All posts by sofiacapel

PARTIES ARE FOR PUSSIES AND OTHER THINGS YOU DON’T LEARN IN COTILLION, FICTION BY CASSANDRA MORRISON

 

The women that came out of my Deb class, like all the generations of Debs before us, are truly impressive. There’s Sarah, who has two children and a house in Briarcrest, and Delilah, who moved to Georgia for law school, dropped out after one semester and got married. Then Addy, who married a pilot and has houses in three time zones and a poodle that she dresses up in Burberry coats. Lauren, meanwhile, teaches Spanish at our old high school and dates the math teacher. I’m twenty-six, single, live in a one-bedroom apartment, and throw parties for a living.

Together, the five of us were invited to be in the Debutante class. We took Cotillion classes every Saturday for four years. Four years of well-meaning, old-money, aristocratic women trying to teach us important lessons to ensure our social standing after graduation. It worked for some, I guess. My mother was sure that Cotillion and etiquette classes would help me become a Sarah, a Delilah, maybe even an Addy, if I was lucky. Instead, I just learned the importance of minute details like fork placement and the intricacies of napkin folding, seating arrangements and the St. James Bow.
—-The tradition of the Debutante Ball began in France but is alive and well in the South because of the righteous way that discrimination among social classes has been a rich thread throughout our history. To become a debutante one must be sponsored or selected by a committee or member of the elite upper class. My mother was a debutante, and her mother was before that, and her mother and so on, so I was a shoo in. The culture insists that at eighteen years old, girls put on a white dress and satin gloves, curtsy to the community, and announce their eligibility for marriage.
—-I never harbored any real resentment toward the Debutante practice, but that’s because I find humor in the futility of most Southern traditions. Plus, I’ve always appreciated formal attire.
—-After our presentation, the other Debs and I posed for a picture and went our separate ways. Even though we didn’t follow the same paths, the lives we’ve all found ourselves in have one thing in common on the outside: beautiful and socially appropriate. We are the children of the ‘fake it till you make it’ generation. Let me be clear: I’m no better than this, I too have become obsessed with appearance, to the point that it’s embarrassing. And here is where we begin our story.

—-I’ve hosted many baby showers before. Never for a man, though. And more specifically, never for a man that’s been inside of me before. Hosting a baby shower for a man you have had sex with is different. It was a very twenty-first century woman thing for me to do, I think. Obviously when I met him I didn’t know he would be the final proverbial straw in my foray into the party planning business. I met him during my first day at the restaurant.
—-“Hey, hey, what’s your name?”
—-I kept my head down but raised my eyes long enough to gather that he was in fact motioning toward me. “Alicia.” I said, smiling because your voice sounds nicer when you smile while speaking.
—-“You’re the fancy new party planner?”

—-“Yeah, that’s me.”
—-After I graduated with my degree in Hospitality, my Debutante ties had helped me secure this position in the finest restaurant in the city. I wasn’t ashamed of the nepotism; that’s how it works, my mother had assured me, plus I was confident I could do what I was hired for. The kitchen, along with the restaurant, was proving to be less elegant than I had hoped, however. It continues to surprise me how life is never as pretty or exciting as you imagine it to be. At this point I still hadn’t realized that my inherently high expectations are always a surefire way to be disappointed.
—-There was a huge coffee maker on top of the stainless steel counter top, hundreds of clear, heavy mismatched glasses set above the station that mixed carbonation with sugary liquid to produce a coke, red paint thrown on the wall in a way that someone had deemed “artistic”, a humming ice machine the size of a large calf that I would learn only sometimes makes ice, and unorganized wine bottles everywhere. There was wine all over the otherwise clean kitchen. Boxes and wooden crates of bottles hidden throughout the restaurant. The sous chef walked around the open window that relayed the food to the servers, and squeezed my shoulders. I went rigid and stared up at him. This was my first day and I had intended to blend in, but Chef had already yelled at me for being in the way, and now this 6’5” kitchen guy clearly felt sorry for me. Pity is never an emotion a Southern woman wants to elicit from a man, especially not an attractive man.
—-“Chef is an asshole. But talented. A talented asshole, so we put up with it. Just don’t cry,” he said. “You’ll be fine. And yeah, the wine doesn’t belong here. We know. But there’s just too much to find a home for.”
—–His eyes were so green that they looked photoshopped and his skin was a shade that looked like he spent more time on the lake than in the kitchen. He exuded a sense of confidence that comes from being attractive since birth. But here he was, talking to me, in the kitchen of the new restaurant I was working at.
—-“Do you smoke?”
—-“Cigarettes?” I asked.
—-He laughed and nodded.
—-“Only sometimes.”
—-“Would now be one of those times?”
—-I smiled and followed him out the back door.
—-After my second drag, I asked his name.
—-“Robert. I’m just the sous chef, I won’t be the one to make you cry.”
—-I almost told him that I never cry, but I laughed instead. I love new jobs for moments like this: the moment before everyone knows your deepest secrets and the worst parts of you. You can be anyone you want to be, and I wasn’t sure who I wanted to be to Robert yet. I decided maybe I wanted to be the timid, mysterious girl for a while. So I was.

