The Best Years

by Nicole Hebdon


Prom had to be cancelled the year of the feed mill fires. We hoped, since the venue was a block away, that the scent of rat corpses and burned molasses wouldn’t stick. It did. Susie petitioned to have the dance moved; the principal refunded everyone’s money instead, so Susie hosted a slumber party. We hung tinfoil stars. Someone’s brother bought us two cases of beer. But the only music Susie played was Christian rock. Even turned all the way up, it wasn’t as loud as her brother’s catcalls or the girl who cried all night about her stained skirt. Still, we smiled for hundreds of photos. As we were dancing, our chiffon and satin scaping against the boys’ denim, we knew that we wouldn’t remember the dead rat smell well enough to describe it, but that we would one day tell our daughters that our dates smelled like molasses cookies, and that their skin was warmer than the heat of a two-week-old smolder.


Nicole Hebdon’s fiction has been published in The Kenyon Review, The New Haven Review, The Southampton Review, The New Ohio Review, and The Antigonish Review among other places. She has taught creative writing at Stony Brook University and Sylvan Learning Center, and is currently volunteering at the Just Buffalo Literary Center. She is writing a horror novel about sisterhood. She received her MFA from Stony Brook Southampton and journalism degrees from SUNY Plattsburgh. 


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What surprising, fascinating stuff can you tell us about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of “The Best Years”?

I grew up in a rural town where memories were somewhat shared. Local floods, blizzards and fires were events we both learned about in history class and read about in the newspaper. The feedmill fire in “The Best Years” is one of those shared memories. I’m not sure where or when this fire took place, but I remember hearing about it at family gatherings, or perhaps at school. As an adult, I experienced a feedmill fire and was struck by how strongly it smelled. It smelled for days.

When writing “The Best Years” I was thinking about how dishonest a photograph can be. I imagined the children of the characters looking at their parents’ prom photos and only taking in the sparkle and tulle. Even if their parents told them about the fire, they would never understand what that meant. 


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Matter Press recently released titles from Meg Boscov, Abby Frucht, Robert McBrearty, Tori Bond, Kathy Fish, and Christopher Allen. Click here.

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