Tag Archives: Missouri Review

And How Much of These Hills Is Gold

Illustration by Kjell Reigstad

C Pam Zhang | The Missouri Review | Spring 2017 | 17 minutes (4,793 words)

This short story first appeared in The Missouri Review, the quarterly print journal produced at the University of Missouri since 1978. In a frontier Western mining town, the children of two Chinese miners struggle to survive on their own. It’s the first chapter of an in-progress novel. Our thanks to C Pam Zhang and the TMR staff for allowing us to reprint it at Longreads.

* * *

Ba dies in the night, prompting them to seek two silver dollars.

Sam’s tapping an angry beat come morning but Lucy, before they leave, feels a need to speak. Silence weighs hard on her, pushes till she gives way. Leaking apologies or Ha ha has.

“Sorry,” she says now to Ba in his bed. The sheet that tucks him is the only clean stretch in this dim and crusty room, every surface sticky with tobacco spit. Ba didn’t heed the mess while living and in death his mean squint goes right past it. Past Lucy. Straight to Sam. Sam the favorite, round bundle of impatience tapping at the door in too-big boots. Sam clung to Ba’s every word and now won’t even meet the man’s gaze. That’s when it hits Lucy: Ba really is gone.

She digs a toe into the dirt floor, rooting for better words. Words to make them listen. To spread benediction over years’ worth of hurt. Dust hangs ghostly in the air, no wind to stir it.

Something prods her spine.

“Pow,” Sam says. Ten to Lucy’s twelve, wood to her water as Ma liked to say, Sam is nonetheless shorter by a full foot. Looks young, deceptively soft. “Too slow. You’re dead.” Sam cocks fingers back from pudgy fists and blows on the muzzle of an imaginary gun. The way Ba used to. Proper way to do things, Ba said, and when Lucy said Teacher Lee said these new guns didn’t clog and didn’t need blowing, Ba judged the proper way was to slap her. Stars burst behind her eyes, a flint of pain sharp in her nose.

Lucy’s nose never did grow back straight. She thumbs it, thinking. Proper way, Ba said, was to let it heal itself. When he looked at Lucy’s face after the bloom of bruise faded, he nodded right quick. Like he planned it all along. Proper that you should have something to rememory you for sassing.

There’s dirt on Sam’s face, sure, and gunpowder rubbed on to look (Sam thinks) like Injun warpaint, but beneath it all, Sam’s face is unblemished.

Just this once, because Ba’s big muck-shovel hands are helpless and stiff under the blanket—and maybe she is good, is smart, thinks in some part of her that riling Ba might make him stand and swing at her jaw—Lucy does what she never does. She cocks her hands, points her fingers. Prods Sam in the chin, at the join where Injun paint gives way to baby fat.

“Pow yourself,” Lucy says. She pushes Sam like an outlaw into the street. Read more…

The Feel Of Nothing: A Life In America’s Batting Cages

Steve Salerno Missouri Review | Winter 2004| 24 minutes (6,016 words)

Steve Salerno’s essays and memoirs have appeared in Harper’s, the New York Times Magazine, Esquire and many other publications. His 2005 book, SHAM, was a groundbreaking deconstruction of the self-help movement, and he is working on a similar book about medicine. He teaches globalization and media at Lehigh University. This essay first appeared in the Missouri Review (subscribe here!). Thanks to Salerno for allowing us to reprint it here.


Observed on video at half-speed, through the metal lattice-work of the batting cage, it is a perfectly choreographed pas de deux of man and machine. While the machine readies the pitch, the man executes the idiosyncratic but vital preparatory movements of torso and hand that jump-start his batting rhythm; he leans forward, then rocks his weight back, the bat wavering in a narrow arc above his head much as the young palms visible in the background yield to the soft ocean breezes—slightly forward of true vertical, slightly aft, slightly forward again. As the dimpled yellow ball shuffles down that last segment of the feeder sleeve toward the pair of spinning wheels that will propel it homeward, the batter’s hands twist around the axis of the lower wrist in a subtle cocking mechanism; when the ball drops between the wheels and disappears for an instant, the batter’s front foot lifts, then returns to earth perhaps six inches beyond its initial resting place; the bat itself remains well back, high over the rear shoulder, in obeisance to an ancient admonition—“hips before hands.”

Even in slo-mo, the swiftness of the ball’s flight to the plate startles. At first it seems that there’s no way the man can snap the bat down and around his body fast enough to intercept the sphere (which actually, now, more resembles a yellow antiaircraft tracer) before it blurs by him…. But no, he starts his swing, his lower body leading the way, pivoting sharply on the front foot—now—and in fact, somehow manages to confront the pitch out
 ahead of the ersatz plate. If you pause the video at this precise point—that millisecond before impact—you marvel at the fact that, slicing through the strike zone, the bat, despite being molded from a single sheet of metal, is no longer a straight, rigid line. Rather, the bat- head clearly lags behind the handle in its travel to the ball, a vivid manifestation of the explosive torque all good hitters rely on for generating power. An instant later, post-contact, the ball too is misshapen, flattened on the impact side, shooting off the bat in a shallow upward arc with such velocity that it appears to leave a comet-like contrail in its wake.

Read more…

The First Week of After

A couple learns about a cancer diagnosis:

I watch your hand starting to shake as you write down information that will sit on a small square of paper for months, impossible to get rid of. I stand two feet away and watch your lips. I hear you say, Is that all you can tell me…. Right here, midsentence, your eyes move to mine, and in this instant I have the feeling that I have it all wrong, that I am misreading the shaking, the tone—that it is not the worst thing and that I just slipped for a moment into that parallel universe that floats next to ours, the one we all peek into when somebody is an hour late driving home in heavy rain, the one most of us back out of, returning to the familiar world where the unthinkable happens to other people. And then the frozen moment passes, and you finish your sentence. I hear you say, Is that all you can tell me, a tumor-like growth? The words have force enough to move matter; they push me two steps back.

It is a simple moment. A tumor-like growth.

“The First Week of After.” — Margaret Malone, Missouri Review (2008)

More from the Review

[Fiction] The story of a couple’s life, in 11 places:

They stand on a rock ledge beside the shore, boy and girl, leaning together, their bare shoulders touching, as the adults unfold and arrange cots. Her father watches them as he sips from his bottle, though, and he knows what the night means. He calls the boy’s name—hey, Will, c’mere!—and the invitation is a command. The girl squeezes Will’s fingers as he leaves her side. When he’s gone the mother comes and places an arm around her daughter, whispering, and the lake whispers back, expectant, and through the giant cottonwood trees on the far shore an orange and lunatic moon hides in the branches.

“Eleven Beds.” — William Harrison, Missouri Review (Sept. 1, 2002)

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