Friday, August 16, 2019

"Better" from Michael Chin's new short story collection YOU MIGHT FORGET THE SKY WAS EVER BLUE

Joel won the third grade spelling bee. The prize: the right to name the class the goldfish. He called her Mother.

When no one was looking, he took Mother from her bowl and crushed her beneath the weight of his social studies textbook.


Dad knocked on Joel’s door while Joel was masturbating. Joel had suspected the squeak of his bed springs was audible from outside his bedroom and had suspected his father might wary of washing cum stains from the pillowcase. Even so, Joel had hoped it was one of those things that he would never have to talk about with his father.

To his credit, Dad didn’t say anything, and Joel read the knock as a warning sign, like the police cars that waited in plain sight at the side of the road. The good cops cared more about maintaining order than collecting fines.


Joel met a purple-haired girl in his dorm, with white scars on her thighs like veins. Like lightning. He liked to touch them, just the way he played with the indentations the elastic waistbands of his tighty-whities left against his skin. She asked him not to touch, but he touched her anyway when he thought she had fallen asleep. She cried.

She told him she used to cut herself.

She asked if he wanted to go.

That she would tell him this made him feel like he might cry. This trust. This knowledge. It had to be love.


The next girl was softer. Her hair as brown as tree trunks and smelling of honey. She wore it long, often braided. They caught the biggest, coldest snowflakes of the season on their tongues.

Joel’s hands bled when they climbed trees that spring. He had never formed the calluses she had. Never been an outdoor child.

They spent the summer apart, but talked on the phone most days, until he ran out of things to say and she said that was okay, it was enough to hear him breathe.

In the fall he got drunk on whiskey for the first time and told her that he didn’t think she was very pretty and that her feet smelled.


Joel wrote bullet point descriptions for a company that sold traffic cones, hard hats, safety glasses, and harnesses.

Selling durability. Selling comfort.

He never slept enough. Started each day with a Centrum and a cigarette. The combination of the two on an empty stomach made him nauseous.


They couldn’t afford a honeymoon so they each took two sick days after the ceremony and fucked one another raw. Joel littered her clavicle with bite marks. Amy slept with her cheek on his chest, frizzy brown hair in his face. He sneezed, but didn’t move her. Dried the mucus with the back of his left hand. Petted her hair with the palm of his right.


Joel managed salesmen of safety vests and work boots. Same company. Different hallway. Office with a window. Sometimes he squinted his eyes and tried to see past that same lot where he had parked his car year after year, and tried to see back to the moment he became this round-bellied, gray-haired thing.

His stomach pained him. Like usual. Amy started his days with eggs or pancakes or French toast or corned beef. He ate it all. Without fail, between nine-thirty and ten-thirty he needed to shit. Sometimes, when he knew he had a morning meeting, he tried to force it out before he left home, or first thing in the office. It never satisfied him. Nature had to run its course. By the end of the meeting, sweat streaked his back as he squeezed his ass cheeks shut, smiling, red-faced, waiting it out.


Joel’s daughter peed all the time. They called her Penelope and he wondered if the name sounded too much like pee-pee and tempted the gods of urination. He had thought he’d relish the day she graduated from diapers, but it only meant that he needed to pull over the car more often, stop in the middle of grocery shopping to find the ladies room.

Still, he loved her. They taught her how to ride a bike. How to build snowmen. Against his wife’s protests that one or both of them would end up with a broken neck, how to climb trees.


They called their second daughter Jessie. The sound of a boy’s name in lieu of a boy. All of these women. Joel didn’t know what to do with them past a certain point. The great divide between child and woman where everything changed.

But before she grew, while she belonged to him, little Jessie seemed to crave him. She nestled at his side while he watched baseball. Fell asleep, the back of her head to the space just outside his armpit, knees tucked beneath her chin. He held her close. Through the rain delay. Through the final innings. Through the late night news. He would not risk moving and waking his perfect girl.

As his bladder filled and his eyelids drifted shut, he ran his fingertips over the ridges her socks had impressed on her little ankles.


Seventy-four minutes into the DVD, Joel realized that Penelope hadn’t gotten up once to relieve herself.

Unheard of.

He sat on the couch with a big red plastic bowl of popcorn.

Penelope sat on the loveseat. Green bowl of popcorn on the floor. Cuddled close under a red and black plaid blanket with her boyfriend. Their whole bodies were covered, faces peeking out, colored in flickering TV light.

