New Fiction: “Karen” by Eleanor Levine


SHE SPEAKS THIRTY SECONDS, A mere thirty seconds, after I ignore her for five years, and then I’m back. I’m always back.


I am like the trappers in Werner Herzog’s movie Happy People—the trackers of the Siberian Taiga—happy in their solitary hunting, but I’m not solitary.


Karen was my girlfriend for six months, though she told people we never dated, but gave me a copy of her house key with a heart on it. I gave her a copy of my house key with lines from T. S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” which were, “In the room the women come and go / Talking about Michelangelo.” A key to my heart and art and linguistic precociousness are things women find attractive. Plus, Michelangelo was a homo and we were two women, but of course that was the more obvious allusion. I didn’t know how to fervently communicate my thoughts with a mere heart and felt the lines from Eliot’s masterpiece would suffice, though the locksmith charged me extra and complained about the excessive time “wasted on this fucking key.”


I go through periods when I completely forget Karen. I have amnesia because I have blocked her phone and unfriended her on Facebook and not enabled myself as prolific stalker.


Romantic love, with intermittent moments of hello and heaven and happiness, is convoluted by a partner’s unswerving need for love.


I’m on the brink of forgetting Karen. A silence more torturous than a long-winded physics professor exists, and then Karen inserts herself through dreams that invariably become nightmares.


She tells her tattoo, whose name is Andrea, to give my skin cells a shout, which makes them commingle.

“Come on Sheila, you want ….” 

Her tattoo lingers on my skin cells and I’m back in her bed with the cats and we are happy people.


I come to Karen’s house, where she lived on Hanover Street, and now they have rats. There is a rat infestation in our hometown because the taxpayers refuse to employ exterminators as it reminds them of their neglected issues: not attending therapy and not eradicating precarious demons. The mayor, who was once a Freudian psychologist, is averse to spending money to exterminate rats because the exterminator’s exorbitant fee is more painful than the rodent biting his foot as he exits the shower.


I’m working with local exterminators. They depend on the private sector and me and not the government, which refuses to employ them. I make more money here than at the amusement park, where I was the ticket collector for go karts.

“Sheila knows rodents,” Karen tells her dad.

I’m inspired by William Burroughs, I’ve mentioned to her, and work to extirpate the vermin who never veer more than a block from their birthplace.

Her father, who reminds her of me, is disillusioned with the rats.

“Do you really think she can get rid of them? Yes,” he replies to himself, “she’s a talented bitch.”


Karen’s mother is in love with me, or the concept of me, and wishes I’d marry her daughter.

“She only asks about you—never others, and it’s not because I’m dating you.”


Her mother was my physician in New Jersey, where rivers collide.

We’d canoe when the tide was low, and when the tide was high, go fishing, as if we were fishing between sidewalks.

Her mother is fervently intrigued by our planet, whereas Karen is indifferent toward most things and only becomes remotely excited when autistic celebrities receive their own HBO shows.


It is Karen, the recalcitrant one, who detests and adores her father, and refuses to speak with me at an AA meeting.


The first time we broke up she said I reminded her father of his favorite Hershey bar, which was really all Hershey bars: chocolate and delectable.


Today she detests me. There’s never any denying it, but as she speaks through her sunflower seeds over the AA church table, she’s speaking by not speaking. In other words, she gives people sunflower seeds—everyone but me.


Karen says we can talk and I talk back, but I shouldn’t rush her; let it go, come out, like a migraine, but when you stick a pistol to your brain, the migraine abates.


“We’ve heard you’re working for Burroughs and his rodents. I thought he was dead,” she whispers.

“He is dead,” I reply, “but he magnificently shot vermin. I use his gun in the morning—to shoot the rats.”

“Well, as you’ve heard, and please don’t tell anyone, we have them in our house.”

“Is this why you’re contacting me?”

“We could use your help,” she adds.


It is acceptable that I’m in their house.

Even with rats crawling in diametrically opposed spaces, it’s okay I’m here.

“Just kill the fuckers,” her father says, “and we’re good to go.”


I’m banned from her house and her relatives will not allow me to breathe near her. Once they hear she has broken up with me, they delete me as a Facebook friend. I am not considered funky enough to attend rock concerts or Broadway shows in which they perform.


Today she has simpered, and they know, for the interim, she will kiss me.

I look at her face, and despite my worldly travels while homeless, I inject myself in her home, without them shunning me.


Her brother reveres me though she chastises me in the car because I tell him about us.

“I’m mad you told him, but let’s go to your apartment for tuna. When we’re done, we can break up.”


I see her brother in apartments where he carries a briefcase and we speak but never mention her though she is renting his condo.


Karen sees me in the corner.

She has seen me in other corners.

She chitchats but I snub her.

She speaks through other people, to me, though she despises them.

Karen says I need psychiatric care.

Or that we never dated.

We hung out five times, and when together, she wanted to move in with me, or at least consider a larger apartment.


It is serious when she acknowledges me in the hallway, and I condescend to be with her again.

Her father lets me in.

He is disturbed about the rats and the mayor calls him because his family also misbehaved by sleeping with teachers.


“When I was in high school,” Karen tells me, “I slept with my language arts instructor. I told him I liked Jack London and the next thing I knew—bam—we’re in San Francisco.”


Her dad reads The New York Times at his breakfast table and is mortified the mayor called him, plus the rats, which they never had.

“They’re gone now,” I inform.

He is no longer furious with me.

He and his family members acquiesce after she says hello.

There were moments I’d pass the house and it was verboten.

Security guards wouldn’t let me in.

With a whimsical reply, her father grins, as if I’m expected.

“We’re glad you’re here,” he says.

There are no guards evicting me.

I am traversing the earth like a nocturnal rodent who feasts on leftovers.

Eleanor Levine′s writing is forthcoming in Thrice Publishing’s 2019 Surrealist/Outsider Anthology,Good Works Review, and South Dakota Review. Her poetry collection, Waitress at the Red Moon Pizzeria, was published by Unsolicited Press (Portland, OR) in 2016. Her short story collection, Kissing a Tree Surgeon, was accepted for publication by Guernica Editions (Canadian publisher). 


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