Literature 12-15-2008

miniStories: “Renovation” by B.A. Clawson

"Renovation" is a dystopian short, at once chilling and humane, written by B. A. Clawson and chosen as a miniStories winner for this round by novelist Michael Kimball.

B.A. Clawson


The day we ripped the roof off the Lutheran church, the Sunday school teachers clapped and the fellowship committee served dandelion sandwiches from the good platters, and the pastor resigned.

It had been a fair and square decision – there’d been a vote, after all, everyone gathering into the grade school gym. Folks were as civil as you can be when your stomach’s starting to shrivel. In the end, it was decided that, roof or no roof, the town hall had too many walls on the inside, and the roof of the old bank wouldn’t come off without a struggle, and the library, by general agreement, was off limits.

So we made our choice and the pastor protested, but what could he say in the end? Hunger trumped religion.

The kids had cried all that winter. “Momma, my tummy hurts” and “When’er we gonna have something to eat?” The little ones gnawed their thumbs, and the older ones made up a game that looked a lot like wrestling, except they’d sneak in a lick of the other kid’s arm, just for a taste of salt.

But all that would be behind us now. By eleven, the shingles and the deck were nearly gone and there was a contingent on the slushy yard pulling out the good nails and throwing them in jars. By three, most of the old storm windows and clear tarps and windshields we’d gathered had been hammered into place over the rafters.

The next day was Sunday, and while some folks were up at the old test field filling wheelbarrows with the last good soil, the rest of us were down in the church, holding communion in reverse. Old Burpee packets, envelopes marked with varietal name and year, loose handfuls from pockets – we gathered every seed that had been squirreled away in exhaustion and hope and we laid them on the altar.

Then we ripped out the pews and sawed them up and cantilevered a good, strong deck off the choir balcony, the nearer to be to the source of all life.

And once all the dirt had been brought down the hill and every pot had been filled, the head of the fellowship committee stepped to the front of the crowd. “Corn knee high by the Fourth of July,” she said, pressing one kernel into the soil. “Amen,” we answered.

     * * * * *

Well, we’re waiting for the lettuce to get a little bigger, but the first of the radishes should be ready any day. We’re still arguing about the stained glass windows. Most folks want to get rid of them, of course; the light they cast isn’t helping the tomatoes any. But a few people are thinking maybe we should save a window on the north side, the one with the Sower and the good ground.

About the author: B.A. Clawson grew up in Saint Paul and spent years roaming the halls of the University of Minnesota, until she and her cobbled-together major in studio arts, design and Native American studies were finally sent packing. When she’s not writing, she serves as the publisher of The Bridge community newspaper in Minneapolis and sings in a Yiddish swing band. And while folks these days may sometimes feel as though they’re caught in a dystopian novel, she’s trying to purge that feeling by writing one.