Category Archives: Stories & Scenes

Sea cow

I am a manatee. I excel at being a manatee. I am a manatee in a man’s world. I swim amidst the yachts at the marina. Sometimes I feel compelled to poop on them. My thoughts are all tremendous. It’s a wonder this ocean can hold them. My tail is worth its weight in pearls. The dock pilings lean orgasmic when I make ripples, swimming by. If you are a boat propeller, you have another thing coming. That thing is my dong. In the end, everything will sink, but I will still be on top. There are fish, and there are sea cows. It’s an unhappy fate if your lesser heart can’t grasp the distinction.

 

One honey bee, four near-death experiences

Spring

The drones sent me into exile. They said that I was worthless to the hive if I wasn’t going to mate with our queen. But I only want to mate with the boy bees. It almost makes me wish I were a worker, because the workers don’t have to put out. They just get to sit upon the flowers. I’ll have to find someplace new to live. Yesterday I landed in a bucolic meadow, but a black bear almost stepped on me, and then I flew up his nose for a second, and it was just bad times all around. Until I met Mulligan sucking nectar from a dandelion.

Summer

This afternoon I fell into the deep end of a swimming pool. It was stupid, I know, but I was only trying to skim the surface of what I thought was a pond. It took me a while to realize that not only was the blue water undrinkable, but its vessel was a death trap. My wings became sodden and useless. I could barely stay afloat. I knew it was only a matter of time before I drowned. But then a flightless man spotted me as he swam by with a pincher on his nostrils. He seemed to take pity on my frenetic form. With the flat of his hand he began pushing the water in which I was sinking toward the edge of the pool. He never made contact with my body, presumably so he wouldn’t be stung. As if I’d be so ungrateful! At this point I was about to lose consciousness, but the thought of Mulligan in the meadow kept me going. At last the man splashed me onto the concrete, my antennae still clinging to life and love, and I felt my wings slowly begin to drink up the sunshine. I would be reunited with my fuzzy, striped companion after all.

Fall

Mulligan seems to be ailing and I’m afraid he’s not long for this earth. I wonder if he stung one of the old lady’s cats while I was out foraging in her garden. He wouldn’t have told me if he had. And his anatomy seems to be intact. That handsome, bulging thorax. That perky stinger. But what is he saying now? Speak up, Mulligan. You make no sense. All I hear is buzzing. Don’t eat the goldenrod? But I love… oh. The old lady sprayed it with poison, didn’t she? That explains the collapsed colony behind her garage. I saw the corpse of the queen herself. You…you saved my life, Mulligan. Here, let’s lie together on this purple flower petal and watch the setting sun.

Winter

I see the geese flying high with their mates and the horses stabled with their foals, and here I am, alone, luckless, deprived of all society, just trying to keep my compound eyes from freezing in this malicious cold. Though I miss Mulligan terribly, I’m grateful he never had to suffer like this. All my enzymes are shivering. I’m drawn to the fragrance of a smoky chimney and I know my time has come. But frost glazes my wings before I reach the rooftop and its eternal stupor. I tumble like a pistachio nut into a snowbank. So this is it. At least the ants won’t eat me in this icy weather. But what’s happening now? I’m perched in a human palm. Warm clouds of air heat up my wings. The old woman holds me like that, enveloped in her breath, until I thaw back to life, and fly once more toward the promise of honey.

Because I love Kelli and Daniel from Fitness Blender

“Please get off me,” says the husband. “Your body reminds me of work.” The wife clenches her toned abs for the 61st rep that day. They’d shot two grueling workout videos in the studio that morning. Now that they were back home in their bedroom, she just wanted her man to peel off her sports bra and spank her with it.

“That’s like turning down sex from a nurse because she reminds you of disease,” says the wife.

“I would never turn down sex from a nurse,” says the husband, massaging his left tricep.

The wife unglues the sweaty leggings from her preternaturally toned thighs, then pulls two 10-pound barbells from the nightstand.

“You’re just lifting those out of spite,” says the husband. “And your breathing is all wrong.”

“Fuck you.”

“Sweetheart, you know our bodies aren’t for pleasure anymore. They’re a business. People stream our exercise videos because we’re ripped and we look good in Spandex. It’s hard for me to sexualize our bodies now that they’re our only source of income.”

