the prettiest star carter

The faded, thinning carpet. The bed a mountain between us. “Well, I don’t remember. Our daughter Jess sits in the row behind us next to my mother-in-law Lettie, who never misses a service. He’s been awake all this time. I prayed to God to give me an answer. “From its opening sentences Carter Sickels’ The Prettiest Star makes it clear that too many queer narratives have been kept out of sight. He made me believe everything would be okay, and I want that again, for Travis to take charge, to do the right thing: I will stand by him. I will have to tell him. Didn’t want to worry us. He doesn’t know about the letter from our son. “It’s not contagious,” I say. I stay on my side. The words swell inside me like a bruise. But I understand: we’ve already been through so much. “They don’t know for sure,” he says. I don’t know how to fix any of this. Now I have this letter, a half page written on yellow legal pad paper. Even a minor slight by a store clerk can set her off. As I glance away, I catch sight of our reflections in the mirror, our drawn, worried faces, how naked and vulnerable they look, and I quickly turn, don’t want to see. Tall, muscular. Now Brian is 24 and ill with late-stage AIDS. Travis holds the letter towards me, wanting me to take it back, but I don’t. I open the lid. “He just lives a busy life.”. He was a clean-cut, all-American kid. Travis lies on his back, staring at the ceiling. She holds grudges. The Prettiest Star is also unique in that it features the perspective of Brian’s biological family. “From a writer’s perspective, I knew I wanted to tell the story of this whole family,” Sickels explains. He stands in the same place where my father used to. There will never be a right time. After a while, Wayne’s voice dominates, as usual, demanding everyone’s undivided attention. He’s been in the hospital already. His phone number was written below his signature. People, what kind of people. Reverend Clay lifts his arms and we rise as one. My husband was different from his big brothers, had ambition. His chest is wide and strong, and I remember when we were young, how easy it was to sleep with my head right there, to curl into him, holding on until we grew into a single body. He looks scared. She’s set out cold cuts, potato salad, and a cherry pie. “Fifty,” Paul says. It was the bigness of the Jacksons that drew me to them. The anger dissipates from my body like a dying light. It was full of heartbreak, devastation, grief, and love: a kaleidoscope of powerful emotions I couldn’t look away from. The letter came on Friday. Carter Sickels is the author of the novels The Evening Hour and The Prettiest Star, which was recently released in May 2020. “Hell, I’m still not as gray as Travis,” Wayne says. Jess doubles over with laughter. There will never be a right time. Then, this man. A soft, sad silence thumps in my head. Travis and I were different from his brothers and their families, and so were our children, who we believed would go to college and find good jobs, get married and give us grandchildren, and live close by. After the screen door swings shut, I pick up the burning cigarette and taste the sourness of Lettie’s lipstick, probably one of the many tubes leftover from her Avon days. Neither do I. Travis says nothing else. The following is excerpted, with permission, from The Prettiest Star by Carter Sickels, published by Hub City Press on May 19, 2020. “I don’t know about that,” Travis says. The number of the dead rising and rising, and no end in sight. But my heart races, my mouth tastes strangely of blood. “Last night I had a dream about him,” she says in a low, secretive voice, and every receptor in my skin rises like a thousand candlewicks suddenly alight and burning. She makes a dismissive clucking sound, meaning she doesn’t believe me, and lights a menthol. He turns toward me, his face sad and scared and pale, and I feel sorry for him, sorry for us. All of the same feelings in me. I hear Jess, opening the bathroom door, closing it. Travis glances over, the edges of his bristled mustache curling up, his eyes saying. It follows Brian, a young man who leaves his life in New York City to return home to his family in a small Ohio town as he is dying of AIDS. I shuffle my feet into my tennis shoes, dig the cigarettes out of my purse. Does he just want to come here for a little bit, or stay here until…” He trails off. Now I have this letter, a half page written on yellow legal pad paper. After I read it, I wept. The church is small and old. __________________________________________________________________________. We felt protected from tragedy and looked forward to the future, a glistening river of possibilities. The wet grass brushes against my bare ankles like pieces of velvet and soaks through my tennis shoes. Travis is standing in front of me, so I have to look up to see his face. “What will people—”. “Told that son-of-a-bitch to stick that pipe where the sun don’t shine.” Wayne smiles in his surprisingly charming way. But my heart races, my mouth tastes strangely of blood. “Not by touching.” Stop. The light is low in the room, a dull yellow, and everything seems old and worn: the pale blue carpet, the beige bedspread with peach and blue flowers. He looks old and childish at the same time. Didn’t want to worry us. Hair curled around his ears, crooked teeth, blue eyes. “I remember.”. When the hymn ends we stay standing, except for Anita, who remains seated at the organ, her twiggy fingers now still. Like every Sunday, my husband sits beside me. Those are the days people remember. Travis’s words, spoken in the dark, ring in my head as I strike the match. She never remarried, never even dated again, as far as I know. After all these years, they still hold hands. He is the recipient of the 2013 Lambda Literary Emerging Writer Award, and has been awarded scholarships to Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, VCCA, and the MacDowell Colony. His face wrinkles with confusion. He said in the first line. In this “brutally fresh kind of homecoming novel,” (Entertainment Weekly) Brian Jackson returns to his small Appalachian hometown and the family who rejected him. We felt protected from tragedy and looked forward to the future, a glistening river of possibilities. The Dennisons’ hound is quiet, but the night insects sing and hum, calling each other. “Didn’t stay either.” The middle son, chubby, with shaggy hair and thick eyeglasses, Paul is the most easygoing of the three. His pajama pants hang low on his hips and he is wearing white tube socks, and now I wish I told him before he started getting dressed for bed. Why is it up to me to do the talking? I’ve always ignored her premonitions, but now I want to know. by: Carter Sickels He is the recipient of the 2013 Lambda Literary Emerging Writer Award, and has been awarded scholarships to Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, VCCA, and the MacDowell Colony. Alone in the kitchen, I hear my husband and daughter upstairs, the creaking of the floorboards. A few years ago, Brian sent a picture of himself with a man. Carter Sickels is the author of THE PRETTIEST STAR (Hub City Press, 2020) and THE EVENING HOUR (Bloomsbury 2012), an Oregon Book Award finalist and a Lambda Literary Award finalist. Hub City, $27 (308p) ISBN 978-1-938235-62-7. Brian looked healthy, handsome, strong. I hold my breath as he reaches over and turns out the light. His phone number was written below his signature. How clean, how white. Carol and Wayne in a little brick ranch on the outskirts of town, and Paul and Liz in a double-wide. “How sick is he? I try returning his smile, but my mouth feels stiff, like my jaw is wired shut. “Should I get a perm too?” Wayne pretends to fluff his hair. He’s doing all right, he says, he feels stronger. Perhaps this is why I was drawn to Carter Sickels’s sophomore novel, The Prettiest Star. Carter is Assistant Professor of English at Eastern Kentucky University, where he teaches in the Bluegrass Writers Studio Low-Residency MFA program.

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