December 18, 2020: “Patti Smith” by Melissa Ragsly

Happy Friday, Story366!

I just watched the season finale of The Mandalorian and OH MY GOD!!! I had some expectations going in, as well as some guesses, but my jaw hit the floor when __________, then again when _________. Most all, I couldn’t believe it when _________ finally _________. And who saw it coming when __________ __________ _________ right in the middle of the _________! I’m freaking out about it, which will only be sated by me watching the episode again a couple of times, just to verify that _________ indeed __________. OH MY GOD!!!

I’m pretty buzzed from the whole experience, but as the same time, bummed, as it’s going to be forty-five weeks until we see how things pick up. Ugh. Alas, Disney has announced a ridiculous lineup of Star Wars and Marvel TV shows and movies. Once things get going with Wandavision on January 15, they’re really not going to let up. While it drives me a little crazy to have to wait nearly a year for The Mandalorian Season 3, I’ll be plenty busy, and not just with nerd entertainment: Hopefully I can fit in some books, an active outdoor life, and if there’s some time left over, family.

For today’s post, I read from Melissa Ragsly‘s 2020 collection, We Know This Will All Disappear, out from PANK Books. I’ve read Ragsly’s work before, her shorts appearing in a lot of flash fiction journals, and I’ve always liked it. Good to see her collection out, to be shared with the world, for me to discuss her here.

We Know This Will All Disappear is composed of a lot of short-short fiction pieces. There are longer, more regular-sized stories, too, like “Patti Smith,” which I’m featuring today. “Patti Smith” is about a girl who lives in a New York suburb called Smithville, a girl who is convinced that punk legend Patti Smith is her mom.

Her suspicions are exasperated when she runs into a copy of Rolling Stone magazine that belongs to her friend’s dad, an issue with Patti Smith on the cover. She is further intrigued when she reads that Smith had a baby and gave it up for adoption twelve years earlier, her exact age now. Smith’s classic album, Horses, speaks to her love of horses. Our hero is also a hirsute girl, and when she sees Smith’s famous unshaven armpits, she’s absolutely convinced.

This is also a coming-of-age story and our hero is having her period for the first time. Her grandparents, really past the age of wanting to deal with her or anything like the talk, leave her to her own devices, fending for herself in terms of both information and logistics: She has to go to the grocery store and buy tampons for herself. It’s a confusing time in a lot of ways for this protagonist, but she’s hopeful and resourceful, a combo that serves her well.

Side note: I’m listening to Horses while I write this, the first time in too long.

This story also takes place on Halloween and our hero turns her search for Patti Smith—who must live in Smithville—into a two-for-one: She scouts out all the people named Smith in town and plans her trick-or-treat route around the map of their houses. Too shy to simply knock on doors and ask, “Are you Patti Smith? Because you’re my mom,” she devises another plan that ties all of the elements of the story together, ending with a gesture of unreliable hope.

“All You’ve Heard Is True” is about a divorced woman whose children have been taken from her. She is also an orphan, her mother committing suicide when she once briefly died—cfor just two minutes—but then returned, only to find her mother’s body next to her. At the outset of the story, she is at a pool with her friend, a woman who eyes her own son lustfully, providing a strange dichotomy between the two women, both deperately desiring their children, but in strikingly different ways.

“Napkin of Death Metal” is about a woman with serious daddy issues. She’s sitting at a bar when an older guy, dressed as a rocker, tries to get her attention. She assumes the guy is hitting on her—she’s a woman alone at a bar—while at the same time, ignoring texts from her actual father, who’s not all that different from the guy making the pass at her now. Turns out the man is just there listening to tunes, and the note he passes her isn’t a proposition or even a phone number, but three simple letters, FTD, which stand for his favorite band, Fucked to Death, the band playing on the jukebox.

June is the lead character in “Seed.” June lives with Wanda and Heather in a complicated relationship. June and Wanda wake up from an epic party at their apartment to find a guy named Jack sleeping it off in their bathtub, a guy they don’t remember. The guy is pretty calm—this isn’t the first time he’s woken up the morning after a party—and starts to smoke, asks for something to eat. June gives him some watermelon from the punch bowl she made for the party, thinking of the old myth about swallowing seeds and having them grow inside her.

“That Motherfucker” refers to a boot a woman can’t get off her foot, That motherfucker! This is during a serious medical exam, where she’s asked to strip but can’t get that last piece off. Turns out one of her eggs has found its way into the wrong tube and has been fertilized, meaning the baby will grow in the wrong place and basically pop something that’s not meant to be popped. She’ll need to, in effect, get an abortion to make the pain stop and save her life. If only she could get that motherfucking boot off, that is.

The last story in the book, “Bio-Baby,” is about a woman who goes to have an abortion in some near, alternate future. She’s older, not wanting a child so late in life, and already had an abortion when she was a teenager. Before the procedure, she first has to watch a law-mandated public service announcement. This announcement offers an alternative to termination, a process where your child is extracted, then raised in a 98-degree sack, just like it would inside her, only on the outside. The message takes the appearance angle, that moms won’t gain weight or have their looks messed with, which isn’t what this particular protagonist is worried about.

Glad to have run into Melissa Ragsly’s debut collection, We Know This Will All Disappear, out just this year. These are often rough stories, depicting women in moments of trauma and distress, but Ragsly is adept with her prose and timely with her story arcs, making them enjoyable to read on top of gut-punching. Ragsley is a master of flash fiction, but pretty darned good with a longer piece, too, and I’m happy her book is out for everyone to read and enjoy.