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 All work on must be previously unpublished.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 October 11, 2017. ::
Courtney Campbell is a BANG! invited writer.
Courtney Campbell has an MFA in Fiction from George Mason University and a BS in Film Production from The University of Texas at Austin. She is currently finishing her first novel, Hunter Orange. She lives in the Chicago suburbs with her seven-year-old daughter who loves to tell people her mom makes up stories about people and writes them down.
BY COURTney CampBell
HUSBANDS MOWING LAWNS
I take pictures of husbands mowing the lawn with their shirts off. Sometimes they have beer bellies and they look happy and proud. Sometimes they are lean and tan. Mostly, their chests are hairless. I wonder when men became so hairless. And their shorts are so long, almost down to their knees. You can’t even see a man’s legs anymore.
If I can get a man with normal length shorts, and some hair on his chest and not too many muscles, it’s a win. Though I like the flash of naked arms and broad backs and bellies of all sizes, Mapplethorpe I am not. Though I like his work.
I’m the Dorothea Lange of shirtless husbands. But no, that’s not right either. No dust bowl angst here. These are well off husbands who have kids and golf. If a wife ever catches me, I’ll say I don’t want your husband. I had my own. He mowed the lawn too. Wearing a shirt.
He has a new wife. But it’s not what you think. She’s 48 to my 54, so not so much younger. She’s smarter than me in many ways, but not as clever. I like her, and I think sometimes about pulling her aside to tell her her husband is going to be a real bore in two years.
I kept the house because I bought it. Family money. My son and daughter are both in college, and when they come home everyone circles back around. You can always put your feet on the expensive sofas and use the good dishes here. It’s the favorite house of family and friends.
Now that I’m in my fifties and divorced, people love to tell me what to do. I nod politely. They mean well. I have taken to swearing though. I’m always smiling and swearing in my head. Fuck woman, I have a $90,000 car too, but at least I know how to drive it. Or, fuck, that shirtless husband looks nice. Swearing in my head feels good.
I never imagine the shirtless husbands are actually single because I delight in them going inside to someone else who will fold their boxer shorts and scramble their eggs. I delight in knowing it’s not me. And when I see lawn mowing husbands in flip flops, I think Jesus, you’re going to lose a toe. But that would be the wife’s problem.
I delete the pictures from my phone. I hold the shirtless husbands by my side for only a day or two and then I set them free. It’s a short season in this cold climate. There are no shirtless lawn mowing husbands in the winter. And that’s okay.
The other night I held a big dinner party, printed menus, Jamón Serrano charcuterie, a 1964 La Rioja Alta Gran Reserva 904. Everyone stayed late. Everyone was glowing. And at the right hour, I sent them back to their own homes. Fly away little birdies. Fly away.
BURT REYNOLDS, 1972
My six-year-old daughter Beth had eaten her hamburger, no onions, no mustard, no pickles, all around the edges, and it was just the size of a half dollar, a soggy half dollar when she moved on to her fries.
“Don’t you like them?” I asked.
“One by one, Mom,” Beth said, taking a small bite from each fry end like she was snapping peas.
The phone in the kitchen rang, and I heard Martha’s voice before I brought the receiver to my ear.
“Have you seen the new Cosmopolitan?” she asked.
“Not yet. We just got in from McDonald’s,” I said, as if I had a copy of the magazine waiting in the pile of unopened mail.
“McDonalds,” Beth murmured from the kitchen table.
We went there the same day and time every week. “Yes, dear,” I said to her.
“What?” Martha asked.
“Just talking to Bethy,” I said.
The cord on the wall phone hung to the floor, and it was twisted all the way up because John paced when he talked to his mother. My mother-in-law always seemed to call when we were in the kitchen, so it was the kitchen cord that took it.
“You’ve got to see it. Burt Reynolds is…”
“He’s what,” I said.
“He’s not wearing a stitch,” Martha screamed. I looked over to Beth to see if she had heard.
“Well, you know,” I said. “We’re having McDonald’s right now. Bethy wanted orange pop, but I gave her Ovaltine.”
“I want pop,” Beth said.
