The World is the World by Meg Pokrass
Associate editor Mariel Murray on today’s bonus story: This story invites us to a holiday visit featuring a family of four, two guests, and a tongue piercing, among other disagreements. The tension here will send you on a mad pursuit of the algorithm so many families look for during the holidays, the one that tells us how to be in a room full of people who won't stop hurting each other.
The World is the World
There was a hole in Mom’s bird-painting kit and it bled. It bled a lot, all over the floor, when my father's boyfriend Chuck was visiting. Which he did on Christmas, when everything about my family felt flimsy. Sometimes she couldn’t stop painting birds.
When it wasn’t Christmas, Chuck loved my father from a short distance away, which took a great deal of pressure off of Mom. She called herself a “happy customer.” She said that she deserved a boyfriend too. “Maybe I’ll get one in my stocking this year,” she said.
She was upset about my tongue piercing decision. I didn’t blame her for being angry, it was a stupid idea because it ruined the spontaneous part of eating food.
“Someone wants attention,” Mom said. But she was wrong. It was about my entanglement in badness. My own badness, not my parents’. Of course, Dad was the one who encouraged me to do it. He said, “Your tongue art will become your wild beauty.”
Mom hugged me on Christmas when I couldn’t swallow food because the hole hurt. She smoothed my hair and said, “We all need to head over to The Sauce, and you can have a Coke.” My brother was old enough to drink but had testicular cancer and was advised not to drink, but he often said, “The world is the world” and drank anyway.
He was angry and he couldn’t hide it on Christmas. He’d pretend to pop Dad and Chuck on their ears but Chuck would squeal at him like a cartoon pig, which was both disturbing and funny.
Still, when the door opened, and Mom’s own date walked in, I froze. This was a woman who had a son with cancer. She had a gay husband and a daughter with a tongue stud. Things could pile up. Mom seemed unaware of the bright side to living without a man in her bed.
And the dude she landed was not very bright. His name was “Perfecto.” He looked like a mole but not in the sweet way one imagines those dumb unlucky animals. He looked as though blindly asking for applause, all the time. He shook my hand and complimented my tongue stud. He said, “I bet you can do amazing things with that accoutrement.”
I didn't know what he meant, but later, my brain went crazy imagining. The image of Mom and Perfecto together got stuck in my head so I put it on pause. I took my brother's hand.
“You are very nice to go drinking with them, to even be with them at all,” I said. My brother explained that he was just trying to make things okay again, because being a people-pleaser was a terrible habit to break.
Meg Pokrass is the author of five flash fiction collections and an award-winning collection of prose poetry. Her work has been recently anthologized in two Norton Anthology readers, Best Small Fictions 2018 and 2019, and numerous publications including Electric Literature, Tin House, Tupelo Quarterly, Smokelong Quarterly, and McSweeney's. She currently serves as flash challenge editor at Mslexia Magazine, festival curator for Flash Fiction Festival, U.K. (Bristol), co-editor of Best Microfiction 2019, and founding/managing editor of New Flash Fiction Review.