Undead Darlings #2
Six pieces of six pieces of prose.
from a long-weathered draft (nonfiction)
They assign me a groom. He is, of course, good-looking, albeit not my type. I must not be his, either, for he considers my small body with visible disappointment. He looks hopefully at the other bride. She is tall, long-nosed, dark-haired, Russian, bored. She looks through him. He adjusts his tie. I do not want him to touch me.
The light falls just so. Someone waves us onward. “All right, you two.” We move toward one another in front of a vine-wreathed oak tree. He puts his arms around me. I turn my face up to his.
“Angelic,” they say.
“So dreamy.” “Sweet.”
“Like a painting,” they say. “So romantic.”
“Look down for me, honey. Yes. That’s it. Just like that.”
I’ve developed a signature look: long-lashed, porcelain, looking down, not making eye contact, so demure, so obedient, so simple, so good. I am blank as a communion wafer, pure as a portrait of the Virgin Mary. Photographers like to position my body between the camera and the setting sun. The gold rays blaze a corona around my shining hair.
Looking at the camera is harder. I am only just beginning to learn. My early attempts are weird, intense. I look unhinged, alarmed, mid-hex, a skittish Gorgon.
I practice. I watch tutorials. I study other models. I learn to narrow my wild, rearing-horse eyes with something between anger and disdain. To imagine my veins seethe with ice, not lava, and my head with hostility, not fear. I learn to hold my head high, to level a scornful gaze at the lens.
This new look interests photographers, but it is not what they want. They have not hired me to stand around looking powerful or aloof. They have tall Russian women for that. I have been hired to prettily honor and obey. “Could you lower your chin a bit? Yeah. That’s it. Eyes down. Yes. Beautiful.”
from an abandoned story
Franny could think of one woman in the past three years that Victor had been serious about. Unlike his other girlfriends, Victor never brought her around, but talked about her constantly. Her name was Nora, and Franny knew more about her, having never met her, than she did about members of her own family. She was a Scorpio and her favorite color was green. She disliked costume parties, oranges, and “legit” as a turn of phrase. She practiced yoga, loved biographies of twentieth-century despots, and got up at 5:13 every morning since she was nine. These facts became part of Franny’s consciousness, so that each element she encountered in her own life brought to mind her rival. At the grocery store, Franny would eye the display of oranges with renewed, curious interest. Her friend Kyle, a quick study of youth culture (at fifty-six), made routine use of “legit.” Nora was the daughter of musicians (her mother founded the seminal punk band, Teleportress, her father was a touring bassist), raised in a commune in Northern California, dropped out of Brown to bring clean water to rural Africa, finished her studies at Oxford, got her law degree at Harvard, and worked for the Justice Department before moving to Portland to take care of her brother, who has schizophrenia. Nora made a film about her family’s long history of drugs and mental illness. Victor attended the premiere at Sundance, but came back broken hearted. For months Victor brooded over her, a period that would have been more painful for Franny to witness had she not fallen for her current boyfriend, Carlos.
from an abandoned essay
When my office was writing out my severance check, I was berry picking. I’d discovered the you-pick operation on the way back from a Rural Telephone Cooperative meeting, somewhere between the old highway bridge and the egg farm. I’d been plotting my return for Casual Friday, when I could trade my Ann Taylor trousers and loud floral blouses for jeans and a company polo. I tucked a pair of Nike running shoes underneath my car’s passenger seat, shoes that were way too clean to belong to anyone actually considering themselves an athlete. This day in the dead of summer, they finally got a taste of dirt between their sole’s grooves. I peeled my black slingbacks off in the parking lot, stepping into runners and sunshine. The fields of vines and bushes seemed to stretch on to the edge of the world, halted only by Mount Hood looming in the distance. Two women, a mother and daughter with the same silver hair, stood watch underneath a canopy with juice-stained buckets and scales. Their easy smiles hinted at absolute satisfaction, the kind of grin I hadn’t conjured in years.
They asked if I’d ever been to the farm, and when I said no, they retreated from the shade to give me a walk-through. At the bottom of the hill, near the road, were the blueberries. They were just about done. So hot this summer, everything’s coming up early. The rest of the vines may look pretty similar, so watch for the signs at the end of each row. There’s your common blackberries, then you move into the hybrids: marionberries, boysenberries, sylvanberries. Each strain cultivated by meshing the invasive blackberries with lesser-loved berries like loganberries and youngberries to make a juicier, sweeter, friendlier fruit. Watch for the other berry-pickers, she requested, handing me a cardboard flat. It’s better to spread out the picking.
