Virginia Konchan will be reading from her new book of fiction, Anatomical Gift, (Nocturary Press) on Monday, October 23, at Bluestockings Bookstore, New York, New York, from 7-9:30 PM. She will be joined by fiction writers Lesley Trites, Glenn Shaheen, and Philip Brunst.
The following is an excerpt from “Riddle of the Sphinx,” one of the stories in Konchan’s new collection.
We met at a fundraiser, a death-rally by a local non-profit for a domestic violence shelter depending upon the mercurial largess of doddery millionaires by way of a $10,000 check to sustain their 50-bed shelter, and suicide hotline.
I was working part-time for a catering company, Amuse Bouche, not having found better work in the year since receiving my hospitality management degree from the University of Pittsburgh in any other capacity than as a food stylist, carefully folding shaved salmon on pumpernickel rounds, festooning the labia-looking fold with a sprig of dill, then taking twenty drool-inducing shots, playing with lenses, so that the salmon appeared dusty rose, then an enchanted shade of tangerine. I had three clients: a two-star restaurant, a cookbook publisher, and Faye, a stay-at-home mom who was launching her own business making organic baby food.
The pay for food photography killed that of catering retirement luncheons and weddings, though this event was more interesting than most, especially when a miscreant more pissed-off than me started parading the floor, maroon linen napkin draped over his arm, holding a bottle of Veuve Clicquot to top off the guests’ champagne flutes. He looked like a busboy in a South American hotel: the scowl of colonial subjectivity was stamped on his face like a Hitler mustache.
“What’s your name,” he asked coldly, materializing at my side.
“Ghosts don’t have names.” I lifted my arm. “What you’re seeing here? This is an acid trail of a phantom limb.” I laughed. As was customary when I laughed, once a year, I laughed alone.
“How did you die?”
“Disease, domestic violence, overwork. And meth!”
“Wow.” He began scratching a scabbed tattoo on his arm, of a Bald Eagle, mid-screech. The guests had been served cocktails and champagne and our duties were at low tide. Bored, we decided to tell riddles. It required both memory, imagination, and basic performance skills. I didn’t expect him to pull through. He began. “If you know me then I am nothing, but if you don’t, then I am something. What am I?”
“An unborn god giving birth to the world?”
“A riddle. Ha ha ha!” His laugh was harsh and rakish.
“Well, that’s cool. What is god, but a self-reflexive tautology? Ok my turn. What goes on four feet in the morning, two feet at noon, and three feet in the evening?”
“You’re not even going to try to guess?”
He shook his head.
“Man! It’s a fable for the journey of life, the third foot representing a walking cane. When Oedipus answered the riddle correctly, the Sphinx was so upset that she killed herself.”
“I am the white space. I am what is missing yet, when present, you abhor.”
“Conceptual poetry? Invisible minorities? No. Cocaine!”
“Women. Actually, I don’t know. I made that one up.”
“Women are invisible minorities, pal. They work OT for free in the care economy.”
Virginia Konchan is the author of a collection of poetry, The End of Spectacle (Carnegie Mellon, 2018), a collection of short stories, Anatomical Gift (Noctuary Press, 2017), and two chapbooks, including That Tree is Mine (dancing girl press, 2017). Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, The New Republic, and Best New Poets, and her honors include an NEH fellowship and an Illinois Arts Council Award. Co-founder of Matter, a journal of poetry and political commentary, and Associate Editor for Tupelo Quarterly, she teaches at Marist College.