Defenestration published my short story “Flexible Groups” in its December 2016 issue (for context, they release an issue every April, August, and December). I was influenced by Kurt Vonnegut’s “Harrison Bergeron” and my experiences in professional education. One of the members of my writer’s critique called this style “snarky with a soul.” I’m keeping that.
Defenestration is an online publication devoted to humor in all its varieties, and its About page boasts such accomplishments as selling its life story to Christopher Nolan (you might have heard of a little something called The Dark Knight) and successfully defending the Earth from Martians.
“Sluice Warrington was growing more and more annoyed with Rez, especially the man’s side-street studio with its clitter clatter of canvases and layers upon layers of dust and paint-pocked floors…”
“Could be a man or a six-armed cow or a twenty-headed sex goddess.”
“A warehouse that could be the love child between a dumpster and a medieval castle. Coming from inside, groans. Moans.”
The room was used for secular reasons. Union meetings, pro-dev seminars, documentary screenings, a Women’s Book Club. One day out of the week, however, the room became a sacred space – one of those churches you see packed in with animal hospitals and loans offices in a mall strip beneath the knees of a freeway. This church didn’t have block letters above its door announcing “The Church of the Risen Christ” or “Corner Ridge Pentecostal Assembly” or “All Faiths Ministry – Our Service is Heavenly!” Instead, block letters read “Community Center” and offered a 25% discount on weekends.
The church met Saturdays. Its congregation were Pacific Islanders from Samoa or some other island. Whatever it was, if you confused the family with a neighboring island like Tonga, they would curse you lightheartedly in their language, either Samoan or Tongan. Most of them weighed four hundred pounds; their cells, which had found clever ways to store energy on long journeys at sea, had not adapted well to America’s heart-stroking, hip-expanding eating patterns. Still, they laughed.
We knew about the family since they would come by Depression Alliance (we met on Tuesdays after Bingo Derby). We’d eat their coconut rice and joke about turning our meetings into Overeaters Anonymous, although we were a little unsure about the Pastor, at least until he revealed he was having trouble finding women. Someone said to try the zoo and we laughed – a connection made, some raw commonality.
The Boss slammed a slag of printed emails onto Gary’s desk, knocking over a picture of his wife.
“Pervert!” she shouted.
Gary froze like rugby players in the West Andes. This was exactly how he pictured a sexual harassment lawsuit beginning (although technically they began a little earlier, with the actual sexual harassment). But who was the prosecution? The women in the office intimidated him so badly he avoided speaking with them. Nor could the Boss be his offendee. She was less woman, more wyvern, with liver spots the approximate size and shape of actual livers.
The emails relieved him – temporarily. They were customer complaints, mostly exclamation marks and misspelled words, certain passages highlighted in salmonella pink. It was regarding the bridge.
“Thirty-two,” the Boss said on the verge of gargling. “Thirty-two complaints including a letter from the Chamber of Commerce regarding that damn bridge.”
Gary reviewed the papers. “Is it an instability problem?”
“Your bridge,” she said, “is putting sexy thoughts into people’s heads.”
There were millions of diners, but Grandma Dee only cared for three. They were the breakfast buffet at the Country Village Senior Center, a small commissary, and an old Mom & Pop’s which after a lengthy annulment was now just Pop’s. Dee would assemble an exact dish of eggs and sausage and toast, order a side of bacon, then fold the bacon into her napkin for the cats.
It was usually up to me to navigate the conversation unless she had a newspaper, in which she found the poor guy at 7/11 who slit his throat or the latest development in privatizing the lake. Dee blended superstition with the rituals of life. A day without the eggs, without sausage and bacon, without newspapers, was a day that would go poorly.
So we were drinking coffee and sitting by the dusty windows at Pop’s, a lot greasier and sadder now that Mom was gone, on the verge of delivering three cats to an animal shelter to be put down at $25 a piece. Neither of us liked the idea of a cat ceasing to exist on our own initiative, but Dee’s backyard had become a breeding ground for gingery longhairs and they were marking and leaving litters. If they got in, they’d chew through bread bags and piss in discrete places. This hadn’t stopped Dee from tossing them cat feed and giving them the garage and, as mentioned, bringing them leftovers, but now that a county retirement was becoming a reality and Grandpa was gone…
“Grandma, you have any superstitions?” I asked while we paid the check.
[I wrote this story based on a prompt that a friend gave me: “What if your grandmother had super powers?” I tried my best to take this mediocre concept and turn it into something engaging. I failed. Here’s the messy result.]
The first thing Grandma did when she found she had super powers was beat up her son.
Dad had built walls around her in fits of helpfulness. He’d segregated her backyard with chain-link fences, here a horse pen, here a chicken coop, there pigs. A fence divided the car and the RV, a fence corralled the garden, a third formed an antechamber between the street and house. Then Dad worried about the clutter. Porcelain tea pots, trash bags of old acting costumes, a broken washer/dryer being used as an ironing board, memento pictures in memento picture frames. Every plastic memory. Better get rid of it.
He filled those jumbo storage containers. The ones you get from Staples. In one day, he shipped all her life’s savings to Salvation Army. He’d abused her when he had the advantage. Now the advantage was hers.