Karen

By Daisuke Shen

Short Story

 

One thing about Karen that you should know: she is a good person. Sure, she has her faults, like ordering catering for the office from Applebee’s. Even Steel wouldn’t eat it, and he usually eats everything.

 

Home Depot Harvey says when it comes to entryways you can’t go wrong with a pergola. The culturally appropriated East Asian architecture in rot-resistant cedar suggests a certain refinement of spirit, i.e. “Why, yes. I did read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance in college,” while simultaneously declaring, “Here is the front door. This way. Come inside. Relax.” I buy lumber and a DeWalt cordless framing gun and put them on VISA. Between my Chase and Alaska Airlines Mileage cards, my limit is $10,000. I haven’t been watching my purchases.

It’s Saturday. Lawnmowers cry from front and back yards. A house finch shoots out of an Oregon Grape and nearly kills me. I google “How to build a pergola” and watch a tutorial on YouTube. This is going to be trickier than Harvey let on.

Anne sticks her head out the window. “What are you doing, babe?”

“Pergola,” I say.

 

At the gas station, I wanted to disappear. A ghost made of tissue paper twisted from a tree branch. There wasn’t any wind, just normal air. It smelled like springtime, but it was October.

A man fell over on the sidewalk. He caused such a mess, it appeared eggs had fallen out of his pockets. I looked away.

An hour earlier I’d signed a lease on an apartment by the beach. The broker’s office had wood paneling. The world was scattered with long windows I couldn’t see through. Plastic batted against glass. Everything was a little smoke-damaged.

An SUV pulled up. A woman stepped out, messed with her purse, then got back in and drove off.

I paced a bit, picked a quarter off the ground.

I thought about trying to steal the gun from behind the counter. But what if they didn’t have a gun? I wanted to commit to something. I wanted it to be obvious.

Good Luck: Episode Twenty-One

Read the first part of this story, “Birds,” right here.

 

The man from New Jersey is woken by gunshots in his apartment. He is lying on the living room couch, facing the buttoned sofa back, and here is another shot, behind him. He rolls off the couch and covers his face, cowering, “Stop.” His wife is standing in the doorway, tears streaming down her face. Out of bullets, she drops the gun on the floor. Down the hallway she flees; barricading herself in the blue room. She calls the police.

Birds

By Bud Smith

Short Story

Good Luck: Episode Twenty

 

A bird flaps by, trapped inside the building. The man from New Jersey looks up, sees it land on the blue pipe where the gas comes in. A crow, big and fat. He puts his wrenches down and walks away from his coworkers who are busy calling each other cocksucker. The bird flies off again, circling over the vats and drums. He walks through white powder. The crow lands on the electric conduit and turns its eyes on him. He steps over to the door to the outside world. A sign on it reads: Door Must Remain Closed Building Is Pressurized. He enters the code, steps outside, through the doorway, and holds the door open so the bird can’t see he’s there. A minute later it flies past, takes its place in the sky. The man from New Jersey walks back to his job. They say to him, “Where’d you go, cocksucker?” He says, “I let that bird go.” “What bird?” They would never notice a bird.

 

I’m at the wedding of a guy I work with. Bill, another guy I work with, who’s older than me, gives me advice.

 

He says: Now that you’re almost thirty, one thing I would tell you is this—and everyone I tell this to says, Bill, man, you were right—that if you’re interested in somebody, just let them know. Say, hey, I’m interested in you, you seem like a person worth getting to know, let’s get dinner.

 

And then he clenches his jaw and slaps an invisible ass in the air and says, quieter: And man, have some damn fun with it.

 

I say: Thanks Bill.

 

I met Richard at a local bar. He sat alone in a corner booth and brushed my hand as I walked by, on my way to the restroom.

My friend, Whitney, had gone home for the night. I decided to stay for another drink. Richard offered to pay for it.

“Thanks,” I said, puzzled by his charity. I agreed to sit with Richard, despite the fact that he looked thirty years my senior and was dressed like an old yuppie.

Richard told me that he’d recently moved to Grass Valley; that he’d rented a three bedroom house with a creek that ran through the back yard. He said that he liked the clean air and evergreen trees, and the fact that his money went further in the small town than in New York, where he’d earned his small fortune.

“What about you?” said Richard.

“What about me?”

“Tell me something about yourself.”

“I work at the department store downtown,” I said.

 

I’m busy.

Doing what?

Writing my novel.

Still at it, you?

Nothing left to do.

What’s it about?

It’s about you, he said.

Oh yeah, sure.

Really.

About me?

You and me, he said.

Us, then.

Right. That’s right.

What’re we doing in this novel?

 

[An excerpt from WRITING, WRITTEN which is now available from Fantagraphics Books. Order your copy here.]

Flamingo

By Brian Kelly

Short Story

If I ever said I loved Francine it was to get her to set the kitchen knife down on the countertop before something awful happened. To her, I was the “looney.” Especially after she rocked back a row of wine coolers.

“You got a sick head,” she stammered, swinging the blade at me. “When you gonna get help now?”

