Dan Tremaglio teaches creative writing and literature at Bellevue College where he is assistant editor at Belletrist Magazine. Recent work has appeared or is forthcoming in Cease Cows, Jellyfish Review, Tammy, and Skewed Lit.
In the title entry of the debut short story collection, a minor character muses on a lauded author’s 1981 break-out release. “Those stories never start. They’re sensitive as hell, and quote unquote human, but too light on actual action.” The complaining character is working on a
short story of his own that’s set in a grocery store. The first line is, “We sell infants.” The story does not have a title yet. Chances are he’ll select one at random from the file on his phone where he saves titles that don’t have stories yet. “Context of a Taco,” is one he likes. “Panda Porn,” is another. Every story in the complaining character’s collection climaxes with one person punching another person in the face. Afterward the puncher feels a variety of emotions, usually regret or guilt or melancholy or a combination of all three. Only once does the puncher feel righteous, but ironically so. The title of that story is, “A Few Fewer Than a Hundred.”
In the thus-far untitled story, the one beginning with the line, “We sell infants,” a clerk at a popular grocery store chain wears a vast collection of buttons all over his Hawaiian shirt. Many of the buttons espouse bon mots or truisms that started out as titles on the complaining character’s phone. The clerk is unique in a borderline pathologically paranoid sort of way, but totally affable, super endearing. He plays the enlightened fool. He’s the only one worried about the story’s first line. The first line is actually just a place-holder. The grocery store has to sell something absurd and unsettling which nobody then finds absurd and unsettling or else they just ignore it. The complaining character thought of infants first and so he wrote that down, but he’s pretty sure he’ll go back later and change it, probably to traditional Chinese medicines, you know like rhino horns and snow leopard livers. Dolphin dicks. Whatever it is the store sells is not the point. The point is people and the shit that goes through their heads.
On the paranoid-but-affable-enlightened-fool-character’s name tag is a tiny word bubble that asks, “Shall we coinciDance?” Three days from now the complaining character will finish a draft of the story and name it that. The following Tuesday he’ll start a prose poem about a poet who doesn’t know he’s dead when he tells a writing class to, “Follow the fun. Ignore the well-dressed, chain-smoking Frenchman in the back of the room, the one scoffing nay, nay, nay, you must follow the misery. Or don’t.”
After class, on the bus ride home, the poet’s hand ghosts through the stop-request cord, but a gorgeous tattoo of a girl pulls it instead, looking pretty much directly at him, biting her bloodred lip. This leaves the reader to wonder a.) if she can actually see him, and b.) if the two of them are going to do it. The poem’s final line is, “She smirked and cracked her knuckles.”