A New York Times Notable Book: Darkly comic fables of modern life from a “major discovery” whose “writing gets in your bloodstream like a fever” ( The Washington Post Book World ). A housewife with a ravenous lust for the adolescent boy who mows her lawn swallows him whole. A woman nonchalantly hacks off her leg at a posh private club. A father babyproofs his house so thoroughly he never sees his wife and child. And a businessman passing through an airport risks it all to save a giant lobster from death. In these “brisk, funny, stylish, original” stories, the award-winning author of Carnivore Diet merges the mundane with the unimaginable, and peels back the squeaky-clean façade of suburbia to expose the strangeness underneath ( Elle ). Combining biting wit, wild imagination, and “unsettling, hallucinatory” prose, Julia Slavin masterfully satirizes the world of upscale families and young professionals as they confront their greatest fantasies and most grotesque fears in unexpected, and often hilarious, ways ( The New York Times Book Review ).
|Publisher:||Open Road Media|
|Product dimensions:||5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.60(d)|
About the Author
Julia Slavin is the author of The Woman Who Cut Off Her Leg at the Maidstone Club and Other Stories and the novel Carnivore Diet , which Jonathan Yardley of the Washington Post chose as one of the best three books of fiction of 2005. Slavin is the winner of a Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers’ Award, GQ ’s Frederick Exley Award, and a Pushcart Prize, and her stories have been translated into Japanese, Italian, and Hebrew. “Covered” was read by Alec Baldwin as part of the Symphony Space Selected Shorts series, and the recording can be heard on the “Too Hot for Radio” podcast. She is currently working on another collection, Stories for Squatters.
Read an Excerpt
There's a way young skin looks that no amount of plastic surgery can recapture. It has an unmarred translucence, as though the flesh were stretched under a fluorescent street- lamp. But I think it was the little red baseball cap he wore backward, like a catcher, that sent me off my feet.
His name was Chris. He mowed our lawn.
As he worked, I moved window to window watching him cut our grass in horizontal rows. His edges were uneven, but I didn't give a damn, they were his, and after he was gone I lay outside, patted the bristly blades like a new haircut, and said, You are my lawn. Today a beautiful boy cut you and edged you.
It was a late July afternoon. The sky was blue and cloudless. The sun was just dipping behind the maple in the McNaultys' yard. He leaned against the back doorframe with his thumbs in the pockets of his long shorts, his shirt tied through a belt loop, MONTANA written across his belt in blue and white beads.
"Would you like to come out and see?"
"No, I trust you." I was relieved I could still talk.
"Are you sure?" He leaned into the kitchen. "Customer satisfaction is our number-one concern."
Everything I was thinking was wrong and dangerous. I paid him for the lawn and scooted him out the back. This is like being sick, I thought, holding a bottle of San Pellegrino to my forehead. I've contracted a lawn virus named Chris. I didn't know how I was going to wait ten days for our lawn to grow.
I put up a pot of decaf and called the drugstore for another prescription of Clomid, the fertility drug I was taking. Then I put on Sibelius and sat down to dress my loom. I threw the heddle under the weft and was gliding along smoothly when the smell of dirt and grass came over me like a soft blanket. I raced out of the house. Maybe I could sweat him out of me. I heard the sound of mowers everywhere and ran to them, praying one would be Chris's. I was the mercury from a broken thermometer, bouncing off the sidewalks, zigzagging the neighborhood, mower to mower.
Chris looked up from the Leonards' lawn where he was crouching, pulling the mower cord to get the engine started. "Hello, Mrs. Carter," he said.
"Chris," I said. "I was wondering ..."
He stood up, took a pack of Camels out of his pocket, and shook one out. He offered me a cigarette and I took one. He struck a match, cupped grass-stained hands around it, and held it for me. I hadn't smoked in eight years.
"Yes?" he said. "You were wondering?"
"I was wondering if you did other things — you know, besides mowing, like weeding and clipping."
"I have," he said. "Done those things. In the past."
"Would you then?" I said. "For me?"
"I could give you an estimate." He put his hands on my ass.
He stuck his tongue in my mouth. I sucked on it. I didn't care who saw. I sucked his tongue and he started to moan because I was hurting him, but that just made me suck harder. He tried to push me away. I sucked harder. He started to scream. His mouth was wide open, his eyes looked like they were going to bug out of his head, his tongue hit my uvula, and I sucked him down my throat. All of him. As I watched his feet lift off the ground and follow the rest of him down my gullet I thought it was kind of funny, but once he was in, I felt my rib cage expand and numbing pain all over my body. I was certain my chest was going to explode and I couldn't breathe. I collapsed on the grass and lay on my back waiting to die. "Help, help," I could only whisper.
