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Welcome, Jess

Anna was driving us to Wisconsin, and I was in the passenger seat, fussing with the white seam on my—on Anna’s—navy blue swing dress. I’d started borrowing her dresses and skirts after her eyes lit up at me the first time I tried one on as a joke. “That’s how it’s supposed to look!” she said, trying to convince me. “How it looks on you; it’s too long on me.” I felt like I was in drag, but something inside me bloomed. I felt pretty. For a woman whose mother had once reassured her daughter that she was not un-pretty, this was a big deal.

I’d always wanted professor Jake Ford, half of the couple we were driving to see in Wisconsin, to think I was pretty, even though my fond memories of him as my college writing mentor were perforated by flashes of him mingling with his attractive female students. One of them was Anna, who became my girlfriend a couple years after graduation. I never really got to know her during school—or anyone for that matter. I was shy. College hadn’t gone well for me, in terms of friends and lovers. I didn’t have more than a handful kind acquaintances all four and a half years on that mile-wide campus.

There was a clique of lesbians at Cadieux College that made it seem like there were only seven gay women in the whole school. I tried to befriend them but found them to be, like so many unofficial social clubs on campus, too much like high schoolers. It was like the kids who’d been punished all through junior high and high school had finally gotten some sway and became the people who’d shoved them into lockers as kids—only they didn’t shove. They just talked about you behind your back and stared down those they deemed unworthy from far off in the cafeteria or from where they sat on the damp grass in the quad. Anna wasn’t part of the lesbian cadre, so until we’d re-met in Chicago, I wasn’t even sure if she was interested in women.

Anna was rubbing her neck and rolling her head around to stretch it out. The car was too quiet, so I kept coming up with boring blurbs to fill the gaps: “It looks the exact same out here.” She didn’t respond. “I mean, it looks the same as when we were going to school.” Still quiet. “I guess it hasn’t been that long since we left, but it feels like an epoch.”

The land flanking the highways really did look the same as I remembered: flat field after field of corn and soy, unchanging, in thousands of rows that stood starkly still on a windless day, almost indignant, proud of their stodgy practicality. I used to drive that way to escape campus when I was too lonely to handle another weekend of parties, the beating music and howling attendees muffled by the white concrete-block walls of my dorm room. I’d spend the weekend curled up on my mother’s couch, batting cats away from plates of snacks that would pile up around me, waiting for an imaginary server to come clear them away before ordering dessert.

I wondered if I was different enough now and watched the land as it approached and then blurred—if I would seem better than I used to be. I often found myself in disbelief when I thought of my life objectively; there I was with the untouchable Anna Marshfield. Me, mediocre Jess. I’m the one she wanted. Not Jake Ford. Not anyone else in Chicago, where she’d moved a few months earlier because she’d needed a change, a big one to shake her mind free of writer’s block.

I looked at her hands tightly wrapped around the steering wheel and touched her shoulder. I wondered if maybe she was worrying about her novel again, the one contracted by Penguin a year earlier. She never had to get an MFA to achieve this; she was just that good, that committed and determined. Plus, Jake had connected her with his agent while we were still in college. She started as an intern for his agency and slowly, surely built a relationship with them and other publishers. She was great at networking. Meanwhile, I hadn’t written a word in months.

“You okay?” I asked Anna. I rubbed her shoulder gently while she thought, until she shrugged my hand away.

“I’m worried, I guess. You think this a mistake?” she asked.

She turned to look at me for a moment before rifling around her huge purse for her cigarettes. I didn’t like that she was worried. She was supposed to be the one that was excited, and I was the one that was supposed to be fake-excited, but she was not supposed to figure out that it was fake, and I was supposed to be able to hide behind her real excitement.

When I pressed her for an explanation, she said, “Well, it’s just … It’s a little weird with Bea. With them being together.”

I pressed on, worried now about what I didn’t know, which my whole life had felt like a lot.

“He wasn’t creepy about it,” she said. “But I could tell, he—like, he was into me.” She kept her eyes on the road.

I contained my opinion, gave her the space to be honest. I always tried to handle her delicately because I owed her my life as of late—a place to live and food to eat and a shower to cry in. After my temp contract ended at a place where all I did was enter numbers into a spreadsheet, I couldn’t find anything else, not in time to pay my rent and student loans. So Anna had me move in. My mother was aghast at the celerity of it, but I explained that this was typical for gay women, or at least that’s what I’d read. We aren’t as afraid to commit to each other, we aren’t as afraid of each other.

