Nasty+Notorious: A Collection of Feminist Horror Stories
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In the domestic noir tradition, a collection of feminist horror starring nasty women who know better and notorious girls promised too much. Eight wicked and witty tales, told through clenched teeth, of the pathology of privilege and the power of pettiness. NASTY+NOTORIOUS dares and delights, curses and critiques, twists and transforms; this debut story collection demands satisfaction.
Release date: May 1, 2021
Publisher: Citizen Author
Print pages: 130
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Behind the book
"The Patriarchy better sleep with one eye open... Lopez's prose is lyrical, insightful, and sharp as a blade."
- Julia DeBarrioz, author of the Dakota del Toro series
Nasty+Notorious: A Collection of Feminist Horror Stories
S.L. Stone / Summer Lopez
Her father's brain tumor is the size of a common lemon. Smaller than the pocked balloons from the diseased citrus tree in the yard of Clare's childhood home.
Imaging films present an amorphous mass, impossible to miss. It sprouted near her father's brain stem, undetected, since Clinton's second term. Last week the pressure grew painful. Her father made his first medical appointment since his third wife left. Then he summoned Clare home, to Illinois.
Clare shakes this month's terrible haircut and squints, absorbing the cute oncologist's prognosis. Inoperable. Malignant. Her father's got a year left. Less. Now would be a good time to get his affairs in order. This will not be a long goodbye.
Her boots swing under the vinyl chair that stinks from sterilization. Her nostrils burn. (Sense memory's a bitch.) The institutional furniture is giant; not built for short adult daughters with feet unable to reach the teal terrazzo tiles.
No, this can't be right.
The tumor explains nothing.
It is not why.
For breakfast her father eats the only meal he knows how to prepare: chicken fried steak and eggs, with black coffee. (The latter is a questionable interpretation.)
He moves deliberately, cautious not to disturb the book stacks in the kitchen, piled floor to ceiling, each tower no more than a foot apart. For Clare's father, words have replaced women. Books are his obsession, offering wisdom without expectation of material return. He can't say the same for his wives and daughter.
Clare brought her own beans with. A favorite blend, from the new place around the corner, by the subway station closest to Clare's side of Prospect. Deeming freeze-dried flakes modernity's finest, her father does not own a grinder however.
(Briefly, she flirts with chewing her coffee beans whole. Her pulse accelerates, thinking of the caffeine, seeping into her mouth's membranes. Grit sticking in her grin, driving her father to distraction. But, Clare already brushed.)
She grabs a steaming Garfield mug. Standing over the sink, balancing a melamine plate, her father feeds himself by hand. Tremors interrupt his miserable attempt to play off the slurpingrunnydrippingyolk on his palm.
Last night after a crusty cab ride from a dive bar kitty corner to the hospital Clare announced obligations in New York required her to hop on the next red-eye. (Antithetically she’s got no job and no prospects and no apartment to call home.) Clare booked the red-eye to La Guardia at the same time as her ticket to O'Hare. The only affordable itinerary doubled-back across most of the Midwest.
Her father's chin is eggy. He points to the ceramic tangerine tabby with bubble eyes, peeking through her nails the color of mold, lamenting Mondays.
What, Clare says.
It's not Monday.
Clare nods. He is right. It is Thursday.
Your old man's still got it.
He taps his skull where the tumor is rooted like an excuse his daughter’s still not buying. He totters away, leaving dishes for Clare to do though, as usual, she ate nothing for breakfast. Washing up, Clare chucks the mug into the trash. Fuck the funnies.
She is not reminded of the smashed apartment she shared with a man bearing no resemblance to her father. Clare doesn't think of the officers, asking hesaidshesaid, warning not reporting, because he is white and she is sober. (Why aren't you writing this down? Please don’t take him out of the cuffs.)
Clare kills time tending the diseased lemon tree. It's sort of living, in the far corner of a neglected patch of yard her father refuses to maintain; an ample excuse to avoid the demons in every closet, under the stairs, down in the cellar.
