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.