Tippy was working a triple when I skidded late into Dylan’s. She was refilling the salt by feel, eyes closed. Salt overran the shakers.
“Why didn’t you tell us?” Tippy asked me, one eye cracking open like an egg.
“Tell you what?”
Tippy was her pseudonym. She wrote a sex blog that I scrutinized for clues about her, the only other queer girl at Dylan’s, but I still couldn’t root out her real name. Sometimes I’d walk up behind her and say Jennifer or Sarah to see if she turned around.
“About your story.” Her hair slumped loose from a tired elastic. Someone dropped a butter knife, or maybe they threw it. No one picked it up. Everything everywhere was always falling. No one bothered to stoop.
Tippy brandished the new issue of McCarren. On the cover, a photo of a playground littered with dead pigeons. A virus had been sniping them from the eaves since last summer.
“I haven’t read that yet,” I said. I couldn’t afford the subscription—business at Dylan’s was slow. New Yorkers didn’t like pigeons, but they didn’t like all the dead pigeons either, and half of Brooklyn was rolling in and out of the dark since the thing at the power station. All the good tippers had decamped for rural Connecticut.
“How much did they pay you?” Tippy asked, brushing salt in my direction, and that’s when I saw my name: New Fiction by Marcella Snearl. A story I had never seen before, on the cover of the world’s most prestigious magazine, written by some other writer saddled with my ugly name.
Tippy wanted to know: when had I found out? What did the contract look like? How did it feel to be in McCarren?
The questions were not friendly, and I figured I had better look up the other Marcella Snearl on Twitter before I said anything. One time I blacked out and came to with a phone full of pictures of HP Lovecraft’s tombstone, although I did not recall going to Rhode Island and did not like HP Lovecraft.
“Let me punch in,” I said, tapping the place a watch would go. Modest and evasive look the same. “Then I’ll tell you all about it.”
Publication in McCarren was my life’s ambition, same as anyone. Once I accomplished that, I figured I could just sit in my dark Bed-Stuy apartment, at peace.
Dylan’s Diner was owned by a former adjunct at the New School’s MFA program who had come into money. The whole staff was writers. We wrote ekphrastic poems about the framed, food-flecked images of Mytilini on the diner walls. We workshopped dialogue while we picked blackened scabs of ketchup from the bottles. We drafted on the backs of order tickets at the coffee station and the cook, an essayist named Dibs, got mad because that was his idea for a hermit-crab essay, and also because he couldn’t puzzle out whether table nine wanted the steamed vegetables or the baked potato.
“Dylan’s going to lose her fucking shit when she hears about your story,” Dibs said when I walked back into the kitchen. “McCarren is tier-one plus. Anyone tell her yet?”
I told him I didn’t know. He was right. McCarren didn’t even have a Submittable. You had to print it out and scrounge up an envelope and a paperclip and six months later you’d get a postcard saying you weren’t as good as you thought.
My friend Kyle came back into the kitchen. His nametag read Text Evidence. “Dibs,” he called, picking up plates. He could line up six along the slow-healing tracks of his arms. “Table four is saying they want the bacon soft.”
“Perverts,” I said. That was the thing we said when people made requests. Kyle didn’t answer. Maybe he was mad about the story.
“Is this about McCarren?” I asked. “I didn’t want to make a big deal out of it.”
“It’s fine,” he said. And “Congratulations.”
I wondered what the story was about, if I would read it and feel envy, if I should buy copies and send them to my sister and her husband and my old college roommate. It wouldn’t be lying to stick a post-it to the pages reading, Thought this might interest you!
A crash—Kyle had dropped a plate. Maybe he was using again; he had promised to tell me, and I had promised not to judge him, although that was before New Fiction.
I picked up my phone, but the screen stayed dark. “Someone keeps unplugging my phone,” I said.
“You just want to check Twitter,” Dibs said, and I knew he was the one unplugging it. “You want to see how many new followers you have.” He flattened a pad of frying potatoes into the grease of the grill. Even after a frantic cold shower, my skin smelled of frying potatoes.
Dibs was not wrong. Twitter felt like Christmas in the house where I grew up; my parents thought it was funny to wrap some boxes that were empty, others that were too heavy for me to lift. Some of them had toys.
“Hey,” I said to Tippy. She had braided her hair, and was eating one of those mints that are mostly chalk and gummy in the center. “Do you want to go to a movie with me after work?”
“I’m working a triple,” she said, touching the counter, the register, the way an animal will scent-mark the perimeter of its cage.
“After,” I said. “I’ll wait for you.” I was in the new issue of McCarren, after all, and there was one movie theater still open.
“Maybe. I don’t know if there’s anything playing I want to see.”
I knew better than to keep pushing. I unwrapped a mint. The center was black but it didn’t taste like licorice. Maybe. Not a rejection, exactly. Revise, and resubmit.
