IF MY BOOK: Deadheading and Other Stories, Beth Gilstrap

Welcome to another installment of If My Book, the Monkeybicycle feature in which authors compare their recently released books to weird things. This week Beth Gilstrap writes about her new story collection, Deadheading and Other Stories, out now from Red Hen Press.

If Deadheading & Other Stories were food, it would be okra cut from six-foot tall plants you babied since seed, since sprout, since silken yellow petal, since ants and hurricane force winds;   it’s snipped young, sliced thin, tossed in cornstarch, salt, pepper, cayenne and fried in a cast-iron skillet hot enough to scar your wrists. 

If Deadheading & Other Stories were a cocktail, it would be Carter Beats the Devil: half an ounce of mezcal, one and a half ounces of tequila, fresh lime juice and zest, agave nectar, and twenty drops of chili tincture; it will summon a room with tall windows where you spin, laughing, until you fall on your knees and raise your hands to the chrysanthemums rocketing across the sky. 

If Deadheading & Other Stories were an animal, it would be a rat snake, devourer of small rodents, birds, eggs, and amphibians, contorting itself into a Bowie lightning bolt across your bedroom window while you finish the bottle of wine under the covers; despite her acrobatics, she is quite shy—no you may not touch those oil-black scales or scritch the little glob of white on her chin—you cry in the morning when she’s gone, worrying over her safety and the lives she took along the way. 

If Deadheading & Other Stories were a sound, it would be a screen door slapping open and shut midsummer with spirit as you pack stacks and stacks of water damaged books (because good folks did their good work extinguishing the fire) in boxes that once housed oranges sent to your mother by a Florida man you realize must have been her lover and how that must be why you’ll never peel one yourself. 

If Deadheading & Other Stories were a part of the body, it would be a set of thighs built with cornbread and buttermilk and red clay, holding the weight of your mama’s heartbreak and black eye in the left, your daddy’s alcoholism and rage in the right, but powered by Persephone, tattooed with zinnia and rabbit and vines reaching up and around and out of sight. 

If Deadheading & Other Stories were a plant, it would be Carolina jasmine, born in the south, golden funnel trumpet blooms winding through wrought-iron and full of memories you’d rather bury deep in the river, but there they are brushing your naked shoulders, whispering poison, telling you to dry and pulverize them; you could, you could keep on climbing up to him.

Beth Gilstrap is the author of I Am Barbarella (2015) from Twelve Winters Press. Her work has been selected as Longform.org’s “Fiction Pick of the Week” and chosen by Dan Chaon for inclusion in the Best Microfiction Anthology 2019. She holds an MFA from Chatham University. Her stories, essays, and hybrids have appeared in Ninth Letter, the Minnesota ReviewDenver Quarterly, Gulf Stream Lit, and Wigleaf, among others. Born and raised in the Charlotte area, she has recently relocated to Louisville. Follow her on Twitter at @BettySueBlue.

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