m e l a n i e    p a g e

The Big Tent


In preparation for commencement weekend, the all-women’s college puts up a prestigious white tent in the open lawn area, a beautiful outdoor ceremony. The workers raise poles and nail stakes into the ground. They heft the rough canvas material, speak, laugh together. They drink water from the coffee cups they used in the morning.

The young women watch with their legs pointed sun-ward, lie in the grass, roll around like chinchillas, ignore their books and each other, texting friends from Biology or Art History, boys at other schools, parents across the country. When they try to speak, their mouths open and out come gurgling sounds: “gaaaagh,” they say, out of practice with their lips and tongues.

As the top of the tent gets higher, the poles stretch further, the stakes are hammered deeper. The tent shades the women’s bodies, and they inch back to the sunny spots, pushing buttons with one thumb and pulling blankets or towels with the other hand. But the tent covers the whole lawn; its shadow stretches to the library, the science building; they nail more stakes, it covers the music building and finally the sign welcoming visitors and new students with their families that points toward the administration building. When the sun sets the tent blocks out the city lights and the moon. The young students have never seen anything like this--in fact, they cannot see at all, so the opposite must be true; it is like deep sleep. But they don’t want to turn on the lights and spoil the adventure. Never before have they walked around using only sound and touch, resulting in bumps and laughter.

The women play a game where they can’t speak using phones, so they send messages with their music players, turning up the volume so a woman in another building could hear the message if she leaned out her window. “Pardon me while I burst,” says Martha, who has her period and is not happy about it. There is pop music and Christmas carols, country twang on fuzzy speakers and hits of the 90s. The music clashes and women turn their volume dials up and up. Some put pillows to their ears and others plug in extension cords. They can’t tell if it’s night or day and the tent is so big. Class doesn’t exist anymore—they could be tardy or on summer break, but they continue to sing their lives, radio waves expanding from their hearts out into the air.



MELANIE PAGE is a graduate of the MFA program at the University of Notre Dame who grew up on a Native American reservation in Central Michigan. Her fiction has been published in over a dozen magazines, and she enjoys writing book reviews solicited from magazines such as The American Book Review and The Notre Dame Review. She has presented a literary scholarship paper at the &NOW Festival of Innovative Writing. Also, she has edited two books, a mystery novel entitled New America, and the book-in-progress, The Buddha Pill. Page currently teaches literature at Saint Mary’s College in Indiana.

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