The following is an excerpt from Gotham fiction instructor Liana Scalettar's short story, Flowereaters. Liana's fiction has appeared in Arts & Letters, GutCult, LIT and Washington Square. Lianna has been a fellow at the MacDowell Colony and has been awarded a Glimmer Train fiction prize.
Excerpt from Flowereaters
So thirty-year-old white girls from Riverdale don't usually end up in the Tombs. You know the Tombs. Center Street. Holding cells. Bartleby. The slammer. And, from the New Pasteur on Lispenard Street, the smells of sugar caned shrimp and papaya salad drifting down and down and down. I'm Hazel. And this is my story.
(Interruption: break while I lift my pen from my dark page to see Juana, haggard, looking as if she might eat me, as if she might tear an arm off and start gnawing on the drumsticky flesh near my elbow. I give her sugar packets swiped from a food cart. She kisses my cheek. "Qué bueno," she says. But if there is one thing I'm not, it's good. Factoid: why I'm here—I was, as a newish grafitto said, a quality of life violation. Grafitto is the singular. I know from Spence. I went to Spence. Have I mentioned that yet? Anyway.)
So what I did, really did and not just thought about or dreamt up or dreamed of doing, was to break into the Brooklyn Botanical Garden at midnight. Me and Geoff, my cousin. And the reason we did that was to eat flowers. And the reason I wanted to eat flowers—all flowers, in huge handfuls, not just the pre-packaged kind, the plastic salad box of marigold and mallow and nasturtium you can get at any D'ags or Food Emporium—was because I was in love with the idea. And the reason I was in love with the idea was because in an old Agnès Varda short film, L'Opera Mouffe, a pregnant Frenchwoman bites into a rose on a stem with such insouciance, such Gallic charm, such pleasure, that I absolutely had to eat flowers right away and be utterly transformed
(Interruption: memo to Dr. Smarm—yes, I hated myself and I wanted to be someone else. Who doesn't? I blow a kiss to Juana. She growls and glows her eyes up at me. I yawn and nestle down into my sacky sweatshirt. Must tell her that unlike withdrawal from what she's doing, withdrawal from flowers has no physical side effects. Maybe your breath's not so pretty anymore. Maybe you're imperceptibly less and less and less charming. Otherwise none. I think.)
Geoff is my bad cousin. He didn't go to private school—he didn't even go to high school, you know what I'm saying. Well he went technically but not really. Maybe not even technically. And he knows from crowbars.
"Geoff," I said, "I need your help." At which point he lit up like an absolute light bulb, so pleased was he to be asked for anything from anyone in this insane asylum of a clan.
"Sure Haze," he said. "Anything." We'd met outside the Hip-Hop Laundry Shop on Smith Street in Brooklyn. He looked alright there, next to the low bricky buildings and the curvy faux-gas lampposts. Sort of like he was in his niche. Who knew, maybe he wasn't even "bad." Maybe he really was, as he'd kept claiming and claiming, particularly to my Aunt Marjorie, a sculptor who worked big. Maybe he really did live "near Smith Street" in a place with room for his "soldering and welding equipment" and his "friend." We never liked to delve, not in the clan. "Poor Marjorie," my mother always whispered, trying hard not to break into some Jewish version of a ward-off-evil tarantella. "Poor poor Marjorie."
"Geoff," I said, "I need a crow bar." I held my hands apart to demonstrate the size and heft of what I meant.
"Sure Haze," he said. "Anything." But he dug his hands into his pockets and rocked back on his heels, like he was nervous. In the patches of his copper-red stubble, I could see the beginnings of sweat. "It's for a project." I looked around, one-two quick like in the movies. I took a big movie breath. "A — nocturnal escapade. Capisce?"
My cousin chucked the end of my chin kindly, and a little sadly.
"Okay Hazel," he said. "I have no idea what you're talking about. I have no idea why you need a crow bar. I have no idea why you called me out of the blue after four years and arranged to meet me on this corner. But—." And here he placed his hands square on my shoulders and gave me a bad cousin death-glare—"I have better things to do."
"Oh yeah?" I said. I was beginning to hate him. I also wanted to kiss him. "Like what? Sculpt?" At which point I thought he was going to hit me. Instead he grabbed the back of my shirt, as if it were a puppy's wrinkly neck, and pulled me around the corner.
"Haze," he said. "Number one, I am a sculptor. Number two, I work big. Number three, I live with my boyfriend around the corner. You know that. Your mother knows that. My mother knows that. Number four, I'll get you a bar, but I don't want anything else to do with your
"Nocturnal escapade?" I added helpfully.
"Whatever," Geoff said, backing away. He kept his eyes fixed on mine, as old animal behavior books tell you to do.
So I've got "paper privileges." Hence the "dark pages" of this little book. You never heard of paper privilege right? Me neither. But I guess things are different in the Tombs. I guess when they think the holding is going to go on and on and on, things are different.
They can't figure out what to do with me. The talk of Bellevue ended quickly, the first hour, after I recited the first canto of the Inferno in Italian. (Don't ask.) The talk of Legal Aid ended quickly too, after they studied the contents of my wallet. (It was the Saks credit card. Not that I shop at Saks. "But honey," my mother always said, "what if you need a pair of stockings?" Not that I wear stockings.) So I'm here in my corner, writing and writing, with my sweatshirt pulled out and down over my knees. The girls are good though. Juana is. And Maryellen. I gave them paper but we only have one pen—I've got it, I mean. So they're eyeing me and eyeing the pen and "tsk"ing from time to time, meaningfully. You think you're the only one who needs a pen?
So I'll try not to be too prolix. Cause really, if you think about it, this story could unfold in all sorts of ways. All sorts of stories-from-jail ways. All sorts of girls-down-on-their-luck ways. All sorts of women-from-proper-families-going-astray-but-not-even-in-socially-recognizable-ways ways. Anyway. Anyways.