—-By the third week of working there, I was making more money than I needed, and I had found my niche. In addition to planning the parties for socialites, I was in charge of finding places for the wine. I would come in early, pick up the boxes, categorize them, put two bottles of each into the appropriate temperature-controlled coolers and then unload the rest into the office that was basically a shanty with plywood shelves. I liked having a purpose, and Chef seemed to appreciate my initiative. I had been taught that being validated by a man’s opinion of you is an important characteristic of success. But in reality I was just using these tasks as an excuse to spend more time with Robert, as he was always there.
—-“We’re going to Stillhouse after work,” Robert said.
—-“Is that an invitation or just a statement of your whereabouts?” I smiled.
—-He laughed.
—-“I want you to come.”
—-We discussed the lyrics to “Sex and Candy”, the utility of steel versus every other type of cookware, the importance or lack of importance of organic produce, the recent epidemic of gluten allergies and gluten allergy imposters, my knowledge of the Southern traditions, his childhood up North and his mother’s Southern cooking. And other things that were equally inane, I’m sure. But in those conversations, I made myself seem exactly how I wanted to: confident, yet docile. Later, we would decide after messy shots and messier foreplay that we knew what sex and candy smelled like.
—-I woke up in his bed the next morning, slipped out while he was asleep and wondered how I would get home before I had to be at work. I called my best friend Alex for a ride. She wasn’t a Deb and she didn’t have a 9-5 job or a husband to wonder where she was 24/7; she was an artist. Since we were childhood neighbors even before cellphones, we had employed our two-call rule: if you call twice, you really need something. So on my second ring of my second call, she answered. When she pulled up I could tell that something was off; she was frowning at the house. I opened the car door, and, before I could sit down, she accosted me with questions. “Who were you with?”
—-“Just this guy from work.”
—-“Tall? Really nice eyes?”
—-“Yes…”
—-“Fucking awesome,” she said, in a tone that let me know it was definitely not awesome.
—-I worried the worry that every small town woman worries: how Biblically do you know the man I know.
—-“He’s Dana’s baby daddy.”
—-“What?”
—-“You know the girl we’ve known since Junior High that is five months
pregnant, Alicia,” she looked at me, clearly disgusted.
—-“How would I have known who Dana’s baby daddy was? I haven’t spoken to her in at least four years.”
—-“Did he not tell you?”
I stopped for a moment to process what she had said and began weighing my options for saying more. She was still looking at me expectantly. On the one hand, if he had told me, I would be seen as callous for not caring that he was having a baby with Dana, or any woman for that matter, and on the other hand, if he hadn’t told me, he comes across as an asshole for sleeping with other women when he’s having a child in four months. “No. He didn’t tell me.”
—-“Well, now you know. You can’t do it again. I’m going to pretend it didn’t happen.”
—-“I really didn’t know. I actually like him.”
—-“Stop. No you don’t. Seriously. He’s clearly an asshole. Poor Dana.”
Alex was right. He was an asshole. He definitely hadn’t told me. I should’ve stopped then. But I didn’t. The next time I spent the night I had to hide in his bedroom for two hours while Dana’s best friend sat in the living room with his roommate— of course they were dating.
—-“Look, I have to be at work in thirty minutes,” I said, “I’m just going to leave.”
He looked around the room, clearly uncomfortable, grabbing my hand as I stood up.
—-“I’m sure Kelly would tell Dana, and it would just concern her, you know. She’s got pregnancy brain and I don’t want to stress her out.”
—-“But you’re not together, right?”
—-“Right,” he said, intertwining his fingers with mine.
—-“So it’s just because it’s me then?”
—-“Yeah, I mean, you know how that would look.”
—-He was right, the way things look is the most important aspect, after all. And I wanted to believe him even though that’s when I realized the reason I felt a little bit like a hooker was because I should. He was ashamed of me. I would like to say that I told him to go to hell but instead, I tabled all of my anger and cuddled back up into bed with him. I quickly accepted the excitement of having a secret relationship. As if there was something especially seductive about not ever being seen in public together, or never being able to tell your best friend about your lover. I’m not sure why, but it really did excite me for a while.

—-A lot about the South has changed since the Debutante culture began teaching young women the proper way to be young women. The appropriate way to build a life. For instance, pregnancy out of wedlock is okay now. Living together before marriage is also semi-okay. Even not wanting children is okay, as long as you’re happily married! But even in such an open-minded Southern society, the one thing that will never be acceptable is ruining anything for a pregnant woman—relationship or otherwise—and of course, stealing someone’s husband. Both of which are considered the equivalent of kicking a dog while it’s down.
—-I wonder sometimes if anything has truly changed or if women just got tired of hiding. Like did my great grandmother have an affair while her husband was away at war? Did the nosey neighbors find out and paint a big red A on her door or just shun her from the weekly Bunko games? Is this why the fear of being shamed by society is inherent in me and prominently taught in Deb culture? Or are we obsessed with the looks of things because it’s the only true way we can control our lives? I can control how everyone views me—or at least I can try.
—-So that’s how I found myself hosting a baby shower for the man I was (at the very least) in lust with, at the restaurant where we worked. Pretending to be excited that he had created a new human with an old friend of mine.

