Channie Greenberg, Demurral:
Lintels, Towels, and Fears, Oh My!
Demurral: Lintels, Towels, and Fears, Oh My!
Publisher: Bards & Sages Publishing
Date: November 10, 2020
Length: 167 pages
ISBN: 1733082239; 978-1733082235
Demurral: Lintels, Towels, and Fears, Oh My! Is Channie Greenberg’s eighth short fiction collection. This book’s three sections, “Lintels: Challenges,” “Towels: Bitter Sweetness,” and “Fears: Uncertainties,” are as much about archaea, namely, about nucleus-free, single-celled organisms, as they are about the economics of book sales. It’s not for naught that horse whisperers have given up contesting pythons or that gelatinous wildebeest tour Earth with decreased frequency. Today’s economy dictates strange choices.
To wit, Demurral: Lintels, Towels, and Fears, Oh My! strives to function as both a perspicacious volume and a marketable one. It intentionally serves up an odd mix of useful insights and compelling tidbits. It bites while it purrs. It leaves tracks while it safeguards. It’s loud because its essence is discreet.
What’s more, Demurral: Lintels, Towels, and Fears, Oh My! Is full of rocketships, haunted glens, and city bridges. When reading it, you’ll meet space captains, grifters, murices, and hedgehogs and, maybe, come away with an appreciation for wordsmiths’ need to balance fantastic and realistic concerns.
Originally published in The Rampallian. March 2013.
Emily writes. She sticks her tongue between her lips and chews on the inside of her cheeks as she draws words in a cursive hand. Blue eyes wide with concentration, she bats her lids, unknowingly, hundreds of times.
Sometimes, she sucks on the end of one of her long curls. Those strands get stuck between her front teeth or are otherwise pulled by her short fingers as a means to itch her nose. Her nose is pug and sprinkled with freckles.
I think about her “O” of a cherry mouth while I turn into our development. Constantly, I must look toward the meridian as driver after driver forgets to dim their brights.
Not much before, I sat at Sam’s, waiting to buy a round for Old Whitney and for his younger bride. They never showed. Maybe there had been too much that was wet.
The street names look familiar; Broadview, Greenleaf, Chestnut. I slow. For a little better than a decade, Emily and I have lived among lemonade stands, basketball hoops, and other enhancements of middle class life.
103. 105. 107. 109. Home. Sandwiched between the Bartons’ and the Donbatons’, our lawn sprouts geometric hedges and features the same geraniums that breed along most of our block. I trip over a bicycle wheel, but recover. That vehicle is purple, and it is Emily’s.
“Daddy! Kisses. I want kisses. Carry your ‘case?”
“Sure.” I squat, scoop, and hug.
“Look what I made.” A bright construction formed mostly from blue and green paper and liberally covered with gum-backed stars is shoved into my hand.
“This ought to go to the Smithsonian, but can I hang it on the kitchen door?”
Emily spins. “I’m a ‘copter!” Her socks are mismatched and neither of her braids are tidy.
I push open the kitchen door. Ants wander over yesterday’s dishes. A fan of grocery coupons, organized by color, adorns the table. Breakfast cereal, its box opened awkwardly, spills onto the floor. At least, the gin remains upright.
“You’ve been snacking Baby Bear.”
“Yes, Big Bear. Hamburgers? Got ‘chup left.”
“Mama Bear wouldn’t let.”
“The Witch still has her.”
“Ohhh-kay. How ‘bout Daddy’s Super Steak-on-a-Plate instead?”
“’made it last night and before and before. Chicken?”
I open the freezer. A small pack of thighs and drumsticks, which expired less than a week ago, sits next to a bottle of Ouzo. “Okay,” I offer.
“Hannah Banana Sauce?”
“You the masher?’
I get hugged from behind the knees. “I’m the big, bad, Baby Bear masher. Growwwwl.”
“Here’s your weapon. Here’s the fruit. Get to it!”
“Oh, did anyone call?”
“Just a lady with a funny voice. She giggled a lot. I ‘membered to say ‘please’ when I asked for her name and ‘thank-you’ when she gave it. I’m a good Baby Bear!”
“You’re the best!” I shove the chicken parts into the microwave and rummage around the cabinets for bar-be-que sauce. In the vegetable crisper there are three soggy carrots. We’ll have them, with raisins, as salad.
“Wasn’t nice to giggle, right?”
“Ah, ah, yup. Not nice.” The woman in question only giggles when high or when sexually entertained. I hoped it was the case that she had scored some drugs since as of late, I’d noticed that another of the scientists also has eyes for her. “Bananas mashed yet?”
“’tirely, Big Bear. Can I have a cookie?”
“Gotta eat your dead bird first, Cub-o-Mine.”
“Go to the pool tomorrow?”
“No. Tomorrow is for writing letters to Mom.” I’d let her go, but the neighborhood kids are rough. They threw her jump rope into the large maple tree on the corner and made her climb to retrieve it. After all that, they still wouldn’t let her play hopscotch with them. If I let her go swimming, those delinquents would likely leave her alone in the deep end.
“Nope to rope and nay to say. Here’s your chicken, my clicking, little cub. One squirt of sauce or two?”