“I thought people watched our videos because we’re in love, which gives us positive on-screen rapport, which inspires people to feel the burn, which makes them think that by doing the fitness, they can find love too.”

“No. You think we’d have all these downloads if we were as fat as we were on our wedding day?”

“We weighed a combined 12 pounds more than we do now.”

“Exactly.” The husband adjusts himself on the mattress so he can stretch his hamstrings. He’s never been as flexible as his wife. “Most of those were yours, by the way.”

“If I gain it all back,” says the wife, unable to take her eyes off her husband’s gym shorts, “will you have sex with me again?”

“Gaining it back is not an option. We have bills to pay. More importantly, we have fans who count on us to stay in peak physical condition.”

“What if you wear a blindfold?”

“As if I wouldn’t be able to feel those rock-hard glutes.”

“Then what?” says the wife, starting a set of lateral raises. “I can’t go on like this.”

The husband flips over onto his bare stomach so he can perform a cobra stretch.

“I wonder if porn stars have this problem,” he says.

“I’ll be able to answer that in about two months after I leave you and move to the Valley.”

“Don’t be like that, baby.” He moves into a child’s pose. “Maybe if we could just, like, repurpose our bodies somehow, after work, so when we get home, they’re no longer elite athletic machines.”

“And how do you suggest we do that?” says the wife, dropping to the rug for overheard bridges.

“I don’t know,” says the husband. “But I’m feeling like we didn’t get enough cardio today. You wanna do a round of burpees?”

The wife drops her barbells. “Can we do them naked?”

“Good idea,” says the husband. “That way I can review your form.”

Two insignificant things that didn’t really happen

Revenge

Rebecca worked for a small marketing firm that handled accounts from a diversity of clients. Last summer she began volunteering to head the ad campaigns that no one else wanted, e.g., the gastrointestinal disorder remedies, the spray-on hair. She did this because her ex-boyfriend had turned out to be a piece of shit who’d moved into her Soho apartment with no intention of ever getting a job, contributing to rent, or helping out in any way unless he could do it through singer-songwriting. Her ex-boyfriend had also posed for a series of stock photos back in the day so he could buy himself something nice that he didn’t deserve because he liked to stick his slimy crooked penis into everything.

Rebecca happened to discover this cache of stock photos of her ex-boyfriend not long after she’d confronted him about several items gone missing from her jewelry box, then kicked him to the curb. Revenge was sweet. Rebecca threw herself into work at the agency, and soon her ex’s face began appearing in ads aimed at those suffering from jock itch and hemorrhoids, uncontrollable diarrhea, chronic facial fungi. Rebecca had a girlfriend who worked for a popular online news outlet and she got in on the fun as well. The article “How to Identify a Hipster Douchebag” featured a close-up of Rebecca’s ex-boyfriend drinking an iced coffee in a rowboat in Central Park. The article “6 Signs Your Dude Is a Manwhore” was accompanied by a photo of Rebecca’s ex-boyfriend laughing into a slice of cheese pizza.

Rebecca had originally applied to the ad agency so she could earn a regular paycheck just until her online fan fiction landed her a Big Five book deal, but after the breakup she decided that she’d stay in the business at least long enough to see her ex on a billboard warning people about the pedophiles who live among us. Besides, she thought, pictures tell the best stories.

Photographer Emergency

An amateur photographer named David walks along the Florida beach in early morning, taking pictures of the sunrise. He squats on a dune so he can get the right angle on the light colliding with a lifeguard stand. He also takes pictures of a seagull. “Please, God,” he thinks, “let a sailboat pass by.”

A quarter mile down the beach, David passes a large crew of people staging shots of fashionable accessories in the white sand, probably for a Land’s End catalogue. A man with a camera barks orders at the handful of assistants holding white discs who are trying to reflect the morning light onto an array of vibrant products. Then David watches as the professional photographer suddenly drops to his knees, clutching his chest. The panicked crew surrounds him, but the professional photographer has collapsed face-down in the sand and is giving off every impression of being dead.

“Oh my God!” yells a woman with a clipboard, scanning the beach in every direction. “Is anyone here a photographer? Are there any photographers on the beach?”

One of the assistants scrambles up the steps of a lifeguard stand and grabs a bullhorn. “We have an emergency!” he says. “Someone please help us! Can anyone here shoot a purse?”

