U.S. 1’s annual Summer Fiction issue, published July 23 this year, is an unusual publication. Containing a minimum amount of business and entertainment news, U.S. 1 instead opens its pages to print the prose and poems of its readers. This year nearly 40 writers were represented in the 64-page issue.

For most of them, the U.S. 1 Summer Fiction issue is one of very few commercial outlets for their work. For our readers, the issue is a chance to sample some eclectic short stories and insightful poetry.

While we do not reprint the writers’ work in our Internet edition, we do circulate the paper widely. We hope our online readers will find a hard copy at a nearby office or newsbox. If that fails, send us $4 for postage and handling and we will mail one out first class, ASAP.

Or consider one other alternative: U.S. 1’s annual Summer Fiction reception and reading on Thursday, August 14, from 5 to 7 p.m. at Barnes & Noble in MarketFair on Route 1 South. It’s free. Extra copies of the July 23 issue will be on hand, and you are invited.

A note about our cover: Back in 1997, when we first envisioned an issue made up largely of short stories and poetry, we had no idea how to illustrate the cover. Our freelance illustrator, Stan Kephart, came up with the concept of the couple on the beach, holding the issue they were illustrating in their hands. Stan died last year, but the cover within a cover has continued. If you look closely at this cover, you will see a sampling of Stan’s work over the years. And yes, another cover within a cover. Thank you, Stan.

The Summer Fiction issue also marks the midsummer break of U.S. 1. There will be no paper on July 30, but we will resume the weekly schedule August 6. While our office will be open, many staffers will be on vacation. The best way to reach us will be E-mail, which will be checked regularly.

Printed below is one sample of the fiction contained in this year’s Summer Fiction issue. We hope you enjoy it.

The Salsa Queen of Princeton

By V.L. Sheridan

"Grandma thinks you’re an asshole.” What a lovely way to start the day. I looked at my 12 year old daughter, sipping her hot chocolate and munching a toasted waffle. I couldn’t decide which was worse, being told my mother continues to consider me the village idiot, or that my darling daughter, who loves animals and knows all the songs in the musical “Rent” and cries when Angel dies, feels the need to remind me of this fact. I hope this isn’t a sign that her impending adolescence is going to be as combative as mine was.

“She says you’re stupid for going to a dance class. She says you’re wasting your time looking to meet someone because you always pick losers anyway.”

SIGH. That woman’s never forgiven me for being born without a penis. You would think after 47 years she would have come to terms with that fact. I swallowed my coffee and tried to think of an answer that didn’t sound defensive.

“I like to dance. It makes me feel good about myself. Going out one night a week isn’t be selfish.” Ah, the single mother’s albatross around the neck, putting herself first. So why do I feel guilty anyway? “I go out for me, not necessarily to meet someone.”

“Yea, but if you met someone he could help you pay the bills,” chimed in my 15-year-old son. “It would be nice I we could afford to have cable TV. And an internet connection. And a better cell phone plan.” How comforting to realize my son viewed relationships for their financial possibilities. I guess I should just settle on the candidate that would bring about the best economic reform.

“You’re such a romantic” I said to him. “No”, he replied, “I’m a realist. Not having cable sucks. We live like the Amish, no cable, no Internet, no microwave. More money makes life easier. You need a boyfriend.”

“Go to school,” I said, reaching for my car keys. “Get a decent education so you can buy your own cable.”

Why was I going to this class, I thought on the ride into Princeton. You never meet anyone at these things; you join a book club and its ten women and one retired man. Take a cooking class and there’s more estrogen than tarragon in the room. The idea of meeting someone new seemed fresh and alive when my marriage first ended, but now, ten years later, the chances seem slim to none. One doesn’t want to give up hope, but is it asking too much to meet a man you can have an adult conversation with? I don’t want to have any more discussions on the diversity and complexities of Pokemon fighting techniques or have a meal that includes a plastic toy. When does being realistic about your chances to meet someone decent turn into giving up hope and settling for someone who bathes on a regular basis?

Hope. Love is important in life, but hope is essential. Hope is what gets you out of bed in the morning, what comforts you before you fall asleep at night. It drives you through the day, whether it’s a mundane hope of “I hope I get to work on time, damn this Route 1 traffic,” to something akin to a profound prayer, “I hope I’m not screwing up my kids’ lives.” When Pandora finally gave into temptation (ah, temptation, it’s been far too long since I’ve been tempted) and opened the box that released all the evils into the world, she slammed the lid shut before hope flew away. Sometimes hope is all we have left in our own life. When we lose hope do we lose everything? Is there any point in going on without hope?

Parking in town (talk about hope, how about hoping to find a meter that worked), I went about the usual routine of work; spreadsheets, reconciling bank statements, lunch, gossip, filing. As 5:00 drew near my confidence began to wane like the setting sun. Why was I going to this class? I loved to dance, but my previous experiences with Community Education dance classes hadn’t been very enjoyable. The tango class last spring made me uncomfortable. Tango is full of machismo control with the man moving the woman around, she having to wait for him to initiate the movement. It brought back feelings of being trapped in a relationship with a controlling and abusive husband. Would a salsa class be better or a variation on a theme I didn’t want to repeat?

I drove home, made dinner for the kids, took a shower and changed into an appropriate outfit for the evening, half way between overly confident and desperately trying too hard. The class began at 7:30 at the community center in town. My mother would arrive at 6:30 to watch the kids for me; that would give me plenty of time to drive back into Princeton and find a place to park.

“You look pretty,” my youngest said, “I like that dress. Those earrings are pretty. Can I have them when you die”? My son wants me to marry to increase our economic possibilities, my older daughter contradicts everything I say, and my youngest daughter is taking inventory of my possessions. Kids. Gotta love ‘em.

“When I’m dead you and your brother and sister can fight over all of my stuff. I’m not promising anything to anyone.”

“TSK.” My mother had arrived and was voicing her usual disapproval of the way I expressed myself around my children. Forty seven years of mutual disappointment. I suppose we’ll be locked in that bond of mutual disappointment for the next forty seven years. “Will you be late coming home, because I don’t like to drive home when it’s late?”

“No, the class ends at 9:30, so I should be home by 10. Unless I meet someone”.

“TSK.” That was her “how presumptuous” click. My mother could say more with a click of her tongue than any great orator.

“Bye guys, be good for Grandma.”

“Remember,” my son called from his room, “it would be nice to have cable.”

The drive into Princeton took less time at this hour of night than during the morning commute, so I arrived at the community center with way too much time to spare. This isn’t so good; I thought to myself, I’ll only start psyching myself out. I sat in my car, hoping to see a friendly face go in. The parking lot was half empty (come on, be optimistic, it’s half full), and I wondered who was all ready inside. Well, you could always go in and find out, that little voice inside my head said, instead of sitting out here in your car noticing that your shoes are a little too tight and your skirt is a little too short, and wondering why you put yourself through this. It’s just as easy to stay at home at night After all working a full time job and raising three kids on your own, that’s a long day, any one would be tired, no one would blame you if all you did was sit on the couch and watched “An Affair to Remember” for the 25th time. Yes, I said, interrupting myself, someone would blame me. Hope. Hope would blame me for not trying just once more.

I opened the car door and made my way towards the front door of the building. I could hear some music coming through an open window; I could see some people milling about the dance floor. I opened the door, took a deep breath and went in. We went in; me and Hope.

V.L. Sheridan works at the McCarter Theater Center for the Performing Arts. An East Windsor resident, Sheridan says she has “given up on book clubs and cooking classes,” but still has hope that one day she will meet her ‘Nickie Ferrante’ at the top of the Empire State Building.

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