Joanna Ruocco


      I live with Dave. Dave went to boarding school and is writing a novel. He went to the same college I did, but it was the boarding school that prepared him for writing a novel. It must be the boarding school. Otherwise I would be writing a novel too.
       “What’s the difference between writing and not writing?” I ask Dave.
       “You mean like Derrida?” asks Dave. Dave likes Derrida. Derrida also went to boarding school, but Derrida’s family isn’t rich like Dave’s family. Derrida had a sports scholarship. I know more about Derrida than Dave because I am a woman. Dave is phallogocentric, i.e. Dave’s novel is mostly the phallus.
       “I don’t mean like Derrida,” I say. “I mean, really, actionably, what’s the difference?”
      When I am not writing, I feel bad. But when I am writing, I am usually not writing. I feel bad. I sit in front of the computer doing small, surreptitious things to my body. When Dave is writing, his face is motionless and he doesn’t blink. His posture is excellent and his fingers never stop moving across the keyboard, which is laid out in the German style for maximal efficiency. Dave doesn’t understand me. When Dave is writing there is no fraction, “not-writing/writing,” there is only writing, or “writing/writing,” which is 1writing/1writing, which isn’t a fraction, it’s a whole number, or as a percentage, 100% writing, and Dave can do that because of boarding school and the German keyboard and the phallus, which are all reducible to the same thing (phallus).
       “You are happy and repellant,” I say to Dave. The sun is coming in through the windows of our apartment. It’s almost Friday night. I take a train to Union Square. On the train, I attract the attention of a depressed man. I am reading a book, a hard-covered book, and every time I finish a page, I glue it to the page before.
       “Fuck you too,” says the depressed man. He means the cow on the Elmer’s glue. Elmer the cow, sneering. Elmer looks superior. Elmer is married to Elsie. They are happy and repellant.
       “Anthropomorphism is fucked up,” says the depressed man.
       “Elmer’s glue is vegan,” I say. “It’s gluten-free. It’s produced synthetically, in the United States of America, by Union labor. Elmer isn’t an animal. He’s a corporate logo.”
       “Corporations are fucked up,” says the depressed man.
       “Corporations are people too,” I say.
      The depressed man and I understand each other. The depressed man is an artist and takes me to an art gallery in the Village. Art in the Village has gotten whimsical. Has art in the Village always been so whimsical? Whimsy is how the phallogocentric artists try to hide the phallus. They hide the phallus right there in the open, with unicorns. The depressed man and I look at some paintings of unicorns. The unicorns are doing strange things; they are floating in life rafts, or they are embracing large rabbits and professional boxers. The horns are long and glistening. We go to another art gallery. These days, the phallogocentric artists have also been knitting things on knitting machines. I think about all the Chinese ladies sewing t-shirts in windowless buildings in Chinatown and I think about all the artists knitting flowers in bright lofts in DUMBO.  The artists are listening to The Arcade Fire and NPR. I feel self-righteous. The artists should be taken into a field and shot. Self-righteousness is irritating. I should be taken into a field and shot. I imagine myself being shot in a field, by Chinese ladies. Would the Chinese ladies feel self-righteous, shooting me? They would not. They would shoot me selflessly, thinking about higher powers, like the ocean. The Chinese ladies would look sexy, in tight jeans and cutoff shirts, holding snub-nosed derringers and lighting each other’s cigarettes. I wish I were a lesbian. I would be overpowered by a sexy gang of Chinese lady biker-girls. They would tie me down and then they would put their silicone derringers in harnesses. They would take turns inserting their derringers into my trepanning hole. I wish I had a trepanning hole. I wish pure light were pouring from my third eye. I wish I were getting fucked in the head, in a field, splashes of light, sun-squirts, little prisms of skull on the milkweeds. What if I associate lesbian with Asian fetish? That would be wrong. That would mean my fantasies are over-determined by the power structure. I amend my imagination. Now I am being taken into a field and shot by self-righteous white lesbians whose fathers are famous politicians.  Afterwards, we have a picnic, tiny tongue sandwiches, tiny watercress and cream cheese sandwiches, tiny salmon sandwiches, Prim’s, petit fours.  A discreet entourage of Ecuadorian maids use hand vacuums to remove the red ants and pollens.

