After placing a bottle of consciousness decoherent in my basket, I look up and find myself locking gazes with a shopper at the opposite end of the recreational delirium aisle. Instantly, I am enchanted by her augmented eyes. Which themselves aren’t an uncommon enhancement, but her modified irises are clearly a bespoke customization. . .
One by one, Nina managed to sleep with every man—fat, thin, tall, short, hairy, and bald—at the advertising firm where she worked. It wasn’t something that she planned, and it wasn’t something of which she was either proud or ashamed. Like much of life, including her brief marriage to a man who played the theremin, it just happened. . .
The rules are simple: the Boys chase the Girls, and the Girls are dragged under the slide when captured. I look down to see the growing crowd of Girls beneath the slide, kicking gravel, as the gangs of Boys grasp at arms and ankles and the backs of LimitedToo t-shirts sprinting breathlessly away from them.[…]
If you need to feel new again, go out and feel the rain drop on your skin. If you have things to say but no one to listen, let your mind converse under the shower. If you are about to stress-eat, don’t.[…]
We’re given the dolls when we’re young. We tear off their arms and legs and heads, reattach them with glue and hair ties with a little fire for welding.[…]
When you find a Polaroid of your dying grandmother, should it go back in the hallway drawer with last year’s birthday cards, or into your wallet? Can leather shelter the dead? Safekeep ashes of past-life?[…]
In Wordscapes, you cannot pull a jagged tooth from a lovely mouth. Pretty makes try makes yet. Beautiful makes flit makes fate. Wordscapes has never asked me to spell death, which makes heat makes date makes tea. Without power, heat is unbearable.[…]
Man: Honey, I really want to support you. I know it’s a lot with the kids and school and disinfecting the mail and everything.[…]
I had scattered the scallions too soon for the oily black seeds to germinate. They needed warmth, patience, and timing, but I’d rushed them. They sniffed the chilly air, trusted their instincts, and refused to sprout.[…]
I was blown over by the swift, sharp gale that was your dismissal; it knocked me flat. When I finally got my breath back and gingerly sat up, the monster was directly in front of me, and I saw that it had grown again.[…]
I remember a damp paper towel in my hand, a dusty rose-colored lampshade on my night table, and the sun streaming through the windows of my bedroom. My hand spun in a circular motion, watching as the dust became trapped in the sunlight, even after I heard Francisco had been shot in broad daylight.[…]
Looking down at the little lump of ashes in the crease of the sports page, I wet my finger in my mouth, touched it to the ashes and put it on my tongue.[…]
Six filaments from my clenched fist end up in the wastebasket. The tease and tug are pushing obsession buttons. I react to phantom touches, swipe, and come away with nothing. Repeat.[…]
Flying for business, I was sitting in a window seat with earbuds and a book when a young woman next to me reclined her seat. Leaning back to get comfortable, she placed her ankle over mine and proceeded to fall asleep […]
When he relays the story over the phone, he doesn’t repeat what they said to him, but I know enough to know they could also be applied to me, to my family, to my best friends, could be said to any Asian on the street who is or is not Chinese, who does or does not wear a face mask. […]
We drive back behind a sluggish logging truck. The nodule in my neck is bigger this year, crowding my windpipe. The truck takes every turn with us, like it knows where we live. Maybe we could get you some scarves, you say […]
Since Paati died, fireworks were the only thing that could get Thatha up and out of bed, and the goggles were the only thing that let Amma let us keep watching the shows.[…]
I crouch before the fermentation cabinet every other morning to check on my scoby, the color of my kraut, to smell the bacterial funk, and each time I am transported.[…]
One morning, there are people in her house.
Caren lives alone. She never married and her last long-term thing ended five years ago. She’s fine. She likes it: those early hours sipping coffee, her cat, Guster, winding through her bare legs. She can wear her rattiest t-shirts, hum off-key while getting ready.
But now as the light slants in the front window of her little city rowhouse, two people are sitting at her kitchen table. She’s never seen them before. Their clothes are formal; the man in a yellowed button down and the woman in a white dress with a lace collar. Their posture is impeccable. They’re not from around here, she’s pretty sure.
The man and woman stare back at her. The woman looks frightened. She turns to the man as if Caren’s the interloper, a pale ghost before them.
Caren thinks about picking up a fork or a butter knife. Calling the police. Her cell phone’s in the bedroom.