The rake, rusting inside a prefab shed Clare doesn't recall, is an artifact of medieval torture. Corroded into rusty points, metal tines puncture puce rinds with a satisfying squish.
Must be dozens of lemons in varying degrees of decay, intestinal roots pushing through an earthy crevasse at the tree’s trunk ready for stumping. Exposed, the sallow flesh of the fallen fruit looks infected with mysterious malaise. Squeezing the slightest juice is impossible; the seed yield foretells a brutal betrayal.
Her siege against the rotting carcasses continues. Under a sky with no definitive hue, Clare tames what her father let run wild. Bones, aching with visceral kinship to agricultural toil. Brow, glowing with a sweat born, and shared, by the ridding of pestilence.
Ridding is raking and raking requires rhythm.
The brittle wood of the tool's handle is smooth despite disuse. She raises and lowers the rake and strikes on repeat. The swinging seesaw motion, a possession.
Thwack! The first mortal blow is without mercy.
At nine years-old Clare has no voice; serial cases of strep throat are the clear culprit. Counting backwards from ten, Clare watches her father, falling downdowndown from the top rung of a ladder. White paint matching the trim of their house splatters across the hood of the family Buick. She hears her father’s knee pop and his hip splinter, hitting their gravel driveway. Clare criescriescries until her father gives her something to cry about. In surgical recovery, there is ice cream, her tonsils are gone, and so is her mom.
Clare left her father piddling between his book stacks in the living room. Absent among the range of genres in his library is mystery. Not a shred of whodunit. No Agatha Christie titles on his shelves.
Her father is a man of facts, not fantasy.
He knows, not believes.
He thinks, not dreams.
(This is not the tumor's doing.)
Her father is deeply disappointed in Clare. (His list of her transgressions gets longer the farther from Illinois she strays.)
She is weak. She lacks will. She's an ingrate. She deserves nothing. She's unworthy of respect. Her choices are foolish, impractical. Her talent in any given area is lacking. Her attention span is for shit. Her hair, her make-up, her wardrobe, her grades, her jobs, her degrees, her partners, her cars, her homes, are wrong. Her potential as a wife and mother? Zero. Why doesn't Clare give it up? She will never amount to anything. Her legacy will disappear when she does.
What a waste of a woman, his daughter is.
Clare's father hails from a generation of abandoned protest soundtracks, a generation guilty of distilling American exceptionalism to its most potent. His cohort bears blame for the leveling up of masculine rage, from incel serial killer to pubescent mass shooter, for raising boys with a joystick in one hand and an AK in the other.
The cute oncologist's prognosis melts the heart of a different daughter. One who dotes and demurs. An accomplice to her father's disaster. A daughter who is Not Clare. Not Clare is band-aid and boo-boo free. She doesn't own a t-shirt with this is what a feminist looks like on it. Not Clare finds forgiveness.
Real Clare cannot be a different daughter.
Crunch! Clare will never be right so she steeps in her wrongness until she is strong.
Clare is two decades-tired and a frequent flier at the ER closest to her college campus. Persistent lower-right quadrant pain is definitely not her appendix rupturing; the organ is excised in any case. Clare is not listening as her surgeon explains the triumvirate of scars that will mark her belly. Clare is begging her father to stop bruising his hands against the balsa of her bedroom door. After the surrender of her Neolithic remnant, Clare accepts her fate. She vows to remove every spare body part, one by one. Seems a fair exchange for her sanity, if not her survival.
She does not blink, does not twitch, does not look at the house, where there is, perhaps, a faint screaming. It just started, to be clear, and again, it's not that loud, so.
Plus, Clare has many lemons to rake, and an endless enthusiasm for sinking metal into skin. She is giddy with relief, or release, or another emotion she can't name.
What is more gratifying: the visible achievement of a minor quest, or, the explosions of fruit impaled on rusty teeth?
Clare lapses into her favorite fantasy, of: restored tin ceilings, an inefficient original kitchen, and a kiss from a stunning male specimen, who gives her a diamond and leaves no marks on her skin.
