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 All work on must be previously unpublished.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. $22 submission fee. :: Our next installment will be posted on September 23, 2019. ::
Pam Munter is a BANG! Invited Writer.
Pam Munter has authored several books, including When Teens Were Keen: Freddie Stewart and The Teen Agers of Monogram and Almost Famous. She’s a retired clinical psychologist, former performer and film historian. Recently, her essays, book reviews and short stories have appeared in more than 130 publications. She is the nonfiction book reviewer for Fourth and Sycamore. Her play, “Life Without” was nominated for Outstanding Original Writing by the Desert Theatre League and she has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize.
Pam has an MFA in Creative Writing and Writing for the Performing Arts, her sixth college degree. Her memoir, As Alone As I Want To Be, was published in 2018 by Adelaide Books. Her work can be found at www.pammunter.com.
DETACHMENTS: flash FICTION BY PAM MUNTER
The Fictional Father
I can’t remember how old I was when my mother told me my father was a rounder.
“What’s that?” I thought it had to do with baseball, a home-run hitter.
She looked off into the distance and lowered her voice. “He’s had affairs.”
I was old enough to know it was wrong.
My mind drifted back to the night Mom and I came home from the movies too early. Their bedroom door was closed. A few minutes later, Dad emerged in his boxers, his accordion strapped on his chest. I thought it odd; now, I realize he had been with someone who had escaped through the window.
We weren’t close. I wondered if my mother wanted it that way. She had always drawn me to her side, criticizing him in “joking” terms. This went over his head since the only humor he appreciated was a burgeoning repertoire of tasteless jokes. For a long time, I thought I might be adopted. I was nothing like either of them.
What do I do with this news, that my sanctimonious father wasn’t who he presented himself to be? Maybe my mother wasn’t, either. I knew she talked about me behind my back, spilling my secrets to the neighbors.
One afternoon during my teen years, my mother careened through my closed bedroom door.
“He’s leaving. You have to follow him.”
“I need to know where she lives.”
“You can study later. Hurry.”
I don’t know why I obeyed her frantic command. It felt like a dangerous lark. What if he saw me? Worse, what if I found out who she was? Maybe it was someone I knew. Someone my mother knew.
As I turned on to the busy street, I could see his car in the distance. All of a sudden, it occurred to me that I was not exactly incognito. My car was a bright yellow VW bug, one he helped me purchase just a few months earlier. I laughed at the ridiculousness of the scene, returned home and told my mother I had lost the scent.
Years passed. I moved away and into an apartment with the man I would eventually marry. I answered the phone around dinner time to hear my aunt announce my father had died.
“You need to come home.”
The hour-long drive gave me time to process the news and take stock of our minimal and unsatisfying relationship. I didn’t mourn; for me, it was simply the death of possibility.
My mother opened the door and hugged me.
“He was with Stephanie. In Topanga Canyon.”
“In the middle of the day?” As soon as the question left my lips, I knew what she was telling me. My father had been with my mother’s closest friend.
That evening, after the company had left, I stayed behind. Then, without any trace of emotion, she asked, “Do you think I’ll marry again?”
The closet is my sanctuary. It’s small and old-fashioned, the kind that automatically locks unless I close it carefully.
When I was eight and heard my drunken stepfather’s heavy footsteps on the stairs in the dark, I bolted from the warmth of the covers before the door creaked open and crept into my safe place. I could hear him swearing when he couldn’t find me in my bed. I knew it might be several minutes before he would give up and move on to my older sister’s room. I was safe, at least for that night, nestled amid the shoes and dirty clothes on the floor.
By the time I was a teenager, I had learned to create my own closet. I could shut out people, bad thoughts, anything that caused me pain. Internal shelter was handy and convenient, requiring no physical escape. Still, there were times, especially during college, that I sat inside the dark closet in my dorm room. I could hear things going on out there but I didn’t care. I was safe.
In my junior year, Kyle told me he loved somebody else. He wept as he told me, afraid I’d be devastated. I’m sure he was puzzled when I didn’t cry. Not a tear. I said I was sorry he felt that way and went to my room, where I knew the closet would welcome me, and insulate me against further insult and pain. I wrapped myself in my roommate’s sweatshirt and fell asleep.
