From Vol. VI #1
People are Naturally Attracted to You
By Tanya Perkins
The grandfather died and the children were called home, children who were not children anymore but adults with stomachs and mortgages. They had no parents, never did. The grandfather had overseen childhood: parkas, homework, Easter eggs, summer camps, college trips. After supper, he’d sit at the big, cracked dining room table and deal gin rummy and then, after the children lost a half-dozen games or so, he’d tell their fortunes. Usually it was something corny like a smile is your passport into the hearts of others, or your high-minded principles spell success. Other times, he’d be more specific.
“Joker,” he’d say to Roger. “You’ll be lackadaisical and an alley cat will eat your liver.” Lily got the Jack of hearts, which meant she’d discover a great fortune before she was thirty. To Alice, he’d slide the Queen of diamonds across the table and say, “You’ll marry well but you’ll never know it till it’s too late.” Like it was a done deal.
“What does that mean?” She demanded, flicking the card back at him. Even at twelve, she knew it was hooey. The deck of cards, use-softened, had sat on the sideboard every day of her life and when Lily called to tell her he was gone, the first thing Alice thought was how much she wanted them.
“No funeral,” said Lily. “That’s what he said.”
“God,” said Alice. “A memorial, at least?”
“With a Mexican buffet. Roger says he’ll pay.”
The grandfather had been in avocados. He didn’t grow them—he orchestrated their movement into mainstream. Because of him guacamole became a ready-made product in the refrigerated aisle of every supermarket.
“I was there, you know,” Lily said. “When he went. Kelly and me.”
Kelly was Lily’s what—Girlfriend? Partner? Spouse, Lily had said. Rhymes with souse, as in drunk with joy. Also mouse, Alice had thought. Mouse-louse-grouse. People are naturally attracted to you—another of the grandfather’s corny fortunes, always directed at Lily, the people-pleaser.
“I’ll talk to Spoon’s Funeral Home,” said Alice. “You remember Mr. Spoon, the one with the bolo ties.” But Lily was saying, trust me. This is what he wanted. Like she knew everything and Alice knew nothing. Talking to her gave Alice a hard little wad in her belly. She’d been dispatch manager at Spinlux Transport for the last decade. Sixty hour weeks, total negation of social life or after-school time with her daughter, Rachel. Then pfft, nothing. Three months of severance pay, two months ago. She’d given her life to that bloody place, and for what? Fool me once, the grandfather used to say, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Well, she won’t be fooled again.
“Just come,” said Lily. “Don’t worry. Just be here.”
Alice hung up. There was a text from Derek, Spinlux’s hipster HR guy. She needed to come in tomorrow and sign a form. And then they’d hit the road, she and Rachel.
Everyone met at O’Charlie’s in downtown Indianapolis. Lily arranged it—just us kids, she said in her text, and spouses. Lily and Kelly were already there, seated at one end of a heavy wooden slab. It was dim and clattery, with an abundance of bare surfaces from which noises reverberated, entangled, and echoed again. Alice had never met Kelly but was not surprised to see that she looked exactly like Lily’s infrequent Instagram posts—short, busty, windswept. No make-up, but earrings that jumped like mice when she moved her head. She stood to hug Alice, who wasn’t much of a hugger, but knew how death in the family brought out the slop in everyone.
“Look at you!” said Lily to Rachel. “You’re huge!” Rachel was eighteen, had come late to blossoming—height, bulk, long, frizzy black hair, even her little pouchy breasts. Clothes didn’t lie right, hair an uncontrollable razzmatazz, zits red as her cupid-bowed lips. She shimmered with resentment at her mother, slammed doors, slammed her body against her too-thin mattress, hated the sweet, sleazy boys of Grade 12, the narrow, dark duplex of her childhood, the long tunnel of adolescence from which it seemed she would never emerge. Alice handled her with great care, because Rachel was a grass fire and the wind was picking up.
“God, Lily,” said Rachel. “You think I’m fat? I’m big-boned or something. I can’t help it, just like those girls with anorexia.”
“Aunt Lily was not saying you were fat,” said Alice. “You’re not fat! Your BMI is just where it should be.”