From a distance David takes in the undocumented fashion accessories, then looks down at his camera. This is his moment. “I can,” he says quietly. Then more loudly, toward the crew, as he speeds across the sand. “I can!” he says. “I can shoot a purse!”

Miami shut-in

She hasn’t set foot outside her seaside condo in eight years. She cannot think of a compelling enough reason to leave. The delivery guy drops the food outside the door. She’s had pretty good luck with the hurricanes, and has enjoyed a long spell of adequate health. The ocean is there whether or not she puts her feet in it. Plus she has a flatscreen TV and two floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the beach and approximately seven places to sit, including the bed and the toilet, though she dislikes the yellow armchair that can never seem to swivel the right way when she’s reading old magazines.

Eight years ago, when she first moved to South Florida to finish her book, she had every intention of exploring the local terrain. But in order to get in and out she had to ride the elevator with various combinations of strangers who lived inside her building. Riding the elevator with other people was an intolerable situation. When she pushed her own button and stared straight ahead she felt ashamed of her misanthropic tendencies. But when she made small talk, it always petered out before her floor (the 80th), and then she and her neighbors were just standing there watching the floors tick by in awkward silence. It was enough to rip your guts out. And she wouldn’t dream of taking the stairs because when she tallied up the number of times she might get assaulted in the dark stairwell over the course of 80 stories, she didn’t like her odds.

The plan was to be in South Florida for three months before returning to the Land of Winter. But after a few weeks went by she realized that climates and landscapes mattered much less to her than the quality of her apartment, and the television set in her Miami condo was a full third bigger than her flatscreen in the Land of Winter, so she settled in.

And now she sits. Sometimes at the kitchen table. Sometimes in the abominable yellow chair. Sometimes she wishes she could go to a pet store and buy a turtle terrarium, but then she thinks of putting on sandals and riding the elevator, and she stays where she is. Her book used to be about life, but now it is about dog food ads and funny things she finds on the internet. Anyone who thinks shut-ins don’t have a sense of humor is dead wrong. She finds it hilarious, just goddamn hilarious, to stand at her window and wave and wave at the ocean, like it’s a boat that is sailing away.

“Incubation Period”

“Tighten up, Felicia,” says Felicia. “Two more houses and you’re done.” She wrings the sweat from her bandit mask then stuffs it into the pocket of her stretchy jeans. How long has her fly been down? “These stretchy jeans came straight from hell,” says Felicia, zipping up. She leans over a blue mailbox, murmuring ad jingles and trying not to vomit, as the shortie princesses pass by with their parents.

“What are you supposed to be?” asks a preteen gremlin in a surgical mask. “A fat old lady?”

“Fuck off,” says Felicia. “Halloween is for everybody.” She’s got thirty years and seventy pounds on the gremlin, making her infinitely better at trick-or-treating. His plastic bag barely bulges, while her flannel pillowcase is almost at capacity. She peers into its gaping maw and begins to salivate, which induces a coughing fit. “You will feast tonight, Felicia,” says Felicia, when she catches her breath. Precisely once a year everything goes right for her.

Rich neighborhoods are known for the superior quality of their candy giveaways. Five city blocks of Georgetown will net Felicia enough booty to take her through November. Sours are her favorite. If it doesn’t make her mouth pucker into a butthole, it’s barely worth opening. No to caramel apples. No to toothbrushes. Yes to Jolly Ranchers, but predominantly greens. No to things that taste like coconut. Her stomach is killing her so she sucks down a WarHead’s bitter medicine.

A solitary witch skips by wearing goggles and holding a plastic pumpkin bucket. The bottom hem of the girl’s black gown collects more filth than the bristles of her broomstick. Felicia tails the witch to the next townhouse, the kind you live in if you’re a United States senator. They make their way up the stairs through the warm gauntlet of jack o’ lanterns. “Go ahead and do the bell if you want,” says Felicia, feeling weak in the jeans, and the witch rises gratefully to her tiptoes.

“Trick-or-treat,” they both say when a statesman answers the door in a werewolf onesie. He seems surprised to see a middle-aged woman standing at eye level on his stoop, brandishing a pillowcase. Maybe he’s from the country. When he removes his merkin of a monster mask, Felicia feels intrigued by his presidential aura, but she’s disappointed that his candy bowl contains only Tootsie Rolls of pygmy stature. Felicia takes a healthy handful.

