Joe Granato Short Fiction Chin Muscle I live in the Rivington building on the Upper East Side. One of the glass walled suites on the nineteenth floor. My name is Lance Fisher. I’m twenty-seven years old. Forbes magazine called me one of America’s most promising investors. Just last year I banked about, well, the lets just say the number would make one wonder if I forgot to add a decimal point. I apologize that I’m only wearing a towel. I just returned home from a run and well, I’m sure you already know how well I placed last spring in the New York triathlon. I hope this doesn’t come across as too forward but… “Mom, shut the door!” I said. Stumbling to hold onto my Kellogg’s beach towel. I could see her holding back a thousand pounds of laughter through the crack in the door. “Hey there, Ian. Is Ian still okay? Or are you going by Lance now?” she said. My face went red. “Jesus, Mom, get outta here!” I said. I thought about jumping out the window. I thought about trying to pull my entire body into my towel like a scrawny turtle. “I’m going, I’m going”, she said. “But clean up and come down stairs. Breakfast is ready. Unless you already filled up on hundred dollar sirloins in your New York loft.” She chuckled and shut the door. “Jesus, mom!” I said. I thought about how Lance Fisher’s mom would never just walk into his room. I bet Lance Fisher doesn’t even have a mom. I bet he traded his parents for stock investments when he was my age. I tightened my towel around my size twenty-seven waist and leaned back against my dresser. I checked the mirror for Lance Fisher, but all I found was some mop haired seventh grader. Who was I kidding? Upper East Side? I’ve been to New York once. Mom
Granato 2 took me to some huge toy store and embarrassed me on that giant piano Tom Hanks played with his feet. And triathlon? Really? Last time I ran the mile was fourth grade. Technically, yeah, I won. I beat Tim O’Neil by five seconds, but I peed myself on the third lap. He talked about it for two weeks, so I use the word won lightly. “Ian. Breakfast.” Mom yelled from downstairs. I looked back in the mirror, past my taped up Andre the Giant trading card. I ran my chewed nails through my wet red hair. It looked like someone empted an aerosol can of spray cheese on my head. “Today is the last day of seventh grade”, I told myself. “You have one more chance to make Jessie Silverson your woman.” I flexed my chicken wings. …I’m screwed. Breakfast was a bust. Asparagus. Spaghetti squash. Stuff from the ground. What was this woman thinking? This could very well be my last breakfast as a single man. Trix. Now we’re talking raw fuel. “You know that stuff make you crazy,” Mom said. Crazy? Crazy works. I raised the holy grail of cereal to my lips. I felt every artificially colored puff get absorbed by my tiny biceps, a rainbow of fructose confidence. Lance Fisher eats cereal. Lance Fisher devours women. There had to be a connection there. I grabbed my book bag and rushed out the door. And like Lance watches the sunrise in the rear view mirror of his Lamborghini, I watched Tim O’Neil give me the middle finger out the back window of the school bus, as it passed right by me. I cringed at the now realized adjustment of my morning commute. Mom saw the whole thing and before I could lunge through the screen door and put her in a sleeper hold, she was waking up Uncle Frank. I wanted to reflexively draw a tranquilizer gun from my Hulk Hogan trapper keeper. I thought about calling a cab with my scientific calculator and
Granato 3 paying the driver in bologna sandwiches. There was nothing I could do now. Getting driven to school was reserved for two kinds of kids, the lazy and the late. I’ll be the first to admit that the most work I did last summer was on a tub of sherbet while watching Gilmore Girls. So I’ll take lazy. But there was one thing Uncle Frank had been since the day he was born, late. The creek of the screen door opening was long and drawn out this time. One hairy leg extended from behind the screen, soon followed by the other and the pear shaped body that managed to balance atop of them. He moved unreasonably slow, like a man trying not to lose his family in an airport terminal. One slipper followed another. The bottom of his polka dot robe caught a hold of the wind like a kite rising in altitude, a kite that could erase kites from history as something to be admired by children. I