—-Throwing parties is easy. It’s what I was bred to do. I know how to host a baby shower, a wedding shower, an engagement party, a baptism celebration, any kind of life event worth celebrating. And I am a splendid host, of course. I’d been taught how to pick the right china, the right tablecloth colors, to match the napkins to the tablecloths, to measure the height of the floral arrangements, and most importantly, to craft an appropriate guest list before I was even old enough to see an R-rated movie.
—-Chef wanted me to throw a baby shower for Robert so that our restaurant
“family” could celebrate his big life change. No is not part of the vernacular in our world, so here I was—determined to figure out this social quandary. I had no problem keeping the incestuous nature of this “family” a secret. As trained, I simply smiled and went to work. As host, I decided on a brunch-shower, serving as many breakfast meats as I could find, mini quiches, homemade biscuits and gravy, a savory and a sweet scone, and my homemade strawberry jam.
—-We hadn’t stopped seeing each other and we hadn’t stopped keeping it a secret. I knew it wasn’t the decent thing to do. But he’s charming. And very good in bed. The trick became not to arouse any rumors, since it would not reflect well on either of us. We worked with each other but danced around barely acknowledging the other existed. I took note when he went to smoke and made myself busy elsewhere.
—-I’m an expert at crafting guest lists, so I know that Dana was most definitely not on the list. They weren’t together, after all. So when he walked into the restaurant with an eight-months-pregnant Dana on his arm, I was a bit stunned—only on the inside, of course. Appearance, appearance, appearance. I greeted her with a big smile and a hug, so glad to see her. As a good hostess, I was up and about making sure guests had plenty of champagne and sausage while I laughed and wondered how many other women in Deb history had found themselves doing this very same thing. It seemed too appropriately Southern not to laugh.
—-After the shower, after the twelve bottles of champagne, after the minikeg of beer, after the shots of whiskey, after the awkward exchanges of feigned excitement over baby clothes—after all of that, Robert asked me to go to the Stillhouse with him. My third glass of champagne convinced me to agree.
—-At Stillhouse I ordered a shot of Jager and a beer. Robert came in a few minutes after me, and said he just wanted to thank me, again. So he did. He thanked me and thanked me and thanked me. He paid the tab and I tried to tell him why I found him hilarious.—-“Just what are the odds? I mean really. She was a one-night stand. Now you’re having a baby with her. Since she showed up at the shower that she wasn’t even invited to, I’m guessing you’re together now. And she just happens to be someone I grew up with?”
—-“Trust me, Alicia, I know. It’s bizarre. We just recently decided to try to work
it out, for the baby, you know, it’ll just be simpler.”
—-As I inhaled my own cigarette, the smoke-filled air suddenly felt suffocating.
—-“I’m sorry…” He started to say more but I stopped him by laughing.
—-“No, no, no,” I smiled when I spoke again, “No, there’s no reason to be
sorry…it’s great. It’s so great.”

—-He stood up to leave, looked directly into my eyes, and started to reach for my shoulder, but I turned away. “Thanks again, I really do appreciate it.”
—-“Appreciate what specifically?” I raised my eyebrows. “My sleeping with you?
Hiding in your room so you could keep me a secret? Still fucking you when you were having a baby with someone else? Or maybe not telling my old pregnant friend that you’ve been sleeping with me all along? What are you thankful for, Robert? Please, tell me.”
—-“The shower.”
—-I looked away because I didn’t want to see if there was emotion behind his green eyes. I already knew it didn’t matter how they looked anymore. I seethed and sipped my beer and let him leave.
—-I saw a flyer on the wall that Stillhouse was hiring new bartenders and servers. I thought about that beautiful moment when you start a new job, and you can be anyone you want to be. I wondered who I wanted to be this time. Whoever the hell she was, I knew she didn’t want to throw parties.


 

Cassandra Morrison received her MFA in creative non-fiction from Roosevelt University in Chicago, Illinois. She has just finished a book of hybrid fiction and non-fiction that discusses Southern culture, femininity and social neuroses. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Washington Post, Midwestern Gothic, Chicago Literati, Entropy, The Establishment, and others. She is from the South, gets lost frequently and is a little bit basic.

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POETRY BY ANNA DANIELEWICZ

The days we were well socialised

we sent novelistic emails to our amazing volunteers
there were no emoticons
but we spoke about logistics and trips
to the beach

we slipped sachets of plant food into vases
in waiting rooms because we wanted
things to get better but not
just for us

we held open
surgeries attended by people we suspected of slitting
our tyres and throwing
bricks through
our windows

our clothes were patterned our hair
conditioned through not washing and piled up
on our days off
of which there were many

we convened to have our bicycles fixed
by that one guy who was
really good

we hand painted heart warming
displays of pride in our
community it was our way of telling you to
stop parking in our gate

we had no real leverage but we had procedures for different outcomes

we agreed we had a lot in common even
though most of it was gossip

the turnout at our general meetings fluctuated
we archived all the emails in hard copies
we were terrible at texting
we stood up to each
other on social
media

someone spat on us once

our playlists were for
the party because
it was of others
we thought
the most

 

Ha ha human forces

it was on in all the shops
it was never out of earshot

looking for it like looking
for a nail to hang
a sheepskin coat on, wet

smoking is best in the rain
there were four fire engines

people at the record store
looking at me looking at you
as if we won the Eurovision

you sleeping animal
image search sleeping animal

that lamp you said was ugly
found it in a hopeless place,
did we, did we fuck

 


 

Anna Danielewicz is an artist based in Glasgow. Her work can be found at:  annadanielewicz.com

POETRY BY STEPHANIE SY-QUIA

Incoming: Screenshots

1

Where are you?
I am by the bar waiting
Drinking a wine
Not slipping down
the throat but painful
Does this mean
I am not ready?
To be a meeter
of women in bars?

Running late, sorry!
Will be five minutes!

I am waiting
To be amazed by
all the most usual things:
The fall of your hair,
Lashes,
Your repertoire of laughs.

Where are you sorry?
I can’t see you?
Oh the bar you said
Never mind I see you
I am coming
for you

2
We begin with an
exchange of bios.

Yours is a caravan of fruit.
I once nightmared upon opening
documentation that
it was written in emoji.
But
Such fears are foolish as
This is the language
We love in now.

First Step:
Expand the sample size!
(the sample size was not sufficient)

This is love among the slowly-rising
waters:
you paw at the pane
until you meet your match.
although of course the idea of single that
is being submerged slowly too.

3

Commingling in these contactless times:

Fumble with the

Home

Hone in on
the

Button

Of your jeans

No one is thinking about genes I promise
Though that pregnant colleague said she
was the fifth Tinder bride on her fitting day

4

I bought you a toothbrush 
I left it in the cupboard
Over the sink.

I want you in my bed
Every night of the week.

