From a selection of openings to abandoned short stories by Zsuzsi Gartner included in Five Dials number 25. As part of an ongoing project, Gartner issues adoption certificates to readers who request to “adopt” the fragments. Her short-story collection Better Living Through Plastic Explosives was published last month by Pintail.
the time i tried
Then there was the time I tried to get my life made into a television series but failed. Everything ordinary happened to be in great demand. “Let’s hear what the ordinary people have to say,” that anchorman, the one everyone trusted, would say.
You would think they’d talk about money all the time. That’s what you’d think. All the time, endlessly, like a broken record, nonstop, ad nauseam, infinitus spiritus amen. But they don’t. They talk about anything but. You have to make them sometimes. Get them to confront the incredible magnitude of their good fortune. Shove their faces into the enormity of it. But gently.
That’s Karl’s job.
The first time he saw the child he was startled that the boy looked nothing like him. My son.
Things were supposed to be different with Corner Office, brudder. Just wait ’til Corner Office, I kept telling Twyla as her tears dripped onto the suction line offa li’l Felix’s shunt (every so often the generator goes and then it’s DIY), everything will be better when I get to Corner Office. If you could see li’l Felix now, with his flappy hands and cruxifying smile, oh your heart would surely urk.
Sometimes they appear in great bunches, streaming down the street like a circus parade. Sometimes just out of the corner of your eye, when you’re not thinking about anything much. The women and their wild beasts. Can’t they give it a rest?
The nuns are the worst.
the third sister part i
The barbarians are chewing. Chew chew chew all summer long. Blood pools on their plates, just the way they like it. The mothers wear halter tops; the fathers take off their watches; we run barefoot in the street, a thick seam of tar bubbles in the center of the road and sticks to our feet. There are no boys on this block, except for spindly Johnny Falconi, who hides his shovel teeth behind his mother’s orange curtains. Girls run rampant; no boy could survive here. We run low to the ground, knees bent, hands dragging like monkeys so that they don’t see us. They are the barbarians. We see them through their haze of cigarettes and BBQ smoke and choked laughter. We watch our backs.
What grown man can say that he married his own mother, and that although heartbreak was involved, no one disapproved?
st. elizabeth of the miracle of the roses
Anastasia Nagy is on a rampage. The boy — honestly he’s just a boy — they’ve chosen to play Zoltan is horribly unsuitable. It’s like casting Macaulay Culkin to play Heathcliff. She claims she can see the peach fuzz still gleaming on his cheeks. She writes fire and they give her green fruit! She burns up the telephone lines and is truly inconsolable.
the bbq nun
She came to us from Kansas City with smoke in her habit, shorn hair glinting copper. She came with her guitar and her firm belief in penance and her expertise in all things eschatological, although the latter was more of a private preoccupation than a part of her duties at Sacred Heart. She came with her talk of judgment, but there was always a kind of smile on her face, and she even made the idea of hellfire seem like fun.
the third sister part ii
The third sister, with her bare skull like a crystal ball, but milky blue. When Betty and Lydia want to touch it she makes them pay. Sometimes in pennies, in blood.
They say that if a house is on fire and a woman has to choose between her child and another — her husband, her lover — she will choose the child.
What if I told you I would choose differently?
What do you think of me now?