short story

FICTION/POETRY

Anxiety Fruit - Delia Rainey

Delia Rainey is a writer, musician and artist living in St. Louis, MO. Her band is called Dubb Nubb. Find more of her poems and prose on deliarainey.tumblr.com.


She is spending the weekend snowed-in at a house that her boyfriend is housesitting. The owner of the house, a family friend, is an older gentleman in the Transcendental Meditation movement who works in insurance. He travels for work, so her boyfriend lives at his house temporarily, feeding his cats.

They are in a long distance relationship, but for these couple of days, they get to live in a house together. She feels like they are actors, practicing for a play, but they are sucking, and the play is about depression.

The walls of his house are decorated with kitschy art of fairies, mermaids, angels, and cows in a field. There are groups of birdhouses hung up. A glass fish-tank is filled with plastic and metal fish instead of water. Her boyfriend plays an acoustic guitar violently among all of this.

He says, “Do you want to write a song together?” He has never asked her this before. Which is weird because that’s how they met – playing music at a house show in some kid’s garage. Her band played and then she watched his band - he danced around in cheetah spandex shorts and sang. He asked for her number so she could book him a show in her old town. This was years ago.

It’s Valentine’s Day and she tells him she’s hungry for dinner. He suggests a frozen pizza. On her laptop, she pulls up some photos that her best friend just tagged her in on Facebook. They’re images from an iPhone, taken during summers in her old town when she used to live there.

One picture shows her standing on the college campus, wearing high-waisted khaki shorts, her hair pulled up in a bun that reminds her of an angel. The flash of the camera has distorted her eyes into animal eyes, glowing like two flashlights. 

She was standing next to a trashcan that was knocked over, all the trash spilled out onto the concrete. It must have been one of those very drunk weekends where boys in shorts and flip flops ran around the town, fucking with anything.

On the picture, her friend comments: “There's another version of this with Chase popping his head in and laughing and you are turned around staring at the trash.” She saves the picture as delia_trash.jpg on her computer. 

The picture as a symbol of her old self: a night creature, comfortable in the trash space; a raccoon. On her notebook, she taped a drawing of a raccoon on the cover, also a set of pink fronds she drew, and a halved lemon.

She’s always trying to place symbols on parts of her life that never asked to be defined. She cannot handle her life without symbols. It’s painful. The lemon, the raccoon, and the unnatural-looking plant become a soothing order. That’s what poems are, anyway.

Some weeks ago, her boyfriend and her went to a Chinese restaurant after lying in bed crying for two hours, but not breaking up. The restaurant used to be an old movie theater and the screen is used for karaoke now. Since it was a Sunday, it was swarmed with Chinese families eating dim sum.

She Google-searched dim sum on her iPhone while her boyfriend was in the bathroom, and one description said, “Not to be eaten by romantic couples.” She was horrified.

They ate the meal and discussed the legitimacy of polyamorous and open relationships. The food wasn’t very good, but she ate greedily. An old lady rolling a metal cart filled with little tin and wooden boxes of steaming buns asked if they’d like any dim sum. She said, “No thank you, we already ordered.”

They had ordered garlic eggplant, and after the tray arrived filled with about fifty tiny eggplant halves, shiny with grease, they realized they hated eggplant. It has the slimiest texture: the smooth skin, the seed-bitten flesh.

They went up to the front of the old theater to pay. By the counter was a fake decorative tree, spotted with plastic oranges. As soon as she saw it, she loved it. She made it into a whole ordeal, pointing at it and staring. She had a thing for plastic fruit, symbolically.

He took a picture on his iPhone of the tree and sent it to her. He explained to her that this picture was a love-note sent from him.

For Valentine’s Day the week after, he bought her garlands and garlands of plastic oranges from Amazon. She was thrilled. She placed them around his neck, a hero. The oranges were unnaturally small, like cherries.

She posted a picture of the fruit on Instagram to show everyone how much her boyfriend cared about her and understood her. Many people post pictures of gifts they receive on Valentine’s Day. You can scroll through all the duplications of chocolates, flowers, and homemade dinners.

Her gift to him was a new notebook. She taped drawings on the cover, too: a spiky rose, a dog, a flexing bicep. Her boyfriend is interested in gender performance. He loves to go to the gym and then come home and read Judith Butler.

In the older gentleman’s house, he sits on the ground recording the acoustic guitar part he just wrote. He gets up to preheat the oven and suggests that they put walnuts and bell pepper on the frozen pizza. She looks over at him in disgust, but immediately takes it back and says, “If I don’t like it, I’ll just pick it off.”

