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I Married This by Meg Pokrass


Originally published by The Center for Fiction, and included in The Dog Looks Happy Upside Down (Etruscan Press, 2015), Meg Pokrass’s “I Married This” is a fine example of subtext, of what goes unsaid between spouses and friends. Under 600 words, this flash piece is a lesson in economy. Even as the surface of this story appears to be quiet, each word, each line of dialogue, each burst of white space, each moment of action through human contact (“Her hand was cold, and I wished I could warm it”), works here to churn the engine of the understory, the unsaid story of a woman “fixing” things—her shower, her son, her breasts, her cat—urgently trying to conceal imperfections. In the author’s note, Pokrass discusses the inspiration for this story, and the way conflict is driven by unseen characters and what is happening off the page.  —CRAFT


 

My husband, Gordon, looked as though he’d found religion—as though he’d never tasted real food before this beef stew meal at Angie and Ron’s. He appeared to be sucking his teeth after every bite, taking his time, thinking about what he’d sucked—then stabbing a new forkful.

“I have to have this recipe,” I said, poking his calf with the tip of my shoe under the table.

“Jeezus, the way the vegetables blend into the meat and the meat blends into the sauce…wow.”

 

Angela’s new husband, Ron, looked tired and bored. I didn’t know him enough to be funny—to be myself.

Their cat, Tuna, was batting the glass door, yowling and laser-beaming her eyes on all of us.

“Spoiled fuckhead cat,” Ron said.

“Right, right,” Angela said, staring at her nails, which were down to nubs. “Well, as I told you, geniuses like me make things up.”

Her breasts were so newly round and high, she must have had implants. I found my eyes struggling to avoid them—puzzling at how badly they matched her worn face.

“You made this recipe up?” Gordon said. He leaned forward—his foot-tapping thing starting. I could feel the vibration.

“I mean, to be able to create something like this is a gift,” I said, trying not to gawk at Tuna batting the glass. The cat had always been fat, we used to joke about his waddle. Tuna was skinny now—stringy.

Ron cleared his throat. He hooked his arm around Angie’s shoulders.

“I married this,” he said, kissing her cheek, his lips making the sound of suction you hear when opening a sealed jar. She seemed frozen, looking at Tuna through the door.

After she married Ron, her son, Frank, was sent to a therapeutic boarding school (“wilderness camp”). She remodeled the bathroom—installed hand-painted Israeli tile in the shower.


After dinner, Angie and I hand dried all the bowls so they wouldn’t chip. She was slow and thorough, her eyelids heavy. She took each bowl in her arms, tenderly—blotting.

“Daria,” she said, looking at me in that new way, “I did something very wrong.” She motioned me into the bathroom. Closed and locked the door behind her. I was impressed with the beauty of the tiles and the new shower design. Four people could fit.

“Secret?” she whispered.

“Please,” I said, grabbing her hand.

“I sent him a shoebox with Pez in it. Hundreds. No dispenser, because he won’t need that. Candy isn’t allowed, you know. Like sending a knife in a cake.” Her hand was cold, and I wished I could warm it.

“People have to do something,” I said, “for you, this was the right thing.”

“But to feel like a criminal for sending him a treat…”

I could hear the men in the dining room.

“Listen to them out there,” I said. Her pupils were a shade off from purple. I smoothed her cashmere sweater shoulders. Her implants pressed into my ribs.

“You’re a great mom,” I said. I unlocked the door and straightened my shirt.

She fixed her face in the mirror, squirted drops in her eyes. Then she smiled at me, or at least, her mouth moved up.

We walked back to the dining room and over to the door. She opened it wide. “Tuna! Tuuuuuna!” I put my arm around her shoulder to steady her.

We waited to hear a rustling nearby, but all I heard were the tight voices of our men, talking quietly about the raccoon problem in the neighborhood.

 


MEG POKRASS is the author of six flash fiction collections and an award-winning book of prose poetry. Her work has been recently anthologized in two Norton Anthology Readers, Best Small Fictions 2018 and 2019, the Wigleaf Top 50 List, and has appeared in 350 literary magazines online and in print, including Electric Literature, Tin House, Tupelo Quarterly, SmokeLong Quarterly, Wigleaf, and Five Points. She currently serves as Flash Challenge Editor at Mslexia Magazine, Festival Curator for Flash Fiction Festival, U.K. (Bristol), Co-Editor of Best Microfiction 2020, and Founding/Managing Editor of New Flash Fiction ReviewHer latest collection of flash, The Dog Seated Next to Me (Pelekinesis Press), will be out in September of  2019.

 

Author’s Note

The idea for “I Married This” came to me while my son was in grade school in San Francisco. The school was filled with parents who, unlike me, were looking younger every year because of cosmetic enhancements. I started to notice how plastic surgery was being opted for more and more often, not just with people in the public eye, as in the old days, but regular everyday folks. So many of the moms, it seemed, we’re going that route. What did it all cost? And why?

And I started thinking about what it meant to be a woman who chooses, instead, to age naturally. It seemed that this was becoming more and more a radical idea.

I also began to think about the tenuous nature of female friendships. My friendships with the mothers of my kid’s friends at the school, though enjoyable, were centered around our children. Whenever I tried to talk to them about real things in my life, real issues, the conversations died.

I began writing a story about two couples having a dinner together in which one of the women friends has had both her face and breasts redone. I’m intrigued with how this now “normal” occurrence in affluent western culture effects not only the lives of those who are enhanced, but the lives of those around them. In the story, the husband of the enhanced woman is very proud of his wife’s new appearance. It’s as if he’d suddenly married a pedigreed show dog.

The biggest conflict in the story has to do with the absent and vulnerable teenage son, a messy kid, who has been shipped off to boarding school. The son represents the embodiment of the mother’s own perceived flaws, and like her aborted wrinkles and sags, needed to be hidden in order for the parent’s marriage to stay intact. This is also true with their poor cat, “Tuna,” who we see, in the end, is being offered to the neighborhood raccoons.

I’m thrilled that CRAFT chose to reprint this story. It was first published by The Center for Fiction in NYC. It’s one that I feel especially close to.

 


MEG POKRASS is the author of six flash fiction collections and an award-winning book of prose poetry. Her work has been recently anthologized in two Norton Anthology Readers, Best Small Fictions 2018 and 2019, the Wigleaf Top 50 List, and has appeared in 350 literary magazines online and in print, including Electric Literature, Tin House, Tupelo Quarterly, SmokeLong Quarterly, Wigleaf, and Five Points. She currently serves as Flash Challenge Editor at Mslexia Magazine, Festival Curator for Flash Fiction Festival, U.K. (Bristol), Co-Editor of Best Microfiction 2020, and Founding/Managing Editor of New Flash Fiction ReviewHer latest collection of flash, The Dog Seated Next to Me (Pelekinesis Press), will be out in September of  2019.