The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed: AWABI by Mandy-Suzanne Wong

Sumiko’s Daughters

You have to tell Namako to go into the city. She has to believe it’s what you want. Otherwise she won’t do it, she’ll stay here and waste away.

And Sumiko’s own mother saying this, the ama who once dove naked and taught Sumiko to move her legs like fins . . . Sumiko couldn’t have been more dismayed if her mother had told her to take the net bag she’d inherited and tear it with her hands.

Besides, it would be a lie: a lie to pretend that even one hour shape-shifting in the blue-on-blue wasn’t worth the strain; that predator and prey face-to-face and intermingled wasn’t what living was; and that Sumiko hadn’t lived, dived, and survived so that she could pass on that existential truth and the sheer joy of oceanic living to her daughters.

She felt hemmed in and divided: torn between her ocean-daughter who needed ama-mothers to fight for her life and her Namako-daughter who just wanted to be a woman. The indecision seemed to dry Sumiko up. She went into menopause. She pretended nothing was the matter. She avoided serious conversation for a year, never quite acknowledging that what had wrapped her in itself like a cannibal starfish was double-headed fear.

Fear that she couldn’t lie to Namako. Fear that if she didn’t lie, Namako would corrode like awa bi in an ailing sea.

She did it, finally, or there would have been no Hana (b. 2007). Namako became the housewife of an Osaka salaryman. And then Sumiko no longer knew who she, Sumiko, was. She felt like a broken tile in a vast and ancient roof.

There was no outward change in her laugh ing personality. But she was guarded with Hana, the cybernetic granddaughter who learned to use a smartphone before she learned to read. Sumiko couldn’t understand why Namako didn’t at the very least take the baby to a public pool so that the water could teach her to swim. Sumiko reminded her that as an infant she, Namako, had learned to swim from the ocean just as Sumiko herself had done; and Namako dithered, she seemed almost squeamish or perhaps lazy. But besides the fact that Namako and her husband selected such a dry and bewildering name — Hana (花), meaning “flower” or “nose” — Sumiko found herself baffled every time she looked around. There was the Fukushima disas

ter. The ama had declined 80% in number since her childhood. Awabi had diminished by 90%. Kaiyōno, with dwindling snails and proliferating storms, slid into disrepair. The divers, whose average age was 60, felt the ocean warm as their joints stiffened. And before Sumiko died, she would see tropical fishes, refugees from an equator grown too hot, come to pluck the last awabi from their rocks with beakish mouths.

In her grandmother years, Sumiko still dived daily as her mothers dived. She breathed as whales breathed, carrying the nomi she’d carried all her life. Some of what she caught went to the shrine, for kami craved awabi even after all this time, but hotels bought the lion’s share: the words “dying way of life” won publicity for Kaiyōno. The Ama Preservation Association also did its best to piggyback on the trending idea that to “return to ancient ways” was to “embrace sustainable living.” And so Sumiko found herself in a white amagi dancing “traditional” dances in the widow’s restaurant, babbling of better days to anybody who would listen, cackling at her own jokes while some man found reasons to pinch her, and announcing that ama-diving was an “intan gible cultural heritage” as though she belonged behind glass in a museum.


This selection comes from the book, AWABI, available from Digging Press.  Purchase your copy here! Our curator for this selection is Alex DiFrancesco.

Winner of the 2018 Digging Press Chapbook Series Award. Mandy-Suzanne Wong deftly explores the complex world of the ama—ocean women, mostly elderly, who eke out a living while diving deep to capture abalone, snails, and otherworldly sea creatures for food. Suffused with lyrical imagery and profound longing, Wong creates evocative moments of love, pride, jealousy, misunderstanding, and sacrifice in this duet of short stories. She’s also the author of the novel Drafts of a Suicide Note (Regal House, Oct 2019), which was a a finalist for the Permafrost Book Prize, a semifinalist for the Conium Review Book Prize, shortlisted for the SFWP Literary Award, awarded an honorable mention in the Leapfrog Fiction Contest, and nominated for the Foreword Indies Book Prize. Her stories and essays appear or are forthcoming in Waccamaw, Little Patuxent Review, The Island Review, The Spectacle, Quail Bell, and other venues. Her work has also been shortlisted for the Aeon Award (UK) and taken first prize in the Eyelands International Flash Fiction Competition (Greece). I’m an Afro-Chino-Cuban woman, a native of Bermuda.
 
 
Alex DiFrancesco is a multi-genre writer who has published work in Tin HouseThe Washington PostPacific StandardVol. 1 Brooklyn, The New Ohio Review, Brevity and more. In 2019, they published their essay collection Psychopomps (Civil Coping Mechanisms Press) and their novel All City (Seven Stories Press), which was a finalist for the Ohioana Book Awards. Their short story collection Transmutation (Seven Stories Press) is forthcoming in 2021. They are the recipient of grants and fellowships from PEN America and Sundress Academy for the Arts. They are an assistant editor at Sundress Publications.
 

