Tamara Burross Grisanti ~ Four New Fictions


Each sec­ond can be a new begin­ning. Let’s crawl into the back seat and make rough sense to each oth­er. Read epis­to­lary love nar­ra­tives by the oven light. Tell you my sto­ry using let­ters? Sounds like every sto­ry to me.

I haunt lone­ly paths, look for you in emp­ty rooms. The world intends to give me sharp edges. To remain soft is a rad­i­cal act of rebel­lion. A forked path where my resolve should be. Our love is an address, not a res­i­dence. I go there dai­ly to wait for you, but like Godot, you nev­er show. I still recy­cle your junk mail. Perhaps the siren only sings because her song is all he left her.

I prac­tice the imag­ined salu­ta­tion again and again, like a yoga pose. Your words would hit the right tone; my bones would hum along. A pow­er chord when we first touch one anoth­er. I write a dis­ser­ta­tion on the creas­es of your hands, con­struct a lan­guage built of bones and tendons.

When the time comes, you can trust me to put you down with­out hes­i­ta­tion, to prac­tice my faith by slip­ping a key under the door­mat. The tun­dra swal­lows you whole and spits you into my mem­o­ry frozen and refract­ed. I page through the anthol­o­gy of you that I have edit­ed in my mind. The heart rev­els in its own reality—mine is a junk draw­er, your love among trin­kets as a cher­ished pos­si­bil­i­ty, a lock­et pic­ture of the patron saint of improbability.

My blood reach­es for what it has known for cen­turies: you reign among mine. I say come to me when you can, be near me when you will. Until then, I remem­ber how to dis­ap­pear in crowd­ed rooms, how to grace­ful­ly sur­ren­der to dis­con­tent, and oth­er Old South doc­trines I burned to the ground. More scrip­ture than woman, mis­trans­lat­ed and tak­en out of context.

Yet I rec­og­nize the land­scape of my child­hood in your eyes, summer’s night­mead­ows aglow with fire­flies, and I envy the tis­sues stuffed in your dis­card­ed coat’s pock­et, which I fish out with a con­strict­ed throat and a trem­ble in my hands that I can­not not still.

But some things one knows with­out expla­na­tion. So instead, let’s dis­cuss the mean­ing of solace.



I am tired of my car reek­ing of work, dra­con­ian pro­grams and four­teen active screens, DOS and sys­tem errors, and pro­to­cols and head­sets and rolling chairs, and call after call pan­der­ing beg­ging solv­ing plead­ing that some­one who wants only to be angry will choose my hap­py solution.

I am tired of con­grat­u­la­to­ry sticky notes remark­ing on the com­mend­able empa­thy in my voice, being coached like a robot and laud­ed for my sin­cer­i­ty when apol­o­giz­ing again to a seething pol­i­cy­hold­er who’s telling me to die in a fire.

I am tired of smok­ing cig­a­rettes until I’m sick dis­gust­ed obsess­ing incensed, guilty and shame­ful over my ill­ness­es and lament­ing the abhor­rent grotes­queries of the phys­i­cal­i­ty of being human.

I am tired of dihy­droer­go­t­a­mine solu­tions and three pills a week at forty-five dol­lars each and inject­ing myself sub­cu­ta­neous­ly with a trip­tan and bleed­ing while the trigem­i­nal nerve dri­ves its mad forks into the flesh of my cheeks and my teeth grind in their sock­ets and my eyes throb and the cap­il­lar­ies in my brain burn bright in my vision, burst­ing flo­res­cent bulbs of pain until my skull sheds its cas­ing and my stom­ach gives in and I am upend­ed into darkness.

I am tired of idle small talk and preen­ing and unchecked anx­i­ety, and seda­tives at par­ties and dis­cus­sions dis­re­gard­ing the wretched cir­cum­stance of mas­ti­ca­tion and the pro­cliv­i­ty to fuck every­one and the lone­li­ness of a species that kills its own envi­ron­ment, and the irony of search­ing the uni­verse for “oth­er” intel­li­gent life.



The clothes are fold­ed into draw­ers or hung neat­ly in the clos­et. The dish­es drip dry next to the sink. I have learned impa­tience. I take a tow­el and dry them, nestling each in their place in the cup­board. The floors are swept and steamed—they gleam in the tired light from my husband’s TV. The book spines are straight; they are shelved alpha­bet­i­cal­ly. The cat box is scooped, the Christmas lights sparkle and twinkle.

I get the urge to go out to the mar­ket, but I have no cash. To cat­er­waul in under­grad­u­ate bars, to take in a game of sports balls. But I do not like sports. And I have just grad­u­at­ed. My text­books have giv­en up their ghosts.

I could go for a walk, but not with­out light, and it is an ear­ly and rest­less December night. Half-read lit­er­ary jour­nals line the desk in the attic, among box­es that have no home. No space for reflec­tion, no room for thought. Not even a place to spread a yoga mat and med­i­tate. It is all a card­board metrop­o­lis sprin­kled with dead lady­bugs, rolls of shiny gift wrap, mat­te silk bows in plas­tic bags. I’d love to orga­nize all these things, to have it be sparse and vacant, all clean lines. But the house that we strug­gle to afford has lit­tle stor­age, and this hec­tic scene has no med­i­ta­tive qual­i­ty. A dying house­fly buzzes in cir­cles, mad­ly throw­ing him­self against the CFL bulb of my lamp. I yearn to trap him, crack a win­dow, dump him out. But more will come. The futil­i­ty of the cycle over­whelms me.

