Excerpt: ‘The Stag' by Sam Pink

 
Art by Casey Jarman

Art by Casey Jarman

 

I live in a small town in Michigan, close to a reception hall where I work weddings.

My apartment is on the outskirts of town, by a large field of lavender, which has just begun to die.

Behind that, it’s woods and wet-lands, with fallen trees, small areas of marsh, signs about poison ivy, and some random work-out stations made of wood and metal.

I’m there now, doing pull ups before work.

The sunlight is golden on the trees, leaves changing color, air beginning to cool.

Tonight I have to work a 300-person wedding.

But that’s tonight.

For now, I’m free.

I hop up and grab the pull up bar and do ten pull ups, hop back down.

Blood is moving through my body.

I look out across the large, bright field.

A rustling reveals a family of deer running away, into the clearing.

A large one and three smaller ones.

Boo!

They disappear.

They go somewhere else.

They’re gone.

***

I arrive at the reception hall two hours before the guests.

‘Hey hey,’ I say to my boss, in the main room.

He’s straightening the place settings at long wooden tables.

He says hi, looking very tired.

‘What’s goin’ on, lavender man?’ I say, referencing his lavender-colored shirt. ‘Check out lavender man, everybody.’

My coworkers laugh.

My boss smiles.

I tie a black apron over my black button up shirt, and black dress pants.

All black.

The point of all black, in addition to just being the uniform, is to remove me/us as much as possible.

In the dimly lit hall, wearing all black makes me, basically, a shadow.

Designed to create the illusion that the environment is serving them.

That I’m not really there.

Just hands in the air.

My bootstok tok in the large empty hall as I take a look around the room.

A rug and a couch off to the side of the main table, the main table lined up in the middle of the room.

There’s an antique dresser behind the head table.

‘Nice, very nice,’ I say.

The event planner runs around with various candles and plants.

Boxes of glass things.

Gold cursive cards to mark tables.

Hanging glass orbs with electronic candles in them.

Chandeliers.

People on ladders hanging a big banner of ivy with lights in it, over an arch.

There?

Right there.

I help my coworkers place silverware.

Steak knife then butter knife on right, salad fork then dinner fork on left.

Order.

A process.

The silverware is spotty.

Everyone’s tired.

Bartenders set up glasses, mixers, ice, wine bottles, and cases of beer.

Photographers survey the room.

The DJ sets up speakers.

We move tables just slightly.

Huge, heavy tables built by Amish people in neighboring towns.

Chairs, stacking and unstacking.

I look outside at a silo, around which are chairs and a small tent thing from yesterday’s ceremony.

Emptychairs on green grass beneath blue sky and white clouds.

Yesterday’s ceremony is today’s task.

‘Two families will become one tonight,’ I say, in an evil voice, to my coworkers.

They laugh.

‘Who’s on “Living Ottoman” duty tonight,’ one says.

It’s a joke we made up.

Living Ottoman.

I right-side water glasses and polish them, base then rim.

‘No, but, I just hope everyone enjoys themselves tonight,’ I say. ‘That’s what I’m here for.’

My boss smiles, straightening some knives. ‘I can never tell if he’s being serious or not.’

‘I’m being serious right now, Lavender Man. It’s our job to help aid in this union. If that’s not what you’re here for, you get the hell out right now.’

I continue polishing glasses.

Looking out the window, there’s a few crows.

They’re waiting to fly me back to the woods.

You’re so beautiful, I think.

Boo!

***

In the kitchen, everyone hustles.

It’s steamy.

‘Wuddup Shane!’ I yell, to the dish-washer. ‘You doing good?! You doing fucking good?!’

The dishwasher smiles. ‘Shit, you see very well I’m on top of it. Rogue agent.’

At some point he’d begun referring to us as ‘rogue agents.’

And at first, I didn’t understand.

But then, I did, and I think he did too.

Rogue agents.

Sometimes he’d say it while putting his back against mine, doing a two handed/guns up motion.

I liked Shane.

He had gray teeth and looked anorexic.

He lived in the trailer park by my apartment complex.

Same look on his face always, only his mouth moved.

He listened to music through a portable speaker.

Some type of music I’d never heard.

Sounded like music for a videogame, with an eastern/dance tone.

