Lindsay Parnell

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Lindsay Parnell

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FACT: the body is dumb, the body is meat.

Anne Sexton.

She floods the gutter between her lip and gums before swallowing because it aches everywhere it shouldn’t, always. It was supposed to be Havana but she settled for Chicago.

      Liquor bottles are pacifier capped to empty in neat and narrow funnels. The walls are pine threaded and pitchers overflow with ketchup sachets. The bar hooks in a clean arc from entrance to exit like a horse shoe so they’re forced to drink at each other. She is among the plastic pretending to be framed metal: Slaughterhouse Penance, Acrylic. R. YATES, $52.

      “Staring don’t make it sell faster.” Joey smells like he tastes, cigarette smoke and fried meat. He fills glasses with stale drafts and slips Oxy to the girls from Portland who missed their flight. “You hear me?”

      Regan is the one who thinks she has the hands of her mother so she holds the glass even when it’s not at her mouth. To remind herself that what she tastes is what she chooses.

      “I hope it don’t. I like having a look at it every night,” Joey says.

      “You can look at it all the time if you buy it.”

      “If I bought it and took it home you wouldn’t come in here no more – it’s almost 4:30; you going like that? Don’t you got an iron or something? You can’t go looking like that

 

      shirttails pulled loose and bow-tie crooked, she stands in the city where the asylum locked itself years before.A street-cleaner sweeps scratch cards and condom wrappers into a dust bin, kicks a dirty diaper into oncoming traffic. Brake lights flicker like falling flares. Off-duty taxis and trash trucks congest side streets curb to curb, pedestrians shuffle through red lights and vagrants sleep in stairwells.

      “You got some change?” He kneels in garbage searching for lit cigarette butts and fresh takeout cartons. A squirrel pelt pressed flat to the pavement feeds horseflies. He swats until its eyes are thumb shut and corpse stills. “I said you got change or not?”

      “Sorry.”

      “Everybody fucking sorry. You sorry, huh?”

      “No,” Regan says. She inhales then flicks the menthol stub at a stop sign.

      “You dress like you got change – even ladies in fancy ass man suits got money.”

      “They make us wear it.”

      “Why?”

      “So folks know who’s serving them. I guess.”

      “What’ll yall give them?”

      “Bread and cheese and meat that ain’t cooked, we end up tossing most of it out – you want some bread or cheese or summat? I’ll bring you some next time I come out.”

      “I said I needed change. You just like the others, the sluts

  

      at rest and polished except for Wendy whose glance finds the the clock above the walk-in. “You’re late. Your tray’s in the window and your buttons are off so fix them before you go out – why didn’t you iron your top?”

      “I don’t got an iron,” Regan says.

      “Everybody has an iron – ”

      “I told you I don’t got an iron. Got a nice set of knives though.”

      “Take the tray like I told you then get a round of champagne from Tim

      who pours with a loose wrist and cuts limes in thick quarters.

      “Where you been?” Tim says.

      “It’s my 100th cap, I’ll be late as I choose.”

      “Tip back, missus.” He thumb closes the straw before drawing it from the glass to release in Regan’s mouth. She swallows.

      “Who orders a margarita at a fundraiser?”

      “Boys who married their mamas,” Tim says, “that’s who.”

      “You didn’t.”

      “Kate’s not my wife.”

      “I’d make you pay your share of rent if I was her.”

      “If I was you I’d get out there – it’s a thirsty bunch. Just look at them

       spreading like silverfish against the infinite curve of the ballroom, the whole lot of them, the solicitors. Their weight settles in their big boy hips, in the dead arm swing from handshake to wallet. The wives batting clean-up stain champagne flutes spit slick with each head tilt.They brought their own coke mirrors, painted their lips the same shade of undercooked pork, same taste

        lavender, goats cheese and honey.” Regan balances the platter on her unturned palm of the hand with the inked and outlined porterhouse stamp.

