2015 Contest: Fiction Runner-up FELLOWSHIP by Kimberly King Parsons
Writing by Kimberly King Parsons has appeared or is forthcoming in New South, Gigantic, Fiction Southeast, Fanzine, Time Out New York, and elsewhere. Ploughshares recently featured her story “Fiddlebacks” in their column “The Best Short Story I Read in a Lit Mag This Week.” She lives in Queens.
2015 fiction judge Alissa Nutting selected Kimberly King Parsons as the fiction runner up for her story, “Fellowship.” Alissa says:
“Fellowship” is an emotional powerhouse of a story: hilarious, sad, confrontational. The social commentary throughout is smart and heartbreaking and so masterfully executed through characterization. It moves through the weightiest of topics with ease and unflinching credibility. I love it—it has stayed with me.
by Kimberly King Parsons
Jesus, that’s who. She found Him on the basketball court. No matter she’s only a point guard, a B-teamer. She’s calling divine intervention from the free-throw line. That’s what I’m up against.
Model or athlete? asked everybody, always. She’d bend down to listen, then go pink and say, Neither. Sure, she’s tall. People convinced her she was wasting those legs. She wasn’t. You should see her on her back, was what I wanted to tell them. She’s endless. A gaggle of girls in jerseys kept her cornered. When they looked at her they saw three-pointers, hands that could palm a ball, no sweat. They got between us between classes, wore her down with their questions. Did she play? Had she tried? She was flattered. She didn’t have many female friends other than me. Why would she? I mean, have you seen her?
The Bible bit threw me off. The lot of them swarming the flagpole in the mornings, bringing up the sun with their psalms. I have no idea why sports and religion intermingle—they just do. I guess some people take Jesus for a jock. Soon she was there too, pressed up against the other thumpers. She was primed, ready to be in His grip. Let’s get right with God, she told me, giddy. Let’s repent! My girl, going. Gone.
I was in the throng, in the bleachers on the night in question. I’d just gotten my driver’s license and the lonely freedom to drag myself where I knew I wasn’t wanted. She took a shot and made it. No miracle there. She’d been practicing, let me tell you. Every phone call thick with her breath, punched out by some kind of background dribble. Every note I passed her was skimmed and crushed, tossed pointwise at a trashcan. When I caught up to her in the hall—no easy feat with those legs of hers—she’d jog in place while we talked, two fingers jammed into the pulse under her jaw, eyes locked on her watch’s second hand.
I was wearing green, clapping when other people wearing green clapped. There was no searing white light. No celestial choir. True, my glasses kept steaming up. True, a bigheaded football type blocked much of my view, but I got the gist. From where I sat it looked like a bunch of dykes being dykey. Lady Rams ramming. Hallelujah.
Take it out was what she said when I first got my hand in her. Take it out so you can put it right back in. She was a flood, sopping. A fleeting gleam. A girl like that can’t last. I don’t know if there’s a word for the ache of missing something when you still have it. I’d kiss her and taste my doom.
I was new in town and thought I was passing. I trudged alongside her in the same brand of jeans she wore, the same sneakers. We shared a cylinder of glittery of lip gloss, took turns checking each other’s mouths for errant sparkle. Best friends. We linked arms in the halls. She was safe, but something always gives me away. My voice, maybe. My walk. Kids laughed as we passed, so apparent was my heart.
At my old school I got socked in the nose for touching the prom queen’s hair. She wasn’t my type, if you want to know. A little too bleached in the teeth, lots of neon in her wardrobe. Bored in Latin, where else was I supposed to look? Nothing to do but dream at her from across our shared desk, study that slow, conjugating mouth. One day I took it too far, reached to sweep Queenie’s bangs off her brow. Her fist went out quick—a reflex, like I burned her. And I deserved it, I did. For not knowing the difference between what I wanted and what I could get in this life, or for knowing and going for it anyway. More than that, I deserved that punch for being a weirdo in high school, for breaking the rules. Everyone knows you keep your mouth shut, dress how they dress, like what they like. Don’t draw attention to yourself. Don’t fucking touch anybody, moron, especially not a girl like that. Too late. So I took it in the face, bled into a textbook, waited for the bell to ring.
Queenie was waiting too, trembling a little, ready to spread my truth. I hoped somehow she’d finish me off. That a bone from my nose would splinter into my brain—I saw that in a movie once—and save me from certain humiliation. No such luck.
What you remember about your first fuck is how she looks from behind—this from my older brother, of all people. After school: door closed, tall girl in my bed, music up loud. Everything in the world that mattered to me was shoved between the last bell and the sound of my mother’s car in the garage. I’d hear mom’s keys in the bowl by the door, her heels kicked off one by one. By then we would have pulled apart, killed the music, thrown the door open. Maybe we’d spread out some algebra to make our case.
But my brother was onto us. One night, mom snoring in front of the television, he crossed my path in the kitchen. The look on his face said he knew everything about me. A single commonality in years of silent indifference. I went to cover my tracks, make something up. I’m not, you know, like that, I tried. He was faster. He pounced, poured on the advice. I took it for locker room talk. I let him go well beyond bounds. Turns out he was right about what you remember, but for the wrong reasons.
