Flash Fiction by Kim Magowan
According to Joy of Cooking, the dough has to be very cold in order to roll it out, so our father set the oven timer for two hours. We’d never seen him touch the oven; we’d never seen him open a cookbook.
The recipe was for basic sugar cookies that could be adapted twelve different ways, depending on what kind of extract and spice you added. Dad had asked us at Safeway whether we wanted to try one of the more exotic versions, the ones that used almond, coconut, or lemon extract.
Audrey and I had examined the bottles and consulted, but in the end we chose regular vanilla. Dad let us pick out four different bottles of sprinkles: red, green, red-white-and-green, and silver balls. “Though those won’t taste good,” he warned us. We didn’t care. We loved the way they looked, like spheres of mercury that might spill from a glass thermometer.
While we waited for two hours to pass, Audrey and I paged through Joy of Cooking. First we looked through all the desserts, then soups, then meats. Some of the recipes had margin notes in our mother’s tiny hand: “Cut the sugar to 2/3 cup.” Or next to one for avocado soup: “Don’t make this again! Disgusting!!!”
That notation made us laugh, the spiky explanation marks, Mom’s carefully drawn frowny-face with slanting eyebrows to convey anger. Then we looked at each other; we looked at the clock, we watched our father pace. Once he went out of the room to make a phone call. We knew things were messed up, that is, in some vague way, though we were young enough to be easily distracted by things like silver-ball sprinkles, and we didn’t know the specifics yet—that not three miles away at St. Luke’s hospital our mother had gotten her stomach pumped.
This is not an apology, because I know you would refute it, insert scare quotes, with your anal and rigorous metric of what an apology “has” to involve in order to count: 1) sincerity 2) regret 3) a commitment to reform.
Regarding the first two: the fact is, I don’t want you back in my life, a life in which you wreaked far too much havoc. You remind me of my antisocial and incontinent cat Miss Havisham, whom Theo finally made me get rid of (“It’s me or that cat,” he said). To tell the truth, I considered getting rid of Theo instead. I loved my cat, spitefulness, pee stains and all. But I can’t deny that when I dropped Miss Havisham at the front door of the SPCA (knowing full well what would happen to her), I felt relieved. Sad, but also relieved. After all, one should choose one’s husband over a cat, or over a chaos-producing friend. If I feel some sorrow over the loss of you, relief and a sense of appropriate priorities outweigh that sorrow by approximately 3.7 tons.
So this is not an apology, but an acknowledgement: an acknowledgement that you were not wrong (even if I disingenuously called you “wrong,” also “hypersensitive, narcissistic, and paranoid”) to accuse me of using your life as material with which to compose a story. Or, as you put it, “My life is not a carcass for you to chop off convenient pieces!”: a weird, gross comment which shows why you are not a writer, but I concede nonetheless possesses a certain visceral “stickiness” that has made me retain it, two years later.
So, yeah: I cop to that (“cop” invoked here in the sense of “take responsibility for,” an ironic term when one considers the reality of the police). I was, indeed, loosely inspired by your life. I did, despite my denials, intentionally make your life into something prettier, richer, and more dramatically interesting, for purposes of my own. And now I’m inspired by the death of our friendship, and of my affection for you (who I always picture singing “Good King Wenceslas” off-key, in your green, hand-knit scarf): our permanent estrangement that I hereby acknowledge, along with my intent to turn that estrangement into another story.
I wondered how Adrienne Prisk could be sixteen and have such perfect skin, as if nothing marked her. Nothing did. When Jeff Marcuso dumped Adrienne for Tanya Kellerman, she laughed and swung her hair like someone in a CoverGirl ad, because she clearly didn’t give a shit. “She can have him!” Adrienne said; I wondered how she made her voice carry in AP History, how it could be so clear and piercing at once, a stiletto. I wondered why nothing fazed her, not even losing the lead in the spring play to Tanya Kellerman, being assigned the mother instead, or the way, when he gave us cast notes after dress rehearsal, Mr. DeGrasse told her, “For the last time, stop upstaging Tanya.” I wondered about her perfect laugh, charming and haughty. I wondered how she could be in Drama Club but still unquestionably popular, how she could lose the lead and still so clearly be the star. And I wondered, when I shuffled into the recovery room at Planned Parenthood, what she was doing there (of course, it was obvious what she was doing there, but Jeff had broken up with her months ago). “Don’t cry, it will make your eyes swell,” she said to me, and “Turn the heating pad all the way up to 5, it helps” and “It will be fine.” Adrienne looked at me right in the eye, an even better actress than I’d thought.
Kim Magowan lives in San Francisco and teaches in the Department of Literatures and Languages at Mills College. Her short story collection Undoing (2018) won the 2017 Moon City Press Fiction Award. Her novel The Light Source (2019) was published by 7.13 Books. Her fiction has been published in Booth, Craft Literary, The Gettysburg Review, Smokelong Quarterly, Wigleaf, and many other journals. Her stories have been selected for Best Small Fictions and Wigleaf’s Top 50. She is the Editor-in-Chief and Fiction Editor of Pithead Chapel. www.kimmagowan.com
Flash Boulevard is edited by Francine Witte. Banner photograph Wes Candela.