“I mean, okay. I like—liked him—okay?” she said, as if it was any kind of consolation, as if I’d even asked. “But I was a kid, and I was applying to MFA programs, and I just needed his help with all that, and he listened to me, like he really listened. He’s a good person.”

She didn’t get an MFA, deciding instead to take the agency internship, and she definitely wasn’t just a kid then. But he was a good person, I guess. Jake Ford, ambling about campus as the only very attractive male professor, towering at six-foot-three, broad shouldered, a brooding and chiseled face, inviting girl students to talk during office hours, flattering them with his attention, making them feel smart (they were already—without him, before him). How helpful and, when he slid on his tortoise-shell frames, well, how academically sexy. How sensitive and observant he must have been, a man who wrote.

Jake was nice. I would even have called him kind. Maybe the way I saw him wasn’t fair. Maybe I was mixing up my feelings about The Patriarchy with who he really was. He’d helped me turn stories perilously close to melodrama into stories that mattered. And he took interest in male students too sometimes. Never in my four years, even at the end when we worked closely during my honors term on stories I hoped would finally be good enough to get published, did I get a whiff of flirtation. No sidelong glances, no corner smiles, no hugs held for a moment too long while departing. He was not known as a predator, and I have never considered him one. But he is a man, and he knew enough from my stories, and from my appearance (i.e. oversized twelve-year-old boy) that I wasn’t a viable candidate. It was relieving and comforting not to have to fend off his advances, but just as well made me feel sorry for myself—because was I not a woman?

*

When I found out that Anna had made plans for us to see Jake and his wife (and former student), Bea Brannish, my stomach took no time at all to start up its usual bubbling, nervous protocol. I suddenly couldn’t remember a thing from college. Those four years of day naps and writing feverishly into the night and going to class stoned were a murky aquarium stored precariously on the edge of a crooked desk at the back of my brain. I became so worried about everything I’d forgotten, like I’d fail the Bea and Jake quiz, that I got my memento box from under Anna’s bed. It was the only box of mine in the whole apartment; the rest I’d sent back to my mother’s for storage.

Kneeling next to the box on the hardwood floor, I opened the journal from my honors term and poured over it.

There was an amazing fog tonight as I walked home from the store where I bag groceries on weekends. I stopped near the park across from campus to take in the spookiness of it all. The moon was full and bright. It was as if the clouds had given up and decided to rest on the earth. But when I looked down at my feet, there was no fog. It never looks as dense up close as it does from far off, but then you peer out at a couple of goons sucking face in the park and they’re practically bathing in it.

I didn’t mention their names—the goons—but I remembered. It was Bea and Jake. It must have been so unsettling that I couldn’t even admit in a private journal that I knew them. I recalled then the nightlong stomach ache from seeing them together, a result of jealousy mixed with extreme discomfort. She looked so small next to him. Part of me wanted to run to her, to ask if she was okay. And then have Jake try to kiss me too—and then get the chance to push him away.

The rest of the entry was about an honors term meeting, an intimate workshop led by Jake.

Earlier, our group met at Café Coffee. We waited for Anna to finish her shift, and I listened to Bea and Jake flirt. She pulled a CD out of the old yellow sack she uses as a purse and handed it to him. “Thanks, I loved it. You were right—it’s really jazzy.”

I had to stop myself from rolling my eyes. They’ve been flirting all term. If they think none of us notice… Wow.

Bea was wearing a hippie skirt that billowed out down to her ankles and reeked of paisley and unwashed hair. Her shirt was like a referee polo. The worst part of the whole getup were her Harry Potter glasses—probably didn’t even have a prescription. She wore no makeup except for two defined streaks of reddish-orange blush across her super-white skin.

Then Anna strode over to me while removing her apron, saying over her shoulder to Jake, “So sorry, the person taking over my shift was late again.” She always talks to him like that… I wish I could be his confidant too. But not really. Not if it means he wants to suck my face or have me worship him like some ancient Grecian intellectual. I’ve seen her sitting in his office so many times, always laughing. What could possibly be so fucking funny?

Anna put my story on the table and slid it to me with her finger. She said, “You almost have it with this one.” I imagined grabbing her hand, holding it in mine. I glimpsed her right thumb. It looked like a tiny hammer, like it had been taken off a less attractive, less put-together person and sewn onto her as punishment for being too pretty.

