A writer I vaguely know from online but have never met in real life until tonight says to me, “You’re the one who writes all that domestic fiction.”
He’s drinking whiskey; I’m drinking gin. He was the closing reader; I was somewhere in the middle of the line-up. He read a story in which a man hits a moose with his car because he’s distracted by jealousy and suspicion. The man imagines the dead moose is his cheating wife. He strips the animal of its fur until it is nothing but cold meat. I read a story much like this one—a story in which a woman considers words a man says to her.
Whether this writer intends to insult when he says what he says about my writing, I’m not entirely certain. His gray eyes are at once both curious and reproachful, and I’m reminded of the man I’ve been sleeping with. Thad, short for Thaddeus, looked at me like that once after fucking. He said, “Humiliation turns you on, doesn’t it?” Pellets of ice were pinging my bedroom windows. I wanted to go out into the hailstorm. I wanted to know what it would feel like to be pelted by water, something I usually thought of as soft, turned hard and cold. Confessing this, which I didn’t think of at the time as a “confession,” is what prompted Thad’s pronouncement, or part of what prompted it anyway. There were other things.
“Humiliation” isn’t quite the word I would have used, yet it’s true I continue to sleep with Thad, though he has both a wife and a girlfriend, of which I am neither.
When I ponder the word “domestic,” I picture a 50s housewife in an apron-bedecked dress, a toilet brush in her slender, manicured hands. I picture that housewife on her knees, scrubbing the inside of the bowl into which her husband and children and herself all defecate. I picture her husband returning home unexpectedly to find her in this compromising position and being aroused by her turned-up bottom, her made-up face and hair hovering over the toilet. I picture him lifting her skirt and fucking her right there. Her humiliation turns them both on, but only he is humiliated by this fact. Only he fantasizes about killing her and stripping her of her fur.
That’s the kind of thing I write about. That’s the kind of thing that interests me. But this response doesn’t come to me until later. Even when this writer says, “Is fiction even the right word for what you write?” as it was with Thad when he said what he said about humiliation, at the bar after the reading I have no quick-witted reply. I say nothing worth reporting, nothing that would be very interesting in a story.
Michelle Ross is the author of three story collections: There’s So Much They Haven’t Told You, winner of the 2016 Moon City Short Fiction Award; Shapeshifting, winner of the 2020 Stillhouse Press Short Fiction Award (2021); and They Kept Running, winner of the 2021 Katherine Anne Porter Prize in Short Fiction (2022). Her work is included in Best Small Fictions, Best Microfiction, the Wigleaf Top 50, and the Norton anthology, Flash Fiction America. It’s received special mention in the Pushcart Prize anthology. She is fiction editor of Atticus Review.