sunscreen. She added a book and pulled it out as soon as they took their seats on the bus. When Tick saw that she wasn’t going to be any fun he put earphones in, loud music seeping murkily out, and played a complicated tapping game with his own fingers. The bus was largely empty, and a few old women gave them odd looks, these mismatched strangers who could have their own seats.
The book, her favorite, was too familiar to be a distraction. Renee anticipated the plot points, the suitor’s suspicion that his lover had been unfaithful: One woman, a hundred snakes/ One woman, a thousand piles of garbage, he wrote her, while the woman groped for the nouns that could vindicate her. Finally the suitor came rushing back, a handmaid having snuck away to tell him the truth. This part had never bothered her before, but now she felt cheated at the omissions. She needed to know what the handmaid had found to say, what single speech had rescued them all. “Tick,” she whispered, as curious as anyone to know what her next words might be. With his earphones in, he didn’t hear her. He was playing air-drums with a pencil and a tube of Chapstick, his eyes closed.
They toured the Sanctuary of Asklepios, where ancient Greeks once brought their illnesses to the gods of healing. There was a temple where the afflicted spent the night and hoped to dream their cures, to wake up knowing how to solve themselves. Tick wandered off and Renee walked the old foundations in a daze. The sun was climbing, the day already hot, and Renee sat with her back against a boulder. Nothing had changed, she tried to tell herself. Tick was always Tick; she was just seeing him now in his proper light. Ava Whitworth’s phone number was a stone in her pocket. Renee knew what she was supposed to do—place it in Tick’s palm and curl his fingers over it, urge him to call his family and get the help he needed. Instead she lowered herself onto the dirt and flagstones, spread her arms out against the warm ground and pointed her toes. She could just lay there, she thought, until her child-hunger faded to a murmur, to something impossible and half-remembered. She could wait until Tick had crashed or somehow gotten sober, bad enough or well enough to go home on his own, no longer her responsibility. She could lay there until all her choices were gone and Asklepios appeared to her bones to take credit for the cure. A tour group approached and then faded down another route. She asked her body, part by part, whether anything felt different, flaring with infection or improbable life. The reports came in from her flexed toes and fingers, from her nervous stomach and lower, from the cradle of her hips and between her legs. No, they said. Probably not, they said. It was a single night, they said, and she felt emptier than ever, her body stripped even of the possibility of disaster. She should be changed, and all she was humiliated. She thought dark words about Ava Whitworth, who was granted a child and managed to misplace him like a lost suitcase, delivered accidentally to Renee’s doorstep.
A single set of footsteps came closer and she opened her eyes. Tick was standing above her. He noticed her squinting in the sun and leaned forward, his body shading her. “You okay?” he asked.
“Just fine. You?”
They took another bus to Mycenae, the next stop on their planned itinerary. They traced the upper Acropolis and the Cyclopean walls. All just piles of stones. They looked out at the dry, yellow hills, planted with orderly rows of olive trees. They stood among the ruins and decided they were ready to go. The day felt very long.
They consulted the bus times listed in the guidebook but waited at the stop nearly an hour. There was a tiny post office kiosk in the parking lot where the clerk made them buy something, a single stamp, before she explained that the buses had switched to new off-season schedules. It was September, the woman said, and the next bus to Nafplio wouldn’t leave for nearly three hours.
“Let’s go back up to the site, I guess,” Tick said. He licked their stamp and stuck it to his forehead.
“You could have used that,” Renee said.
“I am using it.”
“To send mail. I was going to buy you a postcard. You never write to anyone.”
“I make cards. I don’t want more.”
They walked up the wide stone ramp, through the Lion Gate back into the heart of the old citadel, where Tick read from the guidebook to pass the time. He wriggled his butt onto a comfortable rock, announced, “I have gazed upon the ass groove of Agamemnon.” He put names to the heaps of stone Renee had no patience for, the storeroom of the archers and the temple of Hera. “Listen to this,” he perked up. “Apparently there’s ‘an underground cistern, approached by a long flight of uneven, unlit stone steps, ending in an abrupt five meter drop into icy water. While not explicitly off-limits to tourists, the descent is discouraged for obvious reasons. Anyone considering it should be equipped with a good flashlight and take the proper precautions.’”
He looked at Renee until she shrugged, aware she was disappointing him.
“What are we doing still sitting around here?” Tick asked rhetorically.
“The pitch-dark, five meter drop and icy water are three reasons I’m still sitting here.”
“Come on,” Tick urged. “Where’s your sense of adventure? We’ve got ages ‘til the bus.”