5

Incoming call

Accept?                                      Decline?

6
We are coming in this cloister
The colour of mint ice cream,
Its background the
supermarket stationery
For girls who have
not yet figured out how
To put finger to clit.

In this mint chip distance which
Yawns between us, I am thinking
Of sleeping with you,

 

How we lie like curved things
Which slot.

7
There is a bluntness
These bubbles allow
About which everyone is always
exclaiming
Post-Snowden sex is
Characterised by
A devil-may-care
Erotic apathy
the sleep tracker most downloaded,
which lurks beneath.

Sometimes when we do this,
When I slide into thinking of you,
My cock can rise to meet
The flashing of my phone.
you were with me at 4am, foggy.
beaming into me
With your rainbow ribs

I am the woman who walks by your side. I
gather this ceremony into my arms like an
animal.

8

In the hot place
with the white houses i watched you
cut into the incongruous chapels of
tomatoes,
pare out their hearts and wipe the seeds
into your hair.
I held you as you came shaking
into the cricket-throbbing night.

we ate wine-dark cherries
and stared at the by-turns bottle-coloured
sea.
Singing came to us like flotsam from
further down the town.
While we ate calamari you asked me what
I missed about home.I said only good
public transportation, and that I had
expected to see more apricots here.

9

When Penelope recognises the face of
her husband

Stephanie Sy-Quia August 2018
it is written
she is as a man seeing his homeshore for
the first time
having been too long at sea.
You are where the waves of me are
headed.

in this white hot town
the rocks are at a slant to the sea.

There are many middle-aged couples on
this island.
I like to see their sun-weathered skin
spilling out of bikinis, the way they pick the
flesh of fish off the bone and the muscle
with which they squeeze lemons.

10

In the first flush of desire
I salivated at your self-imaging
then, later, I let it go sour,
as if you hadn’t taken down the listing or
were still trimming
the hedge that lined your escape route.

The full stop is the most potent thing we
have in this age without puncture
a time with no rites
only swipes
and the all-opening thumb.

11

Hey cutie!
How is the vacation going?
I haven’t heard from you in days.

It’s great! We are being v wholesome.
Swam in the sea
Ate paella with clams
Tried the sticky custard
Native to these parts
Walked on the beach
Under thunder
Thought about you naked
Thought about you not at all.

12

Stephanie Sy-Quia August 2018

I have screenshots of all the most
Romantic things you
Said to me.
I read them when I want to
Cry.
*this is an admission of a failing.

In the weeks after
we came asunder
I listened to bad songs with good guitar
parts

i can still smell you on my sheets

you are slovenly and
should wash those.

the morning after
the last time
your kisses came off like
snail scum under the hot
shower.

your semen globbed out whole
once the weekend came around.
.

13

Are you sure you would like to delete this

contact?

14

I love you like
A bike loves WD-40.
Like the burger loves the
lone slice of pickle.
Like the moon loves the sea.

 

Report as spam?

Undo?

[this media is unavailable]
[this message has been deleted]

15

Hey!

It’s been a while!
How have you been?

Sorry, who is this?

 


 

Stephanie Sy-Quia is a journalist living in London.

FAMI(LIES), FICTION BY DANIEL SOLIZ

 

My father disappeared on July the Fourth of 2001. I remember this because it was the Fourth of July and because one never forgets the exact date for such things. That day, he’d elected to not attend the fireworks show at our rented cabin in Possum Kingdom, a family tradition since my brother and I were boys, saying he only wanted to relax at home with a promise of driving out the next day to meet up with us. That evening myself, my mother and brother, my uncle Val and his wife Vanessa and their little girl,
my aunt Viv, her new husband and stepson along with a cousin I hadn’t seen since I was five accompanied by his new girlfriend, roasted bratwursts over a campfire along the lake shore, drinking Bud Light in cans as we spoke, everyone reacquainting with one another, everyone red faced and half-drunk beneath the summer sun that turned to sticky evening amid plastic foldout chairs and soggy footprints in the lake silt, stealing glances at one another’s physiques once our inhibitions had weakened
enough to get in the water.
“Sam,” my mother called from a wicker chair that groaned beneath her considerable weight.
“Be a doll and fetch us some more beer. And take Seth with you.” My mother’s speech was slurred though we knew her as anything but a lightweight, having seen her put away an entire case herself prior to having my brother run out for more liquor. Seth was lassoing some bait onto his fish hook in a pair of dank swimming trunks that sagged in the back.
“Pass. I only spend time alone with him when someone dies,” he said.
“Seth, stop. You know you’re a year older than Sam. He needs you to pay for the alcohol. Go with your brother in case something happens, God forbid.”
“Pass,” Seth repeated, turning to show us his half eclipsed dimply backside as he approached the water with his fishing pole.
“I’ll go,” said my Uncle Val’s wife Vanessa. She’d flung her large bag over her shoulder and was tying a peach sarong around her narrow waist. “I need cigarettes anyway.”
“You’re a lifesaver, dear,” my mother gushed, a tiki torch illuminating the left side of her big smiling face. “Our Val knows how to pick them.”
While mother fished two twenties from her purse, I watched Vanessa brush away a pattern of sand from her pale inner thigh, her gaze catching mine and saying she didn’t mind me admiring her exposed flesh. “Be sure to take the back road off 337, Sam,” warned my mother. “The main highway is littered with damn highway patrolmen. Oh, I suppose they’re just doing their jobs, but whatever happened to the days of letting people have their fun as long as it didn’t hurt anyone?” “I heard that,” Val said from the darkness of the pasture before stumbling into the light, buttoning his cargo shorts but forgetting the zipper, drunkenly skewering a fresh bratwurst as he sat himself between vines of washed up kelp. “Thank you so much, Vanessa,” my mother said, handing me her money. “It’s no problem, Virginia,” replied Vanessa. “Like I said, I need smokes. See that Val doesn’t drink too much while I’m gone?”

