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a short story by Haley Stanko

Two students from the University were sent to the small town to write reports for a class. They drove two and a half hours to the southern part of the state. The students often heard people talk about the state as though it was separated into distinct thirds: the northern third, home to the University and wealthiest suburbs, the middle third, the center of state government and a large military base, and the southern third, a sparse landscape of long-forgotten industrial towns. The students knew well the geography of the state on paper; this assignment was their first introduction to the reality of the divisions.

The students pulled off the highway and passed a corridor of big-box stores to enter the town. They gazed out the window at empty sidewalks and crumbling facades. One student had expected this disheveled appearance; part of her research focused on a state rehabilitation program to fund façade improvements. She eagerly wrote notes in a small purple notebook as they drove into town.

They parked outside a small café, the only open storefront on the main street. Inside the café an elderly couple sat hunched over plates of eggs and toast. A middle-aged waitress refilled their coffee cups and peered out the window at the students. One student paused to read some fliers in the café window. Many of the fliers were handwritten in marker, one conveyed a plea for overnight childcare.

Together, the students walked on cracked concrete from the café to the park where they would find the office of the town revitalization manager.

The park was on a riverbank with large old trees. The landscape appeared well maintained and to the students’ surprise, well populated for a Tuesday morning. A man sat on a bench, a paper bag at his feet. Another man perched over the river with a fishing pole. The students smiled at the activity. The men looked serene in the mid-morning light of the spring day. Another man approached on a bicycle, avoiding eye contact with the students and wobbling slightly as he passed, a sagging plastic bag clutched against one handlebar.

The horticulture student set out to measure the park’s tree cover. His project was to suggest landscape improvements using native plants.

The policy student entered an office at the edge of the park and introduced herself to the revitalization manager, who glanced up from a newspaper as she let herself in.

“Hello. Thank you for taking the time to meet with me. What a beautiful town.” She looked out the window at the park.

“What questions do you have?”

“Well,” she looked down at her notebook. She had a list of questions and decided to start with something positive. “I like this park. How does the town utilize this park as a resource in revitalization?”

The manager gestured to a building across the street. “This is the park next to the liquor store,” he said. “It is the greatest resource for the men in this town.”

Art Academy of Milton will be featuring short stories written by the students of Michael Rash's Prose Writers' Workshop. To learn more about the next workshop and other events, visit our classes page!


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