Adventures of a Modern Fabulist
He flirted with the cashier the first time we met for coffee, and immediately I knew I’d have to lie. A prime directive shot through the blood straight to my brain: Lie about everything.
You strike me as an “artsy” type, he said at the beginning, using air quotes. It was January and I had worn my faux leopard coat, an old gift from my husband. I was growing out a failed experiment of short, bleached hair that looked awful. Oh yeah, I said. Completely artsy.
By February I was telling him I was open to voting Republican. We shot guns in his backyard and I said I enjoyed it. Told him I would love to shoot an arrow at something.
After a while I started matching my lies to his truths. When he was six his father committed suicide. His mother remarried but his step-father left six years later. He never spoke with his step-siblings again. He’d had run-ins with the law. He was divorced. He was an alcoholic, now five years sober.
I clucked and looked appropriately hushed-stunned at this information. Proceeded to tell him that I had a bastard for a father. That I quit smoking. That I, too, was currently sober. When he invited me to church, I declined; I told him I had been traumatized by Sunday School as a girl. But God was still in my heart, I assured him. Faith had never left me.
Made him trust me. Made him desire me. Shaved my legs every day and never removed my bridgework. Wore sexy clothes and strange underwear, hinted that maybe I liked handcuffs. Swore that my husband was a violent man who was terrified of losing me.
Lies upon lies. I couldn’t help it. Fiction is painless.
The Four Hollow Chambers
I am dreaming. Above me a line of people stand shoulder to shoulder behind a plate glass window, looking down at my body on a table. The doctor is planting a machine in my chest this morning. It will connect to my brain, they have told me. It will help my shakes, my rubber heart. It will come with a remote control that has on/off buttons.
It is two months earlier. I am unable to zip my pants for all the shaking and sweating. My chest feels as if it contains a spastic maniac tripping forward, on the verge of falling down and not getting up. I walk away from the unflushed toilet, dread forming in my belly. I find my wife in the kitchen and stand in the doorway, my Dockers sagging around my knees, hands trembling uncontrollably. You look pale, she says. I feel pale, I want to say, but instead I sit down. She zips me up and calls the doctor. I don’t hear the conversation. This phone call is something that should not, cannot be known, and I do not listen. I lie down. The secret’s finished. The half-lame gait inside evens out into a regular walk.
It is two hours earlier. The nurses lean over me and tell me to count backwards. A swirling feeling, an inside voice that whispers, Let go, let go. My sobbing wife’s face. A rush of bright lights overhead, as amazing and beautiful to me as my first carnival ride.
Now I am in the operating room looking up at windows, forgetting how I arrived. I turn back to find that I have missed the exact placement of the machine. I watch the surgeons close the cut, their fingers flying over me with invisible needle and thread. I do not know how long I have been here. I look at my own face lolling on the table, mouth slack and open, stuffed full of tubes. My skin looks yellowish-gray, very bad. I look as if I do not want to wake up.
But I do wake up. Once, twice, eyelids fluttering and settling. When I finally open my eyes, I am in a cool, dark room. At the edge of my vision I can see ebony tile floor. I imagine I am drifting on a quiet, black-mirror sea, and this thought comforts me. My wife is standing over me. We are alone in the room. I have a button in my hand I can press when I’m in pain. I’ll have morphine for two hundred, Alex, I croak. My wife looks at me with alarm and pity. I wonder if they have given her the remote control yet, if she will lose it like she did the garage-door opener.
I wonder if the machine in my chest lights up where I can’t see. I wonder if it will make noise. I lie in this dim room, listening to the machines beside me whir and beep and hum, listening harder for my trick heart, wondering if my wife can hear it. Wondering if it will comfort her at night as she waits for sleep.
Ashley Hutson‘s work has been featured in SmokeLong Quarterly, DOGZPLOT, The Heavy Contortionists, Pantheon, Boston Literary Magazine, and others. In 2014 she was a finalist for the Orlando Short Fiction Prize. She lives in Sharpsburg, MD, and is on the web at www.aahutson.com
–Art by Karamelo
–Art by Mariya Petrova-Existencia