“You’re a D cup, aren’t you?” said Lily. “Sexy! I’m jealous, really.” She herself wore a yellow sweatshirt that bulked out from her hollow frame, her matchstick arms. To compensate, she always wore huge, junk-silver and turquoise rings on every finger.
“You should be,” said Kelly. “Now how about some party hats?”
Lily leaned close to Rachel. “When your mother was your age, she’d stuff her bra with toilet paper.”
“Lily, that’s a load of crap and you know it,” said Alice.
“Oh, so you were listening,” said Lily.
“I’ve got things on my mind.” Alice nabbed the server as he went by and asked for another vodka rocks. Things on her mind, she’d told her sister. Indeed.
Like the $25,000 she’d stolen from Spinlux earlier that day. Not that she’d had time to count. Embezzlement, a word with raw edges. Larcenist rhymed with arsonist, which was a firestarter and more fitting, since her act put spark to the dead wood her life had come to resemble.
And it had happened so quickly. Organically even, because Spinlux needed her to sign a form and she found herself in the human resources guy’s office—Derek, that was the guy—studying his poster of Che Guevara while he got her a coffee from the break room. It was under the flattened gaze of the Marxist revolutionary that she remembered how Derek kept cash cards for the long haul drivers’ fuel and meal expenses, tidy, plastic rectangles of $500 each. In fact, given the calendar, there should be between forty and fifty of the little suckers in his unlocked middle drawer. She could do the math: $25,000 give or take. Take, take.
She heard Derek get waylaid in conversation down the hall, and the silence that followed signaled that she was alone, just her and the obscene injustice of her unemployed state, like a blob of mucus hawked by the Spinlux god. She’d stood, thinking she’d peek into the hall, but instead walked over and opened his middle drawer. She hefted the stack of cash cards, and a thought started to coalesce, a brilliant idea ignited by desire, fear, and the glossiness of the cards, their wholeness, as if they were complete entities and she was not.
Which is when she decided to take them and run. Through the office door, down the hall to the back exit, legs shaky, knees like stiff gelatin. And then she was in her car, backing out, whizzing back to the duplex to grab Rachel, not letting herself think. It was only when she was fleeing south on I-69 toward Indianapolis that Alice realized how her future no longer felt a dead stick but a weighted arrow, valuable and sharp-edged.
“There they are! My sisters!” Roger appeared at the end of the table. A huge man, six eight, three hundred pounds, bigger even than the grandfather had been. He’d grown a dark beard since they’d seen him last, and shaved his head. There had been a vulnerability about him right from beginning, a kind of flimsiness that his size only sometimes hid. His wife wandered behind, carrying Michael, their four-year-old, on one hip. They’d been married six years, but the wife remained oddly nameless in Alice’s mind. She’d be hard pressed to identify her in a line-up.
Even now, standing to hug her, Alice couldn’t think of her name. Jan? Jane? Janie.
Roger flung his arms wide, staring at Rachel, who rolled her eyes. “Is that my sweet little Rachel? Come give your old uncle a little sugar.” He turned to Alice. “She was just a little kid the last time I saw her. God almighty, she’s gorgeous.”
“Yes!” said Lily, jumping up. “That’s exactly what I meant, honey, when I said you were huge. That’s exactly what I meant.”
“So you got a boyfriend?” Roger lowered himself heavily into the booth.
“You asking her or me?” Alice sipped the ice-cold vodka. It was faintly metallic, like holding a smooth stone in her mouth. Her brother’s shirt front was like the side of a mountain. She realized Roger was slightly drunk.
“Were you there?” asked Alice, changing the subject. “Did you see him go?” The grandfather had been sick for a long while and yet the moment of death had been a strike in the night, like ninjas breaking in and stealing something very large and unmovable. Thievery. The cash cards were still in her purse. She will use one to pay for dinner for everyone, and her sister and brother will love her, their spouses will laud her in the car ride home. Now that she had put distance between herself and Fort Wayne, the criminal aspect of her actions had dissolved like an effervescent tablet in water.
“Of course not,” said Roger. “How could I be? I live in Las Vegas, if you’ll recall.”
