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Short Stories 365/115 | N.S. Beranek

“It Only Occurred to Me Later” by Anne Laughlin from Saints and Sinners 2013: New Fiction from the Festival (Bold Strokes Books).

Full disclosure: I have a story in this anthology.

The frank, sarcastic narration of this piece brought noir detective stories immediately to mind for me, which was a little odd given that this story is about a woman who manages case logistics for a Chicago law firm and is in Wyoming for an extended period of time to work on a trial. That’s not to say the style was unpleasant. Here’s a sample:

I drank from the bottle and it tasted good. Maybe it was the dry air out here that helped it along for me. It was the best tasting beer I’d ever had.

The narrator suspects the five year relationship she’s in is ending. Life has become tense and passive-aggressive, and during phone calls home Jane seems to be hinting that something is starting up between herself and the narrator’s college roommate. Is Jane hoping her girlfriend will get jealous and fight to keep her, or get jealous and dump her? Regardless, what it does do is inspire the narrator to drive over to Laramie to check out a bar there, and then accept the bartender’s invitation to visit a nearby ranch where all the local lesbians have convened for an annual pig roast / anniversary party for the couple who own the ranch.

It isn’t until she arrives at the event that we learn the main character’s name—Angie—and I wonder if that was a deliberate choice. It feels as if she is waking up, coming back into her own. Almost immediately she’s befriended by Carol, who teaches English at the university. There’s an instant connection between them. Carol has a warm, confident air about her and a playfulness that’s charming. You get the sense that she’s been around the block a time or two, and realizes that Angie is in a delicate emotional state, but she’s also just glimpsed something worth having, and she’s not about to be scared off.