Farrah Fawcett Poster

by Kim Magowan

Last night, I was lying in bed masturbating, and after I came I felt this strange, specific pain in my sphincter, which made me worry that I had that cancer that killed Farrah Fawcett. Anal cancer. What seemed most awful about that cancer was not the pain (though I imagine it would be painful), but how degrading it was. To be Farrah Fawcett, and be laid low by cancer of the ass? It seemed like one of those perfect punishments, like the sinners in Dante’s Inferno, whose circumstances in hell so precisely match their crimes.1 (What a demonic, mathematical mind Dante had! Like my ex-husband, Marcus, the sadistic engineer).2 Breast cancer might have been an even more perfect disease for Farrah, with that famous poster of her in the red bathing suit, her nipple protuberant as a wad of chewed gum—my twisted older brother David displayed that poster. But surely ass cancer was a close second. I hadn’t seen that poster in 30 years, but my vision of Farrah’s tilted haunch was so crystalline, and so menacing, that even though my modus operandi after I come is usually to crash (to the point that now the principle function of coming is to sleep, as if an orgasm were a glass of warm milk), instead I launched myself out of bed to Google “Farrah Fawcett, nipple poster.” But memory had played tricks on me: you can’t see Farrah’s ass at all, just the top of her brown thigh. I studied her bared teeth, her rictus grin3, and felt the strangest, superstitious relief—that I had dodged some projectile, aimed only at sexual women.4

1. In the second circle of hell are consigned the lustful, blown violently about like leaves in the wind, never able to relax or to establish footing. This represents how lust carries one away and generally fucks one up.

2. A whole treatise could be inserted here to count the ways of Marcus’s sadism, but to give just one illustration: he claimed once in couples therapy that the reason he never kissed me was because I had bad breath. Dr. Templeton nodded his head approvingly, like Marcus was being so brave, and at the end of that session, said, “I think we’ve made a real breakthrough today.” The men smiled beatifically at each other. That’s when I knew I would divorce Marcus. Even now, ten years later, no amount of Listerine or Altoids or obsessive flossing will fully convince me that Marcus was lying, merely trying to wound me. The best weapon of a sadist, my ex-husband taught me, is to sharpen the truth into a bayonet and gut you with it.

3. The most perplexing thing about the popularity of that poster is Farrah’s smile, which is not phony so much as tormented: the corners of her mouth extend as if she were a horse wearing a bit. Or perhaps this is not perplexing at all. Perhaps Farrah’s clear absence of pleasure is the key, not her nipple after all: her misery the turn-on to my creepy, misogynist brother David, and to all fucked up teenage boys.

4. Cupid’s arrows target those who aren’t yet in love, but outside the tidy box of myth, we all know at whom stones are flung in real life.

Kim Magowan lives in San Francisco and teaches in the Department of Literatures and Languages at Mills College. Her short story collection Undoing won the 2017 Moon City Press Fiction Award and was published in March 2018. Her novel The Light Source is forthcoming from 7.13 Books in 2019. Her fiction has been published in Atticus Review, Bird’s Thumb, Cleaver, The Gettysburg Review, Hobart, New World Writing, Sixfold, and many other journals. She is Fiction Editor of Pithead Chapel. www.kimmagowan.com  

What surprising, fascinating stuff can you tell us about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of “Farrah Fawcett Poster”?

Often when I’m writing a flash piece, I have a keyword in mind, and the keyword for this one was “interaction.” There are a number of interactions at work in this piece: pleasure and pain; low culture (Charlie’s Angels) and high culture (The Inferno); the immediate present, the more recent past (when the narrator was married to her skewering husband), and the long-ago past (when she last saw the Farrah Fawcett poster). I’m interested in how memories seem crystalline—she thinks she can picture the Farrah poster precisely—yet when cross-checked, turn out to be flawed. Some of these interactions are weirdly blurry, like the narrator’s reading of Farrah’s smile. The interaction that I found most intriguing was that between the main text and the footnotes. When I used to write scholarly articles, my favorite parts were my footnotes—that’s where I threw in the interesting bits that would take up too much time to pursue—and the same is true for me in this story. I like the mini-narrative the footnotes tell about being a woman and being in pain.


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