Joe said he had a black Monte Carlo Super Sport. None of us had seen it and his father drove him to work. Joe said he had a home that he bought out of foreclosure. He said the home was being worked on and that was why he lived with his parents. Joe had been saying this for five years now.
Joe said he was going to marry Elise who worked the paint aisle, and that he would take her to Italy. Italy was the homeland of his ancestors and he had family there who would welcome them. But Elise had reported him to management for harassment and asked to be moved to the other end of the store.
Joe said he had been strangled by the boss at his last job, by a Mexican named Augie, and that very soon he was to receive a large settlement. Despite the litigation he was calling daily to get his old job back in the meat department. Any day now he would have it. Augie and he could work things out. “But what we need ‘round this place here is a union,” Joe said. “So that management will give us some respect.” Respect was worth paying a union, he argued. And Hoffa was a great man.
Joe was short and round and his bald head was smooth and polished. Joe’s hands were soft and white and stayed that way because he did not like to work. Through the night you heard Joe cackling in the paint aisle and doing his broken English impersonations of the Mexican Augie.
Steve liked to get on Joe in the break room. Joe would be telling Victor about how this or that was going to happen for him and Steve, not even looking up from reading the paper, would grunt, “No it’s not, Joe. No. That’ll never happen.”
Joe had these sties growing on his eyelids and they seemed to get larger and redder every day. He had them for months. Joe was always talking about what the doctor was proscribing and Steve says, “Hey Joe, maybe if you washed your hands after you go to the bathroom you wouldn’t have that shit growing on your eyes.”
They finally fired him for getting into it with Phil from the flooring department. Joe called the store manager every few days trying to get his job back. This went on for a few months until Joe realized it wasn’t going to happen. He called the police and tried to have assault charges brought on Phil for flicking a paper clip at him. Joe filed a lawsuit against Phil for assault with a paper clip. That put Phil out of work too, which was too bad. Phil was a good guy.
- Jesse Myner
Tumblr just reminded me of this. Thanks for following, everybody—this has been quite an experiment, both for me and for the writers who have generously shared their work for publication on Unreality House. After trying a few different approaches to using this as a platform for my own fiction, I’ve decided to pull back and work on a longer-form piece that I may share in full or in part here when it’s finished. In the meantime, we’re still open for business and submissions are welcome.
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In order to survive adolescence, you must force yourself to sell-out. Bite down on your tongue, harden your jaw, clench your teeth, and learn to join the league of the invisible minority. Trick your white classmates; they must not realize that you’ve infiltrated their tight-knit ranks. Learn to take history as gospel, never look beyond the pages. Act as the sole representation of your race. Heavy is the head that wears the crown. You are like the cockroach in Audra Lorde’s poem; you may be detested and despised, but you cannot be killed.
* * *
You’re not like other black people.
You sound white.
Are you a mulatto?
Is your hair real? Can I touch it?
You’re black; you must know how to dance!
Where are you from? No, really, where are you from?
I want to have mulatto babies!
But you didn’t grow up in a ghetto, so you’re not really black.
But he didn’t MEAN to be racist….
I wish black people would stop talking about racism.
What are you?
The fact that these sentiments flowed from the mouths of both friends and foes alike makes you feel very, very small and useless and naïve and you wish that you had clung to your dignity with the ironclad determination of a captain about to sink with his beloved ship.
Your identity was never fully yours. They claimed it and twisted it and warped it and defaced it like the crypt robbers who ransacked the Egyptian tombs. You refused to accept the realities of double-speak, of coded-language, of words that harbored mild apathy to condescending disdain. They tried to make you crazy, to convince you that you were shadowboxing. At first, it was much easier to submit, to slip into your token role, to open your mouth, take on water and drown. Your mother moved through life like an eel, maneuvering through society with the flash of white teeth and a slickness only known to outsiders who have served so long as a punching bag that they are numb to the onslaught of brass-knuckled blows. On the other hand, your father was not afraid to tell you what it meant to be black in this version of America, this vision constructed from the indulgence of privilege, what it meant to be a member of a race of people whose skin color came with baggage, a history that was simultaneously American and “Other.”
Railing against your rationale, you carved these banners of ignorance between the inner cracks and crevices of your subconscious, absorbed the toxins like ink into your skin, tried to acquire the same kind of blindness that they professed as moral hymns. At times, living in a staggering display of whiteness heightened your depression. The authenticity of your identity was dependent upon an adherence to stereotypes. When you were twelve, you composed a life plan which would begin when and not if you escaped to New York City. You now realize that you were confused all those years because you were looking to fit into a crowd that would rather hoard and eat your culture and spit you back out until you were nothing but bones picked-clean.
You were not searching for tolerance, but unequivocal equality.
