BANG! authors are showcased individually here online for a month. Each author installment is made up of three pieces in any combination: poetry shorts (20 lines) or fiction or nonfiction (500 words each) for a month. All work on must be previously unpublished. Submission period runs all year round. BANG! pieces are not published in The New Guard. Work should be very short: flash-short. Pieces on BANG! are meant to serve as a kind of calling card for the author. :: Our next installment will be posted on March 5th, 2017. ::
Our February BANG! author is Kerri Quinn. Kerri is a BANG! invited writer.
Kerri Quinn's Ph.D. is in Creative Writing (Fiction) from the University of Southern Mississippi.
Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Santa Monica Review, descant, New World Writing, The Apple Valley Review, and Cutthroat, a Journal of the Arts. She lives, writes, and drinks too much coffee in New York City.
Three short stories
BY KERRI QUINN
Inside the grocery store, there’s a traffic jam of chatty old women in housecoats, their hair spun around curlers the size of soda cans, tattered grocery lists in hand. Susan, my ex, stands in front of a display of lemons stacked in the shape of a pyramid. Brown hair tangled and loose around her shoulders, long legs under that thin skirt of hers, she brushes a strand of hair behind her ear. The piece falls back, framing her face. It’s been six months since we split, and I’m having a hard time keeping my mind off her.
Her daughters Margaret and Jane head down the canned meat, paper plate and bread aisle, the back of their legs pink and peeling from the sun. I miss their aimless chatter about who can eat the most pasta in one sitting, that rainbow sprinkles are better than chocolate, and how Jane, the eight-year-old, snores like an old man.
“You’re cooking?” I say as I walk up to Susan who is notorious for burning things: Scrambled eggs. Leftover pizza. Jell-O.
“Margaret wants dessert. Something lemony.” She crosses one leg in front of the other, the hem of her skirt caught between her thighs.
“So where’ve you been?” I step closer to her, tug at that piece of hair around her face. Behind us, there is a soft clap of thunder, and it begins to mist on rows of waxed apples, an array of nectarines.
“Three lemons.” Susan holds my gaze, her blue eyes flecked with yellow. I grab the lemons, hold them above my head. She shakes her head at me and pushes the cart toward the frozen food aisle.
“How’s Frank and Beans?” I ask. Susan started dating Frank, the stock broker, the stable guy as she referred to him, right after we had broken up.
“You mean Frank.”
“Tomato, tomato.” I take the cart from her, maneuver it around a yellow mop bucket, my eyes tear from the smell of bleach. “I’m fine,” I say.
A fatigued voice over the intercom announces a sale on cucumbers, three for a dollar. I step behind Susan, put my hand on her hip.
“Tell me again why you’re not with me.”
“Frank reminds me to feed the fish.”
“They died, remember?” I take her hand, look down. Right above her ankle is one of those fake tattoos, a cup-shaped rose. Pretty. Delicate.
“He bought the girls two more.”
“Tough competition.” I squeeze her hand, let go.
I head to the exit, past a row of cash registers, past a skinny bag boy with thick red eyebrows and a large mole below his right eye. I look over my shoulder. Susan is talking to Margaret, while Jane plays with the hem of her mother’s skirt. And that thread that connects me to her, to them, pulls at my skin, my bones. I push open the door. On the street, the sidewalk is thick with slow-moving bodies. The July heat hits me like a sheet of rain.
Jane and I arrived at the park and headed for the duck pond with its rambling oak trees. She pulled a spoon from her pocket, the one she carried with her everywhere because she loved to dig in the dirt and I lay in the sun, arms spread out, eyes closed, and wondered if the grass in the country felt different from the grass at the city park.
“Girl,” a voice above me said. At first I thought it was God talking to me and I froze. But I figured if he was talking directly to me he would at least address me by my first name.
I opened my eyes. It was Rubén, my mother Susan’s ex-boyfriend. The man we were both in love with. I sat up, curled my legs to my chest. His shirt was half-buttoned and from what I could see, he had no hair on his chest.
His friend stood behind him, tossed his cigarette into the grass. “She’s too young,” he said.
“Litterbug,” Jane said without looking up from her pile of dirt.
Boys on matching bicycles looped past us. At the basketball court, two guys started pushing and shoving each other. I took my ponytail, pulled it around to my mouth.
“Stop chewing on your hair,” Jane said to me.
“Shut up,” I said to her.
“She’s right.” Ruben sat down, stretched his legs out next to mine. “Where is your mother?”
“Who cares?” I said.