      “What about meat?”

      “Sorry?” Regan says.

      “Send somebody that’s got meat since you don’t. Look alive, sweetheart. Send something over taste as good as you

      who is belligerent and loose-limbed, they are those who rose up in tit-gazing missteps with tongues that never still

      …the electric chair is God’s will but pregnancy termination is murder,” he says.

      …ahi tuna with gazpacho,” Regan says.

      …murder is what it is when it happens, when the state fails. It’s just like how the poor rises,” he says.

      …gorgonzola toasts with figs,” Regan says.

      …it’s riots, riots of garbage and that’s why I’m pro-airstrike – I say make more rubble so they can pray next to their deflated corpses, kids bleeding from the holes where their eyes used to be,” he says.

      …stuffed dates wrapped in prosciutto,” Regan says.

       …they’re cripples the insurgents are – I call it the rot of the rot, the root of the rot, huh? And the thing itself is the rot,” he says, “it’s just good old-fashioned reason

 

      since she’s the mother of his kid now. She’s not his wife no more, so why would he have at her?”

      “If I was her I’d punch the kid in the throat then put six bullets in your mate’s face.”

      “This is a fundraiser, missus, so best talk – ”

      “They talk in bodies and dollars –”

      “Me and Kate aren’t talking,” Tim says, “she’s got this thing now where she clenches her teeth at night – really bears down on her molars, tightening everything up at the hinge of her jaw. So when she wakes each morning she moans about how it feels like somebody done ten rounds to her head. Used to be once every few months or so, but now it’s a couple nights a week. It’s gotten so bad her face swells up and she’s in too much pain to say anything.”

      “She don’t gotta talk to you but you could talk to her if you wanted.”

      “When’s the last time you sold a painting?”

      “Last time you bought one,” Regan says, “but I found three typos in the New York Times last Saturday, above the fold too.” 

      “Yeah? 

  

      no, no, no – where you going then, sunshine? What’d you have on that tray for me?” He grasps her elbow, pulling her body to his so that she faces the laminated placard clipped to his lapel. William Gallo: Gallo, Black, and Kaufman. “Look alive, sunshine, I said what do you have for me?” The cuffs of his sleeves are dotted with gold initials intertwined, the ones his mother and wife share. Caves sink beneath his eye sockets grey and shallow and the skeleton speaks

      …we can be more efficient in streamlining protocols so that we’re operating at maximum efficiency. That’s the boring part though, the fun is in the risk. You know who loves a risk? Me, but you wouldn’t know it because I’ve got the steadiest hands you’ve ever seen. Tell me I’m wrong, Chris – Chrissy, my man – c’mere, tell me, tell em how I’ve got the steadiest hands you’ve ever seen – and this is how I sell it, guys. Trust me when I say that selling is the easy part. It’s slight of hand, slight of hand is all it is. Why? Everyone loves the illusion, loves the magician. Folks don’t pay me because they want answers, hell, they don’t even know what the questions are – why do they keep showing up at my door? What they all want is a laugh and a hard-on, a couple of promises and a good time – it’s what everybody wants so they’ll never have enough of me. My wife said for Christmas I can tongue the nanny foot to mouth. Why? Because I’m the one who answers the calls, isn’t that right, Chrissy? I’m not one of those average guys who pretends

  

      like their wives don’t taste like bath water,” Tim says.

      “You just lay there in your own filth, in the bath – I hate it.”

      “You could shower before if you wanted, I guess.”

      “What’s the point of that?”

      “You got somewhere to sit if you take a bath.”

      “I got other places to sit,” Regan says.

      “You haven’t got a couch.”

      “I’ve got chairs, don’t I?”

      “Who lives in a place this long without a couch?” Tim says.

      “Chairs work the same as a couch.”

      “And you haven’t hung a single thing on the walls –”

      “I don’t ask you round –”

      “I hate it – just lying there after you’re asleep. Your place is like an asylum.”

