FICTION: The Deaths of Popular Adjectives


Evan stops Sarah in the hallway between first and second period and tells her that she is “pretty,” and what he means by this is, “I’d like to be repaid for this compliment later,” and then shoves it in his pocket. The other students pretend not to notice the bulge.



Some twenty years ago Desi is perusing the doll aisle of a toy store, fingering each package thoughtfully before returning to the register empty-handed. When her mother asks why she didn’t choose a doll to take home, Desi’s face falls like heavy rain. “They all look different than me,” she says. Her mother gives her a big hug then slaps that damn word down on the counter for the cashier to figure out what to do with.



Amber drunk texts Rebecca and asks if she is happy. “Like, truly happy,” she says. Rebecca’s typing bubble appears and disappears at least fifty times before she finally says, “Yeah I am,” and the absence of the adjective walks coldly through Amber like a ghost.



Jonathan’s Tinder bio says, “Difficult to be with,” and when women ask him what that means, he sends a wink face emoji and says, “You’ll have to find out for yourself.” More often than not, what the women discover is that difficult means Jonathan winds up ghosting them after getting head in the parking lot of South Shore Sushi. The women swallow that word whether they want to or not, and it burns all the way down to their thrashing bellies.



On his way into work, Ron passes Jeremy, who holds a sign asking for a little help. He stops to chat since they are friendly and Jeremy tells him how he was assaulted by a cop for sleeping in the park. Ron gives Jeremy his condolences and a five-dollar bill then heads on into the office, his hands shaking. He asks his coworker, Cornelius, if he’s heard about Jeremy. He says, “Where have you been, man? That’s old news.” Ron says, “But it’s not old to Jeremy,” and Cornelius says, “But that’s not how time works.”



Sam goes over to Phoebe’s house after school and Phoebe’s mom makes the girls salmon and kale salad. Sam has never had either before and spits most of the kale into her napkin when she thinks no one is looking. Phoebe catches her in the act and giggles then asks Sam what she usually eats for lunch. Sam grins and says, “Steak-umms.” “Oh, that’s my favorite poor people food, too!” exclaims Phoebe and Phoebe’s mom chokes on the word, like a bone wedged in her throat. Sam gives her the Heimlich and the word splatters against the kitchen window, sticking the way poor so often does.



An excited Joey runs up to his father, who is working on an important project on his computer, brow furrowed, two fingers lightly tapping the mouse, and says, “Dad, look at this desert I painted,” and his father says, “That’s interesting” without looking away from his screen. Joey returns to his room where he stuffs the word in his nightstand and reads it like scripture every night before bed, urging himself to believe in what he cannot feel.



Yolanda approaches Lydia at the cocktail bar and in a fleeting moment of courage, asks her if she is available. “Like how?” Lydia asks and Yolanda shrugs and downs her whiskey sour since she’d rather be alone than embarrassed. Lydia gets drunk and texts her not-boyfriend to come over and she lies in his arms until he almost makes sense.



Brad comes home at 3 a.m. from the bar and climbs into bed reeking of Jameson and cigarettes and oddly, nectarines. In the morning, over coffee and eggs, Veronica says, “Next time could you let me know you’ll be home so late?” and Brad slams his coffee mug on the table and says, “Why do you have to so god damn emotional all the time?” He says it like he’d rather catch her bent over a dead body.



Alexandra lives twenty miles north of the U.S.-Mexico border and yet her neighborhood is as white as the whitewashed fences that keep a very particular type of stranger out. When she travels to other more diverse neighborhoods, she jokingly refers to them as “Mexico” and none of her friends laugh.



“Can they be useful to me?” the world whispers behind closed doors. This question is instilled in every interaction, every meeting, every moment of connection. “What do I get out of this?” the world wonders, spinning madly on its axis.



Ilana and Jamie sit on the couch drinking Chardonnay while waiting for the election results. Ilana thinks the red screen looks blood-smeared. “I’m scared,” she says, looking to her friend for reassurance, or perhaps solidarity. “I know,” says Jamie, which isn’t the same as “Me too.” Ilana then tweets that she’s scared and someone comments a drooling emoji followed by an eggplant.



“It all feels so impossible,” says Evan, says Sarah, says Desi, says Desi’s mother, says Amber, says Rebecca, says Jonathan, says the women Jonathan hurts, says Jeremy, says Ron, says Cornelius, says Sam, says Phoebe, says Phoebe’s mother, says Joey, says Joey’s father, says Yolanda, says Lydia, says Lydia’s not-boyfriend, says Brad, says Veronica, says Brad’s nectarine-scented side chick, says Alexandra, says the people assaulted at the border, says Ilana, says Jamie, says Ilana’s Twitter troll, says the world.

When they say impossible, they mean impossible. The world and everyone in it. The word burns slowly, crackling and popping, and the smoke climbs the sky in beautiful swirls, signaling absolutely no one.

Marisa Crane's work has appeared or is forthcoming in Jellyfish Review, Pithead Chapel, Pidgeonholes, Pigeon Pages, Drunk Monkeys, Maudlin House, Bending Genres, Cotton Xenomorph, Okay Donkey and elsewhere.

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