Leni Zumas is the author of the story collection Farewell Navigator (Open City, 2008). Her work has appeared most recently in New York Tyrant, Harp & Altar, Quarterly West, and New Orleans Review. She is a 2008 Fellow in Fiction from the New York Foundation for the Arts and currently teaches at Columbia University.
Excerpt from The Everything Hater, a short story:
My brother has enrolled in a writing class at the community center and says the other students make him want to kill himself and one day soon, he warns us, he probably will. Our mother laughs, but tells me to keep an eye peeled. My duties as the non-suicidal child include frequent phone calls and unannounced visits. I call frequently, and if he doesn’t answer I call back until he does. I drive over to his apartment and stay an hour or two, coughing on his smoke, listening to crackly records whose brilliance he says I don’t appreciate.
There is often a pile of dishes crusting next to the sink. Not in the sink, because Horace needs the sink for watering and draining his large pots of decorative nightshade. You don’t have to, he might say feebly, as I turn the taps, to which I reply, It’s not a big deal, because it isn’t, after all, a big deal to soap and rinse a few cups. So why doesn’t he wash them himself? I accuse my mother of raising a boy who can’t do his own dishes and of raising a girl who feels obliged to do them instead. Don’t give me that, she says, did you check the bathroom? and I nod and say, Just mouthwash! because it would not ease her mind to tell her what is in my brother’s medicine cabinet.
What are you writing about for your class? I ask when the plates are dripping on the rack, September wind pushing the panes, night ready to fall.
Some bullshit, he says. Story or poem? You could call it a story, he says, if you were feeling generous. About what?
You’re asking the wrong question, he says, pressing his finger down on a little spider inching across the stacked guitar cases that serve as coffee table. Die, die, my darling, he whispers before announcing, A saltworthy story isn’t about something– it is that something itself.
Then what is the something that your story is? Bullshit, my brother replies.
If he happens to be in a good mood, he will ask me a question or two. How is my sell-out job? Have I found a boyfriend yet or is there no man alive under the age of fifty willing to go to bed with me at ten P.M.? Do I derive satisfaction from my sell-out job? Do I remember that I used to be creative, back in childhood when I made dolls out of pebbles and felt? Can I lend him eighty dollars? Does Mom consider him pathetic? Would Dad have considered him pathetic? If eighty’s too steep, how about sixty?