The Best American Short Stories 1994
One of the reasons I enjoy reading short fiction so much is because of the way authors make the reader jump right into a story and then a little bit later, jump back out. “Hammam” is a good example of this technique and I’m left wondering what will become of the three characters Carol Anshaw has sketched for me.
Carmen has been dating Rob for a few months and now she’s on a trip to Paris with him. Rob, a troubleshooter for a chain of hair salons, is on the trip to check on the Paris franchises. Accompanying them is Heather, Rob’s passive-aggressive and closed-up teenage daughter, who is taking time off from school because of an “ailment” that Carmen suspects is an eating disorder.
Before Rob leaves for a meeting, he asks Carmen to spend the afternoon with Heather. “Don’t make it look as though we’ve talked, as though you’re chaperoning. Just…if you could pretend to be interested. Whatever it is.” Carmen groans to herself, knowing they won’t be going to the Eiffel Tower or the Louvre, that Heather will be choosing something different and edgy from her Hip Pocket Guide to Paris.
Heather picks a hammam, a Turkish steam bath, “probably the worst idea…out of all the terrible ideas in her guidebook” and Carmen, who is painfully modest, wonders how she will manage with just a small towel in a bath full of strangers.
Something different happens, however. Carmen’s apprehension fades when she sees Heather’s shockingly bony frame which has been hidden under a defensive arrangement of black leather and jeans. As they move through the sauna rooms, Carmen watches Heather disappear in the steam and for a few moments they are lost from the world in the depths of the hammam. A strange connection between them results, something Carmen views as a beginning.
It’s a loose bond that seems forgotten at dinner, however, where Heather’s food issues are most obvious. An awkward conflict results and Rob must take sides. Despite Rob’s efforts to keep the three of them together, the dinner and the story end with a big question mark.
Anshaw provides just enough character details to leave them on the edge of a situation and now it’s up to the reader to finish the story. I like that!
Thanks for visiting – come back soon!