Brevity Nineteen

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By Rebecca McClanahan

Miss Ranney's stockings were always straight. I checked the seams each morning as we stood facing the chalkboard, my hand across a place I called a pocket but she called your heart, and I pledged allegiance to a flag no bigger than my brother's diaper flapping on the line. We sang of mountains and amber grain, our voices always a beat or two behind the warped '45 spinning on the phonograph beside the globe on Miss Ranney's desk. Our world was the Weekly Reader, hopscotch and jump rope, the only war the Cold One which America of course was winning.

Above our heads, a banner of the earth’s children: an African boy with corduroy hair, a fur-muffled Eskimo, a golden girl from Holland. I fingered my Brownie badge and renewed my oath to help other people at all times, especially those at home. Oh lucky child, doubly loved, held by the centripetal force of Mother and Miss Ranney. They lived only for my welfare, wrote notes about my progress and pinned them to my shirt, exchanged report card signatures. They knew my height and weight and the date of my polio shots. Each morning Mother locked my thermos and only Miss Ranney could loosen it, leaning over me in her ivory crepe blouse until the cap sighed once, then was free.

Six years later my first stockings were seamed and I thought of Miss Ranney while I sat on the edge of the bathtub shaving the pale brown hairs. It was 1963, before panty hose came to smooth the garter belt's bulge. Later that year, I was in Home Ec tracing my face shape with soap onto a mirror when the intercom crackled the news. School let out early. I came home to my mother watching in black and white. The rest of the orbit swirls out from there: King murdered the week of my senior prom, then Bobby in a hotel just miles from my school while I marched to Pomp and Circumstance, not knowing that within a year on a July night in the back seat of a Volkswagen, I would pledge what was left of my heart to a boy leaving for Vietnam while above us the tired moon finally gave in to a tiny man in gravity boots, planting an American flag.


Rebecca McClanahan is the author of eight books, most recently The Riddle Song and Other Rememberings. Her work has appeared in The Best American Essays, The Best American Poetry, and in numerous journals and anthologies. The recipient of a Pushcart Prize, the Wood prize from Poetry, and the Carter prize for the essay from Shenandoah, she lives in New York City and teaches in the low residency MFA Program of Queens University, Charlotte. Her newest work appears in Ms. Magazine, The Gettysburg Review, The Southern Review, and Short Takes: Brief Encounters in Creative Nonfiction. McClanahan can be reached at

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