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The Wait for the Whoosh

Story by Janelle Bassett (Read author interview) October 4, 2021

Art by Xiaoying Cui

I’m in the waiting room of a secret clinic that uses pressure washers to unclog brains like mine, brains with bitchy burnt-out synapses in need of a fresh start. The clinic is a secret because the water blasting method is unproven, because the equipment was likely stolen from deck cleaning professionals, and because brains are delicate and shouldn’t be slapped around unless it’s an emergency.

If necessary, I’ll swear to ten men in ties about the existence of my own internal emergency. Sir, sir, sir, sirs, listen. Other than a handful of memories and practical skills, all I have inside my head anymore is an endless loop of 90s cruise ship commercials. It’s all beef-heavy buffet spreads, conga lines with Chip and Dale, rows of white deck chairs, and looking out at the open sea with your partner of 50+ years, with whom you’ve beaten the odds more than once.

I’ve come prepared. I brought a raincoat and typed my medical history into a note on my phone in case the intake forms are extensive.

Birth: My mother jumped out of an airplane and was so scared that she vomited as she fell and I came up as she went down. On the ground, a guy with a headset asked if she  was pregnant. She said no, but that she’d been thinking of trying to become a different person. Mom used her parachute to wipe her lunch off my torso. At home, she improvised a lullaby about how she didn’t mean to have me but she liked my indifferent expression and my inability to demand explanations. Her body made no milk since I was more of an extemporaneous growth than an intended outcome, so she soaked raw vegetables in cow’s milk and fed me the nutrient-enhanced milk through a plastic funnel.

Infancy: Prone to fevers, but not rashes. Forehead birthmark faded over time, but returns when I’m lazy about raw vegetable intake.

First bone break: Age seven, after someone told me that charms were wishes that would come true if you attached them on your bracelet. My wrist broke from the weight.

First wrong head: Age twelve, I woke up with my eyes crossed. Mom told me to go back to bed and get up again. Didn’t work. I drew a steering wheel on my eye patch. My eyes reset within days, but I still can’t drive.

Puberty: late, then long and ruinous

Infections: ear, toenail, yeast, my entire future

Sexual history: spotty but gloriously fruitless

Family history of: spontaneous reproduction, weeping while sweeping, diverticulitis.


When a woman wearing goggles hands me the intake forms, I see that they haven’t left any space for explanations. So clinical and literal—no checkbox for “sky vomit origin story” or “heavy wishes during girlhood.” Only asking about known allergies and if I hereby promise to give them the $300 I need for food, rent, and extra strength mouthwash.

I’m leaving. An organization that deals in cold checkbox forms will surely offer only weak trickles. There’s no way they’ll be able to supply the kind of water pressure I need. What I’m looking for is a pop then a whoosh. The worst part is that even though I can’t seem to find relief, I can imagine it perfectly. After the whoosh, the cruise ship will sail into the night like always, but then there will be a next part, a new part, where the movements and voices are up to me, where anything could happen, and it’ll feel like that part in the ‘94 Carnival Cruise commercial when the woman in red steps up onto the karaoke stage, grabs the microphone, then turns and smiles like the only reason that crowd came on board was to hear her perform a mid-tempo song about what her useless heart wants.

About the Author

Janelle Bassett‘s writing appears or is forthcoming in Passages North, New Delta Review, The Offing, Washington Square Review, and Wigleaf. Her story collection THANKS FOR THIS RIOT is a semifinalist for the Pamet River Prize and she is a fiction editor at Split Lip Magazine. Find her on Twitter @hazmatcat

About the Artist

Xiaoying Cui is a Chinese Swiss painter living in Basel. She studied oil painting in Central University for Nationalities, China, and Ecole supérieure des beaux-Arts de Genève in Geneva Switzerland. Her father was a writer and theater director, and she spent her teenage years as his assistant-director, accounting for the ongoing influence of Chinese theater in her paintings. Because her mother came from a wealthy family, she and her family experienced cruel persecution during the Chinese Cultural Revolution, and her painting has explored this theme for the past two decades.

This story appeared in Issue Seventy-Three of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Seventy-Three

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