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Soft Opening, Cyclops, and On the Day Before He Died /// New Fiction by Dan Reiter


SOFT OPENING

     
The artist came shambling along the river and though she tried to avoid him he apprehended her and begged her to walk with him to the Gagosian, insisting that she take a look at his exhibit, as they would be hanging his works today. His skin was leprous and he smelled of burnt plastic and piss, but his voice was bewitching, and she had nowhere better to go, so she followed him, curious, not believing, to the second floor gallery. Here, tilted against the white-tiled walls of the bathroom corridor, stood his paintings, or else a collection of works he had dredged up from summer garage sales in Connecticut.
     In one of these pieces––a pine mountain landscape––the young artist had painted a pair of photo-realistic pelicans on the sky and draped between their beaks a banner which read (upside-down) “Fuck Authority.” Another large, abstract canvas had the prosaic title “Pollock in Chewed Gum.” Many of the works, he informed her, had been painted with a mixture of glitter and his own ejaculate.
     A flock of clown-colored, trussed and powdered birds sipped on bourbon and craft coffees at the other end of the hall, murmuring with pressed lips and hands clasped behind backs, smiling affectionately at her. She studied the paintings carefully and decided they were precisely the gestures Modern Authority craved most.
     She would not learn this until later, but the show in the 24th Street Gagosian toilet shaft had been made possible by an elaborate performance by the artist on the skin side of a well-connected London heir’s linen slacks.
     She convinced him to hang one of the paintings with the painted side to the wall and excused herself, saying she needed a shower.
     A month or so later she received a $70,000 check, along with an invitation to a Francis Bacon retrospective and celebratory gala. Enfolded in the check was a handwritten note from the artist which said, “You have a good eye.”
     She couldn’t decide which was more vulgar: the money or the compliment.
     

/

     
CYCLOPS
     
Back in Bensonhurst we played stickball under the high corrugated roof of my uncle’s truckyard and we tuned our brass knuckles to the clank of chains and rumble of gears and pigeon hools, and the drivers passed through with their dirty jokes and farts to fill up the fuzz of the empty season. In summer the rains pummeled at steel and concrete and washed the soot and sounds off the walls and paper cups rolled in silent gutters and we smoked blunts and spat at cars and when the clouds opened we played stickball again. I took the N train into town two or three times a day to run envelopes to a mezzofinook in Alphabet City with a fat stubbly neck who snatched at me from behind his chained and smoky door crack and asked why I didn’t get myself a new name. When his boys met me down in the wasteland of Canal Street station they muddled my left eye into its socket like a paste, like a blueberry jam, and I remember lying flat and half blind in Cabrini Medical Center with my uncle crooked over my bed, eyes sparkling, asking me how the hell he was supposed to explain it to his sister.
     

/

     
ON THE DAY BEFORE HE DIED
     
He wrote in his notebook: “So goes the hot, vacant summer, with all the best people away scouring their crevices for ticks,” and he walked through the morning syrup to the Café St. Germaine, where he ordered a croque madame and became disturbed when it did not arrive with mustard. He lingered too deeply over the arts and leisure section so that the sun on the walk back was unbearable, which called to mind those paper Geishas of Times Square with their parasols; he wished he had been born one of them. Later he floated down to the hotel lounge and sat reading an unidentified book while drinking a cocktail of Domaine de Canton, mint, lemon, and cayenne pepper. Sometime in the night he took up his pen and spread his notebook on his pillow, but he could think of nothing else to add.
     
     
–––––––
Dan Reiter‘s stories have recently appeared in The New Yorker, Esquire, Ploughshares, One Story, The Paris Review, Harper’s, and Granta slush piles. He is the latest winner of The Florida Review Editor’s Award for Fiction. He was born in Montreal, but lives here now: www.dan-reiter.com.
     



Descant /// New Fiction by Corey Mallonee


When Talus says he’s going out for a cigarette what he really means is he’s going out because the pain is burning white-edged holes through the film of alcohol and pills. What he really means is he can feel the muscles of his back calcifying. He can feel the itching where the barbules rub his naked skin.
     Riley ignores him even when Talus snaps his fingers an inch from the boy’s ear. The guttering light from the TV bleeds the boy’s face to the pallor of fresh clay, a tiny golem motionless on the couch. Maria directed him not to let Riley watch TV. But it’s the only thing Talus found will distract the kid.
     Don’t go anywhere, Talus says. Riley stares slackly at the screen. Talus grunts.
     He shuffles out into the hall, along the carpet to the stairs. He should go into his own apartment for this, but he is always in his apartment or Maria’s, watching Riley. Sometimes she makes breakfast for him when she returns from the ER in the morning. Over toast and eggs she tells him stories of splintered bones and ruptured organs, smears of blood and crosshatches of thick black stitches. He always pictures Maria and her fellows circling the gurneys like acolytes, faces masked.
     He should go back to his apartment but he wants to see the city. There is never anyone on the roof, anyway.
     

/

     
     Talus props the door open with a chair he brought up a long time ago and picks his way among the pipes and vents extruding from the roof like periscopes. As he walks he pulls off his sweater—XXL, though he is only five-eight and made entirely of bones—and undoes the web of belts that crisscross his naked torso.
     The belts fall away one by one, leaving behind angry imprints in his skin. Talus breathes deep and groans. A moment of pain is followed by relief as the wings unfurl. Then a rush of air and a crack of joints as they snap out to their full span.
     He stumbles to the edge of the roof and leans against the rail. He has trouble balancing with the wings spread. Huge and bulky, they catch the air in unexpected ways.
     Below him rolls an irregular grid of warehouse roofs.  He can see the empty yard of the gravel factory, the water-treatment plant, the canal.
     In the distance, cars and semi trucks drift along a freeway like glowing protozoa on a nighttime current. Beyond it the skyline, and a clot of heavy dark clouds. Talus imagines it, a shadow-city in the sky, full of looping spires. He imagines a cloud against his skin.
     Flexing sore muscles, he flaps. Just once, experimental.
     He imagines his feet peeling away from the roof.
     Then a noise makes him look behind, and he freezes with wings outstretched. Riley is standing there, among the pipes. Their rusted mouths vent steam into the night air.
     You don’t smoke, he says.
     What?
     You don’t smoke. Riley looks at Talus with clinical interest. You don’t smell like my mom.
     The boy continues, You didn’t come out here to smoke.
     Talus can’t argue with that. Riley stares at him a moment longer.
     Take me flying.
     What?
     Take me flying or I’ll tell.
     Talus makes a noise that is part laugh, part yelp. The wings twitch. The feathers rattle.
     

/

     
     Later, Talus will return to his apartment. In his bathroom he will stretch the wings as far as he can. He will stand in front of the wall-length mirror, admiring the wings’ shape, the even row of white pinion feathers that line them like serration.
     Or he will take a pair of garden shears, the big kind used to lop off stubborn branches. He will reach back over his shoulders and hack through skin and bone and the wings will fall away. Blood will hit the cold tile floor. And even once his back has scarred over, the wings will still be there, a presence flaring wide behind him like a corona or a ghost.
     Or he will bind up his wings and never untie them, no matter how cramped and sore they get. As the years go by, his skin will knit over, new and smooth, the wings subsumed into his body. He will walk without hunching over. Sometimes, between his shoulder blades, he will feel an itch.
     
     
–––––––
Corey Mallonee grew up in Maine and lives in central New York.