      A long time ago, I was sitting on Dave’s back. He couldn’t move his neck from hours of writing. I was rubbing my hands up and down his back. Dave has a lot of hair on his head but no hair on his back. He has a smooth, feminine back. I was using my thumbs and making pink splotches come up on Dave’s skin. I leaned over and put my mouth on the curve where his neck meets his shoulder. I let my tongue touch the skin at the same time I breathed out through my mouth. Dave stood up and put his shirt on.
       “Do you want to watch Apocalypse Now?” asked Dave.
       “Okay,” I said. We sat close together on the couch watching Apocalypse Now. Dave started rubbing my arm. I climbed on Dave’s lap. He put his hands on my hips then pulled his hands away. He cupped my elbows with his hands. Our faces came closer and closer together and I stuck my tongue out a little and Dave stuck his tongue out a little and our tongues touched outside of our mouths and it seemed like our mouths were going to keep getting closer together until they also touched, with our tongues inside the mouths, but Dave was pushing me further and further away by the elbows. My tongue was out as far as it would go. It felt dry. I opened my eyes. My ass was on Dave’s kneecaps.
       “Ow,” said Dave.   
       “This is weird,” said Dave. “You’re my best friend. You’re a lesbian.”
       “Do you know those vegetarians who sometimes eat meat if they find it in the trash?” I said.     
       “Feel this,” said Dave. He put my fingers on the side of his neck and I rubbed and could feel the flesh sliding over something flat and cornered and hard.
       “A microchip?” I said.
       “I’m afraid I’m not human,” whispered Dave.
       I nodded.
       “Have you noticed how perfect my skin is?” asked Dave. “Like, too perfect?”  
       “Yes,” I said. “I’ve noticed. I notice everything.”
       The depressed man and I look at the glittery knitted flowers. I notice they were made with reflective yarn. The artists didn’t make the reflective yarn. They just knitted the flowers. Filipino kids make the reflective yarn in the Philippines. They make the yarn thinking about higher powers.
       “What’s a higher power to kids in the Philippines?” I ask the depressed man. It can’t be the ocean, the Philippines is surrounded by ocean, ordinary ocean. The depressed man thinks.  
       “Simon Cowell,” says the depressed man. “Grand Theft Auto.” He sneers. Really, though, the depressed man’s cynicism is a veneer. Underneath he is tremulous and filled with awe.
       “Intimacy is the process by which two people gradually discover they are exactly alike,” I say. “True or false?”
       “C,” says the depressed man. “It’s always C.”
       “It’s not,” I say.
       “More than 25%” says the depressed man.
       “There are 26 letters,” I say. “I don’t mean that. That was Eurocentric.”
       “Let’s get dumplings,” says the depressed man.

