Arlene Gralla Feldman
Jessica is late as usual, so we MFAs wait, talking idly with three observers from the undergrad program: English majors, wannabe writers.
I talk with the mousey-looking one who tells me she’s already submitted to a publisher. “A house in Puerto Rico,” she says. “They’re into mainland writers.” She tells me about her plans to submit her writing for evaluation for admission to this master’s program. “Why?” I ask her, when the professor pointedly says to me, “I think we’ll start with your piece.”
“Okay,” I say, “but I just need a minute to take off my pantyhose.”
“Can’t it wait?” he asks. “We’re running kind of late.”
“Professor,” I answer, “I’ve had these on since six-thirty this morning and you know about pantyhose—you’re fine until the ants are crawling into every opening, every pore. It isn’t pretty. You feel them spreading from your bellybutton to your pubes…”
Professor looks at his watch disdainfully and then at the brown Formica table before him.
“…through your cleft, to your thighs until your toes begin to curl.”
Mother, hovering in the easterly corner of the empty ceiling, shouts, “Let her go already! How many minutes could the whole thing take?”
Professor relents with a wave of his hand towards the door.
I go into the bedroom and pull off my pantyhose. Some ants scatter, burying themselves in the warmth of the carpet. We are relieved.
When I return the professor is clearly annoyed. “We’ve heard you’ve done this before. In your biology class you were clearly late in distributing the scalpels. The frogs lying there— spread-eagled. Waiting. Waiting. Waiting.”
Professor begins to read my submission listlessly. The others in the room read along silently or stare blankly at the scalpel on the table before them.
At page five, Jessica arrives. There is a catch in Professor’s voice as she tosses her books, coat and umbrella on an empty chair. She takes a seat at the opposite end of the room, facing him.
Professor clears his throat as Jessica’s voluminous right breast flows over her right arm like mint Jell-O. For an instant, I see fire in his eyes, but his drone does not change even as he drops my heart on the table.
Jerry picks up the scalpel, takes a sliver of the left ventricle. “Too issue-oriented,” he says sublimely as the scalpel is passed from one to another.
“Explicit rather than implicit,” Rena says at my right as she cuts off the aorta and throws it over her shoulder into the wastebasket.
“No sense of closure,” remarks Kim and she slices from the right to the left atrium. The knife catches at an artery.
I feel ants at the inner crease of my left thigh.
“On the contrary, I see closure,” says Jessica as she puts aside one of the vena cava she has been sucking. Her right pinkie carefully wipes a trace of blood from the left corner of her lips.
The ants are in a state of frenzy.
Jessica purses her mouth, pushes her cropped, auburn hair behind her left ear, and remarks, “The rapist gets his. AIDS. It’s clear to me and that’s precisely what ruins this piece. The closure.”
The ants nest in my pubic hairs. I declare war, cross my legs. The queens lay eggs.
“Poetic justice,” Jessica continues. “Dickens could get away with it. But today? It’s laughable!”
Professor’s eyes are sparkling. A-plus, they say. He says, “Like the idea of the child molester being absolved of the crime, leaving the courthouse only to be walking up the stoop of his house to be hit on the head with a pot of geraniums. I agree with Jessica. This simply does not work.” Professor strokes his beard, half smiles at Jessica, and hands my mother a dishtowel.
Jessica purrs. The Jell-O quakes.
The wannabes gather around me. “I thought your work was insightful,” the shorter one says self-consciously.
“The stream of consciousness is real,” so says the young man.
The mousy-looking one gathers the remains of my heart and places them into a round aluminum container.
My mother goes to the wastebasket, fishes for my aorta then adds it to the collection. She begins to wipe the table with the dishcloth, rubbing diligently on a stubborn blood clot. “I don’t know what you expect from my girl,” she says.
Professor ignores her. He caresses Jessica’s submission, begins reading it mellifluously.
Mother gently places the container before me. “Send it to Puerto Rico,” she wails before she floats up to her corner.
“Spare yourself,” I caution the mousey-looking one. “Don’t apply.”
About the author:
Arlene Gralla Feldman received her MFA in Fiction Writing from Brooklyn College, Brooklyn, New York. She published an excerpt from a longer work, One God or Another, in Two Worlds Walking: Short Stories, Essays & Poetry by Writers with Mixed Heritages, Edited by Diane Glancy and C. W. Truesdale (New Rivers Press, 1994). Four of her short stories were published in US 1 Summer Fiction issues. Her short story “The Kill” was previously published in Kelsey Review 35.2 (Winter 2016).