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Two Stories by Patty Yumi Cottrell


ON THE QUESTION OF VIOLA
     
Thomas gives Viola a haircut made of foxes. Thomas weaves some foxtails into Viola’s roots and he feeds the fox-mouths dead baby bats. Viola scrunches her nose. “I don’t like foxes,” she says. “Never have.” A few weeks pass. The foxes come apart in brownish red clumps. Viola, now vegetable bald, staggers into Thomas’ house. With the affect of the finest opera singer of their time, Viola says, “Is this what you meant for me? How could you?” After Thomas admires his work, he picks up Viola and puts her in a boat.
     Thomas takes Viola boating. They venture out to the deepest part of the sea. “I’m a diving expert,” says Viola. “Have you heard of the pinprick dive?” She arranges herself into the shape of a needle then slips into the water. Thomas peers over the side of the boat. “Viola!” he cries. He plunges into the sea and finds her at the bottom, presiding over a long and difficult lecture on Cromwell’s Siege of Basing House, 1645. “So here the new philosophical clarities reveal themselves,” whispers Thomas. Viola looks up from her notes. “You, the one with the skin of a crying ghost!” she says. “Quiet, you!” Thomas attempts to light a cigarette. “And I suppose there’s no smoking in here, either,” he mumbles.
     Thomas brushes his teeth while Viola sits at home, knitting houseflies patiently into a smooth white cloth. In between brushing and spitting, Thomas announces, “For a few weeks now, some questions about Viola have plagued me like the Aztec death.” One question waits patiently every morning at the foot of Thomas’ bed. Another lolls about in a lion-claw tub. A handful of them pitch a tent in the backyard and break out a banjo. “Come here, you!” Thomas says to the questions. He lures them into a mason jar doused with honey then seals the lid shut. He places the jar on the windowsill overlooking a small, shallow park reserved exclusively for the practices of the local Carmelite nuns. Thomas observes the questions for many hours. That night, after shrugging on his funeral garb, Thomas walks to Viola’s house muttering, “I will be so exquisitely pleased to inform you they were happy little deaths.”
     
     
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WITH HOW IT IS
     
Octavia fell in love with a witch. Also, the witch was a gymnast of Russian renown, but not Russian herself. One afternoon, she went inside Octavia and balanced herself on a wooden beam. “Tell me about this witch,” said Octavia’s therapist. “What does she look like, exactly?” Octavia opened her mouth, bulimic. Inside: a can factory manufacturing yellow cylinders of stunned autumn light. Her therapist examined them; he counted the cylinders coming off the conveyor belt, one-two-three and so on. He even admired the glass blocks installed in her cheeks’ pockets. “But where is the witch?” he said. “I can’t see her.” Octavia lifted her tongue. The witch sat on the floor of her mouth, slumped beneath a pommel horse, a generic white sports towel twisted around her throat. After Octavia’s therapist finished looking, he leaned back in his chair. “With how it is,” he said, “you must speak as little as possible.”
     
     
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Patty Yumi Cottrell was born in Korea and lives in New York. Her work appears or is forthcoming in Caketrain, Two Serious Ladies, Wigleaf, elimae and Everyday Genius.