Black Humor

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Bunny
Excerpt

 1.

We call them Bunnies because that is what they call each other. Seriously. Bunny.

Example:
Hi, Bunny!
Hi, Bunny!
What did you do last night, Bunny?
I hung out with you, Bunny. Remember, Bunny?
That’s right, Bunny, you hung out with me and it was the best time I ever had.
Bunny, I love you. I love you, Bunny.

And then they hug each other so hard I think their chests are going to implode. I would even secretly hope for it from where I sat, stood, leaned, in the opposite corner of the lecture hall, department lounge, auditorium, bearing witness to four grown women—my academic peers—cooingly strangle each other hello. Or good-bye. Or just because you’re so amazing, Bunny.  How  fiercely  they  gripped  each  other’s  pink-and-white  bodies, forming a hot little circle of such rib-crushing love and understanding it took my breath away. And then the nuzzling of ski-jump noses, peach fuzzy cheeks. Temples pressed against temples in a way that made me think of the labial rubbing of the bonobo or the telepathy of beautiful, murderous children in horror films. All eight of their eyes shut tight as if this collective asphyxiation were a kind of religious bliss. All four of their glossy mouths making squealing sounds of monstrous love that hurt my face.

I love you, Bunny.

I quietly prayed for the hug implosion all year last year. That their ardent squeezing might cause the flesh to ooze from the sleeves, neckholes, and A-line hems of their cupcake dresses like so much inane frosting. That they would get tangled in each other’s Game of Thrones hair, choked by the ornate braids they were forever braiding into each other’s heart-shaped little heads. That they would choke on each other’s blandly grassy perfume. Never happened. Not once.

They always came apart from these embraces intact and unwounded despite the ill will that poured forth from my staring eyes like so much comic-book-villain venom. Smiling at one another. Swinging clasped hands. Skins aglow with affection and belonging as though they’d just been hydrated by the purest of mountain streams.

Bunny, I love you.

Completely immune to the disdain of their fellow graduate student. Me. Samantha Heather Mackey. Who is not a Bunny. Who will never be a Bunny.

I pour myself and Ava more free champagne in the far corner of the tented green, where I lean against a white Doric pillar bedecked with billowing tulle. September. Warren University. The Narrative Arts department’s annual welcome back Demitasse, because this school is too Ivy and New England to call a party a party. Behold the tigerlily-heavy centerpieces. Behold the Christmas-lit white gauze floating everywhere like so many ghosts. Behold the pewter trays of salmon pinwheels, duck-liver crostini topped with little sugared orchids. Behold the white people in black discussing grants they earned to translate poets no one reads from the French. Behold the lavish tent under which the overeducated mingle, well versed in every art but the one of conversation. Smilingly oblivious to the fact that they are in the mouth of hell. Or as Ava and I call it, the Lair of Cthulhu. Cthulhu is a giant squid monster invented by a horror writer who went insane and died here. And you know what, it makes sense. Because you can feel it when you’re walking down the streets beyond the Warren Bubble that this town is a wrong town. Something not quite right about the houses, the trees, the light. Bring this up and most people just look at you. But not Ava. Ava says, My god, yes. The town, the houses, the trees, the light—it’s all fucked.
 

I stand here, I sway here, full of tepid sparkling and animal livers and whatever hard alcohol Ava keeps pouring from her Drink Me flask into my plastic cup. “What’s in this again?” I ask.

“Just drink it,” she says.

I observe from behind borrowed sunglasses as the women whom I must call my colleagues reunite after a summer spent apart in various trying locales such as remote tropical islands, the south of France, the Hamptons. I watch their fervent little bodies lunge for each other in something like rapture. Nails the color of natural poisons digging into each other’s forearms with the force of what I keep telling myself is feigned, surely feigned, affection. Shiny lips parting to call each other by their communal pet name.

“Jesus, are they for real?” Ava whispers in my ear now. She has never seen them up close. Didn’t believe me when I first told her about them last year. Said, There is no way grown women act like that. You’re making this up, Smackie. Over the summer, I started to think I had too. It is a relief in some ways to see them now, if only to confirm I am not insane.
“Yes,” I say. “Too real.”

I watch her survey them through her fishnet veil, her David Bowie eyes filled with horror and boredom, her mouth an unimpressed red line.

“Can we go now?”

“I can’t leave yet,” I say, my eyes still on them. They’ve pulled apart from one another at last, their twee dresses not even rumpled. Their shiny heads of hair not even disturbed. Their skins glowing with health insurance as they all crouch down in unison to collectively coo at a professor’s ever jumping shih tzu.

Why?”

“I told you, I have to make an appearance.”