I blushed like I’d just told her a secret, and said, “Well, wow, okay. Thanks, thank you?”

Idiot.

Her voice is tiny, like a pre-teen, and maybe it’s weird for me to like that, but I do. It’s comforting. Makes her approachable. So do her darling clothes. A vintage seafoam green cardigan with a rounded white collar, paper rose brooch pinned to it. Straight out of the fifties, down to her cropped ponte pants, sneakers fashioned like saddle shoes.

I suppose it’s charm—that effortlessness. The ability to make others comfortable by appearing comfortable in your own skin. I wonder if that’s real. I wonder if she thinks about me. I wonder how she has the money for such nice clothes.

On the back of my story print-out, she wrote,

“Give this goose some agency. Hasn’t she a spine—a little birdy, goosey spine?”

God, she’s cute. Too cute? Yeah. Twee is the word, I think. I like it. I like her way too much.

My story is from the point of view of an injured goose who’s unhappy with her forever mate. Eventually she escapes him. But I guess she isn’t whole enough yet. I had to look up agency. I always have to look up words that other people just know offhand.

Jake and Anna don’t flirt. Anna’s way too fucking cool to let herself look like she needs his attention, even though she gets a lot of it.

I know deep down that I’m not as good as Anna and Bea. Jake’s critique on my back page is a yawn. “Read Lahiri’s Interpreter of Maladies for example of narrative.” His notes throughout were scant. One just a circle around the word instinctive with an arrow pointing to his own handwriting: instinctual? He asked me about the word choice at the cafe, and I turned bright red. Is there a fucking difference? At least Anna gets it.

My deepest fear in high school was that I liked both men and women, but now it’s that maybe I’m not very good at writing, that these three pity me when I’m not around and talk about how Jake let me into this honors term because I was a good student and worked hard, not because my writing is spectacular.

It’s late. I’m not going to bed. I’m going to eat this bag of Doritos until my fingers are semi-permanently orange while watching Arrested Development. I’ll work on goose agency and instinctualness tomorrow. I know that’s not a fucking word. Goodnight.

I shoved the journal back into the cardboard box, pushed the box back under the bed.

I did not want to see Jake and Bea, but I wanted them to see me.

People like them weren’t supposed to make concrete plans. You were supposed to write them a kind message in a mid-priced greeting card, one of those branches extended for nicety’s sake, to which the other party would kindly respond that they’d love to have you anytime—with the unspoken understanding that the offer would stand naked in dinner-party purgatory for the rest of time. And you’d all be just fine with that.

*

We arrived in Cadieux. The familiar landscape off the exit ramp: a mile of fast food chains, gas stations, a Super Walmart and random open fields full of crabgrass, gravel and chunks of concrete. After the first main stoplight, it turned residential. The car grumbled over the train tracks (the one I could hear at night in my shitty dorm-room twin bed when I couldn’t sleep) and the GPS told us to turn left onto Woods Drive. Trees took over either side of the road, their leaves just starting to come in, pale green and blinking in the breeze as they opened their sleepy eyes to the new spring light. Wild yellow tulips and purple hyacinth crouched close to the earth, still wary of frost. My heart opened up. We were finally out of winter, and maybe this would be a nice time after all.

Anna rolled down her window, barely, and lit a cigarette. The smoke stung my eyes, so I rolled mine down all the way. I stuck my arm outside, fighting the wind until I found a way to work with it, my hand slicing through and then arching up and down, trying to make friends. I wished and wished for Anna to look at me because it filled me up, made me forget how, before I literally ran into her with an armful of chips and soda at a corner-store a few months ago, I almost hadn’t made it through the year. She was all I needed. She was all I was.

We drove up a hill to their modest house built of orangey brick and finished with limestone around the front door. It was perched in the middle of a grassy acreage with woods on one side and, on the other, green land that pitched down and disappeared. The rise and movement of Jake and Bea’s land, along with the arms of shade trees bobbing in the slight, crisp breeze, were welcome after the long drive through flat land. Jealousy shot through me, remembering how much I preferred woods to city.

We saw Jake’s silhouette in the screen door as we walked up. A smaller silhouette waddled up to his side and tugged at his pant leg until he hoisted it up, holding it close.

When he opened the door, his eyes landed on me first. He looked confused.

The first words out his mouth were, “Wow. Jess? Wow, look at you.”