Like, unless you were riding a horse made of shadows, through a forest in Romania, on the way to kill a werewolf out of revenge, holding an emeralds word—your eyes red and lightning filled—I’m not sure it was appropriate.

But that’s what rogue agents do.

Live outside the rules.

‘Rogue agents,’ Shane says, nodding.

We bump elbows.

‘Rogue agents,’ I say.

Shane smiles.

‘Bro, if they don’t sort the knives tonight bro,’ he says, suddenly serious, ‘I’m gonna snap, man. I mean it.’

Sometimes people forgot to sort the sharp knives from the other silverware.

And Shane has been stabbed many times.

He has survived many, extremely-minor stabbings.

He often displays the bandaids on his hands to prove it.

‘Shane, I’m gonna tell those mother-fuckers what to do, and they’re gonna do it. They will all submit. I can’t have an injured rogue agent.’

He holds up both hands, fingers splayed. ‘Bro I got stabbed so many times, I’m gonna snap.’

And he’s serious.

He’s totally serious.

‘Don’t snap,’ I say.

‘Bro, I’m gonna have ta snap. I’m serious. Fuck it though. Tomorrow’s my mom’s birthday,’ he says, lifting up his backwards hat and lowering it again.

Says he’s taking her out.

‘Nice, I hope you have a good time.Tell your mom happy birthday.’

He says theywill have a good time, and tells me about a deal happening at the place they’re going.

‘That’s a hell of a deal,’ I say, raising my eyebrows. ‘I wish I was going with.’ Then I stare off for a second. ‘Alright, you ready for this shit man?! You ready for this?!’

‘I’m ready!’

More servers show up.

We stand around listening to the plan from the lead server, who has written an itinerary on a whiteboard.

Strategies for the evening.

The process.

Guests come in at.

Ceremony at.

Cocktail hour at.

Speeches at.

Dinner served at.

Dancing at.

Last call at.

Sparkler send-off at.

Guests out at.

Vendors out at.

Done.

Victory.

Sleep.

‘Gonna be a long one, kids,’ says the lead server. ‘Pain death murder kill, et cetera.’

‘But to aid in eternal love, what is pain?’ I say to the group.

Sandy laughs.


This above is an excerpt of a piece from Issue 43 of The Lifted Brow. Get your copy here!

Sam Pink is the writer of The Garbage Times/White Ibis (Soft Skull Press, 2018). His forthcoming collection The Ice Cream Man and Other Stories will be published by Soft Skull Press in winter 2020.

Casey Jarman has served as an editor at the Willamette Week and The Believer in San Francisco, written for Nylon, Next American City and Reed Magazine and provided illustrations for Portland Mobthly and Lucky Peach.

Issue 43 of The Lifted Brow Out Today!

 
TLB issue 43_8.jpg
 
 
 

Check your mailboxes, check this link, or check the shelves and counters in all good bookstores for the bursting colours on Power Paola’s cover for Issue 43, because it’s officially out today!

We’re stoked you can all finally read the wonderful winning pieces of both the Prize for Experimental Non-Fiction and the inaugural Liminal Fiction Prize inside Issue 43. These accompany a fresh spread of thoughtful essays, fiction, translations, commentary, criticism, poetry, and so many pages of comics and illustrated work.

 
 

Here’s what’s inside Issue 43:

  • the winning piece from our 2019 Prize for Experimental Non-Fiction, ‘TRETINOIN’ by Jean Bachoura and Flatwhite Demascus;

  • the winning piece from the inaugural Liminal Fiction Prize, ‘Bad Weather’ by Bryant Apolonio;

  • Alison Whittaker and Nayuka Gorrie talk literary prizes and the responsibility of being black writers;

  • Jordy Rosenberg in conversation with Stella Maynard and Eilish Fitzpatrick about Confessions of the Fox, the history of trans surveillance, and the pleasure of being read to;

  • Ana Maria Gomides considers race, queerness, and personal histories through the careful lens of seeing and being seen;

  • Maddee Clark discusses architecture and urban spaces in the context of First Nations sovereignty;

  • memoir by Sydnye Allen about Albury–Wodonga, casual racism and our concepts of borders;

  • Paula Abul on queer desire, race, and the joy of drag king performance;

  • brand new realist fiction from Sam Pink that follows the mundane duties and acerbic conversations of a caterer at a wedding, revealing the unexpected beauty in our most trivial and consequential moments;

