Sunglasses by Gary Leising
Managing editor Tim Johnston on today's fiction pick: When poets try their hand at prose, they seem to be most successful when they go short, and Leising here is my Exhibit E. Until recently, I’ve only known Leising as a poet: PN’s 32nd issue: poetry. Lit journal after lit journal I look through, I see Leising’s name under the poetry section of the table of contents. So, when I’m handed “Sunglasses,” and see Leising’s name at the top, I—and I’m not looking to make sense of this—wondered: if not all soups are chowders, are all chowders soup? To extend the madness: writers are writers, sure, but not all fictionist are poets. However, are all poets fictionists? The answer seems to come down to word choice, and what I know about poets is that they will murder darlings. Often. Mercilessly—they hold words underwater while they’re on the phone ordering pizza. “Sunglasses” doesn’t give us a story. It gives us an event in 400-ish words. It gives us heartache under a microscope. It gives us silence—the biggest bastard antagonist ever created.
For their anniversary, Patti gave Trevor a pair of expensive sunglasses because he only bought cheap ones for himself. I’ll lose them, he said, it’s what I always do with sunglasses, so why spend a lot on them? Patti told Trevor how much they cost. This is your chance, she said, to be responsible, not lose something for once in your life. She wants me to change, he thought. He kept them for years, wore them all the time, loved them so much he took them to the sunglasses kiosk in the mall to be cleaned by an expert with a special solution formulated for UV-protection lenses and for the screws to be checked and adjusted with a specially torque-sensitive screwdriver. When he told Patti he was heading to the mall for the sunglasses checkup, she grabbed the air in front of her chest with both hands and held that little puff like it was the breath that would keep someone she dearly loved alive. When the expert finished with his sunglasses, she locked the register, closed the kiosk for a break, and made love to Trevor in the mall employee bathroom, which was much nicer than the public restroom. It even had a divan in its little sitting area in the entryway. When Patti found out about this—while Christmas shopping her sister saw the girl steer Trevor through the mall's crowd, her fingertips pinching his elbow—she didn’t know how to confront her husband. Months later, at the neighborhood summer luau, Patti saw Trevor set his sunglasses on a table before the limbo contest began. She tucked them in her purse and gave Trevor an endless pitcher of pina coladas. The next morning through a headache he asked where the sunglasses were. You must have lost them, Patti said, stirring the mix for Belgian waffles. Trevor asked her, “You don't care they're gone?” He didn’t know she had put them in a purple, velvet, draw-stringed bag, the kind whiskey comes in, and hid them beneath a loose plank in the attic floor, and two years later, when they move to a bigger house where they plan to have children, where Patti will arrange every playdate with other mothers, and attend every conference with a just-out-of-college teacher, and leave Trevor in the waiting room while the pediatrician's nurses coo over the gorgeous children with his blue eyes and curly hair, she will move that bag and its contents to the new attic.
Gary Leising is the author of a chapbook of poems, Fastened to a Dying Animal, published by Pudding House Press. His work has appeared in many literary journals, including recent and forthcoming poems or stories in River Styx, Cincinnati Review, Prairie Schooner, Sentence: A Journal of Prose Poetics, and Vestal Review. A new chapbook, Temple of Bones, is available from Finishing Line Press, and his book, The Alp at th End of My Street, is forthcoming from Brick Road Poetry Press. He lives in Utica, New York, with his wife and two sons, where he teaches creative writing and poetry as an associate professor of English.