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Sarah Gerard’s THE BUTTER HOUSE coming in 2023!

Coming in 2023 from Conium Press

The Butter House, by Sarah Gerard

Launch party at AWP Seattle in March, 2023.

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In early 2023, Conium Press is releasing The Butter House, a new chapbook from Sarah Gerard. This story follows a woman who moves from New York to a Florida bungalow with her boyfriend. She navigates contradictory landscapes of love and possession, nature and built-environment, empathy and sympathy. She becomes a surrogate caretaker for a colony of feral cats. She grows a garden. She interrogates what it means to care for somebody or something. This is a delicate story, but it choses deliberate moments to scratch and bite with the ferocity of a territorial alley cat.

Sarah Gerard is the author of the novels True Love and Binary Star and the essay collection Sunshine State. They are the recipient of a 2021 Lambda Literary Dr. James Duggins Outstanding Mid-Career Novelist Prize. Sarah’s short stories, essays, and interviews have appeared in The New York Times, T Magazine, Granta, McSweeney’s, The Believer, Vice, Electric Literature, and the anthologies We Can’t Help It If We’re From Florida, One Small Blow Against Encroaching Totalitarianism, Tampa Bay Noir, Erase the Patriarchy, and I Know What’s Best For You: Stories on Reproductive Freedom. Learn more about Sarah Gerard’s work on their website.

Photograph of author Sarah Gerard

Advance Praise for The Butter House

“A couple moves into the titular Butter House, and soon find themselves mired in the project of cat care. Sarah Gerard writes beautifully and precisely about the visceral, secretive feline landscape, and the possibilities that emerge when this world intersects with the human realm—challenging the couple at the center of The Butter House to renegotiate their relationship to care and what it means to feel at home.”

—Laura van den Berg, author of The Third Hotel and I Hold a Wolf by the Ears

The Butter House is like a lithe and seductive feline, sinking its uncut claws into you. Sarah Gerard’s prose is quiet and contemplative and then chaotic in bursts, also not unlike a cat. The Butter House incisively considers the simultaneous care and cruelty of pet ownership, and Gerard is masterful in writing into all the nooks and crannies of a relationship. It’s the tale cat people deserve.”

Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya, author of Helen House

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13 + 4 =

“Empty Nest,” by Jillian Jackson

Rabbit sketch

The day her youngest left for college, she came home with two cats. A boy and a girl, just like her children. Everyone understood. The nest was empty. It’s that thing. It’s only natural.

“You’re such a little peanut,” she said to one of the cats. “My little Peanut. Peanut Butter. Peanut Butt.”

“Biscuit,” she said to the other. “Bisquick. Little Bisque. Bisque-Kitten. Biscuit-Tin. Lobster Bisque. My little Lobster, sweet Lobster Claw.”

She bought them beds and toys and treats. She let them scratch her couch. She scooped their poop twice a day. She liked the crunching sounds they made when they ate their dry food with their precise little teeth. The metal tinkling of the tags on their collars, like tiny bells, joyful sounds that let her know they were close.

It wasn’t enough. While her husband was at work, she went to the pet store and bought some rabbits. The rabbits proceeded to do it like rabbits. More rabbits. Her husband helped her build hutches around the house. She fed them each their own head of lettuce. She stuck her fingers through the wire cages. They were soft, impossibly soft, so soft, eight, sixteen, twenty-four soft little feet, lucky feet.

Too many rabbits, her husband said. The nest was too full. He made her put an ad in the local paper: bunnies for sale. But then he had a heart attack, and when the house was dark and her children had left again and all the flowers had wilted and she put the cards away and there weren’t any more casseroles in the freezer, she was grateful she still had the rabbits, and it seemed to her, in fact, that she did not have enough rabbits.

Maybe it wasn’t rabbits, precisely. Maybe it was something else she needed. Hamsters. Hamsters were small. They could fit in your pocket. That could be her new thing. Now that she was not all the things she used to be, she could be the lady who did that, who went around town with a hamster in her pocket.

The hamster did not like her pocket. It did not mind its cage: the wood chips, the brightly colored tubes, sucking from the metal tip of the water bottle. The sound of its nails against the plastic, its feet scrambling through the loops, comforted her. “Silly hamster,” she said. “Hamster-Ham. You are my smoky little Ham.”

When she got the hamsters she also got two goldfish. Impulse buy at the checkout line. The same way she would sometimes buy a candy bar, or a trashy magazine. Two fish, a tank, a filter, fish flakes, pink pebbles, seaweed plants, a castle, a plastic diving man, a Jacques Costeau. She wondered what they would do if she stroked their glittering scales with the pads of her fingers.

Weeks later she was out running errands. She was buying food for herself and for the cats and the fish and the hamster and the rabbits. When she got to the dairy section, she thought, how silly. How silly to spend money when there are creatures that will give these things to you for free.

She bought a full-grown chicken and a couple of chicks. She named the chicken Pokey. “Little Poke,” she said. “Hey there, Pokey-Partner.”

She put the chicken in a coop in the yard and the chicks under heat lamps in the living room. Their yellow feathers glowed under the hot red lights. She cupped a chick in her hands and said, “What a lovely fluff. Fluffy baby.”

Then, of course: a cow for the milk. A couple horses, because, why not?

To the horses, she said: “Beautiful. Perfect,” and she ran her palm over their wet velvet noses, kissed the wide hard plane of their foreheads.

Birds: lovebirds, parrot, parakeets. She gave them their own room. “This is for the birds!” she punned. Soon, she joked to no one in particular, she would need an ark. But, she laughed, there were sometimes more and sometimes less than two of every kind.

But when she fell asleep at night, she thought: this is not what I want. How have I strayed so far from what I want?

What she really wanted was to lock herself inside a cage. For someone to feed her, bathe her, pet her, brush her. She wanted someone to make up nicknames for her, call her sweet diminutives, to hold her, tightly, so tightly she could not breathe, and tell her that she was beautiful, perfect, perfect; that she was the best thing in the whole world, the only thing, and she wanted to go limp in that warm embrace, to know nothing except the sound of a soft voice singing her praises, unintelligible words of comfort, murmurs of endless, boundless love.

About the Author:

Jillian Jackson is a graduate of the MFA program in Fiction at Boston University, where she received the Florence Engel Randall Graduate Fiction Award. She’s also the recipient of a St. Botolph Club Foundation’s Emerging Artist Grant. Her work appears in Smokelong Quarterly and Misadventures Magazine.

Special Note:

This story was a finalist in The Conium Review‘s 2016 Flash Fiction Contest, judged by Leesa Cross-Smith.

Image Credit: © Vadim Gnidash – stock.adobe.com