Lesley Heiser


I'm writing letters for my boss. Osman and Suzan are cooking amidst boxes of garlic scapes and lettuce. They make pizza in the oven and greens with chilies in a pan. They know how to cook. They know how to eat. They sing along with Rhianna. They speak in English, speak in Sudanese.

Peter stops by. He wants more water for his community garden, wants a bigger garden, wants to farm in Africa now. My organization is supposed to be helpful and sometimes it is and sometimes it isn't. Around the corner, Osman and Suzan are laughing. Their chilies pop in the pan. The heat of their cooking fills the office. Peter is older and he has a bit of a stutter. Everything he wants, I write it down.

I go outside to put some letters in the outgoing mailbox. I get a text from my husband and it starts to rain. A little boy stops his pink bike. I let my hand with the phone drop. The boy asks, "What are you doing?" "Nothing," I answer. From a small box he's keeping, he pours raisins into his palm. I look up. The sky is a gray sieve. I take the smallest raisin from the boy's outstretched hand. "Thank you," I say.

My coworker comes back. Every day at lunch he goes home to make love to his wife. She's 35 and they're on some kind of regimen. So he won't drink coffee and won't take a donut at a meeting. He's kind of old, but we hope he's going to be a dad. I catch his eye. As he goes upstairs to the boss's office, he smiles at me.

At the movies, my husband and I see "Captain Phillips." We watch the Somali pirates in their terrible standoff with an American cargo crew. All I care about is the Somali actors, their brilliant talk, how they're lightning across the screen. I imagine I can feel their excitement at playing across Tom Hanks, at being in a big American movie. I say to my husband, "I hope the Somali actors have agents." I obsess about how much they got paid.

Back home my husband asks why I identify with the Somali actors. I pull my t-shirt over my head. "I don't," I say. We sit on the bed. He says, "Is it in place of living your life?" "No," I say. He says, "Well, I know you're sad we can't have a baby." Right," I say, and I kiss him hard on the mouth. "I'll write letters forever," I say. "Sure," he says. I think of how it rained earlier in the day. In the remembered smell of chilies I hold him.

Lesley Heiser's work has been anthologized, nominated for a Pushcart Prize, and published in Puerto del Sol, Silk Road Review, Ms. Magazine, the Stonecoast Review, the Maryland Poetry Review, and on The Nervous Breakdown. She was a top-five finalist for the 2014 Brighthorse Prize in the Novel and won the 2012 Maine Literary Award for Short Fiction. She has an MFA in Fiction from Stonecoast.

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