Category Archives: Robert Shapard guest editor/ Summer 2015

Lydia Davis

Conversation in Hotel Lounge

Two women sit together on the sofa in the hotel lounge, bent over and deep in conversation.  I am walking through, on my way to my room.

First woman, loudly and distinctly:  “I never had fun before!”

I am surprised and intrigued–what a heart-to-heart they are having!  I try to imagine her life up to now.  I try to imagine what she has been experiencing recently, and also the revelation this must be to her–the concept of fun.  My thoughts take just a few seconds.

Second woman, speaking softly, inaudibly:  “[mumble, mumble].”

First woman:  “No, no.  Fun is a Chinese word.  Fun is Mandarin.  It means…a kind of rice noodle.

~~

Lydia Davis is well known for her very short, and very very short, stories. Her latest collection is Can’t and Won’t. She has won many awards for her fiction, including the Man Booker International Prize. Dana Goodyear of The New Yorker has said she is “one of the most original minds in American fiction today.”

Joseph Starr

Vocation

One employee at the Chinese restaurant chops the heads off ducks. Imagine the kitchen: thin streams of sweat on the foreheads, array of aged cookware on the walls, spattered oil yellow-hot, and the elderly Chinaman in his little nook. How elegant his silver hair combed in damp stripes! With what grace he wields his hatchet!

~~

Joseph Starr is a freelance writer living in Denver, Colorado. His fiction and short prose have appeared in Literary Review, Mississippi Review, Denver Quarterly, and Third Bed.

Kuzhali Manickavel

All the Terrible Things

All the terrible things were the same size. They were furred over with dust and seemed to slouch in the heavy sunlight. Two of them had collapsed into each other—one was Being Caught in a Hurricane in the Middle of the Ocean and the other was Rape. Murali, who kept asking what I was doing now, who said he had something growing on his spinal column that would probably kill him in a year, looked down at the terrible things. He seemed disappointed in them.

“This should have been yours,” he said, poking at Rape with his toe, because he didn’t like to bend if he could help it, his whole body hurt like a motherfucker now.

“I don’t mean—” he said quickly. “Not like—”

“Yeahyeah,” I said. “No, I get it.”

We didn’t know how to talk to each other anymore. Back then, it had always been in Tamil—get lost you donkey, you water buffalo, look at your face, stupid monkey face. Now everything was in English. Now it was usually about money, it was fuck and motherfucking assholes, it was I’m sick, I don’t know what to do, I’m tired, I’m so fucking tired all the time.

“You sure you can make it back down?” I asked, looking at the attic stairs, picturing him falling, then him pulling me down with him because he would be scared and anyway that’s just how he was, he was always grabbing at things without thinking. I pictured us both lying at the bottom of the stairs and the thought of pain, and possibly blood, made me overwhelmingly tired.

“When did we do all this?” he asked. He was standing among the terrible things. Cancer was leaning gently against his leg.

I shrugged. I couldn’t remember much about that summer except that I was not afraid of rape yet and we had spent most of our days collecting empty toothpaste boxes to make the terrible things. Mine had been Getting Lost in Madurai, Having Loose Motion on Bus and Cancer. We had sat in front of the television, sometimes stopping to watch the UGC programming with half-open mouths as we turned the toothpaste boxes into towers labelled Losing Hall Ticket, Cholera and Black Pig Caught in My Cycle Tire. Rape had been one of Murali’s terrible things. He used up all of the red marker writing the word in huge lightning bolts, surrounding it with dead women in enormous triangle dresses. You should learn karate, he told me. Yennaku I mean like I don’t know so much about karate, ok? His Tamil was already starting to unravel. But I will teach what I know. Seriya? Daily practice. Neeyum naanum. Ok-vah?

“You’re right,” said Murali. He was by the attic stairs now. The terrible things seemed to be watching him under their thick cloaks of dust and black mold.

“What do you mean?” I said.

“Well how the fuck am I supposed to get back down?”

In the end, we climbed down together. We took it one step at a time, braced for the fall that was about to come.

~~

Kuzhali Manickavel’s collections Things We Found During the Autopsy; Insects Are Just Like You and Me Except Some of Them Have Wings; and e-chapbook Eating Sugar, Telling Lies are available from Blaft Publications, Chennai. Her work has also appeared in Granta, Agni, Subtropics, Michigan Quarterly Review and DIAGRAM.

 

Tania Hershman

The Most New Sport

When there is a New Sport they find the players to fit: Elongated for basketball; sleek for swimming; flexibly jointed for golf. Put the elongated, the sleek and the flexibly jointed in a room, at an awards ceremony, say, and the elongated will not be able to bend to hear what the sleek are saying, while the flexibly jointed raid the buffet table from many novel angles.

**

But this Most New Sport is confusing. The inventors, the ones with imaginations ranging wild and heads for rules, constructs, gaming, are not in agreement over who is the Ideal Player. This Most New Sport needs stretching, but also shrinking, speed and slowness, cunning, selfishness, and a team-like spirit. Keep one eye on the ball while gripping a bat-like, racket-like, swinging it, skipping, shuffling.

