Medium 9781574415797

The Year of Perfect Happiness Stories (2014 Winner, Katherine Anne Porter Prize in Short Fiction)

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In The Year of Perfect Happiness, the universe is recognizable but slightly askew, a world whose corners can be peeled back to reveal the strange and often comic outcomes of acting out your most self-destructive desires. The sharp-witted stories in Becky Adnot-Haynes' debut collection explore the secret lives of people„how they deal with the parts of themselves that they choose not to share with their closest confidants„and with the world. A pole-vaulter practices his sport only before dawn. A recently divorced woman signs up for a hallucinogenic drug excursion in the Arizona desert. An uncertain girlfriend goes out into the world wearing a false pregnancy bell

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Baby Baby

ePub

There are certain things you keep to yourself. Once, when Mina was ten years old, she went through her older sister’s underwear drawer and took her time putting on all of her sister’s fancy lingerie, padded bras and lacy silk panties. She couldn’t explain it at the time, not even to herself, but she liked the feeling it gave her. It was like trying on a new stage of life, something that is strange and foreign and which excites you in a way that you don’t yet have the vocabulary to express. Human beings, Mina thinks, are endlessly odd.

She recalls the lingerie now, as she stands in front of her bedroom mirror wearing a fake pregnancy belly: the heavy, realistic type meant to startle high school girls into abstinence. This, along with the her proclivity for standing very, very close to the bathroom mirror and digging blackheads out of her chin with her fingernail, are things she would rather her boyfriend, Tom, did not know about. And so when she hears the scrape of his key in the lock—they are house hunting, and he’s here to take her to another showing—she gives herself one last sidelong glance in the mirror, a small chill of excitement pulsing in her veins as she quickly unfastens the metal snaps and stashes the whole thing in the closet, beneath a wad of old sheets.

 

Thank you for the ________

ePub

My husband and I are eating takeout spaghetti and meatballs in a motel because our house has bedbugs. At one point we didn’t have them and then we did, finding them moving in their slow buzz on the mattress seams and headboard and behind the electrical switch-plate by my nightstand. My husband wanted to stay with friends, but I’m not the type of person who likes to see whether you eat poached eggs or Grape-Nuts for breakfast.

My husband booked the motel. According to him it’s nice enough, which means it’s gross. There was a long dark hair on one of the towels when we arrived and the whole place seems kind of damp, like Spanish moss. The little fridge in the kitchenette works only for keeping beers sort of cold, which we found out after we bought milk and deli meat. The only good thing about the motel is that it has cable. We spend a lot of nights eating cheap Italian food from Paliani’s and watching whatever’s on: sitcoms, cartoons, cooking shows, infomercials, shows about the lives of famous people’s unfamous spouses, shows about people who want to be magicians, shows about badly dressed people who are ambushed into buying new wardrobes. Our favorite is this show about people who have really weird and specific addictions, like a woman who eats baby powder or a guy who spends every night patrolling the streets for dead raccoons and possums to bury.

 

Planche, Whip, Salto

ePub

I.

You spotted the trapeze rig in the spring, where it seemed to have sprouted, like a flower, from its otherwise concrete surroundings. It was pitched on a medium-sized plot of grass in what counts as a park in your Midwestern city, and you passed it as you drove across town to go to the new international food market for ingredients for a complicated Asian noodle dish. You are at an age—thirty-three—at which all of the sudden you aspire to be thought of as a foodie.