Ava looks at me, slipping drunkenly down the pillar. I have said hello to no one. Not the poets who are their own fresh, grunty hell. Not the new incoming fiction writers who are laughing awkwardly by the shrimp tower. Not even Benjamin, the friendly administrator to whom I usually cling at these sorts of functions, helping him dollop quivering offal onto dried bits of toast. Not my Workshop leader from last spring, Fosco, or any other member of the esteemed faculty. And how was your summer, Sarah? And how’s the thesis coming, Sasha? Asked with polite indifference. Getting my name wrong always. Whatever response I offer—an earnest confession of my own imminent failure, a bald-faced lie that sets my face aflame—will elicit the same knowing nod, the same world-weary smile, a delivery of platitudes about the Process being elusive, the Work being a difficult mistress. Trust, Sasha. Patience, Sarah. Sometimes you have to walk  away, Serena. Sometimes, Stephanie, you have to seize the bull by the horns. This will  be followed by the recounting of a similar creative crisis/breakthrough they experienced while on a now-defunct residency in remote Greece, Brittany, Estonia. During which I will nod and dig my fingernails into my upper-arm flesh.

And obviously I haven’t talked to the Lion. Even though he’s here, of course. Somewhere. I saw him earlier out of the corner of my eye, more maned and tattooed than ever, pouring himself a glass of red wine at the open bar. Though he didn’t look up, I felt him see me. And then I felt him see me see him see me and keep pouring. I haven’t seen him since then so much as sensed him in my nape hair. When we first arrived, Ava felt he must be nearby because look, the sky just darkened out of nowhere.

This evening, all I have done in terms of socializing is half smile at the one the Bunnies call Psycho Jonah, my social equivalent among the poets, who is standing alone by the punch, smiling beatifically in his own antidepressant-fueled fever dream.

Ava sighs and lights a cigarette with one of the many tea lights that dot our table. She looks back at the Bunnies, who are now stroking each other’s arms with their small, small hands. “I miss you, Bunny,” they say to each other in their fake little girl voices, even though they are standing right fucking next to each other, and I can taste the hate in their hearts like iron on my tongue.

“I miss you, Bunny. This summer was so hard without you. I barely wrote a word, I was so, so sad. Let’s never ever part again, please?”

Ava laughs out loud at this. Actually laughs. Throws her feathery head back. Doesn’t bother to cover her mouth with her gloved hand. It’s a delicious, raucous sound. Ringing in the air like the evening’s missing music.

Shhhhh,” I hiss at her. But it’s already done.

The laughter causes the one I call the Duchess to turn her head of long, silver faery-witch locks in our direction. She looks at us. First at Ava. Then at me. Then at Ava again. She is surprised, perhaps, to see that for once I’m not alone, that I have a friend. Ava meets her look with wide-open eyes the way I do in my dream stares. Ava’s gaze is formidable and European. She continues to smoke and sip my champagne without breaking eye contact. She once told me about a staring contest she had with a gypsy she met on a metro in Paris. The woman was staring at her, so Ava stared back—the two of them aiming their gazes at each other like guns—all the way across the City of Lights. Just looking at each other from opposite shores of the rattling train. Eventually Ava took off her earrings, still not taking her eyes off the woman. Why? Because her assumption at that point, of course, was that the two of them would fight to the death. But when the train pulled into the last stop on the line, the woman just stood to exit, and when she did so, she even held back the sliding doors politely, so Ava could go first.

What’s the lesson here, Smackie? Don’t jump to conclusions?
Never lower your gaze first.
 
The Duchess, in turning toward us, causes a ripple effect of turning among the other Bunnies. First Cupcake looks over. Then Creepy Doll with her tiger eyes. Then Vignette with her lovely Victorian skull face, her stoner mouth wide open. They each look at Ava, then at me, in turn, scanning down from our heads to our feet, their eyes taking us in like little mouths sipping strange drinks. As they do, their noses twitch, their eight eyes do not blink, but stare and stare. Then they look back at the Duchess and lean in to each other, their lip-glossed mouths forming whispery words.

Ava squeezes my arm, hard.

The Duchess turns and arches an eyebrow at us. She raises a hand up. Is there an invisible gun in it? No. It’s an empty, open hand. With which she then waves. At me. With something like a smile on her face. Hi, her mouth says.

My hand shoots up of its own accord before I can even stop myself. I’m waving and waving and waving. Hi, I’m saying with my mouth, even though no sound comes out.

Then the rest of the Bunnies hold up a hand and wave too.

We’re all waving at one another from across the great shores of the tented green.

Except Ava. She continues to smoke and stare at them like they’re a four-headed beast. When at last I lower my hand, I turn to her. She’s looking at me like I’m something worse than a stranger.

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Bina
Excerpt

I always found fellas very difficult. I never got tangled up in them for that reason. I put my head down and lived a rea­sonable life. Or rather once I put the head down, I lived a reasonable life.

Women are no easier. So don’t be fooled thinking other­wise.

They are all awful, awful, awful.

All humans are awful.

All of us are awful.

Be very suspicious.

Stick to cats or carp.

Goats are less trouble than humans.

He’s mad as a goat, they’ll say. Yet I never met a goat as mad as a man.

Goats never caused me mounds of grief.

Goats never sat like a pile of rank mush in my kitchen.

Worse thing they ever did was eat something they couldn’t digest, yet you’d no more go down their throat after it. You leave them be. You let them decide, do you want to live or die? Do you want to carry on or take a left turn?

