August 5: “http://www.msjiz.boxx374.mpeg” by Rebecca Schiff

Happy Friday, Story366! As we head into one of the last weekends of the summer—two weeks from today, I’ll be at an all-day welcome-back department meeting—I hope that there’s sun coming in your window and something cold within your reach. Hey, wait, that last sentence is a nice sentiment, like a fortune cookie at a Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville. Words, to live by, especially since the sun is sneaking through the ivy that covers my window and I have a Diet Pepsi, fresh from the bar fridge by my work station; I grabbed the one closest to the little freezer compartment, so it’s kind of icy inside, my own private slushy machine. Happy Friday indeed.

Today’s story comes from Rebbeca Schiff‘s new collection, The Bed Moved, out from Knopf just this past spring. There’s a lot of stories in this collection, a lot of them shorts, which I gobbled right up. I found a lot of recurring themes in this collection, as well as some reoccurring images. The title story, which leads off the book, refers to its protagonist literally moving her bed, but as the story’s about her rash of short-term sexual relationships, the metaphor is pretty obvious. Sexual proclivity is found in all the shorts I read, but in a couple/few different stories, I also found references to support groups, baseball pitchers, religious guilt, and STDs. Schiff has her talking points, and they’re woven into her minimal, pungent stories masterfully. I enjoy shorts in general—that’s what my books are mostly made up of—but I particularly enjoyed Schiff’s in this collection. They come together to offer a real perspective, a real voice, making this book seem like a real collection, with an appropriate title.

Today I’m writing about one of the not-short short stories in the book (but still only eight pages), “http://www.msjiz.boxx374.mpeg,” a url for a title, maybe because I just want to write about a story that has a url for a title, but maybe because the story stands out as different. While the protagonists of many of the shorts touch on the themes I discuss above, “http://www.msjiz.boxx374.mpeg” tackles them in a different way. The protagonist, unnamed, depicted in third person past, has just lost her father and has returned to her childhood home to comfort her mother, but also to have a place to go. Her frequent visits, under the guise of fixing her mom’s computer, turn into long stays, turn in to a permanent return home. Grieving the dead father is at the forefront of our hero’s mind—she pauses when she sees her mother stacking dishes while wearing one of her father’s old T-shirts—but there’s also the relationship between mother and daughter, reuniting, an adult having to make that (re)adjustment. Years of striking out on her own have led her back to the same position in life she had in high school, minus her father.

For a piece that’s still relatively short, the plot goes in a few different directions, which kind of mirrors the protagonist’s frame of mind. What’s she supposed to be doing? One thing she discovers, saved on her father’s hard drive, is the titular url, which leads her to a video clip of two hugely breasted women boxing; really, it’s all unique foreplay, as the boxing is more shoving and then touching and then … you get the picture. The protagonist has an epiphany, that all men look at porn, and like everybody, even the most expansive tactics to hide that fact will probably still leave evidence. Even when she types “w” into the search bar and “women boxing” autofills—and realizes this was something her father specifically sought out—she moves on. After losing a long battle with cancer, her father perhaps deserves the benefit of the doubt.

Can I deny, though, the specific type of porn that Schiff chooses here, in relation to the character dynamic? Two women—very endowed, womanly women—fight each other in a ring as the prevailing image, while the story features two women (both of whom, by the way, are small-chested) going head to head in a more figurative way. That’s not an accident, of course, and it makes a reader wonder what’s at play here beyond situational serendipity. In the end, I think it’s Schiff having fun with imagery and metaphor, shooting for a lasting impression, without the pieces fitting together too cleanly or obviously. “http://www.msjiz.boxx374.mpeg” is a story about people coming to terms with things, so a little fun is more than welcome.

And yes, I did put the url into my search engine. Google couldn’t find the server.

I like Rebecca Schiff’s writing, which I’ve come across before in lit journals, and was happy to see The Bed Moved released, that a wider audience will get a chance to discover her work, too. Her stories, which seems inspired by Susan Minot, maybe a little Mary Gaitskill, have their own identity, live in their own world. A really solid debut.