The Gulf by Josh Weston
EIC Jennifer A. Howard on today's bonus story: The two halves of Josh Weston's "Gulf" at first seem to sit on either side a chasm of white space -- of two different worlds -- but by the end of the story they feel of a common and sadly familiar place: a couple of six-toed Key West cats reunited at the pound.
A curled up scratch-off rolls across the parking lot. Inside, everyone is a poor, unbeautiful stereotype sandwiched between tabloid racks and coolers full of pop. An hour ago, a friend called to tell me his first book won a contest and will be published, and that he’ll be flown all-expenses-paid to Hong Kong to read at the reception. In Dairy, the pastor of a modular church smiles at me with the kind of open-faced nonchalance you don’t see anywhere, the woman on his arm looking at her feet, also smiling. I get the Two-Hearteds and catfood. In the checkout line, the guy ahead of me tells the cashier that he just got out of jail. Shit, you know what for? Child support. I had to pay five hundred and forty-eight dollars just to get out, but does she appreciate that? Earlier, to clear space to change my daughter’s diaper, I threw a child-sized blue plastic table and chair set across the room. Cashier says: She crazy. He: Psycho. She: Shit, I’m psycho. He: Yeah? So am I. Me: So am I. But neither of them hear. She has a clavicle tattoo that says something I can’t make out, the words like Harley wings. At the end of the aisle, a woman with burns all over her body tells the manager on duty she’ll need the general manager’s number. I will speak to someone about this, she says. I have to. I must. I insist. “December 1963 (Oh, What a Night)” either still playing or on a loop this whole time. I see the Enter sign on the door and pause.
Once upon a time, in a dive bar in Florida, Ernest Hemingway went to pay for his whiskey with a one hundred dollar bill. But the bartender refused him, explaining that he couldn’t break anything so big. So Hemingway walked across the street to a department store and bought several pairs of tube socks, which he then passed out from an ornate shopping bag to all the drinkers in the bar. The friend who told me this story finished by saying, So that’s the story of how Ernest Hemingway bought me a six-pack of tube socks one day in Florida. Nobody recognized him but me, though out of respect, I pretended not to. All he said when he handed me the socks was, Thank Chief. Didn’t even look me in the eye. Of course, I was so drunk and starstruck and overcome with emotion, I just nodded and said that I surely, surely would, my voice cracking, he already ducking and having to angle himself sideways to squeeze out into the light.
Josh Weston lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan, with his wife, two children, and fourteen parrots, the latter of whom are trained to verbally assert their personhood to anyone within earshot, any time day or night.