The rhythm of raking soothes like a lullaby — as if her father had it in him to sing to Clare! Her father singing strikes her as hilarious, in a way that takes over her whole body and won't quit, until her belly aches.
Lemons, swollen and cracking, cascade in chunks under the force of Clare’s assault. She hums an Erasure single, popular back in junior high, as one step springs to the next, her slaughter choreographed to a synth beat.
The screaming, from the house, seems duller. Probably Clare mistook the noise. (A mistake by a stupid little girl who doesn't know how fucking lucky she is to have a father like him.)
Last night Clare crouched in the corner of her bedroom where, as a girl, she'd cowered most. Desperate to drown in the dive bar gin, swimming through her consciousness, she read a blog post about a secret.
It got her thinking, really thinking.
All night Clare thought, long and hard, awake and spinning. The boozy tide, washing away her executive function, ebbing and flowing, until she rose with the sun. Not exactly a different daughter but not quite the same.
What was the name of the secret? Clare racks her brain. She ceases the violent pummeling.
She basks in the dim praise of gray Midwestern sun.
Thunk! It is heavy, this thing.
Last winter Clare lost her uterus. She'd never put it to good use anyway her father says. (Wait, lose is not the word.) Clare submits to a total hysterectomy, after exhausting remedies homeopathic, spiritual, psychedelic, fraudulent, and failing to subdue what bindstwistsshreds her private pulp. A third surgeon explains: he will use the same incision points from her appendectomy made by her second surgeon. This time Clare listens, without care or comment. In private, she rejoices.
Her boots bear the brunt of Clare's exertion, splashed with something like mud or ketchup but not mud or ketchup. Per the strict composting conventions of her urban garden co-op, Clare does her best to churn the soil, to invite feasting of creepycrawlers.
Placing stickyslick palms flat against the earth, she conjures a vision of the lemon tree and congratulates her labor; fragrant blossoms will surely greet Clare on her next trip back home to Illinois.
She heads inside the house, hungry. Looking back at her work Clare understands what she either ignored, or was unapparent, in the thick of raking. The pile of rotting lemons is not gone.
She merely moved it five feet maybe.
All that for a relocation, not an extermination.
(What else is new.)
Her childhood home is dark, silent. Forgetting her appetite, Clare enters her bedroom, stained by her noble effort. Not just any daughter would take the same care on a quick visit.
Clare folds a madras shirt, a trench with snarky buttons splayed across the collar, and a crinkled baby doll dress with brown daisies and yellow snaps. Her carry-on, a canvas bike messenger bag belonging to the man in the smashed apartment she doesn't think about anymore.
Clare leaves her luggage in the hall at a safe distance from the pooling blood. Easy enough to grab the messenger bag on her way out.
Once a healer explained the reaction of Clare's body to her missing parts. Clare taped the healer’s anatomical sketch, marked with meridians of energy whizzing like arrows, on her vanity mirror. Studying it morningnoonnight. Frowning. Failing to recognize where her life force was blocked, why she was stuck, and how. Realizing, her clinical dissection was neither rapture nor revelation. After a few months, Clare yanked the drawing down. Her frown stayed.
Clare’s stomach growls. On the kitchen counter is her bag of coffee beans with fair trade handwritten like a font on the chalkboard label. (Do. Not. Leave. The. Beans. Behind.)
Clare’s preparing a snack, of canned tuna in oil on generic soda crackers chewy with age.
She's planning a nap schedule, matching the clusterfuck of flights which await.
She's humming that Erasure single still, sort of.
She's chucking her used paper plate and napkin into the trash, where the white layers float over the Garfield mug, RIP kittykitty.
She leaving without the beans she brought then forgot.
She's stepping over her father's macerated body.
She's wiping his blood from her soles.
She's smoothing the baby hairs exposed by this month’s terrible haircut.
She's sliding on sunglasses purchased with her final paycheck.
Clare's opening the door.
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