“I just thought—maybe Lily had let you know he was declining.” She will let the Allen Country Credit Union take the duplex, pay her neighbor to box up her things. She and Rachel will move to Atlanta, or one of its suburbs, new, sprawling, where she can still afford to rent a townhouse, find a secretarial job, maybe go back to school. Everything bright and square.
“He’d been declining for six months,” said Roger. “What, you think I got time to sit around as he deteriorated? That sounded bad. Like I don’t care.”
“You care. We all care.”
Roger brought his face close to Alice’s. “I’m not sure I do,” he whispered. “Old bastard got what he deserved in the end. No, not even.” He drained his beer, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. When the server came by, he asked for another.
“I shouldn’t say that,” he continued in his normal voice. “But I want that pack of cards. Stray cats will eat my liver! Do you remember him saying that? Scared the bejesus out of me. I can’t stand to have one around me, any cat, not even now. Isn’t that right, Janice?”
His wife was helping Michael draw on a pad of paper she’d pulled from her purse. The waitress had brought crayons. Alice could see that Michael was drawing stick figure cats.
“What’s that?” Lily half-stood. “You talking about how grandpa would tell our fortunes? Oh, tell Kelly! She doesn’t believe me when I say that they all totally came true. Every word.”
“Can I touch your beard, Uncle Roger?” Rachel asked. From the moment her uncle walked in, Rachel had wanted the beard. So brutally licorice black and yet she knew, her hand knew, that it would be soft, that it would fold back under her hand. Then she saw her mother’s face but her hand was already winging across the table like a white bird.
“Order something,” her mother said.
Rachel ordered tortellini and kept her eyes on her plate. For the first time in her life, she felt like things were beginning. Thrilled and yet ashamed, as if she’d peaked into a cloistered room. If she looked at him, he would read her mind and she would be even more humiliated.
“Nothing came true,” her mother was saying. “It was stupid, scary really, to say those things to kids. So why do you want the cards, Roger? I kind of wanted them.”
“Why don’t you just divide the pack?” said Kelly. “That would be cool—you each get part of it and together you make a whole. Or is that corny?” They were sharing a fajita platter. Kelly made an elegant fajita with red peppers and slender slices of beef and gave it to Lily.
“Corny!” said Roger. “What’s corny is that word. Corny corny. Who talks that way?” He was eating a mound of fried clams greedily, using his hands to dip them into a soup bowl of tartar sauce.
Watching him, Rachel figured he’d pick it up and drink the leftovers. Her uncle was an animal, muscle, bone, hair, humongous. She imagined biting him, tasting the iron of him. Under the table, she moved her leg until her shin pressed against him. She couldn’t tell if she was touching his shin or calf or the wood table leg. It was like being near one of those ancient bulls that they’d talked about in European History last semester. Auroch. The great bull that roamed a continent until it went extinct, pfft, just like that.
“God, you’re an asshole, Roger,” said Lily. “What’s your problem, anyway?”
Roger heaved himself up and went to where Kelly sat at the end of the table. He rested a thick hand on her shoulder. Clam breading quivered in his beard. “Sorry, Mrs. Lily. No offense intended. I totally support you and your kind. I’m behind you all the way.”
“For god’s sake, Roger, sit down. No more drinking.” Roger’s wife spooned corn chowder into the mouth of their son.
“I know why he wants it,” said Alice. “Probably for the same reason I do. And Lily. To set it on fire.”
“I don’t care,” said Lily. She was holding Kelly’s hand across the table and looked very happy. She was happy. She suspected that she was the only truly happy one at the table. Possibly in the whole restaurant. Kelly a close second.
Rachel had only met her great-grandfather a few times. He lived in Indianapolis, where her mother grew up until she went to college in Chicago and then moved to Fort Wayne. That was where her parents had met. Her father was an even more distant memory, limited to a single photograph in her bottom dresser drawer. He wore a pirate costume, very cheesy, a gold earring and a stuffed parrot lopsided on one shoulder. He also had a dagger between his teeth, which was the only thing about him that looked real. Her mother told her they were moving to Atlanta after the memorial, that they weren’t even going back to get their stuff. None of it meant anything to Rachel, only that she never, ever has to go back to school. The Bully Palace. Or Prison. Yes, that’s it. Bully Prison.