Joel suggested they take off the blanket.

Penelope said she was cold.

Joel said they could get up and get another blanket. Have one for each of them. Two even. The hallway closet was full of them.

Joel made eye contact with his daughter and he knew what hatred felt like. He shoveled popcorn in his mouth and sucked the butter from his fingers.


Jessie, Joel’s golden child, made good. She delivered unto him a grandson, called Bray.

He asked her what kind of name that was. She said it was a roar.

Joel shrugged and held the boy face to face, when his roars had not yet evolved to words, but remained whimpers and wails. When he could open his eyes just wide enough to see his grandfather. When the child might just recognize the feel of human hands around his tiny rib cage, and just might begin to know love.

When Bray was five Jessie brought home a puppy, and the boy got to name him. Joel sipped coffee, turned beige with so much cream—the only way his stomach could handle it. He listened as Jessie explained that you named creatures after people you cared for. After people you admired. It was a way of distilling your love. Spreading that name so it might touch others.

Bray named the dog Grandpa. From that day forward, the boy and his dog were inseparable.

And Joel knew then this boy would do it all better.



originally published @ Extract [s]



***



Michael Chin was born and raised in Utica, New York and currently lives in Las Vegas with his wife and son. He has three full-length short story collections on the way: You Might Forget the Sky was Ever Blue (Duck Lake Books) available for pre-sale HERECircus Folk (Hoot 'n' Waddle), and The Long Way Home (Cowboy Jamboree Press). He has also published three chapbooks: Autopsy and Everything After with The Florida Review, Distance Traveled with Bent Window Books, and The Leo Burke Finish with Gimmick Press. Find him online at miketchin.com and follow him on Twitter @miketchin.






Sunday, August 11, 2019

October needs to be kind of big here at Bent Country

Come October this blog will officially turn 10 years old. A decade of writing and posting here. Help me plan something. Leave comments to make suggestions. If I get no comments (which, of course, is possible) I'll just do a simple post or something. Maybe a picture of a kid blowing out 10 candles or something.


Guest Post: Why Write Stories by Michael Chin

I write stories because I’m scared. Global warming is going to end the world if the president doesn’t do us in first. I’m powerless in these things. As powerless as I was, twelve years old, when a group of five punk teenagers, one, two, three years older than me, wearing Halloween masks jumped out from behind a hedge to give my friend and I a scare when we were out for a walk. They didn’t do much—just pushed us around a little, probably cursed at us. The moment stuck in my mind, though because they’d caught us—must have been waiting on us, because it was a sleepy street without much foot traffic, and they could have given us a pounding, stolen our wallets if they wanted to. Of course, the other truth of the matter is that I ran. In principle, I’d like to think that if my friend was going to get his ass kicked, I’d at least keep him company getting mine kicked, too, but in that moment of fight or flight, there’s no mistaking which instinct my six-foot-tall, hundred-thirty-pound body picked up on. My friend was shorter, squatter, slower, didn’t have the same option.

I write stories fast. I’ve always been fast. A fast talker. Fast to pick up my multiplication tables. A fast runner. The last day of kindergarten, the teachers staged a series of foot races and I won every one I ran, last of all a race with every kindergartner running across the same field at the same time. It’s the best story I’ve got from my athletic career, the greatest glory achieved a few months shy of my sixth birthday.

I could tell you the story of when my uncle gifted me a stopwatch on the premise that he knew I was at the age when boys ran races. I wasn’t. I was sixteen and couldn’t remember the last race I’d raced someone, but I smiled and nodded along because gifts were scarce in my family and in that era before smart phones or laptops, a stopwatch was a cool gadget to have, even if I had no discernible use for it. I nodded along, too, when the same uncle told me that I should have played on my high school basketball team because I probably would have been good—a comment predicated on the fact that I was the first person in my family to stand taller than five-nine, a comment oblivious to my complete lack of physical coordination. When I said I wanted to be a writer, that uncle told me I ought to take a penname, because no one would want to buy books by someone with the last name Chin.

I write because it runs in the family. Not just the Star Trek fan fiction my mother wrote before I was born, nor the romance novels my sister took to publishing in her thirties. Not just the abandoned, hand-written manuscript about gambling I found in my father’s desk drawer, or the book about how to quit gambling that my uncle self-published.

