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"Word Skills," short story excerpt

Sunday 8/14/22

"You can't say that to people," she said.

"You can say anything to people," he countered.


"I actually say it out loud," one friend claimed. "I mean, to myself."

"That's funny."

"I see a hot girl, with the leggings, the amazing ass, and I say, 'muy tastito.'"

"Shouldn't it be 'muy tastita?'"

"Sounds better the other way."


Seven o'clock Saturday morning on a city street with a park on one side. Or less a park and more of a strip of green. The strip is a refuge from pavement. Behind a hedge a man stretches and does push-ups as part of his workout routine. He can't see the woman who is screaming, "What the fuck is wrong with you, America? What is wrong with all of you? Motherfuckers. Seriously, what the fuck is wrong with you? Leave me the motherfuck alone!" There is no one out. The man wants to get up and see this woman so that he can dislike her more. He requires the visual. That is his only motivation to see her. He realizes this, and stays down and stretches some more.


The term widow is instant. It's like the term married. The term divorced doesn't seem so instant because it is a process, an unraveling of bandages. Being married is a process as well—getting to married—but the feeling is entirely different. Immediacy is present. Discernible and marked in time with that punctuating kiss. "Widow" happens in a second—actually, less—and is applied almost immediately thereafter. Within that same morning. The widow leaves her young daughters behind because she can't be around them, needs to get away. Race—drive—from their home. She shuts off her phone. Friends, family do not know where she is. A man says to his wife, in anger, but also concern, "You need to have a hard talk with your sister. Get up in her face. Her life is going to be shit for however long, but those kids are her responsibility. Whatever you have to say. Tell her it's time to do more than lay back and be holes." He regrets the vulgarity, in part because his own wife is not much stronger and he has looked at her as a functioning object up until this point, another child, after a fashion, on his hands. "It has to come from you," he says in a voice that conveys the essence of the words "please" and “sorry” without using the words.


Two whalers. One carves scrimshaw, the other admirers it and thinks his friend is a peerless artist who has another calling as someone whose work can be displayed in museums. The carver depicts the both of them in a boat alone at sea, with a lightning bolt coming out of the sky to hit the craft. "Don't do any more like that," the admirer says. "Don't give the universe ideas." Neither is struck by lightning, but later the son of the man who admired the scrimshaw is, back on land. He doesn't die, but his brain is damaged and his speech slows. People who don't know him describe him as a halfwit or "that slow boy." The admirer keeps the scrimshaw carved by his old friend—who he sees no more after the voyage—in a chest, wrapped in cloth. It stays there, not to be taken out again, because he knows overlap is not what it seems but also that whoever said a picture is worth a thousand words was an idiot.


"I want to lick you dry," he said.

"What?" she replied.

"Think about it," he prophesied.


In an early game of Pong in a basement, a boy and a girl who are friends and have been since they were babies and their parents decided they should be, agree to take off a piece of clothing each time they lose a game. They play until both are naked, sitting composed on the floor and trying not to look at the other but also finding a way to see all. They each play a game that way, while in that state. They're not sure why they've done it. It was raining outside. Normally they weren't left alone. An age must have been reached. They get dressed and go upstairs to the kitchen to get something to eat. They're solicitous of each other. He pours her a glass of orange juice. They usually play indoors at her house but outdoors at his. They talk a lot more than they used to and that is the playing, which isn't really playing, but that's how they refer to their time together and what they will be doing or where they tell their parents they will be. She makes them both grilled cheese sandwiches because she's learned how to do that in a pan on the stove. Before she made them in the toaster, which is not a true grilled cheese sandwich though technically that's what she had to call it.


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