"I got a feeling you two are together and you’re keepin’ it a secret”
Summer/Autumn – New Fiction by Ben Brooks
Twenty-one year old Ben Brooks was recently touring with Tao Lin and was named one of the best young writers by our global editor, Andy Capper. Andy wrote and asked Ben for a piece of fiction, and Ben sent this story, which Ben said is 100 percent true. But we are of the “it is fiction if the writer says it is fiction” school. That is, we are of the “most writers who write about themselves just lie about it, and claim they made it up in their big brains” school. We also asked Ben Brooks to write a bio and he sent us this: "Ben Brooks was born in Gloucestershire, which is in the United Kingdom, in 1992. He is the author of Fences, An Island of Fifty, The Kasahara School of Nihilism, Grow Up, and Lolito. He was long-listed for the Dylan Thomas Prize and some other things and he has had like three girlfriends and other stuff.”
I’m 18 and hiding from school. Ellen is 42 and in an office. She moved to London three years ago. She’s from Portugal. Her job is writing computer code. Her husband is in jail.
“Why is he in jail?” I type.
“Oh, me too.”
“What? How old are you?”
Ellen writes about wanting to sit on the faces of the men she sees on public transport. She writes about wanting to be choked, and demeaned, and elbowed in the eyes. She says that her dad was calm and quiet, and that after he sat in them, chairs smelled of pine needles.
We spend afternoons writing emails and evenings on instant messenger. Ellen talks about her colleagues and her boss and how she feels. I invent several girls and a web of anxieties to go with each of them. It doesn’t matter. We talk to be listened to.
When we start to trust each other, we admit our actual ages and exchange genuine pictures. Nothing changes. School ends. She’s promoted.
She reads my first books and says that she likes them more than other books. Each one sells under a hundred copies. I don’t know what to do. I don’t want a job and I don’t want university debt. I’m not getting taller. I can’t grow a beard.
“Why don’t you move here?” she says. “There’s space. There’s too much space.”
“I don’t have any money,” I say. “I don’t have a job. I wrote a CV, but I didn’t know what to put so I just put ‘Wall Street.’”
Alienable – New Fiction by Yuko Sakata
This story by Yuko Sakata was supposed to appear in the Guccione Archives Issue, but it didn’t because that issue is all about Bob Guccione, and this story doesn’t mention him at all. But Yuko has such a good, light, honest touch that we had to share this one with you. Yuko received an MFA in creative writing from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She’s published one story prior to this, in the Missouri Review, and it won the Jeffrey E. Smith Editors’ Prize. Yuko was born in New York, but she grew up in Osaka, Hong Kong, and Tokyo, and she’s also a dancer, a choreographer, and a translator. Still, when we asked if we could interview her, she said she didn’t really think anyone would want to read an interview with “a novice.”
The illustration above is by Joana Avillez—you might remember her Eloise Moves to Brooklyn column. Joana was born, raised, and is still living in New York, and she has a BFA in painting from RISD and an MFA in the Illustration as Visual Essay program from SVA.
In a ground-floor cafe of a midtown office building, my friend and I sat next to the floor-to-ceiling window over some coffee. Not that there were any seats away from the windows; the sleek white café was encased in two stories of glass panels on three sides. I was not at all comfortable being on display like that, but Jay had his day job in the same building and this was the easiest place for us to meet. Pedestrians drifted past on the other side of the glass, some still wearing winter coats, some already in light jackets, uncertain of the in-between weather.
My friend was trying to console me after an unpleasant breakup. He said he felt responsible, because he was the one who brought us together.
“No, you weren’t,” I said. “We met at Amy’s when she had that party. You weren’t even on the same continent then.” Jay was a musician, and in Portugal on a month-long residency at that time.
“But you wouldn’t have gotten together if you hadn’t both known me,” Jay said. “I was the catalyst.”
It was true that Jay had been the icebreaker in our conversation. But in general, Jay liked to claim responsibilities for things.
The boyfriend I had lived with for the past two years had just moved out, after we had a conversation about the possibility of marriage and family. That is, I wanted it to be a conversation, though it ended up being an argument. At first he tried to evade the topic through his artful digressions. When I persisted, he accused me of misleading him, claiming that early on we had confirmed our mutual disdain for the institution of marriage and for the idea of delivering any more children into this messed up world. I reminded him that I never had a strong feeling one way or the other about marriage, which was different from having a disdain for it. As for children, I had simply been undecided.
“It’s fine, I don’t mind not getting married,” I said. “But I’m now pretty sure I want a child. My parents are getting old.”
“What do your parents have to do with this?” he said. Then I saw fear in his eyes. “Don’t tell me you are pregnant.”
“No, I’m not.”
Swim on, Cheever – A Few Impressions by James Franco
For many, the name Cheever evokes images of rich Yankees in the old suburbs of upstate New York. It’s true that much of his work takes place there, but this milieu was not his natural habitat and the denizens that populate his stories were not of his blood.
