Aurelie Sheehan’s new collection, Once into the Night, winner of the Fiction Collective 2 (FC2) Catherine L. Doctorow Innovative Fiction Prize, is forthcoming from FC2/University of Alabama Press on February 19, 2019. Once into the Night is a collection of 57 brief stories—a fictional autobiography made of assumed identities and what-ifs. It is available to pre-order.
This excerpt includes two of the stories, “Oscar Wilde and My Brother” and “Nudity.”
Oscar Wilde and My Brother
When Oscar Wilde and my brother met, the world almost came to an end. I wasn’t there, but I heard about it.
This was after the trial and imprisonment. There is no greater challenge to the charming and magnificent than full-on societal ramming. It is difficult, at times thereafter, to feel elation. One is hardly aware of one’s fan base, then.
My brother was at the teashop. Sitting with a cup of tea, reading USA Today. He was on a business trip, selling wares, but for an hour or two he’d been freed from meetings. He read the paper and relished his time alone. Infrequent and cherished, a time of order.
He was catching up on sports.
The man he’d had dinner with the night before was a rugby fan.
These people also liked soccer.
And cricket, apparently.
In strolled a man in a velvet jacket. Frock or jacket? It was a faded green garment, like a jacket but down to his knees, double-breasted, worn at the elbows and seams, and also there was a fluffy white shirt. Lace, perhaps. With a defeated, limp look.
My brother wore a yellow polo shirt. He was in his own way a clotheshorse. He kept his polo shirts hung up in his closet, arranged by color.
Oscar Wilde ordered tea. He pulled coins out of his pocket and sorted through them, counting and recounting, and at last put one, then another coin on the counter. The tea purveyor was bored. He swept the coins from the counter and into the till.
My brother watched as the man in pale velvet turned. He flipped his hair from his forehead and strode over to the round café table to the left of my brother’s. Exhibiting fatigue or relief, he flung himself down, resting his head against the wall and kicking his butterscotch booties out in front of him. “Son of a British bitch,” he muttered.
When my brother looked over, Oscar Wilde’s eyes were closed.
The purveyor showed up with the steel pot. He set it and a little basket of necessaries on the table, and walked away. Now Oscar Wilde and my brother had identical baskets. Oscar Wilde set to, pouring the tea, the cream. Ladling spoonfuls of sugar. He was large, like a giraffe or a rhinoceros. He held the dainty cup to his mouth.
My brother was looking at the paper, but he hadn’t been following sentences for a few minutes now. Letters were shapes; lines undulated. A play of black and white, streaks of blue.
“What?” he said. The man had spoken to him.
“Might you have a bit of cream?” Oscar Wilde gestured toward the pitcher on my brother’s table. “Mine’s empty.”
The man’s face wasn’t handsome, but it was imposing. Under his eyes the shadows were gray, permanent.
“Sure,” said my brother, handing over his half-used cream.
“This place has gone downhill.”
“But then who hasn’t? Dogs wear crowns, if you let them.”
“Fear not. Capitalism will rise and save the day. All rolls will be buttered and warm.”
“The point is I recognize them but they don’t recognize me. What a lark! A positive joy.”
“I wouldn’t know. I’m just visiting.”
Mr. Wilde let out a barking laugh. He rubbed the lace on his chest.
The two men went back to drinking their own tea. With effort, my brother finished the article. He is, in so many ways, a mystery to me.
The tea purveyor was talking loudly on the phone.
Oscar Wilde began to cry.
How nude am I? My toenails are crudely cut and I fear not clean enough, either. My legs haven’t been shaved in days. My stomach and breasts droop, my thighs are ambiguous. I hurried here—I’d planned to shower and shave before the appointment, but I was sick, so I slept right up until I had to leave. Now under the fluorescent lights, the doctor and intern inspect every inch of my skin. They are, in theory, looking at it differently than I am looking at me. This is actually not me, I would like to say. For I usually do shave, or give the appearance of shaving. And I wear toenail polish fairly consistently, in the season. I can’t adjust for my age, but otherwise not so bad, eh? I exercise and I don’t overeat…though I admit I seem rather puffy.
Well, whatever, this is staggeringly humiliating. They’re both wearing dresses, and their hair and makeup is in order. I’m wearing a patient’s demeanor. But couldn’t this demeanor be just a little sharper, cleaner, smaller? Another, very nude me is waving a flag in my brain. Hello, here I am. I’m having a thought now. I’m making a joke now. But you keep trolling over my body with your caterpillar mouths, with your oven mitts and scalpels. After that come the notes, as you define me.
Aurelie Sheehan’s collection, Once into the Night, is available to pre-order now.
This excerpt appears with permission of FC2/University of Alabama Press. Copyright 2019 Aurelie Sheehan.
About the Author
Aurelie Sheehan is the author of two novels, History Lesson for Girls and The Anxiety of Everyday Objects, and three previous collections: Jack Kerouac Is Pregnant, Jewelry Box: A Collection of Histories, and Demigods on Speedway. This Blue, a novella, was published as a Ploughshares Solo in 2014. Individual stories and essays have appeared in Alaska Quarterly, Conjunctions, Epoch, Fence, Mississippi Review, Nimrod International Journal, New England Review, The New York Times, Ploughshares, and The Southern Review. Sheehan has received a Pushcart Prize, a Jack Kerouac Literary Award, a Camargo Fellowship, and an Artists Projects Award from the Arizona Commission on the Arts. She is a professor of fiction and the head of the English Department at the University of Arizona. Her website is aureliesheehan.com.
Author photo credit: Cybele Knowles, courtesy of the University of Arizona Poetry Center.
“Nudity” first appeared in Conjuctions, Issue 69, Fall 2017.
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