Cover image for A citizen of the world
A citizen of the world
Bocock, Maclin, 1920-
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
Cambridge, Mass. : Zoland Books, 1999.
Physical Description:
viii, 246 pages ; 22 cm
Format :


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Material Type
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Central Library X Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Like the writers Harriett Doerr (Stones for Ibarra) and Penelope Fitzgerald (The Blue Flower), Maclin Bocock has been quietly honing her craft for many years. A Citizen of the World is an astonishingly self-assured and accomplished debut. Her prose possesses great charm, depth, and calm, but is stirred by storms of passion that John Hawkes calls, "the strength of a woman in a world of eternal betrayal." Here are twelve stories and a novella, set variously in the deep south of Bocock's birth, and ranging afield to Mexico, France, and North Africa. In her introduction to A Citizen of the World, Alice Hoffman writes, "Her heart-stopping stories of childhood trauma might bring to mind Eudora Welty. Her cool, reserved novella might be a cousin to Hemingway. Her impassioned stories of love and marriage may remind you of Colette. And yet, Ms. Bocock's voice is singularly and wonderfully her own." This is captivating storytelling, by a mature and assured new talent.

Reviews 1

Publisher's Weekly Review

In her introduction to this striking collection of short fiction, Alice Hoffman describes Bocock as a writer who "has long been admired by other writers." The novella and 12 finely wrought stories offered here (five previously published by John Daniel in Heaven Lies About) prove Bocock has been honing her craft and distilling her work. In lean but lyrical prose, Bocock conjures diverse narrators for tales of remarkable variety. Her lapidary prose can as easily capture the arrogance of a European bureaucrat in northern Africa as the loneliness of an expatriate in Paris, or the strains between a young couple on a delayed honeymoon trip in the Southwest. The first five stories are set in the South, depicting swiftly but quietly some life-changing losses: of childhood, friends, parents, illusions. The most moving of these entries is "Play Me `Stormy Weather,' Please," which tells of best friends, a white girl and a black boy, whose families separate them when they are on the verge of adolescence, and of love. With her gift for compression, Bocock manages to make the attraction between the boy and girl strong but unstated, but the story's real power grows out of an incident, narrated in counterpoint, by the girl, now a grandmother, who is mugged in Washington, D.C., by a man she is convinced is the son (or grandson) of her long-ago friend. In the title story, a Boston-born daughter of Jewish refugees flees to Paris and travels to the Soviet Union in an attempt to embrace an identity her parents rejected. A recurring theme in these narratives is the power struggle within a marriage. In "The Face," a wife obsessed with protecting her artist husband all but imprisons him, while in the folktale-like "The Baker's Daughter," a husband usurps his wife's bakery, confining her to her room while he grows wealthy. The complex novella, "Alice and Me," depicts the reaction of a wife to her husband's betrayal, embracing in its closing passages both the hard and practical solution of living with infidelity and the possibility of dying for the demands of love. One of the rewards of Bocock's fiction is that it does not give up its secrets easily. These are rich, compressed stories that draw the reader in, venturing into familiar territory in unfamiliar ways and moving fearlessly into uncharted terrain. (June) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved



Chapter One The Funeral Most of us have had our special moment, and I have replayed mine more than once since that April afternoon long gone in time and far away in distance. Whenever that segment of the past floats by, I smile at the seriousness with which I, then seven, played my role. But it was after all, or so it seemed to me then, my moment. That triumphant exit! That retreat down the road to town!     Sometimes I re-create the whole scene, the run-down station in need of paint, the baggage cart with only two mail sacks and the crate of baby chickens all peeping without letup like crickets on a summer night, the distraught mourners huddled together, the engine slowing to a stop with steam curling upward from its shiny wheels. Or I zoom in on one person witnessing the scene. The undertaker's assistant, for instance, leaning against the hearse and chewing on a toothpick. Or Lou, Mrs. Gardner's cook, rocking her head from side to side, about to belt out a mournful wail. Or Mr. Magill standing in the doorway of the station the way he did three times a day when the trains pulled in. Or myself, holding tight to the jonquils, running, stumbling toward the coach for colored people.     