Girls In Trouble

The University of Massachusetts Press is about to release Douglas Light's short story collection Girls In Trouble. The thirteen stories explore the scattered wreckage of life’s survivors—breakups, destructive lifestyles, family baggage…that kind of thing. This book is the 2010 recipient of the prestigious Grace Paley Prize.

Here is a glimpse of the opening of one story, "Echo Sounder”:

Mares’ father wakes her in the aching hours before dawn. Summer, and all is stagnant, unmoving, save the crickets who call through her open window, uneasily in their warm night’s cadence. “I have something to show you,” her father says, scooping Mares in his arms.

Mares is half asleep, doesn’t understand what her father wants. He’s been gone some time, a month or more. He is often gone for weeks on end. “When did you get home?” Mares asks, her voice filled with sand and dreams. Her father struggles to stand with her in his arms. She’s eleven years old. “My, you’re getting big,” he whispers. “Soon the boys will be trying this on you,” he says. “A word of advice: Don’t let them.”

Her father smells of cloves and mothballs, like he’s been pulled from storage after a long, long season. He’s never come into her room, never lifted her in his arms. Mares’ is hard-pressed to recall when he’s ever touched her.

She comes full awake, sensing something’s wrong. “Dad, where’s Mom?” she asks, now frightened. “What’s happening?”

“I want to share a secret with you,” he says, his steps guided by memory as they move through the darkened house. It is a dilapidated Victorian at the center of town. The paint is faded and lead-based. The plumbing groans. Heat hangs in the small rooms, an uninvited guest, and the wood floor calls out with each step. At night, mice run the walls, scraping cryptic messages.
It’s Mares seventh home, each new town farther west than the one before. With each move, she starts a new school, joins a different church, makes all new friends. Friends who, when she moves again, promise to write her letters.

For a while, they do.

Her father kisses Mares’ nose. He says, “What I’m going to show you will have to keep to yourself. Not even your mother can know.”

“Where’s Mom?” Mares asks again. She thinks of wresting herself from her father’s arms, dashing outside into the street. She thinks of calling for help.

Her father shushes her. “My nine-year-old girl,” her father says, squeezing her.

“Eleven,” Mares corrects him. “I’m eleven.”

Out the back door they go, across the pea-gravel drive, which crunches softly underfoot, and into the tool shed where he keeps his workbench, vise, hammer, and saws. All her father’s tools are stored in drawers or hung on the wall, neatly categorized by use and size.

He sets Mares on his workbench as if she were a project he’s about to begin, then places his hands on either side of her. She’s caged, can’t escape. She wants nothing more than to be back in bed, her head deep in her sleep-scented pillow.

Her father kisses her forehead, then her eyes. “Most people,” he says, speaking softly, “think that the mark of Cain was meant to brand him as a murderer. It wasn’t. It was meant as a warning to potential assailants. It was meant to protect him from other murderers.”

Reprinted by permission of the University of Massachusetts Press. For more information about Douglas and Girls In Trouble, visit: