Excerpts
The Gorelets Omnibus
Michael A. Arnzen
Armadillo Fists
Carlton Mellick III
Anatomy Courses
Blake Butler
Sean Kilpatrick
Doom Magnetic!
William Pauley III
Fill the Grand Canyon
Andersen Prunty

Fiction
Disambiguation
Donna Fleck
Pink Nausea
Gary J. Shipley

Nonfiction
Possibility Spaces
Lance Olsen

 

Disambiguation
Donna Fleck


At the gym, a man invites me to his wedding. He has spotted me a few times on the bench press, encouraging me to push harder in a squawking basso, as if he were the one beneath the bar. Otherwise we have no relationship. I might not recognize him if I passed him on the street. I assume he has little, if any, friends and family and accept the offer with a counterfeit laugh.

Enjoying a post-workout pump, especially in my biceps and thighs, I pick up a suit at the cleaners and buy a new tie. The wedding is tomorrow morning, at 6 a.m., north of the meridian. I call my wife and tell her what’s going on. “I don’t know if I’m allowed to bring a date,” I say. “I assume I am. But can I make that assumption?”

I can’t remember the groom’s name. It occurs to me I never knew it. I describe him to my wife and she says she knows him; last week, he leaned in and stole a kiss as she performed mindful leg extensions. “I didn’t see him coming,” she admits. “I pay careful attention to form and the process of breathing. Sometimes I get lost in my head.”

“Head,” I echo.

She huffs, offended either by my response or the incident. “His mustache is crooked and it tickled my overlip,” she goes on. “You’d think he’d make it straight. Anyway, that’s what happened.”

After some discussion, I decide it's best to go to the wedding alone and tell my wife I won’t be home for breakfast.

A stretch limousine picks me up at the corner store. Inside the groomsmen await me. They wear casual, somewhat fashionable tuxedos with supersharp shoulders and black Chuck Taylors. The groom’s absence concerns me, as does everybody’s reticence to talk about it.

Most of the groomsmen are in good spirits and relatively sober. They talk among themselves quietly and politely while sipping chilled spritzers. One groomsmen sleeps like a corpse, open mouth sunk into a waterlogged cheek. His chest isn’t moving. Small blue pills litter his jacket and I worry that he is in fact dead. Another groomsman hands me a spritzer and says, “There’s fish oil in that. Your heart will thank you for the Omega-3s.” As I take the drink, the sleeping groomsman, slouched in his seat, wakes long enough to select a pill from his lapel and swallow it. He selects another pill and bites it in half, then looks at me with trembling eyes and nods off again.

The limo driver takes us to the reception and we remind him about the wedding. He rolls down the divider and there is a long discussion about directions and semantics during which two groomsmen covertly exit the limo, storm a gazebo and confiscate several varieties of appetizers, explaining to the staff that they have been sent on orders from the father of the bride to see that the reception is being set up properly and that the food doesn’t taste like shit. They return to the limo and spread the wealth. The driver puts up the divider and we go downtown to the Masonic Temple. He parks in front and helps us out, offering his hand to each groomsman. I marvel at the architecture as he escorts us into the church.

“What religion is the groom?” I ask a greeter. “What is this, a mosque? This doesn’t look familiar to me.”

The greeter regards me as if I have cursed aloud in a children’s museum. “Archdiocese,” he says begrudgingly.

“Archdiocese?” I look at my hands. “Isn’t that a person or something?”

The interior of the temple looks like a hollowed-out whale. A ribcage of stairways envelops the vast, sloping walls ... Baptismal workstations have been situated beneath colossal stained glass windows; meek-looking priests operate the consoles and await wedding-goers who need a quick fix. One of them signals me. Sweat stains expand across his tunic from the neck, armpits and navel. I acknowledge his attention and turn with a quick jerk ...

A fat woman wearing Old Person perfume hugs me. “It’s so nice to see you again!” she bleats. I’ve never seen her before. She pushes me aside and hugs the next groomsman and says the same thing to him. He nods at me from the cushion of her shoulder. The fat woman whispers loudly into his ear: “I took 10 mg of melatonin last night. The dreams I had! You were in all of them.” She moved on to another groomsman.

Nearby, somebody says, “If you drive a train fast enough, it will start to howl and moan like a pig on the spit. I’ve done it. I’ve heard it.”

Still no sign of the groom. I mingle halfheartedly with the rest of the wedding party and the bride’s extended family. A distant uncle tells me not to invest in NASDAQ stocks. A twice-removed cousin tells me she smells desperation on my breath. I flirt with the mother-of-the-bride’s headmistress outside the coatroom in the narthex. Suddenly I need a cigarette. I quit long ago but occasionally social situations exhume the need. I go outside and nobody’s smoking. I ask around and nobody smokes. Frustration. Panic. Then the craving evaporates and I feel refreshed.

An accordion player begins his first set.

Accidental members of the wedding party duck aside to be baptized. The priests only give out towels for sizeable donations. Nobody presents an offering. Holy water drips onto shoulders, collars and cleavagelines.

A marriage counselor announces his presence with a sharp whistle. He tells a flat joke with a dirty punch line. Silence. Distressed, he initiates the wedding rehearsal, going through blocking techniques and explaining acceptable modalities of expression. Thereafter he signals the accordion player and an agonized rendition of Canon in D escapes the squeezebox. The groom doesn’t show up for either event and I am asked to stand in for him. I know any sign of apprehension of my part will leads to surefire hostility, so I accept the role without a struggle, and I kiss the bride and suck on her neck and ears.

In the limo, we eat shrimp scampi and drink a pinot grigio that effectively compliments the flavors of the meat. The groomsman with the pills on his chest continues in the vein of catatonic sleep. Only a few pills remain and his mouth has fallen into an inhuman geometry.

The groom appears at the reception. He has been there all along, “getting drunk and doing pushups,” he tells me, bellowing ... Tall and angular, he wears a beige seersucker suit to “counter hyperhydrosis. The slightest beam of light makes me sweat. In this suit, though, I feel as if I can conquer the sun.” His mouth dies like a stain.

During dinner, the groom gropes his wife in tandem with cocktail waitresses. Elderly couples eyeball one another with archaic disdain. The best man sits to the right of the bride and drinks too much coffee. Instead of making him jittery, it depresses him, physically and emotionally. He can’t explain the effect. It has never happened before. He can barely stand to give his speech, he feels so badly, but he finds the energy, and he says, “Heaven swarms with monsters. With a tall enough ladder, I can climb there.” He falls back into his chair and stares at the chickenfat on his plate.

Tentative applause.

I excuse myself and wander around the reception hall, looking for the bathroom. Balanced psalms and tangled metamorphoses unfold across long, panoramic paintings on the walls—I observe the narrative idly at first, looking awry, then lose myself in the intricate depths of the plot.

I meet somebody. Eyebrows like a widening gyre. Good vascularity. “I have a paper cut,” he says, showing me. “Could you tell me where I might find a stereo?”

I point him in the right direction. Indifferent, he issues me a stationary gesture.

“It’s my birthday today,” I tell him.

“How old are you?”

“Forty.”

“Forty? Halfway home.”

“I will never see eighty,” I remark.

“Halfway home,” he says. “Halfway home. Halfway home ...”

On the roadside, I contemplate the fibrillations of my heart. Nothing consoles me like temperance. I signal the vanguard, as if frightened, and I imagine the experience of disappearing into a peal of thunder.

That night I have difficulty sleeping. My wife snores. The neighbors host an all-night garage party. My muscles feel flaccid and raw.

Air escapes my lips and fragments into innumerable counterparts ...


Donna Fleck lives in Boulder, Colorado, with her husband and three kids. She doesn't know why she writes—Boulder is beautiful—and she wonders why she only writes about men. She prides herself on not having a website, Facebook page, Twitter account, or blog. Viz., she does not exist ...