      “Shut your eyes next time,” Regan says. “You hear that Scalia died this morning?”

      “So what?”

      “Nothing. Just that he’s dead is all.”

      “Kate’s in Boston until Tuesday.”

      “Not tonight.” Regan picks her cuticles until the raw skin leaks again like always.

      “All tonight is is Sunday – hey, how come it’s only Sundays that make you feel like a whore

  

      pulling the collar from her throat. She loosens the knot, tongue-flicks her cigarette tip like a dead tooth. Cracks each knuckle with her left thumb and counts the breaths between drags. Sometimes there’s more than a pair but mostly there isn’t. She drops her shoulders to lean into the alleyway, feet steady on the linoleum, holds the roll-up with its weight of damp soot. The jaundice hasn’t set yet, but it will, Tim says some days. She swears it off, all of it, every birthday, Good Friday, and New Year’s.

      “You alone out there?” Wendy calls from the line.

      “Not enough,” Regan says.

      “Why aren’t you out front?”

      “I’m on a break – I don’t got to talk to anybody on my own time.”

      “You just got here. And hey, you and Tim better lay off it tonight. Folks don’t pay all this money for the two of you to have a night out. Thought you were quitting with that filth anyways. Can smell it on you from here.”

      “What’s eleven minutes less? We’re all dying as it is.”

      “Who said anything about dying? All I’m saying is that you can’t change your scent when

  

      his wife’s a soak and he’s sober, always. He don’t drink because he’s gotta stay sharp. I worked that Conservative Coalition dinner last month. He didn’t have her with him that time so he got off with some junior from Loyola. He’s called Gallo.”

      “You should hear him out there. He thinks he’s clever –”

      “– dunno how old she was but all he kept saying was that he could teach her things if she’d let him, saying it like she had a choice. He told her she needs teaching because all girls do. Then he says he taught his wife everything that she knows and he reckons that they could all have some fun together.”  

      “What if Kate got off with a guy like him? Left you for a proper fraud like him?”

      “Like who?”

      “Gallo with the arms like clarinets,” Regan says.

      “Bet he loves you leering at him. Be he can’t wait to know you’re speaking his name,” Tim says.

      “Why?”

      “He wants the name his mama gave him on your tongue.”

      “He thinks he’s special,” Regan says.

      “You’re the one who makes him so, telegraphing smirks like that. He’s no different than senators or surgeons or your boy raising mothers raising babies for slaughter

  

      the phantom flesh, the still scarring divot atop his left wrist. He had to break from work nearly a week because of it, had to wait for the blood to stop coming and for his skin to dry before it could grow again.

      “Not as bad as folks make it out to be. They were born for it just like their mothers were. Think of it that way and it’s not so bad. Ain’t like we’re opening a dog or nothing,” Emmet had said before her first time.

      After her first time she puked onto her bare feet, after he split her neck so her throat could spigot leak. The blood jet rushed from his hands, spilled onto the ground and spread thin and shallow like a broken yolk.

      “You won’t mind it when she’s dead. It’s easier to deal with the whole thing when she’s already dead. Chin up, we’ll use the rifle next time, okay?” Emmet had said after her first time.

      Corpses dried to age in suspension from his daddy’s ceiling. Rows of carcasses decapitated. Arms and chest cavities hungry for a straightjacket in the room where he scraped guts from belly fat and salvaged flesh to taste. Before the sixth rib is where he’d finger the roasting joint, fat plugged and clotted opaque. He trimmed gristle for drippings and pared the femur clean while their mutt Pollock circled table legs for scraps. His hands were flesh slick, always, but he never made her flinch.

      “Your hands need a wash more than mine. S’a good day then?”

      Her palms and fingers were stained, forehead smeared with a track of scarlet. The paint dried in the crease of her life line and cracked with each fist curled. His favorite palette upon her that looked of blood and rust but wasn’t.

