December 9, 2020: “The Girl and the Fox Pirate” by Kate Gehan

Happy Wednesday to you, Story366!

Two days ago, I wrote about that weird impromptu college football game between BYU and Coastal Carolina, how I thought it was an awesome idea and execution, just common sense surpassing rules and norms in the era of COVID. Two undefeated teams with championship aspirations got together and played, the winner strengthening their profile, the loser knowing they gave it a shot.

That was in theory, after all, as all of this is going down in the time of coronavirus, and in general, I don’t think it’s a good idea that these teams are playing at all. I said, two days ago, that the COVID part of the equation would be a topic for another day, and here we go: It’s another day.

Should any of this really be going on at this point? The answer, probably, is no. If we—as in the U.S.—really want to stop the spread of this virus, keep our people from getting sick, then no, there’d be no organized sports of any kind. The pro leagues are a (slightly) different story, so let’s not talk about those (at least not until another another day), but the colleges and universities who are playing involve a different set of people. Sure, those people are all over 18 and are legally adults (let’s not even get into high school …), and yes, most programs gave the opt-out option, student athletes able to continue on at school, under scholarship, without playing.

But cancellations have come more and more frequently as of late, in both football and basketball, meaning a lot of these young people have been sick, young people who would not have been sick if they’d been quarantining at home, taking classes online. Ohio State’s football team has only played five of eight scheduled games (as opposed to twelve in a normal year) because of positive tests. PAC 12 leader USC has only played four games. The first and second-ranked men’s basketball teams, Gonzaga and Baylor, called their games off for two weeks, canceling five contests each. Even Coach K, after getting trounced last night by my Illini, wonders why they were still playing, questioning the logic and safety of continuing on.

And these are just the teams and programs who decided not to play. Most universities are just throwing the kids out there, week after week. If they test positive, they sit a week, then come back as soon as they test negative. So much for quarantining everyone who’s been around them for two weeks, like the Florida Marlins and St. Louis Cardinals did this past summer. Student athletes who test positive before a game are literally plucked out of the locker room—where they’ve been hanging out with the entire team and staff—and sent home. What happened to two-week quarantines for anyone who’s possibly been exposed? I guess college sports have decided to ignore all this, to only sit people who have specifically tested positive, then put them right into the mix the second they test negative. Forget anyone who’s might have the virus but isn’t showing signs as of yet.

This doesn’t even take into consideration the long-term effects of this disease. These programs seem to be treating this COVID stuff like the chicken pox, assuming that once the virus runs through the player’s system, they’re A-OK and ready to play again. In that model, it’d be worth pushing through, exposing all these athletes like a bunch of moms at a daycare, having them play with each other and touch each other, just so they get it out of the way. We don’t even do that for chicken pox anymore—now there’s a vaccine—so why would we do that for coronavirus, pre-vaccine? It almost seems like these schools and programs don’t care about their athletes.

Of course, this is all about money, the billions of dollars—and that’s not exaggeration—they’d lose if they didn’t play. The athletes want to play, too, so part of this is on them, but schools are supposed to guide these young adults into good decisions, not enable them into dangerous situations. It’s like how they don’t outright encourage drinking, but do condone the Greek system.

I’m a hypocrite, I’ll admit, because I’ve watched or listened to all five of Illinois’ basketball games already this season. It’s been nice to see them play again, especially since they’re so good this year. But if they didn’t play, instead opting to keep safe, wouldn’t that be better? I’d make that sacrifice. It’s not up to me, though. Instead it’s in the hands of people who are supposed to know better, but apparently do not.

For today’s post, I read from Kate Gehan‘s 2018 collection, The Girl & the Fox Pirate, out from Mojave River Press. Gehan is a flash writer, and I’ve always liked all the work I’ve read from her before, all of it in online journals. I’m glad to have this collection in hand, to have read a bunch of these together.

The Girl and the Fox Pirate is a book of flash fiction, meaning I consumed the whole thing today. It also means I could literally pick any of the stories from the book to feature today, or give at least a rundown of all of them. I’ll stick with some highlights instead, focusing a little more on the title story. Overall, though, (spoiler alert) this is a weird and wonderful and perfect book and you should read it.

“Not They Would Behave” is the lead story and is about a little nuclear family whose dragon has flown away. The family searches for it, but still makes a date to play mini-golf at the local art museum. There they find their dragon, nestled behind the stegosaurus statue on one of the holes, and stake it down. The mom in this equation, by story’s end, emerges as the hero.

“Things to Do While Listening to Your Brother on the Phone” is a voyeuristic tale that’s aptly described in the title. Gehan is able to reveal a lot about the relationship between siblings, as well as the character of the protagonist, said voyeur.

“Maps” is a particular favorite of mine, one that pits the protagonist as a map thief, a Hitcockian hero who breaks into libraries and steals ancient maps. Why? Her brother, whose plane disappeared years prior, keeps showing up, Raiders of the Lost Ark-style, on every map she sees. However, she hasn’t found him yet, so she keeps searching out more maps, more options, hoping to find the answer.

“Radioactive” is about a guy whose sister is an alcoholic, one who makes grand, public displays of herself, as well as wise pondering.

“Sexpot Mermaid” features a young couple who have just moved in together, to the woman’s mother’s chagrin. Among other things, the couple likes to go down to an old school to play handball, where there’s a painting of a sexy mermaid on the wall. They aim the ball at different parts of the mermaid, allotting different points for different parts. When someone vandalizes their target, they make a plan to make things better, to save their friend.

The shortest piece, “I See the Way Your Eyes Follow Me at Target,” is about a woman and her lifelong crush, now adults in the same small community.

The woman at the center of “Foot Licking Bandit” recalls the first time she ever licked a foot, at the grocery store, her initial foray in a long line of tasted peds.

The title story, “The Girl and the Fox Pirate,” is another favorite. This one features a woman who works as a museum, kind of a jack-of-all-trades, running tours, teaching kids, cleaning things up, etc. She’s also in a relationship with a fox, who hangs out with her at night when no one else is around.

She and the fox play-act in the children’s theater, the fox dressing like a pirate. He’s charming and suave, this fox, and it seems like this lonely docent, etc., will do anything he says. An antique carousel sits on the top floor of the museum and the fox wants to ride it, our hero wont to comply.

Only, he doesn’t want to simply ride the carousel—he wants to fuck on it. There’s a bumpy tiger that catches his eye, but our hero thinks one of the benches would be better, more comfortable. For a woman fucking a fox on an antique museum merry-go-round, at least there’s a line she won’t cross. Did I mention the fox talks in a pirate accent the whole time, Arghh! and whatnot?

Wait, though, there’s a brief intersession, a few sentences long, talking about a man—I assume it’s not the fox—who seems to be leaving, going to New York, and not taking our museum employee with him. Hmm. Seems like this might be about something else, too.

You should be able to tell by these thumbnail sketches of these thumbnail stories that Kate Gehan has a pretty vivid imagination, that she’s able to apply it to some serious flash short story writing in The Girl & The Fox Pirate, her 2018 debut. I absolutely gobbled up these stories, tearing through this book and Gehan’s wondrous, skewed view of the world. About this book, I’ll rave, sorry it took me so long to get to it. Gehan might be one of our best flash writers and I can’t wait to read her next whatever.

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