short story sandhill cranes
Anna Prawdzik Hull

is a writer, editor, teacher, and literary translator from the French, Polish, Spanish, and Italian. She holds an MFA in fiction from Manchester Metropolitan University in the UK, and is an MFA candidate at Boston University.

Anna was born in Poland but grew up in France—where her family was granted political asylum in the early 1980s—and later in Canada. As an adult, she’s lived and worked in eight other countries, most recently in Hong Kong. She now lives with her husband, her two senior (and grumpy) cats, and her corgi (named Liz Lemon) in the high-desert city of Albuquerque, New Mexico. She is currently working on her first short-story collection.

Anna is a recipient of the Shmuel Traum Prize in Literary Translation, and of the Editor’s Choice Award in the Raymond Carver Short Story Contest. She is a Leslie Epstein Fellow, a Global Writing Fellow, and an American Literary Translation Fellowship finalist. Her fiction has appeared in Solaris, is forthcoming in Carve, and was nominated for the Canadian Aurora Awards.

 

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Fiction
Sandhill Cranes

written by Anna Prawdzik Hull

In this short story, Hector, a young man from Albuquerque, is one semester away from getting a degree from the University of New Mexico. His mother, who was recently deported from the US, is sick and needs urgent care in Oaxaca, Mexico. To help her, Hector gets a job working for a secretive character, a man named Johnny G, whose dangerous side business—if you can call it that—opens Hector’s eyes, and his heart.

For author Anna Prawdzik Hull, immigration is a subject that has haunted her since childhood. Her earliest memories are of the refugee camp where she grew up in France, where her family became friends with asylum seekers from all over the world. Some had survived torture, and others had been incarcerated in their home countries. Many were sent back by the French government, to face persecution, or worse, death. Anna cannot forget them.

Anna says this about the characters in this story: “They are fictional, of course, and when I wrote them, I didn’t intend them to represent any particular individual’s, or any people’s, story or experience. What I intended was to explore and draw from the commonality of fear, pain, uncertainty, and despair so many of us have to deal with, as well as the courage it takes to face them.”

This story is a winner of the Editor’s Choice in the 2020 Raymond Carver Short Story Contest.

 

Read by Edwin Perez

“Tía Consuelo, with her big mouth and big earrings and eighties perm, sits me down at the kitchen table and says, “I don’t want you to work for that puto.” By puto, she means Johnny González, owner of Speedy G Car Wash on San Mateo. “He killed his wife.”

“The sky’s purple and pink, the way it gets here when things are about to go to shit. It’s always purple and pink in the late afternoon in New Mexico, and things almost always go to shit for me. For one, Johnny’s got a knife tucked in a holster inside his open jacket—and I don’t.”

“Johnny’s face hardens. “Just as well, m’hijo.” He looks into the rearview mirror at a car that’s just parked behind us. “Still there,” he says. He pulls out a roll of cash from his backpack. “Take it. You’ve earned it.” Then, “I hope you understand that this never happened.” I nod. “Get the fuck out,” he says.

Q&A with Anna

Tell us about your story...
Hector, a young man from Albuquerque, is one semester shy of getting a degree from UNM. His mother, who was recently deported from the US, is sick and needs urgent care in Oaxaca. To help her, and to pay for his and her legal fees, Hector gets a job working for a secretive character, Johnny G, whose dangerous side business—if you may call it that—opens Hector’s eyes, and heart.
What was the inspiration for this story?
That’s a tough one, because it wasn’t just one thing. I’m an immigrant and have been my entire life, and I guess it was time I tackled an immigration-related subject that’s been haunting me since childhood: borders and deportation.

My earliest memories are of the refugee camp I grew up in in France in the 1980s, where my family made friends with asylum seekers from Guatemala, Nicaragua, Cambodia, Rwanda-Burundi, Mozambique, you name it. Many had landed in France the way we had: sans papiers. Without papers, that is, undocumented. Some had survived torture, and others had suffered incarceration in their home countries. Many of them, many of our camp neighbors and friends, were sent back by the French government, to face persecution, or worse, death. I can’t forget them.

I now live in New Mexico, on an alien status, so I set my story here for that reason, but also because those are the stories that I hear these days; the geographic setting and the era may be different from 1980s France, but the human emotions that are triggered by being smuggled across borders, or of seeing your loved ones deported, aren’t.

My characters are fictional, of course, and when I wrote them, I didn’t intend them to represent any particular individual’s, or any people’s, story or experience. What I intended, instead, was to explore and draw from the commonality of fear, pain, uncertainty, and despair so many of us have to deal with, and the courage it takes to face them.

What have you recently read that you loved?
I keep on coming back to a story by Mistuyo Kakuta, A House for Two. There’s something very calming about its domestic setting and about the choice the main character makes, at the end.

I also just finished Stranger Weather in Tokyo, a novel by Hiromi Kawakami. It revolves around a love relationship with a significant age gap, something still quite frowned upon in our society. The prose is unassuming but oh, so beautiful.

I’m also learning how to write with more patience and pause, and less urgency; reading Mistuyo Kakuta and Hiromi Kawakami was a great place to start my “patient fiction” journey.

Ah, and I also just re-read “The Baby” by Donald Barthelme. It’s so ridiculously funny, as so many of his stories are, and don’t we all need to laugh a little these days?

Someday I want to...
Trek again in Japan, from Murodo to Kamikochi. In the fall, it’s the most magical place. I also want to learn Japanese and learn how to dance, and also play the guitar. I’ve had one sitting in the closet for ten years.
What do you like to do when you're not writing?
I love learning and studying. Anything and everything, but mostly history, linguistics, things like that. I’m a grammar geek.

Also, I tend to my veggie patch and hang out with my husband and cats. I miss sitting in cafés reading anything, and also people watching, and having full-on conversations about any random subject with complete strangers.

I love taking trains to nowhere in particular. I need movement. Also, gazing at the sky—the ever-changing sky in New Mexico is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.

Do you have any hidden talents?
I’m told I’m a bit of an animal whisperer. And I make some mean Sunday-morning crêpes (with Nutella).

Also, I’m not sure if it’s a talent, and it’s going to sound weird, but I see time. As in, I see time as space, in a loop all around me. It’s a little more complicated than that, but it definitely comes in quite handy. On the other hand, I can’t do math.

 

On the weekends I like to...
Write. It never stops, really. I write in bursts and need to move around from room to room to garden to café to wherever. I can easily write in the car, in bed, in the kitchen, at the kitchen sink, on a train, on the plane, in my hammock, on the subway, at the grocery store, under a tree, in the middle of a mountain trail—as long as I have something to write on.

Also, I like to spend my weekends wild camping, or biking, or driving out into the desert or into the mountains. But I’m just as easily prone to binge watching comedy shows or period movies in bed. I used to trail run, back in the day, and maybe I’ll get back into it again, in the cooler months.

 

 

Tomorrow I absolutely refuse to...
Go shoe shopping. I hate shoe shopping.

 

 

 

Anything else you'd like to share?
Yes! Thank you for giving Sandhill Cranes a voice. I am so very grateful and excited to be part of a podcast series dedicated to short fiction.

 

 

 

 

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