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The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed: AWABI by Mandy-Suzanne Wong

Sumiko’s Daughters

Sumiko had no opportunity to wriggle into a  wetsuit until she was almost 30. Growing up, she dived in cotton shorts and a bandanna, imitating her mother’s straight-down dive, feet skyward shooting. Her mother taught her, as she’d learned from her mother, to live and dive and die in the current that commingled predators and prey and daughter-mothers, as it swirled and surged and flagged and swirled up again in time. Best day of my life, Sumiko would say, when she walked into the ocean with her mother and grandmother for the first time, a young teen with her own nomi,  mask, and barrel. They walked without mincing though waves towered over them. They laughed when the ocean slapped them in the face with the full force of its grandeur, three generations with their faces to the blue-on-blue. Sumiko’s mother  had a tendency to grumble later in life: 

Back then, I could catch 40 awabi a day. 10 years ago, I was down to 4 a day. Nowadays if you can find one, that’s really something. Even though there are no more feudal lords, it’s as if we’re ruled by numbers. How many,  how long, how short, how much . . . 

With chattering teeth, red eyes, and heavy barrels, the ama emerged from the water and huddled,  10 or 12 to a group, shuddering, kimono-swaddled,  around a small pit fire in the amagoya, their small bamboo hut. Later, goya were built with corrated tin sheets held down by rocks. They had showers and places to hang nets and floats, drying wetsuits, sodden underwear. Some even had doors, which the ama left open to keep an eye on the ocean. Though they sneaked emulous looks at other people’s catches, they would run back to the sea if anyone came into difficulty. 

The best thing about being an ama is the ocean. Second best: the snails. Third: the amagoya. That’s your real  home.  

It was a noisy place. Wood crackling, wetsuits  flapping, water hissing on the fire. Loud gossip,  singing, shouting fisherfolk tales (“The Big One”  or “The One That Got Away”), boasting about the size of the haul and the best and worst divers,  hollering bawdy jokes about husbands and which ama had better breasts.  

Outsiders thought the ama the opposite of beautiful. They were too brown from the sun,  too stocky with essential fat and muscle, coarse of hand and tongue, dirty with sand and slaughtered sea-snail slime, and always slithering into in-betweens. But their almost inhuman strangeness, the sense that their dolphinesque ability was some mutation, and the bareness that shocked  Mikimoto’s clientele, lured anthropologists, physiologists, and photographers to Kaiyōno. 


This selection comes from the book, AWABI, available from Digging Press.  Purchase your copy here! Our curator for this selection is Alex DiFrancesco.

Winner of the 2018 Digging Press Chapbook Series Award. Mandy-Suzanne Wong deftly explores the complex world of the ama—ocean women, mostly elderly, who eke out a living while diving deep to capture abalone, snails, and otherworldly sea creatures for food. Suffused with lyrical imagery and profound longing, Wong creates evocative moments of love, pride, jealousy, misunderstanding, and sacrifice in this duet of short stories. She’s also the author of the novel Drafts of a Suicide Note (Regal House, Oct 2019), which was a a finalist for the Permafrost Book Prize, a semifinalist for the Conium Review Book Prize, shortlisted for the SFWP Literary Award, awarded an honorable mention in the Leapfrog Fiction Contest, and nominated for the Foreword Indies Book Prize. Her stories and essays appear or are forthcoming in Waccamaw, Little Patuxent Review, The Island Review, The Spectacle, Quail Bell, and other venues. Her work has also been shortlisted for the Aeon Award (UK) and taken first prize in the Eyelands International Flash Fiction Competition (Greece). I’m an Afro-Chino-Cuban woman, a native of Bermuda.
 
 
Alex DiFrancesco is a multi-genre writer who has published work in Tin HouseThe Washington PostPacific StandardVol. 1 Brooklyn, The New Ohio Review, Brevity and more. In 2019, they published their essay collection Psychopomps (Civil Coping Mechanisms Press) and their novel All City (Seven Stories Press), which was a finalist for the Ohioana Book Awards. Their short story collection Transmutation (Seven Stories Press) is forthcoming in 2021. They are the recipient of grants and fellowships from PEN America and Sundress Academy for the Arts. They are an assistant editor at Sundress Publications.
 

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The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed: AWABI by Mandy-Suzanne Wong

Sumiko’s Daughters

As a child, she asked, Doesn’t it hurt them, ripping  them open? Shoving rocks down their throats?  This made her grandmother feel like a sapling  in an earthquake. At the factory, they said they  were helping oysters; culturing pearls helped  the oyster population to recover from previous  generations’ over-harvesting. Maybe they were  right, but so was Sumiko. Torturing oysters was  no better than killing them. 

Sumiko didn’t know it, but this was her first exposure to the feeling that drove every ama to frustration. The sense that their efforts to conserve were all for nothing.  


This selection comes from the book, AWABI, available from Digging Press.  Purchase your copy here! Our curator for this selection is Alex DiFrancesco.

