We were sitting in her office, and she blew a cloud of smoke into the air above us,
her lips positioned is such a way as to keep me from being a target of the white stream.
The business we were discussing ended abruptly, she surprising me by the quick gear shift.
She told me that in her home she had a chest full of her husband’s manuscripts,
novels, short stories, and plays, that she’d like me to go through some day
to help her work them into manuscripts more suitable for publication.
She’d left teaching to nurse her dying husband, then came back once he was gone.
I’d heard of his work and knew he was a heavyweight author in his day.
One time he came in second to Flannery O’Connor in the annual O. Henry competition.
It’s a story about a farmer whose disgust with a boy killing a snake causes him
to throw the snake’s body at the boy, shouting that it’s still alive, the boy running away in terror,
a just reward for someone who relishes killing, for fun, something beautiful, that beauty lost forever.
Flattered that she’d think of me to help her go through his unpublished work,
I told her I’d be honored to assist sorting out his trove of undiscovered writing,
but then I left teaching to finish my Ph.D. and never spoke to her about it again.
That was more than 30 years ago, and I’ve often wondered if I should contact her to help.
A few years ago, a new collection of his short stories came out, a harsh portrait Midwest life,
and I wondered about all the rest of his writing she’ll need to get published on her own.