Pushcart Prize Nominee: Erin Pringle-Toungate

the minnesota review is pleased to feature each of our nominees for the 2013 Pushcart Prize in recent weeks.  This week we are excited to bring you an excerpt from Erin Pringle-Toungate’s “How the Sun Burns Among Hills of Rock and Pebble,” which wraps up our 2013 nominees. Congratulations to all our Pushcart Prize nominees!

How the Sun Burns Among Hills of Rock and Pebble

But aside from the black crepe ribbons that flap on the white poles of the fair entrance archway, anyone who didn’t live in the town last summer or close enough to hear the nightly news or who didn’t ask about the luminaries lining the dirt avenue that ran along the fair’s midway last night, wouldn’t know that a young woman named Helen Greene disappeared from last summer’s Agricultural Fair.

Under the fair entrance archway linger the men who served pancakes at the church last month and sell fabric poppies at the one lighted intersection on Memorial Day weekend.  They wear neon yellow vests over their T-shirts and bellies.  Just before dark, the traffic into the fairgrounds will become steady, and when dark falls, they’ll swing their flashlights and raise their hands in greeting to the people they recognize, and they recognize most everyone.

Tonight, the carnies will speak in tongues and the town will drop screams from the rides, buy tickets, carry whorls of  cotton candy back to their trailers and leaning homes—until somewhere in the middle night the sound of the fair will become one constant chord, like the interstate heard in the distance or the sound of light rushing through glass bulbs–if light made sound.

This afternoon, most the game booths are as empty as the stores in town or the houses out in the country or the eyes of the divorcées whose children, after the fair each night, will drag themselves back to the garage to sit in lawn chairs and pick seeds from dry leaves before filling, then passing, the pipe.  They want to talk about the fair but say nothing because it’s the same goddamned thing that it was last year, which they do say.

In one stall, a carnie sets a box down on the counter.  He takes off the lid and plucks out tiny, mechanical birds and lines them up on the narrow counter.  He turns each knob, and when the line reaches the wooden maze, he lifts the small sliding door, and the birds waddle in.  Tonight, he and all the game carnies on down the row will prop a boot on the counter, throw open their arms to the dawdling fair-goers, and let whoever hears know it’s yer lucky night, just a dollah, ownee a dollah and win yerself a purdy animal.  They wink.  Their eyes crinkle in the lights.  The birds wobble and wheeze up the wooden avenues, like the clusters of  teenage girls who drag their flip flops up the fair’s dirt avenue.

The girls’ new hips pull at the seams of their cut-offs.  They walk in the most middle of summer, which, after the fair packs up and returns to the interstate, will tip toward autumn and school doors and Friday night football fields.  They carry bottles of water and soda cans like boredom.  They roll the bits of string from their cut-off shorts against their thighs, balls of  lint under their fingernails.  Now and then one of their prepaid cell phones rings, but if it’s not that boy, they don’t answer since their mothers won’t buy another refill card from the dollar store until next month.

“How the Sun Burns Among Hills of Rock and Pebble,” was first published in issue 80 (Spring 2013) of the minnesota review. Originally from Illinois, Erin Pringle-Toungate now lives in the Northwest with her husband and three dogs. Her first collection of stories, entitled The Floating Order, is published by Two Ravens Press (2009). Her work has appeared in War, Literature & the Arts, New York TyrantBarrelhouse, among others. “How The Sun Burns [. . .]” will be in her next book, Midwest in Memoriam. To learn more about Pringle-Toungate and her work, please visit her website. You can read the rest of “How the Sun Burns Among Hills of Rock and Pebble” or any of our other Pushcart nominees by accessing our online archive at Duke University Press, available here.

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