John Cheever was a self-made man. Just as he created his fiction, he created his life’s circumstances in order to write about them. Salinger may hold the scepter when it comes to novellas about the privileged in New York, but—leaving Salinger’s great writing aside—I think this is due to youth being at the heart of his work. Salinger’s stories are part of the coming of age within an American liberal education, while Cheever’s subjects don’t fit as well into school curriculums. But Cheever is a master in his own way, with the short story as his domain. In honor of all the essays that have been written by ninth graders about Holden Caulfield, here’s a little book report about Cheever’s best story, “The Swimmer.”
White Trash, by Jamie Renda
Illustrations by Cristina Peral
I didn’t mean to make a baby with Scott in the closet, on ecstasy, the floor pulsing to the bass of the house music, strobe lights flickering through the crack under the door. Back rubs with agendas were happening everywhere. It was another death experiment.
I was an opportunist. Scott never fucked unless he was high or drunk. He never initiated sex at all.
I was on top.
Maybe I did mean to kindle life out of a pile of bodies.
His torso is the barrel of a horse’s chest. I breathed in time with him. It made me dizzy. The pounding of his great, big bloody heart inside of all that air made me crazy.
It felt good, like death. It felt like Prozac a million, million times over. We were everyone in the house, and whatever we were was going to bust out of the walls. I clawed the peeling plaster. The house was crumbling. He was gone behind his arm.
When I first met Scott, he had beautiful long hair and wore his mother’s skirts and nail polish. He wore my lipstick. When I presented myself, he balked. He said love was too strong a word.
I loved watching him melt.
He was shuddering. I fell down on him. I whispered. “Oh my God, I want to die.”
When I got pregnant, the whole goddamned thing collapsed. I asked Scott to buy me a pregnancy test. He bought beer instead. I sat on the floor and drank beer. I told them all. Scott and Chuck and everyone who slept at the Mad Hatter. When I told them, it sobered everyone but Scott, and they all moved out except him.
From the Fiction Issue: Werewolf, by Anna Noyes
Paintings by Julie Adler
Already, what a day. The bird is battering itself against the window. There’s a nest somewhere over the doorframe. Claire can’t open her eyes because of what she might see—their clothes scattered on the floor, the glass of orange juice and water on the bedside table with the pulp settled to a cloud at the bottom and her lipstick blotted on its rim, accusatory somehow, as the glasses she unloads from the dishwasher, clean save for her stubborn lipstick, are also accusatory. She has to wash them twice. In the kitchen now is a stack of dirty dishes, though when she and her husband, Hal, returned from last night’s party she plunged her arm into the greasy gray dishwater to scoop the drain free of food. She had walked with the oatmeal slop in her hand to the bathroom to blame him. “This is truly disgusting,” she said. “This is what happens when you don’t rinse them.” But it was her fault, too, for making oatmeal every morning and leaving the dirty pot on the stove.
After that they fought because she had wanted to leave the party earlier than Hal did. He was drunk, and he left the fight to take a shower. She followed. He stood under the stream of hot water with his eyes closed and his hair plastered to his forehead while she talked at him. And then, unexpectedly, she was sobbing. Hal hugged her, and the water streamed between their stomachs.
As she was crying there was a real, solid kind of grief in her chest, but there was also a cold part of her that rose out of that to watch. That part knew that by crying she had won Hal’s tenderness, and a portion of the hot water. She had won by making him feel guilty.
The watching part of her was emotionless, in a way Claire never was. For her, it felt like everything, joy or sadness, took root. Twenty-eight was too young for the broken blood vessels under her eyes. It wasn’t just bags but tiny purple veins, as though burst from the effort of crying.
But then there was this cold entity that watched. Werewolf, she thought, and this disturbed her. She had rarely acknowledged this second self, not because it was small or didn’t often make an appearance, but because it was ever present. And in the past, when she had become aware of it, her private thought was that this witness-self was something that brought her close to God. She had never thought it was malicious. Werewolf. The water ran between them, and her stomach turned. She thought, What if I am bad?
Jailbait, by Zelly Martin
Artwork by Marilyn Minter
S he met Jack at a party her stepmom was throwing for her dad. She was sitting alone in the corner, bored, when Jack sat next to her. He was wearing a suit without a tie and nice shoes. His eyes were a deep, obvious blue, like hers, and his hair was light brown. He looked young and tan and handsome.
They talked for 20 minutes on the couch, and by the phone after that. He was helping her with the SAT. When she got a 1400 on a practice test, he took her to dinner. He ordered mussels. When she said she had never had them, he plucked one from its shell, swirled it around in the bowl, and held the fork across the table. She thought about leaning forward and eating it off his fork, but instead took the fork from him.
“You know, I tried out for cheerleading in middle school.”
“Really?” Jack said.
“Mmhmm.” Marie nodded and sat up in her chair. “I didn’t make it the first year, so I never tried out again. I really regret that. I don’t think I’m really the cheerleader type.”
Jack insisted they share a dessert, and outside he opened the door for her. They got in his car, and she flipped through the stations until she found a Biggie Smalls mash-up.