“Excuse me, ma’am…,” says the werewolf, likely preparing to make a speech of some kind, and that’s when Felicia pukes into his azalea bushes. The witch screams and makes a run for it. Fussy little snot. She probably gets free chocolate on Valentine’s Day, too.

“Listen,” says Felicia, when she’s finished spitting sugar over the railing. “I’m a little under the weather. Can I get a soda or something?” She feels feverish. Her forehead could definitely benefit from the Arctic roll of a cola can.

With a degree of hesitation the werewolf abandons his candy on the stoop for children of the rich to rifle through and escorts Felicia into his front hall. “Of course, of course,” he says, being neighborly even though Felicia had to ride three different buses to reach his neighborhood. “Please wait here for a minute.” Felicia waits by the coat rack for a quarter of a minute. When her guts cramp up again she moves to a velvety couch in the living room. Someone has taken the time to arrange decorative gourds in an autumnal crescent around the fireplace. One wall of the room is just pillars. A substantial jar of candy corn sits on the coffee table next to some news magazines. Felicia thinks she has a good chance of guessing just how many candy corns are in the jar because in grade school she once won a jellybean-counting contest that no one expected her to win.

She clings to her pillowcase, which now weighs the same as a bag of human skulls. She wipes her sweaty brow with the bandit mask in her pocket, then sneezes into the tassels of a throw pillow. An icy female voice carries from the next room. “…a grown woman begs you for treats then vomits on our doorstep and you roll out the red carpet? Meanwhile the rest of us are here trying to secure our nation’s borders and fight an epidemic.”

“You let in those Mormons the other day.”

“That’s different. Have you ever met a sick Mormon? Sick people don’t ride bicycles. Sick people do the exact opposite of that.” Felicia realizes that the wife thinks she has that deadly hemorrhaging virus that’s been going around the world. What a stupid idiot.

“Very well,” says the werewolf. “I’ll ask her to leave, or…”

“I just saved all our lives, Mark. You’re welcome in advance.” The werewolf rounds a white pillar rubbing something into his finger webbing that Felicia assumes to be hand sanitizer.

“We seem to be out of ginger ale,” says the werewolf. “Is there anyone I can call, or…?” Felicia’s coworker Macy Something lives near Dupont Circle, but she only has her email address. And one time Felicia caught Macy spitting in the French fry grease at work so she punched her in the boob.

Felicia bends double over her pillowcase, feeling nauseated and stressed out. So what if she is a woman of hearty appetites? It’s called living, and she only gets to do it one night a year. With her skull between her knees, she opens a Fun Size Snickers. “Maybe this act is part of your costume, or…?” says the werewolf. As if anyone is that committed. Felicia probably just contracted flu from one of those unclean superheroes on her Halloween beat and this has nothing to do with eating a Twizzler off a public toilet seat four days ago. A skinny, whorish wife appears in front of the fireplace, wearing yellow rubber gloves.

“Oh hello,” she says. “I was just washing some dishes.”

The Fun Size Snickers made Felicia feel less woozy, so she opens a miniature Reese’s. Peanut butter is her ticket out of this hellhole. If Felicia had a cat, she’d name it Peter Pan. But people keep refusing to give her their cats.

“Your house reminds me of Las Vegas,” says Felicia, who has seen a lot of television commercials about Las Vegas.

“I think you mean Tuscany,” says the wife.

“Only if you can make a good living there as a stripper,” says Felicia.

“Before you go,” says the wife, using a fire poker to nudge a gourd back into formation, “for I know you have a long night of adult trick-or-treating ahead of you, I’m curious to hear what you do for a living. Do you often travel on business to exotic locales? Or maybe you work at an international airport, or as an orderly in the infectious disease unit of a hospital?” Felicia in fact works in the food court at Dulles International Airport but she will not give this rangy woman the satisfaction of knowing that. Felicia is starting to feel like the only person in this townhouse without a flesh-eating virus.

A fluffy white cat jumps onto the couch and begins licking flecks of vomit from Felicia’s t-shirt. “Oh my god,” says the werewolf’s wife. Felicia loosens her sneaker laces and then curls up in a ball on the luxurious cushions. Her stomach is a fandango of assorted flavors.

