August 31, 2020: “Scooped-Out Chest” by Tara Isabel Zambrano

Monday is here, Story366!

Today was the Major League Baseball Trade Deadline, kind of a late-season holiday for any baseball fan. Deals have to be struck by today or they can’t be struck, especially if teams want these new players to appear in the postseason. When your team is in contention, as my Cubs are this year, it’s fun to watch the Internets, to see what goes down. Everyone likes a big splash, their team scoring that all-star, the guy who’s going to step in and make a huge difference. Historically, this doesn’t actually happen all that often, as a lot of big-time trades are duds, and even more often, never materialize. Yet, you still hope that you score that guy who’s going to make a difference, who’s going to win the big game in the playoffs. The general manager looks like a genius, your team hoists a banner, and you feel good about the world for at least a little while, like the entire offseason. It’s a fantasy as much as fantasy baseball is fantasy baseball. I love it.

The Cubs did not score that all-star today, but since yesterday, they did acquire four nice players that will help them to fill some holes. Only time will tell if these are the guys who are going to make that difference, push them over the top. We’ll see.

What I’m getting at here with all this is I forgot about the world’s problems for a little while today. Baseball has done that a lot, and I’ve watched every minute I’ve been able to since it started back in late July. I’ve also watched replays, read articles, and talked hot stove with other fans. Today I kept my eyes on those updates, emailed with friends, and posted news. I also did a little prognasticating. For a little while, it felt like the world was normal. Of course, it’s not, but that’s the magic of sports, of any worthwhile distraction. It’ll be fun to see the new guys in uniform. In a month, there will be playoffs. And then? Well, I’ll find something, I’m sure.

Today I read from Tara Isabel Zambrano‘s forthcoming collection, Death, Desire, and Other Destinations, due out from Okay Donkey Books on September 15. I’ve read a lot of Zambrano’s stories before, and have published her Moon City Review on a couple of occasions. I love her work and love this book, which I’m happy to write about her debut collection here today.

Zambrano writes mostly shorts, though many of them are of the three-to-five-page variety, not a lot of pure flash. That means I read through the book today, enjoying all of it, and I’ve chosen a story as the focus piece more or less because I always do—I could have chosen two dozen pieces to focus on here, but could only choose one (I’m a slave to my own paradigm).

“Scooped-Out Chest” is about a woman who carves her own heart out of her chest. We don’t really know why, but she does. This doesn’t kill her—magical realism, you know—and instead, the heart becomes a bit of a chum. She and the heart drink shots, eat ice cream, and binge-watch TV. This is all fun—I do the same with my pancreas sometimes. What really makes this story is the relationship she has with the heart, emotionally, how she feels so guilty for letting it down so many times, for allowing it to be broken, revealing the real motivation behind her violent act.

There are so many other great moments here. “Lunar Love” is about a lesbian couple who travels to the moon to get married. “Up and Up” features a woman who walks in on her widowed mother having sex, watching a younger man going down on her. “Milk” is about a family of adults who still breast-feed, at least until their mother finds another baby, in a Dumpster, to feed instead. “The Moons of Jupiter” features a woman who’s fucked so hard and well by her lover, she goes blind for a day. “We’re Waiting to Hear Our Names” flashes through a couple’s life in a montage, from their first kiss in the back of a Chevy, to them lying side by side in a graves, many years later. “Acid of Curiosity” posits a sixteen-year-old girl who has another girl living inside her.

One that still gets me is “Hands,” about a woman and her father, a father whose hands are large and loving. Long after his death, she can still feel them and all the comfort they brought to her.

“Hum” depicts a woman who has an affair with a dwarf, then mothering several stars as a result. “A Surprising Frailty” details a dysfunctional family where the mother arranges street fights for her kids—that and they all seem to have sex. “Enfold” is a ghost story, a woman haunted by her dead husband living in the walls of her house.

I could probably list every story in Death, Desire, and Other Destinations here, give a one-sentence summary, tell you about all of Tara Isabel Zambrano’s magnificent tales. But where’s the fun in giving it all away? I strongly urge you to go out and pre-order this book so it comes to you ASAP, and if you’re reading this in the future, to find yourself a copy, ASAP as well. This is one of my favorite books of 2020 and one of the best I’ve covered here this year, this weird, sexy, disturbing exploration of humans. I love it.