Guster threads through the strangers’ legs. The man clears his throat. “Bread,” he says in a strong accent.
Caren wants to ask all the questions. She still wants to pick up a butter knife. But instead, she looks through the fridge.
“It’s low carb.” She’s apologizing to them. She’s lost her mind.
The woman still looks frightened.
* * *
Two days later and they’ve fallen into a routine.
The man is Michael, she’s learned; the woman’s name is Bea. Michael speaks English, badly, then translates for Bea. Caren doesn’t recognize their language.
She’s just not sure about the whole thing. They’re so quiet, so dignified. They sleep in the living room, only use the bathroom when she’s at work. They eat modestly, hardly more than Guster. She probably throws out that much in a week.
* * *
The next night, she brings home candy from the office. Twizzlers. They each take one and manage to eat them neatly, which seems impossible.
Then Michael brings out a fruit plate. He’s carved her last, neglected apple into thin slices that cover the entire surface. Caren feels like crying. Michael’s a magician, making something out of nothing. A meaningful gesture out of what would otherwise rot.
* * *
In her bedroom, she decides she will call the authorities. She’s not in any danger, or not, at least, the usual kind. But she can’t let them break her heart every night.
She won’t be that bourgeois woman whose life is transformed. She refuses to make them her new family. She’ll never truly know them and that is as it should be.
The trouble is, she shouldn’t have waited so long. It would have been easier to call right away.
Two weeks later, the number’s still on the notepad beside her bed.
There’s a knock at the door.
A tall, sandy-haired man smiles at her, lines crinkling around his eyes. “I’m looking for someone. Two, as a matter of fact.”
The living room is empty. They must be hiding.
Caren smiles back at the man. How easy it is to be with someone who speaks her language, whose gestures mirror her own.
“Sorry,” she says. “There’s no one here but me.”
Genevieve Abravanel is Associate Professor of English at Franklin & Marshall College. Her scholarly writing has appeared in such venues as Novel: A Forum on Fiction, Modernism/modernity, Mosaic, The Journal of Caribbean Literature, Journal of Modern Literature, and Modernist Cultures. She’s held grants and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the American Association for University Women, and the Penn Humanities Forum; in 2012, she published a book of academic nonfiction with Oxford University Press. She lives in Lancaster, PA, with her family.
So damned sick of delicate things.
My co-worker who was raped over and over. I want to time travel,
tell his five-year-old self, Punch your father’s friend in the face the next time he touches you.
Don’t say resilience. Children are breakable.
I’m tired of my toe poking through the sock printed with zebras, and I just bought the socks.
Stupid delicate things. As if they were made of sand.
How my oldest son barely keeps the sarcasm out of his response when the cop studies his license
and is surprised he has an Anglo surname. When he and a friend are pulled over
for an infraction so slight.
Control of the voice, hair trigger.
A sock that should last more than a season.
The brain’s hair-fine bridge between thought and action. Tired of delicate cycles,
how they leave clothes soaking wet.
Bones of the ear like scrimshaw, one’s favorite drinking glass,
the balance of water in semi-arid regions of Kenya.
The part that snaps that they don’t make anymore.
Your shield against inner rage that crumbles like a brittle castle
of drying sand. So fed up with delicate issues in your family, between brothers born too close.
Like who pays for the fiftieth wedding anniversary bash and is thereby king. The fur on Esau’s body.
Sick of the whiskey makers putting it delicately on their labels, Enjoy responsibly. The moment
the bridge is crossed.
The split second I’m no longer your wife but a she-devil. The delicate shift of target.
Dendrites soaking wet with Tullamore Dew, tentacles in a tide pool slammed with waves.
The fractured plastic that keeps the sliding door of the van on its track.
The cheek of our son with autism which the broken piece almost grazes
when you hurl it.
Thin quilts on the bunk beds where I lie with our sons. The vapor of alcohol on your breath
in the next room.
The door that never works again, and the boys
forgetting and standing at it to be let in. The flimsy gate of memory that then admits
a deafening howl, the party gone wrong, fists, Why did Daddy push Rogan?
The soft-spoken man I’m tutoring from Kenya who’s writing a story about a boy collecting every drop of rain. The way the man sets down the glass bottle holding spring water. He’s brought it for me, carrying it in a quilted bag.
