a taste of ‘Rattle of Want’

by  Gay Degani

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I grab a dishrag and head to the door, lock it, and start wiping down the four-tops. Trying to scour away the tension of the last twenty minutes. Worried about the next twenty. Starkville

My safe deposit box is crammed with loot courtesy of my mother’s paring knife. It’s not just for peeling anymore. Several little slits along someone’s belly work like several little mouths. Tools of the Trade

At first I feel relief, but when I can’t see anyone in the front seat, my heart jolts, me wondering if this is one of those Stephen King moments when the surreal bumps into some poor sucker’s reality. I don’t believe in ghost El Caminos, but my eyes aren’t deceiving me. Something about L.A.

My mother calls to tell me everyone at the retirement home wants See’s candy instead of fruit. I feed the fish and turn on Jeopardy. Ask the TV, “What is a sin of omission?” Oranges

It began with hands. Doesn’t it always? Fingers lightly brushing wrists. Thumbs in palms. Remove the bracelet. Remove the watch. Clothes go next. Stinky fish hands touching here. Touching there. Losing Ground

Silver bolts web the Phoenix sky. Thunder rattles. The rain comes hard and fast. I look at the glass in the dome and wonder if the putty will hold or if the heat of the desert sun has dried it up, crackled it with fissures. Monsoon

One would think there would be at least one chapel, perhaps in the grassy field on the north side of the bridge, where a forest of American hornbeam stretches wide its branches, but all the churches are in neighboring towns, the Lutheran in Weaver, the Catholic in Mahaska, a Methodist just over the county line in Ionia. Small Town

But six months after Allen’s death, she finally began to breathe. She felt no pressing want or need, just a vague niggle that maybe she’d do something about the barren walls today. Beyond the Curve

The boy who had already taught himself to ride a skateboard on his belly and play ball with his head found the artificial appendages clumsy. He soon abandoned them. Appendages

Her mouth fretted at the corner. She was a stranger to him, this old woman with gray at the roots of her dyed hair, lines around her mouth, a new thinness in her shoulders. Wounded Moon

After the bird is eaten, the candles burned, I tell my mother we have to go. She doesn’t look up from her psalms. I pack our things. Help her with her oilskin slicker. Heaven Spoils

My daughter Beth darts into my head. She’s at my mom’s right now like she always is when I’m at work, the two of them playing Double Solitaire at the dining table, Beth’s swinging legs visible through its glass top, Mom’s cigarettes fogging the light fixture. Starkville

He loops me with thick arms, pulls me close, my ear pressed hard against his farmer’s sweat. We stand like vine and tree till he leans down and puts his lips to mine. Complicit

In the dream, I go on forever spinning mud, running into bats, and killing cows, inked, shrunk, blasted, and shelled, no finish line in sight. Secrets I Tell Myself in Dreams

She pulled him behind the teahouse into a forest of bamboo and he made love to her on the spongy carpet of moss while the murmur of voices, laughter, and the occasional shout, melted away like snow. She Can’t Say No

We’re not bad people, Emma and I, and she says it’s our destiny – as cousins from a long line of beauticians – to open our own day spa. And now that it’s possible, we’ve worked too hard to waste time going to court to prove my innocence. Doing Mr. Velvet

Staircases are his specialty, winding down down down, spiraling into the earth, giving way to charcoal abysses. These stone steps appear so real you have to repress the urge to stoop and lay a finger to the rich ochres… Chalk Dust

I took out the matchbook I hid in my pocket, tore out a cardboard stick, and struck it. Played with the flame, slid my finger into the silky yellow part until the match burned down. I didn’t make a sound. Kindling

His warm blue eyes made me blush. I dipped around him to get inside, feeling heat from his body, both glad and ashamed I’d washed and set my hair – as if I’d done it for him. Body-Snatching

Below in the pasture, the horses sniffed the air, their deep red coats sifted with ash. Paulette, the lead mare, nudged them away from the smell of burning timber. Luke’s buckskin bobbed his head and whinnied. From below, the other horses answered. Between Hay and Grass, 1949

Up front, our parents sit in angry silence. Even when my dad takes a wrong turn, my mother doesn’t say a word. She shifts away from him and fusses with her hair, stiff with hairspray, smoothing and fluffing, fluffing and smoothing. Mischief

He remembers taking her to the state beach where the domes of the San Onofre Nuclear Power Station rose round and steely against a chilling sky. He hears the ocean slap at sand and rock, smells the brine, and inside the camper his fingers knead her youthful curves as if she were made of clay. Sediment

He crowds in close, smelling of wool and bay rum, wearing the pea coat I gave him. “Scratchy” he called when he first put it on. I haven’t let go of the suitcase, but now I do. Cords

Now the snow is melting along the roads, polishing the asphalt, revealing discarded ski gloves, wine bottles, the occasional empty syringe. The locals emerge like bears from caves. The skiers and snow-boarders head home. I slouch down side streets dodging the cops, even though they swallowed every word we fed them. Spring Melt