I was twenty then, two months from twenty-one and enrolled in the Nolan county community college, working nights as an assistant manager at Dairy Queen to pay my rent and ‘93 Corolla. I was bowlegged, criminally awkward and untouched, the extent of my sexual prowess amounting to a string of sloppily fingered twats with half a dozen unused condoms in my glovebox, though I hid it well. Vanessa’s cigarette was a wavering orange dot in the dimness of the passenger seat.
“What’s your daughter’s name?” I asked.
She exhaled a plume of smoke that dissipated against the windshield. She rolled down her window and tossed her cigarette out, three rogue embers breaking off and extinguishing themselves midair. “Alyssa’s four,” she said. “She’s not Val’s.”
“Who is her father, if you don’t mind me asking?”
I saw her shoulders rise and fall nonchalantly. I watched her peripherally the entire time. “Just some guy I used to know,” she answered. “But Val’s nice. He’s good with Alyssa and he does well for himself.” She shrugged again, holding her plastic lighter to the moonlight to gauge its fluid. “Better safe than sorry, I guess.”
I became more comfortable. Vanessa possessed a bitchy older sister charisma, reprimanding my awkward nature one instant and offering soothing words of encouragement the next. She asked me if I had a girlfriend. I said no. “Good,” she told me. “Girls are nothing but trouble. Best you just keep away
altogether.” She propped her bare feet on the dashboard and popped each toe beneath one heel, a sensuous cacophony of bubbles being pulled apart under her skin that caused me to adjust the stereo in engrossment.
We pulled into a drive through beer joint with neon pilsner logos and dumpster sized ice
machines. “What’ll it be,” asked a girl through the driver’s window. She had bad teeth and a dogeared community college textbook on the chair behind her. Before I could answer, Vanessa leaned across her seat and mine and handed the girl a fifty-dollar bill from her own purse. “Give me a thirty pack of Bud Light, two packs of Marlboro light 100’s and a bag of ice,” she said. “You didn’t have to do that,” I told her, her pert buttocks swiveling playfully in the air.
“It’s nothing. Tell Virginia to keep her money. I like your mother. She’s sweet. Either that or tell her you used it but pocket it for yourself like a bad little boy. Whatever. I won’t tell.” She smiled with the corner of her mouth, remained prone mere inches above me, the scent of shampoo and lake water mingling off her twizzled raven hair. The girl returned with the cigarettes and beer in a heavy paper sack, dropping Vanessa’s change into my nervous hand before emptying an ice bag into a cooler stored away in the trunk. At a red-light Vanessa reached into the bag for two beers,
cracking them one after the other and sucking the foam off the one she handed me. We drank and talked. She offered me a cigarette that for some reason I accepted and smoked down to the filter. “Pull over,” she said suddenly.

“What for?”
“Just pull over.”
The Corolla halted on a dusty shoulder of the highway. No sooner had I parked when Vanessa pounced, throwing her bony thigh over my waist to position her lower back against the steering wheel.
She undid her soggy bikini bottoms that tied at the hips, balling them up and tossing them on the dashboard next to her beer and Marlboros. She grabbed my face and kissed me violently, as though playing out some reverse role rape fantasy. “Get your pants off,” she whispered. The phrase I heard most growing up was, Lord, Sam looks just like Eugene. His face, that voice, the way he walks. Mm, just like Eugene. And they said it just like that. And they were right. I’d inherited my father’s narrow, craggy face that appeared sullen even in the happiest times. His broad shoulders that
looked like broccoli sprouts atop a thin stem on his otherwise scrawny physique. We both had hairlines receding just short of baldness, cursing us with two added inches of furrowed, putupon looking brow. I inherited his soft, swathing tone that people found either charming or frustrating depending on their ability to hear.
My father was a career postal worker, as was his father before him. Monday through Thursday he delivered mail on the south side of town. Fridays and Saturdays, he sorted letters in the back of the post office someplace. During tax season, he made extra money assessing other people’s W-2 forms at fifty dollars a pop, making him the only person in town who didn’t dread this time of year. “Never settle for normal, Sam,” he once told me behind a desk stacked with other people’s tax documents. When I asked him what he meant by that, he waved me out of the room and told me to close the door.
I fear I never understood the man. “Eugen’s impossible to know,” I heard his own father, my grandfather, say once. I suppose he had his moments. He taught my brother Seth and I the requisites: how to throw a fastball, a punch, the polite way to ask for something and how to assert ourselves when necessary, the sturdiness of a good Yes Sir, the astute chivalry of a well-placed No Ma’am, how to fill out money orders and envelopes for our mail order wrestling magazines, how to drive standard as well as automatic, and when the time came how to fill out job applications—employment history, special
training, etc. He cared not for football or baseball, for the NBA Finals or the World Cup. He didn’t watch Nascar or follow pro golf, and if you’d have asked him to name the heavyweight champion of the world he’d have looked at you with the same disinterest one gives a housefly they are too lazy to kill. The only thing that remotely caught my father’s interest was the Weather Channel, which he watched in the accompaniment of a Stouffers microwave dinner and a can of Coors original behind his locked office
door upstairs. It was always like that with him. Cold. Closed off. There but absent. And a sliver of me always marveled jealously when I saw friends interacting with their fathers in accordance with normalcy. Normalcy. It was one afternoon, right after I’d learned to drive, when he had me escort him to the grocery store for some hard-boiled eggs and brisket. Along the way, he said, “Hold on, Sam. Pull over here, will you?” He pointed to a burgundy tinted Cadillac parked outside the Lucky Wash laundromat. He wentinside and emerged moments later with a well-dressed man his own age with silver hair who stood
about my father’s height. They spoke a long while. Unsettling as it was, it was the only time I ever saw my father become animated. He laughed with this man, nodded in jovial agreement with this man. Once, I saw him jokingly punch this man on the arm like he’d never done my brother or me or anyone else. Then my father came back to the car for his cigarettes and zippo before rejoining the man outside the laundromat.
A minute later, he said, “Sam, do me a favor. Get the eggs and brisket and haul them to your mother for me. I’m going to catch a ride with my friend. Tell Virginia I’ll be home for dinner.” He closed the door before I could say bye, the sun having made his empty car seat so hot to the touch it burned like a skillet filed with grease.
I heard the arguments. I heard my mother shout at my father for his inattentiveness, his
rebuttals that were but pillow-y murmurs through the wall, the doors slamming and opening, and sometimes the wheels of our car screeching away when he’d had enough. It wasn’t uncommon to find my mother alone at the kitchen table afterwards, nursing a cocktail of Four Roses Yellow Label with Dr. Pepper, the ice cubes tinkling in her glass as she raised it to her lips.
“Seth,” I said to my brother through the night of our shared room. “Seth, wake up.”
“What?”
“They’re fighting again.”
“Who cares? Go to sleep.”
I rolled over and closed my eyes, thinking the harder I shut them the easier it would be to slip into unconsciousness. “I can’t,” I finally said. I sat up against the headboard of my bed and toyed with a Rubik’s cube. I looked at my brother. “Think they’ll get divorced?”
Seth propped up on his elbow to face me, the white skull on his Steve Austin shirt the only decipherable image from across the room.
“They’re not getting divorced. They do this all the time and nothing ever comes from it. Now shut up and go to sleep.”
Nights like those Seth slept with his pillow wrapped around his head, a technique that might have worked for him but never me. On the ceiling above my bed hung a Michael Jordan poster. He was midair with a basketball in his right palm, tongue wagging with glimmering perspiration across his dark brow soaring above a pack of bewildered New York Nicks. I turned on a flashlight I kept beneath my bed and shined it on Michael’s face, then down to the twenty-three on his jersey, then up towards the basketball in his hand, over and over in a triangle until I finally slept.

