Vehicles on Ridge Road held landowners and families, deliverymen, trash collectors, handymen, maids, sheep and no others because the country road rolling along the distant end of our north shore Chicago suburb past big old generational homes like yours, one modern (mine) and one sheep farm disinvited disturbances to the quiet outside while inside Meet the Press murmured on Sunday mornings before Mass and the nightly news narrated the evenings before dinner, but you, Mary Riley, clomped 5 miles down Ridge Road on your horse and brought another to me so we could trailblaze in the sheep fields and eat wild raspberries in season then ride through the back brush to your barn spying on your mysterious brothers and their polo ponies, making the best of memories in a time that held the worst for me inside my family’s rented mid-century modern that reeked of cigarettes, Scotch and Budweiser—outside, chlorine rose from the pool my mother cleaned for us so we could swim after horseback riding in the summer—then in the fall Sacred Heart Academy took us in navy blue blazers for French and Religion, The Mikado and recess and lunch with the nuns and Cuban girls from the revolution; after school I avoided the shame of the empty ice box and food cabinets and met you on Ridge Road to ride our bikes with my baby sister Stacy on the handle bars past the sheep farm to the seven-kid Burns family compound for softball and ping pong, joking around and drinking cokes in the Burns family kitchen watching horses in the fields and chickens in the coop, a respite from my house down the road where talking was dangerous and lies took over and my father was absent for long stretches, commuting to the city and flying to Mexico on extended business trips, and my mother drank all day and night and I wondered if she was still alive in the morning because she didn’t wake to wrap peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in wax paper and boil soft eggs— what about yours? she had something wrong with her, did she drink too? was she sick?— then learning to drive on the macadam driveway in the white station wagon when my little sister Erin ran over her kitten, splat! hysterics all around except me—I went numb, wise to parents not giving a damn behind the flat walnut door to the Mies-like architecture where danger lurked and drunks stumbled but where, once, pointing out the bathroom window at eye-level with a tree limb, my mother showed me a robin’s nest holding blue eggs, and when I told you, you said, my father told me your phone is disconnected because you didn’t pay the bill, and Boom! that was the end of our friendship, right there at the lunch table in front of the muchachas who didn’t speak English and the Cuban girls who did and the French nuns Mon Dieu! alarmed but inept at how to reprimand you, you double-crossing rat bastard—whatever happened to you?

Thank you, Kevin Coval, for the brief but spectacular teaching.

6 thoughts on “Where ARE You, Mary Riley? by Regan Burke

  1. Dashes come in handy when putting together long sentences, and as long as we’re at it I’ll take this opportunity to tell you how much I loved the event with Kevin Covall last week and how grateful I am to you for making it happen and then inviting me, I was so disappointed I had to leave early but appreciated every single second I spent there, being with Kevin and meeting Tammy and then all your friends around our circular table, too — glorious.



    1. This piece is a response to Linda’s prompt to write one 500-word sentence. What you missed was Kevin Coval giving us a prompt then 8 minutes to write a poem. The bulk of this is what I wrote at the luncheon, and of course, it’s because of Kevin that I can write rat bastard which naturally rolled off my tongue when I read aloud at home alone but it wasn’t there when I wrote. It is one of my all-time favorite swear words. Did you hear Kevin say when you left, “there goes the teacher?”


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