My face bloomed with heat.

He decided on, “You look great. It’s so good to see you.”

We hugged. He was still tall, still broad. I was rich with flattery, but I was just as embarrassed. Why was he so surprised that I was attractive? And why did it feel so good to hear him say it, to see him realize it after all those years? And why did I wear a fucking dress? I yearned for a baggy t-shirt to tug at. Instead I stuffed my hands in the pockets of Anna’s dress.

He turned to Anna and said, “I didn’t know you were bringing ol’ Jess!”

Old Jess. Like a trusty heifer who’s gone sterile with age and is to be shot dead, broken down into reasonably sized parts and kept in a deep freezer in a farmhouse crawl space.

“Biddle?” he said, looking at his little girl. She was ruddy-faced and brown-haired with dark almond eyes so big that they that seemed better suited for an adult. I had no idea if that was a nickname or real, but I hoped for Biddle that it was the former.

“This is Anna. Do you remember Anna from the tablet?”

Biddle pursed her wet lips and sniffed a booger back up into one nostril. She was silent, refusing to make eye contact with us.

Jake insisted again: “Anna. Remember? You talked to her. She showed you her fish named James.”

A fish named James lived in the bedroom we shared, on Anna’s nightstand. Most every night, she sprinkled food that smelled like a stagnant lake over his home and said, “Viva la fishy,” the way people say amen to end a prayer. I always thought this was darling, but now it felt like it’d always been an act, something you’d see at the closing of an episode of Mr. Rogers, to subliminally make the children watching sleepy.

I tried to think of when this call (these calls?) could have happened and wondered if my personal effects were out on display during it. Did he see my dirty underwear, the bra I wear daily but wash only once a month, my journal, some leftover floss snaking around my nightstand next to an empty can of beer? He was practically in my bed. I knew sometimes they exchanged writing and workshopped it together, or he gave her advice about handling her editor, but I dumbly thought I was always around for these conversations, which I could barely hear because she’d shut the bedroom door for privacy.

The house was modest, the walls white and nearly bare, as if they’d just moved in. Jake gave us a two-second tour by pointing down the middle of the home, saying, “After the kitchen, bathroom on left, bedroom on right. Don’t look in the room. I shoved everything we own there about fifteen minutes ago.”

He sat us down on the couch in the living room, the largest and brightest room. Anna was immensely quiet. I caught her eyeing things around the house while I told Jake that I’d been working odd temp jobs that didn’t pay much, that Anna was helping me get by.

“Never surprises me to hear Anna’s been a good friend,” he said.

Friend? I had the dizzied feeling of a curious insect being shooed away by a giant human hand.

He turned to her. “Did you ever finish that piece about the male babysitter and the dancing cat?” he asked, bobbing the baby on his knee while she fussed. He seemed comfortable enough holding her, but he wasn’t any good at it. Yellow mucus kept leaking from her left nostril, and when she sniffed, up it went before oozing back out.

I caught Anna staring across the room at a mug rimmed with lipstick that said Tiny Dancer in cursive on the dining table.

“Yeah, that’s the one getting published in Glimmer Train later in the year,” she said, like it was nothing. My abdomen clenched with envy. I fingered the seam on Anna’s dress and realized one end of the white thread on the hem had started to unravel. I yanked, hoping to break it at the seam, but it only unraveled more, so I tied it in a triple knot.

He was so pleased with Anna’s news and, it seemed, so glad for her attention. He didn’t ask me anything—a relief and a stab at once. Anna’s hand was in her purse, thumbing the corner of her pack of Parliaments. She took a slow sip of the water he poured into a long, narrow plastic cup that looked like the kind of vase you get with a sad single rose when you’ve forgotten Mother’s Day and nothing else is left at the grocery store floral department.

“Is that a vase?” I asked, reaching for a joke.

The front door swung open. There was Bea, hair frazzled, eyes wide, about to speak—until she saw us. Her whole manner crumpled.

Biddle screeched, utterly relieved at the sight of Bea. The baby clapped her clumsy hands as Jake held her out to her mama, who smiled and took her into her arms.

She turned to us. “Girls,” she said, “what brings you here?”

I looked to Jake. He never told his own wife we were coming? But Anna jumped on it.

“We’re here to see you guys and meet the baby and see the house!”