clenched my eyes shut with great force. But as he grew closer I heard the heavy breath, the steady huff and puff of a Clydesdale–No–A deep-dish pizza with legs. “Ian, my dude. Wudda ya sleep walking? Hop in the convertible, little man”, he said. I glanced toward the driveway. It was a turquoise jeep wrangler with zip-down windows. Lance Fisher would’ve scrapped that sucker and spent the money on hair gel. With his fluffy slipper falling heavy on the gas, we carved each suburban corner like a thanksgiving turkey. I battled the wind to speak. “What’s….the possibility….of us listening to something else?” I asked. My body jerked as he whipped the jeep around a bend. I felt the stiff seatbelt chewing on my neck, leaving a strange hickey to proclaim both my safety and lack-there-of. “Right on lil’ dude. I’ve got a couple righteous new ones”, he said. “Backpacking Through Divorce, A Vegas Divorce, When the Vow
Granato 4 Breaks...” Another sharp turn jostled my jaw, causing me to swallow my answer. I had become uncomfortably familiar with most of Uncle Franks self help divorce cassettes, each tape spewing the layered metaphors or a lonely Jewish man. …and I found myself running through the woods… The voice merged with the rushing wind, as if some strange booming God of marriage advice spoke right over our heads. …for the first time I was a dolphin rather than a shark… He braked harshly in the parent drop off lane. My red hair stood on end like a brushfire. I fell out of the jeep and stumbled across the bus lane toward school. I glanced back at my robed driver, as he threw up dated surfer gestures from across the parking lot. I rushed into homeroom and claimed my strategically chosen seat next to Blair. Blair had swiftly become my best friend in Orchard Valley, mainly because he has the most medieval name in our middle school: Blair Roadknight. He moved here from the beach, which is like a forty-five minute drive, so he’s basically seen the world. He was dark and crispy from the sun and when we first met he let me peel some of that strange clear sunburn skin off of his forearm. He reminded me of my pet lizard. I leaned over and nudged his elbow. “Hey, hey Blair, tell me a story about that wild free open road”, I said. He reciprocated my longing look of excitement. “So last summer my dad took me out on his Harley and…” And he puked on himself. I already knew this one. I disengaged. Mr. Hart was hunched over his desk. He turned his mouth from side to side causing his mustache to curl up into his own nostril. And protruding from his nostril was more hair. The sections of hair merged in a dark hairy waterfall, which flowed from his nose, to his chin, to his neck, until finally disappearing under the collar of his shirt. He
Granato 5 was the perfect example of everything he’d taught us about evolution, the missing link. He quickly looked up from admiring the pressed bug collection in his wallet. I hurled my glance in the other direction. “Alright gang, take your seats there.” The beast spoke. “Come on, come on”, he said. A sense of panic flooded my body. Something felt very, very wrong. The desk in front of mine was still empty. The sweet scent of lip-gloss and Spice Girls lollipops was absent from my nostrils. Where the hell was Jessie Silverson? Blair leaned over, “dude, where the hell is Jessie Silverson?” My limbs went stiff. I felt like a frozen cat from the anatomy fridge, petrified in my chair, waiting for Jessie to come in and dissect my heart into a hundred tiny frozen pieces. I miss the way she’d twirl a gel pen between those pink nails of hers. Diva painted so elegantly on her pinky. I miss the way she’d crack her gum and call Blair a fucking creep. You’re a fucking creep, Blair, she’d say. God I miss that. I was crushed. Squashed even. Any second Mr. Hart would slide me into a page in his wallet. I’d join the pressed beetles. And there I’d stay for the rest of my life, between crumpled dollar bills and ass sweat. Mr. Hart called our attention. “Alright gang, I’ve got a special treat for you today”, he said. Blair leaned over, “dude, what the hell are you gonna do? Jessie is out sick”, he said. Mr. Hart glanced toward the door. “We’ve got a special guest”, he said. I actually had no idea what the hell I was going to do. If Jessie was out sick, what could I do? What would Lance Fisher do? For once, I didn’t know. Mr. Hart waved someone in from the hallway “Mr. Aaron Wescott came all the way from New York City to teach you guys a bit about investments and the business world”, he said. For once I had no idea what Lance Fisher would…wait, what? I conceded the staring contest with my desk and jerked my head up. In the middle