It was empty that day: There were no other hints of circus around—no jugglers, no fire-eaters, no high-wire act—and the trapeze looked lonesome there all by itself, nobody swinging into its net, nobody sitting in the half-ring of bleachers that surrounded it. You didn’t think about it as you and your husband ate dinner that night, your noodles fragrant with Thai basil and delicious, a rare success (except for two varieties of grilled cheese sandwich, which you do very well, you are not a good cook). But the next week when you drove by, this time with the goal of homemade sushi, there were figures swinging delicately to and fro from the contraption, and you nearly rear-ended the Toyota in front of you. You found the trapeze school on the internet, where you learned that they give performances on Friday nights and lessons on Saturdays. Experience the thrill of the flying trapeze! All levels welcome! And so that Friday you dragged your husband to the spot, half-expecting the whole thing to have vanished, like a mirage. But there it was, beautiful at night in the glow of white lights. You took note of the fact that the bleachers were half-empty in only a peripheral way, watching in awe as the aerialists tossed their lithe bodies from bar to bar. “It was okay, I guess,” said your husband, who has very specific preferences—romantic comedies with unhappy endings, partially finished basements, steak only if he doesn’t have to see it raw first—and then the two of you went out for pizza. But the next afternoon you tied your hair into a ponytail and fished out a pair of old spandex shorts and went bravely back, determined to try this thing for yourself.

 

Rough Like Wool

ePub

Nell signed up for the internet dating service because she felt herself caught in a weird kind of limbo: Though she was only twenty-six, the women she knew were either married and planning earnestly for children, or they were single and went out to clubs where they drank watery gin-and-tonics and danced to throbbing music that hurt Nell’s ears. At first she worried that someone she knew would see her profile, but then reminded herself that that would mean that he had signed up with the same site. Maybe, even, she would be matched with somebody she already knew, Tony from work or Chad who had been in her spinning class in the spring, and they would laugh about the whole thing and wouldn’t even have to tell people that they’d signed up with an internet dating service, but that they’d met at work or in spinning class, whichever was the case. And so she had created a profile and uploaded a photo, vowing to herself that she’d cancel the service after the two-week free trial was up, like Netflix.

 

A Natural Progression of Things

ePub

It’s hot. The afternoon is a blaze of sun and slick sweat, the kind Abbott can feel beading up his spine under his shirt as he stands at the edge of the alligator pond, flinging the last chicken sandwich into the water. As he releases it, he lifts his wrist slightly: a small flourish, like a basketball player who has just shot a three-pointer he knows he’s going to sink. Then Abbott watches in satisfaction as one of the gators bursts forth from the water to chomp at the food, its jaws open and wide and beautiful in movement. Today there are three of them: long and thick-tailed, with skin that is cracked and gray. The two on the left bank are large, probably twelve-footers at least, the third a baby gator: smaller, quicker, ever so slightly less dusty-looking. A mother and father and their kid, Abbott thinks. A little alligator family. He feels something like a measured affection for the gators. Once, visiting the pond mid-afternoon, he’d seen a couple of redneck kids creeping toward one of the gators with a stick, poking its scaled back, and he’d been glad, actually happy, when the gator made a sudden lunging movement that sent the two boys tripping and scurrying back up the hill.

 

The Men

ePub

This is how Addy likes her life arranged: power yoga on Saturday mornings, jogging on Tuesday nights, reality television no more than three nights a week. Two close friends: Ellen, who is sarcastic and good at baking, and Jennifer, who likes everything, even bad movies. Addy alternates Thursday nights spent with the two of them, like a special kind of yin and yang. She has a pleasing little job: She is the assistant of a woman named Judy McNamara, a stylish, seventy-something ex-academic who is writing a book on the history of contraceptives. Judy pays her way too much to take notes on the use of the acacia bush as sperm deterrent by the ancient Egyptians or sometimes to brew a pot of coffee or spread cream cheese on celery. Addy sometimes suspects that Judy is mostly interested in her company, and perhaps in a younger woman’s views on the Nuva Ring. The work is secretarial, mostly, but she enjoys it; thinks maybe someday she’ll do something as interesting as what Judy McNamara is doing. Greek gynecologist Soranus recommended jumping backwards seven times after intercourse to dislodge sperm. She comes up with little ideas from time to time, and pitches them to Judy, hoping she’ll recognize a faint glimmer of talent and encourage Addy to take on her own interesting, feminist projects.

 

Grip

ePub

I love the pole vault because it is a professor’s sport. One must not only run and jump, but one must think. Which pole to use, which height to jump […] I love it because the results are immediate and the strongest is the winner. Everyone knows it. In everyday life that is difficult to prove.