A man though, he could get into your kidneys and irritate them & you in a very special way. It’s why women are up in the night to go to the toilet as they age. They are widdling the confused strain of anger gathered up in there all day. I’ve no explanation as to why men are up piddling all night too, except perhaps it’s God’s subtle way of tormenting them. He goes straight for the pipe does our Saviour.

Out of the toilet quick, Bina!

Before I’m distracted.

I’m an awful woman for distraction.

Curiosity was my downfall.

You’ll see yet.
 
 
But let us return to the goats.

Not demanding, goats.

Unless they sneak out.

Then and even then, and only then, it’s the humans cause a big fuss. The goats don’t much mind the humans; they carry on doing what they do, a simple desire to eat briars unim­peded. Armoured tongues. Clipping nibbles. Head in. Chomp crunch. Down. Down. You could be dying on the ground and a goat would eat all the way around you, and not take a lick or a bare sniff at you. He’d follow the feed.

Not the humans! Oh no, big fuss when goats escape. They’re out on the road! Mad. Arms waving. Phones ringing. Thumb-stabbing slipped texts to the wrong farmer. They raise their voices. They’ll shout at any man who’ll hear. Any ear. Or woman. And amid shrieking carnival and lifeboat dispatch you’d wonder wherever did they think goats were before we put them into fields and sheds? Where do they think the wild goats are? The goats just keep on eating and buck about. They don’t mind your trumpet or your texts.

I’ve had to give up my goats on account of the humans. Let me be clear on that, it wasn’t the other way round. I haven’t given up my goats for any reason aside from Eddie. Don’t listen when they say oh it’s her age or her health or the diabetes or she needs to lose weight. I haven’t the diabetes. It’s Joanie, God rest her, who had the diabetes. None of us knew. She kept it quiet and now she’s dead and that’s what happens when you keep things quiet. Though I do believe in keeping some things quiet. Phil had it too, the diabetes.[1]

I am as strong as steel. Unbendable Bina. It’s just the humans are doing me in. Not the goats, not the diabetes. I don’t even eat cakes. If I start eating cakes, it’s because they drove me to it. Eddie would drive you to eat cakes. I’m surprised I didn’t plunge my face down into a Victoria sponge, with him and now this other tall fella breaking my brain to crumb.

* * *

There has to be a plan. I’ll have to kill the cat if I’m to go. That’s a pity. For the best. Nice cat though. Except when it piddled all over the place early on. Including on my new pil­lows, because Eddie locked the poor craytur in my bedroom. Them’s the sort of stupid thing Eddies do.

I didn’t want it to get out, he said.
You locked him in my bedroom for two days and gave him no food because you didn’t want him to get out?

He didn’t get out tho’, he said.

He couldn’t get out! He was locked in!

That cat’s not dead, said he. As if there were some fear the cat would be dead if it lived a normal
cat’s life.

It’s very hard to get run over when you are locked inside my bedroom.

Most cats die. Most cats let out die. They die on the road.

And he believes it. He holds fast. Plain, dry, seasoned obliv­ious. Smothered with fungal oblivion. He could live, die and rise again entirely oblivious that man. Every time the thought revisits me that I should have left him in that ditch. I am thinking it as I write this to you. I’m warning you not to lift men out of ditches and don’t trust the common declaration “all he needs is a bang on the head.” Eddie received a big bang on the head when he landed off his motorbike in my ditch and there is no evidence of it improving him. I don’t know how I didn’t take the cat and brain him with it. Except the poor crea­ture had suffered enough. My pillows never recovered and the smell of cat piss still lingers. It’s a reminder. Heed your remind­ers. Your mistakes always come with reminders. Often there’s a smell of a reminder. Log it. Sniff it. Choke on it. Make your nose passport and border control. Let no one in.

Since Eddie’s gone, I’ve put items in his bed to remind myself he is gone. But I had to throw out the mattress,[2] the pillows and sheets he’d slept on for years, because he was filthy anytime he lay down on them. You could never wash the smell of him away. I’ve one room stinks of cat’s piss and another of Eddie. I hesitated though, because according to my prophecy I thought the smell of him could, if I left it, serve as a warning. I’m happy to say I’m past needing a warning, which is why I am able to batter this out to yourselves. I’ve transcended.

I often wonder at the women who give birth to awful young fellas like Eddie. I think there’s a case to be heard for shoving the likes of Eddie back up and starting all over again. I believe in abortion since I met Eddie. It’s only a shame you can’t abort a 40-year-old.
 

* * *

I believe in obliteration. I believe in removing useless speci­mens from the planet. I don’t say it aloud, but I’m committed. You can only say it aloud if God has told you to do it. He hasn’t, but On My Oath if I were called I would serve. Likewise, I believe that the more useful amongst us should also have some choice about when we go. That is why I joined the Group when the Tall Man came to my door.
 
Eddie’s gone quiet now.

So we are waiting. That’s all I do now.

Wait.

Suspiciously.

Primed.

[1] See, Malarky: A Novel in Episodes.  
[2] I wonder now if I hadn’t had the delay on needing to get a new mat­tress might I have saved Phil. Maybe, in the end, Eddie will have killed the pair of us without even trying.

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Shot Rock

Shot Rock

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