In This Light: New and Selected Stories
“Xmas, Jamaica Plain”
“Xmas, Jamaica Plain,” appears in Melanie Rae Thon’s IN THIS LIGHT: NEW AND SELECTED STORIES (Graywolf Press, 2011). Thon is the author of four novels, including, THE VOICE OF THE RIVER (Simon and Schuster, 2011) and two previous collections of short stories. Her stories have been selected for Pushcart Prize and O’Henry Prize anthologies and she had received two National Endowment for the Arts’ Fellowships and a Whiting Writer’s Award.
Thon had this to about writing “Xmas, Jamaica Plain:” Stories are catalytic convergences. Fears, obsessions, haunting images begin to leak from my subconscious mind into my waking experience. When I lived in Boston my “apartment” was an attic room without insulation. I froze in winter, fried in summer. Still I knew how lucky I was to have shelter, food, a job, a doctor. I walked everywhere, miles and miles every day, through all parts of town, tame and dangerous, in all kinds of weather. I encountered the homeless, the poor, the extravagantly wealthy, the addicted, the recently immigrated, the excessively educated.
One brutal winter, a storm surged up the coast every weekend. I lost power for days at a time. Pigeons flapped at my dark windows. I walked. And there they were: the kids, throwaways and runaways, the unloved and unlucky. The emaciated Haitian refugee shivered in Harvard Square, playing his guitar, trying to earn a few dollars. He was a brilliant musician, but his eyes were yellow where they should have been white. I thought he would die soon. The man with no fingers slept in a doorway and could barely move; as I passed, he opened his bare palm and lurched toward me.
The lives of the people I saw on the street became vivid to me, intensely personal. I began to imagine how those children might survive, who they might love, why they were out there. I began composing “Xmas, Jamaica Plain,” dreaming the lives of Nadine and Emile. A longer version of this essay appears at The Story Prize.