Julie called me at work to say Kurt Cobain’s sweater was up at auction.
“The famous one?” I asked, picturing dewy midtone green with golden contrast at the hem. So collegiate. My phone’s face blinked red: angry reminder of an unattended inbound call.
“They’re all famous,” said Julie, “right? But look at the listing. I just sent it.”
Sources verified that Julien’s was a respected dealer of rock and pop-culture memorabilia, everything from Cher’s Reebok sweatband (aerobics purposes only) to Clinton’s roach clip. Fifty grand would put you in the running for the mohair sweater of Unplugged fame.
Fifty grand: Where would I get it? I wouldn’t, I knew in the pit of my gut, the locus of my rational mind. I’d just surpassed the thousand-bucks-in-savings mark. I imagined phoning exes, all of them better off now than back then, asking for smallish, interest-free loans; presenting the circumstances — straightforwardly framed — and embellishing with the florid, sexless detail of my ten-year-old-self’s dream. My parents might be good for a few thou, though the nearer retirement came, the less likely they were to indulge romantic nostalgia. Aunt Oona had never had a lover, but even she couldn’t be immune to the memory of a first rock crush, piquant as the night breeze to ocean-damp skin.
Decades back — two, in fact — I papered my walls with full-bleed spreads torn from Rolling Stone. Kurt, halo-haired, anchored the collage. Kurt in stripes, in outsized plastic shades, in tatty tees draping lushly from his slender frame. Always the same unfocused gaze to middle distance, dangled cigarette, occasional sneer to the camera and imagined watcher. Oh, how I wanted to leave my hair to snarl! To set my mouth as a pensive line, maintain an animal silence, fuck the police — anyone who wouldn’t listen or believe I knew the best next steps toward becoming myself. Instead, I brooded. Snapped my flavor-sapped Juicyfruit, the boombox’s volume hovering at 6: loud enough for clarity, quiet such that my mom wouldn’t rap on the hollow-core door and demand that I turn it down, already. Oh, who I would have maimed to see a live show, feel the reverb shuddering through my chest! To stay up past bedtime and beyond. I longed, as we all did, for any tiny modicum of freedom. There at my desk, miniblinds parceling the unctuous noontime light, I could almost feel the unvacuumed shag against my cheek as I lay on my bedroom floor, Unplugged on repeat on the Sony.
Leagues from my childhood bedroom and heady with memory, I retreated to the Xerox room — the only workplace door with a lock. Kristi’d left a big job running, and the copier’s light shuttled back and forth beneath the lowered lid, gold spilling out in warm flashes. I cleared the work table of conduct handbooks and memos and lay down to study the ceiling patterns: to recenter.
Plastic laminate against skin feels the same regardless of surroundings. I let the cool of the tabletop rise to meet my downturned palms and move through them, studied the pinprick scatter of the crumbling tiles above. My heartbeat slowed to match the thrum, click, return of the copier. I closed my eyes.
When the sweater arrived, it would be wrapped in royal-blue tissue, wrinkleless, encased in protective plastic. The exterior box would be nothing fancy, its plainness a deterrent to would-be thieves. Its only signifier of prestige would be the embossed gold J of the return address. I would coordinate my opening of the package with the weather, waiting for the ideal stretch of misted fog — conditions to enable maximum contrast between my body and the air. Running a knife along the box’s long edge, I’d mute my inhalation as I smoothed back the tissue.
Of course, skin-to-mohair contact would be the only way to capture whatever essence lived in those fibers: incorporate it, atom by atom, and draw its strength. Bare feet, too, the necessity of cold running from the blank tile up through my willing footsoles, the low evening light dully patching the leaves of the rubber tree, captive in its red slipcast pot. A walk around my apartment in the brittle garment would reveal a newness to the space, each thrift-store lamp and candlestick endowed with a fresh graciousness: inherent splendor made visible by the erasure of familiarity.
Outside, the mist would gather into droplets; streetlamp auras would widen and burn. The sweater would warm to a living heat and carry me from the evening into the day, day into evening, the cycle forming its own routine. I’d mask the original brown pocketside stain with coffee spills of my own, would smoke leaning from the bathroom window for the purpose of accreting cast-off ash, burn holes to circle the cuffs and climb the lengths of the sleeves, rivaling the damage done by the former wearer. I’d tug loose threads to let the weave grow wide, the humid air move in and through.
When the sweater ceased to keep its form and became instead a network of threads — more a memory of the thing than the thing itself — I would unclothe and prepare the garment for unravel. Spritz the threads with chicken stock and blot them dry, interlace the buttonholes with bacon. Lay the garment spread-armed in the courtyard, out of plain view but not hidden, and wait for my departure to signal welcome to the animals who would unthread arm from body, body from itself — a disappearance detached, unwitnessed, and feral.
