Friday, 13 July 2012

Sudden Prose Reprints: "The Joke" by Patricia Ann McNair

I'm delighted that our first Sudden Prose Reprint is Patricia Ann McNair's powerful short-short story, "The Joke." Comments encouraged!


“So you don’t mind a little dirty joke, huh?”
            I shook my head. What’d he think I was, some kid? Fifteen and out there way after dark—on my own I could’ve been. So when the old guy with the tiny scrubbed hands, small as a boy’s, only veiny and bluish, offered me a lift, I thought, sure, a place to sit for a while. “Nice ride,” I said. This big polished four-door with the seats wrapped in plastic that smelled like adhesive tape, like a family car.
            He tapped his nails, white moon slivers, on the steering wheel, switched off the engine and began to speak real low, his head tilted toward mine. I had to lean in to hear him, had to strain to listen as he spoke just above a whisper about a stream of things like women getting there clothes ripped off by accident, and men accidentally putting their cocks where they didn’t belong and hookers and blow jobs and butt fucks. I sort of laughed now and then, I wasn’t getting it, but I acted like I did. You know. And by the time I got that it wasn’t a joke, it was just dirty, it was too late because I was already there, already said I didn’t mind, I would listen. And I didn’t know how to stop listening, how to get him to shut up for chrissakes, shut up, shut the fuck up, and the smell of that car, that plastic, that awful thick glue smell made my stomach churn and my eyes smart, and I couldn’t turn away when he reached down and pulled his zipper, pulled his dick out, the small wrinkled gray thing that he yanked on until it bloated up too big and purple for his little boy hands, clublike and purple, larger than it should have been he was such a little guy—I could take him, he was so little—and when he whispered he wanted me to touch it, what else could I do? I was already there, already said I didn’t mind, already laughed, damnit—so he took one of my hands and put it around the thick pole which was sticky and felt squirmy and loose, and he groaned and said Show me your tits, and I figured what the hell. We’d come this far, not like I could say No, I don’t want to do this, because I’d already started doing it and what could I do to stop this from moving forward now, stop it and make it go back? And besides, it was better to use my hands to lift my shirt than to touch him, thank God I’d worn a bra, that was all he’d get to see. But when I pulled up the tank top it was like I was peeling my own skin, it hurt damnit, it hurt for no reason I could figure out. So I yanked it up fast like you strip off a Band-Aid, and with the shirt in front of my face at least I didn’t have to see him, to see it for a while. And behind the shirt I felt my eyes burn and fill, felt the tears roll down my face, but no sound, not from me. And then I asked him not to touch me, whispered it quiet like a prayer, but it didn’t matter what I said, he didn’t care, didn’t want to touch me because he was touching himself and moaning and coming into his own dry hands and I pulled down my shirt just in time to see the thing jerk and squirt and I reached behind myself for the door handle and nearly fell out of the car but caught my footing in time to back away, step away from the car which he started and took off in, wheels spitting gravel, leaving me at the side of the road. Crying and—that son of a bitch—alone all over again.

This short-short story appears in Patricia Ann McNair's first short fiction collection, The Temple of Air (Elephant Rock, 2011) and can be bought in the US from Powell's and in the UK from Foyle's. You can learn more about the author and her work here at her website.


NatashaBaer said...

Heya, finally got round to commenting on this piece. I feel shocked a little and kind of hurt... which is GREAT! I love stories with an abusive edge but that don't take it too far, so remain realistic. I don't really understand why she gets in the car in the first place? It doesn't feel like she wanted a lift anywhere, what was she gaining from just "a place to sit for a while". SP- "women getting there clothes ripped off" their. Carrie, I am so glad you recommended this for me to read as it has started a little debate in my household! xxx Natasha

Helen Pizzey said...

The precision in the telling detail and the very direct approach along with the tumbling pace of the narrative leaves me breathless. I applaud Patricia Ann's control and her boldness where she has maintained an unswerving honesty in the retelling of the "facts" with an equally unflinching diction. Totally gripping and anyone who has encountered anything like it (God forbid!) will, I think, find their heart pounding with recognition. The poignancy of the young woman's loneliness which perhaps precipitates this situation and with which she is equally left after it, is effective. This well-sustained piece both encourages and challenges me to push my own boundaries. Thank you!

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Natasha and Helen, for taking the time to read and respond. It means a great deal to me. -Patricia