She rubs her belly in anxiety. Her shirt is velvety, a cheetah print crop top from Goodwill. She smooths it out with her palm. The shirt looks like a Halloween costume, she thinks, but it was probably just a child’s shirt from the early 2000s.

In fact, she wore a shirt just like this in 2000 for her cousin’s bat mitzvah party in Seattle.

It was one of the only times she had ever gotten her hair and makeup done by a professional in her whole life and she was eight years old. The hair lady had wound little bunches of her hair into squiggly buns on the top of her head, held together with sparkly butterfly clips.

The bat mitzvah party was on a boat, bobbing on the water as teenagers were dancing to popular songs at the time. All the teenagers were in a big chain, grinding, making the adults upset.

She remembers wanting so badly to be a part of this chain of humping kids, having no knowledge of sexual desire. There was a game the DJ facilitated where the songs would switch every 30 seconds and you had to switch dance partners. She ended up dancing with a teenaged boy for 30 seconds, a popular boy with spikey hair.

She put her hands on the teenaged boy’s waist, totally unaware that he felt silly dancing with an eight year-old. She felt washed over and tingly, like she was the boat.

For the rest of the night, she danced at the front of the room. She won an award for best dancer.

It’s true that she was always attracted to men. Whenever she played pretend or Barbies, she always wanted to play the boy character.

Later in life, she would deny this as part of her sexual interest, but more about wanting the freedoms and non-judgment of being male in a patriarchal world.

The night before Valentine’s Day, her boyfriend was running sound at the bar in his town. It was snowing all night, a white dust world. It was a Valentine’s Rave. Only one girl arrived at the bar in rave gear – a tiny tutu, a rainbow fur tail, ears, and legwarmers – but everyone else was dressed normally.

She was feeling extra ugly that night. Her hair was in a ponytail that couldn’t decide which side of her head to flop over. She was wearing an oversized jean shirt with cottages embroidered on it, and an unflattering striped turtleneck – all thrift-store finds that an older woman might have donated.

A friend of her boyfriend, a very bright and beautiful girl who was still in high school, came over and introduced herself. It was strange pretending they didn’t know each other, because the girl had friended her on Facebook the day before.

She was wearing a black kink collar and a red sweatshirt with a smiley face on it. Instantly, she felt threatened by her.

Her boyfriend didn’t seem bothered by her though, except when another friend bought all the high school girls shots of tequila. The older friends taught the young girls how to pour salt on their hands, lick it, swallow the shot, and then bite into a lime wedge.

The girl in the kink collar asked, “What pronouns do you use?” as she shook her hand, IRL.

“She and her,” she answered, but she was embarrassed. She wasn’t they/them, something the younger girl didn’t want to assume.

After the shots, the group of high school kids plus her and her boyfriend hit the dance floor of the rave – a small group of people shuffling, as snow filtered by the window. Her boyfriend is a very good dancer, always has been. Fast, sexual, like a boy-band. She tried to dance seductively, but she was tired of everything. She found herself staring down at her boobs, thinking to herself, she and her.

Later in the night, as the three of them smoked a cigarette in a stairwell, the high school girl announced that she had gotten into CalArts for experimental music. “That’s SO great. College is the best years of your life,” she responded, genuinely, but it came off sarcastic.

She had gone to a state school in Missouri, where frat boys pushed over trashcans at night with their flip-flop feet. Everything about the situation fed her jealousy and girl-hate, although she was a feminist and scorned these feelings. All the tequila had fucked with her.

The girl in the kink collar had short curly yellow hair, like an angel. In her mind, she pictured her boyfriend fucking the girl, clipping a leash onto the kink collar, and pulling her neck, moaning. It was a horrible image. She pictured the girl without any pubic hair, like a child. Just admitting this daydream makes her want to throw up.

Holding the blade of the pizza cutter in his hand, her boyfriend becomes distracted on his iPhone from an app that teaches him how to speak French. She stares at a set of the orange garlands, still in its plastic bag, with a barcode.

After she got his number, she did book him a show in her town. The first time, it was at a DIY space that never got a proper name, so folks just called it by its address. It was an old warehouse where illegal immigrants used to stay. He had set up these foil panels covered in light bulbs that he made. In the dirty space, he lit up, he was an angel.

When he performed, he sang things like, “I don’t wanna know what it’s like without you.” At one point, he was dancing so intensely, that he climbed the PA speaker and jumped up into the loft storage space of the warehouse. His body dangled at the ceiling, and then he jumped. Her fear for him was wild.

What is the symbolic meaning of the plastic fruit? The falseness of bodies? The body that can be duplicated, for visual pleasure, but is not functional.