My father reappeared on a sweltering dog day in August of 2015, the exact date of which I don’t recall. The housekeeper employed by the family living in our old house was cleaning out the refrigerator one afternoon when she noticed an odd circular carving in the wall behind it. By her account, she pressed the spot with her hand and the panel gave way to a secret room behind the fridge. Inside, the corpse of my father sat dead against the wall wearing a pink negligee, pearls, white pumps and red press on nails, a snub nose revolver we never knew he owned and which he used to end his life sitting at his side. The housekeeper claims she screamed and informed the police at once. I believed her.
Photos were taken, photos my mother and I saw of a skeletal corpse that was not at all ugly, appearing more like a well preserved archaeological discovery than some bizarre crime scene victim. His hair was scraggly and hung from the sides and back of his head like an old wizard. His toes were as curled and as black as over fried pork skins, the nails on them like bloated up pieces of yellowed hominy corn. Bizarrely, one photo depicted four wooden dolls encircling him ritualisticaly, each standing up and facing him as though witnesses to his suicide, the spot behind him a crimson blotch where his brains met the sheetrock. The coroner handed me a note the day after. It was stained beige with time and was addressed to a Cecil Farnsworth, zip code matching the very town I grew up in.
Cecil
I suppose you’re wondering why I haven’t called or dropped by. The answer is I’m tired of lying and more tired of playing games. If you’d have wanted, we could have left here and started someplace fresh. I have just as much put away as you so getting set up would have been a cinch. But you’re too scared of that, aren’t you? You’re too afraid of what people will think, what they’ll say. I always said you were afraid of your own shadow. For God’s sake, Cecil, these aren’t the old days. People do this all the time. And you know what? They’re happy. And they look back and wonder how in the hell they let themselves pass so much time as people they weren’t, just like you and me have done. But it’s all the same, I
suppose. I’ve always believed everything happens for a reason, even if it means writing this letter in the state I’m in. I hope you’re well and aren’t worrying about me because I’m fine. I don’t have to hide anymore. I miss you.

Eugene

I read it twice searching for a reference to my mother. I’d have settled for a single mention of Seth and I, but there was none. I never showed mother the note for fear it would kill her.

The following morning, I delivered the note to the address stamped on it. Cecil Farnsworth was the same man I’d seen with my father at the laundromat all those years ago only hunched over and brittle with hair as thin as wax paper. He unfolded it and read it on the porch in front of me, adjusting his glasses and squinting during the parts that most affected him. What repugnance I believe I possessed wanted to observe his reaction, his hurt, but watching him read that note I realized that was the last thing I wanted. I started to leave but he took my elbow gently in his trembling, liver spotted hand, the coolness of his air conditioner dancing out his front door and caressing my warm face. He mumbled a thank you and began reading the note again. I watched him reading it still as I drove away.

My mother was a great performer. She could pretend things were wonderful when they were dismal and vice versa. She was singing in the kitchen as I sat at the table in her tiny apartment, some heads of cabbage boiling on the stove in a large aluminum pot. I waited for her to say something on the matter, but she didn’t, opting instead to sing along to her favorite Elvis singles playing on the anniversary of his death.

