Carlisle (fiction)| Patrice Hutton



Mitch sat on the couch and surveyed the walls of his living room. He’d hung six framed photos, two and two and two, on three of the walls. Mitch rose and approached the windows, turning to lean on the windowsill. He wasn’t sure what to do with a living room. You’re young and then you get a living room and nobody teaches you anything about them. He had these photos—one more every year—so he hung them. Now and then a roommate would ask “where is this again,” and he’d say “Carlisle, but I haven’t been there.”


At Speedy’s 1-Hour Photo, Penny hogged the only chair in the waiting room and contemplated the length of an hour. Her right foot pecked out the few tap moves she knew. Three customers stood beside the chair. Every few minutes, Penny got up and thumped her purse on the counter. The photo technician turned and sighed in exasperation.

“What’s the rush to get this in the mail today?”

“My friend wants to see Carlisle.”

“Where’s he live?

“Won’t get there for a week anyway.”


Mitch pulled the photo from an envelope and set it on his desk. He turned on his lamp for better light. Penny must have leaned out of a window to take this one. Some window right beside the Carlisle Theatre’s awning. The awning jutted forward into a triangle. On one diagonal block letters (filled in with marquee bulbs) ran backwards, E-L-S-I-L-R-A-C. In the foreground, near Mitch’s thumb, just an L-E. It was daytime, but in the night, what color did the lights glow? A trio of elderlies strolled beneath the awning, arms linked. Two hats and the other wearing gloves. It must have taken the most precarious of window-leans for Penny to capture all of that. Mitch grasped the photo again. Sixty years and Penny would be as old as these woman.


This porch (of all the small town porches) had just the right angle on Molly Pitcher’s grave. Or, the three markers that read “Molly Pitcher.” Nobody really knew where she was. Penny wanted the porch to frame the spectacle of the gravesite (a heroic bronze and 30 foot flagpole, competing skyward). The rest of the graveyard would jut beyond the porch; grass too manicured for how dead these dead were.

“Honey.” A woman emerged from a wooden blue door. “You’re the one who should have your photo taken.”

Penny lowered her camera, letting it drape from her neck. “Sorry, ma’am. Using your porch to get an angle on—”

“Let me take it,” the woman said. “Why photograph a graveyard when you can put your pretty self in a picture? You don’t see dresses like that nowadays.”


They were at a party and all the talk was that it was too hot for fireflies this summer with these ninety-five degree evenings. But it was cooler tonight and Mitch sat on the porch. Penny sat a step below with her legs stretched across the brick.

“They don’t make porches like they used to,” Penny said.

“That’s okay,” Mitch said. “There’d be a crowd out here otherwise.”

“You should see the porches in Carlisle,” Penny said. “I sat on one and read your letters. They were hilarious.” She patted Mitch’s sneaker. “They got me through ballet camp.”

Mitch watched Penny’s hand. “It was that bad?”

Penny shrugged. “I don’t know if I’ll do ballet forever,” she said.


These mixing bowls I bought, they nest into each other. I suppose that’s how you store them and then you pull them apart to mix something? We’ll see if I get that far. It scares me, Mitch, that I bought these Robin-egg-speckled mixing bowls. I probably didn’t need two of them. Objects I’ll eventually have to lug. Do I think I’m better than all these folks who are nesting? Tell me if that’s what I’m trying to say. I pile my fruit in the bigger bowl and arrange it so bananas never squish the kiwis. I like the colors and formations but don’t think its art. Art is another thing that makes you feel permanent, but I’m lonely without it. When I was seven I decorated my room with birds nests. Can you hear that I’m repenting? I’d climb trees and snatch. But everyone we knew in high school is nesting. Saturdays are for painting kitchens. I didn’t see it coming so fast. College is barely over and done. Twenty-two was supposed to be when our grandmas did it. Hope you’re well, Mitch.

— Penny


Mitch stared into the monitor, idly, realizing that within minutes he could pull together an understanding of Carlisle, Pennsylvania. He removed his glasses and loosened and rolled his right cuff. His left hand hovered over the home row. Maybe he’d just look at the first image that Google pulled up. Stop himself there. But then it’d stop being Penny’s Carlisle, right? He drew his hands from the keyboard, trying to remember all that she’d mentioned over the years. Town square + War College + custard stands + Indian School + car shows. And what took her there initially, of course: the town-engulfing ballet camp. Bun-heads on the lam. He’d write her back. You’ve not seen Carlisle in autumn, have you?


I didn’t make it to Carlisle this year, Mitch, and the world didn’t end. Patterns snap and you still get August. Ballet is done for me. And no new photos, but I’ll keep this habit up long past others, so I dug this one out. A woman once found me on her porch and snapped the photo. I’m sorry to interject myself into the scene.

I’ve not been to Carlisle in autumn. I don’t know the town apart from the summer. I imagine the leaves change, as they do any other place, but I’ve hardly given it a thought. What did you mean by asking?



A cab pulled up in front of the Molly Pitcher Hotel. The driver clenched a cigarette in his teeth and rooted for change. Mitch checked in and waited in a stiff-backed chair in the lobby.

“Sir,” called the woman at the front desk. “There are a couple bars downtown.”

“My friend will be here soon,” he said.

“The Gingerbread Man is just around the corner,” she said. “Good place to sit outside and wait.”

Mitch shrugged. He swung the room key on his finger and tapped his foot, counting the rows of green diamonds laid across the white marble floor.

“What brings you to Carlisle?” she asked.

He’d tell her that a girl had sent him photos of the town for a decade. She’d come every summer for ballet camp, but now they’re meeting there—the two of them—so she could show him the town. That he didn’t want to go anywhere—to move from this chair—until she arrived. But how much of it, he’d say, how much of it is me wanting to see Carlisle or me wanting to see her? And how much of it her wanting to see me or her wanting to see Carlisle in the fall?

Patrice Hutton graduated with a B.A. in Writing Seminars from Johns Hopkins University in 2008, with the distinction of the Three Arts Club of Homeland Award for excellence in fiction writing. Her fiction appears in Mount Hope Magazine and Prime Number Magazine. Patrice is the director of Writers in Baltimore Schools.

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