Another Chicago Magazine said yes to a flash nonfiction the very day that a different flash nonfiction published on Little Old Lady Comedy. What’s a gal to do but DOUBLE-STUFF.
A GOOD MAMA AND A DECENT HUMAN BEIGN
This 750-word l’il-bit was gestated on the old couch of our living room, at the side of the son that stars in it. “I didn’t say that,” etc., “What do you mean, pointy chin,” etc. My son’s co-stars are these noxious fuckers:
To this day, I cannot tell you which of the above is Biscuit and which is Spice. My son could. My son loves them—the inherent drama of A Good Mama and a Decent Human Being. I sent it out 18 times over two years. The fit was a hard one: “Good Mama” proved to be too commercial for literary magazines, yet did not suit commercial magazines, either. I kept looking. As soon as I read the title Little Old Lady Comedy, I knew: “Good Mama” would be accepted on the 19th try.
DISPATCH FROM A PANDEMIC: SEATTLE
Everything about Dispatch went quickly—with the exception of the week and a half in March I spent in the self-isolation that gave rise to the piece. I used the time to all but finished The Crappy First Draft of my new novel, Crazy Medicine.
Enamored as I was of the creative process, it didn’t set in that I might have COVID19 until my symptoms worsened. Then, all things sucked. Then, I wrote. I called it, “Before Now.”
I sent the piece around. Got a positive rejection from The Huffington Post. Then, an extremely good literary magazine gave me a solid, “Maybe,” and some suggestions for revision—which usually bodes well.
But I did get free and excellent editing! On May 11th, the trimmed and fit “Before Now” went on sub to five places, to be picked up by Another Chicago three weeks later. Sub #12.
They were greatly loved and ate greatly, the little Guineas we called “The Piggies.” The flash-but-true tale of their relationship with our family and their tragic demise is soon to publish in Little Old Lady Comedy.
Trotting downhill, toward the Star Ferry terminal, a pungent smell drew me to a nothing-special corner shrine made of concrete. It would never be listed in The Lonely Planet. It was hung with red lanterns and banners. Additionally, fifteen or twenty coils of incense the size of birdcages dangled from the ceiling. The bottom end of each was burning. The smoke could have choked an ox. I breathed in anyway, breathed in the burnt intimacy. I didn’t know much about intimacy. Sex, sure. Before leaving for Hong Kong, I undertook regular affirmations, “I am having a wonderful travel affair.” In the 80s, affirmations were to be chanted in the present tense, three times per affirmation, staring straight into the mirror.
Inside the temple, I watched everyday Chinese people shake bundles of incense in front of their foreheads and then place the slim grouping of sticks upright in sand-filled troughs before altars bedecked with red candles, idols, and strings of electric lights. Red. Made me wish I had their faith. Unsure of my welcome, I left for the sweaty street. Countless, crushing people demonstrated identifiable purpose, an after-office squash to catch a train or bus or ferry so like my routine this past year in Tokyo, no ferries, loving Japan but hating everything about teaching English except the salary that would afford me these next two months with nothing but my backpack and Asia. A friend planned to come with me. Then her boyfriend wanted her stateside.
On the sidewalk, the thronging Chinese bought plastic shoes, household goods, leafy green vegetables, whole fish. Some large animal’s organs. Cow? A goose minus its head, body split to display glistening innards. The long neck flopped.
“Gross,” I said to no one. It was one, big, lonely planet.
An escape from the street presented itself as a café painted a quiet green. Under the ceiling fans, older men in black pajamas sat in pairs at wooden tables, invariably in the same position: one leg tucked under the bottom, the other dangling not quite to the floor. Each pair concentrated on a game of Go, black and white boards, black and white stones. I took to a table, to be ignored for some time. Eventually, the waiter, unbidden, placed within reach a chilled schooner of tan-colored liquid. It tasted like sweet, milky rice. The men continued their game. The ceiling fans rotated.
A gush of rain drew me to the open window. The pavement was so hot that the water hissed, hitting it. Though I did not go on to have a wonderful affair, the affair I did have was the best I could do. When my two months ended, I returned to the orderly numbness of myself in Tokyo. For my next vacation, I visited my father in the States, He took an opportunity to explain why he always had to have a girlfriend outside his primary relationship. He said, “I need some place to flee.” More than fifty years old and still, the man could not handle intimacy. That was not going to be me.
I returned to Japan. Three months later, three more months of a life that appeared antithetical to a Western concept of progress, I spent a week feeling as if my brain was un-bending. Finally, I woke from a dream, a thousand fractured images of sexual abuse. I told my acupuncturist, “I don’t want it to be my father.”
He said, “Whatever it is, it’s already been.”
A different day—there were a lot of seemingly random days, during that time—I sat on the grass in my favorite park, Ki-chi-jo-ji, sat in the weak sun that was stealing looks through the cherry blossoms. Had it been a more organized day, would I have found this new affirmation: “All I need is amply provided for, and I am safe.”
It was my father.
I was safe.
People always want to know, how old were you? Did your mother know? From the time I woke from that dream, it would be seven years of dark nights and ultimate faith before incest became merely the data of my childhood, before the hiss of that downpour began to reveal the abundance of its possibility. I soared: a decent job that I actually liked; my first not-just-screwing relationship, one that lead to marriage. Two children, now teens. A house. Everything normal girls expected. When I stood at the window of the green-walled café, the rain bouncing off the street could only smell as fulsome as two months of freedom. I could have continued teaching English, spending two months of every year in a different Asian country, hoping for the best affair I was capable of. Could die alone. A third question people ask: how did you get through it? They mean the abuse. I hear: the years after surviving it.
There is an old story. A disciple goes to the Buddha, asking for the secret to happiness. The Buddha asks, “Did you eat today?”
Author: The Salty River Bleeds, The Timbre of Sand, Still Dandelions, A Ranch Bordering the Salty River. Alum: Palomar College, Columbia University, Bennington College. Follow on twitter @SmpageSteve on Instagram @smpagemoria on Facebook @steven.page.1481