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Pastoral

Pastoral

Jac Jemc

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Featuring lines from
Virgil's Eclogues and Theocritus's
"Goatherd"

The smell of the powder they release in a pouf on our faces starts the alchemy, my third favorite scent. While getting our makeup done, Dave and I usually talk about our kids. He was such a kind man and his priorities were clear. His family came first and fucking came second.

Feed, swains, your oxen as of old; rear your bulls.

I would tell Dave about my sons: one delicate and one a bruiser, but both boisterous in the right mood. He’d tell me about how his daughter liked to make him scream. “Be murdered, Daddy!” and somehow that would translate to him shrieking for minutes on end. “Should I be concerned?” Dave asked me, and we both cackled. Kids would be kids.

Heartsick, I myself am driving my goats along.

Once we were made up and ready to go, we’d get a few minutes alone together. The director and crew left the set, and Dave and I sat on the couch together, and he ran his hand down my cheek, and I leaned in and we kissed. We could mean it and still be in love with our mates back home. It felt healthy and professional, like we were good at our jobs.

For these have we sown our fields!

Dave pulled apart my robe and pushed my tits together and sighed and I saw his robe part to make way for evidence of his admiration. It was always at this point that the director would call out to ask if it was safe for him to return. “They must have cameras on us, right?” Dave said, with a big, boyish smile. I shrugged. It didn’t make what we had any less real.

Wooing the woodland Muse on slender reed.

“What’s on the docket for today, coach?” I asked.

Fling these artless strains to the hills and woods.

The director looked at his shot list. “As you can see, we’ve got this one set outdoors. We’ve got a few trees and some boulders set up with some grass. We’ll shoot some externals out at a creek tomorrow. Kim, you’re Alexis, the object of Corydon’s—that’s you, Dave—the object of Corydon’s desire. You should be attentive but withholding. Alexis—I’ll call you by your characters’ names—you’re actually just a figment of Corydon’s imagination, but that won’t be clear until the end. We’ll take care of that in after effects. Corydon, you’ll watch Alexis frolic some to start. Alexis, you’re enjoying the nature that surrounds you. We’ll greenscreen in a background soon, but feel free to see your body as an extension of the landscape to be enjoyed. Corydon, after watching from this corner over here for a while, stroking yourself, approach Alexis. Alexis, you’ll never acknowledge Corydon fully. No eye contact. Enjoy the way Corydon touches you, manipulates you, as though it were all a part of your fantasy. We’re thinking some harmless making out to start. Then some rear penetration leaning on a boulder. After that, Corydon, you’re going to ask Alexis if she’s been bad. Alexis, still no answer. Corydon, you take that as a yes and supply some discipline: nothing too much, just some slaps, spanking, maybe Dave—sorry, Corydon—you hold her arms down. Once you’re through with that, some postcoital cuddling–slash–making out. Corydon, you’ll ask Alexis her name; Alexis, still no answer. Go back to the make out. Alexis, we’ll erase you from his arms in post and, Corydon, you’ll realize, gradually, that you’re alone, but Alexis’s toga will be on the ground. Rub your cock as a remembrance, tenderly, and that will be that. Manny, bring in the sheep!” the director called behind him. He turned to us, “No animal play. Let’s keep this clean.”

Sooner, then, shall the nimble stag graze in air, and the seas leave their fish bare on the strand.

I shivered with excitement. What luck was this? To have a decent plot, a director that didn’t force a script on us and trusted us to make the moves look natural, a beautiful co-star with bare appeal. A costume assistant brought out my costume, a humble elegy to a toga. One tit mumbled behind fabric while the other glowed heavy in the stage lights. I looked across the stage at Dave, also being authenticated with a short frock. His nodding dick lifted the hem. Our gazes embraced across the room, a lush charm filling the space between.

The mirror never lies.

When we stepped on set and the lights shined us to glowing, I felt like the elusive nymph I was supposed to play. I felt a true course of yearning within me. “Alexis!” the director called out. “You look like a Greek statue! If a Greek statue were made of the most sumptuous human flesh you could imagine.” I kept in character, approached Dave with his cocked package. Availed him of my bared breast. Hung a small smile between us, then depressed it. Tore at his confidence with my teeth. Hosted the control in this situation. Pushed the jealousy into him. Then gave him a doll-like welcome. I dropped to my knees. Belted nature with my mouth. Conjured from him a rigid stammer. Tingling. Panting. Simplifying.

Ah, lovely boy, trust not too much to your bloom!