She let me take her picture early on. Don’t get my face in it, was what she said. I’m not proud of how it turned out. I went nuts with the zoom. I bleached her with the flash, cropped out the cute. What was left could have been anyone.
She made me delete the digital, but I kept a print. I showed it to my friends—the nerdy squad of boys I clung to in her wake. Don’t think I didn’t. I shoved it in their faces, stunned them before they could say no, not that they would have. I was legend among chess players and asthmatics. I could not believe the person she had forced me to become.
I would tell you if I was, I told mom, my heart knocking, after somebody keyed the word into my locker and school made me call her. I don’t have anything against those types of people, I hissed into the phone. I’m just not, you know, That Way. In the pause I could hear mom’s coworkers, other telemarketers, making their pleas around her. She slurped something hot. Rumors, she said then, relieved. Cliques and bitches—you don’t have to explain.
I was handshy, in no rush to ruin the friendship with my tall, tall friend. She’s the one who made a move. She made us happen. We’d gone glow bowling, which is a thing kids do in this shitbox town. At the Gutter on Friday nights, they turn black lights on and this fluorescent world shows up. Stickers shaped like stars and sea creatures cover the tiled ceiling. Graffiti—some of it practiced, most just whorled nonsense—sprays all down the lanes. Even the balls are glazed with some kind of luminous resin, unseen in natural light.
Everybody is hideous under those bulbs, all orthodontics and ready whiteheads, but that’s kind of the point. Nobody is self-conscious. You can relax enough to stop worrying about what the other kids might be thinking. You can focus on knocking down pins or, if you’re me, whatever lucky thing might happen to you in the dark.
She got twitchy after a certain ball went into a certain hoop. After the alleged angels. Everything changed when the spirit entered her, she claimed.
She wanted all proof of us gone, she said, eyeing my camera. What’s worse, there were other photographers, she confessed. Before me. Call me sinner, she said, chipper. Saved by grace!
Also, she wanted her necklace back, my puka-shell pride. She asked, Are you the one who has my watch? My umbrella? I wasn’t. She was moving down her long, long list and could I please return what was rightfully hers?
My brother told me every girl who gives in has been worn down by some other dude. His play-by-plays were turning tedious. To the dudes, he’d say, tapping my can with his.
Have a blessed day, she told everyone who would listen. She was cultish, cut all her hair off at her coach’s request. Cited something about peripheral vision. From what I could tell she had very little talent. Clear sight or no, you take enough shots and one is bound to tip in.
Not many people know this, but if you complain enough, you can take bowling in the place of PE. It helps if you’re a weirdo, if the other girls have also complained about dressing out in front of you—if your mom has called a meeting with your guidance counselor. If, in what is either the most hilarious or most embarrassing moment of your life, your mom waggles her tongue between her spread fingers, makes a kind of “lalala” sound when she does it, a demonstration of the daily mockery you face. You get the principal’s approval so long as you join a community league. You pick the Unholy Rollers for the name alone. They are mostly retirees and widowers, a nice enough bunch. They give you a shirt with your initials, a little book to keep track of your scores. Soon you’re doing well, making strides. You earn the nickname “Striker.” League night becomes a bright spot in your otherwise miserable semester. You convince yourself that it’s all been worth it. While the other girls are running laps, you get to sit in the coach’s air-conditioned office. You read about spinners and crankers, skid-snap and rev rates.
Where she goes, I follow, even now. Mornings, she sprints off for practice in the black, before the dew starts. I crunch along in the road behind her, keep her haloed in my headlights. What she looks like from behind: poised, confident. She’ll glance back and give a low wave. Sometimes she’ll slow to a jog and give me a little sermon through my open window.
Turn yourself over to Him, she’ll say. She keeps one headphone in, won’t look at my face. Give in gracefully. Sink like a stone. Something like that. A coin in a well, a corpse in a riptide. Stop following me with your car, asshole, is what she means. He knows all, she says. Every hair on your head. I take that for a threat.
The crowd went: Green! Green! Green! Green! White-white-white-white-white-white-white!
One point. Big deal. We lost the game anyway. Killed by the Cougarettes. Mauled, whatever. She poured a lot of Gatorade that night. Rubbed a lot of shoulders. Her team—those girls forgive her everything.
Are you sure I’m not too tight? she used to ask. As if such a thing were possible. As if she could be too pink, too sweet. It was a question meant to haunt. The type of thing straight girls teach other straight girls to say. I talk to her now and she stares off at some point beyond me. She’s the worst kind of ghost—breathing, wearing wind shorts. Born again. She hands out flyers for the Chastity Club, wears a homemade t-shirt that says “WAIT” in pastel puff paint. She is all teeth and faith, terrifying in her happiness.
I showed her picture to my brother—flipped it up over a cereal box and into his lap one morning. He turned it sideways. He stared at it for some time. I’ve seen better, was what he said at last, pocketing the thing.