      We go to No. 1 Dumpling House on Eldridge Street. We crowd inside and look at the grill cook lifting the sesame pancakes out of the oil.
       “I want a sesame pancake with scallions and carrots,” I say. The grill cook throws water on the grill and slams a metal lid over the dumplings to trap them inside, with the steam. Then he starts cutting up the pancakes. He stuffs them with scallions and carrots and puts them in waxed paper bags. He hands them over the counter to the Chinese people. A white girl comes in. She’s wearing tall boots and a body stocking. She has a heavy gold chain around her hips, with a gold elephant head in the middle. The grill cook hands her a waxed paper bag.  
       “That was my pancake,” I say. “It’s okay.”
       “Do you think she goes to the Columbia School of Journalism?” asks the depressed man.
       “I think she just got married to a party promoter,” I say. “They are married, but they are in no way slaves to convention. They are non-traditionalists in the deepest sense.  They will give their baby a faux-hawk and every Sunday they will vary their brunches. Some Sundays they will brunch on buckwheat pancakes with raspberry sauce and other Sundays they will brunch on novelty pirogi.”
       “Pumpkin pirogi?” says the depressed man.
       “I meant blintzes,” I say. It is very hot in No. 1 Dumpling House and the depressed man is not insightful. He is failing to make creative connections. The white girl looks right at me. She has that smoky eye make-up. She’s holding the waxed paper bag in both hands.      
       “It’s okay,” I say. I wish I were wearing a body stocking. I would be working on my novel in a body stocking, with Dave, drinking, probably a gimlet.   
       “I should be working on my novel right now,” I say. “Sorry, I need to say that sometimes. It’s a nervous tic. I’m having a good time.”  
       “There’s nothing for us here,” says the depressed man. The depressed man is looking bleakly at the grill.  
       “Is that a quote?” I say. Most of the food on the grill is either beige or off-white. A cop comes in. The grill cook gives a waxed paper bag to the cop. The cop sniffs it. I think about the billboards, 1-800-Cop-Shot. I think about the little red lasers people put on their key-chains.
       “I am pulling out my derringer,” I say. The cop looks at me. I lean against the wall so the cop can squeeze past. The cop takes a Coke out of the cooler.   
       “Let’s get Cuban sandwiches,” says the depressed man. We walk to the block with the Cuban sandwich shops. I look at the Cuban flags.
       “Is this new?” I say. “This block?” The depressed man orders two Cuban sandwiches in to-go containers.
       “Let’s walk to the park,” says the depressed man. We sit on a bench and open the containers. I bite my Cuban sandwich. It is extremely delicious. I feel manipulated.
       “Wonder Bread is not Cuban,” I say. “Wonder Bread is a franchise. There are no franchises in Cuba.”
       “The Cuban revolution is a franchise,” says the depressed man.
       “Castro drives a Ford,” I say. “Ford is a franchise.”

       “We’re wearing the same pants,” says the depressed man. I look at our pants. They are the same. 
       “Embodiment is unendurable,” I say.
       “Listen to my heart,” says the depressed man. I put my ear on his chest.
       “Do you hear it?” says the depressed man. “My heart is going doom. Doom-doom. Doom-doom.”
       “Secretly, I want to be adored and accepted by everyone,” I say. 
       “How about me?” says the depressed man.
       “I think it’s what most people want,” I say.
       “I mean, what if I love and adore you?” says the depressed man.
       “You’re not everyone,” I say. “To rely on one person is pathological and codependent.” I feel more sexual in the springtime. The depressed man and I are sitting very close together. I have my palm on his chest.
       “Doom-doom,” says his heart.
       “Okay,” I say. 
       “In return, I want you to make me less lonely and to save me from death,” admits the depressed man.  He looks at me adoringly and acceptingly, because everything is now my fault. 
       “I love you,” I say. I feel embarrassed so I look down at the New York Post on the sidewalk. I try to cover the headlines with my feet but there is another New York Post on the sidewalk, and another, and another.
       “Did you read the article about the Pelham grandmother killed by wild dogs?” asks the depressed man.
       “Not this week,” I say.
       “She was riding around on a sit-down mower,” says the depressed man. “The wild dogs heard the sit-down mower and thought it was a bear, a very weak bear, dazed from hibernation. The wild dogs tore into the grandmother.  She crawled heroically through the yard, the wild dogs hanging off of her, and then she got run over by the lawnmower.”
       “Did you read about the kids who climbed inside the helium balloon at the car dealership?” I say.
       “No,” says the depressed man. “Did they die?”
       “They died,” I say. 
       “You are stupid and unethical,” says the depressed man. 
       “I’m afraid I’m not human,” I say. “Feel this.” I put the depressed man’s fingers on my throat.
       “What am I supposed to be feeling?” says the depressed man.
       “I don’t know,” I say. “What are you supposed to be feeling?” I shut my eyes. I like his fingers on my throat. I wish I had a mechanical larynx. I wish my voice box were a shock collar. I open my eyes and stare at the depressed man. He has a short, depressing beard.
       “Everything I say is painful and important,” I say. I try to increase the voltage in my brain. The depressed man takes his fingers off my throat. I shut my eyes. I smell linden trees. The air is very still. It is room temperature everywhere except on my skin, which is body temperature. I try to stop breathing so as to equilibrate inside and outside pressures.
       “I’m imploding,” I say.
       “Okay,” says the depressed man. He holds me. I implode.     

Buy Joanna Ruocco’s novella The Mothering Coven here.

Accompanying images by artist and designer Sarah Gottesdiener.

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