I thought about giving her some.
“Nothing, nothing at all,” Martha said. “Can you imagine?”
I went to the table, and the cord unwound itself behind me. Beth had nibbled the ends of her fries to the exact same length by then, and she was placing them so they radiated out from her bun; it looked like baby fingers around a soggy hamburger sun.
“I can’t really imagine,” I admitted. “But it must look pretty good.”
“Pretty good. I don’t know what John looks like when he comes to bed at night, but in this house a naked Burt Reynolds looks damn good.”
“He’d probably look pretty good here too,” I said.
“Well, what are you waiting for? Take Beth to the store and send her down the candy aisle for a minute.”
“We already ran our errands. We’re finishing lunch now,” I said half-heartedly. “It’d be worth it. John’s always gone. At least Burt would be home for you at night.”
Martha laughed. I loved her for the way she laughed at her own jokes. And I loved her more in that moment for not yet knowing it wasn’t a joke.
“Do me a favor,” I said.
Beth dipped one fry in ketchup and drew a red smiley face on her little gnawed up sun.
“Tuck it under the mattress. I’ll come over and take a look every now and then.”
Lana stood in front of a wall of mailboxes in the sterile hallway of a brown apartment building in the middle of a Chicago block. She pulled a postcard from her mailbox, snapped it shut, and the clank of metal danced down the black and white floor tile. When she reached the door, she heard the elevator open. It was Daniel, she knew, thinking he might catch her as she left for her Thursday classes.
She stuffed the card in her backpack and walked to the L train. When the streets rolled by, making the endless roofs of three-flats look like pastel beach towels, she pulled out the card. The bluest water, the thinnest palm tree. Mallorca in gold cursive letters. Love, Matthew written on the back.
She held the card up to the window. The palm fronds slipped by next to the beach towel buildings and turned them into flying carpets.
It was late when she returned home. She smelled her mom’s patchouli even before she tripped over her guitar.
She switched on the light. Her mom curled like a cozy child beneath the afghan blanket. “You didn’t tell me you were coming tonight.”
“Last minute show. Joe and I made the drive from Madison in less than two hours.”
“Your BMW made it?”
“Don’t sass your mother. My VW sure as heck did make it.”
“Joe here too?” Lana asked, looking around. Sometimes her mom’s bandmate did stay over after a show, more often he went home with someone.
“Just me and you.”
Lana tacked the card up with the others.
“How long you gonna put up with all this—I’m here now, I’ll write when I’m there business?”
“Don’t know, Mom,” Lana said.
“We didn’t wait around for men in my day.”
Lana thought about saying that might be why she didn’t have one. “We’ll see,” she said.
Her mom looked at the bulletin board. “I can see right now that it’s been about three months already.”
“Ninety-eight days,” Lana said.
“Who would’ve thought a daughter of mine would wait around for some preppy kid from the suburbs.”
Lana kissed her mom on the cheek. “Who would’ve thought.”
She turned out the light and went into her bedroom. She pulled off her clothes and got into bed. Half an hour later, Daniel was on the fire escape. He slid the window up and crawled through.
“You smell like weed,” she said, watching him undress.
“When are you going to let me use the front door?” he asked, slipping into bed beside her.
“When I get tired of waiting.”
“Waiting for what? We’ve been fucking for two months.”
“Quiet. My mom’s in the other room sleeping.”
“From what you’ve told me, your mom would love me.”
She climbed on top of him. His torso impossibly warm between her legs. She put her lips to his chest and rested there, breathing in his sweet smell of weed and soap, and wondered where the next postcard would come from.
Fiction © Courtney Campbell, 2017. All rights reserved by the author.
Previous authors with appearances on BANG! are: Patricia Smith, Jose Padua, Pete Follansbee, Jillian Brenner, Susanna Baird, Alexandra Oliver, Kerri Quinn, Mike Heppner, Marc Mewshaw, Lola Rainey, Timothy Dyke, Marcia Popp, Quenton Baker, Joshua Graber, Charles Wyatt, Julio Duggan, V. Hansmann, Margo Orlando Littell 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.