“We’re caught in a trap, I can’t go back,” she chirped. I finally walked over and joined her at the sink where she was peeling potatoes over the garbage disposal, their brown curlicue skins dropping into a black hole of jagged, spinning metal. “It’s all right,” I said softly. She feigned as though she didn’t hear me, smiling at something through the window above the sink. I placed my hand over her chubby fist holding the potato peeler and squeezed it. “It’s all right,” I said again. She looked at me with her face that was a cemetery for broken capillaries, her cheeks the consistency of reddened burger from decadesof alcoholism. Suddenly the damn broke. She thrusted her face into my chest, weeping hard enough so that my torso tremored in accordance with her sobs. I nestled the back of her head into me and gently swayed her before the sink, the cabbage water boiling over in a simmering gurgle on the stove.
“What did I do?” mother wanted to know, her voice hoarse with emotion.
“You didn’t do anything,” I told her, “and don’t ever think otherwise.”
I squeezed her dearly, detecting on her the same smell she’d had since I was old enough to conceptualize smell. “Did you have any idea,” I asked. Mother backed away slowly, wiping tears away with her fingers as she sniveled. “I guess there were things he did,” she told me. “He was always his own kind of person. I always told myself it was Eugene being Eugene. The longer it went on the more comfortable I became believing that, I suppose.” She turned off the stove and put the cabbage pot to cool. She placed the skinned potatoes into a bowl and set them beneath the faucet to rinse. What she said next terrified me.
“I’ll say one thing. I can count on one hand how many times your father and I were intimate, because you and your brother were the result of both.”
Then just as abruptly as she had unburdened herself, my mother raised the volume on her radio and began performing again in a singsong voice that filled the kitchen. “Mrs. Applegate from downstairs is coming for dinner, Sam. Will you help set the table?”

I hardly recognized Vanessa at the funeral, if you can call it a funeral. I’d call it a pithy makeshift burial arranged so that my father’s side of the family, who were always eerily distant, could pay their last respects. She still possessed whatever had shaken me as a younger man but with an extra thirty pounds of baby weight clinging to her thighs and rear. She recognized me at once. She came over and embraced me with a breathy condolence, her arms around my neck so that my cheek touched her hair that was stiffened with hairspray and product. She was still with Val. They’d had three children together, two of which were twins. Her daughter Alyssa had blossomed into a green-eyed bombshell, garnering stares from every boy there as well as some of the older men shameless enough to gawk. As Vanessa spoke with mother and Seth, uncle Val snuck up and wrapped me in a headlock, tousling my hair and kissing the crown of my head like I was still eight years old. It was obvious he still didn’t know. The service got underway, closed casket to hide the macabre, bullet holed absurdity that was my father’s physical being. Several of my father’s retired mailman buddies stood at the pulpit to sharesome words, mostly about how dependable he was, what a swell guy he  , his dedication to his family and job and how in his thirty plus years as a United States postal worker he was never less than professional. I wondered if they knew the particulars of his death, him being dolled up in drag in defiance of his impending mortality and forced heterosexuality.

At a family dinner afterwards, I kept staring at the curvature of Vanessa’s face, at the rogue lock of hair that hung over one eye to be evicted by her fingers before dangling again seconds later. I studied the way she chewed her food, the way she bounced her youngest on her knee with gusto when someone said something funny. I wondered if my father had died before or after we had done what we did. I wondered if the precise moment of his death had coincided with my moving inside of her as my mother sat waiting for her beer and my brother reeled in fish too small to keep. The irony of me discovering my sexuality as his was bringing his world to a sudden stop inspired a mild twinge of humor in me. It shouldn’t have, but it did.

 


 

Daniel Soliz is the author of several unpublished novels as well as a collection of short stories titled “Glass Pyramids.”

TATE’S PENECTOMY, FICTION BY AVEE CHAUDHURI

For Neil Simon

Every few weeks, when he could scrape together the money for a venue and a few kegs
of Peacemaker IPA, Tate Green would rent a stage and host a variety show. That is where we saw our first monkey knife fight. It ended badly, like Hamlet. There was no clear victor. Tate Green wept on stage after, crying “O God what have we done?” It was a think piece.

Tate’s penectomy took place on a Saturday night in late March. It was still cold enough that we stayed indoors during intermission. A jazz quartet played and people mingled around the kegs of beer. Cory Sharp ran in from the back exit, screaming and sobbing. The whole affair was caught on film:

Stop the music. Goddamn you, stop the music. Will you stop, goddammit? I’m sorry. I’m sorry, everyone. Something horrible has transpired that will change the course of this evening and doubtlessly all of our lives. I regret to tell you that our beloved master of ceremonies Tate Green is dead. He was murdered in the parking lot by the Provisional Irish Republican Army, while he was enjoying a cigarette and a cup of coffee laced with only a casual amount of bourbon. Tate did not want to be sloppy drunk, because he was a professional. They mutilated him and fled with most of his corpse. I’ll never again see his shining eyes or hear his fabled laughter. This . . . this is all I have left of him.
Cory removed what I’m fairly sure was kielbasa from his pocket. Whatever it was
matched Tate’s fair complexion. Then Cory made a great show of composing himself by
straightening his tie and reapplying his foundation.

Tate’s death, while tragic, can ensure the show’s fiduciary stability. I know in my
heart of hearts that he would have wanted us to raffle off his severed penis and make
the most of his torture and death.

At this point, Olivia and Grace, both friends of the show, began moving through the
crowd like carnival barkers, offering raffle tickets for sale. Sarah the Widow was openly
flirtatious with the men and women. She even caressed my wife’s face, repeating the phrase, “Now I am free to love.” Many of us bought raffle tickets. From the magician’s top hat, Cory drew and announced the winning number, the square root of two, which is irrational. When no one claimed Tate’s penis, Cory produced from his blazer a jar of mustard, a butter knife, a pretzel bun, and a monogrammed handkerchief to wear as a bib. Then Cory ate the penis as Sarah struggled to recover it from his impish hands and mouth.