You are so tired of being the token minority, the stand-in for the exotic and strange. You are tired of trying to educate and explain to deaf ears. You are tired of expecting compassion and receiving indifference. You are tired of being a pillar of indomitable strength for people who do not have strength of their own.
You are tired of the world’s definitions.
* * *
Bloodletting is an ancient medical procedure that was commonly practiced in order to cleanse the afflicted body of the illness—or rather the evil spirit that had attacked the patient. According to PBS, “bloodletting [has a] 3,000 year history [and] began with the Egyptians of the River Nile one thousand years B.C., and the tradition spread to the Greeks and Romans.”
Some people will keep friends, no matter how broken the relationship, no matter how tired the loyalties, because they need to be lost in a crowd to feel secure. Some people will keep friends that are toxic because they afraid to be alone. They are convinced that being alone is synonymous with loneliness.
Some people will honor the ghost of childhood friendships past because alliances cemented in early adolescence carry a weight that mimics the intensity of a life debt. These people have stuck by you through your growing pains, through the awkward fumbling towards adulthood. But does such allegiance matter when these friends view you as a non-threatening exception to their stereotypes? Does it matter when your friendship is an excuse to assuage white guilt? To consent to the powerless role of the model minority?
In order to cure the soul, you must let the bloodletting begin.
- Vanessa Willoughby
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Pretty Girl With Too Much Makeup®
(but she’s pretty anyway)
is tweeting about massages from her penthouse in New York
that no one normal could afford.
I just wanted to get away.
I got my wish; Christmas came early
(you’re somewhere in LA)
but mostly I wish I was guzzling whiskey with you hitting me in the face
and I’m rolling down to the ground, spilling your beer,
screaming with laughter on the floor
about how I just can’t take any more
and you’re just cool as cool can be
(you’re practically ice; 7-11 Slurpee).
Glacial from toes to hairline,
solid blonde Aryan fact.
This is why we’re friends; YOU HAVE ABSOLUTELY NO TACT
and you change the subject from me to you
complaining about the price of benzoates
as I lie vaguely bored and blue
and I tell myself the same thing every time;
- Tashi Feldstein
Stephanie Georgopulos published a short story of mine on her Medium channel, read it here ok
Took 50mg of Ambien alone in my room. I texted some guy I had been seeing for about ~three weeks. He texted back fast. I asked him to meet me outside even though it was February and minus 30 degrees out. He agreed. I put on a tank top and took my hair out of a ponytail and grabbed my poetry anthology textbook, for some reason.
I don’t remember walking around campus with him but I remember sitting on a ledge and smoking a cigarette and reading him “Her Kind” by Anne Sexton. He said, “That’s sad,” and then he said, “I’ll read something to you now.” I don’t remember what he read to me. We sat there for ~10 minutes before I said his name and he said “Yeah” and I told him it’s okay if he kissed me now. He said he was waiting to do it later which made me feel ashamed of myself, for some reason, for letting him think that there would be a “later.” He kissed me. His mouth was very wet and he grabbed the back of my head while we kissed which I didn’t like. His bottom lip curled into mine which felt forced and awkward. He asked me if I wanted to spend the night at his place. I said yes.
We went to his place. His room was clean, cleaner than mine. “My bed,” he said, “is much bigger than yours.” We started kissing on his bed. I was sitting down and he was standing up. I briefly touched his crotch. I looked down and there was a big wet spot where his penis was and also I could tell that he had an erection. He took off his pants and I took off my shirt and then he took off his underwear. I gave him three blow jobs in a row. I was half-naked and he was fully naked, I was crouching on his bed and he was laying down. When he finished we both lay down together. I asked him if he loved me. He said, “It’s too early for that.” He asked me if I liked his cock. I didn’t respond. It was three AM and he turned off the lights because he had a midterm the next morning. There was cum all over his bedsheets. He told me he wanted me on top of him while we slept but I told him that I was tired and I’d be more comfortable this way, facing the wall, away from him where he couldn’t see me. The next morning I dressed in a place where he couldn’t see me dressing and I told him I didn’t love him and left. When I got back to my place I saw a girl who lived on my floor and she said I didn’t look so good and asked me if I were okay. I said yes and smiled. I got back to my room and texted him and asked him if we had sex. All he said was, “No.” I took a pregnancy test just in case. It came out negative. There was nothing inside of me.
