Potluck

 

T H I S    W E E K

The Theorist by Bo Fisher

 

Bill

This week, Potluck turns one!

What a year it's been. In the past 365 days, we've hosted over 100 different writers, photographers, illustrators, and videographers on this site. And we are, and continue to be, very proud of their work. 

So, in order to commemorate them and our one-year anniversary, each editor has decided to republish a work that he or she believes has fully exemplified Potluck, and the space we've created here.  It's seriously the least we could do.

* * *

 

Bill

1.

On the weatherruined staircase he can see his wife and baby. They are watching the 

television set. Bill Bird watches them through the window, sitting on the bed, watching 

television. 

His wife looks at him when he opens the door. She says, How was work?

Good, he says. He opens his wallet and puts his tips on the dresser. For whatever 

it needs.

She bounces the baby in her lap. You ain’t leavin are you?

I got nowhere, he says.

Sometimes I think that’s the why of it. 

He unties his apron and drapes it over the chair and sits beside her. Her head on 

his shoulder, hair oiling his skin.

I think I might of got a job at the Laundromat.

I can’t be watching that baby, he says.

It’s a old woman who works in there. She said might be I could set him on my lap 

long as he don’t cause noise.

He climbs on top of her ignoring the baby and after he comes he goes to the 

bathroom and draws a glass of water. She smokes a cigarette in bed and ashes on the 

baby’s feet. He comes back and bats them to the floor. He gets into bed and the baby 

screams.

2.

Ladies and gentlemen, ya’ll been waitin months for this one and it’s finally here. Now, 

now. Ya’ll calm down. And son, if you put up that middle finger again I’mma come on 

down and break it for you. In the blue corner, weighing in at 157 pounds last week when 

we weighed him, the blonde haired bully himself, Bill Bird! And in the red corner, with 

them real mean lookin eyes, the Knockout King! Well if it was a applause contest Bill 

Bird would be on the mat bleedin. Well, but hold up. Before the fight I got to tell ya’ll 

about this cheeseburger I had. Probably the best one I ever tasted. Let’s see here. It was 

from Habash and Sons, down on Main Street. That was Habash and Sons I said. Alright 

now.

3.

The letters cut on in pairs to illuminate the name: Catalina Motel. Bill Bird climbs the 

staircase and peers through the window. The television flickers newsroom blue. She sits 

on the edge of the bed, leaning into the screen. She is not wearing a shirt. The knobs 

of her spine climb into her nodding head. She is agreeing with something. No, she’s 

sobbing. He descends to the Coke machine. It draws his dollar like a tongue. He punches 

the button and nothing comes out.

 

Eugene Harrogate is from Lexington, Kentucky, and received his MFA in Fiction Writing from NYU. His essays, interviews, and reviews have appeared or are forthcoming in Publishers WeeklyGuernica and The Rumpus. He lives in Brooklyn and tweets here.

Harold

The Moon—Bullbats—The Hanging Cage

With his squat face pinched in a finger of light—the moon hauls through the open barndoors—and against the waking bullbats that rustle, pitch from the laths and shriek past him into night, the boy is not unclever. For months he has tried to become one. Chewing feathers, he stands in his cage revolving twenty feet above the strawed floor. Long accustomed to this height, he pitches forward, back, forward again, sending into motion the cage and with it the hemp cable fraying against its pulley.

            He flies.

 

Highway—The Face—The Truck

Limping the shoulder, frightened by close-passing cars. Each could be his father, any may take him back. Until a van sidles up slowly beside him. Behind the wheel sits an old grinning man with the wooden visage of his daydreams—knowing in his cage only his father’s face, he would construct ventriloquial figures through which strangers could enter, locums of crude, intrinsic emotion exterior his conscious knowledge; he is vulnerable with inexperience, knowing neither whom nor when to fear for having always lived in fear, able only to whittle into his ligneous company the face of the man who harmed him; the bullbats regarded him with indifference and for this reason he became one, their indifference his closest experience with kindness; but they abandoned him in his fall; climbing from the ruined cage, ashamed of his body, he could not find them; he left his cage seeking neither food nor shelter, searching only for that feeling he has now found in a face; but what has found him is proof that not even the most miserable of lives are immune to degradation: a truck with crewing horn cuts lanes across the highway, trundles down the embankment; the shriekish whistle of the radiator, he knows it—the old face is snatched away, turned now to watch shrinking through its dirty rear window the sheering truck slew into place.

