Passing the butter biscuit around the imperfect circle, some kids were leaning back on their hands, uninterested. A couple of boys licked it, another took a bite, daring to devour it. The cookie was smaller and sullied by the time it reached Rachel, who sat by the visiting instructor’s brown leather lace-ups. The man took the cookie into his hand from Evie, the final cookie recipient, wrapped it in a paper napkin, and declared to the seated, snickering group with the cookie held high, “This cookie is one sex partner.” He went on to say several things with an unnaturally stable tone, his voice maintaining the same timbre with each successive word. “Assume that the person you’re sexually pleasuring has already pleasured many before you.”
In the afternoon, Rachel dropped her books by the front door, stopping in the kitchen to grab an orange jelly candy from a glass jar, chewing as she walked into the backyard. There had been an incredible, rapturous explosion of daisies that late spring. Impervious to poison, they struck down death. Rachel sat cross-legged in their midst, knotting daisy chains for future queens, hearing the words of her mother, promising, “God satisfies all our longings.”
The incontinent cat spent much of its time huddled on the tile floor beside the refrigerator, appearing to be praying, eyes closed, front paws clasped. Richard and Joan stepped over him while preparing dinner, their guests arriving in twenty minutes. Beef Bourguignon simmered as Richard carefully chose the most appropriate accompanying wine - a 2005 Atrea “Old Soul Red.” Joan wondered if his obsession with France shouldn’t be stopped. He ordered “Pommes frittes” at the Apple Pan and she quickly explained, “Fries. He wants fries.” Exiting a party, he’d exclaim, “Bonsoir!” And recently, he’d taken up the tradition of kissing both cheeks. Joan’s girlfriends would roll their eyes. The incontinent cat was praying for a way out of the Francophilia house forever, hoping the ideal escape plan would come in the form of a dream, but he consistently dreamed of mice, catnip, and birds instead. He wished to spend his last days in an alley behind a taco joint, listening to drunks sing “Sweet Child O’ Mine.” As the couple’s only remaining pet, he’d outlived the feral tuxedo cat, Jerry the Great Dane, and the teacup terrier, Betsy, and he considered his exodus options daily, tallied on one clawless paw.
She waited for him to ask something like, “Do the drapes match the carpet?” as his eyes roved along her red hair, flitting between her tresses and the gooey red pie on his white ceramic plate. By the time he’d ordered the cherry pie with homemade whipped cream, she’d reconsidered everything immediately available to her – her car parked outside, visible through the window, the smudged napkin dispenser on the table, the little boy behind her bouncing up and down in his booth, shaking her in the tufted red vinyl seat.
He’s asking if she’d like a bite of his pie. “It’s real good,” he promises.
She shakes her head, wipes her eyes, suddenly wet and aching. “I’m allergic to cherries.”
The guts of bugs splattered on her unwashed windshield, ripped copy of “The Broken Span” in her backseat. It is at the edge of a petal that love waits. She’s still searching for flowers, understanding that they won’t last, left on their own or plucked too early for pageantry. How long would it take her to reach the swinging door that reads both Entrance and Exit? How can the way in be the same way out?
You’ll listen to Motown with greater curiosity, brought to surprising sobs by the tragedies of Tammi and Marvin. Your cyclamen will not be neglected. You will swear less. You will learn how to perfect spaghetti Bolognese. You will be more resilient.
How will you stay in love next time? What will you do differently? You’ll listen to Motown with greater curiosity, brought to surprising sobs by the tragedies of Tammi and Marvin. Your cyclamen will not be neglected. You will swear less. You will learn how to perfect spaghetti Bolognese. You will not assume anything.
Emma glanced at her antique engagement ring and considered the amount of pain swallowing it would produce. A young woman in Guatemala City had once swallowed her own sparkly engagement ring, fearing the corruption of an approaching policeman. As he neared her car window, the woman panicked, sliding the diamond from her slender finger and dropping it down her throat. Emma had heard this story on the radio eight years ago while vacationing with Danny in Florida, the entire oceanfront town waggling with the infiltration of the striped lionfish, its venomous fins like alien angel wings. They’d eventually realized they could eat the lionfish in innumerable dishes. Scanning its many esculent versions listed in the laminated menu one night, Emma had remarked, “Isn’t that clever? To defeat your attackers by eating them?” But Danny had been attempting to flag down a waitress and hadn’t replied. Right elbow on the table, his entire body had been turned away from her, both of them smelling faintly of sand dunes and Coppertone, lingering details from an overcast day.