"Look what you've done," Chris screamed inside me.
"Help, help," I whispered.
"Help, help," Chris mimicked. He rearranged himself to take the pressure out of my chest, but when he moved, his elbow jabbed into my pancreas and I screamed. Then he settled farther down in me, and though I still couldn't move, it wasn't quite as painful anymore. I managed to roll onto my knees and pull myself up with the handle of the mower. Once I was standing I thought I was going to sink into the ground. I couldn't remember how to walk.
"Left foot, right foot," Chris said. I put my left foot out and dragged my right foot to meet my left. Every step I took felt like I had to climb over a hurdle sideways. I used the mower as a walker and waddled home with my legs apart as if I'd just gotten off a horse.
"We're going to go call my husband and figure this out," I said. Chris didn't answer. He'd gone to sleep.
"Ready?" I said, kneeling in front of the toilet.
"Hang on," Chris said, and I felt my sides cinch together.
"Chris, honey. Every time you move it feels like being run over by a truck."
"I'm trying to get my arms in."
"You're hurting me."
"You did this!"
"You just prepare yourself to get out." I stuck my finger in my throat. I was good at purging. I had a bulimarexia period in college and still resorted to the old heave-ho after a big meal from time to time. The gag reflex set in right away. I felt my saliva thin and that familiar contraction in my stomach right before I'm about to spill. But instead of blowing, I felt a guttural moan coming from deep within me.
"Stop," Chris said. "You're killing me."
"My neck. I think it's broken. You pulled it."
"Stay calm. Try to move your head."
"I thought you weren't supposed to move a broken neck," he said. "You know, until the emergency rescue workers get here."
"Move it," I said. At first I felt nothing and I thought that maybe I had broken his neck, but then he banged his head up against my solar plexus. It felt like I'd been punched by a heavyweight champ.
"Not broken," Chris said.
I wanted him out of me. I didn't care if he came out in pieces, I wanted him out. I stuck my hand in my mouth and down into my throat. With Chris screaming in my stomach, I puked up undigested hummus and cucumber on pita, some of the morning's Special K, and a little spaghetti carbonara from the night before. But then something came out of my throat that I didn't quite recognize, a taste from long ago: charcoaled, greasy, and rich. I looked in the toilet at brown vomit, veined with little red and yellow capillaries of ketchup and mustard. There was even a small green circle of pickle. I'd thrown up Chris's lunch.
"Where the hell are you?" It was my husband, Bruce, on the phone. I'd forgotten this was the night of the firm dinner.
"I'm so sorry," I said. "I got carried away on the loom and forgot to watch the clock."
"Just get here," Bruce said. "Speed if you have to. The firm'll pay for the ticket."
I rifled through the closet looking for something that wasn't too sexy or too dowdy that the other spouses and partners hadn't seen before, and came up with a navy blue silk shift and a pair of tan mules. I packed a tube of lipstick and a perfume atomizer in a small Chanel bag, threw it in the back of the Saab, peeled out of the driveway, and floored it around the curvy roads of the parkway. At the zoo exit I tasted hamburger again.
Bruce met me at the door. "I'm really sorry," I said.
"It's all right. I'm just glad you're here. Everyone's excited to see you."
I looked at the long table of partners and spouses and quickly tried to remember everyone's name. "Randi, Dan, nice to see you. Carol, Trey; Mr. Westin" — the senior partner — "so sorry to be late. I'm going to sue our mechanic." Everyone laughed. "Mrs. Westin, so nice to see you. Bill, Sheryl. I love that scarf; is it Hermès?"
"Blah, blah, blah," Chris said, nearly scaring me out of my mules. "When do we eat?"
A place card with my name on it was directly across from the senior partner's wife. "Getting acclimated to being in the suburbs, Sally?" Mrs. Westin asked.
"Nice of you to remember," I said. "I'd love for you and Mr. Westin to come over. We bought one of the old Sears kit homes in Section Five ... ah!" I felt a sharp pain.
"Feel my boner?" Chris said.
I looked down and saw the little tent effect of my dress from Chris's erection sticking out above my belly button. He began moving it up and down my abdominal viscera.
"Talked to the Texas Group again," Dan Weiser said. "Those cowboys made a fortune. All their assets were underwater, but the New York group got them incredible execution."