Winner of the 2018 Digging Press Chapbook Series Award. Mandy-Suzanne Wong deftly explores the complex world of the ama—ocean women, mostly elderly, who eke out a living while diving deep to capture abalone, snails, and otherworldly sea creatures for food. Suffused with lyrical imagery and profound longing, Wong creates evocative moments of love, pride, jealousy, misunderstanding, and sacrifice in this duet of short stories. She’s also the author of the novel Drafts of a Suicide Note (Regal House, Oct 2019), which was a a finalist for the Permafrost Book Prize, a semifinalist for the Conium Review Book Prize, shortlisted for the SFWP Literary Award, awarded an honorable mention in the Leapfrog Fiction Contest, and nominated for the Foreword Indies Book Prize. Her stories and essays appear or are forthcoming in Waccamaw, Little Patuxent Review, The Island Review, The Spectacle, Quail Bell, and other venues. Her work has also been shortlisted for the Aeon Award (UK) and taken first prize in the Eyelands International Flash Fiction Competition (Greece). I’m an Afro-Chino-Cuban woman, a native of Bermuda.
 
 
Alex DiFrancesco is a multi-genre writer who has published work in Tin HouseThe Washington PostPacific StandardVol. 1 Brooklyn, The New Ohio Review, Brevity and more. In 2019, they published their essay collection Psychopomps (Civil Coping Mechanisms Press) and their novel All City (Seven Stories Press), which was a finalist for the Ohioana Book Awards. Their short story collection Transmutation (Seven Stories Press) is forthcoming in 2021. They are the recipient of grants and fellowships from PEN America and Sundress Academy for the Arts. They are an assistant editor at Sundress Publications.
 

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The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed: AWABI by Mandy-Suzanne Wong

Sumiko’s Daughters

Sumiko’s grandmother resisted the diving  mask. It would make them see too well, she said,  they would find and kill too many hidden snails.  And the mask magnified everything. It made her  fearful of kidnapping babies. 

10.6 centimeters. Use a ruler. A smidgen smaller and  you have to release them. Find somewhere dark and narrow  with kelp nearby. Give awabi babies every chance. Her grandmother balked at the wetsuit, too.  Disrespectful, she said, to go to the ocean like that.  You don’t see whales going around like that. Like umib ōzu. Plus you’re more likely to snag something and get stuck.  Then you’d drown. Wouldn’t happen if you dressed the way  your mother made you. 

The umibōzu were demons. They were glossy,  black, humanoid giants who thrashed the sea and stirred up deadly typhoons. Sumiko imagined her grandmother in a glossy, black, skin-tight outfit,  sneaking up on a boat and leaping out of the water to give all the men on the vessel the fright of their lives. The idea made Sumiko giggle. It made her grandmother scowl. Yet it was Sumiko’s grandmother (while her daughter-in-law, Sumiko’s mother, roared with laughter) who was the first  Nagata ama to wear clothes into the water. Skirt and blouse, pearl-white, they’d go down in history as the “traditional” costume of Japanese ama.  These outfits, amagi, offered little warmth, flailed in the water, and were designed in the twentieth century by the Mikimoto Pearl Company in Toba.


This selection comes from the book, AWABI, available from Digging Press.  Purchase your copy here! Our curator for this selection is Alex DiFrancesco.

Winner of the 2018 Digging Press Chapbook Series Award. Mandy-Suzanne Wong deftly explores the complex world of the ama—ocean women, mostly elderly, who eke out a living while diving deep to capture abalone, snails, and otherworldly sea creatures for food. Suffused with lyrical imagery and profound longing, Wong creates evocative moments of love, pride, jealousy, misunderstanding, and sacrifice in this duet of short stories. She’s also the author of the novel Drafts of a Suicide Note (Regal House, Oct 2019), which was a a finalist for the Permafrost Book Prize, a semifinalist for the Conium Review Book Prize, shortlisted for the SFWP Literary Award, awarded an honorable mention in the Leapfrog Fiction Contest, and nominated for the Foreword Indies Book Prize. Her stories and essays appear or are forthcoming in Waccamaw, Little Patuxent Review, The Island Review, The Spectacle, Quail Bell, and other venues. Her work has also been shortlisted for the Aeon Award (UK) and taken first prize in the Eyelands International Flash Fiction Competition (Greece). I’m an Afro-Chino-Cuban woman, a native of Bermuda.
 
 
Alex DiFrancesco is a multi-genre writer who has published work in Tin HouseThe Washington PostPacific StandardVol. 1 Brooklyn, The New Ohio Review, Brevity and more. In 2019, they published their essay collection Psychopomps (Civil Coping Mechanisms Press) and their novel All City (Seven Stories Press), which was a finalist for the Ohioana Book Awards. Their short story collection Transmutation (Seven Stories Press) is forthcoming in 2021. They are the recipient of grants and fellowships from PEN America and Sundress Academy for the Arts. They are an assistant editor at Sundress Publications.
 

