The Facts

Certainly, Delores believed in sharing the facts. Selfishness was not in her nature. If the facts happened to be fun, how was that her fault?

Fact 1. Her grandson had started teaching kids in Sunday School. When she asked why, he said, “it’s good practice.”

Fact 2. Her granddaughter-in-law said she was feeling bloated.

Fact 3. They were pregnant.

There were other facts, too, she just hadn’t figured them out yet. She would lay awake, going through every possible clue again, gently, carefully, like combing a little child’s hair after a bath. Yes! A little child.

On the way to the bedroom, she passed what her friend Norma called “the shrine.” This was not offensive to Delores; it was the intended effect. There were candles, dried flowers, angel sculptures – the hired mourners for her only child’s perpetual funeral, whose perfect picture hung on the wall. Perfect – just the word she’d chosen and spoken, quietly, at the photographer’s, so many years ago. “I want her to look perfect,” she said to him, getting quieter and quieter, “no acne, no shininess, no stray hairs. Perfect.” He understood and produced a product of the pre-airbrush age, not plastic, but warm, almost chiffony, like the camera had been drinking a bit and found everything beautiful and interesting.

Anyone who talked to Delores for more than 15 minutes knew about the tragedy of her only child Sally’s death. Skin cancer. Age 36. Probably from excessive use of the heat lamp that damn dermatologist suggested. For a few years their lives had become divided by doctor appointments, mind-numbing medical monologues, prescription drugs meant to simulate a virtual reality. Death can only be delayed.

But Sally was so alive! So creative. In the way she dressed, spoke. She painted a picture of a teddy bear once, and it still hung on Delores’ wall. Everyone said it was quite good. For a teddy bear. And Sally wrote lyrics. But never the music. She was always asking Delores to do it. “I hear you making up tunes when you think nobody’s around, ma,” she would say, sitting on the counter like a daughter and smiling like a friend. While they washed dishes, they would sing the hits on the radio. Sally’s favorite was Cyndi Lauper. “When she finishes a song, there’s nothing left. She’s given you everything.”

Even now, 26 years later, Delores’ heart was held together by rice paper; any pull of emotion could rip it open. So upon realizing her grandson and daughter-in-law were pregnant, she wept. A little child! It was about time the ledger of loss allow a column for gain. Of course it could never be balanced, God could never be forgiven, but it was right for Him to repent.

Tomorrow was important. Therefore sleep was important. But Delores couldn’t stop thinking. She could take one of those pills, it had been awhile – how long had it been? They would help her relax, but not help her think. A child. Just think. What would they name it? If it was a girl…

By 8:03 AM Delores had long since stopped pretending to sleep, showered, and clipped her toenails. It was a good thing too, because Norma called to share that the toaster had burnt the bread, the washer kept getting lopsided and stopping mid-cycle and UPS’ signature machine wouldn’t work and therefore they couldn’t give the package to her. All of this was the worst kind of technological warfare, prejudice against the greatest generation, and much too much for a Monday morning…

After bravely and vacantly abiding this pitter prattle, Delores was rewarded by being asked how she was.

“Oh, I’m just wonderful,” Delores said, and waited.


“It’s just a wonderful day.”

“It’s hotter than blazes out there,” Norma protested. “My clothes dried on the line in under a half hour. The neighbor girl’s got all the windows open and she’s cleaning naked. And she’s got air conditioning! Ever since he left, she’s so desperate. She might as well post a sign on the lawn and put an ad in the paper.”

Delores waited.

“Delores?” Norma’s voice and interest peaqued at the same time. “Why are you wonderful?”

Delores pressed her lips with pleasure until they popped open with, “You can’t tell anyone.”

“Not a soul,” Norma said, smelling something cooking.

Delores lowered her voice, though there was no one in her house, and no one in Norma’s house, and no one who would have cared even if they were. “My grandson and daughter-in-law are going to have a baby,” she said.

The center of attention is a spotlight with a loose stand that swivels on a whim. Now it was warming Delores’ face and she felt – wonderful. Quite wonderful. For quite awhile. Too long. The pause was too long.