The circle of damp
on the library’s table.
* Oh, delicate ring.
Laura English posts a daily blog called “Eat More Life,” a healing space for women living with anorexia. On Sunday afternoons, she teaches writing to people from all walks of life. Her work has appeared in dozens of magazines including the minnesota review, The Sow’s Ear, Cider Press Review, Adanna, and Straylight. A chapbook, Graves Too Small to Be Red (Finishing Line Press), was published last year.
Austin orders an entire seafood boil for himself. He ignores the crawfish and halved cobs of corn, focusing instead on the crab legs, which he cracks open with such force the buttery juices mist Jorge’s face. Jorge’s plate is nearly empty now. He had devoured his crispy-fried cod sandwich in five minutes and spends the rest of their meal together picking at coleslaw, catching only two or three strands of wet cabbage at a time on his fork. Austin finishes a fourth crab leg and leans back in his chair. He drapes a napkin over his lap. That was delightful, he says, but I can’t eat another bite. Austin smiles at Jorge, his teeth flecked with parsley. You should try some, he says. But seafood is not Jorge’s thing. The ocean, he believes, is swarming with aliens. No need to search for them in outer space when they lurk in the darkest depths of the earth. And certainly no reason to eat them. To roll the aquatic flesh around in his mouth would be an act against God. Hard pass, he thinks. But there was still so much shrimp and sausage and crawfish and potatoes cooling out on the newspapered tabletop. He imagines biting into the untouched crawfish now: some uneasy chewing to start, then a rough swallow. Then, he suspects, the dead little fucker would be revived by the bath of his stomach acid. Reborn, it would swim down, deeper into his gut, burrowing itself within him forever. Jorge, you really must try some, Austin says again. Just one bite, please. He grabs a lobster from the pile, twists its body, and pulls until the tail separates from its torso. They could get a to-go container. There is still time. It’s what other couples might do: wrap up the remains and tote the bounty back to Jorge’s apartment, to be later consumed in a post-sex haze. But that never happens, does it? Jorge sees into next morning, and he knows Austin would leave the bag in his fridge, as he had done with a slice of vodka pizza from their first date, and the stuffed cabbage from date two, and the Thai food from the third. The chocolate cake from date four never made it home. But for all those other leftovers, Jorge made sure to eat them. He was raised to be a garbage disposal. No waste, ever. He picks over whatever Austin leaves in the mornings, shortly after Austin vanishes into the backseat of a Lyft. Off to class or work, Austin says. Alone in his kitchen, scraping his fork against the aluminum takeout container, Jorge watches the Lyft app every time, notes how the driver passes Austin’s job, and the school, and even his apartment. Jorge watches Austin slip away, upstream. Austin is squeezing the lobster’s torso now, and the red shell compresses under his fingers, cracking. Juice rains down over the newspaper. From the carnage, Austin presents Jorge with a lump of yellowish-green meat pulp, balanced delicately on his fingertips. That’s it? Jorge laughs, he has to, everything feels too wild. So much effort and mess? All of that for so little? He’s serious. He’s confused. You’ll see what all the fuss is about, Austin says. He swears it, raises the mass to Jorge’s face. Jorge thinks about the bag of seafood, how it will surely sag, the paper thinning out over time, long after tonight, eventually breaking open all over his bottom shelf. Rancid garlic butter everywhere, and a mountain of invertebrates left to rot. Jorge opens his mouth, welcomes Austin’s fingers. He rolls the meat on his tongue, fights against the stinging in his eyes and rising bile in his throat, tries to push through. Austin is a wide smile and two celebratory balled fists. So good, right? he gasps. I knew you’d love it. But Jorge is still chewing the lobster, nodding his head over and over again. The hope is the movement will guide the sea bug down his throat and he can will himself into saying this thing is good. The hope is it won’t be a lie.
Christopher Gonzalez serves as a fiction editor at Barrelhouse and a contributing editor at Split Lip Magazine. His stories appear or are forthcoming in a number of journals, including Third Point Press, Cosmonauts Avenue, Pithead Chapel, and The Acentos Review. He was the recipient of the 2015 Ann E. Imbrie Prize for Excellence in Fiction Writing from Vassar College. Cleveland-raised, he now lives and writes in Brooklyn, NY. You can find him online at www.chris-gonzalez.com or Twitter: @livesinpages.
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