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The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed: AWABI by Mandy-Suzanne Wong

Sumiko’s Daughters

She searched for snails: sazae with silver shells  like inverted whirlpools and their mother-of-pearl  abalone sisters, awabi, with such expressive eyes.  She also hunted their cousins: octopi, urchins,  spiny lobsters, sea stars, seaweeds, and sea cucumbers, the chubby and slimy namako. But  awabi were above all. Noshi awabi was the sacred sustenance of the divine kami Amaterasu,  ancestress of all Japan, and luxury markets paid  ¥8,000 per pound for awabi sashimi. 

Even men followed awabi into the water when prawns were scarce or finned fishes weren’t biting. But men preferred fishing from boats atop the sunlit surface. Grubbing in the sand between light and dark, air and water, life and death; turning over rocks and plunging hands into black crevices, the secret lairs of biting eels and stinging puffer fish; battling the cold, the currents, struggling mollusks, and the fighting urge to breathe:  that was women’s work. Sumiko learned from her grandmother, who’d learned from her own grandmother, that throughout the Edo period no community incurred greater disdain than the ama. They were hinnin, strangers who dirtied themselves with death’s dirty work. But from her mother and grandmother, Sumiko inherited the belief that all ama shared. It wasn’t that women  and snail-seeking were ignoble:  

Women and the ocean, we are a natural match. Only women can bear it when the ocean’s touch goes deep. Only women have enough of the right kind of body fat to withstand the biting cold. Women needn’t fear the ocean’s chilling love. And ama mustn’t be afraid. That’s why ama are women.


This selection comes from the book, AWABI, available from Digging Press.  Purchase your copy here! Our curator for this selection is Alex DiFrancesco.

Winner of the 2018 Digging Press Chapbook Series Award. Mandy-Suzanne Wong deftly explores the complex world of the ama—ocean women, mostly elderly, who eke out a living while diving deep to capture abalone, snails, and otherworldly sea creatures for food. Suffused with lyrical imagery and profound longing, Wong creates evocative moments of love, pride, jealousy, misunderstanding, and sacrifice in this duet of short stories. She’s also the author of the novel Drafts of a Suicide Note (Regal House, Oct 2019), which was a a finalist for the Permafrost Book Prize, a semifinalist for the Conium Review Book Prize, shortlisted for the SFWP Literary Award, awarded an honorable mention in the Leapfrog Fiction Contest, and nominated for the Foreword Indies Book Prize. Her stories and essays appear or are forthcoming in Waccamaw, Little Patuxent Review, The Island Review, The Spectacle, Quail Bell, and other venues. Her work has also been shortlisted for the Aeon Award (UK) and taken first prize in the Eyelands International Flash Fiction Competition (Greece). I’m an Afro-Chino-Cuban woman, a native of Bermuda.
 
 
Alex DiFrancesco is a multi-genre writer who has published work in Tin HouseThe Washington PostPacific StandardVol. 1 Brooklyn, The New Ohio Review, Brevity and more. In 2019, they published their essay collection Psychopomps (Civil Coping Mechanisms Press) and their novel All City (Seven Stories Press), which was a finalist for the Ohioana Book Awards. Their short story collection Transmutation (Seven Stories Press) is forthcoming in 2021. They are the recipient of grants and fellowships from PEN America and Sundress Academy for the Arts. They are an assistant editor at Sundress Publications.
 

 

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The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed: Pretty to Think So by Samantha Edmonds

A 100% True Totally Not Fictional Ghost Story

He follows me everywhere: work, gym, drive-thru, home. No one else
sees him—not my brightest students, or the woman on the treadmill
next to me, or the man who gives me my veggie burger. Not even the
dog sees him when she wags her tail right through his torso, but I know
he is there. Always, I feel him; I can never forget the feel of him now.
One day I ask him, this ghost of mine: “Please, won’t you just
go?”
I could go, he says. But I’ve been alone for so long, and you are
so very beautiful, he says.
I feel broken, he says.
I feel more than hear myself say, “If I can fix you, I’d be very
happy.”
He stays.
Over time, I come to enjoy his company, like the imaginary friends my
kindergartners bring to school. And the longer he stays, the more often
he smiles, and I find myself smiling too, watching him in a front-row
desk while I teach phonics, floating in the passenger seat on the way to
the grocery store. I smile to make him smile. I want my joy to be
contagious. But as the weeks become months, I begin to grow tired. My
cheeks hurt, my eyes too. The more he smiles, the less I do, his ethereal
pearly whites make me crazy. It’s fucking exhausting to try to be happy
all the time. I feel not chosen but haunted.
I hear you now, thinking, “If he’s smiling, how bad can he be?”
But his smile—after a while, it’s not enough. Soon your love for his
upturned mouth will cause you to long for a kiss. But you can’t kiss a
ghost. No matter how persistently he lingers. And suddenly that smile
you can never share with him becomes the saddest thing in the entire
world.