She’d been in Career Planning, a one-credit elective her mother had pushed her into, taking an online skills assessment which was supposed to calculate your natural proclivities on some kind of matrix and then say what careers would be ideal. Ms. Perez, the teacher, went around the class, asking each what CareersPlus had recommended. Rachel’s top three were chicken farmer, probation officer, and social worker, in that order. Humiliating. Who the fuck wanted to be a chicken farmer? So when it was her turn, she’d said, “Social worker.” But Arden Pike, sitting beside her, had peeked at her screen. “Chicken shit farmer! She’s supposed to be a chicken shit farmer! Says so right there!”
“Chicken farmer, you asshole,” She’d said to Arden Pike, confirming publicly that CareersPlus predicted her future lay in Rhode Island Reds. But he’d started calling her chicken-shit-farmer or just CSF and for no good reason, it caught on as a nickname. Hey, CSF, can I use your calculator? Why you wearing that ugly-ass t-shirt, CSF? Could be worse, she figured. Still, all she wanted was to take her place in the adult world, free from her peers. She’d get a job, move out, move away, especially from her mother, who refused to see how big she’d become, how big she could be.
Atlanta, her mother said. Good enough.
The next morning, they began cleaning out the grandfather’s condo. He’d made Lily the executrix, a slight to Alice, but not unexpected, since Lily was right there in Indy and Alice way over in Fort Wayne, wasting her life making Spinlux great. Everyone knew Roger was not to be trusted. The will was simple: Split everything three ways. They convened in the grandfather’s musty living room, amidst the furniture of their childhoods. In the middle of the coffee table, between the thick, translucent, protozoa-shaped ashtray and a stack of old New Yorkers, sat the pack of cards.
“Let’s settle this first,” said Roger. “I don’t give a shit about anything else. You two take all of his crap, but I want that deck.” He was sitting on the edge of the sofa, causing it to sag forward, his knees bent sharply against the front of the coffee table, big hands dangling between them. He was still in the olive suit he’d worn to dinner the night before, collar undone, tie hanging loose, stinking of alcohol. He was entirely sober. He’d lost his contact lenses sometime during the night and now wore his round, wire-framed glasses, which made him seem younger, uncertain, highlighting the boyish curve of his cheeks, his button nose. His wife and son were not with him and he made no mention of them; neither Alice nor Lily asked where they were or even thought to.
“I still don’t know why you guys want it,” said Lily. “Personally, I don’t care. You guys decide who gets it between the two of you.” She and Kelly had arrived at the condo hours ago and had already emptied half the kitchen.
“You know those fortunes were bullshit,” said Alice. Someone—Lily, probably—had opened the heavy drapes and now the sunlight revealed galaxies of dust, smears across the doors of the china cabinet, the rubble of the coffee table. The place was filthy but up until then, it had been a subterfuge filth. Now it was an open, obvious filth.
“Not bullshit!” Lily knelt on the carpet on the other side of the coffee table, so that she was facing Roger and Alice. “Don’t you guys know? About me, I mean? Grandpa said I’d discover a great fortune before I was twenty. You know about the garage sale, right?”
Roger sighed and rubbed his face. “God, you don’t mean that dumb, ugly-ass garden elf you bought for a buck off that psycho neighbor?”
“No, listen. The Antiques Roadshow guy said it was a limited edition by George Seewell, a British sculptor from, I don’t know, the twenties or something. It was worth, like, $10,000, only Grandpa made me give it back.”
“Jesus,” said Roger. “You bought it fair and square. He should’ve put it into a good mutual fund for you. You and Kelly could’ve bought a house by now.”
“She gave me a hundred dollars. I bought a Christie Brinkley Hot Rollers Salon Set. The point is that it came true. Like for you, too, Alice. You did marry well.”
“Eric? He took off fourteen years ago, right after that horrible party.”
“Halloween, right?” Roger asked. “He was a pirate or something.”
“I always thought you were married to your job,” said Lily. “I never think about Eric.”