* * *
My best friend’s brother was in the city visiting for the weekend which also happened to be the weekend of my 19th birthday. We went to a bar in Quebec and I ordered him a tequila shot and I drank too much vodka. When we got home, at two AM, my best friend and another friend of ours went to her room to smoke weed. I was drunk and tired and I went to my room and her brother followed me in and we started kissing on my bed. He was a very good kisser and he put his hand in between my legs while he kissed me. His lips felt good against mine but I kept thinking of someone else. He asked me if I wanted to have sex and I asked him if it was okay if we just cuddled. He started kissing me even more and then said that he’d have sex with me right now if I wanted to. I didn’t say anything and he kissed me again and I wasn’t thinking of him. Finally I sat up and told him that he was my best friend’s brother and that I didn’t feel like I could do this right now and that it would be a good idea if he left. He said fine and I told him that I could keep a secret if he could. He didn’t say anything. He slammed the door on his way out. I made my bed even though I had already made it that morning. I had a lot of trouble sleeping and I was still thinking of someone else.
* * *
I had drank three PBRs in a park with him earlier and now we were sitting on a patio drinking beer—I forget what kind—and he ordered wings. I watched him eat them and I stole a carrot from his plate. I was also smoking a cigarette. He looked hesitant and he said, “The way you—wait, no, I shouldn’t say it,” and because that bothered me I said, “No, say it,” and he said, “The way you smoke your cigarette is very sexy.” He also said I was desirable and very pretty. I said I didn’t think I was pretty and he said, “Don’t be stupid.” He said he really wanted to have sex with me and it was ruining his life because he had a girlfriend. When I said I didn’t think I was sexy or desirable he said that I was incredibly desirable and that he always wondered what it would be like to have his bare chest against mine. He asked me if I really did like him and I said yes. He said, “So then kiss me” and I said there was too much table in between us but he didn’t hear me. So I got up from the table and kissed him, and then kissed him again. He asked me what I wanted to do and I said, “We can go to a park and just kiss or something.” He said he was thinking the same thing and I got up to pee and he drank the rest of my beer and paid the bill.
We held hands as we walked to the park and we sat down in the grass even though it was muddy. I took off my glasses. He sat down with his feet underneath his ass. He told me I had to come closer and I did. He started kissing me. His eyes were closed but mine were open. I felt empty but I tried not to feel it and I cupped his crotch and he said, “oh God” a couple of times and then just started moaning. I licked his neck and he said, “Don’t give me a hickey, don’t make my life difficult” so I stopped. He then started licking my neck and then said, “I think I might have given you a slight hickey.” We lay down on the grass and he asked me if it would be okay if he put his head in between my legs. I said yes. He touched me and then started kissing my chest and my neck and again my face. When the hour was up he said he was going to write me something and he took out a notebook and pen and I lay down in the grass while he played me music. It was a Radiohead song that he had covered. The sun was setting in between the leaves of the trees that were above me and I thought about shamefulness.
After I read the letter I tried to kiss him again but he backed away. He said something about loyalty and that we could only kiss with our mouths closed. I kissed him with my mouth closed and then we decided to walk back to the bus stop. On the bus I touched his chest but he picked up my hand and put it down on my lap and said, “Don’t get used to it,” which made me sad but also embarrassed because the bus was pretty full. Before we got on the subway he told me not to tell anyone and to keep it a secret and I thought about shame and about lies and how many lies I’ve probably told in my entire life. He hugged me and I got on the subway. I thought about PBR and felt empty. I tried to feel full by leaning my head against the window and closing my eyes. I started to cry a little bit which bothered me for obvious reasons. When I got off the subway I touched my mouth with my index finger and wondered if his saliva was still there. That night I took a two-hour-long shower but I didn’t know if I wanted to get rid of him or myself. I felt full so I tried to feel empty.
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Author Victoria Linhares replies: “’The Shrinking Lover’ was most definitely inspired by Aimee Bender’s ‘The Rememberer.’ I read ‘The Remember’ a few weeks before I wrote my story; I liked the vision I had while I read it and felt the need to re-create the same thing. It might sound very stereotypical, but as soon as I read it I felt the need to write something—not exactly like it—but similar, because I felt like the story captured my emotions about the past few weeks so vividly. When I wrote ‘The Shrinking Lover’ (and when I read Aimee Bender) most of my writing and most of my thoughts were about loss and losing and what happens to people when they lose something that is important to them. ‘The Shrinking Lover’ was just an attempt to answer that question. Thanks for reading!”
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My lover is shrinking more and more each day.
On the sixth day he was only three feet tall. You could barely make him out in a crowd. I had to adjust the chairs at the kitchen table so he could climb up on them. He is, often, very self-conscious of his size. He knows that within a few days he will be no more than a speck of dust left on the floor of our apartment. I put away the mops and the dusters, just in case.
* * *
The first time we met was at a strip mall where I worked. He was buying new shoes. I asked him his size. He said, “Nine.” My shrinking lover is now a mere size four, drastically different from the first time we met. I tell him I’ll always remember the number nine both as the first time we met and the person he was. He tells me not to think of who we were as what we are.
Nowadays we go to that same strip mall and sit on the benches, not buying a thing, but listening to strangers speak.