“None. I have bananas.”
“Scoot over, then.”
“I want to swim!”
“No cubs in the water.”
“All cubs in the water ’cept me. I don’t like you today.” She pushes her plate hard, so forcefully that the ceramic, the banana mash, and the pinkish-looking chicken fly against the wall. She then steps in that goo and looks at me, eyes wide.
“The lady shouldn’t of giggled.” Emily slams the kitchen door before she rushes up the stairs. Her newest art thuds to the floor. I hear her books being thrown.
I look down at my hands. One still wears a gold ring, while the other is marked with a scar from the camping trip, which I took, months ago, with the giggling lady.
Emily’s mom would have known what to do, but her neurosurgeon had been king among fools. Few ever survived the procedure he had suggested. As I walk to the foot of the stairs, I glance at my dear heart’s portrait. The canvas remains mute.
I call the giggling lady. “Sure, I’d love to see it on you. Or, maybe off. No, I’m not yelling. Yes, Emily . . . and I even made chicken, just like you suggested. Go with me to the lab party, next week? Pierre!? Can’t you reschedule his groomer? No, I’m not whining. Okay, okay, I forgot it’s also your yoga night. The same to you with big kisses.”
I hear nothing upstairs. No crying. No pounding. Nothing. “E-m-i-l-y!”
“Cat-Cat is sad and won’t come down.”
“Will Cat-Cat talk to me if I come up?”
A bedroom door opens.
“Maybe. Does he have to clean up the kitchen?” Already in pajamas, my daughter clutches a faded tiger missing an ear and an eye and newly adorned with nail polish.
“No. I’ll do it. He can have the job of waiting for the pizza.”
By the time I’ve mopped the floor, washed all of the dishes, killed too many ants and covered the table with our picnic blanket, Emily and Cat-Cat appear.
“Daddy bend down.”
“I love you even though Mr. Zecher says you are bad. He’s bad. He shouldn’t say mean things.”
I pour a little more of the clear liquid into my glass. I give Emily the Mickey Mouse mug she loves and fill it with chocolate milk. The doorbell rings, announcing our second try at dinner.
Emily eats two entire slices. As I watch her gobble the cheesy and sauce-covered bread, I realize that I had forgotten, again, to make her lunch. While she washes, I wrap the leftovers and kick the garbage can. An angry-looking roach scurries out.
“Story, Big Bear!”
“Certainly, Baby Bear.”
“No falling asleep in the middle. You snore.”
“No falling asleep.”
“Stanley Justin’s cat had kittens. Orange ones. With stripes. White stripes.”
“Cat-Cat is sooo lonely. He needs a kitten friend.”
“Kittens are a lot of work.”
“No more than baby bears. Cat-Cat promised.”
Later, with one finger, I trace the letters on a bottle of little white pills. No matter the prescription, I fight sleep most nights. I call the giggling lady. A man answers. I hang up and consider throwing the phone against the wall, but don’t since Emily’s room is on the other side.
In the morning, before the sun is entirely up, in the middle of the living room, I spy familiar curls bent over a sheet of paper. Emily and Cat-Cat work intently on a letter. A blanket covers both of them.
“Morning Daddy! If I write ‘fore breakfast, there’ll be time after work for you to pick a kitten. Cat-Cat and I had a loooong talk last night. He was worried, but I told him I’d always love him even if someone else came into my life.”
I skip Sam’s that night. Let ‘em wonder. Let the giggly lady miss me.
Emily and I walk over to the Justins’. Stanley’s parents are ever so willing to part with one of their unplanned baby critters.
Before we exit their home, Emily pauses in front of their aquarium. Red, blue, and green fish swim in and out of a porous rock, around plastic seaweeds and to the edge of the glass.
“Would you rather have a guppy?”
“Oh, no, Daddy. Did you see how the mama cat feeds her babies?”
“We can’t feed our new baby steak or chicken. You know that Daddy, right?”
“I know that.”
Summer is nearly over. Emily has written many letters to her mother and has not again asked to go swimming. The giggly lady and I have mended our fences. We plan to meet during my lunch hour, at her apartment.
I am surprised when she opens my office door, midmorning. She is crying, not giggling. She pulls me into her car and drives me to my home.
I shout for Emily, but hear no answer. I look for Emily’s kitten, but can find neither that baby nor Cat-Cat. The giggly lady follows me, crying, hugging, saying nothing.
I have a sudden insight. “Where’s Pierre?”
“Groomer,” is her terse answer.
I have another insight. I run to the backyard and look over the fence. Emily’s kitten has drowned in the neighbor’s pool. Next to its prone body is Emily’s.
Stories in Demurral that were originally published at Bewildering Stories:
- A Bear Walked into a Bar, issue 781
- Batya, issue 812
- Becoming a Grifter, issue 548
- Dogged Dr. Owen, issue 821
- Owen Brownstone Keeps Trying, issue 799
- Owmapow Rides Again, issue 808
- Precious’ Grandma, issue 722
- Sanjit, the Binturong, issue 791
- The Extraordinary Quality of Happenstances of Small Importance, issue 788.
Copyright © 2020 by Channie Greenberg