“Married to my job,” said Alice. “That turned out about as well as Eric, that bum.” Eric Brendle had appeared in the Spinlux mailroom as a temp, short and taut, smoky-eyed, sugar-lipped. He dazzled Alice with handcut pasta, his fluent Italian and Russian, his conviction that great things were materializing. The grandfather’s prediction that she’d marry well but never know it had both comforted and angered her from the first day, and somehow Eric Brendle fit the framework perfectly. Still, she’d always resented being made to feel like she was too ungrateful or maybe too dumb to notice when someone was treating her well. It had hovered over her for her entire life, her grandfather’s predictions, his words uttered with ironbound certainty.
“I got an idea,” said Roger. “Lily thinks of a number and then we each pull a card out of the deck. Card that comes closest gets the deck.”
“What about face cards?” said Alice.
“Jacks, queens, kings, in that order. Aces high. Agreed?” He walked around the room, looking at the dusty pictures and worn, green velvet upholstery. The grandfather had bought expensive furniture a lifetime ago and never replaced it. Roger pulled the Time-Life Book of Cetaceans out of the bookcase and fingered the corner that was chewed by a beagle they’d brought home on a whim. Boscoe. The peeing and chewing got old, and the dog had been relegated to the backyard for most of the time. Before they went on vacation, touring the avocado farms of Michoacán, the grandfather told them that Boscoe had been stolen by a rival avocado import gang. The old man probably dumped the dog on some back country road. Roger ran his fingers over the soft, ruined corner, trying to remember the velvet ears, the warm canine stink.
“Okay, I got my number,” said Alice. Lily had already drawn a card and was holding it to her chest. The hollow thrum of a country-rock band drifted into the room from the kitchen, where Kelly was working on the refrigerator.
“You two always got the answers, don’t you?” said Roger. A meanness came over him. It seemed to him like his sisters had managed to defy the invidious household god. Lily’d found bliss with Kelly, itself an exquisite shoving of the finger at the old man, who’d been conservative to his core. And Alice had had her fling with Eric Brendle, created a remote life in Fort Wayne, a successful career, and Rachel.
Rachel! A damp foot had pressed against his leg under the table at O’Charlie’s, bare toes cupping his Achilles tendon. He had felt it, over and over, all night long.
“I’m not playing along,” Roger said. “Do you what you said—burn it.” He took off his jacket and slung it on the chair, then his tie. Then he went upstairs.
“He wants it,” said Lily. “Poor darling.”
“Then let him have it,” said Alice. “I’ve got enough cards.”
The day of the grandfather’s memorial buffet was cold, with a metallic sunshine. Lily had moved it from Spoon’s Funeral Home to the Sheraton. More festive, she told Alice. More in keeping with how he lived his life, always social, never funereal. Alice watched Lily dart between the velvet chairs and loaded buffet tables, dressed in navy taffeta. Sunlight barreled through the plate glass windows, the blinds for which the hotel staff had neglected to draw so there was no barrier, no mitigation of the sunlight’s intensity. The banquet hall in which everything was set up, rows of chairs, buffet tables with their long white clothes, stands of gladioli and lilies and pale yellow roses, were all blanched in the light. The entire memorial was rolled onto a public stage, under the brightest of limelight. Nothing hidden.
Alice wore sunglasses. Rachel sulked in black jersey. Beside them, Roger’s wife stared into space while Roger, their child slung over one shoulder, talked furnace filters with Cray Wilson, president-elect of the Midwest Avocado Distributors Association. Dozens of the grandfather’s business associates from all over Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky, and Illinois milled around the buffet tables, piled thick envelopes into the basket Lily had set up, and talked produce. The grandfather had been a sociable, interfering kind of person, garrulous and affable, impressing himself upon all who met him. Some of the most prosperous Mexican farmers, the big Michoacán growers arrived, cowboy-shirted, bolo-tied, with black armbands. They brought wives and children, boxes of fancy avocados, and veladoras with the resigned faces of St. Jude and Our Lady of Guadalupe. Their children chased each other in the glare.
Lily blew into the microphone. “Is this on?” she said, tapping it. “I just want to thank all of you for coming. For caring and loving so much!” She stretched out her arms theatrically, then drew her hands to her chest and lowered her gaze. Everyone clapped.