Bruce held up his hands. "Well, Dan, that's the magic of structured finance."
"And here's where it really gets sexy. ..." Dan continued.
"This feels great," Chris said. "Tighten your abs."
"So, Sally," Sheryl Arlen said. "Still no kiddies?" She reached across Dan Weiser and patted my belly.
"Oh," I said, sadly. "We're still working on it."
"Working hard?" Sheryl winked.
"Contract your abs," Chris said, jamming into my stomach muscles. "Contract, contract." Chris was bucking so hard I bounced up and down in my chair. I grabbed my seat to steady myself.
"It's too good. Your vena cava's so tight."
"Are you working outside the home, Sally?" Mrs. Westin asked, cutting into roast garlic duck.
"I'm working," I said, hanging on for dear life to my chair. "I'm not getting paid, but I'm working." My voice was quivering uncontrollably, like sitting on a vibrating platform. "You know, working on the house, working at the loom."
"Contract, contract, tighter, tighter." Chris made one final thrust that forced me up out of my chair. I put my hands out to stop myself. I hit the table with a smack and spilled all the water glasses. Then a projectile of semen shot out of my mouth, flew across the table, and covered Mrs. Westin's duck like a fruit glaze.
Chris always slept until noon, so I had some time to myself to read the paper and work at my loom. But then he'd wake up with a huge morning erection. "Not the liver," I'd say, and Chris would find some cavity to enter or another organ or muscle to hump. He'd been in me for two weeks, and I must say I was getting used to having him. I loved my husband, I really did, but now that Bruce and I were having sex procreatively, it seemed like such a chore. Besides, Chris seemed to enjoy our sex so much. He was so complimentary and appreciative when I tightened my abs or twisted back and forth at the waist that I couldn't resist.
One night Bruce was working late so we went to a little French place downtown. "I'll have the grilled vegetable plate," I told the waitress.
"And a cheeseburger," Chris said.
"And a cheeseburger."
"And an omelet. And get some of those skinny fries French people make. And a milkshake. And some of those pastries on the cart."
"I can't eat all that," I whispered.
"You're too bony," he said. "I want you plumper."
"And some of those lovely fries," I told the waitress.
"Let's get wine," Chris said.
"And a carafe of your house red."
"I was thinking about the first time I saw you," Chris said, over an after-dinner cigarette I smoked for us.
"What did you think?"
"I wished I were older," he said. "I wished you weren't married. I thought you were beautiful."
"Yes." He put his hands behind my breasts.
"I just want to have my hands here. I'm not going to do anything." I felt his hands slide down the back of my ribs as he fell asleep. I ordered a plum tart so he would have a treat waiting for him when he woke up. I'd forgotten how much teenagers need to sleep.
I was dreaming that Chris was outside me kissing my neck and opened my eyes to Bruce. He dragged his tongue from my neck down my body. When he got to my hips he moved my legs apart and put his head between them.
"Oh, Bruce," I moaned.
Bruce shot up in bed and screamed.
"What?" I said. "What is it?"
He backed away from the bed. "There's a ... there's an eye!"
I rushed to Bruce, who was slumped down in the corner.
"Sally, I'm sorry," he whimpered. "I'm really under the gun at work. I'm trying to get some time off so we can go away together. I've been a bad husband lately."
"No, no, no." I took my husband in my arms and rocked him. "It's me who's been bad." Bruce put his arms around me. I knew what I had to do.
"I'm not going," Chris said.
"We need our life together back," I said. "This arrangement is eating away at everything."
"I won't go," he said.
"You're a nice kid. You should be going on dates with girls and playing baseball."
"No. I want to be with you. I won't go." He wrapped his arms around my large intestine.
"Chris, if you won't go yourself, I'm going to have to make you go."
"No, you won't. I know something you don't know: You're pregnant."
I put my hand over my mouth. Of course. I'd been so distracted by Chris I hadn't noticed my period was late. I ran to the phone to call Bruce with the news.
"Put down the phone," Chris said. "The child is mine."
"You're wrong," I said. "I've been taking my temperature. Bruce and I have kept to the schedule."
"His sperm never got past me," Chris said. "I swallowed it."
"You ... you little prick." I belted myself in the gut. "You're lying."
"You've got enough of my sperm in you to create a battalion. What do you think I do in here all day? The child is mine." He cupped my uterus in his hands and chanted, "I am the father. I am the father."
