We are excited to begin sharing the winners of our Summer 2018 Short Story Award for New Writers! Today, we have our third-place winner: “A Country Where I Am Beautiful” by Patricia Smith. We were drawn to this story’s commentary on body image and beauty. Evelyn is in Senegal, far from her family and home in Milwaukee, and finds herself desired by men at every turn.
“I meet you tomorrow at four o’clock. Here,” the man said. He glanced at the slip of paper. “Evelyn,” he said, but he pronounced it Evleen.
I’m in a country where my name is beautiful.
Evelyn met the men everywhere. At school. Getting her electricity and water turned on. In the bank. She met the men walking the dusty red streets on her way to market, swatting flies, staying clear of pigs who roamed freely. She met the men driving cabs. At the newspaper kiosques.
“Miss, I am wanting to know you,” they all said. This time a dark, skinny man with glasses and bad teeth said it from behind the single window in the run-down post office where Evelyn had to pay bribes to pick up packages from the States. “I am wanting to know you very much.” He held Evelyn’s slip of yellow paper in his long slim fingers the color of dark roast.
Evelyn wasn’t expecting a package. Not from Marta who had just sent two more remaindered novels. Marta felt sorry for the writers and bought their books, gave them as gifts, and now sent them, weekly, to Evelyn. Marta had recently begun sending cassettes, too—”Prairie Home Companion,” taped from the public radio station so Evelyn would feel at home.
“You are from States?” the man asked.
“I’m from Milwaukee,” Evelyn said. She pronounced each syllable as if elongating the name would make clear where she was from. “Wisconsin,” she added.
The man smiled and Evelyn could see gaping holes and blackened half teeth. “Los Angeles?” he said. He pronounced it Angelease.
It was what foreigners knew. California and New York. The rest, what was in between, didn’t matter, didn’t exist.
“No,” Evelyn said, but the man looked away. Evelyn waited, her leather backpack heavy on her shoulder. Just thinking of Wisconsin here in this dingy post office where the paint peeled and the room smelled of mildew, where the one-eyed man sold stamps outside beneath a banyan tree in the courtyard, gave Evelyn the beginnings of a headache.