      “Yeah, alright,” Regan said.

      “Good.”

      “You should be careful, carving like that with your hand not done healing,” Regan said.

      “You’re the only one who makes me nervous,” Emmet said. “You think something bad will happen but nothing that bad has ever happened before.”

      With the bone saw he stripped the ribcage barren. At his hands prize cuts fell. The cleaver was clean because he was careful when he needed to be because it was his hands, always, that she loved best

  

      was the only suit he owned. He picks at the loose thread of his breast pocket before plucking the button closest his navel. Christopher Reid: Gallo, Black, and Kaufman. “Can I get a Heineken?”

      “No, you cannot,” Tim says. “You can have wine, bourbon or champagne.”

      “You got it right there, I see a whole crate of them.”

      “Nobody here is drinking a beer just like nobody here’s in black tie.”

      “Nobody told me.” His gaze is a fawn watching its mother’s face bullet-splinter. “Can I get wine?”

      “I got four kinds. Do you want me to tell you what they are? Or you wanna stroll back to your daddy and ask him what his lady’s having?”

      “Just give me what the others got, I guess,” Chris says.

      “Your wife shouldn’t let you leave the house so sloppy.” Regan lowers the tie to sit parallel his jaw.

      “We haven’t set a date because we’re both real busy at work. We’re going to soon though, just haven’t had a chance yet –”

      “I bet.” The diamond plank between his eyes is skull flat, the spot the rifle scope will settle and gift aim. She brushes her thumb at the target and smiles.

      “She’s a nice girl,” Chris says.

      “Your missus a gilt?” Regan threads herself between his arm and ribs. Where there was once space between their hips now there is not.

      “What’s a gilt?”

      “A female without piglets is a gilt.” Regan rests her palms on his lapels before smoothing the thread of his pocket against its stitching. “Perfect, huh, Tim?”

      “Yep, you look a right big boy now.”

      “You know where the restroom is?”

      “I do,” Tim says. “Same way I know this ain’t black tie.”

      “Nobody told me.”

      “Hook a left at the bar. It’s just next the donors’s sign,” Regan says. “Careful though.”

      “Why?”

      “Anybody sees you near the kitchen will think you’re with us, on service and that.”

      “Nobody told me

 

      he’d be the one to keep the dog and find him a girl who’s careful. Only reason her hands are blank because her skin is clean –”

      “Don’t let Wendy see you behind here going at it, start bottle charging and take you off the schedule again,” Tim says. “You wanna get a beer later? It’s only Sunday. We should, you and me


      always seem to find each other, huh? What’s your story, sunshine?” Will says.

      “She’s a painter,” Tim says.

      “That so?” Will says.

      “What can I get you to drink?” Tim says.

      “What kind of things do you paint?” Will says.

      “She does carcasses, crucifixion scenes,” Tim says. “All the things already dead.”

      “Heavy stuff,” Will says.

      “What can I get you to drink?” Tim says.

      “Grey Goose for my lady and be generous, will ya? What about you, sunshine? What would I be ordering for you if you were mine? Bet we got a bunch of things in common, me and you,” Will says.

      “Our mothers named us to fall on weak consonants, that’s what you and me got,” Regan says

  

      when she finds herself standing in the silence that is her own

      “You hear me?” Tim yells from the kitchen. “Everybody’s gone. I said let’s get a beer.”

      “No.”

      “You got somewhere to be?”

      “No,” Regan says.

      “Don’t be like that. Let’s get a beer then.”

      “Alright. Hey, you hear Scalia died?”

      “Yeah, you said already.”

      “Did I?”

      It was supposed to be Havana, but she settled for Chicago.


Lindsay Parnell


Lindsay Parnell published her debut novel DOGWOOD with Linen Press in 2015. Her short fiction has appeared in 3AM Magazine, Honest Ulsterman, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, The Prague Revue, Underground Voices, and others.