Posts Tagged 'short fiction'

Six fingers

I’m a nice girl from a good fucking home, excuse me. I’ve taught exercise classes since my sophomore year at Kent State. Pilates, spin, kick-boxing. Finally got my degree in exercise physiology and worked in a physical therapy clinic for a year. I quit the clinic to teach pole dancing at a very goddamn nice club not too far from my mother’s house. Pole dancing was new to Shaker Heights, but I told mother not to worry, it’s not a strip club, it’s just another way of staying in shape. She wasn’t too sure, still pushing me to get married and stop working, but I did eventually convince her to come to class and was surprised by how much she loved it. Mom clinging and grinding up and down that pole did something to our relationship, opened us up, once I got over my own embarrassment. She took to it easily.

One day after class she brought up my sixth finger. I shitfuck don’t have a sixth finger any more, had it removed surgically in fifth grade, just a little scar. She said, “Did you notice, that girl at the striped purple pole by the window? She’s got six fingers too, just like you.” I actually hadn’t noticed, but I did next time she came to class. Her name was Dierdre, and she was apparently yet another sister.

I remember the first time I met one of my siblings, wondering how many there were. The things my mother kept hidden from me were doled out in tiny little stages, first the notice that I’d hellfire been adopted, then gradually that I had a brother, then two, then some sisters, until finally I came to understand that I had at least a baseball team worth of siblings, and most if not all of them lived in Shaker Heights and all of them had or were born with six fingers, shithead fuckinghell. Dierdre was a nice girl, mild and easygoing. No cursing from her, she’s not a Tourette’s attraction like I am, just that extra finger, waving at me, saying look, we have a shared secret, don’t we?


(This is a fictional memoir, also written in 15 minutes.)



“Tell me why you feel guilty.”

That’s how he started our interview.

“Pardon?” I asked.

“Tell me why you feel guilty.”

And such is the nature of this economy that I, fresh bachelor’s degree in hand, attempted to tell him why I feel guilty. Guilty.

“Are you an only child?” he asked next.

“I’m not a child,” I said. He laughed, and pushed his chair back. He handed me his bag and asked me to take it down to baggage check for American Airlines at the Albuquerque Sunport. The attendant at baggage claim would be waiting for it, he said. He shook my hand. Payment when I get back, he said.

I don’t feel guilty. Just stupid, and fearless, and excited. Even as I carried it from short term parking to baggage check, tucked snugly against my chest, I could feel the weight of it pressing against me. Heavy as sand.

I’ll tell you why I feel guilty, but not today. I am one of many daughters in my family, too many daughters, they always said. Raise girls, dad said, but not too many. Once raised, you have to train them.

You might say I am an example of good training gone wrong. It’s been two weeks now. As I stand here on this narrow path that leads up to the lighthouse, I can see the sea strain to climb up on the land. The salt wind burns cold and hot against my face. If those are tears, they are not mine. I do not feel guilty.


Jupiter Flintlock

Jupiter Flintlock stood in the stockade, stoic as always. It was not his first time. He’d been broken and humiliated so many times in that stockade, it was just like any other day, far as he was concerned. There was a certain belief among the founding fathers that Jupiter’s mind was not quite right, that Jupiter’s failure to whimper or drool was a sign of an essential moral failure. For every chicken Jupiter plucked, it was back to the stockade. For every pint of beer he pilfered, it was back to the stockade. He’d taken his vow of silent suffering as a child, during the years when bamboo was used to whip little sinners into submission. With every blow, with every welt, he brought himself steady into another world. A world of spinning rings, a world of tigers, a world of ravens cawing and nasturtiums blooming. His bloody legs were thin as grasshoppers; the small animals who scampered past did not see a man or a boy. Only a quiet creature, like them, holding still as he could as the blows came down. Silence became Flintlock’s fame, his number one foolishness and strength. The boy is father to the man, he said to himself later, much later, when the stockade had burned to the ground.

The name of this piece is Susy made me write about sex

 Today is the day we discuss dental floss, sex and volunteerism. Pay attention; your licensure depends on your correct response to the quiz which follows this three hour training.

In front of you, you will find a small bag. Pick the bag up and open its contents onto the table. Very good. Read, follow the instructions, then wait.

If you are having sex while thinking about your hair thinning, the hole in your underwear, or the box of chocolates that you stashed in the back of the laundry room to keep your partner from devouring it before you get even a single piece, this could be a sign of pending or actual sexual discontent. Try this simple exercise: stand in the middle of the room, alone, mostly naked and say to yourself loudly and firmly: “Sex. Sex and more sex. Sex and sex again. Different sex, changing sex, kinky sex, decorator sex,“  If, while standing there saying sex and so on, you suddenly think about cleaning products, lists, email, dental floss, licensure and volunteering, stop stop stop. Shake your head three times like a golden retriever coming out of a cold lake.  Now smile and stick your hands down your pants, if you are wearing any. Remember, you are completely alone. No one is going to see you or hear you. Shake your hips. Does your underwear fit? Are you easily distracted? Does anyone in your household leave the toilet seat up in spite of 30 years of reminders? Stop stop stop. Okay. Take the underwear off. They are too big anyway. Put on something more comfortable. A pair of socks, say, and nothing else. Stand in your living room wearing nothing but a pair of socks and say to yourself “Sex. Sex and more sex. Sex and kinky sex. Sex and deviant sex. Sex and law breaking. Sex and jaw breakers. Sex and sucking. Sex and red hots. Sex and sex and sex.” Okay. Now think about the lawnmower, the weed whacker, the rust stains in your bathtub, the continuously whining dog standing just outside the door. Stop stop stop.