She smiled, instantly switching her demeanor. I knew this Anna, who she changed into in when the mood of a room needed its edges softened. Bea focused on Biddle, bouncing her on her hip, and Anna shrunk back next to me on the couch. She wasn’t used to being ignored.

Bea looked at Jake: “Didn’t you see this?” She pointed at Biddle’s booger.

“I’ve been occupied,” he said. I remembered the little red sign over the bathroom-door handles on campus that switched from occupied to vacant when you turned the lock.

Bea looked too thin but hadn’t lost the natural blush in the skin wrapped tightly over her high cheekbones. I don’t know that I ever saw her without loads of experimental makeup dragged and dotted across her face. She was breathtaking. Just like Anna.

She worked at a boys private school up north, she told us, though I already knew. Today the class discussed Lord of the Flies. Anna admitted she never read it, to which Jake feigned horror.

“Sucks to ya assmar!” I blurted. Silence. I blushed and held myself back from saying, It’s from the book, you ninnies!

Jake turned back to Bea and asked if she wanted to bring in “that conch we have on the dresser” for some show and tell.

After handing off the shell, he took us around the grounds, pointing out trees. “This is Honey Locust. Over there’s Red Oak. And Bur Oak,” he said, prideful, introducing us to his other kids.

Anna hid behind her big sunglasses with an Audrey Hepburn quality, something quietly magnetic emanating from her smallness. Jake told us that Bea recently had a story published in the Midwest Quarterly, that he had to push her to write and submit it to journals.

I thought he should probably let her decide whether or not to reveal such information.

“She has a hard time keeping up with that side of life now,” he said. “But I don’t want her to give up. She’s too good.”

Anna and I nodded, agreeing. Bea came into Cadieux with her own voice. Anna was good—extremely good. But she didn’t take chances the way Bea did; her voice was an echo of other voices. At that point, I was sure I’d never had a voice either. I might as well have been mute.

I trailed behind them a bit, taking in the green openness. The leaves decomposing in the feathery grass, the smell of worms and dirt. I wished I was alone to enjoy it.

Biddle toddled about, balancing herself against Jake’s long legs. She was babbling and gesturing toward where the land pitched down behind the house. He bent over, trying to understand her as she pointed and mimicked his tone, trying to teach him something.

“Biddle,” he said, grasping for patience. “Go tell Mama what you want, okay?”

Jake wanted to show us where he could find morel mushrooms in a narrow valley a few hundred feet behind the house. “These chefs in Chicago will pay out their assholes because you can’t farm them,” he said, turning to lead us away from the trees.

I tugged at Anna’s pinky to tell her I needed to pee, that I’d meet them in a minute—but she yanked her hand away from me, like I’d worked her patience down to bare. Had I? My heart winced, realizing she hadn’t spoken to me directly since we arrived.

After the bathroom, I saw Bea rinsing dishes. I grabbed a towel from the fridge door to dry them, and we talked about her upcoming summer break, how she’d go off alone for two weeks to an artist colony to write and go for hikes along the Smoky Mountains in Virginia.

She said, “I love Jake and Biddle, but—”

She steadied herself and waved her hand to say you know what I mean, but I pretended not to know what she meant. She took a deep breath and explained: “I am not a whole person right now.” And it was exactly what I wanted her to admit. It felt like commiseration, so I nodded and patted her shoulder while she wiped away a few tears and sniffed, and for some reason I was welling up too, though I don’t think she noticed.

She turned around, drying her hands in the damp towel.

“You’ll see,” she said.

“How did you know you wanted Biddle?” I asked. The words just slipped right out.

“I didn’t. I woke up one day and realized my period was late three weeks and got a test at the dollar store,” she said.

I’d led the conversation into territory bordered on all sides by Serious Talks and had no idea how to escape it, so Bea did it for us.

“Have you been working on anything lately?”

I told her I was out of work but looking, that I’d take pretty much anything.

“Stories, Jess. I meant writing.”

“Oh—well, nothing serious,” I admitted, trying to seem unfazed.

“Wait,” she paused, looking around. “Where is Biddle?”

I told her Jake had sent her in just before me. She wasn’t in the house, not in the kitchen cabinet under the sink, not even behind the shower curtain or playing in the corner where her toys lay waiting for her, so we rushed outside, calling. Maybe she’d found Jake and Anna in the valley with the morels. We made a wide left turn, jogging. Bea’s wrinkled white shirt inched out of her loose waistband, and I thought again about how she was too thin, her elbows coming to points so sharp that a good blow from one could send a man reeling. She stopped abruptly and I had to grab her shoulder—bones obvious under my palm—to stop from running her over.