 

The Ducks—His Secret—Cattails

—and vanish beneath the dock. Feathers flash white between boards. When he cranes his neck through the bars of cattail they pirouette out, scronking. His ankle throbs with blisters, tethered for weeks to the porch where his father smiles around a cigarette. Ain’t fishin you out again. You ain’t a duck, honey. But his father does not know that in his cage the boy became a bird. That he dropped from it and flew away. That he will soon become a duck.

            His father jerks his rope tugging hand-over-hand; it twists together a crop of cattails and seizes away their heads; twanging taut, the boy is drawn slowly toward him like a thing on his tongue as the cattail down sifts windblown over the stilling pond. 

 

 

 

 

Eugene Harrogate is from Lexington, Kentucky, and received his MFA in Fiction Writing from NYU. His essays, interviews, and reviews have appeared or are forthcoming in Publishers WeeklyGuernica and The Rumpus. He lives in Brooklyn and tweets here.

Linda

Through the vapor hissing from the cracked radiator, she can see the other driver is dead. She stirs in her seat and tries to open the door. Her nose is crushed into her face. Some of it is on the steering wheel. She can’t move her legs. She doesn’t feel them. It is as if she were born without them. A hole has opened in her right thigh, white bone jutting through the stringy muscle. She vomits into her hands.

 

In a blurry hospital, and much later, with her leg propped up on two pillows, a sweating glass of sweet tea on the nightstand, Thomas leans over her bed and kisses her forehead. The image of the dead woman clings to her and she wipes it from her face like a spider web. Screeches echo down the hall. Her baby is unhappy. He’s been fed, he’s been changed, but still he screams all day. He will always be an infant, she thinks, and that is why she loves him so much. 

Thomas pushes back her bangs with his palm and leans the glass toward her mouth. She sips at it, catching the ice on her teeth. He takes it away and sets it on the nightstand. She apologizes for the way she looks. She apologizes for the way the room smells, though now she’s used to it and can no longer smell it. He shakes his head and waves his arms and crosses them over his chest. He takes good care of her even if things didn’t happen like they were supposed to. And if they did, life would be so boring. He’s a good man, but wouldn’t he go and make that baby shut up so she could get some sleep?

 

The doorbell wakes her. She’s asleep and then she’s awake. There’s no transition because she knows who’s at the door. Her children have come home. She’s worried about how she looks because it’s been so long since she’s seen them. It seems as though time isn’t moving. What are they doing out there on the porch? Why are they taking so long to come up? She knows Michael is wearing his suit because he just flew in from Atlanta. He heard about the wreck and he brought chocolates and a necklace from Macy’s. It isn’t pure gold because of her allergy. He’s a good boy and he remembers she can’t have pure gold. And Tony is smoking a cigarette. She told him to quit, but she’ll smell the menthol on his breath when he leans down to kiss her. His head is shaved and maybe Thomas rubs it because he’s a good father. Mary will be holding her own daughter. She’ll rock it in her arms and kiss its forehead. They’re all talking, she can almost hear them through the window. Maybe she can peek out there and see. But her leg hurts too bad. They’ll come see her. They’ll come upstairs.

Thomas steps into the room and smiles. He’s holding their child in his arms. It’s screeching, its brown hands grabbing at his nose. She only wants to know who was at the door. He scrunches his face and sighs. It was the neighbors. Their television set wasn’t working, was ours? He moves over to the bedside with the bundle and sets it in her lap. The monkey is screaming, but she’ll take care of it. It’s wearing a diaper. She holds it against her chest and rocks it slowly. It smells of dried fruit. It wraps its arms around her neck and pulls at her ears. He’s her little boy, she tells him. He rolls onto his back and claps his feet. 