She moves to the screen door and opens it. Bleached by the sun, the tufty summer grass stretches almost white to the canal, the water sludgy green. The bridge over Main Street is up, a shrimp boat passing through. Fish Bowl

The baby gurgled and fell on its side with a soft thump. Jackie put the crowbar down, tucked the baby under his arm, and rode his skateboard home. Eye for an Eye

I sent a letter to Frank once a week, each inky word sinking into the airmail onion-skin as if it were etched, giving him my life the way I wished it was, my family living in a rambling hacienda high in the San Jacinto foothills with a view of the desert, not down on the floor in a flat ugly house on Manzanita Street in a post-World War II tract. The Real War

They lay in opposite directions, Davy’s feet to Brenda’s feet, with Glen sitting up slightly apart from them, staring at a landing plane. Davy felt something push against his sneaker and looking down along the sides of their bodies, saw Brenda grinning at him. He pushed back. She did it again. He kind of liked it. Running the Fence

The county sheriff’s deputy dipped his head down to the window, the beam of his flash light picking out the face of each girl, lingering on Lainie’s, the tiara still tangled in her hair. Isla Vista, 1970

She looked toward the Loop. A noisy mob marched from Perfect Park toward the Bank of America, pounding trashcan lids, blowing horns, shouting and chanting. Lainie tugged on Karen’s arm. “Let’s go.” Isla Vista, 1970

She liked to whisper in people’s ears that her real claim to fame was having once sold a wallet to Marilyn Monroe. “Eel skin. Soft as a caterpillar.” The Last Real Human Being in Hollywood

If Carl were here, they’d be sitting on the steps and he’d reach over to caress her cheek with work-hard hands, sweetened over the stainless steel sink with Lava and almond lotion. She felt him now, folded in the gloom. Tasted his salty neck. Felt his hair dust her skin. She closed her eyes and gently rocked back. 200 Nights

My mother was inside that house when the bears snatched me, her hands playing the computer keyboard with the same practiced skill she had when she played the old portable organ tucked in the corner. Pomegranate

She turns toward the empty field, wind stinging her eyes, blurring both the bridge and the copse of trees beyond, where he’d teased her about how easily her walls tumbled down on Jericho Beach. Jericho Beach

Perched on her favorite rock in Central Park, she watches young women in fancy boots and newly-purchased coats scurry home from work. She wonders what that feels like, cold breezes on smiling faces, welcoming arms at familiar doors. Ruby

You don’t remember much about his wife because when Blusterfuck’s around, he opens his mouth and vacuums the room dry, pulling every last dust mote into his gut. Even the skin cells of your own face feel like they’re going to peel right off and zoom down his gullet. Blusterfuck

Night off from the 7-Eleven, and I flick on the TV to watch a rerun of Sharknado. Instead there’s some news guy – the geeky out-in-the-field kind of guy who gets the sideshow gig, not the behind-the-desk gig – is reporting from a disaster research facility about what to do if your car gets swept away in a flash flood. With you in it. Flash Flood

Bobby was “House Mouse” for a steel rig in the North Sea when his ma’s heart failed. He got off work so he could lay her to rest, and since he was a rough man, a hard man, he denied the ache. Small Gifts

She eats lettuce with Thousand Island at the counter every night until they padlock the door, tear down the building. What’s Left

He’ll come for her again today. He’s promised a maze of lacy oaks, a stroll down speckled paths, the sound of rustling grass. Around her now, beads of light dip and dart. Windchimes on the porch below beckon. Last Four Songs

A sharp night wind chills the stranger’s forehead, his neck, seeps into his running clothes. He glances up at the large Spanish revival cresting a knoll at the end of a long narrow walkway. Yellow light pools on its equally long driveway. The Stranger

She’s asleep when a thundering crack, a ferocious shudder, sends her hurtling from the bed. Earthquake! The kids are screaming in their room. The Storm

Jamie gawks at the giant horizontal oak, the house sheared down the middle: chaos and debris on one side, what’s left of her life on the other. Neighbors

Most of her property has been cleaned up by Gus German’s son, Mars, and a couple $10 street corner laborers with rakes and wheelbarrows, but the front cottage . . . is still buried beneath the fat trunk and broken branches of the two-hundred-year-old oak, and red-tagged by the town as uninhabitable. Empty Nest

“I did it for us, Ian, our future.” She steps over to him, and leaning down, wraps her arms around his neck. “I’ll make sure you get what you want. I always do.” Mother and Son

And for a second, Gus imagines his boy at fourteen, kicked out of school, and packing a grocery bag with jeans and t-shirts. Gus had let him go then because his second wife didn’t like the kid. Father and Son

She glances in the window of the store, noticing the delicately knit caps for newborns, the onesies, the sleep sacques, and blankets on display, in soft green, pale aqua, daffodil yellow. She steps close to better see a tiny pink polka dot dress trimmed in lace. She touches the glass with her fingertips. The Diner

He remembers vividly the mineral smell, the lit brilliance of agitated air, the burn in his chest when he breathed. And Jamie, her silhouette in the window, dark against amber. A growl escapes his throat. The Man at the Table

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