* * *
On the 13th day he wakes me up in the middle of the night. He says he needs a glass of water. I get it for him. He can’t reach the refrigerator anymore. I know that, in the morning, he will be shrunk down at least a few inches. I stretch my body to touch my feet to his underneath the sheets, to remind myself that skin can still wrap around itself.
* * *
The first time we made love my body prickled and pulsed under the weight of his. He was still bigger than me, broader. I was underneath covers because I was afraid of him seeing all of me. He pulled back the blanket and looked at my naked body underneath the light of a lamp.
“You’re beautiful,” he said.
“No, I’m not,” I said.
* * *
Nowadays I wonder if anybody appreciates the blood leaking out of their own orifices, reminding themselves that their lovers could hurt them in such physical ways, bound by their own desire, pleading with themselves to stop the pain just long enough to release their own relief.
* * *
We speak of amusement parks. He is too small to ride a roller coaster. On the twelfth day he is just bigger than my arm. I am reminded of the times we would sit, cross-legged, on the cold floor of our bathroom, tracing the grime between the tiles, and we would think about losing.
“Losing something is just gaining something else,” he said.
“But why would you want to lose someone you know to gain something you don’t know?”
Nowadays I memorize the ways people leave, so that one day I can do the same.
* * *
On the fifteenth day, my shrinking lover is just smaller than a newborn baby. I can no longer feel the weight of him lying on the bed next to me. In the early morning he asks me to take him to the front porch so I can hold him while he watches the sun rise with tiny eyes. Soon he will be too small to hold. Soon no one could touch him lest he would break.
I understood the part about breaking.
* * *
Twenty-one days later my shrinking lover has shrunk down to his smallest size. I know it’s his smallest size because it is the smallest he can go without not being seen completely. I put him in a Corningware dish and watch his tiny body float around. I can no longer see his sad smile. He looks up at me and says, with a slight laugh, “Have you grown?” He is merely a speck of dust now, and because it scares me, I throw out all the dusters and mops.
* * *
When he has disappeared completely I put away the Corningware dish and think about grime between bathroom tiles and strip malls with so little people in them. I think about size nine feet and making love in between soaking wet sheets, lovers with too much space in between them.
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Ivy is writing a poem about me so I can stop feeling sad. Something is wrong with her but we don’t know what it is. She looks up at me and then down again. Sometimes she lets her cigarettes burn out before she finishes smoking them. I don’t say anything, but of course, she’s the one who is dying. We don’t talk about that, though. The dying, I mean. Nobody knows what it is, not even Ivy. She still gets crushes on boys and girls sometimes. I tell her what’s the point and she gestures to the insides of her thighs, laughing. I laugh too. I leave her apartment to see if breathing gets easier. It doesn’t.
* * *
Her stairs are creaky. People are always dropping in. She doesn’t like to socialize that much but when she does it’s something to see. She makes Thai soup and wontons and sings along to every song that comes on the radio, even if she’s never heard it before. Sometimes she taps her foot to the beat but her landlord told her not to do that anymore because the people downstairs were getting annoyed. She doesn’t weigh much but she occupies.
* * *
Ivy is writing a poem about me so I can start feeling hopeful. I lay my head on her shoulder while she writes and it feels like laying your head on the coldness of a car window on a long, long trip. Bumpy and dizzy, but Ivy’s shoulder is softer, and I wonder if I put my lips to her ear would she do the same? If I doze off and wake up, I see that Ivy has wrapped me up in a blanket and gently placed my head somewhere other than her shoulder, like on the edge of the couch, or a textbook, and one time on a frying pan. I woke up and thought she was making breakfast but she wasn’t. There was a little bit of grease on my nose and she rubbed it off before I could notice.
* * *
Ivy is energetic despite her sickness. I sit on the couch and I tell her that there is something inside of me that kills everything that proves there is something inside of me, like electricity, or like death. “Your problem,” she says, “is that you are so afraid of feeling that you don’t feel anything at all.” She cries when her mother calls her, although it doesn’t happen very often. Her joy is louder than the laugh tracks on television. She paints her toenails red and rests her feet on the coffee table even though they’re dirty. She sings aloud to a song she claims is her favorite while I wake up in the frying pan pillow three hours after I’ve fallen asleep, comforted by the soft blanket of the light coming in through Ivy’s window and her incessant humming that goes on and on, forever, seemingly endless.
“I know it’s a frying pan, but I don’t have any extra pillows. I would give you mine, but ever since the diagnosis I’ve been paranoid that people are going to catch what I have. I know it’s silly. The kitchen was right here, too.”
Ivy is writing a poem about me so I can feel alive again. She sings and taps her foot and I want to tell her I would do anything to have what she has but I lay my head on the frying pan and fall asleep.