I followed her line of sight until I saw it. Them. Jake and Anna in the last moments of an embrace, way too close for just friends. She was looking up at him like he was a knight saving her from certain fucking doom.

Bea shouted hey! and they jumped two feet apart. But Anna, swift to smooth over the awkwardness, held out one hand. In it were some spongy morel mushrooms—a stupid, careless offering. Looked like a pile of shit.

“Look what we found!” she said, pretending herself into a smile way too generous for wild funghi. A couple fell to the ground, and Jake bent to retrieve them.

“Where is Biddle?” Bea shouted.

The four of us jogged out of the valley, calling. I heard Bea and Jake off to my right in a terse exchange:

“I thought you were watching her.”

“I sent her in to you.”

A pause.

“Are you happy now?” Bea asked with the tone of a knife on the downswing.

Anna searched ahead of me. She wasn’t graceful but her movements were determined. She hiked up her long skirt to hunch down and look under her car. No baby there. I hurried around the perimeter of their shed, my feet crunching over gravel. A frightened chipmunk scurried off into a hole in the siding.

That’s when we heard an indiscernible shout borne of shock, possibly horror. It came from the behind the house, off where the land sloped. We ran that way to see Bea squatting a few feet from her baby, who was steps from the drop-off, pointing at a yellow wildflower, babbling nonsense about “wowies,” rocking on her feet, inching herself a little farther back, a little farther back. If Bea lunged for her, there was a good chance the baby would lose her balance and tumble backward, down and down, into whatever lay at the foot of that ridge.

Bea was saying, “Come here, babe. Little Biddle. Come on, sweetie,” as she took one crouching step at a time toward her. She was forcing a smile, a soft tone, a slow pace, but under all that, escaping silently from her fingertips, was a terrified jittering.

The backdoor shreaked on its hinges. Jake held out a tablet, a game flashing colors on the screen. Biddle clapped her hammy hands and ran up to him, waddling right past her mom’s outstretched arms.

*

In the rusted silence of the car on the way home, I found a banged up, half-used planner in Anna’s backseat and took a pen from the middle console. I could feel her keeping watch and refused eye contact. For the first time in months, I felt a story unfolding above me, right over my head, the way it felt when I was really channelling something and it was unexplainable and exhilarating.

Earlier, driving down the hill, away from the house, I’d sputtered, “Does he even know?” She didn’t answer, which was answer enough. It unfolded quickly—the revelation that I’d convinced myself Anna was my girlfriend. She was a lonely girl in an unfamiliar city when we met, but then I appeared. Someone familiar she could dump her feelings into, who wouldn’t expect much back because just getting Anna’s attention was enough. She must have sensed that. All it took was a few drinks on an empty stomach for Anna to let her guard down and let me in—inhale me, really. She must have been so tired of pretending. She must have known—with this trip, with that kiss in the woods—how to change everything without saying it to my face. She was charming, yes, but a coward. A coward who wrote.

“When we get back I’ll make you the fancy tea you like, and we can just relax and binge Designing Women, okay?” Anna said, her voice a cutesy question mark.

I turned to her and said, “You can stop now.”

I began writing in the calendar over the vacant month of December. I thought of the valley. Them, together in the hazy green path, in an almost-embrace, looking at each other like—like what? Lovers. Professor, published author, most handsome, husband to Bea—he already had enough titles. Could I not be Anna’s lover? She had to give him that too? 

I looked out at the fields to calm myself, but they irritated me. The same, the same, the same. Flat. Green. Short. Tall. The land still whimpering, cowardly from being crushed flat by glaciers eons ago. I wanted it to get over itself and stand up. I was gritting my teeth. I thought of a hand full of shitty mushrooms and wrote this:

I can feel the earth opening up around me, stone shafts shooting up into the sky, the houses and strip malls and the cutesy downtown crumbling, being eaten up by the great crevasse-mouths gaping, starved for epochs, until now. Instead of curling my fingers into a fist, I fling the back of my hand at his stupid pronounced jaw so hard and fast that the sound he makes reminds me of my family dog in the moment he was hit by an old lady in an ancient Oldsmobile, who had mistaken the gas pedal for the brake. He never saw it coming.



Anne Feher is a writer living in Chicago.

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