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Zen Pussy Riot

The third volume of the Canvas Sextet Series.

Zen Pussy Riot is the third volume of The Canvas Sextet, a series of three-minute short stories by Miles White, who is as a prolific stylist of the still-emerging genre of contemporary flash fiction. The 50 provocative, insightful, darkly comic and often tragic stories in the new collection – a follow up to Jesus Loves You But Not Today and Download the Moon – are bold, eclectic, sumptuously diverse and compellingly engaging, playing on the edges of the profane and the profound.  “Love Potion Number 10” imagines a woman’s worst date night. “Radiance” is a macabre end to a woman’s troubled quest for racial beauty. “Night and Day” is a waking nightmare that blurs reality and the dream world. “When I’m Alone I Cry” is a brutal meditation on self-torture and the disillusionment felt by many Gen-X youth in America, while “|The Way You Move” re-imagines the dynamics of the wedding night when the bride takes charge of the marriage bed.

Like the previous two volumes, Zen Pussy Riot is unsparing and relentless in its exploration of the absurdities of day-to-day lives often lived on the margins, the vagaries of the human heart, and the contradictions of human desire. The stories are written with an intensity of language and storytelling that makes reading them both hypnotic and highly entertaining.

Excerpt

Someone Like You

Bree wanted a double jungle style cheeseburger without tomatoes and without the cheese, and fries just out the cooker, not the ones already salted and wilting. She didn’t want the soft drink either, but she wanted something to drink. We could make this a whole lot simpler ma’am, the cool ex-retiree said from behind the counter, if you would just choose from one of the menus.

Give her the jungle with no cow chips and no wagon wheels and don’t shake sand on her monkey fingers, a man behind her said. And give her a Dasani. He winked at the woman, who was too speechless to say anything. Right, the ex-retiree said. Jungle double raw. Drop her some fingers and don’t dust the lady, he yelled to the kitchen as he slipped a plastic tray on the counter and set a bottle of water on it. Well, she said, staring amazed at the beefy but elegantly attired gentleman behind her. I thought I had the protocol nailed, long as I’ve been coming here. He studied the menu. You never been in here before, he said. Her eyes searched him. And how might you surmise that?, she asked. Nobody who can afford real Louie comes in here, he said. She hooed. You mean these torn jeans and fake Louie got you making me from the East Side? You think I’m slumming?, she said. Sure you are, he said. I work in women’s clothing. Your Louie is not fake; it’s real. So are those Jimmy Choos, even the Fendi. I’d know that scent anywhere. And the holes in those Gloria Vanderbilts have been there for years. You didn’t buy those at a flea market. Probably cut the holes in them yourself. You find them like that now but they didn’t come like that back then. He ordered two double bacon burgers with only pickles and mustard. That’s a weird combination, he said, so they have to make them up special. I get them fresh that way.

They sat by the window munching burgers and eating hot fries. He had brought red wine in a flask and dumped the water out of her cup and poured her some. An Avalon Cab from Sonoma, 2011, he said, splendid with ground beef. She laughed, tried the wine and liked it. OK, she said, you busted me pretty good, but what about you? I don’t imagine you live in the neighborhood. He chewed his burger. I got a warehouse not too far from here. Like I said, women’s clothes, wholesale. I used to work in this place in high school, too. He took a big bite of his burger, oozing mustard. Meat was a lot better back then. She nibbled at her fries. You know, I know this cool steak place I go to when I really want a good piece of rump, she said. He almost choked on his burger. Good one, he said, fighting back tears. He sipped his wine. Why don’t you take me there? he said, laughing through a stream of tears. She nibbled. I have this thing about married men, she said, nodding towards his wedding band. I don’t go out with them. He noticed the ring. Ah, he said, dabbing his mouth. That’s old history. Can’t seem to let go I guess, but now that I think about it, I suppose it’s about time I moved on. They ate in a cool silence. I’m sorry, she said, I didn’t mean to pry. He looked at her evenly. Sure you did, but it’s fine. I’m glad.

When they had finished eating they walked outside and he flagged her a cab. Want to see something?, he said. She said sure. He tugged off his wedding band, pointed to an open window in a tall building across the street, reared back and flung the ring in a high arc clear across the street and into the window. She was amazed, and a little shocked too. I pitched in high school, he said, and I should have pitched that bad memory a long time ago. Thanks for reminding me. A taxi screeched to a stop and she got in. Neither of them knew what to say so he just closed the door and started down the street toward the warehouse district. Where to?, the cab driver said. She sat there, momentarily unable to speak. Excuse me, Ma’am, the driver said. She stared at him blankly, watching his mouth move. Where you going?, he said again, louder. She said: Nowhere. I left something, and climbed out of the car, walking quickly back towards the warehouse district.

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