Little Peg by Kevin McIlvoy



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Peg O'Crerieh is a wife, mother, creative writing instructor, and occasional resident of the Everview Residential Treatment Center, which she is once again preparing to leave. Awaiting Peg at home are her devoted family; the normal pressures of daily life; and, most important, the students in her Nontraditional English class, where the assignment is always to write about Peg.

As Peg struggles to find her place in the outside world, she finds herself drawn into her students’ stories. Usurping their material, revising their facts, Peg slowly inches toward the truth until she is finally able to leave the worst behind. By turns brilliantly comic and achingly sad, Little Peg is a portrait of a single woman, in extremis and in exultation, and of a life transformed by the retrospective powers of a gifted writer.

Excerpt:

This chapter has a Brazilian beat, many cc’s of the Prolixin Brazilian beat. It creeps in by prescription. I can’t help it. I let it creep in.

Sergio says, “We wheel hab Carnibal. Zhu ligke thadt? Juice vor today? Good.”

Do you listen to “The Brazilian Hour”?

You can taste his words. When he says “good” it sounds like “food.”

You should listen.

Last night, Paula Analyst and I had to go looking for Francis because she didn’t show up at dinner. On the way around town, I told Paula lies about Francis and me and our neighborhood, our grandmas, boyfriends, our periods. The fact is, Francis and I never met each other before Everview. You know how a spider will leave one unsticky thread in her web so she can avoid her own traps? I didn’t weave a single, tangled strand of truth. One particularly ornate lie I told was about how Francis and I double-dated and how we took smokes to the drive-in and pushed the cigs back in our teeth whenever The Tongue was coming, or spilled hot ashes on The Boob Claw. I told Paula that Francis and I had our own “python” jokes about those boys’ ever-alert penises. When Paula laughed at all that I assumed she believed me, so I believed me too. Completely.

It could be the psychotropics I have taken. I have had extrapyramidal drug reactions but they’re over, so I’m good as tuna. Lately, Prolixin, gentle swan of the psychotropics, once a week. Right in the butt.

You’re not okay. And she’s not okay, Paula said after we got back to Everview in order to wait for word about Francis.

I had asked her: “Am I okay?” I had asked her: “Is she okay?”

Eventually, Francis called Everview from the Sears in the new mall. She apologized for frightening us. When Paula and I got there, Francis marched us to a friendly life-size Cheryl Tiegs. “Does this make you sick?” she asked.

Cheryl was waving hello. Nothing in her whole cardboard physique could make the wave a goodbye also. Cheryl was prancing on her own cardboard words: Summer! My New Sears Summer Look! And Yours! Affectionately, Cheryl!

Francis asked if we could go somewhere for chocolate milk. Paula said they had it at Everview. She parked in front and gave me permission to use her Kaypro, which was already in my room. We thanked her.

Paula was upset with us. She pushed her sharp lower teeth out a little, which is okay for a northern pike or muskellunge but makes a human look dangerous. Unreal. She said, You’re acting crazy, you two.

I squinted to fix her in a narrow space where I could be sure she was real; I mean, not someone I only imagined.

Drinking our milk with our medication, Francis and I talked about it. Andria’s story had upset Francis. She thought I shouldn’t have done what I did.

“I just retyped it,” I said, which was a lie I only needed to repeat in order to believe. “I just retyped it.” (So, how do I know it’s a lie if I believe it? I just retyped it.)

“But I—”

“Okay,” I said, “I guess I was angry at James and everybody.”

“And then,” Francis said, “you know. You put in your older brother and that mean man.”

The dining room table we sat at was vast. Probably twenty chairs were tucked under it. PROPERTY OF EVERVIEW was stenciled onto the center of the Formica about every fifteen inches.

“Anyway,” said Francis, “it was a sweet story, wasn’t it? And you made it—you know—you made it mean.”

“That’s right,” I said, “I made it mean.”

She wanted me to promise I’d never do that again.

“You sure?” I asked.

I solemnly promised never to promise that.

Maybe my medication kicked in. “Francis,” I said, “I want one or two things just the way I want them.”

She said, “I can see that.”

I knocked the table with a knuckle. “I hate this,” I said. “Property of Everview.”

She looked down the length of the table. “Key-rist!” she said, the same way Burns said it in class.

“Quit it, Francis. Look, they’ve put it all over. Property of Everview. Like one of us is going to tuck the tables under our arms and walk out with them.”

Francis said, “That might not be the reason.” Her lips moved as she silently read the words on the table. “They might be—what if they’re—naming things for us? We might need that.”

She smelled as though she had been sampling scents in the mall. “You stink,” I said.

“Me?” She lifted her left wrist to her nose.. “I smell like Cheryl Tiegs,” she said.

“Oh, quit it.”

“You quit it, Peg. I think naming things is good. If you want to remember, you name.” Her palms raised from the table, and pressed down on it again. I remembered what she had told me about her miscarriages. She had lost three children in nine years. Daughters. And she had named the last two.

At the center of the table, we touched each other’s hands with the tips of our fingers. We looked at each other and then poured blank gazes into the empty glasses. Should I have been ashamed to admit that it thrilled me to touch that way? Why would people want to make us ashamed of that? When does that kind of pus first come into people’s souls? I wrote Peter Thompsenson’s story the way I did because I wanted to understand.

  • Published by: Untreed Reads


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