I suppose gambling runs in the family, too.

Maybe that has something to do with my stories, too. Maybe that’s how I wound up in Vegas.

I’ve never been much of a gambler myself—just five-dollar buy-in games of Texas Hold ‘Em over kitchen tables and video poker the once or so a year I found myself in a casino. But when I approached a decade out of undergrad and had scarcely published and felt all my youthful potential as a writer slipping through my fingers, I gambled on leaving a stable, well-paying office job behind in favor of moving across the country to do an MFA and put my writing first. The woman I was dating came along and we lived together for the first time. I read and wrote and lesson planned for Freshman Comp by day, and came home to her to watch old episodes of Beverly Hills 90210 at night. Idyllic days, humble as they may have been.

Three years out of grad school, two years into adjuncting, I got an interview for a job I’d applied for on a lark, teaching writing at UNLV. There was a song from the Sara Bareilles musical, Waitress, in my head when I boarded the plane for my campus interview, the song, “Take It From an Old Man,” the lyrics, “Bet it all on yourself at least one time, ‘cause honey win or lose, it’s one hell of a ride.”

I bet.

I won.

I got the job. We packed up and moved—that same woman who’d moved with me to Oregon, who’s moved back east with me, married me, carried the financial load while I was teaching part time, and not least of all—heck, most of all—had carried our son to birth.

I write because my wife’s stories deserve to get told in a way that sticks past oral telling, in a way that rings more authentic than what’s technically true. In print. I write stories so that my son might come to know me in the years ahead in the way I know best how to express myself and so that he knows sooner than I believed in it myself that his stories do matter, do carry weight.

Stories tell families. Stories tell fears—better than chasing them away, they live in them, making them no less scary in content, but maybe a little less bleak for yielding a sense of understanding.

I'm not powerless in that.

And so, I write stories.


***


Michael Chin was born and raised in Utica, New York and currently lives in Las Vegas with his wife and son. He has three full-length short story collections on the way: You Might Forget the Sky was Ever Blue (Duck Lake Books) available for pre-sale HERE, Circus Folk (Hoot 'n' Waddle), and The Long Way Home (Cowboy Jamboree Press). He has also published three chapbooks: Autopsy and Everything After with The Florida Review, Distance Traveled with Bent Window Books, and The Leo Burke Finish with Gimmick Press. Find him online at miketchin.com and follow him on Twitter @miketchin.




Leslie Jamison quoting John Irving about the usefulness of sentimentality.


"In a 1979 op-ed called “In Defense of Sentimentality,” John Irving examines the legacy of Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, stressing the importance of what he calls “Christmas risks”: earnest attempts to articulate pathos without cloaking it in cleverness or wit."

                                                                                           
                                                                 - Leslie Jamison, The Empathy Exams

Friday, August 9, 2019

Mike Lafontaine again sees something in one of my stories

Mike Lafontaine has once again saw something in a story of mine that most everyone else missed. Nothing against the rest of you all, but Mike has a eye tailor-made for my kind of storytelling. And I'm lucky because of that skill.

This most recent story is called "Psychic Mountains Ten Thousand Feet High." Follow the link and give it a read.

Thanks again Mike. You are a rare jewel, my friend.

Monday, July 8, 2019

It's a great day. I have a short story called "To the Cherokee Strip" in BULL Magazine.

Bull Magazine is one of my absolute favorite journals. It was, and still is, a dream journal of mine. Beginning in 2009 I started submitting to them at least twice a year. Sometimes more. Today my third story was published there, thanks to editor and writer Ben Drevlow.

This one is my second published western story. It's called "To the Cherokee Strip" and it was helped along greatly by Ben's editorial eye. My first western story was also published at BULL.  It's titled "Seven Drums" and you can read it here). These are the first two stories of a planned collection of western stories. I'm working on the third now. It's titled "The Judas Steer" and, yes, I'm excited about this project. I love the Old West and the way a western story opens itself up to discovering the grays within the supposed black and white hats.

So link up and give "To the Cherokee Strip" and "Seven Drums" a read. I thank you.

"Better" from Michael Chin's new short story collection YOU MIGHT FORGET THE SKY WAS EVER BLUE

Joel won the third grade spelling bee. The prize: the right to name the class the goldfish. He called her Mother. When no one was looking...