by Carol Guess
After you left my hair darkened and my lips turned the color of your favorite lipstick: red-on-red, no hint of pink. I put things in boxes and numbered the boxes. Then I drove all that math across town, past the tracts.
My new house was small, broken windows and doors. It looked out at a field on the cusp of the flightpath. Planes rattled plates with their liftoffs and landings. Now only bright lips and dead birds in the field.
As a girl I’d been a dancer, so I lined the living room with mirrors and barres. Every night I held onto the barre and kicked my legs high over my head. Sometimes, when I was tired and tempted to sleep, or tempted to find you, wherever you’d gone, I tied my wrist to the barre and kicked for hours, until sunlight blinded the mirror: your girl.
Carol Guess is the author of seven books of poetry and prose, as well as three forthcoming collections: Doll Studies: Forensics (Black Lawrence Press); Darling Endangered (Brooklyn Arts Press); and Willful Machine (PS Publishing). Follow her here: www.carolguess.blogspot.com
When you write compressed fiction, what do you ask of your titles? Would your answer change with the point-of-view you’re writing from?
This story is a chapter from a manuscript of very short linked fictions focusing on the relationship between the “I” and her lover, Juliet. Each chapter takes its title in alphabetical order from an entry in the index of the book The Science of the Placebo, so I was working with an obstruction (which turned out to be unexpectedly hard). In the manuscript, the title of this piece is “classical conditioning.” I retitled it for The Journal of CCA. I do ask a lot of my titles; I often get the title before writing the piece. They’re maps to the particularities of each story’s mode of compression. The title hints at what’s absent in the piece, and why.
“All that math” + your use of Y has me questioning the functionality or fidelity of signs, has me questioning if Y could have an almost mathematical property in the equation of the narrative. I wonder, is our first-person narrator aware of the title and the symbol Y as she is the rest of her story?
The first-person narrator is unreliable, here and throughout the manuscript. I wanted to create a character whose vision is off, just enough so the reader only grasps this slowly. I love your phrasing — “questioning the functionality or fidelity of signs;” that’s exactly what she does. She’s subbing hearts for numbers, and they don’t add up.