An excerpt from Blow the House Down & Other Stories, by alumna Peg Alford Pursell (fiction, ’96) appears online at Joyland:


“Blow the house down!” Tommy says. He’s in his pajamas, thin at the knees, too short. His ankles and wrists jut, pale angles. Her brother drops onto the couch beside Shelly, bounces up and down, his cropped hair sticking up every which way, mouth stretched wide.

Sounds good to her. She’s in. She doesn’t know what it means.

“Wait,” he says and goes into the kitchen.

The only light is the TV, flickering shadows on the walls.

He comes back with the carton of chocolate-covered malt balls, his cheeks gorged already.

“Here,” he says, but he holds the box up high, out of reach. “Jump.” His words slur with the candy in his mouth; a strand of chocolate-pocked saliva hangs suspended before it drops to the floor.

She won’t do it. She wants the candy, but she’s not going to do it. Shelly goes to sit on the floor in front of the TV. The linoleum is cold. She pulls her nightgown over her knees and tucks her feet under the material.

Tommy comes up behind and kicks her in the back. “Baby,” he says. She ignores him. “Baby, baby, baby.” He drops a malt ball on her head. It’s Saturday night; she’s washed her hair. It’s not even dry yet. The candy rolls away, under the TV set.

On the screen the actress says, “Oh, you’re going to miss me.” She has a red suitcase in her hand and wears shiny black heels. She doesn’t look anything like Mom. Mom doesn’t have a suitcase. She took her clothes in a paper bag.

Tommy backs up across the room and begins to pelt Shelly with the chocolate balls, easy at first, then harder and harder. She imagines blue bruises like peonies flowering across her back. The candy caroms across the room, hitting the walls, skittering across the floor. A malt ball ricochets off the window into her lap. Stealthily she closes her hand around it.

“Blow the house down!” Tommy yells. He places a chocolate ball on top her head, steadying it between thumb and forefinger. She pretends not to notice, and when he brings his fist down to crush the candy on her head she bites her tongue and tears smart her eyes.

She doesn’t move. Soon he’ll grow tired. Sometime he’ll leave the room, and she’ll eat the chocolate ball hidden in her hand.


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