The Ginny Suite


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The following is from Stacy Skolnik’s debut novel The Ginny Suite. Skolnik is the author of the poetry collection mrsblueeyes123.com (self-released, 2019), the chapbook Sparrows (Belladonna* Collaborative, 2023), the workbook From the Punitive to the Ludic: Prompts for Writing Public Apologies (with Thomas Laprade for Montez Press Radio, KAJE, 2022), and the chapbook Rat Park (with Katie Della-Valle, Montez Press, 2018). She is a co-founder and co-director of Montez Press Radio, the Lower East Side-based broadcast and performance platform.

Arrows

“When I think about it too much, it comes out like shit,” she told Mira. “It needs to come out by itself. I need to not over-intellectualize it.”

She’d been commissioned to write a story for Arrow, a literary magazine lost in the sea of other literary magazines. There seemed to be more literary magazines than there were readers, which in a way was a relief—being able to say she’d published somewhere with semi-prestigious connotations while having the comfort, on the other hand, of knowing that no one would ever actually see the thing. While she wanted the story to be good on the off chance that the issue found its way into the hands of someone she, without fully comprehending why, respected, she knew it didn’t really matter because in all likelihood, only ten people would ever pick it up. Half of them would be on the magazine’s staff and, having worked until fairly recently for a magazine herself, she knew that no matter what she submitted, they would hate-read it.

Nevertheless, she could use the one hundred dollar honorarium and something to place inside the widening gap in her CV, now that it’d been a couple of months since she’d been let go from her job for, her boss said, not being a good “organizational fit,” an explanation vague enough to be somewhat insulting, yet effective enough to make her run through in her mind all of the untoward remarks she’d made jokingly with her coworkers, all of the policies she’d blatantly ignored. Her inability to play the professional part, her undiplomatic tendency to brashly speak her mind, proved a disservice once again. But if not herself, who would she be?

This conversation with Mira was part of the process of making herself believe that she knew what of her writing was good, decent, or bad, of convincing herself that there was no marked difference between the quality of her first and fifth drafts at all, between the narratives she jotted into her phone while drunk or on the toilet, and the stories she developed when she actually, though rarely, sat down at her desk for a few strained but productive hours, following the advice of pop-up ridden articles she skimmed after Googling “how to be a writer,” or, even more desperate, “how to know what to write.” Step one: Be interesting. An immediate roadblock, she would think to herself.

The name Arrow for a magazine pleased her because the arrow always directed the theme of the writing. She imagined herself holding a bow and arrow, taking aim. Alternatively, she could see multiple arrows pointing in different directions, or one suspended in mid-air, flexed back at her. This time the arrow was pointing towards the word “mother.” But she didn’t really have much of a mother, nor was she herself a mother or intending to ever become one. She had written many poems about hers but was bored of writing poems, and especially of writing poems about things that made her sad or were supposed to.

So she thought about dad. Daddy. Her daddy-girl fetish thing. Maybe she could do something with that? She imagined an uncontrollable figure whose love was familiar but whose broad back and slimy tongue were off-putting and overpowering. The comfort was the danger, or something to that effect. An untouchable, unnameable horror at the center of the attraction. She was nervous about considering it too deeply, but it seemed somehow analogous to her impulse to laugh when something terrible happens; how lightness can at times spring forth frantically out of collapse, pleasure neurotically birthed from pain, divinity from the tortured. A yin-yang of discharge and excrement.

She wanted to write a story in the voice in her head, so the whole thing would be from the perspective of the little girl. This way, the innocence, the naivety, and ultimately the sex would be of deep concern to a reader who wouldn’t know she was a grown woman until the very end.

But there are only ever a handful of words, really, snags that catch her mind on replay and refuse to cooperate with sentence-making. A tenuous leash that, when tugged on, she would follow helplessly, obediently, into the musky vacant room at the rear of her brain.

Maybe it’s the paper-thinness, the insubstantiality, that always made it so effective in the moment. A nonthought that revved her imagination and skipped over itself, one line, one idea, regurgitating, like a worm, or a bird, or probably neither of those things, she couldn’t find the appropriate metaphor.

A record stuck on the same perverted riff? And she’d pick up the needle and put it back on from the beginning, until finally, after scratching and repeating and scratching and repeating, she’d finally make her way to the end of the track and come. Then the idea, or whatever it was, would shoot out the window, only to return the next time her husband went down on her, or she had a headache, or cramps, or warmed her hands inside her sweatpants in bed.

Pulling on the threads of her fantasy, however, revealed not much more than a confusing confrontation with real life, which took all the fun out of pretending. And the psychology… Oh, brother. She was nervous about untangling it.

But if, instead of putting her notebook down, she had opened the top half of the nesting dolls looking wide-eyed at her from inside her head, she’d have found at the center the smallest babushka with the hook for her story placed lightly between her open lips. She would have realized that what she liked about it was the puzzle inside the puzzle inside the puzzle, the role reversal inside of the role play. The older man becoming a desperate young boy, and she, the little grown girl, unwittingly holding all the power.

