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Girls’ Weekend by Steven Simoncic


 Steven Simoncic’s “Girls’ Weekend” is one of three winners of the 2019 CRAFT Flash Fiction Contest, judged by Benjamin Percy.


This story struck me as profoundly sad. A son and a father have lost the woman they love, and they don’t quite know what to do with themselves. The father clumsily takes on the role of nurturer, while the son camouflages his pain by awkwardly performing a display of toxic masculinity. The two characters are armored with fat and muscle and hair and insecurity and bravado that makes them unable to simply say, “I love you.” I worry about how they’ll manage to make a life when so much will remain unspoken and walled between them.
—Benjamin Percy


Content Warning—eating disorders


 

A hunk of butter hits the fry pan. Then two pieces of bologna. Sparks of grease jump and sizzle. My dad’s hands—massive, oil-stained, almost old—slash tiny gashes into the bubbles of perfectly pink meat. White bread and yellow mustard sit in silence at the kitchen table. So do I. Bleeding. A stubborn trickle running from my nose to my mouth. I press a wad of spotted toilet paper to my face, trying to remember the details of the fight. How Todd Lorenze called me fat again and how—even though he’s an eighth-grader—I bull rushed him into the chain link fence out behind the little gym, and how he sucker punched me on the way down, tagging me right in the nose, and how everybody knew I got the best of his wiry burnout ass, and even though I was the one bleeding, Todd-fucking-Lorenze knows not to fuck with me again. This is the story I told my father. The one that made him smile. The one that is a complete lie.

My dad’s blue work shirt hangs open. An impossible display of belly hair—dense, dark and matted, and like the fuzzy side of a Velcro strap. It’s a man’s body. A blue-collar body. An early ’80s, smoker, drinker, third-shifter body—a midlife, semi-broken body—with a surgical scar and a belly button that could hold a D battery. A large body that I cannot stop looking at mostly because I know someday it will be mine.

“Tigers,” I say.

My dad nods. I don’t know baseball. I don’t like baseball. I don’t understand baseball. But he does.

“Fucking suck.”

He nods again.

I can swear when my mom’s not home. It’s an unwritten rule, and she’s on a girls’ weekend, so I can fucking swear balls all I want. For seven straight nights my dad has made us fried bologna for dinner, and for seven straight nights I have found a way to drop an f-bomb in the kitchen—fucking Reagan, fucking UAW, fucking Detroit Diesel cutting their fucking health care benefits—anything I saw on the news. Anything I thought he’d like to hear me say. And I’d have follow-up things to say. Sometimes I’d write them down on little pieces of paper so that if he said something back, I’d be ready, and that would lead to a conversation, and once we crossed that line, that would be what we do. We’d talk about everything.

The bologna is bulging off the pan. Meat boobs. At this point I can’t stop it. The sandwich will be made, and it will be placed in front of me. Four slices of medium cut supermarket bologna: 480 calories. Two slices of white bread: 165 calories. I know this because the CalorieKing Vest Pocket Calorie Counter I stole from Kroger lists every kind of lunchmeat there is and three different types of bread. I’ve memorized the numbers for my most common meals. As long as I do not drink the glass of whole milk my dad has already poured, it will only be forty-seven minutes of running in place in my room tonight (the CalorieKing Vest Pocket Calorie Counter estimates thirteen calories burned per minute based on my weight (162) and age (twelve)). I wish she was here. She would always find a way to make me soup and strawberries. A special dinner from the “Good Stuff” pages of the CalorieKing Vest Pocket Calorie Counter. Substitutions. “Swaps,” she’d call them. She would do this quietly. Gently. Discretely. Not make a big deal of it. Sometimes I don’t think my dad even knew.

Todd Lorenze did call me fat. That part is true. He also called me a faggot. Said everybody knows why my mom left and that she isn’t coming back. He said that’s why I come to school dirty. He said that’s how white trash smells. I didn’t bull rush Todd Lorenze. I didn’t tackle him into the chain link fence behind the small gym or teach him to never fuck with me again.

I screamed. As loud as I could. To kill the noise. To drown him out. I screamed until I burned. Until my temples tingled and hot sandpaper filled my throat. I screamed until my eyes danced, my vision pinned, and blood came rushing out of my nose, down my lip, and into my mouth. I screamed to see if she could still hear me. I screamed Mom.

My dad turns off the gas and places the sandwich in front of me. It is hot. Squishy. 645 calories. He sits down and begins to eat. And so do I. And there are no swaps. There are no substitutions. There is no soup. No strawberries. No help. No her.

I get up from the table. Still hungry. Still empty. I walk to the fridge and I grab the bologna and the tub of butter. I walk to the stove, strike a match, and wave it in front of the burner. As my father watches from the kitchen table, I unbutton my blue school shirt. A hunk of butter hits the fry pan.

