Homely by Raki Kopernik

Behind the picture window on Twelfth and Grand, the one you can see from the street if you walk on the south side of the sidewalk and look up to the second floor, lives a ten-pound longhaired calico that spends her days looking out at the passing cars. Her eyes generally rest in coin slot-like slits and her limbs tuck under her body, like a chicken keeping her eggs warm.  She doesn’t jump when pots crash or dishes break against the plaster behind her because she has grown accustomed to these sounds.

Bertha and Tilda love the calico.

On a given day, if you look up to the second story, you might see the calico in her meditative state, the glass of the picture window vibrating from her purrs. You might also see shards of porcelain exploding like fireworks around her. Bertha and Tilda go to the thrift store down the street each week to buy new dishes. They are particularly fond of thin white Corningware, which breaks easily. Their therapist encourages Frisbee plate throwing.

You need to release your aggression, he says.

If the calico could speak English she would say, Your therapist needs therapy.

Bertha and Tilda throw the plates at each other as though they were, in fact, playing a game of Frisbee. But they don’t try to catch. They are working with ducking and stepping out of the way. Neither of them played Frisbee as children, so occasionally their faces are marred with deep greens and purples. They have an extensive make-up collection.

In their plate tossing games, they also incorporate language.

Bertha likes to say things like, Why don’t you turn your heart back on?

Tilda says, I’m fucked up, and, you expect too much.

Tilda works in a bookstore across town. She reads intellectual books by dead Russian novelists and connects deeply with the alcohol soaked men who come into the bookstore off the street to use the bathroom. She wears argyle sweater vests to work, which Bertha thinks are nerdy and sweet.

I’m so homely, Tilda says.

Only when you wear sweater vests, Bertha says.

Bertha is a junior high school teacher, her excuse for sometimes acting like she’s in junior high.

We are mirrors of our environment, she says.

Bertha and Tilda have lived on the second floor with the calico for two and a half years. Before she met Tilda, Bertha was happier. She was contentedly sleeping around, enjoying her junior high bachelor lifestyle.

Tilda has never been happy, although in the beginning of their relationship, she once said she felt peaceful.

Last week, in a particularly heated Frisbee toss, Tilda lost her left front tooth. Bertha was not happy with her achievement, but something inside of her throat released. She cried and threw up on the living room floor, then took Tilda to the emergency dentist. Tilda didn’t cry. She opted not to have a new tooth put in, but rather, to leave the space open.

Do you think you’re homely now? Bertha asked her.

Always on the inside, she said.

Raki Kopernik is a Jewish, queer, experimental fiction and poetry writer. She is the author of The Other Body chapbook (Dancing Girl Press). Her work has also appeared in several publications, including Blue Lyra Review, El Balazo, Duende, and others, was shortlisted for the Black River Chapbook Contest, and received honorable mentions for both the Red Hen Press Nonfiction Award as well as the Glimmer Train Short Story Award. She holds an MFA in creative writing from Naropa University and currently lives in Minneapolis. You can find more of her work here:  http://rakikopernik.wixsite.com/mysite/writing

A cat looking down the side of a building
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