Mira had left the bar. She sat alone, chewing on the end of her favorite pen. It had such a fine tip, and when the going was good, it was as if there were nothing in her hands at all, a plastic extension of her very self. Or maybe it was a scalpel made of tempered steel or sharpened diamond, cutting into the page so the words would spill forth, covering her like a mantle.

Letting her mind stray, for some reason she thought of Kelly. Him rubbing her shoulders while they stood in his driveway, his mom’s driveway really, him leaning against the trunk of the Jetta, her leaning on him, standing between his legs. It was deep spring, that perfect transitory moment in the season where the weather is malleable and forgiving and whatever you’re wearing makes sense. She had on a denim mini-skirt, black tank top under a little red hoodie, ankles a bit wet from walking across the grass rather than along the concrete pathway separating front lawn from porch. “You’re so relaxed. I wish I was as relaxed as you,” he’d told her. It surprised her at the time and was even more bewildering in retrospect. Then, that someone could make assessments about her relationship with the world by way of a simple, shallow touch. Now, that she had ever once been what someone would call “laid back.”

“Perfect is the enemy of good,” one of her husband’s many aphorisms echoed like God inside the memory.

She turned around to squeeze Kelly’s shoulders in return, reaching up. He was half a decade older and half a foot taller. In another five years, her shoulders would be as hard as his, precisely because of experiences with guys like him, about whom something was off, suspicious, odd as his name, devious despite his boyish curly mop and nerdy rectangular glasses. “Are you a wolf in sheep’s clothing?” she asked him, forthright, thinking herself bold.

“What do you mean?”

She shouldn’t have been surprised not three weeks later when she received a call from the gynecologist with her pap smear and urine test results. Killing time, laying in one of the school’s grassy fields—she lived only a few blocks away and would often wander around campus doing only mildly illegal things that from her puerile vantage point seemed truly perilous, begging to get caught—packing and re-packing her one-hitter, that familiar whirr of low-level anxiety quickening in her forming breast. Twirling her fingers romantically around soft strands of grass waiting for the sun to begin its descent before heading back up the hill towards her still-empty house, she heard her phone vibrating against the calculator in the lower pocket of her backpack. “Yes, this is her,” she said, before being informed she was positive for HPV and gonorrhea. Double trouble.

At the time, she was something like heartbroken—not totally but on the spectrum, he had given her her first non-masturbatory orgasms—and confused. She was less upset about the STDs than she was about his insistent denial that he’d been the one who’d given them to her, even after she explained that she wasn’t sleeping with anyone else. She was only seventeen at the time—hadn’t yet learned to juggle—but would soon be off to college and understood that whatever they were doing would thus have to be short term, and therefore, though it hadn’t been discussed, never expected him to be monogamous, even if that word wasn’t yet part of her vocabulary. But still, he denied his status fervently. It made her feel uncomfortable and a little bit insane, knowing the truth and trying to discuss it, futilely, with a liar so skilled. He met her points, which he called accusations, with professions of adoration for her, gushing in an over-the-top-wannabe-poet affect, the corniness laid on so thick she could practically feel it, a scuzzy film all over her body. Talking like that turned him older than he was, a pervy dad reciting stale lines from a dusty, frail-paged book, sap all over his hands. It was becoming clear he was an actor, hence the authority with which he spoke.

Who had he been trying to impress? She was a horny lonely teenage stoner without a license. It wouldn’t have taken more than his attention and his ride. The embellishments were suspect, even then. And she should have known better, considering the practiced way he came onto her under the twenty watt bulbs that merely gestured at an attempt to dissolve the conspicuous darkness of Waitstills, which she and her friends lovingly referred to as “Shitstains”—the only watering hole within biking distance that they could count on to never ID, where the bar was sticky, the mice friendly, and the beer flat but two dollars a pint—while she bent over the pool table to win five dollars and the stares of old men with food in their beards. After giving Kelly her number that night she, cosplaying maturity, zigzagged along the back roads, feeling too free to not tempt fate, and released her hands from the handlebars to ride against the wind towards her house and into the future.

She still felt embarrassment at how trusting she’d been, and though Kelly probably wasn’t the first liar she’d fallen for, he was the first to call her attention to her weaknesses, her lack of self-control, her failure to listen to—or consciously act against, as if proving a point to herself—her instincts, her dangerous desire for simple, pleasurable sensations (which frequently morphed into distress). Eating, getting high, coming.

Before Kelly, she hadn’t ever been eaten out, had only been fucked a handful of times missionary style, almost completely and comically, in a depressing way, still, lying prone under the gentle duress and mild pressure of bodies of boys her own age. She was no stranger to the orgasm, though, having given them to herself early on, ever since she discovered, late at night after her dad was asleep or very early in the morning before he was up, the distinct soundtracks and neon static of the upper television channels, catching, tantalizingly, the sporadic nipple or thrusting cock as if through a puddle’s shifting oil slick.

But, like a massage or a birthday cake, some things aren’t quite as good when given to oneself.

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From The Ginny Suite by Stacy Skolnik, released 31st May 2024 with Montez Press. Used with permission of the publisher, Montez Press. Copyright © 2024 by Stacy Skolnik.



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