 


STEVEN SIMONCIC’s fiction and nonfiction work has appeared in Arts & Letters, Drift Magazine, Under the Gum Tree, New Millennium, Conclave, Ampersand, Hippocampus, and Spork Magazine among others. He has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, was a finalist for the Susan Atefat Prize, and his creative nonfiction piece, “I Like You,” was included in The Best American Essays 2016, guest-edited by Jonathan Franzen. As a playwright, Steven has had productions in Chicago, LA, NY, and London. He has been a semi-finalist at the Eugene O’Neill National Playwrights Conference and a finalist for the Woodward/ Newman Drama Award. Steven’s play Toxic Donut won the NAAA International Playwright Festival in London, and his play Broken Fences won an NAACP Theatre Award, eight Los Angeles SCENIE Awards, and was cited as one of The Chicago Tribune’s “Best of the Year” productions. Steven’s play Ghost Gardens won the 2018 Detroit Repertory Theatre Subscribers Award, and his play The Space Behind Your Heart was a finalist for the 2018 Heideman Award from the Actors Theatre of Louisville. Steven holds a BBA from the University of Michigan, an MFA from Warren Wilson, and an MLA from the University of Chicago. He lives in Chicago with his wife, two kids, and two dogs. When he is not writing, Steven fronts the roots rock band Trickshooter Social Club.

 


Our Twitter micro-interview with Steven Simoncic:

 

Author’s Note

I think this story is my humble attempt to wrestle and reckon with how, and what, we choose to communicate. What we show, what we hide, and the unknowable lives we shield and bury and obscure from each other, and often ourselves. At least that was the impulse that led me to try to write this story—it was the thing I hoped to explore. I usually start there.

Before I started writing, I had the image of a son and his father in a kitchen. Shipwrecked. Somehow stranded together. Making dinner. Making do. Once I landed that initial image, all the details in the story began to present themselves to me—the frying bologna, the blue work shirt. This story is not autobiographical, but a lot of the details are real. I ate fried bologna; I grew up in that kitchen. So I was able to use those artifacts I carry in my memory to sort of ground me in this fictional scene, and put me dead center in the middle of this imagined moment. That combination of the real and the imagined is how I cobbled and curated the world of my story.

Deeper into writing this piece, I realized that it needed to be a banal exchange, an innocuous moment, an ordinary scene, that ordinary people play out every evening, in every kitchen, in every town. There would be no histrionics over a fry pan. The tension would not be between a son and his father. The tension would be between a son and himself. That led me to the choice of writing in close first person. This enabled me to heighten and distort seemingly banal events so that everything is colored, bent, and refracted through the lens of a twelve-year-old boy desperately trying to figure things out.

As I got to know these characters, I came to believe that these are two guys who do not talk much, so I tried to have them express themselves through action and gesture. A small example: I never wanted my narrator to talk about his weight. Instead he steals a book from Kroger, uses it to count calories, and runs in place in his room to burn them. His dedication to counting calories not only tells us how he feels about his weight, it magnifies and distorts a bologna sandwich and a glass of whole milk to the point of turning them into symbols of everything he has lost since his mom went away.

Finally, lying and inevitability. It was a useful element of craft to have my narrator be somewhat unreliable. He lies. To us. To his dad. To himself. But I think he comes clean as the story progresses. We see him give up his fictions, lose his delusions, and ultimately not only accept his current situation, but accept his fate, his inevitable conclusion. His final gesture—going to the stove and making another sandwich—is both his most resigned act, and possibly his most honest.

 


STEVEN SIMONCIC’s fiction and nonfiction work has appeared in Arts & Letters, Drift Magazine, Under the Gum Tree, New Millennium, Conclave, Ampersand, Hippocampus, and Spork Magazine among others. He has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, was a finalist for the Susan Atefat Prize, and his creative nonfiction piece, “I Like You,” was included in The Best American Essays 2016, guest-edited by Jonathan Franzen. As a playwright, Steven has had productions in Chicago, LA, NY, and London. He has been a semi-finalist at the Eugene O’Neill National Playwrights Conference and a finalist for the Woodward/ Newman Drama Award. Steven’s play Toxic Donut won the NAAA International Playwright Festival in London, and his play Broken Fences won an NAACP Theatre Award, eight Los Angeles SCENIE Awards, and was cited as one of The Chicago Tribune’s “Best of the Year” productions. Steven’s play Ghost Gardens won the 2018 Detroit Repertory Theatre Subscribers Award, and his play The Space Behind Your Heart was a finalist for the 2018 Heideman Award from the Actors Theatre of Louisville. Steven holds a BBA from the University of Michigan, an MFA from Warren Wilson, and an MLA from the University of Chicago. He lives in Chicago with his wife, two kids, and two dogs. When he is not writing, Steven fronts the roots rock band Trickshooter Social Club.