About the Author:
Kate Garklavs lives and works in Portland, OR. Her work has previously appeared in Ohio Edit, Juked, Matchbook, and Tammy, among other places. She earned her MFA at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and she’s currently a reader for the Portland Review.
This story won The Conium Review‘s 2016 Flash Fiction Contest, judged by Leesa Cross-Smith. It will also be republished as a limited-run micro-chapbook for distribution at the 2017 AWP Conference in Washington, DC.
Image Credit: © pylypchuk25 – stock.adobe.com
Amelia Gray has selected Emily Koon as the 2015 Innovative Short Fiction Contest winner for her short story, “The People Who Live in the Sears.”
Amelia chose this this story “for its life and humor, its world-building and pace.” She also noted “I found the really unique thing about this story was its movement; it first sits in one place like a man on a couch at the Sears, picking up little objects and people and turning them over. Then, it moves quickly from room to room and then from house to house, swallowing up forests. The story closes in on a shopper or a person and then widens out just as quickly. On top of all that, it’s funny; a little George Saunders, a little Don Barthelme, but best of all a lot of its own thing, the neon Jazzercize glory of the 80s going up like the asbestos-fueled fire it features.”
Emily Koon lives in North Carolina. She earned her MFA from Emerson College in Boston. She has work in Portland Review, Bayou, Atticus Review, and other places and can be found at twitter.com/thebookdress.
This year’s finalists were Rita Bullwinkel, Adrian Fort, Ingrid Jendrzejewski, Marina Petrova, and Adam Webster. Honorable mentions include Michelle Donahue, Regan Douglass, and Kim Hagerich.
The Conium Review editorial staff thanks everybody who submitted and supported our annual Innovative Short Fiction Contest. We’ll announce next year’s judge soon, and we hope many of you will consider submitting again in 2016.
The Portland Review Fall Film and Video Issue
Sneak Preview Edition
I hold in my hands a sneak preview of The Portland Review’s “Fall Film and Video” issue, distributed to readers and reviewers at last month’s Wordstock festival. It contains a smattering of prose and poetry by Rochelle Hurt, Dennis Hinrichsen, Sean Bernard, and J. Bowers.
The Physical Construction: Delinquently DIY
The advanced preview of this fall’s issue is understandably low-budget, which is fine; I don’t mind a low-budget. Our small press is no stranger to limited coffers. And in previous small press gigs, I worked on plenty of stapled zines made from cardstock and pilfered library printer paper.The sneak preview is basically a saddle stapled zine with 14 pages of internal content to choose from. Unfortunately, as far as zines go, it’s not that well constructed—unaligned pages, copy grade paper cover, and a single staple with teeth facing outward for a nasty prick to the fingers. But then again, it’s a promo piece, and I have to give them props for making use of the centerfold pages for a large, landscape piece of black and white artwork.But enough about the physical appearance—the final Portland Review
issues are always beautifully assembled, with great artwork, perfect binding, and attention to detail. I just like to address the volume’s physical quality, because layout and design is an important part of book production, even if it’s DIY-style. DIY books can be beautiful when done with care and craft; I’ve seen other low-budget zines do a lot more with lot less.
The Writing: Humor and Humor Attempted
So let’s talk about the innards. The preview issue opens strong with a delightful poem by Rochelle Hurt. Her work is subtle, makes good use of perception shift, and has touches of humor. I’d highly recommend finding additional work on her website.
After this strong opening, the preview takes a bit of a nosedive. The Sean Bernard piece adopts a relatively unique tone, indicative of strong writing, but this excerpt from California doesn’t work well as a standalone piece—cleaved from its whole, the excerpt lacks decisive purpose or direction, and it feels unfinished. Of course, excerpting can often lead to a feeling of absence, but a well-selected excerpt should generate some of its own gusto even in isolation.
The interview with Mike Grey, star of the Comedy Cellar Network show The Troupe, falls a bit flat too. The interview has a punch line that tries to incorporate some humorous existentialist remarks, all swirled around repeatedly asking if it’s okay to light up a cigarette. This premise sounds nice, but the entire exchange feels like a failed Abbot and Costello routine. The Troupe may be a laugh riot, but this interview just didn’t do it.
Other selections in the preview were also okay, but lacked the “oomph” of Rochelle Hurt’s opening piece. In the few days prior to reading this preview edition, I had found a better assortment of outstanding work on The Portland Review’s poetry blog, though most of these poems were obviously not suited for a “Film and Video” themed issue. Regardless, The Portland Review has better writing currently relegated to the blog burner.
Overall, the preview has some polished text, but not much of a wow factor. I wasn’t as impressed with this preview compared to what I know The Portland Review can deliver. However, maybe I’ll still head to Powell’s and page through the full issue; maybe some more pieces like Rochelle Hurt’s great opener will find their way into the finished product—the poetry blog gives me hope.
Review by James R. Gapinski
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