I didn’t have long at all. A lunch hour, give or take a couple of minutes I could sneak back into my pumps and cubicle without looking too conspicuous. For sixty minutes I was free of corporate bondage, set loose on this acreage of voluptuous fruit at the peak of its existence, ready to drop and die unless I make it immortal.
cut from the story "Origami Prunes"
I fled Austin the next afternoon. The Mexican government provided a plane to evacuate the consulate personnel to Houston, where I spent the following weeks. Despite the efforts of firemen and the National Guard, the Hill Country wildfires swept through the city’s ever-expanding limits. The state capital had to be temporarily reinstated in Houston. The consulate in Austin never reopened.
As compensation for having lost everything, the Secretaría de Relaciones Exteriores offered to transfer us anywhere we liked. After visiting my parents in California, I moved to Paris, where I spent the next five years working for the embassy in the mornings, wandering the wobbly cobbled streets of the Rive Gauche and the Rive Droite and Place Vendôme and Rue de Saint-Honoré and the Champs-Élysées in the afternoons, looking for Laura. I was later transferred to São Paulo, where I spent five miserable years, and then promoted to consul in Zürich, where my hopes of bumping into Laura on the street reached their lowest point, as I was sure she’d never pick such an aloof place. In all those years, I resisted the temptation to climb into a dryer again. Regardless of where I lived, Mom would call in constantly to check on me, wanting to know whether I remained single or had finally found someone. “I worry for you,” she’d say all the time. “No one should age alone.” When she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, I made up a relationship for her. I told her I was dating a beautiful woman from a good Mexico City family, for I knew that would bring her peace. She died away from the city neither one of us ever returned to, at a hospital in San Diego one summer night. Dad and I holding her hands, as I saw her go I wondered how much of ourselves would remain in the aftermath.
cut from the story "British Street Music"
...today it’s no different, only them private companies running the show are falling over themselves to pretend different. Cause now the buses is running a timetabled service, Ladies and Gentlemen. Now the cynic might ask, how can you run a timetabled service on the London roads? Just like every other poor sod, you’re at the mercy of the traffic. But this is where the genius comes in: cause if it takes five minutes to go from A to B on a good day, seven minutes on average and nine on a bad day, them boys will plan on eleven minutes. And there you have it – if you go slower than any bus in history, Hey Presto!, you’ve got yourself a timetabled service. But the pièce de résistance is them new real-time information boards. Fucking A, you might say – now I know the next 74 to West Brompton is due in 4 minutes. Only them mega brains down at HQ, they’ve taken the philosophers’ approach on that abstract concept we call ‘time’. Cause for old fashioned simpletons, a minute is sixty seconds. But in the wonderful world of Transport For London, a minute is whatever you want it to be. And so them 4 minutes might actually be 5 or 6 or 7 or 8. Who knows..? Certainly not dumbos like me, without even a basic grasp of quantum physics. And so there you have it – a 1970s style service, given that Olympics makeover.
cut from the story "Sunshowers"
I launder Keisha’s clothes at the hospital and throw them out with all the other rags and shrouds ruined by the touch of substances never meant to leave the body. I have a series of thoughts, philosophical and literal in an uncertain mix: The body breaks like glass breaks, screaming. The body lashes out when it breaks, blighting everything it touches. The body speaks when it breaks; blood howls its exile, bright as bells. The only thing blood doesn’t stain is skin. Stain is history, and skin spurns history. Skin is immemorious. Skin bathes in blood and forgets. The porcelain carapace of our shower will remember Keisha’s husband’s blood longer than her skin will. You can pull the blood from the body and the vessels will be a white web, innocent as plastic. I look straight at the sun, not thinking, and it doesn’t even leave an afterimage. I think of a book I read a long time ago, written when nuclear winter was a bigger threat than global warming, about a world where you could look directly at the dying red sun in the twilight of what passed for noon. I’m destroying evidence of a murder, and I tell myself that it’s because I know he had it coming, but that isn’t true. If it were true I would have pressed Keisha on it, I would have tried to be sure. But the truth is that I don’t care if it was the blood of thirteen nuns on her clothes. We take care of each other. That’s all I know and all I need to know.
Undead Darlings is a shelter gallery for textual orphans worth saving.