“Is Robert there?” Norma asked, at long last.


“I knew it. He just has to meet the old group at McDonald’s every afternoon for 4 hours,” Norma started the eyeroller coaster. “They don’t even eat. They just get coffee. What do they talk about? Everybody else. Thank God I never married,” she sighed. “Tell you what. I just made some muffins. I’ll bring you some.”

“Muffins?” Delores squinted, presumably to prevent her eyes from popping out. “Did you hear anything I said, Norma?”



“It’s Lorraine.”

“Have it your way.”

“Well, uh –” Lorraine stuttered, shuffling in the background. “Del, I’ll be over in a bit, alright? We’ll talk more then.”

“Don’t bother, Norma,” Delores muttered, “I don’t want to come between you and the muffins.” She hung up and dialed again. After 3 rings, Sam answered.

“Good morning, Delores.”

She hated when he called her anything but Grandma. “Good morning, dear.”

“Are you staying cool?”

“Thank goodness for the air conditioner. Believe me, it’s better than sliced bread, and I’m old enough to remember when we didn’t have either.”

“You’re not that old.”

“I’m not that young, either.”

Sammy was Delores’ favorite grandchild. And her only. But even if she had more, he’d still be her favorite. Sam was a writer. He’d been published just once, but it was in Poetry, and everybody knew that being published once in Poetry was better than being published 7 times in Reader’s Digest or Better Homes and Gardens or whatever garbage that was only good enough for the Dentist’s office.

“How is the writing today?” Delores gushed, twirling the phone cord girlishly. It was for moments like this that she had refused to buy a cell phone. It did not support mannerisms.

“Well, you know, I’m not really doing that,” Sam mumbled.

“Then what are you doing?” Dolores tried to make her concern sound like curiosity.

“Oh, some landscaping,” he sighed. “You know, planting shrubs, uprooting them, planting them in the same spot again.”

“Why can’t those people decide what they want the first time?” Delores had no stomach for fickleness and this reeked of fickleness.

“Don’t be too hard on them, Delores,” Sam could be heard smirking, “a lot of times they just forget.”

“Don’t argue with your grandmother,” Delores settled the matter.

He chuckled. A bit oddly, it seemed. “Well. How are you doing?”

Delores saw an opening. “Oh, I’m fine, dear,” she pivoted and threw. “I’m just worried about Sylvie.”

“Oh?” Sam fumbled.

“Sylvie, your wife,” she teased. As casually as possible, she reminded Sam of yesterday’s after church potluck: Sylvie’s announcement that the salad was tired from traveling across the country and muttering that it didn’t matter because she was bloated anyway.

“Bloated,” he laughed. “She says that when she drinks a glass of water. The way she manages her diet, you’d think she was a model.” It was Sam’s turn to pivot. “Which of course she could be if she wanted.”

“Of course she could,” Delores smiled, “now put her on the phone.”

In the background, a garbled mass appeared; the only words that found form were “hey”, “Delores” and “patient”.

“Hi, Delores,” Sylvie said.

Again with the Delores. Where was her grand title? Yes, Sylvie was only related by marriage, but she was still related, and now she had introduced Sam to this first name business; it was like meeting someone at a convention, or a cashier at a grocery store. Delores wouldn’t do it.

“Hello dear,” she responded, “Now, tell me, truthfully: how are you?” Delores blossomed into a malaise so baroque it would inspire dissatisfaction in a daisy.

Unfortunately, Sylvie understood this as an opportunity to complain about work – or rather, the people at work. As a web designer for a premier women’s retailer, she was always reporting to some trendy twit with too many ideas. The latest edition was a regrettable being named Space. His first, and as far as Delores could see, only, mistake was suggesting that Sylvie be more spontaneous. “I can be spontaneous,” she foamed, “just watch me combust.”

Delores realized this would require a more finessed finagling. “If only he knew how sick you feel,” she cooed, “men are so useless about these things.”

“I didn’t say he was a man; he may not even be human,” Sylvie sighed, needing a hit of oxygen for the next wave, but Delores intercepted.

“Of course not, dear, how can you be human until you’ve had another life inside you?” Delores blurted. It was like she had dropped a tray of dishes in a restaurant. Everything stopped.