“Let me just…,” says the werewolf, swiping the throw pillows that prevent his guest from relaxing into the full depths of the couch. Felicia sees that the only nearby vomit receptacle is her trick-or-treat bag, and that is just not happening. If worse comes to worse, she’d rather puke into the jar of candy corn.

“May I use your toilet?” she says, directing her question to the werewolf because he alone can act like a grown-up around bodily functions.

The wife looks momentarily panicked, then claps her rubber gloves together. “Mark,” she says with epiphanic zeal, “do you still keep that tarp in your gun closet?” She calls for Jack Junior upstairs while the werewolf reluctantly excuses himself from the room. Felicia gags, then finds herself holding a fun-sized pool of throw-up.

“What the fuck, Mom?” says a teenager who was obviously interrupted halfway through applying full David Bowie makeup. He seems like the kind of kid who goes to bed every night with Starlight mints on his pillow.

“We need a hand real quick,” says the kid’s mother, “but try not to breathe.” Felicia breathes on everyone freely because she is a mammal. The werewolf returns and helps his wife spread a blue plastic sheet on the Oriental rug below the couch. “You’re doing it wrong,” she tells her husband.

“Take it easy, Jen,” says the werewolf.

“Ma’am,” says the wife to her houseguest, “would you mind rolling onto this tarp?” Felicia doesn’t want to walk to the bathroom, so she evacuates the couch with a thud. The family carries her to an upstairs bathtub like a fancy whale on its way to an aquarium.

Mother and son are responsible for the part of the tarp that holds Felicia’s bottom quarters, and the werewolf is responsible for the part with the head. As the latter backs everybody up the stairs, he gazes into Felicia’s eyes with a face that so much reminds her of nougat and caramel that she wants to take his Sugar Baby nose into her mouth and then just see where her instincts lead her. She can tell that he’s doing his very best not to jostle her in the tarp. Felicia wiggles around appreciatively, which loosens her stool.

Felicia sits on the toilet and listens to the werewolf conspire with a 911 operator outside the bathroom door. She briefly passes out with her stretchy jeans around her ankles, and is aware of having a small, fugue-state orgasm. “No room at the inn,” says the werewolf after he hangs up the phone.

“You’re kidding,” says the wife.

“Drunken robots and vampires and things have laid siege to all the ambulances. But they’re going to send a hazmat team.”

“Whatever you do,” the wife says, addressing whomever, “don’t touch your eyeballs.” This lady must hold her Junior League meetings at CDC headquarters.

“If I catch what she’s got and have to miss Suzie’s glam rock party I will be so pissed,” says JJ.

“No one’s missing any parties,” says the werewolf. “That’s the last thing we want.” He cracks the bathroom door and winks at Felicia as though there’s a private party in their future, one with bowls and bowls of complimentary refreshments. She waves a wad of toilet paper at him like a flirty handkerchief.

Ten minutes later Felicia’s body is arranged on the tarp in the front hall, the fly of her jeans left open to antagonize the wife. “Where’s my candy?” she asks the werewolf, but the doorbell rings before he can answer. Felicia’s body blocks the doorway, but when the three members of the hazmat team enter the townhouse, they step over her with ease. Two of the men sport convincing panda bear costumes under their yellow jumpsuits.

“Don’t tell me you’re trick-or-treating as well,” says the wife.

“Panda bears are immune to human fevers,” says one of the panda bears. “Which makes us doubly resistant.”

“Sir,” says the non-panda to the werewolf, “I’m going to need you to remove your costume.” After a brief struggle with the zipper, the werewolf costume drops to the walnut floorboards and the non-panda puts it on over his hazmat suit. The hairy mask barely fits over his respirator. The wife takes it upon herself to line up the eyes.

“Not bad,” she says.

“How many candy corns are in that jar?” says a panda, reconnoitering the ground floor.

“Four hundred twenty-nine,” says Felicia.

“By god she’s right,” says the husband. “I counted them myself.” Felicia wishes she could just dazzle people for a living. She feels delirious, but still manages to spot Jack Junior on the couch gobbling up candy from her pillowcase. That little weasel.

“Not the sours,” she moans.

“Is this tarp coming with us?” says the second panda.

“Please help yourself,” says the wife. “You can take the couch too.”

