SmokeLong Quarterly

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Portrait of a Writer I Remember as a Young Masturbator

Story by Caren Beilin (Read author interview) December 17, 2013

art by Jesse Bercowetz

They were screaming my name like a stain at the stairs.

At dinner, I was as silent as the meal. The broken unfrozen fish, its spine, the gray path.

“Do you want sauce?”

Well what kind of sauce. My sister, my sick and getting sicker mother.

I went back upstairs. I masturbated in the closet, my nightgown glowing.

And then they were screaming CAREN. On the tree outside there were peaches, a bunch of dolorous stars on branches, slow pink lights. If I swallowed balloons like vitamins, I’d bloat above them.

They screamed for me to get down. The stairs where screams are Origin! The screamroot base of elevation, wooden. My mother couldn’t use her limbs. But I was masturbating again. I was only eleven. I had my palm on my clitoris, nightgown bunched.

I couldn’t exactly hear their roar, exactly what they were saying. I know they sent more and more of my name up the stairs after me, screaming hounds of CARENS, my name untied from poles in their bodies. Sent feverish to find me.

My mother needed assistance.

My father, upon her illness: “You’re lucky, CAREN. Most dads would just leave.”

My mother needed a needle to be pushed into her inner thigh. My father wanted me to do it.

He didn’t want to handle any needle.

But I was busy. My clitoris like a loaf of angel ache. It was circuitous with the window, and the tree. It was a trembling cove of peach eggs. Its nightgown skin. Its place. Nameless, unnamable, not numb. My brain, though, a numb stone but I could seizure it into a star. Almost blue collar. My little frame trembling with abandon. A most sophisticated nurse. Expertise. Almost a scholar! My sophisticated palm, then finger, underwear there but disappeared. Filling the closet with violet. Turning the moon probably pink and the peaches heaving, and my mother’s muscles porous, receiving power. I softened and strengthened the house, a captain at the clitoral wheel in my vestibule. A stew of feathers, pouring down my mother’s legs, tickling and reviving her nerves. My anus full of twinkling ache. Grass, swoongreen and the moon ripe. Was spraying flesh on the tree. I’d get us home. I’d get us home. My palm was steering. They were calling my name, still. No, screaming. COME DOWN. CAREN! CAREN! But I’m not done! I didn’t ever want to be! I’m not coming.

About the Author

Caren Beilin‘s fiction chapbook, Americans, Guests, or Us, is available from Diagram/New Michigan Press and her novel, The University of Pennsylvania, is the winner of Noemi Press’s Book Award for Fiction and will be published next fall. She is from Philadelphia.

About the Artist

Jesse Bercowetz is an American artist who lives in New York City. His artwork has been on exhibit at The Brooklyn Museum of Art and PS1 / MOMA. He is a MacDowell Colony Fellow and has received grants from The New York Foundation for the Arts. His work has been featured in The New York Times and ArtForum. Bercowetz is currently traveling in South East Asia on a research grant from The Jerome Foundation.

This story appeared in Issue Forty-Two of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Forty-Two

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SmokeLong Fitness--The Community Workshop

Next Date to Join: January 1!

On September 1, SmokeLong launched a workshop environment/community christened SmokeLong Fitness. This asynchronous community workshop is happening right now on our dedicated workshop site. If you choose to join us, you will work in a small group of around 10-12 participants to give and receive feedback. Each Monday, you will receive a new writing task (one writing task each week) designed by the senior editor team of SmokeLong. The core workshop is asynchronous, so you can take part from anywhere at anytime. We are excited about creating a supportive, consistent and structured environment for flash writers to work on their craft in a community.