One Story Magazine recently listed their top ten favorite short stories, along with an additional twenty-six stories to flush out the “long list.” Maile Meloy’s ”Travis, B.” made the long list. This was a beautiful tale of a disfigured cowboy who tries to reach out in the vast western space and has his heart broken. It starts:
Chet Moran grew up in Logan, Montana, at a time when kids weren’t supposed to get polio anymore.
But Chet did get polio. His mother thought he would die young. Now, as the story unfolds, he is twenty-two years old and works on a farm feeding the cows. He’s led a tough life after surviving polio. Through the years, he’s broken several bones riding horses and had a rod put in his leg.
From then on, he walked as though he were turning to himself to ask a question.
He spends harsh winters in insulated rooms off the barn.
He got afraid of himself that winter; he sensed something dangerous that would break free if he kept much alone.
One night, Chet is bored and drives through town looking for something to do on a cold winter night. He sees people walking into a school and he joins them, sitting in the back of the room. A lawyer named Beth Travis is starting a class for teachers. The class will take place on Tuesday and Thursday nights.
After the class, Chet strikes up a conversation with Beth. She reveals that she is in a tough predicament. She lives eight hours away, and after agreeing to teach this class because she had no job, she found a job at home. She laments having to drive through the night to show up for work the next morning. It’s an impossible routine, and she is very unhappy about her circumstance. Chet offers to show her the local cafe so she can eat before her long drive.
Chet returns to the class on Thursday, and thinks about Beth through the weekend. On the following Tuesday, he rides a horse into town to the meeting. After class, he convinces her to ride to the cafe on the back of the horse. It’s a beautiful sight, and it seems to lift her spirits. Chet kisses her, but he is too shy and uneducated to start a real relationship.
When Chet shows up for the Thursday class, Beth is absent. The class is informed she will not be returning. Chet immediately drives through the night to her hometown, and looks her up in the phone book. He finds her office and catches her as she is heading into work.
“I just knew that if I didn’t start driving, I wasn’t going to see you again, and I didn’t want that. That’s all.”
He stood there waiting, thinking she might say something, meet him halfway. He wanted to hear her voice again. He wanted to touch her, any part of her, just her arms maybe, just her waist. She stood out of reach, waiting for him to go.
Chet returns to his home and for awhile hopes he’s planted a seed and she will come to him, but she doesn’t. The story ends:
He fished her phone number out of his pocket and studied it in the moonlight, until he knew it by heart, and wouldn’t forget it. Then he did what he knew he should do, and rolled it into a ball, and threw it away.
This story is as spare as the landscape in which it’s set. It’s an excellent metaphor for the loneliness Chet experiences. His solitary life, without an opportunity to “practice” with girls is painfully sad. This is a nicely written realist story, which intrigues me and makes me want to try a few more of Meloy’s stories.