“I would have made a big deal about being in the new McCarren,” she said. “Why didn’t you make a big deal?”
“But did you like it?” I asked. “Did you read it yet?” From the entrance, there were thumps—pigeons, iridescent, viral, hitting the diner’s awning when they fell.
“It’s your turn to clean up the pigeons,” Kyle said to me. It wasn’t my turn to clean up the pigeons, but these were the first words he had spoken to me all day, so I went and got the broom.
Dylan rolled in while I was carrying the garbage bag with the pigeons through the restaurant. Someone had locked the kitchen door and I didn’t have the key to the dumpster. Dibs said he hadn’t seen it, that maybe someone had taken it home. Sometimes he’d make me a Beyond Burger and leave it up under the heat lamps, gruffing if I tried to thank him for it, but not today.
Dylan snapped her fingers at Tippy, who was trying to write something on her phone, a text or maybe a novel. “Hey. Worker bees.” Once Kyle had shown me Dylan’s profile on a hook-up app. It claimed she was ENM and had six toes, but I didn’t know if that was per foot or total, or if it was a lie to make her seem more interesting.
“Marcella.” Dylan tilted her head so she could look under my bangs. “Is that your story in McCarren?”
I shifted the garbage bag to my other hand and nodded. Nodding felt like less of a lie than saying yes.
“Wow,” she said, and scraped a stray feather off her boot. I really couldn’t tell from looking how many toes were inside. “Bully for you, kid.”
“Thanks,” I said. “Did—” The dining room lights flickered, and I tried not to think about what would happen if they went out, if there was no place left where I could eat for half-price and charge my phone, could check if I were being followed on Twitter, or confirm that I was still mostly ignored. “Did you read it?”
“No. I’m doing a cleanse. I’m not reading anything published after The House of Mirth, at least not until spring.”
It was the last week of November. Before the dinner rush, Kyle hand wrote his query letter on one of the diner’s rectangular napkins and wrapped it around the silverware he brought to a customer he thought resembled an agent.
I wished Tippy had seated the potential agent in my section, but she was putting all the cops at my tables. They made me nervous. They ordered cheeseburgers well-done and then watched me because the meat was taking so long. I hid in the kitchen and texted my favorite ex-girlfriend: I’ve got a story out in McCarrens. I don’t know if you’ve heard.
Ellipses. They drummed like fingertips. I waited. They stopped. They started again.
What’s McCarrens, she asked and, inexplicably, an emoji of an onion.
After the police finished their meat, I carried dirty plates to the kitchen and stacked them in a rubber bin for the dishwasher, a man named Chadwick who only wrote poems about dinosaurs.
“Your story,” Chadwick said, sprayer in hand. “I think it says what I’ve been trying to say.”
“Really?” Hope rolled over in my empty stomach, bobbing bloated to the surface. “You read it? What did you think?”
“I didn’t read it,” he said. “But I can tell. Your story was my exact idea.” He did not look upset about this, but I saw the magazine in the garbage can where we scraped the plates. I shook the egg-slimed crusts off and turned the damp pages to the very end of the story.
The bio for Marcella Snearl had no photo. It was one line long; Marcella Snearl lives alone. This is her first publication.
“Did you read the story yet?” I asked Tippy one last time at the end of my shift. She smelled like marker. She smelled like revision. She was writing a slim zero on the whiteboard next to her name, and she handed me the green marker like I had come back here to post my word count, instead of for her.
“I can’t read anything,” she told me. “I’m working a triple.”
I told her it was OK. On the whiteboard, someone had rubbed a slash through Marcella. “Is your power back on, in your building?” I asked.
“No idea,” she said. “Honestly, I might stay here tonight. I need the Wifi. I post every Friday.”
I wanted to kiss her, and I wanted her to write about me, and I wanted to know something about her that her other subscribers didn’t know already.
“What’s your name?” I asked. It came out like a plea, name like a stamped foot. “What’s your real name?”
She looked around. Dibs was scraping the grill and Chadwick was lost in the billowing steam. “It’s actually Tippy,” she whispered, and left me to my disappointment.
When I walked out of Dylan’s, I forgot the magazine. The streetlights were snapping on, the ones that still worked. I heard a soft sound that I thought was a pigeon, but when I looked, it was just my shoelace come undone, a small, dirty pursuit like biography. The closer I got to home, the less it seemed worth tying.
Treena Thibodeau’s work has appeared in The Rumpus, Lunch Ticket, Able Muse, Atticus Review, and Vol. 1 Brooklyn, and has received support from the Vermont Studio Center, the Gulkistan Center, and the Tin House Summer Conference. She directs the virtual reading series TGI (www.tgicast.com) and holds an MFA from Columbia University.