After the show everyone usually went to a bar, and I would buy Tate Green a beer and a shot. It was my own modest way of supporting the arts. But after this particular show, as it happens the very last show, Tate was nowhere to be found. We laughed at his dedication to this bit about the IRA. A couple of days passed and no one had seen Tate. Again, I chuckled.
They held a memorial service three weeks after the penectomy. We all attended thinking,
at last, this travesty will come to an end and Tate will leap out from behind a divan or bookcase with his penis very much intact and somehow decorated, with the last of the spring azaleas or some blue eyeshadow. Tate’s mother was there and she fainted twice. I was asked to give a eulogy so I thought I might provoke Tate from wherever he had stowed himself away. Might he be reclining on the roof, listening through the open flue and drinking a cold beer?

“Tate Green was a self-loathing Jew, who willed all of his money to the American Nazi
Party and Hezbollah. Tate Green had a lousy jump shot. Tate Green could not understand the concept of false moral equivalence. Tate Green has been banned from every petting zoo in Texas.” I kept on like this for a good five minutes before I shrugged and went to refill my whiskey glass.
For Sarah’s 30th birthday my wife performed oral sex on her. In the months since Tate’s
penectomy they had gotten close. One afternoon she and Sarah were folding sheets and a kiss suggested itself. Then a sleepover. Then a long liaison during the summer months. Sarah Emily Green (née Medina), naked save for a silk kimono, watched as my wife held her son up while he strafed lightning bugs in the wild and green June solstice. Or something like that. Half the week my wife played the breeches role in Sarah’s house. I accepted this arrangement as simply a part of modern life.
Come September there was still no sign of Tate Green. He had tenure at the local
performing arts high school and his students regularly left flowers and lingerie in his assigned parking space. At the beginning of the semester they held yet another candle light vigil for Tate. I only went to catch a glimpse of my wife with her lover. During the vigil a heavily pregnant girl approached Sarah and whispered in her ear. Sarah then smiled and hugged the girl and this is how the world learned that Tate had fathered a second child up on a catwalk, during a weekday matinée of Pagliacci.
I once approached Cory Sharp at the bar and asked if they ever recovered the body,
hoping that if I played along he would disclose the ruse and bring me to Tate’s hiding place, a cavern somewhere among the aquifer that he had stocked with beef jerky and beer. But Cory rested his hands on my shoulder and told me that Interpol had failed us.

More than a year has passed since Tate’s Penectomy. Sarah takes their son to the park.
She weeps openly as she pushes his stroller. She continues to wear a black armband in mourning.
On the actual anniversary we gathered at the venue where Tate was supposedly assassinated. My wife was on Sarah’s arm and I begrudgingly rode with Cory Sharp to the event. I admit now I drank too much that night.
“It’s all gone a bit stale, hasn’t it?” I said. I conceded that the pregnant teenager was a
nice escalation but that had been six months ago. “What’s next?” I demanded to know. What’s next you avant-garde motherfuckers? I thought about drunkenly pleading with my wife to come home, but that’s what Tate would have wanted. So I calmed myself with a valium and went in search of a gyro.
Cory called me the next morning and asked if I was okay and whether I could feed his
cats and check his mail. He was going away on business. I said fine. About a week later, I
received word that Cory Sharp had been arrested in Belfast, for murdering a former deputy-chief of the IRA. Apparently, Cory had shot him twice, at point blank range, outside a café on the Lower Malone Road. “I did it for Tate,” is the only statement Cory has ever given to the police or the press. When I read that in the newspaper my first thought was “Bravo.” Since they are putting Cory in an insane hospital overseas, the least I can do is continue looking after his cats.
Just yesterday my wife finally served me with divorce papers.
“This is a joke,” I said, but what a feeble observation that was. The joke, of course, is still
pending. Anyways, I signed the papers and relinquished her dowry: fifty vinyl records and a cheap bottle of amaretto we used, not very often, to spike our vanilla ice cream. Maybe that’s why the marriage failed.
Now that she’s gone to live with Sarah on a permanent basis, I am preparing the house for Tate’s return. I assume he will stay with me and I have gotten rid of all the non-essential furniture so that Tate can practice his gymnastic routine. A man is coming tomorrow to install humidifiers. Another man is coming the day after to put vanity lights in the master bath, so that Tate feels like a star. Have I mentioned his aquiline nose?
You may have seen Tate. He is of medium height and build. He smokes cheap cigars and
likes to talk to himself. There is a scar under his left eye from a childhood diving accident. He is fluent in Italian, and I have alerted the embassy in Rome and the consulate general in Florence.
Tate Green is a serious student of art history, having majored in the subject at Texas State
University.
I know that if he exists in this world, he is likely eating a burrito, to hell with the
consequences. Tate used to screen movies at his house, and he would always pour me his best single malt scotch. Now I imagine that he must resort to making shadow puppets with firelight. I hope he’s okay. What I saw was clearly kielbasa. The madman lives. He persists. He is that harlequin in the woods. The Franciscans are harboring him. I’m sure of it. As they dine in their great hall, Tate is dancing and singing for them. Their Father Abbot protests: will you please be quiet. We offer you shelter because you are a living human being. We don’t expect any singing or dancing or mimicry or savaging of today’s political figures. But Tate is a born showman and eventually the Franciscans stoop to violence. Tate is beaten with a serving ladle and scalded with the soup of the day. But hopefully they don’t sew his lips shut. Otherwise, how can he cry shouts of bigamy when Sarah eventually remarries, or later still, give the most gracious and forgiving of wedding toasts.


Avee Chaudhuri is from Wichita, Kansas. He holds a doctorate from the North Korean School of Semiotics. His recent fiction has appeared in Prairie Schooner, Necessary Fiction and X-R-A-Y. 

 

CTION BY AVEE CHAUDHURI