When Marie and Jack pulled up in front of Marie’s house, Jack turned to look at her. She was sitting in the passenger seat with a cigarette between her fingers, her bare feet on the seat.
“You remind me of a little kid,” he said.
“A little smoking kid.”
Marie exhaled. She said, “Wanna come in for a second?”
A Ghost Story, by Amie Barrodale
I am sure if I had accepted a certain marriage proposal, my life might have continued in an ordinary way, but I refused that humiliation. Later when I would have accepted it, the suitor had passed away. It was of natural causes.
My father disowned me, and for a while I lived in a women’s dormitory. When my resources were exhausted, I spent several years doing the things that I needed to do. It was at this time that I began to see black ghosts.
My mother received a report of my circumstances from my aunt, and she begged my father to send me to the city, where he owned several apartment buildings. Seven years had passed, and his temper had subsided. He agreed on the condition that my mother join me in the city and supervise his properties.
When I was growing up, my mother had enjoyed an active social life, but that had changed since she began to have eczema. It covered her shoulders, arms, legs, stomach, and face. She bathed in a potassium-permanganate solution, but it only reduced the itching and dyed our bathtub indigo.
She had become a shut-in and then an intellectual. In the city, she watched silent movies at night. She saw poetry in her old ghost movies, and watched them over and over again. I don’t like ghost movies, even from the silent era. She watched them late at night, in her room, on her laptop computer and in the morning, she talked to me about the actors.
“Ichikawa Danjũrõ IX was opposed to appearing on-screen, but he was convinced that to do so was a gift to posterity. He is said to have channeled Tokinoriki very well. A few years ago I read Tokinoriki again. I was forced to read excerpts in school, but I could not get past the intricacies of court protocol, and the opacity of Taira’s diction. I don’t know what has happened, but the text has opened up for me and now it is like I am speaking to a friend.”
“That is fascinating,” I said. A gust of wind blew through the tree outside, and petals landed on the dining table. Ghosts are not all bad.
From the Fiction Issue: Miami, by A.L. Major – Photos by Nan Goldin
Morgan printed the photos and laid them flat on the table. The photos were of a topless white woman with red and curled hair. She was tan and oiled, and she wore a sparkly gold thong. She was sprawled on the sand, on all fours, on her back, on her side. She had sandy, fat nipples and a paw print on each breast. Must be an American, Morgan thought. Only Americans would do this. She stuffed the photos into an envelope labeled private, not caring if she bent them.
Morgan had been working for six months now at Mr. Rolle’s Photography Shop, located on the left side of the Colony Hotel, away from the 100-foot pool and cabanas and rooms, down the broken escalator, at the end of a long line of average souvenir stores. Morgan saw a lot of strange photos working at the shop—backward-capped frat boys mooning the camera, really, really close-up body parts—but these photos of the topless women were the strangest. Her co-worker, Mr. Wilson, had taken them. He was a white man with a gold molar. His face was beet red because he roamed the beach taking photos of tourists who would then come to the shop and pay for a copy, if they liked what they saw. In the window of Mr. Rolle’s Photography Shop, Mr. Wilson had taped photos of white girls with sunburnt faces and cornrows and captions like, “Only in Di Bahamas, Mon!”
Mr. Wilson wasn’t so bad. Morgan liked the way he looked at her—in the same way she liked when men in cars honked at her and when men outside the numbers shops ssk-ssk’d her. Mr. Wilson had a strong American accent and a charming way of addressing her that made her feel like a woman and not a 14-year-old girl. She liked the way he called her Sugar.
“If I were a few years younger, I could handle you.”
“What do you mean a few years younger?” Morgan asked him.
“You don’t think I’m too old for you?”
“No, Mr. Wilson.”
“Don’t call me Mr. Wilson then. My name is David.”
Morgan nodded and smiled. She would keep calling him Mr. Wilson.
“How old are you anyway?” he asked.
“Sixteen,” she lied.
“You’re trouble,” he said. “You got a man.”
The 2013 Fiction Issue has arrived! Here’s Forked River Roadside Shrine, South Jersey by Joyce Carol Oates
Sometimes hearing them makes me want to bawl. Sometimes it just pisses me off. Why they can’t say five fucking words without dragging God into it.
Like goddamn fucking God gives a shit about what happened to me, or gives a shit about what happened to any of them, which they will discover for themselves. Jesus, I have to laugh, or bawl. Look at those girls’ faces.
The first thing you see from the road is the goddamn cross.
Three-foot-high, homemade cross painted Day-Glo white.
And on this cross in red letters where the paint kind of drips down like smeared lipstick:
December 4, 1991–May 30, 2009
(Once you’re a deceased person all kinds of embarrassing shit can be said about you. You can’t defend yourself.)
At the foot of the cross are (laminated) photos, mostly iPhone pictures Chloe took of me, and pictures of Chloe and me, and me and the guys, and my mom and me, etc. There’s pots of flowers—real flowers—that have got to be watered or they will wither and die. And hanging from the cross is one of my sneakers—size 12, Nike.