“Stop,” I say, one summer evening. The sun stays late in the sky
and I don’t see a single human of flesh and bone, just his foggy presence
behind me as I kneel in the garden. “I’d rather you haunt me like a ghoul
than a friend,” I beg. “Hide between the wrapping paper tubes under
the bed and creep behind the cracked bathroom mirror, move my keys
around the house and close the back door when there’s no breeze—
terrify me, frighten me! Just stop smiling at me like I’m something
special.”
He raises a hand like a cloud and rests it against my cheek. It
passes right through. You have made me feel so good, he says, an
apology and a thank you all in one.
I’ve gone out on a date only once since having my ghost, just to try it,
with a boy who looked at me like I was a star in the sky. I’d hoped that
just by being near him some of that affection would pass on to me. But
in the Outback parking lot after dinner, I saw my smiling ghost over my
date’s shoulder. I let the boy with stars in his eyes kiss me; I leaned way
back when his lips touched mine, like dipping in dance. My date likely
thought it was romantic but I knew it was my body trying to get away
from him even as I was slipping my tongue in his mouth, pressing my
fingers against his cheeks.
My ghost was still there when I opened my eyes and he
followed me home like he had followed me there. I think I hate him
but I know I love him, and so I do not call the star-struck boy back. (I
hope he finds a girl who thinks the world of him and leans into his
kisses.)
The day comes when I can’t get out of bed. I call off work, turn
to him, sigh. “This can’t keep happening.” I raise my hand to wave him
away, like you do with smoke or a bad smell. Then I notice my arm has
taken on the same wispy composition as his. The triangular black and
white pattern of my bedspread is visible through my skin.

I leap out of bed and check my reflection in the mirror, and
yes, there I am—solid still, except my right arm. My ghost is fluttering
about me. He has no idea what’s happening, but I do. I reach out with
my ghost hand to touch him as I have done hundreds of times, expecting
to feel air and disappointment, but when my palm feels his cheek—
clean-shaven, but scratchy still—I begin to laugh. He brings his right
hand up and lays it on top of mine, but it passes through my fingers and
then through his face. I drop my ghost limb, stunned. His right hand is
as solid as mine used to be.
He stares at his hand without satisfaction or a hint of deceit. He
did not know this would happen.
I am not sorry, standing here with my hand on his cheek. Finally,
this love that has been building inside me like a storm has found a way
to do something. I thought at times I’d drown in that love before it ever
had the chance to rain on him, but here it is. Touching him, I have never
loved him more.
My transformation is complete by sundown. With every part I
lose, his solidifies. I only wish we did not have to be mirrors of each
other, that we could exist together on the same plane.
He stands before me, a man again.
“I am happy to do this for you,” I say, and I don’t know if I mean
it but I think I probably do, and that’s the worst.
He smiles once more, and then he leaves. I hear he falls in love
with a woman tall and blond, and maybe one day he’ll marry her.


This selection comes from the book, Pretty to Think So, available from Selcouth Station Press.  Purchase your copy here! Our curator for this selection is Alex DiFrancesco.

Samatha Edmonds am the Fiction Editor for Doubleback Review, a new lit journal in the Sundress Publications family, as well as the new Assistant Fiction Editor for Sundress Publications. My work appears in Ninth Letter, The Rumpus, Black Warrior Review, and McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, among others. I currently live in Columbia MO, where I’m a PhD student in fiction at the University of Missouri.
 
 
Alex DiFrancesco is a multi-genre writer who has published work in Tin HouseThe Washington PostPacific StandardVol. 1 Brooklyn, The New Ohio Review, Brevity and more. In 2019, they published their essay collection Psychopomps (Civil Coping Mechanisms Press) and their novel All City (Seven Stories Press), which was a finalist for the Ohioana Book Awards. Their short story collection Transmutation (Seven Stories Press) is forthcoming in 2021. They are the recipient of grants and fellowships from PEN America and Sundress Academy for the Arts. They are an assistant editor at Sundress Publications.
 

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The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed: Pretty to Think So by Samantha Edmonds

That One Nightstand, and That One Nightstand, and That Other
One Nightstand…

“Fair Jenny mine, the thoughtless queen of kisses.” —
Dante Rossetti

When babies are first born, they spend almost 100% of their time on
their backs. Maybe she just never grew out of that—some people don’t,
you know? Which is probably why people see her most nights at the bar
on the corner. She smiles at the bartender, who has hair that shines like
silk, and she winks at the bouncer, who looks like a Greek God, and who
she imagines could kick serious ass if he got his head out of his own once
in a while. It is reported that she chats up the guy on the barstool beside
her, who is hot as hell but writes ‘board of this place yet?’ on the napkin
between them. The working hypothesis is this: as long as he never texts
or emails her, or basically ever communicates via the written word, and
if they spend the entirety of their time together face-to-sinfully-sexyface, then no, she won’t get board, or borde, or even bored (any more than she already is, anyway).
She imagines a world in which she would begin to lose things.
She might leave her keys on a black nightstand with silver handles and
have to call a locksmith to get back into her own apartment. Then she
could forget her cell phone on the locksmith’s nightstand the next night
and then leave the replacement cell phone on the nightstand beside the
Verizon salesman the morning after. She might forget headbands and
necklaces on countless, indistinguishable brown oak nightstands, and
may even once leave her wallet on a nightstand that holds an alarm
clock shaped like Mickey Mouse. She could lose metro cards, earrings,
lip glosses; then she’d lose her mind but she’d never go back for it. She’d
never go back for any of it.