—Sergey Bubka, 1988

When Ewan began pole vaulting again, he did it secretively, furtively, a thing he held inside his chest until it pulsed—like a family secret, or a lie. Lucky for him, it was a sport well-suited to solitude: You didn’t need someone to hit ground balls to you, to rebound missed shots, to return your serves. It had been eight years since his last vault—it was hardly a sport of casual pursuit—and he missed it. Really missed it. Standing at the end of the runway before his first jump, he felt a buildup of energy course through his limbs, the sensation so visceral that he closed his eyes and simply let himself feel the weight of the pole resting in his hands, that lovely feeling of anticipation. It was the day after he and Cora decided, officially, to start trying for a baby, him making a nervous joke as she pulled him to her that it was time to see if his boys could swim.

 

The Second Wife

ePub

The first wife was dead, which called for a reverence of spirit when speaking of her, a lowered voice and furrowed, sympathetic brow, but the problem was that the second wife didn’t feel reverent. She felt fascinated, curious—but not reverent. She liked to ask questions about her, questions like which sections of the newspaper had she enjoyed most and did she always cook a vegetable side dish with dinner (the second wife did not) and what were her thoughts on movies in which a man and a woman switched bodies? There was a gingerliness embedded in the husband’s manner as he answered these questions. The second wife sensed that he felt they were disrespectful of the first wife’s memory, but she did not. When I die, she often said, I hope there is someone who wants to know if I liked eating cantaloupe in the summer and going to amusement parks.

She liked cantaloupe fine, the husband would sigh, or We never went to an amusement park together, and the second wife would record these tidbits in her mind, like a court reporter. She also began revealing her own views and estimations to the husband. She tried to make these strong, interested opinions, so that in case she died he would have better information to report to the third wife; he could do more than sigh and say I don’t know. He would know, for example, that she liked black beans but not pinto, would be able to report that she found the idea of eating fish on Fridays appealing, though she hadn’t been raised Catholic.

 

Velvet Canyon

ePub

The announcement about the bathroom is worrisome. Lane had not before considered the logistics of the bathroom, which are: You will poop in a bucket. They are also to pee in a bucket, albeit a separate one that will later be dumped into the river. What will happen to the poop is unclear.

Lane glances toward her daughter, Mandy, whose gaze is resolutely neutral. The trip is only thirty-six hours long; perhaps pooping can be avoided altogether.

At any rate, one must press onward: Lane is here to eat a hallucinogenic cactus and a hallucinogenic cactus she will eat. She turns her attention intently to their drug administrator/camping guide, Lorenzo, as he explains the sequence of events for the trip, which basically go: hike into canyon, set up camp, sleep. Wake up, hike to special, secret part of canyon, do drugs. Wait for drugs to wear off, hike back, go home. “Light meals will be provided,” he adds. She nods along. Lorenzo is tall and hulking, with a cloud of orange hair and a matching beard, a film of hairy curls on his arms and legs. He looks timeless and mythical, like a Norse god, a leader of men.

 

The Year of Perfect Happiness

ePub

A year of perfect happiness, just the sound of it, a single year locked away from the years before it and the years after it, happiness unburdened by nostalgia, perfect….

Kevin Moffett, “The Volunteer’s Friend”

January

Winter in the city depresses Davis, the grimy slushiness of it, the graduated shades of gray that make up the street, the sky, the dirty snow banks. It is as if the gray trumps all else, Technicolor dragged through dishwater, drained of its brilliance. He can feel it seeping into him, the slow trickle getting into his brain, freezing him like an icicle.

“I’m moving,” he tells Angie over dinner—Angie, who is more than a roommate and less than a girlfriend—and she wrinkles her nose.

“No, you aren’t,” she says and stabs at her food with her fork. He’s prepared tofu parmigiana for dinner; he and Angie have worked together to perfect his method of cooking tofu, pressing it before dry-frying it and then dipping in egg and breadcrumbs and sautéing. Tomato sauce and mozzarella are cooked on top, browned under the broiler.

 

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