 

Do you remember when you woke me in the night? We cooked bacon on the stove and drank right from the milk carton. We watched the sun come up. You laughed at everything. You were a happy baby. I don’t cook anymore. I don’t have time and the mornings don’t come as easy. It’s hard to wake up. Frank tells me I can’t be late every day, but I don’t think he means it. He says it in front of everyone so he looks like a real boss. But he saw me crying by the water cooler, and even though he didn’t try to comfort me, it was only because he didn’t know how.

 

 

 

 

Eugene Harrogate is from Lexington, Kentucky, and received his MFA in Fiction Writing from NYU. His essays, interviews, and reviews have appeared or are forthcoming in Publishers WeeklyGuernica and The Rumpus. He lives in Brooklyn and tweets here.

Frank

Sitting in his car in front of his trailer, he can see through the kitchen window the shape of his wife as she leans over the sink. She is making dinner. He has a little boy in there, too. He worries the boy will be like him. He worries the boy will be ugly and good-for-nothing. A lottery ticket sits unscratched on the dash. Every day is this way.

When he holds the lottery ticket he thinks of all the pretty dresses he could buy for his wife. She has only one dress, and when she wears it, he hates himself for pitying her. Her body is like a deflated balloon. She was once fat. He told her and she cried. She said she would never eat again, she would never eat again.

He was laid off from the steel mill two weeks ago. He is afraid to tell his wife because she is always worried about money. He drives to the park each morning and watches the ducks float on the lake. He sits in the driveway and looks at the ticket.

When he opens his eyes and looks at the ticket he will see that he has won. He will drop the penny and scream. He will jump out of the car and run to the trailer and show it to his wife. She will be very confused, but then she will faint. She will lie on the floor like a broken bird. In the kitchen he will go to the boy whose cradle rocks softly by the fridge. He will kiss the boy and sing to him. He will sing “Ain’t No Sunshine.”

A week later he will be on TV. He will be in front of his trailer where news cameras stand on their tripods. The whole world will want to see this very lucky man. He will stand on the porch and his wife will hold the boy beside him. A man in a sport jacket will hand him a very large check. It will be the size of a door. He will hold it up for the camera and somewhere in the hills of Tennessee his mother will be watching and crying. The cameras will turn off and the man will take back the check because it is not a real check. The man will call it a TV check. When asked, he will choose the lump sum, which is almost two million dollars.

He will buy his wife a new home, a new car, and a closet of dresses. He will also buy her braces, which she will show off while fucking. He will hunch over her small, strange body and see them sparkling in the dark.

Aboard his first flight to Las Vegas, he will look up the skirt of an older woman as she reaches for her purse. When he gets to his hotel he will look at himself naked in the mirror and remark aloud about the size of his dick. It is very large. It almost hangs to his knees. Downstairs in the casino at three AM he will lose thirty thousand dollars to a black man with long fingernails. He will reason that thirty thousand dollars is change. The next night, while drunk on champagne, he will bet forty thousand dollars and show his hand: a two, a four, two threes and a king. He will lose. On his way to his room a woman will call him over. She will follow him to his room. She will tell him that, indeed, he is very big. The next day, when he refuses to pay her, she will take his cell phone and call his wife. She will tell her in detail the dimensions of his penis, including the strange mole on the tip. His wife will take half. He will not see his son.

He will wonder late into the night when he is very drunk if his boy can sing. He will recall singing to the boy very vividly. He will recall the lyrics to “Ain’t No Sunshine” and he will sing them into his pillow. He will wonder if his son will ever sing for anyone. He will wonder if his son will ever sing for a crowd. And he will wonder, if he does, will someone in the audience look to their friend and say, That motherfucker is ugly but at least he can sing.

He will board a plane still drunk and without luggage. He will smile at the hostess but she will frown and look away. From the airport he will take a taxi to the house. He will try to fix his hair in the rearview mirror. He will wonder if his son will recognize him. The cab will stop outside her home. There will be Halloween decorations on the lawn. The trees will drip with rain. He will take the cobblestone walk to the front stoop, climb the stairs with the iron railing, and at the door, soaking wet with a blister on his mouth and a ream of fat around his belt, he will close his eyes and ring the doorbell.

