EDITOR’S NOTE by Steph Opitz
If I’m the first person to tell you about Amelia Gray, we obviously don’t have any Facebook friends in common. More than a few CLMP members have published her: Tin House, Guernica, DIAGRAM, American Short Fiction, to name some. And Flavorwire just named her one of The Top 10 Best Millennial Authors You Probably Haven’t Read (Yet). So, let’s do something about that.
I first encountered Amelia Gray accidentally at a reading, maybe four years ago. She got on stage with a handful of note cards and said she was going to read some “threats.” And then she proceeded to scare the crap out of me. With each card, a promissory note of a very awkward and/or terrifying thing that would happen (to who? me!? gulp). And, once she pronounced the threat, she crumpled it up and chucked it at the audience. I bring this up to warn you: Amelia gets up in your face.
Her stories aren’t the type you read and then forget when and where you read them. You’ll remember. You’ll remember because it’s like rubber cement, or some other addictively-bad smelling thing, that you can’t get away from and have to roll-peel off your skin for days. Take “These Are the Fables,” for example. Believe you me, the burnt sugar smell of the blazing Dunkin’ Donuts is going to need more than a shower to ditch.
In the glow of the glazed and sprinkled flames, is a couple too-old-to-be-forgiven-for-this-type–of-behavior plotting their next moves through Texas. They learn they’re with child. We learn what we think is a lot about how to read this couple. From the get, you’ll think Amelia is generous with the details. She lures you in with information, you think you have it all down, and then you realize those surface information nuggets are just a distraction and all the while something else has been happening. There isn’t a lot of action or a big cast, and yet, each encounter, every action, like any great short story, is just so — well — pregnant. So in this trail of smoke through Texas towns avoided and considered, here’s a story about closed doors, physical contact, willful ignorance, the search for meaning, obsessive love, the inertia of the day to day, and, ultimately, what to share. And, while the images of the couple can at times be endearing, each time you read this story, you’ll say to yourself, Jesus H. Christ there is just something menacing about this picture.
Former Programs Director
Council of Literary Magazines Presses
These Are the Fables
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WE WERE IN THE PARKING LOT OF A DUNKIN’ DONUTS IN BEAUMONT, TX when I told Kyle that I was pregnant. I figured I’d rather be out under God as I announced the reason for all my illness and misery.
I said to him, Well shit. Guess we’re having a baby.
“Lemme see,” Kyle said. I handed him the test and he squinted at it for a second before tossing it into a bush. A stranger set his coffee on the roof of his car and clapped. Kyle flipped him the double deuce. “People these days,” Kyle said.
I said that my mama will be happy.
“Here’s the thing,” he said. “Your mama’s dead. And you’re forty years old. And I have a warrant out for my arrest. And I am addicted to getting tattoos. And our air conditioner’s broke. And you are drunk every day. And all I ever want to do is fight and go swimming. And I am addicted to Keno. And you are just covered in hair. And I’ve never done a load of laundry in my life. And you are still technically married to my drug dealer. And I refuse to eat beets. And you can’t sleep unless you’re sleeping on the floor. And I am addicted to heroin. And honest to God, you got big tits but you make a real shitty muse. And we are in Beaumont, Texas.”
I said, These are minor setbacks on the road to glory.
“And,” Kyle added, “the Dunkin’ Donuts is on fire.”
I looked, and indeed it was. Customers streamed from the doors, carrying wire baskets of bear claws, trucker hatfuls of sprinkled Munchkins. “Get out of here,” one of the patrons said. “The damn thing is going up.”
I said, Kyle. Listen. I said, We’re going to have to make it work, we’ll forge a life on our own and the children will lead us.
The wall of donuts had fueled a mighty grease fire. The cream-filled variety sizzled and popped and sprinkles blackened. Each donut ignited those within proximity. Their baskets glowed and charred. The coffee machine melted. The smoke was blue and smelled like a dead bird. I took Kyle’s coffee cup, popped the lid and vomited into it. I felt sadness, because all I had wanted that morning was a Munchkin and the absence of puke. I said that everything would be all right, that we were living in the best of all possible Dunkin’ Donuts parking lots.
He pushed some dirt over the test with the toe of his boot. “Poor girl,” he said. Between his sensitive nose and sour stomach, we both knew the next nine months plus the eighteen to twenty-two years after that would wreak some manner of havoc.
I said I was sorry because it seemed like the right thing to say. I put the coffee cup on the ground because the trash bin inside was consumed by flames.
Kyle took my hand. We had to get out of there before the cops showed up to the fire and started checking IDs. He guided me to the car and opened my door. He bought half a dozen roses at the Kroger and laid them between us on the dash.
“Let’s get back to the Rio Grande,” Kyle said. He wanted to avoid Houston, which is sort of like wanting to avoid a talk from your mama when you come home with a Keno addict. I tipped my seat back and dug into sleep like sleep owed me an explanation. Kyle skimmed Houston on the tollway and headed for the coast, hitting cities with names like what you’d find across the spines on your grandma’s bookshelf. Blessing. Point Comfort. Sugar Land. Victoria.
It’s how we ended up in the Days Inn in Corpus. Kyle examined a road map in his underpants while I took the bucket to the ice machine. A crowd of tourists were standing in the laundry room. They were speaking languages.
A young woman touched my ice bucket. “We are looking for where Selena was murdered,” she said.
I said I didn’t know what she meant. “Selena the Tejano star,” the woman said. “Fifteen years ago at this very Days Inn. I am disappointed in you,” she said. One of the women was leaned up against the ice machine. She had her face pressed into her hands and her hands were pressed into the ice machine.
“They won’t tell us where,” the young woman said. “They changed the numbers on the doors so we won’t find out.”
I said I didn’t know.
She pulled me close. “There are secrets at this Days Inn,” she said.
I said that there were secrets at every Days Inn. The ice machine was broken and the women wailed for unrelated reasons.
“Our angel,” one woman said. She was holding a gilt-framed photograph of Selena singing on stage. She did look like an angel. I wanted to lie down on the laundry room floor.
In the room, Kyle was eating a waffle in the shape of Texas. I stood in the open doorway.
“The first ingredient is corn syrup,” he said. He was a shadow in the back of the long room. He said, “The second ingredient is high fructose corn syrup.”
I came in and locked the door. He was wearing his lucky buttoned shirt and a clean pair of pants. He had his shaving kit out on the table. The blade was drying and his face was shorn and cold. I told him he looked like he was getting ready for a funeral.
They say that hotel room floors have the e. coli but I lay down anyway. Kyle came and settled near me. When he pressed his cheek against my belly I could feel the machinations of his jaw grinding tooth on tooth. I said, These are the fables I will tell our child.