“Too complicated!” wails the child of one of the inventors, rubbing bruises where the newly designed part-rubber, part-felt ball hit knees, stomach, right ear. The child sniffles off. The inventors look at each other, mouths lemoned. They are overwhelmed by pressure to do this. They do not sleep at night, dreaming of their Most New Sport.

After the child has gone, to relax they have a quick game. As they run, crawl, whack, slide, tap and saunter, all their stress grows wings.

“We love this,” they say to each other, knowing, knowing, knowing that what they have invented would change everything. Everything.

They have money men (and one woman) who were “mightily impressed” when they watched the two inventors play. They reached for their devices and swiftly turned out a tiny part of their electronic pockets into the inventors’ bank account.

“Get it out there,” they instructed. “Get it into parks and onto courts, spark up our youth. We need a new way to . . .” At this the money men—and woman—looked at one another, and each inventor felt again like the child in the playground, the one no one invited to join in. Each inventor thought, “This time, I am the game,” but the child inside shuddered.

**

A year later, and the inventors must admit they just can’t do it. No one else can play their New Sport. No one else can take on even a few of the rules, the must-dos and the can’t-dos. They have traveled everywhere, cajoled all sorts and types and heights, widths and flexibilities, but they have failed.

It seems only they can play it.

So they play and play, each winning, losing, winning, and eventually, all thoughts of money men and woman, of bringing their New Sport to the world, to parks and courts, all ideas of fame and immense fortunes, fade and vanish. They just play on and on.

“We love this,” they say to one another, as they run, crawl, whack, slide, tap and saunter, grinning, the young inventors playing the Most New Sport designed just for two.

~~

Tania Hershman was born in London, moved to Jerusalem in her twenties, and now lives in Bristol, England. She has two story collections that include flash fictions, and a poetry chapbook forthcoming in 2016. Tania is founder and curator of ShortStops.info and is researching a PhD in creative writing. www.taniahershman.com 

 

 

Claudia Smith Chen

Gacy’s Wife

John Wayne Gacy buried twenty-three victims in the crawl space of his house.  But when Carol Hoff, Gacy’s wife, was asked if she smelled anything, she said Gacy told her the smell was because of mice.

My father gulps purple wine, his pinky sticking out.  I hate this pinky, and the way he masticates the delicate olives we chose for him, the way he spits out the pits and says Italian, like it’s a joke, saying the “I” the way you say the capital letter.  Of course I don’t have the words yet, and I don’t know that it isn’t the chewing I hate, or the chewed up food in his open mouth.  It’s his hands at my throat, when I scream and it is, of course, the pressure of those wide but surprisingly small hands in the small of my back as he presses down and says, Be still.

How my body disobeys my brain, when he says that.  I can’t be still, and I can’t be quiet.

I climb the only tree in our yard, and my brother can’t, he isn’t old enough, so I am high above the clothesline and the honeysuckle, even the roof of our bungalow.  I read up there, closer to the sky, throwing apple cores.  Until I am called.

My mother stands naked as my father points to the different body parts for my brother.  I am embarrassed, but if I say so he will punish me so I go to my room  This house is not a rental, my parents bought it and so my room is my very own.  I keep it very clean.  My father painted fairies over the door, dancing fairies and lilies.

I fall down at school and skin my knee, and at the sight of blood I burst into tears like a baby.  They walk me to the nurse and it’s too humiliating, I’m still crying, my nose is even running.   I walk into the window unit sticking out of the nurses office and bang my head so hard there is a lump.

After that I just don’t cry.  I mean, I never cry.  Even when my son is born, I’m quiet.   I stick needles through the fatty pockets of my fingertips, showing off.  See? I say to my brother, no matter what the pain, I wont scream.  The past is growing its scabs.  There are missing children on milk cartons, and my mother tells me about the evils, there are clippings on the refrigerator.  Out in the field, I could be captured and sold.  White slavery, my mother calls it.

At night he buries his head in her lap, he says, Im so sorry, and I love you so much.  And, Im just a wee babe.  I’m not sure he is talking to her when he says this, but of course how can I tell her this?  She believes in him.  He will forgive in himself what she forgives, which is just about anything.  It’s what makes her so good.  I believe in this the way I believe in prayer, the way I believe in Jimmy Carter’s essential goodness, the way I believe my dead grandmother can hear my thoughts, and the scapular I wear, even in the shower, protects my neck from vampires at night.

Why does she tell me this?  Well, there isn’t anyone else to tell.   But it is too much.  She tells me during our coffee breaks; she will cut me a piece of apple crumble.  She doesn’t eat much.  Sometimes, a peanut butter cup from the 7/11; she’ll divide it in perfect fourths with a grapefruit spoon.  She never eats much.

One day, after climbing too high, I fall from the tree and pass out. When my mother comes to get me I vomit the half-bag of Oreos I gobbled that afternoon.

I dont know what your father would do, she tells me, when the danger has passed, after a night of shining lights in my eyes.  I’m in a hospital bed, and the wallpaper, a bunch of paper doll cut-outs in blacks and reds, is making me sick to look at.

I dont know what he would do,  if he lost you.  Probably kill me.

~~

Claudia Smith Chen’s The Sky Is a Well and Other Shorts was Winner of the First Annual Rose Metal Press Short Short Chapbook Contest. Her latest full-length book is Quarry Light.