These days, my retreats are mostly internal, a learned bulwark against predictable daily incursions. The overbearing woman who runs my shift at the chicken parts plant yells at us every single day. We do our best. Honest, we do. I see the pain on friends’ faces and I try to comfort them. I want to share my closet with them but I can’t. My own distress, though, is easily digested by those efficient little cannibals in my head. I imagine the soft, hermetic calm inside my brain, and inhale the clean, mothball aroma I remember from my childhood bedroom closet. It’s quiet in there. I breathe in and feel relief without ever having to leave the assembly line.
Today, the trouble cascaded over me like an existential tsunami. Seven of us were fired after the coffee break and when I got home, there was a notice on my apartment door that the building was being sold, converted to condos. I have 30 days to find someplace else to live. With every ounce of will, I seek to elevate myself to the familiar sanctuary in my head. But it’s too much for them. When the entrance to my internal refuge seems blocked, I head to my bedroom where the closet awaits me. I bring some towels from the bathroom and throw them on the floor. There will be no leaving this time. I slam the door shut and, from somewhere, I hear it lock with a click.
The Bitter End
Thank you all for coming today. Russ would have appreciated it. I know you wish he were here to savor your lovely words. He would have basked in them.
We were married a long time. Two decades, in fact. Now we’re together, Russ, our last encounter. After we’re done here, they’ll haul you off to the crematorium. So, this is farewell, my friend. No one knew you and protected you like I did. This is my last chance to say my peace. I hope that’s what it will bring me.
I’m not embarrassed to tell these people we met online. When friends asked, you’d tell a funny story about meeting in a mosh pit at a rock concert. I didn’t know yet that lies lived at the core of your character. That first night, you said you were a senior agent with William Morris. It was months before I discovered you were only an assistant. I suppose I should have walked away but I forgave you. I understood why you needed to impress me. You felt you had to compete, even though I downplayed my partnership in a downtown law firm. When you demanded I quit and stay at home to raise babies, I did say, “No.” I wasn’t ready. Even after the night you hit me, I kept trying to please you. You were always at work—or the casino. At least, that’s what you said. I told you then: it wasn’t the cheating. It was the lying. We never did have those babies. Sex was…well, this probably isn’t an appropriate place to discuss that. At least, you were home, if drunk and impotent.
When you suddenly announced we were declaring bankruptcy, you said it was all my fault. The next day, I came home from work early to find you in our bed with Jeremy, our accountant. I was stupid, though, and I stayed.
Oh, there were good times—now and again. You were a talented chef. Loved your hollandaise. You kept the cars serviced, picked up the cleaning when I asked. We had many exuberant days when we were out on the boat. Then, when I found the cocaine stashed in the cabin, I understood. I should have left then. I didn’t.
And so here we are, Russ. You’re lying in that box, silent at last. The lies have stopped. The chaos is over. I love the irony that you dropped dead in First Class on your mysterious flight to Rio. It was always about you, wasn’t it?
Don’t worry about me. I’ll be soothed by that huge life insurance policy I quietly took out on you six months ago. The new house overlooking the bay will resuscitate my sagging spirits. And your boss has been more than kind in my hour of need.
So, dear Russ, I bid you farewell. And I want you to know, darling, after everything, I forgive you. Really, I do.
Thank you all so much for coming.
Fiction © Pam Munter, 2019. All rights reserved by the author.
Previous authors with appearances on BANG! are: Patricia Smith, Jose Padua, Stephanie Cotsirilos, Pete Follansbee, Jillian Brenner, Susanna Baird, Alexandra Oliver, Kerri Quinn, Mike Heppner, Marc Mewshaw, Lola Rainey, Timothy Dyke, Marcia Popp, Colleen Rose Sullivan, Quenton Baker, Dan Ritter, Anne Riesenberg, Courtney Campbell, Joshua Graber, Charles Wyatt, Ingrid Norton, Julio Duggan, V. Hansmann, Margo Orlando Littell, Scarlett S. Diaz, Erica Vega, Ronald Okuaki Lieber, Elena Tomorowitz. 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.