“Fran,” I said, trying to grab her arm. “I said I love you. You see? I just said it, again.”

 

mika is looking at a plastic bag, is that a cat? she wonders, i hope she’s friendly, i just love petting things so much, i don’t know why i do, oh, nevermind

at home, she ignores the phone and thinks that it’s really funny, i can’t believe it, she buckles under her laughter, it’s still ringing, oh my god, ha ha ha, she laughs, why…won’t….it…stop…buzzing?

later, she eats two things and gives the third away before falling asleep

[An excerpt from THE GREAT AMERICAN SUCTION, forthcoming from Tyrant Books on Feb. 26]

Once a month, the Brothers Tully host militia training maneuvers in and around the thirty-odd acres that entrench their house. Since Shaker owes the Brothers approximately a full week’s labor for use of their truck, he has been conscripted into service this Sunday afternoon. The game is paintball, and he joins the angry secessionists and meth mummies and paroled vagrants who have also been coaxed through assorted Tully-related obligation. Shaker is kitted up in camouflage and fourthhand hockey pads, humping things into position. Thanks to the dearth in available head armor, he can see a few exposed faces that he recognizes. Stool slouchers from the Regal Beagle, grocery stockers, an alderman, a Shriner. Even Bob Mossenfeld, who managed the only used auto lot in town and sold Shaker his old van before he was fired for lagging odometers. The Minnesotan sits with a shotgun cracked open on its hinge. He’s trying to huff the paint cartridge inside. Hunkered on another tree stump is Bitters McCaulky. The reverend’s face is clamped with concentration as he velcros on his body-molded shin guards and aluminum crotch shield. He’s suiting up for some serious castle siege. Shaker hurriedly crams his head into his ski mask. Then he straightens his bullet belt and thermal gloves, his night-vision goggles although it is not night. Fully pieced together, he walks up and holds his gun point-blank to McCaulky’s cheek and gives the trigger a dainty pinch. A loud lisp of compressed air. The man’s head jerks. Red paint decorates all immediate parties. Shaker thinks he can read in the spatter the cryptic intimations of his own existential liberation. It more or less resembles red velvet cake.

“Bombs away,” Shaker says and returns to his team of junky addicts and lonely stalkers and school board members. A Tully blows a bullhorn.

The skirmish can now officially begin.

Racquet

By Jackson Frons

Short Story

Tonight I will see Bonnie for the last time, but I don’t know it yet. We get together roughly once a month. We get drunk. We get high. We don’t have a ton to talk about, but she’s cool. We’re both downers, but she makes a lot of money. And I’m happy about seeing her. I’m happy that the early afternoon sun is out and that it finally feels like fall—cool crisp breeze, sky a vacant shade of blue like animated swimming pools.

I’m walking down Willoughby Avenue to work. I coach tennis in the park. I’m wearing a furry black sweater I stole from my dad. He stole it from a Norwegian television station. My beard is long. My hips hurt from running on cement 28 hours a week. My head buzzes from smoking too much pot last night. Most nights. I’m happy in a sad way. Like I know this is pretty great, the way I’m living, and I wish I could enjoy it more.

Last August a photo of Brad Phillips’ book Essays and Fictions was posted on Instagram.  The picture was a close up of Anthony Bourdain’s blurb—he’d only died a couple months earlier—that read “searingly honest, brilliant, and disturbing…” I guess I’m a sucker for excellent marketing, because I wanted to read the book immediately.  I wasn’t patient enough to wait for the novel’s release, and since the Instagram caption said advanced readers copies were available, I emailed Tyrant Books and requested one.

Essays and Fictions is a perfect example of why I love to read. Reading a book for the first time, a book I’ll grow to love, is an intimate process. The words on the page somehow seep into me, and the story stays inside long after the book is finished. The eleven stories in Essays and Fictions painstakingly focus on overlapping subject matter like drug addiction, sex, pain, loss, suicide and love—topics considered ‘disturbing,’ but the writing in this book about these topics is not only beautiful, but deeply sincere.

When I really love a book, I become obsessed and I do this thing: underlining various sentences, posting the underlined sentences on Instagram stories, tweeting sentences I connect with. I google the author, what else have they written that I can read right now? During one of my Brad Phillips k-holes online I found another blurb, The Paris Review said of Brad’s work, “He doesn’t ask to be liked, even by his groupies, but he does want to communicate: ‘I’m not interested in the ones who are drawn to the creator of the work, I’m interested in the ones who are drawn to the content.’”

In Essays and Fictions, I’m drawn to both.

Brad and I corresponded in December 2018, after I finished the book, via a Google doc. The following is what we talked about.

After my hometown high school burned to the ground, my parents sent me off to boarding school in the Blue Ridge mountains. It was kind of like that movie Dead Poets Society except instead of reading poems the students traded amphetamines for painkillers and dug underground tunnels into downtown Asheville to smuggle strippers onto campus. Once a kid stole a pony from a nearby farm as a prank and tied it to the goalpost on the football field. It wrapped the rope around its neck and almost choked itself to death. It was that kind of place.