The only suitable response was “What?” so Sylvie said it.

Delores laughed, “Well, what’s the point in pussyfooting?” not realizing until now just how weird that word was.

The silence had a temperature, and it was below freezing. There was some scuffling and Sam was on the line again.

“Delores, look, um. I told you this, a while ago; don’t you…?…well. We – ” he breathed in like it was something he hadn’t done in a long time. “We can’t – we can’t.”

Delores could hear his words, but she could not hold them; whenever she tried to squeeze tighter they slipped out.

“I’m sorry,” she said, from memory. Someone said something, someone said something else, someone hung up. Delores stared at the table for an amount of time. It seemed that she might need a new prescription for her glasses. Everything looked so blurry. Making the short pilgrimage to the shrine was more difficult than usual.

But it was worth it, always, for there she was again, in mementos, in paintings, in photographs; if you’re lost and you look then you will find me, time after time. Her dear daughter Cyndi. Her only daughter.

The doorbell rang. Delores’ heart punched her in the ribs. Cyndi? She peeked through the blinds. No, it was just an old woman holding on to a plate of muffins. Probably some nosy neighbor. Still, she seemed nice.

October 23rd, 2012

Dear Stephen,

I am writing to you because you see things. Things that are there, but I can’t see. You point them out and then I see them, like that picture of the pretty lady my art teacher put on the projector. “Look closely,” she said, and so I stuck my neck out and squinted hard until my eyebrows hurt and the teacher laughed. Then she pointed to a couple of lines, and I saw the pretty lady was also an ugly lady, at the same time. The teacher called it an optical illusion. I think most of the world is like that.

You don’t know who I am, but then I don’t think anybody really does. I’m not saying that to make you feel sorry for me. I have friends. But sometimes it feels like you know me better. Especially yesterday.

Yesterday I saw your movie, the one you wrote based on your book, which I read, but that was awhile ago. All day it rained hard, and soft, and stopped, over and over again, like someone was turning the volume up and down on a radio. I was wearing my oldest pair of jeans, the ones my mom bought for my first day of high school. Now there are holes in them. But the holes are 100% natural. They just happened. I got the biggest hole when it was raining, actually. We were having play practice outside and I ran and slipped and fell and my knee ripped through the jeans and it sounded sort of like tiny thunder. Everyone laughed and that made me feel good, even though it hurt.

Before the movie started some nice man got up and talked about other movies coming soon. One was The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and I remembered the time my friend who was in the shadowcast (I know you know what that means) invited me. She told me to dress up. So I saved from my job at the store and bought a dress. I went in the bathroom and locked the door and shaved my legs and arms and my mom kept knocking on the door and saying, “what are you doing in there?” I told her I was showering. Then there was whispering. Then my dad said, “Hey buddy? What you’re doing is totally normal, OK? But you need to speed it up.” So I finished as fast as I could, and there were little rivers of blood all over my legs and arms, so I dried off and wrapped the towel around my waist and put my dad’s bathrobe over it and walked really fast to my room. Then I went to my friend’s house and changed. When I was done, she said, “You look like Princess Di.” I didn’t know I was supposed to dress like one of the characters in the movie.

Anyway, your movie was really good. I felt like it was happening to me. I guess that’s what movies are supposed to do. But it was different than a lot of other movies I’ve seen. It made me want to go back and do things again. And it made me want to go on and do new things. Mostly it made me happy and sad and I’m still trying to figure out how that could be.

I guess this letter doesn’t flow, something my English teacher used to say a lot. It seems like I always start telling one story, and before I finish, start telling another. But the other is better, because I’m telling it now. Isn’t it? What do you think?

Love always,


My Brilliant Career

The sink had two compartments! To Roger Quat, this seemed extravagantly excessive – redundant – but then, he’d never washed dishes before. Soon he justified it, by filling one with dish liquid and hot water, the other, cold water. Wash and rinse and drying rack. There was Ford efficiency, maybe even Lean Thinking, to the method. What he forgot was his mother did it the same way.

