Web Conjunctions: Two Stories, by Shawn Vestal

CONJUNCTIONS: A Web Exclusive
Two Stories
Shawn Vestal


Sweet Tooth

Julian visits. He’s the kind of person who will say, over dinner, to your wife, that he believes tattoos are ruining pornography. He tells her that he hired a woman in Thailand who broke his middle finger by flexing her coochie. “Superstrong cooch,” he says, and helps himself to another mound of lasagna.
     You never make lasagna. You made this lasagna for him.
     “What’s a coochie,” your daughter asks.
     You feel frozen.
     Julian says, “It’s a kind of muscle, sweetie.”
     You think he’s been sneaking candy to your daughter, who’s diabetic. You hold up the wrappers you find tucked behind her bed and ask her, “Who gave these to you?” She tells you, “I gave them to myself,” in the revved-up voice that comes before the crash.
     The house starts to smell like Julian, like oysters and motor oil. His teeth are black in between and the nail on his right index finger is filed to a point. Sometimes during dinner, when the conversation strays from him, he scratches absently on the tablecloth with that fingernail. His hands are rimed in black frost, like a mechanic, and his face is shadowed by a beard that won’t stay cut, by heavy brows over mustard-colored eyes. He sleeps in the basement now. He’s moved in some of his things. He stays out all night, and when he comes in for breakfast, he smells like buffalo.
     He tells your wife, “What a night. Oh sweet mother. Don’t get me started.”
     She says, “Don’t worry.”
     Your wife does not want you to dream of the night, does not want to find you in the basement after midnight, in the earth below the basement after midnight, scratching out pictures of desire with a fingernail.
     Julian moves in with your daughter. He sleeps in his clothes on her bedroom floor. She grows enormously fat. She no longer hides the chocolate stains on her smock. Julian smokes cigarettes all over the house.
     Your wife asks, “Who told you you could smoke in here?”
     She thinks you did.
     He says, “I told myself.”








The Pig of Happiness

The story is called The Pig of Happiness and you’ve read it out loud for days now, it seems, when the only thing that will make baby calm down are the pictures of these pale pigs and your voice describing the way that one of them decides to be happy and spread happiness into the world like a neutral-colored paste sneaking from the leghole of an improperly sealed diaper.
     After the zillionth reading you decide that maybe The Pig of Happiness could stand a little formal innovation. I mean, your son’s a baby, sure, but he can’t always want the same story, can he? You begin to alter things, make The Pig of Happiness more rounded and complex, give him a backstory with a problematic father, give him a limp and then an amputated hoof and then pretty soon you’re whacking that sucker off at the knee. Baby needs to know there’s more to life than flowers and sausages.
     You experiment with story forms. Pretty soon you’re inside the head of The Pig of Happiness as he tromps around the shit and chokes down a corn cob, and then you try something in the first-person sardonic, with the pig all rakish and charming, and the next thing you know The Pig of Happiness is speaking directly to the reader, talking about the storyness of the story, until baby never stops crying at all, just cries and cries and cries, and when you see car lights outside at night you assume the police have come to take him away.
     So you decide to tell him a real story about pigs and happiness, before it’s too late, and you whisper, “Son, the truth is that pigs are delicious. The best things you will ever eat on this earth involve some part of the pig, and his happiness and your happiness may not always be perfectly aligned.”
     You lower your voice further and put your lips to his furled pink ear. “People will tell you eating pig is bad for you, doctors and such, they’ll tell you that cholesterol will break your heart, but it’s miraculous even now what they can do with medical science. Before you can have a heart attack there’ll be a pill for that sort of thing, but there will never be a pill to replace all the bacon that you never eat.”