He steps out of the car and slams the door. He walks inside the trailer. His wife’s back is turned toward him. Steam rising up from the skillet. Her hair is like dried wheat. She looks like a scarecrow. He comes up behind her and turns her around. He kisses her lips. Her eyes are open. He pulls her down to the linoleum and takes off all her clothes. He leaves his but unzips his fly. He enters her and she moans. He thinks about how fat she once was. How the fat moved independent from her bones. How this woman is just a ghost of what she once was. She was so fat it felt like floating. He wants to feel that fat all around him. He wants to feel it sucking him in. He wants to glide across it. The boy is crying. He turns and looks. The boy is watching from his crib. The boy is watching him.

 

 

 

 

Eugene Harrogate is from Lexington, Kentucky, and received his MFA in Fiction Writing from NYU. His essays, interviews, and reviews have appeared or are forthcoming in Publishers WeeklyGuernica and The Rumpus. He lives in Brooklyn and tweets here.

Rodney

Rodney lets the BMW purr near the curb. Cindi and Dennis stand in their front yard, looking at the convertible. Dennis is wearing gardening gloves and standing over a small hole he holds a clayslaked shovel and looks like a balding idiot.

            Cindi says, Is that Rodney?

            Slick, aint it? Rodney taps lightly on the accelerator and the engine purrs louder. She’s pretty quick, he admits.

            It’s a nice car, Cindi says. She is holding a small tree in her hands. The root bulb is wrapped in burlap. Did Michael tell you where we lived?

            Rodney waves away the question. What’s that for, he says, pointing at the tree.

            We’re planting it, she says.

            Oh.

            Across the street an old man is squirting a hose on his lawn. The afternoon sun jewels in the spray, forming a small rainbow above the grass.

            Pretty, says Rodney, pointing again. He looks back at Cindi. She is still holding the tree and looking at him.

            I read about your momma in the papers, Rodney. I’m real sorry about it.

            Well I come on by here to show you my new car. I just got her this mornin. I wanted one in red but they say they aint make it in red so I got it silver.

            It’s used, aint it? says Dennis. He sounds like a balding idiot.

            It’s been owned previously, Rodney corrects.

            Cindi bends down and places the tree into the hole. Dennis pushes over dirt and buries the bulb. Rodney again taps the accelerator.

            Well it was good seein you, Rodney. Cindi’s blonde hair blows around in a slight wind. She is a bit wrinkled of face.

            I’m goin on a boat with Mike to probably do some fishin. I’ll catch a few I think if there’s some to be caught and I’ll bring em by for a fish dinner if I do.

            That’s alright about the fish, Rodney. We dont take much to fish.

            Aint yall got a swimmin pool?

            Cindi looks at Dennis who is now on his knees pushing the dirt into a mound against the trunk. She looks back at Rodney. No.

            Okay okay. Rodney releases the brake and presses the accelerator and begins driving away uncertainly.

            Cindi watches him and he watches Cindi. Bye Rodney! she shouts, but now he’s down the block and probably around the corner and now he has probably left the neighborhood.

            Who the hell was that, says Dennis.

            That’s my brothers friend. You met him at the weddin.

            I dont remember. Dennis removes his gardening gloves. He has very soft hands for a man his size.

            When we was growin up he was friends with my brother and he come over about every day. That’s around when we didnt call him Rodney but called him Motormouth on account of his fixin things. You know them model planes you could get from Boy Scout magazine? Rodney was crazy about em. You’d hear buzzin by the windows late at night and you could smell this gasoline stink in the mornin. He crashed one through our livingroom window this time with a note on it said will you go to prom with me- rodney but I wasn’t but twelve and him in high school so my brother went down and asked him did he mean to send that note to his sister and did he mean to break that window. Well Rodney said yes and Michael punched his nose. They was still good friends after that but you know Rodney was always a bit different. When he was out of school his momma moved out to Danville and Rodney went with her. I saw in the papers where she died not four days ago and survived by her loving son so I guess he’s lived with her these twenty some years.

            Dennis stomps the dirt down with his boot. They gather the shovel and gloves, and disappear together into the house.

 

 

 

 

Eugene Harrogate is from Lexington, Kentucky, and received his MFA in Fiction Writing from NYU. His essays, interviews, and reviews have appeared or are forthcoming in Publishers WeeklyGuernica and The Rumpus. He lives in Brooklyn and tweets here.