Alice looked over at Roger, who shook his head. Lily had asked them to speak but Alice hated public speaking and Roger had told her he had nothing to say.
Afterward, Alice sipped tea and shook hands. She noticed Roger slink away and thought of going after him. She had the deck of playing cards in her purse. Her idea was to give them to Roger as soon as the memorial was over. Let Roger have them, let him feed them to his pet snake, or chew them into confetti.
On an impulse, she went over to her daughter and gave her the deck of cards. “Take this to your uncle, tell him it’s his.”
“Just do it, okay?” Alice started to move away but then reached out to cup Rachel’s face. “Kind of a hard day for everyone. Okay? There’s people I have to talk to.” All she wanted was to be rid of the thing. Everything else would fall into place.
Rachel held the cards in her left hand and watched her uncle leave through the huge double doors into the open mezzanine level of the Sheraton. His round head floated above the milling guests, up a flight of stairs and turned a corner. She followed him into a wide, empty gallery open to the buffet area below. The murmur of voices drifted up, along with the sharp, exotic smell of floral arrangements. Roger walked through the space into a narrower hallway, empty of even hotel staff, where he tried the doors until he found one that opened. He didn’t turn on the light but fell into one of the upholstered conference chairs and pulled out a large flask. Rachel watched from the door as he drank, then came in and set the cards on the table. “Mom said to give these to you.”
“No shit.” He took another drink, then picked up the deck. “How about I tell you your fortune? How about that?”
“I know my future already. We’re going to Atlanta and starting fresh.”
“We’ll have our own little fortune party, okay?” He shuffled the cards, smiling meanly.
“You’re pretty sly, aren’t you? Quite the tease. Let’s see how much of a tease.” He dealt eight cards, face down. “Now, I remember how he used to do it. Never any real rhyme or reason. But, ho-boy, was he ever the oracle!”
He turned over the last card in the row—a three of hearts, but threw it down angrily. “There’s only supposed to be face cards and aces. That’s all he ever turned up.” He spread all the cards face-up on the table, then began plucking out the numbers. He slid the numbered cards off the edge of the table, then shuffled the rest clumsily, dropping cards and having to pick them back up and re-shuffle.
“Lily said that the fortune came true for Mom, that was she was married to her job. And then they just fired her. So, what does that mean?”
“Why’re you asking me?” Roger redealt the cards. “Pick one. No, don’t touch it. Just point.” When she did, he turned over the card she’d chosen.
“Not that one!” She cried. “That one!”
“Too late! This is the one fate has chosen.” He slid the card toward her—the Jack of spades. “Uh-oh, princess. Bad news. That’s not a card you want.”
“Is that the death card? I told you I wanted the other one. Do over!”
“Keep your voice down! What, you think it’s a tarot pack? Jack of spades, see it rhymes with Jack of all trades. And spades—well, that’s another name for a shovel. It means you got a lot of work ahead of you. Like physical labor. But you can handle it, right?”
“You mean, work? Like I’ll have a job, a career? Or do you mean my career will involve manual labor?” She was remembering the CareersPlus prediction that she’d be a good chicken farmer. Wasn’t that a career involving a lot of hard physical work? A shock of fear ran through her that somehow the skills assessment prediction might come true. She would kill herself, first. (Chicken shit farmer, Arden Pike whispered.)
“Do it again!” She said. “I want to pick again. You turned over the wrong one anyway!”
“Nope, sweetheart. What’s done is done. You got your fortune.” He leaned back in the chair and took a long draw from the bottle and grinned at her. He offered the bottle. “Here. This’ll make you feel better.”
She sipped it carefully. “You didn’t answer my question.”
“What question?” He reshuffled the cards slowly, as if he had nothing better to do.
“I told you—Lily said my mom was married to her job. So that’s two fortunes that came true.” When Roger didn’t reply, she nudged his leg with her foot. “So what does that mean?”
“It means fuck-all. That old bastard just played with our brains.”
Rachel crouched beside him and looked closely into his face. “You want to get back at him, don’t you? Well, you probably can’t now.” She watched him curiously, remembering the feel of his bristly black beard under her hand. “That’s the way the cookie crumbles.”