This forgetfulness was not senility, for Roger was only 35. Neither was it the subconscious denial of influence so vital to the illusion of independence. It was that his mother never allowed him in the kitchen. His kid brother Norton, however, had always been allowed. But when you’re dying people will let you do a lot of things. When you’re a dying kid they’ll let you do anything.

Anyway, tonight his mother was at the cemetery board meeting, and in subservient rebellion, Roger had decided to do the dishes. Really, he could afford his own apartment, but not a “suitable” one, and his mother had “saved” him from “squalor” by insisting he stay with them. It had been an extended stay.

Both sink compartments were fulfilled in their roles, so he turned off the faucet, raised a scrubber and began:

“Some actors can stare into a camera as if challenging it to a duel,” he said. “Judy Davis is one of them.”

The forks smiled at this. Removing bits of spinach from their teeth, he continued.

“She has been called the patron saint of modern emotions by Michael Tolkin, and is regarded as one of the most exciting actresses in the world by Woody Allen. The woman played Judy Garland and Nancy Reagan. Who’s capable of that? And don’t say Meryl Streep, because she’s not. She’s not.

The knives remained pointedly silent. After pausing out of respect for their opinion, Roger resumed.

My Brilliant Career provided the actor with her breakthrough role, Sybylla, a girl who thinks she is a woman and a woman who everyone thinks is a girl. She wants to be somebody and she wants to belong to somebody. Davis embodies this state of becoming confusion with the vigor of youth and the wisdom of age, which is astonishing, considering she was 24 at the time of filming, and that she hated the character.”

On the drying rack, a bowl leaned in, and Roger lowered his voice.

“We all hate what we were. And we were all Sybylla, realizing that those who love us have a plan for us. But we are in love with a dream of something else. That is where we’re wrong; we think we dream, and others plan. But we’re all dreaming. Just different dreams. And none of them go according to plan.”

Roger submerged a compliant wooden spoon in the hot water, rubbing it with the scrubber, slowing as he felt an incision, and another.

A face had been carved into it.

It was one of his childhood toys. Before the reader fabricates some romantic folklore of rural poverty, it must be understood that the Quat family was not poor, but cheap. For example, for one of the brothers’ birthdays, their gift was one basketball, given on a day exactly halfway between their birthdays. What an insult to their imagination. Basketball had rules and logic, despicable offenses both.

But nothing excites creativity like spite. Morton was the one who stole the first wooden spoon and etched a face on it, but Roger was the one who told him to steal more. Soon nearly all wooden household items were disappearing without a face and reappearing with faces, with perplexing regularity.

As Morton carved, Roger narrated. The wooden spoons professed love, got married, had measuring spoon children. There was underlying Marxist resentment of the silver spoons, constant threat of takeover from the meat hammer. It was their daytime TV; Roger was sure that they would be in syndication forever. He could not forgive the unknowable corporate entity that cancelled everything.

Suddenly Roger was aware of the silence, of the blue tooth headset on his ear. “Hello?” he said. “Cindy? Are you there?” Pause.

“Are you done?” She asked, finally.

“Done with what?”

“Your talk show.”

“Oh. Sorry. Yes,” he shook his head as if to loosen something.

“What is that in the background? It sounds like you’re smothering a rattlesnake in bubble wrap,” she speculated imaginatively.

“I’m doing dishes.”

“This whole time?


“I thought you were reading that.”

“What? No. I was just talking.” He said.

“Listen to me.” Pause. Cindy was his only real friend, so Roger was listening. “You have got to write all of these reviews down and publish them on a website or a blog or something – ” She insisted, then interrupted herself, “No. You should do those commentaries. You know, the ones in the DVD extras menu you always want to turn on while we watch the movie and I won’t let you.”

Cindy preferred films within the genre Roger called “Romantic Communism,” where everyone was attractive and safely quirky. Often they starred Jennifer Aniston or Jennifer Lopez or Jennifer Garner or some Jenniferpetessake. Only the commentary could keep him awake.

