Recognizing Ugly

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March 17, 2011 by The Citron Review

by Bruce Holland Rogers


Way too early in the morning, Cathy made her way to the chair by the single window in her attic flat. From the chair she could look out over the still sleeping neighborhoods of West Kilburn. The only tall building at this end of London was the Trellick Tower, with its brilliant floodlight. At this distance, in the pre-dawn darkness, the tower was just a dark shape holding up a solitary blue-white beacon. It blazed like Venus, the morning star, promising dawn.

At the university she studied in the library before and between lectures. Lunch was a boiled egg and some carrot sticks. She met with her tutor, planned her final paper, and studied in the library some more before returning to her flat. Six more months of this and she’d be done.

In the evening she called her parents’ house and talked to the children. Melissa said ma-ma-ma-ma-ma, and Sam lingered on the phone and would not say goodbye until finally Cathy’s mother had to take the phone away.

That weekend, Cathy took the first train to Newcastle and had the afternoon and night and the next morning with Melissa and Sam, reading to them and walking with them and playing until it was time to go, and Sam asked, “When will you be our real mum again?”

Weeknights she was up late reading or writing and occasionally just looking out the window. Sometimes she fell asleep in the chair and dreamed of her kids, waking to the reality of their absence and the electric Venus burning at the top of Trellick Tower.

In her module in “Planning and Design” the lecturer got a laugh when he said, “The object today is to teach you, using local examples, to recognize ugly.” The slides were of the usual culprits: the MI6 headquarters, like a castle built for robots. St. George Wharf, a residential development for people who wanted to live in office buildings. The sterile open spaces between the cruise-ships-run-aground at Battersea Reach. But when he showed a slide of Trellick Tower, Cathy felt a rush of sympathy, as if for a friend who was being rubbished by bullies.

Yes, Trellick Tower looked like a cell block tipped on its side. But this daylight photo wasn’t showing her classmates the tower Cathy knew.

The floodlight wasn’t on. They couldn’t see the morning star.


Bruce Holland Rogers has taught fiction writing at the University of Colorado, the University of Illinois, and Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest (on a Fulbright grant). He is a member of the permanent MFA faculty of the Whidbey Writers Workshop at the Northwest Institute of Literary Arts. His fiction has won a Pushcart Prize and various stories have been translated into two dozen languages.


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