“Man. She is jailbait,” the friend said. He lit another cigarette, turned around, and walked away towards the sun.
Rubén pulled at the grass, then dropped the blades, one by one on top of my thighs.
“Do you know you look like her?” He pulled his hand through the back of my hair. I tilted my chin up and closed my eyes.
“Girl,” he whispered, kissed my cheek, and followed his friend to the street.
“I look like my father.” I lay back carefully because I didn’t want to knock the blades off my thighs.
“Breakfast.” Jane’s warm breath was on my face.
“You didn’t brush your teeth.” I covered my nose with my hand.
“Now,” she said.
“All right.” I took the blades of the grass and put them into my pocket.
We walked home slowly and stopped at bakery. We could always count on Mrs. Orlando, the owner to give us free shortbread cookies. Jane sat down at the table near the counter to eat hers and I walked outside.
I pressed my fingers against the cool glass pretending to look at the rows of black-and-white checkerboard cookies, and stared at my reflection. It showed a girl: freckled nose, ponytail undone, one sock loose around the ankle. I hoped I wouldn’t always be so young.
I unlocked the apartment door, my daughters Margaret and Jane behind me. The air was humid and smelled like socks. For a moment, I missed my ex-husband and our agreement: He did the laundry and I washed the dishes. The only two things we agreed upon.
“What’s for dinner?” Margaret asked.
“Soup.” I walked to the bathroom. Margaret followed me. The tub faucet squeaked as I turned it on.
“Again?” she asked.
“No words,” I said.
She shut the door. I got in the tub as it filled. Steam covered the mirror that was smeared with toothpaste and lip prints from the girls when they played with my old tubes of lipstick. Jane came in, sat on the edge of the tub, and trailed her hand across the top of the water.
“Too hot,” she said.
“No words,” I said.
She sighed. The door opened, closed. The phone rang.
Margaret yelled, “It’s for you.”
“I’m in the tub,” I whispered to the white-tiled wall.
She opened the bathroom door, her hand covering her eyes, the phone cord long and strained behind her. “It’s Frank,” she said. “Blah.”
“In the tub,” I said.
Margaret shook her head, disappeared into the dark hallway. She told him I ran away from home.
“Please,” I whispered to the white-tiled wall.
Jane appeared in the doorway.
“I’m here,” she said, then lay down in the middle of the bathroom rug, extended her arms like she was flying. I closed my eyes.
“Is it time?” She pressed her face into mine, her breath smelled like tuna and pickles. I opened my eyes and she waved her fingers at me.
“I could paint your nails tonight.” She looked more like her father than me, short and strong, not like Margaret who was tall and sinewy. Stretching my leg, I rubbed the bottom of my foot up and down the wall.
“Blue,” she said.
“Blue?” I asked.
“It’s my favorite color.”
I didn’t remember that. Sometimes I looked at my children and wondered why they didn’t divorce me, too.
“Can I get in?” Before I could say no, she took off her clothes, climbed in and faced me, her feet on top of mine.
“Disgusting,” Margaret said from the doorway.
“We’re just girls,” Jane said.
Margaret picked up a tube of red lipstick from the counter, and carefully applied it to her lips. “What kind of soup?” Margaret sat on the edge of the tub. She looked twenty instead of twelve.
“Campbell’s,” I said.
“Frank takes us to the beach,” Jane said.
“I miss Rubén,” she said.
“Me too,” I think and reach for Margaret’s hand.
She held my gaze for a moment, then bent down, rubbed the tip of her nose with mine, and told Jane to get out. She wrapped her in a towel, Jane’s hair heavy with water. Jane leaned down and brushed her nose against mine.
“We’re Eskimos,” she said before closing the door.
Flash Fiction © Kerri Quinn, 2017. All rights reserved by the author.
Previous authors with appearances on BANG! are: Patricia Smith, Jose Padua, Pete Follansbee, Jillian Brenner, Alexandra Oliver, Shubha Venugopal, Mike Heppner, Marc Mewshaw, Timothy Dyke, Marcia Popp, Quenton Baker, Joshua Graber, Charles Wyatt, Julio Duggan, Scarlett S. Diaz, Erica Vega, Amy M. Alvarez, Jonathan Segol, Lissa Kiernan, Roger Bonair-Agard, James Kimbrell, Bridget Boland, E.G. Cunningham, Melissa Goode, Mark Wagstaff, Carla Stern, Sarah Glass, Jennifer Amell, Zakia R. Khwaja, Julie Poitras Santos, Lyall Harris and Amy Nash.