Granato 6 of our crumby science homeroom stood a wall street God. His…his dress shoes…they were so clean. I instantly felt like I needed a shower. That suit. That demeanor. I could see my freckled reflection in his fucking shimmering pomade hair. He was the real life Lance Fisher. I felt myself pee a little bit in my Simpsons boxers. Blair leaned over, “dude”, he said. For the first time in his life, he couldn’t have said it better. Jessie’s best friend squealed. A silence fell over the classroom. All I could hear was the heavy panting of a dozen seventh grade girls, staring up at Aaron Wescott’s carefully pampered butt chin. It bulged out like two chiseled bones and met in the middle. Or was it muscle? Jesus Christ, he had chin muscle from gnawing sirloins. Mr. Hart leaned over his desk. “Say, Aaron, nice shoes”, he said. “The wife just bought me a new pair of hush puppies and I…” Wescott cut him off with the wave of a hand. He stepped forward and surveyed our class with his stabbing eyes, sizing us up one by one, like he was picking out a healthy racehorse. Jessie’s best friend jutted out her jaw to hide her braces. Another girl doubled her lipstick. Then tripled her lipstick. Blair stopped peeling the sunburn off of his forearm and elongated his neck like a Swedish model. Wescott turned quickly in the center isle and slowly raised his hand in proclamation before pausing. The desks creaked as everyone leaned forward in their chairs, magnetized toward him. I shuddered as I watched hundreds of tiny golden hairs of stubble emerge from beneath his well-moisturized skin. His broad stone jaw rumbled. “Mexico…is a beautiful land”, he said. “You can get just about any kind of perception drug you want there.” He paused for a moment, relishing in some unseen victory, then reached for his patent leather briefcase and proceeded to the door. Mr. Hart shook off his gaze and began
Granato 7 to applaud. “Yes, so inspiring”, he said, smiling like an idiot. His mustache became erect. Before Wescott took his final step out the door, he pivoted his body toward us; those eyes taking mine hostage. He folded his manicured hand into a finger gun and from the hip gestured one shot in my direction. A direct hit. I reflexively checked my gut. No blood. My sweater. Clean. And just like that, he was gone. After class I sat on the toilet and replayed everything that had just happened in my head. I stared down at the mustard colored linoleum floor from inside the stall. I watched the puffy white sneakers come in and out of the bathroom with a squeak. Aaron Wescott was half way back to New York by now. Squeaking sneakers. His carefully pressed suit pants were outstretched across the back seat of his black Lincoln town car. More squeaking sneakers. A girl named Daphne was feeding him shrimp and champagne. The tap of a dress shoe. He was…wait, that sound. I picked my feet up off the floor and peaked through the hinge of the stall door. Beyond the crusty gum and the black markered Laura is a slut…was Aaron Wescott. He groomed his glistening slicked hair in the mirror. It was thick and creamy, like the yolk of a chocolate Cadbury egg. It was clean and…it was slick and…it…he adjusted it…it…Jesus Christ, it was a toupee. I nearly slipped into the toilet. I struggled not to make a sound. I held my breath. The bathroom smelled like shit and expensive hair products. Finally, I relieved my fingers of the weight and kicked open the stall door. I exploded out the other side, shaking and sweating. All the things I finally realized and finally had the guts to say finally dribbled out of my mouth. “You’re nothing but a perfectly pampered chin muscle”, I said. My shoulders dropped with my guard. My potent awkward words echoed
Granato 8 only for my own ears. The bathroom was empty. I paused for what felt like the rest of my middle school career. Finally, I turned and checked the mirror for Lance Fisher, but instead, found a mop haired seventh grader. For the first time I was relieved.
The exotically imaginitve mind of a middle schooler is rattled when the real life version of his own fictional alter ego visits his class. W...