Big-Headed Anna Watches Over

by Stephanie Dickinson



Big-Headed Anna Befriends the Girl Who Delivered Her Baby in Secret (and walked away)

Bathhouse Row. Hot Springs. 1922

1913 and the mob pressed toward the 14-year old Angéle who gave birth near the river. The infant was found alive on a pillow of dank leaves. Angéle worked eight years on the prison farm. Now she helps me launder sheets and towels at the bathhouse. If she leans against the wash tub with the loose right handle, I know she’s hurting remembering cramp-like rags stuffed into her intestines to choke her stomach. Rush, Arkansas, she claims she’s from. The fire burns blue under the copper vat. I run sheets through the mangle wringer. It’s happening again, isn’t it, Big Head? Water crying down my legs. I can’t keep this. I tie the bleeding cord with string. I calm the girl. Tell her to hang some sheets to line and heat the flat irons. Every morning Angéle makes herself forget the boy who said he liked her mouth. A ripe blue plum that someone would be honored to take a bite from. They held hands in a hundred different ways, she wrote on his palms and arms with her fingers. I am talking to you through your skin. In the bald knob grasses he showed her how she could delight him without losing her innocence. Her lips kissing the male part of him, swimming him in circles, until he wept. For us to go away, he said, she must pleasure other men and earn the marriage money. Then he’ll bring her to Hot Springs and the palaces of marble where ladies wear silk dresses into the bathing pools and there are ostriches with yellow feathers that children ride like tiny ponies. He made her a pallet in the rank tall weeds. The stinking others took everything from her but left their seed. All that green winter with no snow or ice the leaves yellowed as they clutched their branches and Angéle lay under men who paid to rape her. Fog rolled through the hollows against the hickory’s sinews. Angéle tells me once more she’d like to look into the boy’s loam-colored eyes, to shiver, to either spit on him or forgive. We both stand in sunlight to wash the dirty collars.


Stephanie Dickinson lives in New York City. Her novels Half Girl and Lust Series are published by Spuyten Duyvil, as is her feminist noir Love Highway. Other books include Heat: An Interview with Jean Seberg, (New Michigan Press), Flashlight Girls Run (New Meridian Arts), and Girl Behind the Door (RMP). Her work has been reprinted in Best American Nonrequired Reading, New Stories from the South, and 2016 New Stories from the Midwest. She is the editor of Rain Mountain Press. For the past few years she’s been focused on the Maximum Compound Unit at the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women in Clinton, New Jersey and (with the help of her amazing inmate friends) is writing a collection of essays. She identifies as a gunshot survivor.


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What surprising, fascinating stuff can you tell us about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of “Big-Headed Anna Watches Over”?

The inspiration for this book-length collection of flash fictions of which “Big-Headed Anna Watches Over” is one, was my great-aunt. Each flash fiction in the book is connected by the character of Big-Headed Anna, who I’ve imagined as an American drifter at the beginning of the 20th century, a young woman born with a large head who is an outcast. She wanders through the South, taking odd jobs like washing floors in New Orleans’ brothels, shucking oysters in Lafayette Square, selling bait in Galveston boathouses. I did not learn of my great-aunt’s existence until my mother in the last year of her life mentioned “Anna” who was born with a big head. My great-grandmother, very pregnant with Anna, had been kicked in the stomach by the cow she was milking. Everyone blamed the cow for the baby’s misshapen head. I found it odd that my very formal mother called the woman who was her aunt “Anna” as if she could not see the big-headed woman as “Aunt Anna.” No, she was only a grownup child who wore a big hat. From such humble beginning the imagination can be kindled.


Check out the write-up of the journal in The Writer.

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

Matter Press is now offering private flash fiction workshops and critiques of flash fiction collections here.


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