Claire Boyles, Fiction


Whiting Awards 2022

Claire Boyles. Photograph by Beowulf Sheehan.

Claire Boyles is a writer, teacher, and former sustainable farmer whose collection of stories, Site Fidelity, has been longlisted for the 2022 PEN America/Robert W. Bingham Prize. Her writing has appeared in Virginia Quarterly Review, Kenyon Review, and Boulevard, among others. She lives in Loveland, Colorado.


From “Alto Cumulus Standing Lenticulars”:

Ruth caught the sliver of new moon surrounded by wispy, long clouds. Ruth tried to name them. Cirrus? Cumulus? She couldn’t pin them down, and if the angels were gossiping with her dead ancestors about her current predicament, she didn’t want to know. The stars were coming in bright against the darkening skyline but seemed in motion, as if they were being drawn in real time by frantic Spirograph. Bad enough the other children had to be from Vegas. This baby would be from nowhere, a ghost-town baby, born on top of a fossil. She could not take back any of the decisions that had led her here. This is where she found herself, so this is where her baby would be born.

“We have to get you to a hospital.” He didn’t look up. His concern was directed toward his boots.

“There’s no time.” Ruth wriggled out of her nylons and dropped into a squat. She rested her forehead against the beam of the fossil pavilion. The pressure was somehow soothing, and it allowed her to balance without using her hands.

She breathed into her body’s gathering, bearing down in her womb, trying to maneuver her rib cage lower, pulling her neck downward until it felt there was nothing at all between her chest and her chin. She tried to relax. She’d done this three times already. If she were in the hospital, she’d have a nurse to coach her. Here in the desert, she’d have to be her own nurse. At the peak of the contraction she reached her right hand up and into herself, screaming her wild misery into the night but willing her hand to be gentle, gentle, as she pulled, lightly, lightly, down on her child’s shoulder. The head cleared and the rest of the child dropped. Ruth held it with both hands, pushing her forehead into the beam so that she would not fall, would not lose her grip. Behind her, she heard a tremendous flopping thump.

The boy was blue, wrapped in his own umbilical. Ruth made short work of unwrapping it, of clearing the clotted white mucus from the baby’s nose and mouth. She turned to ask Allen for his ranger’s shirt, for anything to wrap the child in, but Allen was still crumpled in a full faint. She took off her own state park sweater, wrapped her baby tight against the chill. When she heard his indignant, hungry cries, she put her back against the beam and started crying herself, shivering on the cool desert ground. The baby rooted against her belly as she waited to deliver the placenta. Beyond his newborn head, she could see the full glory of Orion’s Belt. Something in the center of the constellation was flashing on and off, or maybe it was distant lightning from a threatening storm, or it was just the way she saw everything differently through her tears.