She wants to leave the older gentleman’s house, but the barrier of snow outside feels limiting. Her body arranges around the guitar noise, the digital trash, and her boyfriend saying the word “orange” in French.

FICTION/POETRY

Salvages - Gabrielle Hovendon

photo: Dan Davis

You can smell and hear and feel the clanking, grinding, clicking of the copper then brass then soda cans then everyday leftover household items Bird's mom with her "wrists as thin as wire" pilfers from what I imagine are abandoned or foreclosed homes in the outskirts of New Orleans. Bird cuddles these items in the backseat of her mom's car while hiding under a blanket from the red and blue lights until, one day, she ends up in a foster home. 

Hovendon's story is musical, energetic, and agile: it balances leaps of time and evokes the fragile, dangerous chaos of her life using spare details and the somersaulting sound-senses of rough metal clinking and clanging.

Click here to read the whole story published in WhiskeyPaper. 

FICTION/POETRY, WEIRD

The Evangelical Wormhole, a short story

Though it was fifteen minutes before the 7pm service, the Center is full. The kids sit hip to hip in the interlocking seats. Their voices stuff the room. At the door, ushers point newcomers to the Box — a conference room outside the Center — where they can watch me preach live on a jumbo screen to those seated in the inner sanctum.

            Some of them don't make it to the Box. They slip into the Center through another door to sit or stand against the walls until the ushers remind them that they are fire hazards.

            The kid in the skinny pants with the Bieber hair — his name's Ezekiel or, was it Isaiah — turns knobs on the two thousand dollar guitar hanging from his neck. He adjusts the pedals with the toe of those fabric shoes with the flimsy rubber soles. Dean's daughter, Jessica—who can't be much older than twelve —wears heels on the hoofs of her gazelle legs. She flips the curtain of hair in front of her eye out of the way of her microphone. Ezekiel or Isaiah nods at her and the music starts — U2-riffs, raised hands — while I rub my bald head, sway, and stare at the same old black gum spot on the carpet. Rub my bald head, sway, and stare. Rub my bald head, sway, and stare. For the half hour the band does their thing, I rub my bald head, sway, and stare. Rub my bald head, sway, and stare. Until the music stops and the skinny kid in the fabric ballet shoes calls my name.

            Maybe it's the lights, maybe it's the thousands of stares, maybe it's all of the rubbing and swaying and staring, maybe it's the trance-hush into which the U2 riffs have rocked the crowd and myself, but as I step onto that stage I enter into what could only be described as a wormhole. The wormhole's beginning is on earth and its end is in the time-space dimension of the Divine. And my mission is to transport these thousands decrepit, bedraggled souls, in my direct audience and in the ones watching the Box's jumbo-tron, through the wormhole to the godhead before the other end pinches shut for all eternity.         

            I may have said this out loud because the mouths in the audience laugh nervously. I can feel their crossed legs squeeze tighter, their shoulders stiffen. So, I make a joke about the Denver Broncos — do the Tim Tebow. That puts them at ease. They lean back into their chairs. Their assholes unclamp. Ah, Bronco jokes. There's the Mike we know, they think. But, I know the truth: the real Mike is in the wormhole, and they're coming with him.

            Half an hour into the wormhole, sweat has rimmed my collar and I've shed at least a couple tears. Told stories about how my daughter paints my toes blue. I've abandoned my notes to focus on the unrelenting pinching pinching pinching of the wormhole. The light light at the end is like 6pm sun on a dirty windshield. It obscures my vision.

            I am on my knees reaching toward the dingy light. It dims.

            "Eli, Eli Lama Sabacthani!" I say.

            The weight of the souls in the room tied about my waist has more mass than the energy I can muster to drag them. I cannot move faster than the speed of light.

            The light dims. The wormhole pinches shut.

______________           

"Great sermon, Mike." A hand claps my sweaty back. I turn to find a twenty-something face smiling with horse teeth.

            "Oh. Yeah. Well…"

            "Really, though, you know? My girlfriend Hannah and I? We thought it was awesome. I loved the part about how, like, we think we can, you know, take care of stuff on our own. But we really need to do life together…"

           Do life together? Where did he get that? Did I say that? My mind travels back to the wormhole and hunts around for detritus of the thousands of words I spewed during my forty-five minutes onstage. Horse teeth is still talking as I pick up a chunk of words from the ribbed flesh of the wormhole's dark matter: "we weren't meant to live life on our own—isolated. We aren't islands, people. As much as you'd like to think of yourself as a one-man-show — a Mr. Saturday Night Live — running the play of your life, you're not. You're really only playing a roll in a bigger story. One that's being written for you by the main character himself. If you lived with this knowledge — really lived within this calling of finding your role in his story — you'd know that you were not the protagonist on the stage, but an actor in the play… Or, better: a portal, if you will, for the Divine to play out his narrative through your life."

