Anthony Varallo

This morning my high school football coach follows me to work, where he paces in front of my desk while I'm on a conference call. He's grown older and heavier, but still has the habit of twisting his visor in his hands, as he did whenever we trailed at halftime. "You mind telling me one thing," he says, at the exact moment I'm the closest I've been to making this deal. I raise a finger, as if to say, One moment, but my coach ignores me. "Just tell me what gives you the right. That's all. What gives you the goddamned right?"
I'm about to answer, when my ex-wife's maid of honor joins the conference call. "You son of a bitch," she says. "After I sent you all those pictures of my kids' Christmas pageant." I'm about to tell her it didn't have anything to do with the pictures, but she cuts me off and says, "Save it. Okay? Just save it." I can hear her beginning to cry. "And here I was thinking I was being nice, what with everything that happened after you and Amelia split." I haven't heard her cry since the one time she called me after the divorce and told me she'd had a falling out with Amelia and I told her I would see what I could do, but ended up not mentioning it to Amelia, since my chief means of corresponding with Amelia had devolved into sending one another photos of salads we'd just made.
"I didn't mean to—" I say, but before I can finish, my office door swings open and my college roommate's lab partner bursts in and throws a Ralph Nader baseball cap at me, one that matches the T-shirt he's wearing and, I notice as he approaches my desk with an angry stride, a constellation of buttons and pins dotting his messenger bag. "Poser!" he shouts, and I can see the space between his front teeth that often imprisoned sunflower seeds. He clutches the edge of my desk, where the Nader cap has landed atop my iPod dock. "But this is what I'd expect from someone who voted Kerry!" he hisses. His breath is redolent of tapenade.
I escape to the men's room, but my neighbor's brother—the one who keeps sending me links to est conferences—is just finishing up at a urinal, while my father's Al-Anon's sponsor wrestles a paper towel from the wall dispenser, and says, "For your father's sake, I wish you'd reconsider." I head for the nearest stall, but my junior high yearbook editor is already inside, arms folded, staring me down with a clear look of contempt. "The sad part is," he says, in the slow, measured cadence he now uses in his audio posts, "I was always the one who defended you when everybody else said how shallow you were." The occupants of the other two stalls—my coworker's Wiccan sister and the Emo kid who bartends our company parties, respectively—punch and kick and call me names I'd hear if my driver's ed teacher wasn't yelling at me for not responding to his epic poem. "Sing, oh goddess," he cries, "of my murderous rage!"
I run to the lobby—my sixth grade pen pal pelting me with wadded airmail envelopes—and manage to reach the security desk before my sister's boyfriend grabs my sleeve and tells me I can just forget about checking out the Dave Matthews Band the next time they're in town. He's wearing the skinny jeans he and my sister posted photos of, and I would mention that I voted for the other, less-distressed pair, if the woman who always sends me links to her Etsy site didn't have me by the collar, her clunky and frightening and ill-wrought earrings juddering with unmistakable anger. "Don't think you'll be missed!" she says. "Because you won't."
Outside, it is raining, and I would take a cab to the subway if the cabs weren't driven by guys from my ex-wife's company softball team. So, I run to the subway, where half my senior class is pushing through the turnstiles, fists raised, and my mother's friend's son—the one whom my mother promised I'd give free drum lessons to—tries to take me out at the knees. I hurdle him, but cannot escape the crowd of poker buddies from my last job who gain on me as I reach the train, its interior crammed with my sister's graphic novel book club, my neighbor's best friend's adorable baby, that guy who always says hi to me at company barbecues, my landlord's wife's physical therapist, and the members of the 1998 Greenfield High School Model UN Reunion Committee. They glare at me as I step onto the train. They hurl insults, damp umbrellas.
And I nearly make it to my seat, when someone pulls me by the hand. I turn to see my ninth grade girlfriend, privately the only person I believe I've ever loved, her pretty hair and face rain-soaked enough that I cannot tell whether she is crying or not when she asks me why, when we said we'd stay good friends?

Anthony Varallo is the author of two collections of stories, THIS DAY IN HISTORY, which won the John Simmons Short Fiction Award from the University of Iowa Press, and OUT LOUD, which won the Drue Heinz Literature Prize. His third colllection, THINK OF ME AND I'LL KNOW, is forthcoming from Northwestern University Press/TriQuarterly Books. He teaches at the College of Charleston.

Detail of art on main page courtesy of Thiago Fonseca. (See full image.)

Read AV's postcard.

W i g l e a f               01-10-13                                [home]