This selection comes from the book, Pretty to Think So, available from Selcouth Station Press.  Purchase your copy here! Our curator for this selection is Alex DiFrancesco.

Samatha Edmonds am the Fiction Editor for Doubleback Review, a new lit journal in the Sundress Publications family, as well as the new Assistant Fiction Editor for Sundress Publications. My work appears in Ninth Letter, The Rumpus, Black Warrior Review, and McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, among others. I currently live in Columbia MO, where I’m a PhD student in fiction at the University of Missouri.
 
 
Alex DiFrancesco is a multi-genre writer who has published work in Tin HouseThe Washington PostPacific StandardVol. 1 Brooklyn, The New Ohio Review, Brevity and more. In 2019, they published their essay collection Psychopomps (Civil Coping Mechanisms Press) and their novel All City (Seven Stories Press), which was a finalist for the Ohioana Book Awards. Their short story collection Transmutation (Seven Stories Press) is forthcoming in 2021. They are the recipient of grants and fellowships from PEN America and Sundress Academy for the Arts. They are an assistant editor at Sundress Publications.
 

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The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed: Pretty to Think So by Samantha Edmonds

Superman, or: How My 9th Grade Book Report Went All Wrong

Superman doesn’t end up with Wonder Woman. Isn’t that wild? I had
always seen them as an item, traveling around in space on some great
big adventure—they’re an obvious, natural fit. But they don’t. Fit, I
mean. Instead, Superman, this invincible, amazing hero, falls for Lois
Lane. And, like, who is Lois Lane, anyway? She’s just a journalist. In
Metropolis. Which could be, you know, anywhere. Ohio, maybe. She
doesn’t have a magic lasso or superpowers. She can’t fly. She doesn’t
even wear a disguise. I bet she’s never even left her hometown of
cornfields and grain and Sunday School and listening to her mother. Lois
Lane is ground-tied: all she can do is watch him fly off to work, saving
the world. While Wonder Woman fights by his side. I wonder if Lois Lane
was ever jealous of Wonder Woman. Superhero and superheroine seem
more compatible than superhero and journalist. Superhero and mortal.
And yet. He doesn’t love Wonder Woman. Even though maybe
he should. He loves Lois Lane. The journalist. Maybe the hero, the super
part of Superman, would naturally be drawn to Wonder Woman. But
that’s not who he is. Not completely, I mean. Because Superman is also
Clark Kent. He’s a journalist, too. A nobody, a nerd. With glasses. From
a place called Smallville. And what he wants is lovely, lonely Lois Lane.
He could go for the super woman. He’s a super man, after all. But he is
also normal. So he goes for the normal girl. He is both and can have
either. And he chooses Lois Lane.
The Clark Kent in Superman is stronger than the superpowers
he possesses, is what I’m saying.
And, well, I love that story. Lois Lane doesn’t have to be a
goddess, or even a super woman. To win his love—get his attention, I
mean. And I just think, since it happened for Lois Lane, that maybe
there’s hope out there for all of us. The girls that are more like Lois Lane,
you know, than Wonder Woman.


This selection comes from the book, Pretty to Think So, available from Selcouth Station Press.  Purchase your copy here! Our curator for this selection is Alex DiFrancesco.

Samatha Edmonds am the Fiction Editor for Doubleback Review, a new lit journal in the Sundress Publications family, as well as the new Assistant Fiction Editor for Sundress Publications. My work appears in Ninth Letter, The Rumpus, Black Warrior Review, and McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, among others. I currently live in Columbia MO, where I’m a PhD student in fiction at the University of Missouri.
 
 
Alex DiFrancesco is a multi-genre writer who has published work in Tin HouseThe Washington PostPacific StandardVol. 1 Brooklyn, The New Ohio Review, Brevity and more. In 2019, they published their essay collection Psychopomps (Civil Coping Mechanisms Press) and their novel All City (Seven Stories Press), which was a finalist for the Ohioana Book Awards. Their short story collection Transmutation (Seven Stories Press) is forthcoming in 2021. They are the recipient of grants and fellowships from PEN America and Sundress Academy for the Arts. They are an assistant editor at Sundress Publications.
 

