Three Fictions
Stevie Davis


After Topeka add a kind of shrug. This is the new way we go sowing. Laconic, as they like to call us when they think we're listening. To lift the round humps of muscle and let drop. As if to say I can heft it, but I don't care to. Never does it mean I don't know. Our necks are still grown thick, though we wear waddle. Yes, yes, we have grown fat. True. But this paunch, the dimples on wives' thighs. . . shit, these are consolation prizes while they rob us. To lose calluses and filthy fingernails is to forget how to talk to our fathers. Only 15 percent of the population of the American middle west under age 25 can distinguish the smell of tilled soil from the smell of unwashed hair. The smell of cigarettes is the new springtime pasture burning. An even slimmer percentage of these plump and doughy trodden can successfully pronounce the word wash as their grandfathers did. What else is lost? What the fuck is a divan, a boy asked his 76-year-old aunt at a family reunion in Anonville. Young man, where are your shirtsleeves, she is said to have replied. The boy shrugged. Work on that, the woman said.


After Topeka -- after a fashion -- the boy learned to shrug. An aunt died of cancer. The family reunions kind of fizzled out, replaced by Fourth of July fireworks shows in Anonapolis and the occasional weekend at home, doing laundry and filling it into black trash bags taut to tearing then pitched into the backseat of a foreign car. The boy shrugged his way through a English degree, a couple townie girls, and a few family funerals. He found his stray shrug in the alley behind the hippy grocery store on 43rd, where he was taking a smoke break in the tented heat of summer. Four bums came ambling down the alley and asked him could they get a smoke. Like little kids, they come bumming smokes. And a light. And would he like a pull of this. Sure, fuck it. He shrugged. He grew into it, as though his shrug was a hand-me-down. His shrug was a hand-me-down. Finally fit. Wearing through his sleeves now and into his late twenties. Into an unairconditioned place in a colonnaded apartment building in midtown. Nearly enough money to hit the record store final days sale or get the tattoo finished. About a half a job halfway across the city. Since this young man will never work, he lets his hair grow and shaves his chest. A grandpa ago, chaff dusted chest hair above what they called a guinea-T.


After Topeka terseness was a grift or a guise. Talk became the work, the warp, the wait of their lives. The doughy men who grew out of their fourth generation farm frames began to migrate in broad numbers to the great failed cities of the midwest. Here, like all the people of cities, they began to run their mouths. They mistook couches for comfort. They left their sons to parks and parking lots. They forgot how to drive drunk. They found fret. A few, growing their first beards before balding back, returned from a broad. As predicted by the mothers of Collins Park, none of them amounted to anything. Who can amount who has never been west of Denver? They settled the wild farmlands in great arcs around another brand new Anonapolis. She took up with them like she'd been waiting. She smoothed the curls and kinks from the hairs along their napes. Their breasts rivaled hers even as the children came in quick succession. Still they could not provide. But she led them from behind, because she knew they would not need her if she wasn't there. She knew that without the broad dumb emotions that beaded upon them and dripped, she would cease to be there too. So she listened to all the stupid shit they'd found they had to say, between spoonsful.