Tiphanie Yanique is review editor with New York University’s Calabash. A former Fulbright Scholar, she has received the Mary Grant Charles Award for fiction, the Academy of American Poets Prize, the Tufts University Africana Prize for Creativity, and fellowship residencies with Bread Loaf, Callaloo,Squaw Valley, and the Cropper Foundation for Caribbean Writers. She is the recipient of a 2008 Pushcart Prize, the 2006 Boston Review Fiction Prize, and was the Parks Fellow/Writer-in-Residence at Rice University. Her short story “The Saving Work” was chosen by Margot Livesey for the 2007 Kore Press Short Fiction Award.
“The Saving Work” (excerpt)
A church is burning down. On a Caribbean island, in the countryside, up a road that might lead to a saving beach, but does not—a church is burning down. Everyone who is associated with this church will later think “my church has burnt down.” But for now there are only two women there to look at the fire, and blame each other.
They are both white American women in the middle of their lives. They and their families are members of this church. They are each married to a local black man, both of whom are skinny and frail of body. These women want to be the strong ones. They have always been the strong ones.
Deirdre Thompson has brought the garlands for the church stairs. She has brought the pew pins and the flowers for the altar. She was the first to arrive and see the bright flames. She is already dressed in her gold silk suit. She saw the smoke from far away in her car, but she imagined some filthy native was burning garbage in his yard. The smoke seemed to disappear as Deirdre drew near the church. This was an illusion.
Her car had lumbered its way along the narrow cut into the land that is the church road. The men of the church laid the road, and, as a result, it dips erratically. The arms of thin trees scraped at the closed windows of Deirdre’s car. She wondered why no one had cut them back. She thought, with some worry, about how the limousine would make its way. The road opened into the clearing where the church crackled in the center. Through the windshield Deirdre saw what she thought was just a smallish fire, more smoke than anything. Nothing to alert the people in the nearby houses, some two hundred yards beyond the bushes.
But now Deirdre knows what she’s seeing. She’s seeing the end.