When we’re done filming, I shower because I know I should, but I linger a bit in front of my mirror, wiping off my makeup and examining my pores, reveling in the smell of Dave and lube and the sweat of the work we’ve done. Ahead of that first pouf of powder before a shoot, this is my first favorite smell.

the copses under the burning sun echo my voice with that of the shrill cicadas.


There are no wolves at the door. No natural disaster waits in the clouds or beneath the earth. Mental illness and addiction don’t evidence themselves. No rules will be broken. Death, abuse, divorce: none of these. No revenge is exacted. No combat. You might argue that the hidden conflict is any resistance society might place upon this story, attacking what is being presented as calm, peaceful, serene, and finding its faults, insisting it is more complicated, that something this complex cannot be executed so simply, but you will not see any of that here. The people in this story surround themselves with those who accept and nurture them. They have found little to no resistance locating people who fit this classification to place in their most intimate primary and secondary circles of relation. There is no obstacle that requires overcoming that we know of. This is not the story of love being stronger than social mores or broken tradition. This is not a morality tale about the goodness of one character triumphing over the bad of another.


I pick up my sons from day care. They have this recurring energy that astonishes me daily. Everything about them is emphatic, nothing implicit. I like their boldness, their volume, their exaggeration. We make dinner together. They are small and it is impossible to find fault with their true vigor, but I try to let them use their power to punish the greens for the salad and make the most of their curiosity by simplifying the onions into only their most useful layers. My husband arrives home and he offers perky slips of his hand across my back and brazen sentiments of perfection to the children. They hoot and cheer him on like he is their man in the fighting pits. He steals my workforce to usher them outside to get them riled so they will calm at the table. When they return, the meal is ready. He gets the children settled and meets me in the kitchen as I’m grabbing the last dish. He rolls his full lips across mine and allows his tongue to slip through. I could nearly drop the platter I’m holding. “Good day at work?” he asks, and I nod, steal another kiss from him before slapping his ass to get him moving.

Essay we now a somewhat loftier task

At bath time, I supervise as my sons wash themselves. I am needed only as a referee in times of battle and to swoop in with a dry towel and kisses if someone bumps his head or gets soap in his eyes. I lean in to kiss their heads when it is time to shut off the light. This is my second favorite smell.

With a new breed of men sent down from heaven

After the boys go to sleep, we set to our evening tasks: folding laundry, cleaning up the kitchen, taking out the trash, sorting the mail and addressing items that need attention. I shepherd my husband through the golden work of nature, acts of encounter and romance. I pluck flowers from the gardens of his nerves and conflict his sense of urgency and tranquility.

The lip of it is hanged about with curling ivy, ivy freaked with a cassidony which goes twisting and twining among the leaves in the pride of her saffron fruitage.

It is a rustic fantasy we live out here in the suburbs. The days morph to nights and back into days. The calendar appears to exist only for those who refuse to live in the silver ideal of the instant. In our little locus amoenus, we revel in the undemanding abandon of passion and tradition and harmony. We hear the falling melodies and remind ourselves they are just an imitation. If those feelings of elation pass, then so too will this sorrow. We speak with an elated eloquence: accidental fables, prestigious madness, worthy joy, happy detachment. We compose our mirth. We trespass the shadows. We bind simplicity to our pleasures. It is a human emphasis we place on the gods we construct.

And, see, the farm-roof chimneys smoke afar

You have been waiting for the threat. That is where you are wrong.


Jac Jemc lives in Chicago. Her story collection False Bingo will be released in 2019 and her novel Total Work of Art will be published in 2021, both from FSG. Her novel The Grip of It was released from FSG Originals (Farrar, Straus & Giroux) in August 2017, receiving starred reviews in Publishers Weekly, Kirkus and Library Journal, and recommended in Entertainment Weekly, O: The Oprah Magazine, Marie Claire, Esquire, W, and Nylon.  Her stories have appeared or are forthcoming from Guernica, LA Review of Books, Crazyhorse, The Southwest Review, Paper Darts, Puerto Del Sol, and Storyquarterly, among others. Jemc is also the author of My Only Wife (Dzanc Books), named a finalist for the 2013 PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for Debut Fiction and winner of the Paula Anderson Book Award;  A Different Bed Every Time (Dzanc Books), named one of Amazon's Best Story Collections of 2014; and a chapbook of stories, These Strangers She'd Invited In (Greying Ghost Press).  

Illustration by Keit Osadchuk.


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