Joyland

a hub for short fiction

New York

You Said “Always”

Excerpted from the in-progress novel The Sex Lives of Other People​

“People don’t save people, Annie,” he says. It is the morning after and Alex is being gentle but firm with me, like he has been watching reruns of The Dog Whisperer on cable. I hate when he talks to me like that, like Cesar Millan. It is one of the many things I hate about him, along with the side part in his hair, the way he burps unapologetically, his under-tipping at restaurants, and nothing at all for baristas, like his coffee simply materializes because he rubbed two coins together.

“Who’s asking anyone to save anyone?”

The All-Mutant Soccer Team

The kids we play from downstate like to say it’s inbreeding, the reason our skin is neon green, our teeth blue, our hands like flippers growing from the sides of our bodies, no arms to speak of. 

“Have fun with your sisters tonight!” they’ll shout after a game in Chappaqua or Bedford, watching us pile onto our team bus. 

No one will play us at home. Who can blame them? Our field is next to the lake everyone in the tri-state area has heard about by now, the reason for all the birth defects and mutations and cancers like the kind that killed my mother last winter. Everyone knows about the accidental chemical relocation, the reason the water smelled vaguely of burnt plastic and car air freshener and stopped freezing in winter.

The Art of French Cooking

My little sister is healthy all her life until she turns twenty-two, when she is diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia and moves into my apartment. We have barely spoken since our mom died three years ago, but with both our parents long gone and an empty room in my home, where else would Ava go? She comes with two suitcases and goosebumps on her arms despite the August heat. It’s a lucky coincidence that my roommate has just left, but up until now that kind of luck has ruled Ava’s life.

The night she moves in, we decide to make dinner. “Let’s make Mexican, Maya,” she says, “how easy.” But we buy avocados that are green instead of brown and don’t realize until putting knife to peel that it’s wrong. We become scared of salmonella and overcook the chicken. I cut my finger slicing bell peppers and don’t have any bandages. So we open beers and clink the tops and eat tortilla chips from the bag. Well, we say. Mom would not be proud.

*

Walpurgisnacht

 “I’m so tired,” Kate says.

“I feel like shit,” Kate says.

“We should go out tonight,” Kate says.

Next thing I know I’ve gulped down, like, four vodka tonics — even though I hate vodka tonics — and I’m sitting on Kate’s bed eating a Ziploc bag of macadamia nuts by the fistful while Kate shoves tall black heels onto my feet.

“I don’t know if these are gonna fit,” she says. “Your feet are huge.”

“I know,” I say, “and look, my hands are big, too!” I pull my hand out of the baggie to show her and I accidentally sprinkle macadamia crumbs all over. “Oh, it’s in your hair! Like fairy dust!” I say, and go to brush it out, but I just make it worse. Kate shouts at me and fastens the buckle on the right shoe so tight that it pinches the skin beneath my anklebone and I cry out.

***

The Open Palm of Desire

My son found a severed hand in the sandbox. Dug it up, along with half a lime green crayon and the nub of a baby carrot. “Daddy, look,” Stevie said, holding onto the appendage as if crossing the street. “I’m being nice.”

It was ten-thirty in the morning, too early for this macabre kind of shit. I’d yet to finish my second cup of coffee. And then there was the thing itself, flesh shriveled and plum purple, a mat of curly hairs running to the first knuckles, which were encrusted with sand. A sharp bit of bone jutted from the brown stub of wrist—brown like old rust, a color I remember from the nastiest of Maureen’s panties, what she called her “B-listers.” And wouldn’t you know it? I left the house so fast I forgot the damn Purell.

 “Jesus Christ!” I said. “Put that down.”

The Only Tricks We Know

The day Eugene told me his secret he gave me a bouquet of lilies. Ice clung to the petals like fuzz.

Sorry about the frost, he said. That was an accident.

I stuck my nose into the flowers but they were too chilled to get any smell out of them. It puzzled me that the ice hadn’t melted—this was mid-June.

The thing is, he said, my trick is the weather.

The weather, I repeated.

That’s my schtick, you know? Everyone’s got to have a schtick.

We were in Washington Square Park. There was a guy playing Rachmaninoff on an upright piano.

Pick a weather, Eugene said.

I crossed my arms. Snow. Bet you can’t do snow.

Snow? Well … might be complicated.

You’re so full of shit, I said, giving him a playful punch to the shoulder.

It’s not that. He hesitated.

Then what?

He straightened. Alright, he said, closing his eyes, clenching his fists.

The History of Hanging Out

Once on a bright spring morning in a time much like now but also different there was a young Craigy in a room full of friends. Standing apart, stilled by feelings of affection and terror, he cast about at their mostly pretty, mostly childlike faces. Debbie, Andy, Billy, Stacy, Bobby, Cindy, Russian Stan. Here they were, lounging freely, lounging well, a braided scent above of donuts, marijuana, tobacco, shampoos, soaps, oils, sweat. Soon, taking care, thinking how really kind of beautiful this all is, Craig stepped into their center. “Hey, uh, listen everyone,” he said. “I think I could, well, you know…”

“What?”

Have one.”

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