Lisa C. Taylor, “Impossibly Small Spaces”

Note: this review was originally published by Four Corners Free Press (October 2022):

A couple meets at the airport. No, not how you might think. They are both there to greet arriving passengers on a plane. Except the plane crashes. And Carol and Errol turn to each other. (I mean, quickly.) Together in grief, they forge a relationship. Errol’s lost his wife on what was to be their sixth anniversary. She was three months pregnant so Errol lost two people, “one just a sliver of life on the ultrasound.” Carol had lost her husband to another man. The story, “Salt and Blue,” is brisk bit of healing. And wondering.

In “Scientia,” a pharmacist named Carla is facing a revolt by her fingers and limbs—a right forefinger stops working, an ankle gives out while skiing. She banters with carefree Carlos, a pharmacy student who wants her to come to Puerto Rico or some sunny clime and open a drug store. Carla is more practical.

“Carlos texted me a picture of himself eating fried plantains and sofrito. He was wearing giant sunglasses. I told him I had to work tomorrow. My loans would eat up my income for the next 20 years. When I was an adequately-compensated pharmacist I would think about vacations that didn’t include moldy-looking sofrito.”

But it turns out that Carla’s body knows best and her limbs behave when it gets what it wants.

And the funny and poignant title story, “Impossibly Small Spaces,” starts like this:

“My muscles had just started to unclench when the airplane bathroom door opened. I hid the vape pen behind my back.

‘Sorry,’ he took a few backward steps. I grabbed him by his loose-fitting sweatshirt and closed the door.”

Hildy is the one with the vape pen in the airplane bathroom. She lives in a remote Colorado cabin without indoor plumbing and is on her way to visit a friend in Florida, preferrable to the miserable conditions in the old homestead home where she hears things and fears bears. “I recorded a message once a week just to hear my own voice and establish proof of my own existence.”

The guy Hildy pulls into the bathroom is Neil, on his way to Florida to win custody of his daughter from an ex. Hildy thinks about her relationship with her dead mother, who drank herself to death. Neil thinks about the mistakes he made raising his daughter. “Impossibly Small Spaces” impossibly covers a host of issues in its few fast pages—parenting, reinvention, do-overs, histories and futures, coincidence, fate, and so on.

None of these 17 stories give itself over to easy summarization. Lisa C. Taylor packs the narratives with the touch of a master distiller. We focus down to the essence of moments and characters intertwined. These are all meaty stories that reward re-reading. Love, babies, families, and pregnancies abound.

Taylor’s prose asks the reader to pay attention. Taylor is also a well-published poet.  She’s won many awards and teaches writing online. Her fondness for words is apparent. The writing throughout “Impossibly Small Spaces” carries a sweet breeze of freshness with lots of humor. “My apartment is modest by modest standards.”  “She returned me like a pair of shoes that didn’t fit right because I wasn’t her flesh and blood.” “The murkiness gave way to true darkness, rain intermittent but persistent enough that our conversation was punctuated by the swish and tap of the windshield wipers.”

We often start in full stride (such as the airplane bathroom scene) and leave before the race is finished. Taylor isn’t afraid to make us feel disoriented at first, but then catches us up—without any handholding whatsoever. Witness the opening paragraph of “Scorpion:”

“Not even nine o’clock and everything spinning like that doomed farmhouse in the Wizard of Oz. Metal against metal and then an explosion after the black Lexus plowed into the side of her car, glass strewn across the seat like confetti. Searing pain and a bang as the airbag inflated. She landed on her back in a clearing where Casey had once crouched in her favorite pink shorts to pick up a snakeskin, sneakers crunching over branches.”

Who wouldn’t want to read more?

Taylor engages us with characters often in crisis or at least at crossroads with secrets to discover or divulge. Read “Impossibly Small Spaces” and find your world expanding with every turn of the page.

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