Something That Happened a Long Time Ago: An Excerpt From “Gristle”

We’re pleased to present an excerpt from Jordan A. Rothacker’s new collection Gristle, out this week on Stalking Horse Press. We’ve been excited about this one ever since it came up when we interviewed Rothacker last yearPlease enjoy “Something That Happened a Long Time Ago,” an excerpt from the story “The Fish Family Album.”


Stew’s father spent most nights sitting at the computer in his bedroom online, often in Catholic chat rooms. Stew’s parents slept in separate rooms. It had been this way for many years. Once when Stew asked his mother the reason for this, she told him to ask his father. His father said that his mother snored and as a result he lost sleep. So they slept in separate rooms. His mother didn’t really sleep much anyway. She stayed up in the living room pretty late each night watching television and smoking cigarettes. Stew’s father did not smoke. He did not do much of anything for all I knew. When I would stop by to see Stew in the evening, his father was always back there in the bedroom. I would talk to his mother, though. She was very nice and I would try to be very polite. Mrs. Fish would always offer over the remote control to us to see if there was anything we would rather watch on television.

The times that I saw both of Stew’s parents together seemed very awkward. Maybe I just felt awkward since it was an unfamiliar situation. I never saw them touch. I spent more time with Mrs. Fish than her husband, but I would see him on occasion when we passed by his bedroom door on the way to Stew’s room. The door would always be cracked just enough for him to see us pass. Sometimes he would ask me questions since he knew I was also Catholic. One time, to break a tense silence, I told him that my father taught me some theology and he dismissed what I said by saying he preferred dogma to theology. I was always a little scared of these conversations since I once made a joke about Catholic guilt and he made an angry and shamed face and turned around in his seat back to the computer without saying anything more to me.

Mrs. Fish was still a Baptist. She didn’t convert when her husband did. Stew didn’t really care either way and his parents never really said much about such things to him. His little brother went to mass with his father on Sundays. Stew often slept at my house on Saturday nights. He said his mother never went with them to mass, but always seemed a little upset left at home.

One day when Stew and I were hanging out in his basement, his father called down for Stew to come up. I sat there alone while Stew went up. Shortly he came back down with a poster in his hands. Stew showed me the art print and I saw it to be a Georgia O’Keefe. One of her enlarged flower cross-sections. This one was an orchid. It had mauves and lavenders in it with a high concentration of pink around its center. The labial quality of cross-sectioned petals was undeniable. The dark depth in the middle, surrounded by the pink added to the undeniably vaginal quality of the whole painting. Stew said his father asked him if he would like to have it. To which Stew answered, yes. When he asked his father why he was getting rid of it he only answered, before turning around in his chair back to his computer, “It reminds me of something that happened a long time ago, that I don’t want to think about anymore.”


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