‘The Barbecue’ by Mary Ward Brown

I like iconoclastic young people. And wunderkinds can be thrilling. But there is nothing about writing which makes it necessarily the province of youth. Mary Ward Brown, for instance, was in her late sixties when she published her first collection, Tongues of Flame, set in Perry County, Alabama. Here are people who aren’t southern grotesques going about their business. In ‘The Barbecue’ a non-invitation to a barbecue confirms for Tom and Martha their inferiority – his physical, hers social – and the general unfairness of how things are. But what to do? “Why don’t you take an aspirin?” Martha suggests. But Tom’s mind is filled with questions “he couldn’t even understand, much less answer”.

First published in The Threepenny Review,1982. Collected in Tongues of Flame, University of Alabama Press, 1986