The General’s Daughter
They sat with their arms crossed like bows, a suicide squad with slashed mouths, forming a continuous-yet-jagged line along the seamed white walls. Each had a mic and the garish fluorescent light planed their skulls. She touched his arm, her man’s crisp Guanashina-suited arm, thin and shivering just a bit—and dug her nails in just a little. Their spacious, well-lit antebellum home, their summer vacations in Africa, their artsy social circle with them as the centerpiece, his career, their reputation, everything they collected and cultivated was resting on that row of pasty heads and what was grinding through them. She grimaced as they read lurid accounts of sex acts, pages of them. Flickered in and out of the details. In the exam room, on the desk chair, in his car, at her apartment, all over the course of a year… the indecency made more obscene over the dispassionate, clinical reading. Soon it would be over with. She would prove it was not true. She was a professor; a renowned painter; people respect her; everyone in town knows who she is. Who wouldn’t believe her testimony? Who were those suited dead guys framed along the walls? Why was this taking so long? It was so embarrassing. She had studied drama in college, loved it, but settled into painting—still adored the attention of the stage, the surge in her root as she lit up a space, an argument, an incident, all eyes riveted to her. This however, was a low-key performance. It mustn’t be too overdone. Her daddy, the General, taught her just how a woman needs to behave and stand by her man. Her daddy and her mama who understood their economic exchange and the unstated rules of the game. That’s how the South does and a woman bears what she must. “Mrs. Doubtmire,” they finally asked, “could you please answer some questions regarding your husband?” She rose and stood in front of the resin table and sipped some cool water, then flung her arm in front of her and wobbled slightly as if faint. “Why my husband couldn’t have had sex with his patient because he’s been impotent for ten years. This was just a ploy to get our money. What a manipulative, horrid woman to make up this story, a gold digger for sure,” she growled. The slash mouths relaxed and the chair said, “Of course, Mrs. Doubtmire. These things do happen, but we just had to make sure. We are sorry to have put you both through this.” On the drive home, in their blue Lexus, he turned on the radio to cut the tension. She turned it off and glared through the glass at the barren blur of summer. Once home, she took his jacket to hang in the closet as he poured them some happy hour drinks. Out of his pocket slipped a Trojan, still sealed in its slick wrapper. She could not kick nor will it away and so stooped and clutched it in her hand. Clenching the wrapper, her teeth, and without missing a beat, she sauntered over to her cocktail, took a long sip of gin, and hurled it over his head at the wall.
Always Almost Out of Life
Last year my grandfather became ill. For many months he was always almost dying. Then my grandmother’s cat died. Then my aunt, after months of always almost dying died. My grandfather always almost died some more. Then I got a phone call and my friend Kim died. Then my friend’s mother died. Then, a few weeks ago, a friend I knew in school called. I didn’t call him back. Although his sister (my friend) had wanted us to meet, I was sure that he was calling to tell me she had died. I did not call him for a week. I did not call him for another week. After two weeks I finally called him. My friend had not died. We went out to dinner and had a nice time. A week later, he died. My grandfather is always almost dying again and I haven’t heard from my mother for over a year. I’m sure that she’s dead.
Flattened by the low whirr of wheels, what once blossomed wobbles in afterimage, rippling monochrome heat over infinite strands of desert asphalt. No water. No water mirage—only the dry rippled air, and relentless gray aggregate punctuated by sand, by scant gas stations and fumes ghosting from nozzles. A rusty pump to fill ‘er with, and familiarity of blistering paint beneath the slow drag of hands—just the small things to remind you you’re human. Quick stops. Stretching appendages. Week-old socks. The sour of it. Frozen burritos over-toasted in microwaves. The smell of piss and “I licke girls” scratched on the stainless steel door of the loo, small-town hieroglyphs of ancient, horny travelers. A slow smoke on the back porch in the stillness of heat. This is your forever. Learn to licke it. You planned this trip, didn’t you?