By Kim Magowan and Michelle Ross
Number of times her Uncle Stetson said she should visit the family more often: IIII.
Words on the shampoo bottles crowded into the shower rack in the bathroom she had to share with her cousin Kayla and Kayla’s husband and kids: Pert, Suave, Swagger.
Words she located inside those words: use, rage, wager, sweat, pervert, trap.
Times she cut her leg shaving because her Aunt Bernice rapped on the door and said, “Make sure you don’t use up all the hot water, Hon”: II.
Items hatch marks reminded her of: prison bars, cypresses, the teeth of a steel comb.
Sticky things encountered: buttercream frosting smeared inside a piping bag; a stain on the bedcover she doesn’t want to contemplate; Kayla’s husband Harrison’s eyes that move down her body like suction cups, leaving a tarry trail where they adhere.
Number of dead flies in the kitchen sink basin at one time: IIII.
What was most beautiful about dead flies, when examined closely: not (as one would imagine) their faceted eyeballs, rather their fuzzy, plier-like feet.
Lies she considered before eventually telling her dad (her “poor dad whose kids never visit” according to Uncle Stetson) that, yes, she could make the family reunion this year, after all: she broke a femur and can’t hardly get out of bed; she’s developed a phobia of flying; she volunteers at a soup kitchen and they’re short-staffed.
Things that make her tired: playing Go Fish with Kayla’s daughters Sandy and Alexis; Sandy crying every time she has to give up her queens; Kayla saying to Sandy, “Paige used to cry every time she lost at checkers.”
Things she has in common with these people: DNA, except in the case of in-laws, such as Harrison, who most definitely did not answer when she knocked on the bathroom door that afternoon and asked if anyone was in there; towels, like the pale blue one she’d used to dry her hair, spotted wrapped around Harrison’s waist when she opened the door.
Instances in which her dad embarrassed her, while simultaneously breaking her heart: when his eyes glistened at Kayla’s announcement that she’s pregnant again (actually she said, “we,” gesturing to Harrison, as though he would be carrying her uterus around part-time like a Baby Bjorn); when he whispered during a viewing of Terms of Endearment that he wished she had a better relationship with her sister; when he said between bites of lasagna that the more educated your children are, the farther away from home they move.
Number of people at the table insulted by her dad’s pronouncement: III, maybe more.
Retaliation in response to her dad’s pronouncement: her Uncle Stetson saying, “Communication studies? What will they come up with next? Handshake studies? Coffee thermos studies?”; Kayla’s loud laugh in response.
Scavengers sighted from the house’s screened-in porch: raccoons, yellowjackets, black vultures, turkey vultures.
Nicknames for her: “Bangs,” due to the allegedly loud way she opened cabinets, looking for the coffee beans. In conflict with that one, “Mumbles,” because when Aunt Bernice asked her if she has a boyfriend, she saw Harrison across the room listening, his whole body straining to listen. He was a six-foot crenellated ear, drinking a beer.
Things that could happen to her if she doesn’t sit up straight: spinal curvature; no job offers because interviewers like confident young women; never being asked to dance because of being without grace.
Wildflowers growing on the property: bluebonnets, Indian paintbrushes, Indian blankets, winecups, fleabane, Texas thistle, spiderwort, prickly pear cactus blossoms, sunflowers, blackfoot daisies.
What, four days later, she realized she has in common with Aunt Bernice, after all: they both love the word “potpourri.” “You too?” they said, upon discovering this. All day long, Kayla looking at them like they were juvenile and Harrison like he was wondering why he ever bothered staring at her tits, she and Aunt Bernice cracked each other up intoning “Potpourri, potpourri, potpourri.”
Kim Magowan lives in San Francisco and teaches in the Department of Literatures and Languages at Mills College. Her short story collection Undoing won the 2017 Moon City Press Fiction Award. Her novel The Light Source is forthcoming from 7.13 Books. Her fiction has been published in Bird’s Thumb, Cleaver, The Gettysburg Review, Hobart, New World Writing, Sixfold, and many other journals. www.kimmagowan.com
Michelle Ross is the author of There’s So Much They Haven’t Told You (2017), which won the 2016 Moon City Press Short Fiction Award. Her fiction has recently appeared in Fanzine, Jellyfish Review, Electric Literature’s Recommended Reading, Threadcount, TriQuarterly, and other venues. She is fiction editor of Atticus Review. She lives in Tucson, Arizona. www.michellenross.com