Prompt: Listen to Music and Get Like Gertrude Combo

by | February 2021 A (Day 1)

Cherry is my ex husband’s favorite artificial flavor and I use it on patients I don’t like the look of the ones with dyed eyebrows and scalloped fingernails clawing into thighs who dig their heeled booties into the vinyl footrest as if I was here for revenge instead of scraping and buffing and sloughing and polishing and smearing and sucking. The ones who don’t pump paralytics into their foreheads to soften lines of concern can handle death and while I pull their cheeks away from the gums I share that my son and his throwback mullet came home mumbling and sobbing Friday during the snowstorm with news. Boys sneering wild bald tires along country roads at dusk just some regular old Indiana small town no seatbelt whiteout fun. One witness two dead.

I told my son go to your girlfriend mourn with your teammates you need each other swap memories trade promises share a beer what other way is there and he did and I turned off all the lights in the house at midnight and watched snow shift around the bottom of the light post across the street and wanted my ex’s arms so we could remember that couple in high school who slid off the icy overpass together and in that remembering for just a few hours we could keep from unraveling that something I’d always hoped would stay tied.

With mouths agape patients apologize for the small-town tragedy and it helps to see their eyes turn cherry red it’s what I need. What delicate intimacy to know the jaw structures bite patterns bone health skull shape of a person what a thing it is to anticipate an exact picture of decay. I am a grave robber performing time travel. Every time I close my eyes to the siren whir of the cleaning equipment pointed snowflakes gently collapse onto the boys’ still warm skin lit by deadening light.

On the way home after we had folded our hands one over the other along the knotted string of rituals and graveside words a surprise rock skipped up thwacked up skied an aqua line across the edge of my windshield. Son my sun the low pink star of mine teased the space between vision and night with a joke about the priest’s cassock to end the anxious and frenetic day and we laughed at the way some highway exit and entrance lanes are designed so poorly one car slows aggressively to depart while another increases speed to begin and we took pity on their scrambled momentum until it was our turn and what a thrill—my son a pedal demon curve master—to find the space between to nestle into time until we fit an acorn snug beneath its cap a dog curled nose to tail.

7 Comments

  1. Al Kratz

    This is mesmerizing in so many ways! The semantics and the story. I want to sit and linger with both of them.

    ” and in that remembering for just a few hours we could keep from unraveling that something I’d always hoped would stay tied.

    With mouths agape patients apologize for the small-town tragedy and it helps to see their eyes turn cherry red it’s what I need.”

    This bit of heart was perfect at the middle. Love this,.

  2. sara lippmann

    KATE. KATE! every explicative, Kate, I’m absolutely obsessed with what you’ve done here. This is a BRILLIANT story that demands to be read — and reread — out loud. I want every image and rhythm on my tongue. It is pure fire I don’t even know where to start: language, syntax, the sheer force of this voice. The movement and imagery. The gravity and depth of the story, of all that you cover here.

    Between the dentist (hygienist?) and her son’s throwback mullet: the juxtaposition of these two stories — the narrator confronting age and rage — but loss, and longing, too — as her invincible son discovers mortality — the bad tires. the small town tragedy. good god.

    you need each other swap memories trade promises share a beer what other way is there —

    that coming against “so we could remember that couple in high school who slid off the icy overpass together and in that remembering for just a few hours we could keep from unraveling that something I’d always hoped would stay tied.”

    i fucking love this piece.

    the unvarnished honesty, the searing brutality of that honesty in lines like —

    what a thing it is to anticipate an exact picture of decay

    I am so hopped up about this piece. The music. The Stein rhythm feels organic and intrinsic, necessary for this story that is uniquely yours. The quiet perfection of the last line.

    I can’t WAIT to see where this lands.

    And I wouldn’t touch the magic much at all — only one thing to think about — because the language is so outsized and startling — “mouths agape” is fine, but it’s a familiar phrase and i would bet you could convey the mouths agape through even sharper language.

    And then my only other copy edit might be as follows: Son my sun the low pink star of mine teased the space between vision and night with a joke about the priest’s cassock (CUTto end the anxious and frenetic day) and we laughed at the way some highway exit and entrance lanes are designed so poorly one car slows (CUTaggressively) to depart while another (CUTincreases) speeds up to begin…

    now hurry up and publish it so i can teach it! Title?? (low pink star, maybe?) i’m shit with titles — look forward to what you come up with.

    • Kate Gehan

      Wow–thanks for this encouragement, Sara! I’ve been seriously slumped and had low expectations for gearing up here. Your prompts really worked some magic! Your edits are great and I knew that last section was a little jammed up so thanks for the suggestions.

  3. Laurie Marshall

    Oh my goodness, what a ride this is. And I love that I feel like I’m on an out-of-control ride as I’m reading the words, just as the words describe the same. Wonderful.

    • Kate Gehan

      Thanks, Laurie. I realized the absence of punctuation was creating speed and that almost brought forth a story about out of control motion. It was really interesting to me how assuming rules around language use created a story line!

  4. Patricia Bidar

    I agree that the lack of punctuation adds to the velocity. Jamming the sensory specifics of dental work with the two terrible incidents makes for a dizzying ride. I am here for it, as they say. Bravo.

    From the opening: “Cherry is my ex husband’s favorite artificial flavor and I use it on patients I don’t like the look of …”

    to “…my son and his throwback mullet came home mumbling and sobbing Friday during the snowstorm with news. Boys sneering wild bald tires along country roads at dusk just some regular old Indiana small town no seatbelt whiteout fun. One witness two dead.”

    and your masterful shift to the past tragedy: “….wanted my ex’s arms so we could remember that couple in high school who slid off the icy overpass together and in that remembering for just a few hours we could keep from unraveling that something I’d always hoped would stay tied.”

    then “Son my sun the low pink star of mine teased the space between vision and night with a joke about the priest’s cassock…” and

    “…patients apologize for the small-town tragedy…”

    Going to school to your story rn!

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