Roger saw a lot of those kinds of films while managing the local independent movie theater. How long ago was that? Two years? Three. At that time, whatever the Hollywood dump truck unloaded, he took it. The bigger the flop, the easier to mock. It was like a testimony in church; the more terrible the sin, the more triumphant the salvation. Roger and Aaron were saved, temporarily.

Aaron. Three years ago, he had just graduated high school, that place of caricatures, where everyone concentrates on their one amazing attribute. Loud people thought he was quiet; smart people thought he was dumb. Actually, he was just trying to get through life without touching anything. He lived with an unrelatably older sister, Jackie, in a condo bought with their parent’s life insurance policy after the accident that killed both of them when Aaron was 16 and Jackie was 22.

Such a living situation, intentionally but incidentally revealed by Aaron during his job interview at the theater, established credibility and invoked sympathy within Roger, who hired him. Aaron was never rude to customers, never questioned authority, always worked holidays. So Roger invited him to the late night roasts of the new reweakses. This was a reward; this was motivation for the other employees; this is what Roger told himself, as he told Aaron, who smiled, bit his lip, nodded.

Roger would turn off the speakers and they would supply the soundtrack. Car chase scenes became an undercover pizza man in pursuit of a runaway customer; heist scenes became interior decorators breaking in to do a make over. Kissing scenes became a Halitosis specialist providing a consultation to a suffering patient. Usually this digressed into a lecture from Roger on the decline of cinema since the silents (“It’s no longer a visual medium”), which enraptured Aaron.

They sat in the middle of the theater at first, but every time they moved a few rows back. And a few more. Until they were in the last row. Obviously it was easy to hear one another, but still they would both lean towards one another, just a little bit, just to be sure. In Aaron’s heart, a drum majorette raised her baton and the beating began; on his arm the hair rose like houseplants towards the light of the movie screen.

This went on for a while, until one night Jackie came to pick up Aaron. A dazed and confused employee at the front told her where to go. In the theater, coated in light, surrounded by little dust angels, she found them. “What are you doing?” She asked. What are we doing? Roger thought. Talking in silly voices. Watching a movie without sound. Holding hands.

The next day Jackie came in the theater while Aaron stayed in the car. “Just let me get him through college, OK?” She said, every word heavier than the last. Through two windows Roger and Aaron’s eyes met.

“Hello?” Cindy intoned. “Roger?”

“Yeah.” He blinked.

“Well?” She prodded.

“I can’t do commentary.” Roger said. “I’ll talk to you later.” He hung up and placed the spoon in the drying rack, where the drops of water would drip until it was dry.

The Night Before

Only the threat of nakedness persuaded Vera to do laundry. Hugging a mound of clothes, she lifted, lowered them in the washer, closed the lid…and they floated around and around. For a moment she considered climbing in with them, but that seemed redundant, or parallelistic, since she already felt like she was swimming inside of herself. Her scientific hypothesis: it was the wine. Best to repeat the experiment to prove the hypothesis. She walked away from the washer and dryer – which had started rattling spare change like Lucy at her psychiatric booth – and into the kitchen, to fill her glass.

The freezer was still there. She opened it, just a little bit, and the carton of chocolate hazelnut ice cream saw her. She laughed once, at it, at herself, at herself for laughing at it. There was no longer a reason to crave it, no longer a reason to cave in to the craving. Gripping the carton, she held it over the trash until her hands were numb. She thought about it. She thought about not thinking about it. She thought, it takes more effort to think about not thinking about it than to just think about it. So she started thinking about it.

Well, not about it. But about the night before.

It began with her having a staring contest with her wardrobe. They both won – the closet didn’t blink and she found something to wear: a pair of tailored trousers, a collared blouse. It was sort of Marlene Dietrich. Maybe it was just lesbian. But pretty lesbian. Vera didn’t like ugly lesbians. She never admitted to herself that she didn’t like them, she just avoided them, like spilled tomato juice in a grocery aisle. Not that she knew lesbians by sight. Just the ugly ones. Anyway, the pants fit, and that was important.

A large painted sign on the theater read “Carneville.” Now this was not a new word; Shakespeare made new words. This was a hybrid word, a half and half word. Of course it was supposed to be a fusion of carnival and vaudeville, but Vera thought it sounded more like a very festive town of carnivores.

