Literary Upstart Winner: Penny

07/21/2010 5:00 AM |

From January to Memorial Day, our sixth annual Search for Pocket Fiction received over 350 submissions of previously unpublished short stories from writers toiling across the five boroughs and beyond. Fifteen of them were invited to read across three raucous spring nights at the Slipper Room and Spike Hill, and the semifinal winners—as declared by our panel of discerning, frequently sober literati, headed by Distinguished Spokesjudge Ben Greenman—faced off earlier this month. Here is the winner; you can read the other finalists at the links below.


My marriage was ending. This was at the end of 2001. My wife Penny and I had moved out to the suburbs in order to have children two years prior, but it wasn’t working. Next door a family of Mormons with five Biblically-named children of varying sizes seemed to mock our best and frequent efforts. But now we had stopped trying altogether.

Sex, as a rule, had become mechanical, regulated, bad. Thermometers were often involved. Cramp-inducing positions. Manuals.

Then came winter, a long, excruciating downward slide to nothingness, like a frozen hunk of Tofurkey released down a wet windshield only to break into two smaller chunks upon hitting the cold and godless pavement. I knew that Tofurkey. I had just bought it. Once home, I had placed it on the roof of the car while trying to wrest the other grocery bags out of the backseat.

Naturally, my wife, the vegetarian, took the accident as a sign.

“Accident schmaccident. What would Freud say?”

“Freud ate meat.”

What are you trying to say? That I should eat turkey for Thanksgiving, like a reasonable person?”

“I drew no correlation.”

“You are always doing these veiled, hostile sorts of things.”

“What ‘veiled, hostile sorts of things’?”

“Oh, please. You’re always saying stuff like, ‘I have a bone to pick with you,’ or ‘So-and-so’s accent is thicker than a summer sausage’ or ‘he walked into the lion’s den wearing a porkchop suit.'”

“You have completely lost it.”


“Those are expressions. They’re sayings.”

“On the surface. But did you ever think that you say those things because I’m a vegetarian and you resent the fact that I’m a vegetarian?”

“I could give a shit that you’re a vegetarian!”

She gasped, then looked away for a moment, lip quivering. I immediately regretted the harshness of my words.

“I want a divorce,” she said.

I didn’t say anything. She went into the house.

A week later, I got laid off from my job.

At home, I lay on the living room floor for hours, my arms crossed over me like a mummy, or, varying the catatonia a little, stood against the wall and stared at the opposing wall. I fished my childhood security blanket out of deep storage and masturbated into it.

My wife no longer touched me.

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