Grant Faulkner is Executive Director of National Novel Writing Month and the co-founder of 100 Word Story. His stories and essays have appeared in The New York Times, Poets & Writers, Writer’s Digest, The Southwest Review, PANK, Gargoyle, eclectica, and Puerto del Sol, among dozens of other journals. His collection of one hundred 100-word stories, Fissures, was released last week.
Excerpt from Fissures
©Grant Faulkner 2015
A resistance to spontaneous modes of imagination. A disdain for sultriness. Tattered underwear. Every marriage has its own legalities, and these were Anthony’s claims for divorce. Sometime, long ago, they’d believed in something that rhymed with galactic. Now, if gossip columns about ordinary people existed, they would have reported him howling at the moon. In one last attempt to save their romance, he asked her to get high and lay on the grass. She held a grocery list, stared at him with a survivalist’s determination. He saw teddy bears, grasshoppers in the clouds. The worms beneath him abandoned their selves.
Flattened by a car, its arms spread out, a little like Jesus. The sun had baked it as crisp as a potato chip.
“Poor toad,” Maria said. “Didn’t know how to cross the road.”
“Maybe he thought the car was a new friend,” I said. “Rushing to greet him.”
“Or he was puzzling how such a small thing in the distance could become so large.”
We spent hours in such conversations. It was nice, how we never talked about what was next, who we were together. As if the toad wasn’t part of every story, in its way, even ours.
I loved you more than anyone could.
Funny. I didn’t realize that. How are you?
I cut my guts open for you. I’m bleeding.
Sorry to hear about the mishap. I hear there are remedies for bleeding. Or it just stops after a while.
The bleeding won’t stop. I’m split open.
Can you believe this weather?
Why are you talking about the weather?
I finally found the perfect beach!
I used to be able to walk into a bar and fall hopelessly in love with a woman. Any night, it didn’t matter, there was always a woman. I would sit at the bar, watch her talk to friends, dance, and I’d love her until closing time. Then I’d walk home on the lonely, dark streets remembering passed glances, mysterious eyes that held worlds, and I might cry, drunk, thinking of the road trips we didn’t take, our children, a dog. That was Chicago. 1989. It wasn’t so bad to be a fool. Wise now, I stay home most nights.
She organized her life into pie charts. He planned each moment according to something like Jackson Pollock’s drips. She saw allocations, all of life’s arc in the curve of each slice. He traced his finger over the twists of bumpy paint, reckless sinews of anguish and glee dashing into eternity.
“I’ll love you forever,” he said.
“I’m done with my pie,” she said.
There was cherry on her lips. He stared at it like a sign from heaven, but she licked it away as if wiping a counter. Her next slice would be bigger, no doubt, and topped with cream.
Bodies at Risk in Motion
As he undid his belt, his erection snuck over the top of his white underwear. Zabeth saw his khaki-colored life fade away, the man of rules breaking the rules. A shopping mall bathroom. She looked at his gold wedding ring, wondering if he was there with his family, a teenage daughter. He cupped her buttocks, fingers searching. She noticed a tiny scar by his left eye, a story she’d never hear. He pressed his chin down, appearing to be in pain. “I should leave first,” he said. She adjusted her panties, knowing better than to look in the bathroom mirror.
He often missed highway exits. Perhaps because he was dreamy, perhaps he just trusted that the road he was on would get him where he needed to be. He was surprised when he returned home one day and discovered his wife had left him. He called her cell phone, but she’d stopped her service. Her closet was empty, except for the dresses he’d given her. On the closet floor was a collage she’d made titled “The Places He’ll Never Take Me.” For her 40th birthday, he’d put on a gaudy cape. He’d tried to pick her up in his arms.
Legs intertwined on a frayed pink Victorian couch. Her pale skin had grown paler, but Stockton didn’t want to wake her. Dried leaves skittered on the windowpanes like guilty giggles. Her panties were still on, so they hadn’t fucked. Tributaries of tiny blue veins lined her ankles, a strange map without towns. He covered her in a crocheted string-shawl. They’d written songs together around 4 a.m., and she’d shown him how to play flute on a bottle of Beam. “Who cares about a heart-healthy lifestyle,” he joked. The moon soaked through his shoes. “You’ll only be old once,” she screamed.
The Tenderloin, 1997
The walls slobbered, the ceiling hovered, drooping close to Trevor’s nose. His bedside lamp retched rays of light. Pink window shades, urine-yellow wallpaper. In the flowery dapples of sun on the carpet he tried to see the dance of a girl’s smile. Two men spoke Russian in the next room. Funny how when Russians speak, it always sounds like someone is going to get killed. The desk clerk held no religious or medicinal powers. Just a witness of it all. Trevor’s mother couldn’t have guessed he’d sleep with a pistol under his pillow. Everything starts as a game of pretend.
If only we could go out back, like when we were kids, and smoke and fool around. Our parents at parties, ashtrays filling up with butts, rumblings of laughter. There was always the question why they wanted us to grow up to be like them. They didn’t imagine we’d mingle with evil. They didn’t anticipate inclinations toward torpor. We thought the husbands loved the wives and vice versa, boxer shorts and JC Penney bras. But we knew better, mosquitoes biting our tender skin. We knew it’s best to stay out of the way, even if there is no way back.
“It’s what we remember,” Dad said, as if clinging to a frayed thread tossed to a man overboard in a storm.
He said something about a boy named Jim, his pants down to his ankles, his tuxedo shirt unbuttoned. Long baby hairs on smooth cheeks. Frogs croaking in the woods, gin rickeys under an August moon, the violet night. Outside a few parked cars, inside the ruckus of others.
“Never underestimate the comfort sin can provide,” he said. “A lifetime of bedtime stories all to your lonesome.”
Skin crinkled around his eyes. His dry lips pressed feebly around a straw.