           "… so that's why I thought it was really cool because I just never really thought of, you know, how I'm not the main character in my story!" I would've given him little more than a smile and a pat on the shoulder, but horse teeth's smile looked sincere  that I found myself saying, "well, you're in every scene! It's hard not to, right?"

            "Right! Right, you're so right-on," he beamed.

            He opened his mouth to say more, but I'd already saluted him and climbed the steps to the stage where I could loiter behind the drum kit's shield thing that always reminded me of the nose of a B-52.

            I sat on the pleather drummer seat and stared at the fecundity of healthy blonde twenty-somethings, swarming ants-on-a-mound, behind the plexi-glass. Stared at the shapes mingling and tried to forget these shapes housed the souls that had only minutes ago prevented us from making it through the wormhole. Tried to forget that the bodies out of which grew their laughter and their horse teeth were also the rags on top of which their fragile, whining, weak, mewling souls that had failed to prevent the pinching shut of that damn wormhole. And how they would all thank me through their sparkly white horse teeth for the "great sermon" that I don't even remember and that might or might not have been made up of mostly bullshit, but was definitely not strong enough to get us through.

            I tapped on the snare with one of the drumsticks. I would've thrown it into the plexi-glass if, from my left, I hadn't heard the soft moaning of a girl the size of a large child kneeling by the exit door. Her blonde hair draped over her face. She rocked herself back-and-forth. Back-and-forth. I scanned the room: shapes chattering, hugging, smiling. The girl rocked herself back-and-forth. Whispered to herself.

            Jealousy upchucked into my gut as the girl rock herself back-and-forth. Back-and-forth. Back-and-forth. 

            I threw my sticks at the set so they clanged and bumped on the cymbals and drums on their way to the floor. She rocked herself back-and-forth. Damn her! That blonde baby got through!

FICTION/POETRY

Sarah Nowrocki - untitled comic published in Kilgore quarterly #4

Found this comic in Kilgore Books' quarterly comic and took iPhone photos of it so I could share it here. I'm digging how this comic layers worry/sadness/death/irritation/the-sometimes-pointlessness-of-NPR-and-pig-assholes into 12 small panels and one sad, yet relatively normal moment (that is, if you live somewhere lots of deer also live). This comic is literally short and sweet.  

One note: for those of you with squinty-computer-eye-syndrome, I've dictated the word parts in the text boxes below the pages.

Another note: I highly recommend you buy the very well-curated Kilgore quarterly for only three measly dollaz. To do so, go here

Panel 1:  I think I'll tell him that I can't go through another surgery. I guess the medicine is helping, but I just can't keep doing this. He's my second opinion but maybe I need a third.  "Today on this American Life, a story about calamari. Are restaurants serving pig assholes..."   Panel 2:  "disguised as the delicious Italian delicacy? I'm your host Ira Glass ... "   Panel 4:  "Hello! Can I help you boys?"  "I, I, oh God. She just came outta nowhere."  "Shit, man. She's hurt real bad. We need to help her."   Panel 5:   "We don't have any tools with us."  "I'll get my knife."

Panel 1: I think I'll tell him that I can't go through another surgery. I guess the medicine is helping, but I just can't keep doing this. He's my second opinion but maybe I need a third.

"Today on this American Life, a story about calamari. Are restaurants serving pig assholes..."

Panel 2: "disguised as the delicious Italian delicacy? I'm your host Ira Glass ... "

Panel 4: "Hello! Can I help you boys?"

"I, I, oh God. She just came outta nowhere."

"Shit, man. She's hurt real bad. We need to help her."

Panel 5:  "We don't have any tools with us."

"I'll get my knife."

  Panel 9:  "I'm so sorry"   Panel 10:  "Let's put her under this tree."   Panel 12:  "Assholes are very similar to calamari in taste and," Click.

 Panel 9: "I'm so sorry"

Panel 10: "Let's put her under this tree."

Panel 12: "Assholes are very similar to calamari in taste and," Click.

FICTION/POETRY

Matthew Di Paoli - Other Forms of Life

In "Other Forms of Life," a grandfather and a grandson search for the answer to the mystery of how a bag full of bloody dear tails wound up on the grandfather's doorstep. As someone who's recently lost a grandfather, the pedestrian simplicity of this grandfather/grandson's search (they wait in line, stand on sideways, talk with the drycleaner) -- and its lack of a fulfilling conclusion for the grandfather -- pulled at my heartstrings.  

Read the full story at Carte Blanche.