The phan­tom urge still lives to get to work on some assign­ment, the blink­ing fright of a dead­line or pass­ing mem­o­ry of some schol­ar­ly arti­cle. Moments exist when my body responds to a stim­u­lus my brain mis­fires, and I jump to start to fran­ti­cal­ly occu­py myself with what­ev­er class­work I’ve some­how neglect­ed. But there is no work. So I alpha­bet­ize files and shred tax doc­u­ments. The shred­der can shred fif­teen hun­dred sheets of paper per day before it over­heats. I sit and pull sta­ples, and feed small stacks into its slim­line maw, and unjam it when it jams, emp­ty its bel­ly when it’s full, the tiny spi­rals of paper tilt­ing and whirling on their flight down to the red-car­pet­ed floor.



At quilt­ing class I was scared of the machine. I had flash­backs of my grand­moth­er scold­ing me when I flinched away from the pis­ton­ing nee­dle of her 1960s Singer, so I tried not to care if the nee­dle pierced my flesh. One more bat­tle scar on the old bag of ani­mat­ed meat. I watched my fin­gers guid­ing the fab­ric under the foot into the needle’s path, my hands begin­ning to remind me of my mother’s hands when she was my age, the skin start­ing to loosen around the knuckles.

I don’t know why I start­ed it, first with the nude pho­to shoots, then with the sex videos. I wasn’t unhap­py in my mar­riage. Everyone told me I had every­thing in my hus­band. I believed them. He came from a tra­di­tion­al back­ground with egal­i­tar­i­an duties in his house­hold. I turned eigh­teen still need­ing to read the direc­tions on a box of mac­a­roni and cheese. We com­ple­ment­ed one anoth­er. He filled my domes­tic voids with his tidi­ness, and I filled his life with music, art, poet­ry. His prowess in the kitchen was intim­i­dat­ing, so—since he worked from home—I was fine with com­ing home from work to his fan­cy meals, sea­soned with spices his par­ents had brought home from Morocco. We con­nect­ed on a deep lev­el. At our wed­ding, my moth­er stum­bled over and declared, “Lia, I’m so glad you wait­ed so-o-o‑o long to get mar­ried. You wait­ed for what you want­ed, and you got it. You two will cel­e­brate your fifti­eth anniversary.”

That day in quilt­ing class, as I had in the days that fol­lowed the wedding—days that turned to weeks, months, and years—I pon­dered what my moth­er had said that night at my wed­ding. Her pre­dic­tion of our gold­en anniver­sary hung over my head like a gloomy cor­ri­dor into eter­ni­ty, one dim­ly-lit hall­way with non­de­script walls and tiled floors that always need mop­ping, the tired stench of night­ly meals, and the long dron­ing hum of a future with no exits. I won­der if she had nev­er said those words, if I would still be mar­ried, would still know who I am.

Basting, bind­ing edges, the exact­ing pre­ci­sion need­ed to make the cuts of fab­ric for the quilt—it all seemed over­whelm­ing to me, like try­ing to thread a thou­sand nee­dles at once. When my hus­band found out, he looked it up online to see for him­self before he accost­ed me. My moth­er-in-law had called with the news. I had been found out, my dark­est secrets, my most reveal­ing pos­es, were out there for the entire­ty of his scan­dal­ized fam­i­ly, and the world, to see.

I felt real­i­ty split when he asked for a divorce. There was the path I could have tak­en, the long cor­ri­dor to eter­ni­ty, which con­tin­ued past me even still, but out of my reach for­ev­er. Then there was the new path that I had set into motion: the path I would walk alone into my for­ties after a decade of mar­riage. My idea of who I was shat­tered into a thou­sand pieces.

I raised the foot up and slid my fin­ger under­neath. The nee­dle stabbed hard into my fin­ger­nail. I plucked my hand away, thread trail­ing from the wound in my nail bed. The pain had sharp peaks and crag­gy canyons, and ebbed and flowed, quick­ened and slowed as if dri­ven by its own heart­beat. I stud­ied my pierced fin­ger in mute hor­ror, my blood a dark pop­py on the blue field of white dots on the fabric.

Do you have a ques­tion?” the quilt­ing instruc­tor asked me.

No, I’m sor­ry,” I said, cheeks red­den­ing, and resumed my sewing. I refilled and rethread­ed the bob­bin and con­tin­ued to sew my frag­ment­ed shapes into some­thing that made sense, an art I could con­trol, a whole that would tell me more than the stitch­ing togeth­er of its parts.


Tamara Burross Grisanti is edi­tor of Coffin Bell Journal and asso­ciate edi­tor of ELJ — Elm Leaves Journal. Her poet­ry and fic­tion appear in New World Writing and oth­er journals.