Fiction: Tina May Hall
Exhibit #408 from The Extinction Museum—Bisected baseball with cork center, two layers of beige yarn, white horsehide cover stained with dirt and grass, black and red stitching, unraveling
Grandmother said a baseball of her youth had a sturgeon eye at the center. Spiny fish, nearly prehistoric, giants they wrestled in the mud rivers that bracketed the town. One girl would hold the head while another slit the underbelly for the precious eggs, sold to the grocer by the cupful. She told a good story, smoked two packs a day, from which baseball cards would fall. They also came in cereal and cracker boxes, packs of gum that tasted of turpentine, were hidden in snowdrifts of laundry detergent. In that household of women, men were turning up all over. Affable types, smiling gamely, swinging at air. We used them as bookmarks, put on puppet shows, made them kiss each other and reach for cans on the high shelf. Grandmother’s rocking chair creaked as loudly as the moon rising on a summer night. She got thinner and thinner. Someone in the government decided baseball was good for morale, and all the sturgeon dove deeper. One by one, we went out into the world with our memories of those paper men, bored into trees for their cork and rubber, held the burning thing close to our mouths.
Exhibit #79 from The Extinction Museum: Syringe filled with pearly liquid
Even after there were only herbals and the black market, people still told stories of the glory days of pharmaceuticals. Old prescription sheets were tacked onto walls like art. Pills for sleeping, for sadness, for manic joy, for infirmity, for inflammation, for the broken heart. Medicine to do the work of the kidneys, the amygdalae, the bronchi, the spleen. Once upon a time, we only felt whole when we were chemical. When we were tranqued, blown, burnt, spinning, faced-out, jammed, amped, flopped, razored, incinerated, geeked, chasing the dragon, the white rose, the unicorn with one hoof, the mad hatter, the barnstormer, the iridescent hummingbird of dawn, the black black moth with velvet wings.
Now we are self-sufficient, those of us that remain, our bodies churning out hormones and enzymes and dopamine and amino acids at antediluvian rates. Those with allergies have banded together to hunt a shy fungus that is poisonous raw but quite effective roasted and powdered, then taken like snuff. Those with diabetes or angina or kidney failure or irreconcilable depression have mostly died. Old women sell noxious tea to the young even though it is frowned upon to interfere with fertility. There is a certain leaf, common in the surrounding woods, that when chewed makes everything look blue. So now the kids are all bluing and plucking the damn forest clean. We didn’t know how good we had it with our fever dreams, our purchased fog of goodwill. I remember the pleasure of it, the giving over of my body to something else, I remember the flu shot, the tetanus booster, the shingles vaccination, burning down my bicep like honey. I remember the astringency of the pills dissolving under my tongue, the cold cushion they formed, the ripping of the film of the universe, the pale haloes on people’s heads, the sweet surge of blood in my limbs, the moments I could hear my own heartbeat, as if from afar, a wild sound in the distance, like a warning, or a shriek of love, some kind of prediction.
Tina May Hall teaches and writes in upstate New York. Her collection of short stories, The Physics of Imaginary Objects, won the 2010 Drue Heinz Literature Prize. She was awarded an NEA literature fellowship in 2014 and has done residencies at Yaddo and Vermont Studio Center. Her stories have appeared in 3rd Bed, Quarterly West, Black Warrior Review, Descant, The Collagist, and other journals.
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