"Bruce, the most wonderful news," I said on the phone.
"I am the father."
"Really?" Bruce cried. "I'll be right home."
"What are you going to tell Bruce when the kid only grows to be five-two with a big head?" Chris said, as I stacked fresh towels in the linen closet.
"You'll grow into your head."
"I'm full grown," Chris said. "My dad has a big head and his dad had a big head and my mom has a big head too."
Bruce and I had a beautiful evening, which we hadn't had in a long time. We went for a walk in the park and sat out back on the deck and ate cherries. I begged Chris to go to sleep so we could be alone, and he did.
"You're going to have to stop singing that song," I told Chris one morning at my loom. Chris only slept when I slept now so I never had any time alone anymore. He was always singing bad music and moving around and he had to eat all the time. I felt fat and exhausted.
"It's Lizard Savior. It's great music."
I threw the shuttle back and forth through the shed.
"That's not music," I said. "Beethoven is music. Mozart is music."
"That's boring music. And you think it's boring too, if only you'd admit it."
"Your Lizard Saviors are insipid."
"What's insipid mean?"
The shuttle got tangled in the weft and I got a yarn burn on my thumb. "Ouch, dammit. I need some time alone. Go to sleep."
"I'm not tired." He tickled an ovary with his boner.
"I'm not in the mood."
"You never are these days." He entered my ileum.
I tried drinking a pitcher of ice water, but by the time it made its way through my pharynx and esophagus, it sprinkled on Chris's head like a warm shower. I thought of downing a pint of Wild Turkey to put him out but I was worried about harming the fetus. My hands were tied. He could do whatever he wanted.
"I want him to play football," Chris said, pulling out of my appendix.
"No child of mine is playing football. Too dangerous. He can play baseball. Anyway, what if it's a girl?"
"It's a boy." I put my hand on my middle and started to cry. I was carrying a boy, a son.
Early the next morning a soft trembling in my belly woke me. Chris was crying.
"Chris?" I felt around for his head, found it resting on top of my uterus, and patted it through my skin. "What's the matter?"
"You're having a miscarriage," he said, and wept. I wrapped my arms around myself. "Five o'clock today. The baby's dead."
"Defective implantation," he said.
"All your moving around. You did this."
"No!" he cried.
"You've been fucking me all over the place. I knew it was dangerous."
"It was my child too. I know you feel bad, but I feel just as bad."
"You don't have any idea how I feel." I ran down to the kitchen.
"Yes, I do. I feel everything you feel."
"I want you out. Get out now."
I tore open the cabinet under the sink, yanked out a bottle of Formula 409, unscrewed the cap, and tilted my head back. I didn't care if it killed us both.
Around two in the afternoon I woke up on the couch. I'd spent the morning puking 409.
"Aw, morning sickness," Bruce had said, as he headed out the door. "Don't worry about me, I'll get the bus."
I tried to sit up. The room was still spinning from the household cleaner, but I was alive. I felt myself for Chris but there was nothing. Nothing. I put my face in the couch and cried. "Chris, Chris, come back. Please. I'm sorry. Give me another chance." Then I felt the stirring in my pelvis that had become so familiar and comfortable these past few months. I wrapped my arms around my waist. "Chris? Chris, are you all right?"
"Huh?" He was groggy but alive. "Yeah, the cleaner mixed with your stomach acid worked as a pretty strong hallucinogenic. I saw a jade Buddha sitting on your colon. I guess you're pretty disgusted with me at this point."
"No. I'm happy to feel you. I'm sorry if I hurt you."
"Let's go to sleep." He rubbed the back of my belly, which made me drop off quickly.
I woke up again at six and knew by the lightness I felt that Chris was out of me. I stood up and felt like I could float. I unzipped the bloody slipcovers off the couch and went upstairs to wash up and change. Everything was quiet and peaceful, and I walked through my house alone. Outside, Chris emptied the grass cage of his mower into a lawn and leaf bag. Later, I heard his mower over at the Leonards' house join the chorus of other mowers in the neighborhood, but I can always pick out Chris's. It's the one that's low, sweet, and unwavering, like a lover's voice.
Excerpted from "The Woman Who Cut Off Her Leg at the Maidstone Club"
Copyright © 1999 Julia Slavin.
Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
The Woman Who Cut Off Her Leg at the Maidstone Club,
Beauty and Rudy,
Rare Is a Cold Red Center,
Lives of the Invertebrates,
He Came Apart,
About the Author,