The Wrong Sort of Woman

PAPER DARTS SHORT FICTION AWARD WINNER: Men used to be explorers; they used to hike a county over just for ink. Like my favorite Neanderthal with his pat of ocher. He mixed his own paint with animal fat and blew it through hollowed-out bones. He was thinking of posterity—of us—as he tossed hair out of his eyes and inked a row of horses on his wall.

Straight Lines

Each question got closer to the point: Was she a bad mother? Phyllis couldn’t think of any traditions. They didn’t go to church. They celebrated Christmas and Thanksgiving, sometimes colored Easter eggs, but those seemed too generic to be considered cultural traditions.

Don’t Have a Threesome with Uncle Sam

Don’t have a threesome with Uncle Sam. Believe me—I should know. My boyfriend had just moved to the US—for us—and we were celebrating the end of long-distance when Sam sidled up to me at the bar. He was all Uncle Sam wants you, so I gestured to my partner and said, “I have a boyfriend . . ." But that line didn’t work on him. He said he liked my boyfriend too.

Find Me at the Bottom of a Pool

There’s a girl in our swimming class who’s always angry. She was probably born that way. Bristling, we mean. Even our instructor, Ben, doesn’t look her in the eye. Ben is big and blocky and we stare at him like he’s a rare but gentle animal.

Bloody Good

“Bloody Good” the article’s called, and in one picture, sparse sprigs of feathers hold blood to the light. Grim crease of mouth beyond hooked black beak, stern raise of brow above the eye. Their necks long, hooked and humble, as they fly. Serengeti gothic. In another: wild dog with wrinkled nose, teeth drawn, hackles raised over its shoulders like a hood. Caught in a deep-belly snarl over a picked-clean carcass and its drone of hovering, crawling, biting flies at a grimy vulture with beak left a crack open in surprise. Jackal sounds like cackle, as in, teeth that could laugh a throat right off.

Father

I know the knife is going to enter my child when I feel time slow. I know there will be an accident. The spatula slipping a little under the cutting board, the placing of the pan down on the pot holder, the levering of the spatula, the launching of the blade, Japanese-make, little dimples in the steel, loosed by the dumb circumstance of the world that got all of us to right here.

Nice Twitter

Anyway, around this time I read a story about a professor who got fired for his tweets about Israel. The college world is supposed to be leftist, supposed to be progressive, and I was in the process of applying for jobs in academia. My Twitter feed was just politics, Batman, the Milwaukee Brewers, and jokes.

What An Asshole

You said, “I love scallops but not shrimp,” and I thought what an asshole; I must sleep with him. You wore a blue shirt and pants too tight and those stupid-ass shoes and I drooled, I ached.

The Second Star

Marcus was plugging in our new alarm clock when I noticed his tattoo. He was wearing a thin white T-shirt and I could see the star, small and blue, through it.  

“What’s this?” I asked and swept my hand over his back.

“I’ve had it a week,” he said. He pushed the nightstand back against the wall. The new alarm clock still flashed twelve. 

Derby

Is it possible to unmeet? To miss each other by a second, to not fall into a unified step, your filthy black boots beside mine on a bush-lined street, summer berries falling and rotting at our feet, breath smoke in the crisp autumn cold? Is it possible to become strangers, again? 

Sheena

We had spring rolls and greasy noodles at a Vietnamese restaurant that night with a friend of mine by the name of Tammy who was always trying to seduce my girl. Tammy had a couple of cool blonde femmes in sundresses and heels with her who spent the evening acting like her groupies. Tammy used to own a gay bar in the French Quarter. Now she owns a crummy gift shop there, close to Canal Street, where it always smells like garbage and Daiquiri vomit. 

Guide to Bharatanatyam

Tapping is first. Tapping is always first, from the first infinity to the last. Tapping is the crux of dance and dance is the crux of life. Learn to tap, your guru says, and everything else will follow. 

BRAINDRAIN

Because bodies couldn’t cross the borders—bodies were unwanted. Bodies had disease and sweat and threatening biceps and strange-tongued languages, needed beds and jobs and maybe even women and lives, meant a future of preexisting bodies diluted by the sweat-flesh-stink-color of new bodies. No bodies. But what was okay, they said (they on the right side of the wall), was brains.

Sucker

She wasn't allowed to have candy, so she kept it hidden in her top dresser drawer. Her mother made her dress in church clothes whenever company would come, and each time Connie would sneak a taste. It became her silent sacrament.

A Possession

Menstruate. Watch the blood stain your sari, blooming outwards in a defiant whorl. Grab your hair by the fistfuls and scream expletives until your lungs swell urgently against your ribcage. Demand cigarillos and arrack from your husband, from your neighbors, from the anxious twist of a woman that brings you packets of milk every morning. Give in to convulsions, every three minutes or so. 

The Candle Farmers

We grew candles on our farm. It was always night. I carried embers in a copper bucket and trailed behind my mother. Under the candlelight, the ground was warm. I tucked my plait down the back of my dress. We walked narrow pathways through fields of candles. The glow hurt my eyes, so I looked up at the darkness and star blink. When we reached the empty plain, we dug holes and planted the embers. I didn’t know if my fingers were black with dirt or soot.