Sometimes I start at the beginning of the saga, the afternoon when Aretha first mentioned the secret. And sometimes, for fun, I change a fact or two. I go down Main Street, reveal myself to some questioning adult like Miss Lucy, instead of slipping as I really did along the edge of town. Or I push my way into the group of mourners and wail as loud as they. Aretha, our cook, was tall and black and she had a large mole near her right eye. "My beauty spot, honey." She had a habit of throwing her head back and laughing. In all my long life I have never heard any that could match that laugh. It started somewhere deep inside her, then worked its way up and burst forth in ripples of sound.     "Honey, I was born on Sunday, and Mama said I was born laughing. I ain't never stopped and I don't have no mind not to keep on." Aretha managed to draw pleasure from whatever life tossed in her path. But if she felt her days getting dull she did something about it.     When I was five my mother died, and while I loved my father, it was Aretha who came closest to taking my mother's place. Nothing was too good for me. No matter what time of day, if I asked, she'd throw extra wood in the stove to heat up the oven and bake me a gingerbread boy. Some afternoons, she would tie one end of a rope to the pecan tree and turn it, and I would jump until I was so tired I could hardly stand up. Sticks and stones Can break my bones, But names will never hurt me.     For a long time after I gave up jumping rope there was a bare spot on our lawn, testament to my energy and Aretha's patience. And, as if that weren't enough, Aretha always knew when I felt sad.     "Come on, honey. Let's you and me go to the five-and-dime and buy us something nice."     I still have, in the bottom drawer of my desk, a miniature monkey carved from a peach seed, bought on one of our expeditions to Kress's ten-cent store.     I would not have guessed it, but Aretha was a witch. "A good witch, honey. Mostly." After midnight, several times a week, she raised her bedroom window and flew about the town doing nice things for people.     "Don't you ever go out the front door?"     Aretha thought for a moment. "Nor. I got to have the elevation."     If Mrs. Reynolds left her front door light on, Aretha would turn it off. The same for Mr. Fowler if his garden hose was running. She was always having to lift Tim Epes's tricycle out of Lee's Alley, where it might get run over, putting it down nice and easy by the Epeses' garden gate.     Sometimes Aretha's reports were more dramatic.     "Last night it was raining so hard, I couldn't see my hand before me. Mr. Wilson done left all four of his car windows down, and if I hadn't run them up the inside of that car would have been a big mess."     One time Aretha got mad at Mr. Campbell. I don't know why because she hardly ever got angry. "You should have seen what I have done for him. Garbage from one end of his yard to another!"     Aretha had sworn me to secrecy. She and I were the only people in the world who knew she was a witch.     "Can I see you fly?"     "Nor, honey. If you sees me, or anybody does, I wouldn't have no magic power no more."     So I never did put down a blanket and pillow by my bedroom window, or try to stay awake, hoping to see Aretha, her arms like wings, flapping by our house. From time to time we had other secrets too.     If I happened to be in the kitchen when Aretha was making applesauce, she was careful to cut the peelings in one long strip, and hang them around my neck and over my head and I became a gypsy girl. One afternoon, when she had just finished draping me with apple peelings, she suddenly said, "Listen, honey. I'm going to tell you a secret, but you mustn't let on to your daddy nor nobody." I raised my hand and said I hope to die if I did. "I know you won't." Aretha paused. "I'm going to take myself a little trip."     "Why?"     "Cause I needs a change."     "Can I come?"     "Not this time. Don't worry, I won't be gone no time. And I'll bring you a surprise."     "What?"     "Won't be no surprise if I tells."     "You going tomorrow?"     "Nor. I'll wait for the Lord to give me a sign."     "Suppose He doesn't?"     "I just might go on no matter."     The next morning when Aretha served my father and me breakfast, she didn't seem any different, so I decided she must not have gotten a sign. She was the same on Wednesday and Thursday and Friday. Then I felt guilty because when I said my prayers I asked God not to let Aretha go. I left out that particular prayer Friday night, and the next morning I was sorry.     I woke up and heard my father talking to someone in the backyard. I dressed and ran down the stairs to the kitchen. There was no sign of breakfast. I looked out and saw it was Jim, Aretha's husband. He was clutching his face and pushing his head up and down.     "Gone. She done gone."     Jim was a short, stocky man and several of his front teeth were missing. He worked in a feed store in town. Occasionally he went on a drunken binge and my father would bail him out of jail. I didn't like Jim because I knew he had some vague claim on Aretha, but that morning I felt sorry for him and wished I could say that Aretha would soon be home.     A few minutes later, when I heard my father telling Jim goodbye, I ran down the hallway, up the back stairs, and then started down slowly. I reached the bottom step just as my father came into the kitchen.     My father was of middle stature, but he held himself so well that he appeared taller. He was a reserved person and it was only toward the end of his life, when I was divorced and he came to live with me and my two children, that I finally felt at ease with him.     "Where's Aretha?" I tried to sound surprised.     "I don't know, and neither does Jim. He was just here. She's done this before. Disappeared for a few days without saying she was going or where."     I had a vague memory of a morning when Aretha had failed to turn up. Mother told me she was off helping a sick friend.     "Don't worry," my father said. "She'll come back in her own good time. We'll make out the best we can." It was arranged that until Aretha returned I would go to Annie Lee Nelson's house after school, and my father would pick me up on the way home from his office. Each afternoon when I reached the Nelsons' I telephoned home, hoping Aretha would be there. Thursday, when Annie Lee and I came in sight of her house, she nudged me. "Hey, look! There's your daddy."     My father was standing by our old Chevrolet, holding his Panama hat and talking to Mrs. Nelson. Annie Lee and I knew what this might mean, and we both broke into a run.     My father sometimes took us with him when he went around the county talking to farmers. The high point was the stop at Walker's country store, with its odor of stale tobacco smoke and pickle brine. Annie Lee and I would stand in the dim interior and try to decide whether to have an Orange Crush or a grape soda. We could also have a package of gum -- we almost always chose teaberry -- and a dime's worth of hard candy.     By the time we reached Annie Lee's we were out of breath, but Mrs. Nelson didn't seem to notice. She was a pretty woman except for her front teeth: so bucked she could hardly close her mouth. She gave me a hug without saying anything, then hurried Annie Lee up the walk to their house. When my father and I were in the car, he reached over and put his arm around my shoulders.     "You know, sweetheart, life is at times happy, at times sad. We have to try to take it the way it comes. Aretha's dead."     During the time it took my father to close the door on me and go around to the driver's seat, I had been staring at a dogwood tree in the Nelsons' yard and wondering why he had come for me so early. When he told me about Aretha I started crying, and the dogwood blossoms began to swirl around and around until they were one massive blur of white. For years afterward, no matter what time of day or evening I walked or drove by the Nelsons' yard, even after that tree had died and been replaced by another, I saw myself and my father, together on the front seat of our old car, him saying the words that were as hard for him to speak as they were for me to hear: "Aretha's dead."     Someone in Atlanta, someone Jim didn't know, had written him that Aretha had died suddenly. There were no details, only that her body would be arriving the next day on the two o'clock train.     I spent the rest of the afternoon in my room, crying until there were no more tears to come. My father sensed that I wanted to be by myself and let me alone. I kept seeing my mother, her blond hair hanging loose the way I liked it best, putting out her arms, welcoming Aretha to heaven. And then Aretha would throw back her head and laugh. "Yes, Lord Jesus. I'm here! Lord Jesus, I'm home at last!" I wondered what I would do now the two people I loved most in the world were dead. I decided there was no point in living, and I began to make plans to join them in heaven. I quickly gave up my first idea of setting the house on fire. I didn't like the idea of my father losing both daughter and house at the same time. I wondered about getting into the pasture with the bull, but I was afraid of the electrified fence. There was the iodine bottle in the medicine cabinet with its skull and crossbones label. But Aretha had made so vivid the image of your stomach slowly being eaten away if you swallowed even one drop that I decided against that too.     At last I reached a decision. I would jump from the barn loft, from the opening through which each summer the hay was lifted and dropped for storing. I saw myself standing in the huge opening, looking heavenward, then a second later my crumpled body on the ground. As I gazed at my lifeless form, Aretha, now an angel with huge wings, swooped down laughing and gathered me up and we disappeared into the cluster of white clouds beyond the sycamore grove.     Toward evening my father called me down to supper. I rushed into his arms, thankful to have them around me, even though they weren't soft like Aretha's. And when it was time for bed I was grateful that he made up the camp cot and put it in his room.     During the night something woke me. I felt chilled, and for a moment I didn't know where I was. Finally I recognized my mother's bureau. Somehow I managed the terrifying journey across the room to my father's bed. I closed my eyes and sank back against the warmth of his body. The next morning I decided to put off my dying until after Aretha's funeral. At breakfast, when I asked if we could meet the train, my father shook his head. That might be intruding. We would go to the funeral. But I felt I had as much right to be at the station as anybody else. I was sure Aretha would want me there. A few late jonquils were still blooming in the side yard. I picked them all and put them in a mayonnaise jar and hid the jar under my sweater in the cloakroom at school. The morning seemed to drag on forever. I didn't feel like eating lunch and gave away my sandwich and cookies.     