“It looks comfortable as shit,” says the hazmat werewolf, running his finger along the wife’s naked forearm—her skin so tight it gives off a glare—then snapping one of her rubber gloves like a middle school bra strap.

“What else you got?” says the first panda.

“I would be all right with your taking the rug, and the contaminated candy belonging to that doughy woman on the floor,” says the wife.

“Not this candy,” says Jack Junior, his teeth coated in chocolate film. Felicia wishes he were closer so she could try to have a nosebleed on him.

“Don’t eat that poison,” says the wife, fancying herself in charge of all the household’s most basic activities. Felicia’s butt toots in defiance.

“But Mom!”

“You can take my son as well,” says the wife. “He’s now infected.”

“Can do,” says the hazmat werewolf. “We’ll quarantine him along with the couch.”

“You’re very kind,” says the wife. Her gloved hand lingers in thanks on the werewolf’s furry bicep.

“Great,” says Jack Junior. “I guess I’ll just go back upstairs and remove the androgynous makeup it took me an hour to apply.”

“No, keep it on,” says the first panda. “We have a dedicated ward for kids like you.” He examines a pistol that he’s presumably stolen from the gun closet.

“That sounds wonderful,” says the wife. “Did you hear that, Jack Junior? Say, you gentlemen don’t have a ward for consenting adults, do you, hahaha?” The hazmat werewolf whispers something into her haircut. Felicia overhears “electrolytes” and “dick chlorine” and a word that could be either “serum” or “semen.” He wraps it up with “hemorrhaging organ,” and they both giggle.

“Thanks for nothing,” Jack Junior tells Felicia. He kicks her in the sole of her sneaker as he marches out the front door. His father throws a small gourd at the back of his son’s head, but hits the stroller of a chubby spaceman who is way too young to be trick-or-treating.

“I’m leaving the cat,” says the wife. “Because she’s as good as dead. And I’m leaving you, Mark. Same reason.” Her husband stands there in his boxer shorts, looking unbothered. Felicia can’t wait until all the sick people clear out. She thinks that she and Mark have what it takes to be Surgeon General and First Lady. It’s been a long time since she blew her nose in front of anyone.

“I like Halloween more than Christmas and my birthday,” the second panda announces to his partners as he slips the husband’s leather wallet into the pocket of his hazmat suit. “There’s always so much mischief afoot.”

“I like epidemics more than plane crashes and animal extinctions combined,” says the first panda, cocking his new pistol. “Where to next?”

“To quarantine some sexy nurses and requisition a new microwave.”

These guys,” says the hazmat werewolf, pulling the wife into an embrace. “Let’s get this show on the road.”

“I’ll just grab my purse,” says the wife, grabbing her purse.

When the hazmat team, the son, the couch, the pillowcase, the rug, and the wife are gone, the husband drags the tarp toward the fireplace and opens a bottle of chilled pink wine. He and Felicia take turns drinking from the bottle and fondling Peter Pan. Felicia feels her heart melting from within. “As far as I’m concerned,” she says, “your whole family can just go fuck itself.” The husband makes a nest around Felicia with 429 candy corns, then begins licking the perspiration from her neck.

“You’re the best thing that’s ever happened to me,” he says. “You’re so sweet inside.”

“No shit,” says Felicia. “That’s always been my way.”

“The Face Expert”

The animator took the call from Barbie’s people at noon on Veteran’s Day. They said they liked his work on Cyrus the Blimp and would he be interested in coming into Mattel to talk faces.

“I thought Barbie’s face was already a done deal,” said the animator, opening another can of Budweiser.

“It is and it isn’t,” said Barbie’s people. “Her appearance evolves with her target consumers. No one likes looking at the same face year after year.”

“I thought that’s why you created those teenage hooker dolls with the big eyes.”

“That wasn’t us.” The animator thought he heard a collective sigh on the other end of the line. Or maybe it was his sigh. His 12-pack was almost empty and his stump was throbbing.

“We’re not trying to reinvent the wheel here,” said Barbie’s people. “Our doll designers just need a consult from someone who knows faces. From someone who’s used to moving them around for marketing purposes.” Apparently they didn’t know the animator had been out of work for nine months. “You drew Cyrus the Blimp with simplistic strokes and yet movie-going audiences considered him an airship of great emotional depth. Essentially, we want to know how you pulled it off.”