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The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed: Pretty to Think So by Samantha Edmonds

Better Living Cookbook: Recipe for a Real Girl

Ingredients:
• The so-happy-your-heart-hurts teeth from your first love
• A dusting of powder, a streak of eyeliner
• The curvy eyebrows of the boy who wasn’t as smart as you
• The dogged persistence of the boy who never asked
• The wrinkled, soft hands of the man you’ll never regret
• Brains, your own (measure amount carefully, too much of this
can ruin the entire dish)
• The heart-shaped freckle on the right shoulder blade of the one
you lost
• The gentlemanly manners of the one you never said yes to
• Blue eyes from someone, sculpted arms from another, and
mouths from them all
• Pieces and parts of all the boys you have ever known, Eve
carving herself from Adam
• A mascara’d crust to put it all in, to hold it all together


PREP TIME COOK TIME READY IN
65 Minutes 20-30 years a lifetime, if you’re lucky

Preparation:

  1. Boil thoroughly in a long, hot shower.
  2. Shave legs and under arms. (Tip: Shave the knees a second
    time; no matter how hard and close you press the blade, there
    will always remain a few solitary hairs there, defiant in
    sunlight.)
  3. Moisturize, lotion, perfume.
  4. Slice and dice a garment for wearing until at first glance it looks
    modest with potential for accidental sex appeal.
    13
  5. Knead the still-damp hair under fingers and leave to air dry in a
    casual, messy way. (Tip: Don’t rush this step—sometimes it’s
    necessary to spend several minutes ensuring the part is just the
    perfect kind of crooked; it can take hours of preparation to
    achieve this natural look.)

Cooking Instructions:

  1. Let simmer until he arrives.
  2. Sift through restaurant options. (Tip: Don’t mention you hate
    hamburgers when he suggests the local burger joint.)
  3. Sprinkle laughs on all his jokes, especially the ones in poorest
    taste.
  4. For extra flavoring, add a kiss.
  5. Carve the smile from his lips to keep for yourself.
  6. Flip half-heartedly for the check, to ensure even browning, but
    back down when he insists—grate this chivalry into fine pieces
    and save them.
  7. Squeeze the fingers off the hand you’re holding to never forget
    the feel of them.
  8. Melt into his arms, chop them at the shoulders to keep around
    you always.
  9. Peel the freckles off his back, set aside.
  10. Whisk conversation in a restaurant or a car, careful of dark
    secrets boiling over, stir occasionally.
  11. Strain out the excess, and keep the parts of him you like best.
  12. Bake arms and freckles and hands and mouths into warm pie.
  13. Remove from oven, allow 10 minutes to cool.
  14. Best served quickly, as soon as you return; swallow these parts
    of him and make them yours, and he will see himself in you and
    be glad.
  15. Wait for him to call again—and repeat.

Chef’s Note: We have determined the nutritional value of a first date
based on a retention value of 10% after cooking. The exact amount may
vary depending on cook time and temperature, ingredient density, and
the specific type of boy used.


This selection comes from the book, Pretty to Think So, available from Selcouth Station Press.  Purchase your copy here! Our curator for this selection is Alex DiFrancesco.

Samatha Edmonds am the Fiction Editor for Doubleback Review, a new lit journal in the Sundress Publications family, as well as the new Assistant Fiction Editor for Sundress Publications. My work appears in Ninth Letter, The Rumpus, Black Warrior Review, and McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, among others. I currently live in Columbia MO, where I’m a PhD student in fiction at the University of Missouri.
 
 
Alex DiFrancesco is a multi-genre writer who has published work in Tin HouseThe Washington PostPacific StandardVol. 1 Brooklyn, The New Ohio Review, Brevity and more. In 2019, they published their essay collection Psychopomps (Civil Coping Mechanisms Press) and their novel All City (Seven Stories Press), which was a finalist for the Ohioana Book Awards. Their short story collection Transmutation (Seven Stories Press) is forthcoming in 2021. They are the recipient of grants and fellowships from PEN America and Sundress Academy for the Arts. They are an assistant editor at Sundress Publications.
 

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The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed: Pretty to Think So by Samantha Edmonds