After reading that sign, the bar sign seemed earnestly simple. Vera smiled at her waving friends, Ron and Louise, and ordered a glass of white wine, a gin and tonic and a screwdriver. Carrying all three drinks over to them, she said, “you two fight over the cocktails; the wine is for me.” They were married, Ron and Louise, but that was incidental; she had known them both individually before that. Their tastes were different but complementary; their mutual interest in this show convinced her to accept their invitation.

Most of the show was rather tedious, the juggler accidentally catching the balls and purposely dropping them, the fat singer punching the stuffing out of every consonant, a strong man who could bend a license plate but couldn’t do a proper victory pose.

But Vera was not prepared for the masochist.

The title “masochist” irritated her. Yes, it presumed credibility, as though he had earned a degree and did his clinicals and now he was an -ist of some kind. An -ist with tattoos stitched all over his skin, and a vest stained with thread, and black grease clinging to his teeth. What was that for? She didn’t know. He rubbed his cheeks with a clear liquid and swished it in his mouth. What was that for? She didn’t know. Long needlenails were held high, one end sparkling with beads, the other gleaming with sharpness. What were those for? She knew.

The first one went in easy. Through one cheek, through another.

The second one was a little harder. Angled from one corner of the mouth to the other. Why was she watching? She couldn’t understand why she was watching. She stopped watching.

The third one was very hard. She could tell from the audience’s reaction. She couldn’t understand why she looked up, but she did.

On the underside of his chin, the needlenail was pushing to poke through, raising a steep teepee of skin.

She looked away again. It felt as though there were millions of miles between her and the floor, and she was afraid of heights. One of her hands attacked the other, squeezing and blanching and cracking.

She looked up again. It was through. People were clapping. The masochist, smile glinting with metal and grease, was leaving the stage. There was a woman waiting in the wings, holding out a baby to him. Taking it from her arms, he held it high, whooped, danced, the poltergeist of a primitive.

Something shifted and clicked in Vera’s mind. Legs lifted her body, fingers curled into fists, neck extended head forward. A mangled growl of words came out of her mouth:

“Put down the baby.”

Louise looked up at her. “Vera – ”

Put down the baby.” People, and the masochist, were staring now. Her voice was crumbling in pieces, and everyone was afraid one would fall on them.

Louise reached out a hand. “Please. Let’s go. I’m sorry.”

Put down the baby!

She dropped the ice cream carton in the trash. There was no longer a reason to crave it, no longer a reason to cave in to the cravingShe thought about losing the weight. It was pitiful to people who knew what happened. But the weight held her in place.

Why hadn’t the dryer buzzer gone off? She hadn’t set it. She hated being reminded. Sometimes when someone reminded her of something she had forgotten, or even worse, something she hadn’t forgotten yet, she would imagine herself as a criminal in an interrogation room, developing the most contemptuously decadent lie that irrefutably proved her superior intelligence. She was getting damn good at it.

The dryer buzzer went off. She hadn’t forgotten. Opening the dryer door extinguished the invisible fire – sent a little flood of light into the dark hall – and out came the clothes, scorched and limp and pure.


You, insecurity, you, ego, you, sexuality…you will not succeed. I have stories to tell, not syndromes to whine about. You will not succeed.

You may stand between me and my art and pick your nose and make candles out of your ear wax and blow spit bubbles – but I will not be embarrassed by your orifice exploration.

I will knock you over and my art and I will crash into one another “like a couple of taxis on Broadway,” a line which Thelma Ritter so simply delivers in Rear Window. You’re not even what you seem. You’re Satan wearing a sandwich sign, shaking your ass on the sidewalk, trying to get me to buy your bullshit. Not happening, hot stuff.

And I won’t be conned into becoming a critic instead of an artist. One requires observation, the other vulnerability. I know which one is worth it. Fuck off, flamer. It’s going to take more than a lack of money, lack of talent and lack of direction – start locating some more lack ofs.

Now I’m going to clean the apartment. If you think you’ve distracted me, devil’s cake, than you’re dumber than I thought. I just want to clean the apartment.