“It’s funny that we’re having a conversation about faces when I can’t see any of yours,” said the animator. Sometimes he forgot what he looked like and had to run a hand over his face because he was too down in the dumps to look in a mirror. Sometimes he forgot that his right leg had been blown off in Iraq.

“I’m sure you can use your imagination,” said Barbie’s people. The animator envisioned a conference room full of pink ponies wearing telephone headsets, each one grinning within the strict parameters of red paint. Better than an ex-soldier getting drunk in an Echo Park studio bought with ephemeral cartoon money.

“I can tell you right now that the number one problem with Barbie’s face is that it’s made of hard plastic,” said the animator. “She’s practically a Lego person. You might as well put a blond wig on a flesh-colored gumball and call it a day.”

“We’re open to using more pliant materials.”

“For me, personally,” said the animator, “Barbie has always been more about the bod.”

Barbie’s people were silent. The animator remembered one of his sister’s Barbies after it got chewed up by their pet ferret. He could still see the puncture wounds in the cheeks and the torn nose. It was the most emotion he’d ever seen on a doll’s face.

“We already have a body guy,” said Barbie’s people. “He’s very good.”

“Have you ever put a Barbie’s head in your mouth and bit down?” said the animator.

“Of course,” said Barbie’s people.

“There’s nothing there.”

“That’s correct.”

“It seems to me that what you really want to give her is a brain. Let me put you in touch with a brain guy.”

“Not necessary,” said Barbie’s people. “Our problem is perception. People don’t believe that a woman could be happy all the time, for going on six decades.”

“Since Vietnam,” said the animator, adjusting his prosthesis. “The question I would pose to your face people is this: If Barbie were a flesh and blood human of the same stature, let’s say twelve inches tall—”

“Eleven and a half inches,” interrupted Barbie’s people.

“Okay. If she were that size, but real, what kind of things would she be interested in? Furthermore, what would she want to talk about? How would she feel from day to day? Is she a heavy drinker?”

“Barbie is a woman of many enthusiasms,” said Barbie’s people.

“Personally, if I were that short and didn’t have any toes to speak of? I’d probably kill myself.” The animator wished he could scratch his missing ankle. He opened another beer.

“You’re saying that her face should reflect gloom and unhappiness?” said Barbie’s people.

“If you want consumers to love her, her face needs to express more than lobotomized delight.”

“You’re saying she should frown?”

“Have you ever pressed down so hard on a Barbie’s head that her neck disappears?” said the animator.

“Yes,” said Barbie’s people.

“Have you ever disfigured Barbie’s face with black permanent marker? Or pulled off one of her legs and beat her with it?”

“Yes,” said Barbie’s people.

“You people are worse than my ferret,” said the animator. They seemed chastened. “When little girls play with baby dolls,” he continued, “they want them hungry and crying. Do you know why that is?”

“So they can feed them and comfort them,” said Barbie’s people.

“Precisely,” said the animator. He closed his eyes and saw rows and rows of Barbies with his face on them. Untidy beards. That same ragged scar across their foreheads. Flak helmets of synthetic hair. Their features were contorted with fear and anguish. Their mouths were wide open with weeping. Then little girls descended on them, gathered them in handkerchiefs, cradled them and sang to them.

“I’ll be there tomorrow morning at eight,” said the animator. “Let’s get some faces on these bitches.”

CHARLOTTESVILLE LITERATI ARM WRESTLERS (Round the First)

John Grisham flings his sequined cape over one shoulder to reveal the bulging muscles of his right arm. He has been working out. His spandex bodysuit hides nothing from the crowd gathered tonight at the Blue Moon Diner. Readers have come in droves to witness the first match of CLAW – the Charlottesville Literati Arm Wrestlers. As Grisham leaps to the platform and begins showboating for his lady fans, the crowd frantically places its bets.

“In it to win it,” yells poet Charles Wright. He slips a $10 bill into the plastic bucket that Grisham’s wife Renee dangles on a stick above the audience.

“The hell he is,” mutters John Casey as he palms a $50 bill to George Garrett, the CLAW referee. “I think Grisham’s been juicing again,” Casey whispers in the ref’s ear. Garrett nods his understanding and then confers with Rita Dove, the celebrity judge of tonight’s tournament.