This convinced Renee, this reminder that unless they descended into the cistern, they would have to make hours of conversation.
They didn’t have a flashlight and there weren’t any for sale in the parking lot souvenir stand. They took Renee’s camera out of the backpack and tested the flash. In the daylight, it looked feeble. They found the entrance marked on the guidebook map, a simple stone doorframe leading down into blackness. Renee felt a shiver of excitement; American tourist attractions would never allow such danger, such palpable potential harm.
There was the awkwardness of deciding who would go first, when Tick took her camera and held it in front of him. “I’ll protect you,” he said. “My Lady of Mycenae.”
Renee stretched her arm in front of her and took his shoulder like a blind woman as they descended. Tick took a picture of nothingness and in the flash, fading as soon it burst, they shuffled forward. The steps were uneven and worn smooth. Renee slipped once and nearly knocked them both over. The flash illuminated only a foot or two ahead and in the darkness the flash blinded as much as it helped. Renee wasn’t sure how much battery-life was left in the camera. “Do you think we should turn back?” she asked.
“No way,” Tick said with sincerity, but he paused in the dark. Renee could feel his shoulder lowering the camera. They listened to the darkness, to the sound of their breath. It felt like they had been descending forever. Tick reached back with one arm and took her hand. His palm was soft and warm, slightly damp, and Renee was filled with tenderness. There was nothing else. No light, no sound. No burble of water. Then the mechanical click and wheeze of light, and the next stumble forward, the lengthening and closing of their joined arms as they descended together.
Then the flash illuminated a blank stone wall.
“The hell?” Tick said, and pulled his hand away, triggering the flash over and over until Renee grabbed his arm.
“They’ve sealed it off.” She held his hand and they rotated in a tight circle, illuminating the squared-off edges of a small landing, bricked on three sides by solid stone.
“It isn’t here,” he said, sounding shocked.
“Or it’s been drained, and we’ve been walking down into where the water used to be.” Renee was disappointed but relieved.
“It isn’t here,” Ticks repeated, and continued to flash the camera in a circle. “It was supposed to be here. The book said it would be here. It’s supposed to be here,” Tick chanted.
“So they changed it,” Renee said. “It’s okay.”
Tick fumbled the camera, his fingers illuminated as they groped at the falling flash. Renee heard the camera hit the ground, then the sound of what she thought was Tick kicking it against the bottom of the stairs. “Tick,” she said, scolding.
“It isn’t fucking fair,” he wailed. She could hear the flat, thin percussion of skin against stone, his hands, she assumed, slapping the walls. “Tick, stop,” she said, and said it again, as the sound continued. “Stop!” she yelled, when she heard a dull, rounder sound, what she was terrified was the thud of his forehead against rock. She got her arms around him and managed to turn him and push him down the wall. She was grateful that he was so thin. She slid herself behind him, her legs spread to fit around his hips. He tensed, then leaned his head against her shoulder. She stroked his hair with her right hand, held him tightly across the ribcage with her left. Eventually he was quiet. She curved a palm on his forehead and felt a strange, smooth square. The postage stamp, she remembered.
“Renee?” Tick finally whispered.
“I don’t want to be a dad,” he said. “I don’t think it’s a good idea.”
“Oh Tick,” She pressed her right temple against his left and they breathed together. His skin was damp. “It isn’t, is it? I shouldn’t have asked. I shouldn’t have ever asked you.”
“Sorry,” he said.
She drew both arms firmly around him and felt him shake. “I’m sorry,” she said, and meant it. “I’ll think of something else,” she said, and meant that too. She said it for herself, not Tick, and hearing it aloud she believed that she would. Her legs ached, spread on the hard ground. She stretched them out further and her toes brushed the front edge of the bottom step. She was comforted by the stairway now, that in the dark it offered them a direction, a single possibility. She held Tick tighter and rocked him. “Are you ready to go home now?” she asked. She listened to his body for an answer. She listened to her own.
In a moment, they would rise and go.
© Caitlin Horrocks
"The Lion Gate" appears in the short-story collection This Is Not Your City, Sarabande Books, 2011; it was originally published in West Branch. This electronic version is published by kind permission of the author.
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Caitlin Horrocks is author of the story collection This Is Not Your City. Her stories and essays appear in The Best American Short Stories 2011, The PEN/O. Henry Prize Stories 2009, The Pushcart Prize XXXV, The Paris Review, Tin House, One Story and elsewhere. Her awards includethe Plimpton Prize and a fellowship to the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference.She teaches writing at Grand Valley State University in Grand Rapids,Michigan, and is a fiction editor at West Branch.