Two Short Stories
About the Writer
Kelly Magee’s first book, Body Language (UNT Press 2006), won the Katherine Anne Porter Prize in Short Fiction. She is the author of two forthcoming collections of prose and poetry, With Animal (Black Lawrence Press, 2015) and The Reckless Remainder (Noctuary Press, 2016), both co-written with Carol Guess. Her writing has recently appeared in The Kenyon Review, Gulf Stream, Crazyhorse, Indiana Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Passages North, and others. She teaches creative writing and queer studies at Western Washington University.
Smart: A Definition
Smack me with what you know, baby, I’m asking for it. Make those ten dollar words zip like a switch, make that jargon sizzle. Sting me with words you can correctly pronounce so I’ll stop suspecting you don’t know as much as you think you do. Whip the thought from me. I want you to. Tell me your intimate knowledge of car parts and hand tools, the names of every eighteenth century philosopher, the sexual parts of trees. The calculus of the universe, all my errors Xed in red. A hot iron for every right answer: A, B, C blistering my skin. I don’t understand this language for choice, I close my eyes and point my pencil, blacken Cs down the middle. Abandon myself to the random, to the inherent wisdom of the universe, which is a bad idea because we all know the universe is bad at taking tests. You’re not. You understand the promise embedded in every numbered question: the potential to get it right, to determine with certainty what is true. And what is not. It must feel like licking frosting from a beater. Tongue chafing sugar, the metal’s freed gleam. You there, pencil behind your ear, your whole lexicon held slingshot. The dishtowel snap, the rubber band zing. Rope burns, rug burns. My body a mess, your brain still firing vocabulary, everything you know channeled into hands holding this rock – the dumbest thing, you tell me, which can be the deadliest weapon.
Flip: A Definition
The upswing before the flop. Before the smack. The sound determined by your pace, your pace determined by what came before / by what you used to believe / by who is on top of you. Depending on whether you’re face-up or face-down / depending on how good your karate is, your self-defense / depending upon your execution of the Buck ‘N’ Tuck, a foolproof way of getting unpinned according to your teacher, except that you’re the only fool still on the floor. The attacker’s hands around your neck, maybe / maybe your wrists / but maybe this isn’t an attacker but a boy you love / or a woman / or the one boy in your class of all women, the one you’re paired with to practice the Buck ‘N’ Tuck. He sits like a log, immovable, while you buck and buck, your hips embarrassing themselves, the pairs of girls cross-legged around you, all those completed tucks and impotent sympathy, and you still / still / still on your back. Sandal straps digging between your toes, thong riding up, the way the body will accept only so much before resistance kicks in / the way the window splinters / the way the forest closes its door / the way a flex becomes a kick. How you can turn a story like a corner, now we are going this way, follow me, it’s an illusion, the audience watching your face while your hips are doing something else. Something else. It doesn’t matter if he’s pinned your wrists because you have a mouth on you, and what you are thinking is that you can ridicule this motherfucker off you, you can lay into him the way you do, your one-upmanship perfected since childhood, nobody could beat you then and he can’t now, you can hone in with laser precision and vaporize things like egos and wishes / muscles and gravity. The Buck ‘N’ Tuck has nothing on you. You know how to swap love and hate, you’re keen to the irony of how close the buck is to a sex act, the line between defense and desire so hard to call. If you get out from under him / if you find yourself on top, will you plant your flag? Will you give him a hand up? Will you change the beginning to once upon a boy, will you make a joke about the rising action? You’re not innocent; you know what it’s like to be bucked. Seen one way, your mouth is full of ammo and your body cocked. Seen another, you are no one’s child, lost in the woods, stalked by what you don’t know has already spotted you.