Finally the clock on the classroom wall reached one-thirty and I raised my hand and Miss Gwaltney, my arithmetic teacher, gave one quick bob of her head the way she always did when you asked to be excused. I started out in the direction of the bathroom, but once in the hall I circled back to the cloakroom and grabbed the jonquils. I didn't dare look around until I was out of sight of school, afraid I might see some teacher's face in a window. I went around the edge of town. If I went up Main Street, I would be sure to meet some grown-up like Miss Lucy Hancock, a kind but boring woman who wanted to know everybody's business. She would certainly ask why I wasn't in school. Miss Lucy always wore a hat and gloves, and some people said she kept them on at home too so she would be ready in case someone invited her out.     By the time I got to Reed's Mule Exchange my side ached from running and I stopped to rest a minute. A few mules were standing placidly in the open shed, splotches of dried mud on their legs and early spring flies buzzing around their ears.     When I reached the station the undertaker's assistant was leaning against the shiny hearse. The baggage man was pulling a cart toward the tracks. Nearby a group of black mourners huddled together. The light-skinned and slightly stooped Baptist preacher stood a little apart. Suddenly one of the mourners gave a loud wail and all the others joined in.     I can see myself so clearly, standing there hesitating, my legs about to give way under me and the sap from the jonquil stems dripping down my arm, making it sticky. I wished I was back in school. God was punishing me for disobeying my father. I knew that I would never have the courage to go and drop the jonquils on Aretha's casket. Just then the train whistle sounded, the engine pulled into the station and screeched to a stop, hissing steam.     The baggage car door slammed shut and all that was on the cart were two sacks of mail and a crate of baby chickens. No casket. Then I heard it, louder than I ever had before. The laugh! And so did Mr. Magill and the baggage man and the mourners and the undertaker and his assistant. We all turned our heads toward the end of the train, to the coach for colored people, where a conductor was helping down an old man with a battered suitcase held together by string.     And then there she was! Aretha! She was wearing a pink floppy hat and a purple dress with ruffles and pink pumps, and carrying a bundle wrapped in brown paper. She waved away the conductor's hand and moved down the steps like a queen.     "Aretha! Aretha!" I began running and finally stumbled into her outstretched arms. She pressed me to her and I smelled the scent of violets.     "Honey, is you all right?"     I nodded my head.     Aretha gave the bundle a little shake. "It's in here, honey. The surprise. A Kewpie doll!"     The next think I knew, Aretha and I were walking hand in hand toward the mourners, who were still standing in a tight little group. We stopped in front of them, and for a few seconds no one moved, no one spoke, not even Jim. One of the women continued to sob, only she sounded more like she had the hiccups. Tom Mason, who drove Mahone's delivery truck, managed to say something.     "We done heard you dead."     "Well, I ain't."     Aretha threw back her head and laughed and laughed while the mourners continued to stare at her. When she finally caught her breath, she waved in the direction of the hearse. "Good-bye! No funeralizing of me today! Maybe someday. A long time from now."     What I was to remember on the faces of the mourners, and the undertaker and his assistant, was not outrage so much as disbelief.     "Don't look at me like I was some kind of haunt." Aretha laughed again. "It's me, back from a little trip."     The Baptist preacher cleared his throat. "Sister, you have deceived us!"     "Deceived you? Ah now, Rev'rend, can't you take no joke?"     Still the mourners stood staring. Aretha stared back. Then she took my hand. "Come on, honey. You and me, we got better ways to pass our time." After all these years I carry the image, unclouded, of Aretha and me walking away from the station toward town, she holding fast to my hand. With my other I still clutch the jonquils intended for a corpse. I glance back once more. The mourners, their huddle unbroken, have turned half around like mechanical figures and continue to stare, the expression on Jim's face the most incredulous of all.     Our exit, I feel, demands silence, at least until we are beyond hearing. Then my questions pour out. Is she going away again? Can I come? Where did she get the new dress and floppy hat? Who wrote to Jim and said she was dead? What color hair does the Kewpie doll have?     Aretha gives my hand a squeeze, as if to say we will always be together.     "Kewpie?" She raises the bundle and looks at it. "Red. Yeah, honey, Kewpie got red hair."     I look up at Aretha and she smiles down at me, and I notice on her beautiful black face flecks of pink powder. Copyright © 1999 Maclin Bocock. All rights reserved.

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