  • vinegary short fiction by Victoria Manifold that delights in its insalubrity;

  • arresting fiction from Aude, translated by Cristy Stiles, on the pursuit of silence;

  • new poetry from Saaro Umar, Eunice Andrada and Elyas Alavi;

  • columns: Antonia Pont’s ‘Thinking Feeling’ column about the ethics of the trigger and how to deal with triggeredness, Michael Dulaney’s ‘Environment’ column about the solidarity to be found the Whyalla steel industry and the wonders of the cuttlefish, Aimee Knight explores the traumatic heart of dark tourism in her 'Pop Culture' column, and Benjamin Law and his mum Jenny’s ‘Law School’ sex+relationships advice column;

  • a special ‘By Numbers’ feature using numerical data to investigate pet ownership in Australia;

  • and new comics and visual art by Miles Howard-Wilks, Margot Ferrick, Han Teng, Antoine Orand, Matty Kaye, Thu Tran, Rebecca Scibilia, Arts Project Australia, Haein Kim, Nadia Ingrid, Casey Jarman, Ilana Bodenstein, Meg O'Shea, April Phillips, Lizzie Nagy, and Shae San Sim.

 

A big thanks to our incredible contributors, columnists, editors and all the staff and interns at The Lifted Brow for making this issue come together. And, of course, a warm thank-you and ENJOY to our wonderful readers and subscribers. You complete us. ◆

Issue 43 of The Lifted Brow out next week!

 
 
 

A very exciting new issue of The Lifted Brow is out imminently. How imminently, you ask? Next Monday. Why is it exciting? There will be not one but two prize-winning pieces available to the public to read for the first time inside.

‘TRETINOIN’, the winner of The Lifted Brow & RMIT non/fictionLab Prize for Experimental Non-fiction, by Jean Bachoura and Flatwhite Damascus will feature in Issue 43, as well as the inaugural winner of the Liminal Fiction Prize, Bad Weather’, by Bryant Apolonio.

 
 

We’ve just got the first copies back from the printers today, and Power Paola’s cover art is even more vibrant and beautiful in person. Inside the cover of Issue 43, you’ll also find:

  • Alison Whittaker and Nayuka Gorrie talk literary prizes and the responsibility of being black writers;

  • Jordy Rosenberg in conversation with Stella Maynard and Eilish Fitzpatrick about Confessions of the Fox, the history of trans surveillance, and the pleasure of being read to;

  • Ana Maria Gomides considers race, queerness, and personal histories through the careful lens of seeing and being seen;

  • Paula Abul on queer desire, race, and the joy of drag king performance;

  • Maddee Clark discusses architecture and urban spaces in the context of First Nations sovereignty;

  • memoir by Sydnye Allen about Albury–Wodonga, casual racism and our concepts of borders;

  • brand new realist fiction from Sam Pink that follows the mundane duties and acerbic conversations of a caterer at a wedding, revealing the unexpected beauty in our most trivial and consequential moments;

  • vinegary short fiction by Victoria Manifold that delights in its insalubrity;

  • arresting fiction from Aude, translated by Cristy Stiles, on the pursuit of silence;

  • new poetry from Saaro Umar, Eunice Andrada and Elyas Alavi;

  • columns: Antonia Pont’s ‘Thinking Feeling’ column about the ethics of the trigger and how to deal with triggeredness, Michael Dulaney’s ‘Environment’ column about the solidarity to be found the Whyalla steel industry and the wonders of the cuttlefish, Aimee Knight explores the traumatic heart of dark tourism in her 'Pop Culture' column, and Benjamin Law and his mum Jenny’s ‘Law School’ sex+relationships advice column;

  • a special ‘By Numbers’ feature using numerical data to investigate pet ownership in Australia;

  • and new comics and visual art by Miles Howard-Wilks, Margot Ferrick, Han Teng, Antoine Orand, Matty Kaye, Thu Tran, Rebecca Scibilia, Arts Project Australia, Haein Kim, Nadia Ingrid, Casey Jarman, Ilana Bodenstein, Meg O'Shea, April Phillips, Lizzie Nagy, and Shae San Sim.

Lucky subscribers will be the first to receive their copies in the mail. As always, Issue 43 will also be available in all good bookstores from September 2nd. Or you can pre-order through us! ◆