Put your clothes back on and go scrub the bathroom, brush and floss your teeth and make some phone calls about volunteering and renewing your license. Leave the toilet seat up as a protest. See if anybody cares. Get some freezer burned pistachio ice cream out of the fridge and eat it in front of the whining dog standing at the window. Think about your budget. Think about your garden. Think about the roses, the rose hips leaning heavily against the window. Think about the grapes hanging full and ripe, think about the sweet pears and the sparrows rustling in their late afternoon dust bath. Think about the dark fertile earth, think about the warm smells of fruit, herb and flower rising and mingling in the afternoon breeze. Think about the sweet sleepy sounds of animals in the quiet heat of the day. Think about lying down, just for a minute. Think about listening. Listen. Smell. Look. Touch.


I put the lawnmower behind the porta-potty and covered it with a tarp. It was raining. Always raining, always raining in my life. That’s why the teardrop. Pagliacci, payaso, white of face, black of heart. I eat the hearts of children and give them animal balloons in exchange. I put the lawnmower behind the porta-potty and get out my shears. Trimming the hedge, even the tragic fool must have a second job these days. Mine is landscaping. Tito Topiari is my professional name, carver of hedges into giraffes and dachshunds, I have kept my second job as close to my life work as could be. With a blue balloon and a white one, I can make a dolphin that twists and spins in mid-air. With climbing roses in lavender and white I can make a butterfly. With black and white I can make a penguin or a man in a tuxedo with a carnation in his lapel. Early balloons were made of animal bladders. A white-face fool like me is serious and might be deadly. Children are often afraid even as the animals necks are being twisted and the carnation shoots water into the air. There’s a hankie in my pocket; get it out for me, won’t you? I need to go tidy up that hedgerow, where the children have gone to hide.

Zuzu asks why

Anne flew up like a rocket. She smacked Morgan on the head and then threw herself down on the sofa, where she cried and wiggled and writhed until she fell asleep mid sob.

When she woke in the morning, she asked herself a few stern questions. Here are some examples of the questions she asked:

                “Why would anyone make fun of another person’s hair?”

                “How can one stay sad in such an interesting world?”

                “Where is a bus stop from here?”

                “What is that woman’s name?”

She let a few minutes pass before she answered herself. Here are her answers:

                “Because of terrible personal insecurity.”

                “Sadness is one of the interesting things about the world, although not perhaps every day.”

                “The bus stop is directly out the front door and two houses down.”

                And “Her name is Morgan.”

Anne got up off the sofa, brushed her bright red hair with her pale chapped hands, washed her face in cold water, and left. She caught the 42 bus two houses down and got home by 7 a.m., only 14 minutes after leaving Morgan’s apartment.  She called her mother’s nursing home, giving her real name this time. She assumed that Morgan’s name was Morgan, but it did occur to her some time later that this was perhaps naïve on her part.

                “Why does anyone use a false name?” Zuzu asked herself as she sat on hold, waiting for the morning nurse to transfer her call down the hall to the room where her mother sat up, singing songs to the stuffed animals and dusty silk plants. As she waited, she imagined her mother in her lavendar polyester day robe, cooing and patting her hands together, singing her motherly song.

                “Because all things great are wound up with all things little?” she answered herself, with a question mark. She sat on hold for another 2 minutes and then hung up. She changed into her rhinestone sneakers and her green paisley slicker and went out again. Shopping. With her friend Lilly. They looked at vintage dresses and lampshades and chunky plastic beads from that era when nothing could be bought from China for love or money. Standing at the sale rack on the sidewalk, she clasped her hands and looked at the dresses. All in tiny sizes with waists like Lilly’s thighs. She looked at Lilly and turned pale with pity.

                “Anne?” said Lilly, pulling out a yellow nylon cardigan with curlicue embroidery in a brightly constrasting grass green.  Zuzu did not respond.

Watermelon man

Watermelon man grew from a seed in his mother’s belly; she’d been eating watermelon in Pecos and playing miniature golf with the one man in her life and it was so good so sweet so juicy that she ate the melon seeds and all and then she got Jesus and her beautiful son all on one fine summer morning the usual months later. The baby was pink and raw, the melon was pink and raw, she saw Jesus in the rind and she named her son Peter and said to him Peter you will never deny the Lord and you will never walk away from the watermelon which gave you life. Well Peter grew up faster than he might have and he had his dark time, same as we all do, during which he drank vodka and sold musk melons to Siberian refugees in the sub-saharan desert. Musk melons and camels and vodka mixed up all wrong for Peter and he had to walk away from the musky temptations, the long hair and the horns, and he returned to the fields where melons grow green and blessedly hairless. Peter then grew to be a righteous man who grew melons for righteous men and each melon was blessed, each melon was washed in pink sweetness and each melon was taut and full of juice and seeds. Peter said thump them, that’s right, thump them here –  here, have a piece and he offered melon to stranger after stranger and his hands were stained the pink of Jesus melons. He sold melons on the side of the road in Pecos, he sold melons on the side of the road in San Antonio. He sold melons on the side of the road in Lubbock. He sold melons on the side of the road in Santa Rosa. He loved the pink sweetness of Santa Rosa’s name, but he never got settled, got settled and home until he sold melons, beautiful black diamond melons, in the shadows of the watermelon mountains. Each melon was blessed by Jesus, each melon was righteous and ripe, and he was so full of the life of the melon that when he spit out the seeds, watermelon man could hit the pink-stained moon rising over the Sandias every blessed time.

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May 2020