Joyland

a hub for short fiction

New York

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.”

Alligator

Trappers came and dragged the alligator out of the ditch in my backyard, bound her front legs and threw her on the flatbed of their pickup truck one afternoon in late May. They wore cutoff denim jeans and sleeveless shirts called “wife beaters,” and carried poles with big loops on the end that tightened when you pulled on them, duct tape, and big coolers of raw meat.

I had heard the neighbors talking about the gator. They said it came out of the drainage pipe at the end of the subdivision, made its way down the length of the ditch, and disappeared into the pipe at the other end. It was nine feet long, at least, and looked sinister and possibly pregnant. It ate half my neighbor’s Yorkie and left the other half rotting on the grass on the edge of her yard. She showed me a Polaroid of the corpse while I toed the banks of the ditch looking for baby minnows, which I later learned were mosquito larvae.

Buffalo

Excerpted from the in-progress novel, Buffalo.

Because Bea’s collection consisted of more than what she could store in refrigerators or under the bed  she took Kotter on a tour of Buffalo’s female body parts.  Cities were, according to Bea, a patriarchal invention and the urban space was one in which women were forced to navigate in a way that was uncomfortable and unnatural.  The Feminist’s Guide to Walking the City also encouraged an awareness of, and subsequent tribute to the working women enslaved throughout the urban landscape.  This suggestion was contained within a chapter called “Stoned” which Kotter thought was funny and Bea did not.  She put on her hat, a scarf and some waxy lip balm from a green tin.  Her hands then black in leather gloves, she pointed a finger at him.

“You think this will be boring.”

He thought.

 “I guess so,” he said.

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