High School Sweet Non-Hearts, or: I Was Definitely Smarter Than Him

Within a thirty-mile radius, the Butler County Fair is the pinnacle of
summertime existence in the lives of young people. If you are a
teenaged-Midwesterner, there is simply no place else to be on a
Saturday night in July. All your friends will be there, not to mention your
younger brother, his girlfriend, everyone from high school—including
an old classmate of yours, let’s call him Willy Thompson. He is long and
lean and has this peculiar way of moving his eyebrows up and down
whenever he speaks, like punctuation in a written sentence. You can
never decide if this is charming or ridiculous, but at least he has a car.
This particular Saturday night, you have somehow ended up at
the Butler County Fair alone with Willy. He asked you—specifically—to
come with him, but it’s not a date or anything, you hope it’s more
circumstantial than that. It seemed almost an accident that you have
somehow ended up walking side by side with Willy, talking about if
college is worth it.
I’m just so over school, he says, you know? I’m ready to get out
of here and make something of myself.
What would you make of yourself? you ask, thinking how much
you like this idea: making yourself, as if from scratch, picking and
choosing ingredients at will.
I don’t know. He runs a hand over his tobacco brown hair, but it
is cropped so short that his fingers just pass through air. He cut it last
year, when he was thinking of joining the army and wanted to try out
the buzzed look. You liked the longer hair better. I just want to be
working, he adds, maybe head out West? I like working with my hands.
You find yourself admiring the fact that yes, he does have the
body for manual labor.
Like ‘The Grapes of Wrath,’ you say, thinking of the Joads going
to California to pick peaches.
His eyebrows cease their vertical movements and furrow over
his eyes. Grapes of what?
It’s a book, you tell him. I read it in English class. You don’t
remind him he was in that class with you.
The two of you walk a bit more and you think of how romantic
it would be if he took you on the Ferris wheel, or maybe bought you a
sno-cone. You pass the aisle with all the games and a man calls out for
the boy to win the lady a prize. Willy looks at you and grins. The upward
tilt of his mouth has nothing on the curve of those eyebrows. Okay,
yeah, let’s give ‘er a try.
He gives the man three dollars and throws a dart, pops the
balloon. The man gestures for anything on the back wall. Willy studies
the stuffed animals with an intensity you wish he had applied to
Steinbeck.
What do you want? he says.
You see a cute bear at the bottom of the stack, yellow like
Winnie the Pooh with a hat that reminds you of Indiana Jones, but all
you say is, You pick for me.
He points to a stuffed monkey in a rainbow beanie. That one.
He hands it to you. Don’t say I never gave you anything.
Thanks, you say.
After that Willy says he wants to save his money and so you
leave the games lined up like ducks in a row, and the rides spinning and
twirling and lighting up the night sky like noontime. You head toward the
animal barns instead, which pleases you. The shrieks of other people’s
laughter fall behind and you are more alone with Willy than you have
ever been before. This pleases you too—or you know that it’s supposed
to, and that’s close enough.
Later you will not remember what you talk about walking
through the goat barn, the cow arena, the pig stalls. What you will
remember is when you ask him if the two of you can go to see the horses
and he says, Of course. You skip a little bit ahead of him, greet each new
horse like an old friend. Hi pretty girl, and a click of your tongue. Hello
sweet boy, with a smooching sound. The horse slobbers on the stuffed
monkey in your hand and you are not sorry.
Willy stands just behind you, hands in his pockets. What is it
about chicks and horses? He laughs.
When you look over your shoulder at him you wonder if he
always had that odd way of talking out of the side of his mouth.
I just like them, you say.
A buddy of mine has two big stallions, he says. He kicks at the
dirt. He is trying, maybe, to impress you.
Stallions? You are amazed and, at first, also impressed, like he
wanted. You have never heard of anyone casually owning a stallion.
Keeping two male unneutered horses together is a high risk. You ask,
What does he do with them?
He uses them to pull his plow, I think. They’re huge, like twice
the size of these guys. He gestures to the chestnut quarter horse you’re
petting in front of him.
What does he mean? Clysdesdales, draft horses?
Does he breed them? you ask, because why else would anyone
not neuter their male horses?
Nah, says Willy. But one is a boy and one is a girl, I think.
You say, Uh huh. Afterwards, when you are both walking back
to his car, you let him hold your hand. His fingers are rough and red and
sweaty. Yours feel squished in his big palm. You are standing in sun
made from the headlights of his car, which he has started with a click of
a button from the keys in his pocket. There is a moment when he almost
walks to his side of the vehicle and you to yours but instead you call him
back.
Yeah? he says, standing right in front of you now.
Suddenly you lose your nerve, maybe even change your mind,
but he still sees it in your eyes. When he kisses you his chapped lips are
slobbery and yours are still. Later, all you will remember thinking is,
How the hell are you supposed to do this?
It is your first kiss and you hate it.
He joins the army and three years later he will end up with a girl
named Amanda who smiles sweet but empty. At least, you think it was
Willy that joined the army. Maybe that was another boy. Certainly,
though, he was the boy who kissed you for the very first time in front
of a car. Wasn’t he? It is so hard, sometimes, to remember.
Either way, when you see his photos with another girl on
Facebook, you will remind yourself about his friend’s female stallion.


This selection comes from the book, Pretty to Think So, available from Selcouth Station Press.  Purchase your copy here! Our curator for this selection is Alex DiFrancesco.

Samatha Edmonds am the Fiction Editor for Doubleback Review, a new lit journal in the Sundress Publications family, as well as the new Assistant Fiction Editor for Sundress Publications. My work appears in Ninth Letter, The Rumpus, Black Warrior Review, and McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, among others. I currently live in Columbia MO, where I’m a PhD student in fiction at the University of Missouri.
 
 
Alex DiFrancesco is a multi-genre writer who has published work in Tin HouseThe Washington PostPacific StandardVol. 1 Brooklyn, The New Ohio Review, Brevity and more. In 2019, they published their essay collection Psychopomps (Civil Coping Mechanisms Press) and their novel All City (Seven Stories Press), which was a finalist for the Ohioana Book Awards. Their short story collection Transmutation (Seven Stories Press) is forthcoming in 2021. They are the recipient of grants and fellowships from PEN America and Sundress Academy for the Arts. They are an assistant editor at Sundress Publications.
 

 

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