— Lorrie Moore, Anagrams
I couldn’t even believe it, my luck. Scorin’ the only girl in this tacklebait town who didn’t have a goddamn tramp stamp and a G.E.D. to show for herself, slingin’ blowjob shots at the Cock ‘n Bull and hopin’ someone real nice come along, wanderin’ in, to take her elsewhere. No, my Helen had dreams. She was studyin’ to be a stenographer. I didn’t even know what that was. But I was bigtime impressed because it sounded real important and like a Scrabble word. Helen tells me ‘bout this woman one night, over cheeseburgers, our regular Thursday date, tells me this woman’s her “lover”. Yeah, she says “lover”, like we’re in Europe or somethin’. She’s all cryin’ and won’t touch her food, her face all wet and shiny, tells me this bitch is her “soul’s longing”. I wanted to tell her to fuck herself and her skanky soul, too, but I guess I still wanted her to want me, you know? But I was losin’ her, to this bitch in heat with a sweetness I don’t have. I mean, Helen says I don’t have it, right? But maybe I can make it.
His kids were young, not yet teenagers, not yet even what could be described as ‘tweens, and he would leave them in the house, engorging their slack, nubile bodies with Keebler’s striped shortbread cookies alongside a plastic bowl of Theatre Butter microwave popcorn, watching cable TV until Peter resurfaced. He locked himself inside of the studio. He painted versions of the Malibu sunset: orange, yellow, red, purple, hazy, lucid, hallucinogenic, bucolic. The interpretations were end over end. Some people considered him an obsessed lunatic, like an amateur attempting the most perfect plagiarism of Vermeer’s pearl earring or a tiresome take on Van Gogh’s most canonized swirling night, and he was surrounded by the carcasses of those failures that were born prematurely or malnourished somehow, meant to be aborted but allowed to exist despite. These paintings of his were not failures, Peter argued. Every setting sun differed from the one before. His wife did not adore this work, what bordered on obsession, an endless desire to “get it right”, something that couldn’t be captured. “I’m nothing but a studio widow!” she would declare to her friends. “A studio widow with too many radiant sunsets.”
Heather, a blind date arranged by a friend since high school, had large blonde bangs, half-baked biscuits that had failed to rise properly. The vastness of her coiffure was tremendous, voluminous, perched and wound atop her doe-eyed head without exhibiting visible attachment. She’d squealed, “Oh, I like mice!” when asking of his job. Did he need to explain to her that these mice were frozen like furry tater tots? Mice Direct’s customer service department prided itself in “going the extra mile”, shipping an extra load of rat weanlings (“fuzzies”) as an apology had something gone awry, such as July’s stretch of inexplicable salmonella running rampant through not just the rodents, but the lizards and small fowl, too. It survived through repeat customers and friendly, solicitous staff. Over the veneered tabletop of their corner booth, Mike considered the questionnaire he’d likely e-mail to Heather later that night. Where Antioch had nearly succeeded in increasing a couple’s ardor through “communicative sexuality”, one person seeking permission, another consenting, this verbal and physical call and response leading, presumably, to the grand achievement of sex, Mike’s written questionnaire reliably failed. Women never replied.
Another couple walked through the modest entry of a mediocre home owned by Mr. and Mrs. Finley, who immediately ordered the men downstairs, the women instructed to stay upstairs. “Welcome to the dollhouse!” Mrs. Finley exclaimed with unfettered enthusiasm to an alcove of bewildered wives. Tiny cheese cubes, the size of number two pencil sharpeners, dotted the white ceramic plates. Sandwiches dwarfed by quarters, napkins a scrap of cloth no larger than a few stamps accidentally stuck together on a desktop. One wife lost hers within the folds of her lap. Mrs. Finley poured thimbles of wine. A hysterical, frenzied wife announced that she was starved, questioning no one and everyone as to her husband’s arcane doings. She was met halfway down the flight by the command: “Get back to your dollhouse.” Not before returning upstairs was the grand subterranean buffet revealed, steins of heady stout, gilded plates, men gorging themselves in bacchanalian fashion, food spilling onto the cement floor, shiny bits of fatty meat staining the wooden farmer’s table. Beneath the first floor, nearly choking on animal bones, the husbands were enraptured, naked from the waist up, as the women, aglow with candlelight, made angels from wooden clothespins.
As he strides through the parking lot, four cars within its wobbly white lines, he reads “GOT JESUS?” above the silver Accord’s plate, the rhetorical query’s punch line accompanied by a white-robe-fearing drum roll beneath: “It’s HELL without him!” The doors to the diner stick, most patrons struggle in both pulling and pushing, only to realize that pulling is required. Just pull harder. Jacob yanks, the door bleats in defeat. An ebony-haired girl, with a mane so thick it looks like a costume wig, swivels on her stool. They kiss, his hands searching her voluminous hair. “They have banana cream pie,” she announces with whimsy and delight. “Damn,” he croons, drawing out the single syllable. “I love banana cream pie.” From the red booths, a throat clears. “People who swear have low self esteem,” a diner declares. His lips shape a solitary reply while he silently tells her to fuck off. “People who curse are insecure. To be profane is to behave against our God.” “Let me guess,” he says, “You got Jesus?” The woman rises from the booth. “Jesus still loves you,” she soothes. The girl snickers. He shakes his head. “Trust me,” he murmurs. “He doesn’t.”