When he didn’t reply, she crawled onto his lap. Feeling suddenly relaxed, she touched his beard, then started to press her mouth to his, parting her lips, inviting his tongue, which felt like a wet, muscular worm. She put her hands on both sides of his massive head, pressed her breasts against him. Finally, after a few moments, he moved her aside and stood, steadying himself against the wall. “You don’t know what you’re doing.”
“Oh, sure,” she said, aloft with her new confidence, her suspicions about how things worked suddenly confirmed by the shape of his erection under his wrinkled trousers. “You told me a fortune, well, I’ll tell you one. Since you get off on these kinds of things.” She went over to him and pressed herself against him. “I like your beard, Roger. And I want you to like me and then we’ll both be happy.”
He sighed. “Oh, baby, you have no idea. Seriously.”
A thought started to coalesce, ignited by her desire and dizziness from the bourbon. “Or I’ll tell them what you did. How you touched me.” She was aware of his moist, mounding flesh, the skank of his polyester suit. Inspired, she felt down her left arm until she found a small moth hole on her cardigan sleeve. She yanked at it until it gaped, the size of a quarter. “Look! Look what you did when I tried to run. And the bruise on my leg where you kicked me,” hitching up the side of her skirt and running her hand down the side of her thigh where she’d hit the floor.
He shook his head slowly, as if trying to understand. She put her arms around him.
“You little cat,” he muttered into the side of her head. “You little bitch,” and moved his hands down her bulky hips and under her skirt. She sank her teeth into the side of his jaw, into the bristling black beard and stayed that way, latched like a lamprey, as he moved on her, as he lifted her up and pressed her against the wall until finally she let out a little cry.
Afterward, he laid on the carpet, behind the table, on his back, his legs and arms outstretched. He knew he had committed a great sin. Maybe as bad as it got. The stupidity was staggering. Alice had told him last night about the lay-off. That she and Rachel were on the move.
There was a hand-shaped patch where the ceiling tiles were discolored, as if from rain or mold. The fingers stretched out from one corner. They were disproportionately long and looked like a warped octopus or mutant amoeba, with tentacles reaching out for him. Laying there, he understood why the grandfather’s prediction had bothered him. It wasn’t the liver-eating in and of itself, but rather that it revealed his vulnerability, that he was the kind of person to whom such a thing could happen. Forever at the bottom of the food chain.
Rachel walked unsteadily down the hallway, back out into the mezzanine overlooking her great grandfather’s memorial. It had hurt more than she’d expected but she told herself it was like a vaccination or one of those stamps you got on your wrist, signifying that you’d paid admission and now had in-and-out privileges (which made her laugh very quietly).
She’d figured out why the fortunes were hooey. They were nothing but a way of forcing an ending. Her mother’s grandfather was a control freak, basically. That’s what he’d wanted—some guaranteed outcome imposed on them all, like a wax seal. She’d read about those, how kings used them on their royal decrees. Off with their heads. But not her. She herself was the point of continuation—or maybe breakage. Yes, that was it. She would not let the rippling layers within herself disrupt what she was—a hiatus between one kind of fortune and another entirely new kind, of her own creation. Losing her virginity was just the first step. Last night, she googled Atlanta, and saw blue and violet skyscrapers, squiggles of neon, a brash sky.
She went to the railing and looked down at the mix of people. The waxy, hot-house smell of the floral bouquets rose to her face. No one had gone home. If anything, there were more people at the memorial buffet than before, like bright plastic roses, all chattering in Spanish and English, feasting on guacamole and triple leche cake while outside, police cars clustered, throwing red and blue strobes across the space. Rachel spied her mother, bobbing amongst the jeweled guests. She would go down to her and insist that they leave right away, that they set off for Atlanta that very night. They would plunge through the darkness, that was the plan. They would be there by morning.
Tanya Perkins’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in numerous journals, including Fiction Southeast, The Watershed Review, The Raleigh Review, Big Muddy, Wilderness House Literary Review, The Forge, Emrys, and others. She is a fiction editor with the journal Sliver of Stone and an English faculty member at Indiana University East. She is currently working on a collection of interlinked short stories.