“And in the opposite corner,” hollers MC Jan Karon, who stands on a chair over her amplifier, “Taking on heavily favored contender John Grisham, aka the Legal Eagle, in a fight for the first bracket trophy, is poet Lisa Russ Spaar, aka the Blonde Bomber!”

“Booo, hisss,” says Charles Wright.

“98-pounds,” says Renee to her husband. “Poetry. Tears. Spaghetti arm.”

Spaar emerges from the bar wearing a khaki flight suit and aviator goggles. Before taking the platform, she works the crowd with Top Gun dance moves. Her own bet bucket passes through the audience like a rambunctious church collection. Spaar’s MFA students stuff her pockets with dollar bills. From the back row, Deborah Eisenberg offers the poet a shot of Jagermeister. Spaar takes it.

The ref blows his whistle. “Competitors, take your seats,” he says. Last minute bets are handed forward through the rows. Grisham stops flexing and puts the top half of his jumpsuit back on. Garrett gives Spaar a hand up to the platform. She lets John Casteen hold her flight goggles and he squeals like a little girl. Spaar assumes the arm wrestling position at the table.

Grisham links his thumb with Spaar’s and squeezes. George Garrett holds their two hands in his own like a holy man giving a blessing. “Wrestlers, are you satisfied with your grip?” The adversaries nod their heads and clench their teeth.

“You’ve met your Waterloo,” says Grisham.

“You’re going down like a clown,” says Spaar.

“The jury says you’re guilty, mama,” says Grisham.

“Saddle up, buttercup,” says Spaar.

“Ready, set, wrassle!” says the ref. But before he can finish saying “wrassle,” the Blonde Bomber has sacked the Legal Eagle’s hand.

“Foul!” cries Grisham, leaping from his seat. Referee George Garrett declares Spaar the winner. MC Jan Karon blasts “Danger Zone” by Kenny Loggins on her CLAW stereo system. Charles Wright and Renee Grisham scream at Rita Dove, who guards the winner’s trophy in the corner, but Dove says the match was fought “fair and square.”

“This courtroom is corrupt!” shouts Grisham. “I demand a retrial!”

“Shut your jaw and stuff your law,” says the Blonde Bomber, “You are not the king of CLAW.” Spaar’s fans applaud the impromptu poem. Spaar curtsies in her flight suit.

“Round two,” says the ref. “Find your grip.” After a brief shoulder massage from his wife, Grisham reluctantly sits down again. This time he offers Spaar his left hand. Spaar shrugs and switches from her dominant arm. The writers grip up.

“Ready, Freddy?” asks Spaar.

“Don’t try to beat the system,” says Grisham. “Punks always get it in the end.”

“Okey-dokey, smokey,” says Spaar.

“Ready, set, wrassle!” cries the ref.

But before the ref can say “set,” Spaar has pinned Grisham’s left hand to the mat. The diner erupts in cheers for the triumphant underdog. “Order, order!” shouts the ref. “We have a winner!”

“Foul! Foul!” rages Grisham. Rita Dove hands the Blonde Bomber her trophy, a first edition of Leaves of Grass. As Charles Wright subdues Grisham and leads him to the bar, Spaar begins to read.

The Room’s Husband

We toasted the room’s husband with plastic cups of champagne. The room’s wife had cake on her fingers. Someone wandered outside in the apple orchard. The camera over his shoulder was full of the sermon and the mountains. The lake had dried up that afternoon and the toilets stopped flushing. The children picked the apples off the ground and the grownups plucked them from the trees. The Belgian could not stop smoking in the moonlight. The husband always stood behind the wife, his hands on her bare shoulders, his thumbs smoothing the nerves on her naked back. Until fingers find wrinkles. Until death do us part. The children ran between the tables, tickling each other. The cameraman was still in the orchard, film filled up, saturated. He would take a picture of himself and see a man at a wedding, wifeless.

Poem written in bathroom in the middle of the night

My feet churned the dust like a tornado.

I approached Edinburgh

and then the continent went dark.

The wedding photographer was drunk.

He took pictures of ruins, of history.

An esplanade of smoking sphinxes

and grey coliseums

where we had lived once.

My body was all that was left,

whisking the ashes,

a relic of weather and population.