by Myfanwy Collins,
reviewed by Blake Butler
That said, there's something subtle and wondrous about the way Myfanwy Collins absorbs this unconscious energy in her rendering of the discount grocery in her short-short fiction titled Quarter. The piece begins with the title image of a quarter, change from the pocket, which is used to rent a shopping cart, kicking off a transfer of grime between user and the used. This piece seems all about transference, about what's left behind and what's inserted. Residue. She says:
You get a quarter back in the end, but it's not necessarily yours.
There's nothing imminently grotesque about the line, but somehow it makes my skin crawl. I've just had my hair cut today and I'm thinking about where the scissors were, and now the scrape of my skin feels itchy and I want a bath. In what tub? How many bodies before mine? I love when a line pretends like it doesn't mean to make my skin crawl, but does anyway.
The lick of grime, then, by the end of the first paragraph, moves inward, from public to personal. The narrator buys a yogurt and eats it and even its taste is tainted somehow by the feel of the discount store, "like vomit and dry breath." Yes, exactly. No coincidence a discount store; the way those floors always seem to still have the essence of whatever kind of establishment used the building before it was converted to a grocery, another form of residue, this time commercial.
I feel dirty.
In the second paragraph, secluded from the first by a line break, yet another layer of residue is applied:
I left the yogurt behind when we vacated the house.
I love the simplicity of this line, the way it opens an entire realm of questions, another transference, almost eerie: What house? Why was it vacated? Where did they go? What else was left behind? There's already so much strange about moving into places where others have lived, sleeping in a bedroom where who knows what's gone on: what sex, such eating, the breath and body fluid in the walls and in the carpet, the phantom histories. Here the narrator leaves behind her yogurt, so benign and yet so bent. I imagine coming into a new apartment and finding the open cup, perhaps Saran Wrapped and half-eaten, tucked away near the back on the top shelf of the fridge where stood staring in when they got hungry. It's almost an intrusion, an over-extension on the narrator's part, and done seemingly with such intent. She even wonders if whoever came behind her ate it. What a mind we have in this narrator, what a different kind of understanding of transference and grime than what I allow myself. The whole vibe becomes uplifted—not so much dirty as alive. This movement is extended in the last line, as last lines often do in the best of very short writing; the leaving behind is called a prize, a thing meant to cause delight in who would find it, not simply the lazy passing off of someone not wanting to clean up after herself. The yogurt, which even the narrator herself couldn't enjoy the taste of, becomes a gift, a prize—perhaps a reminder that someone was there before. That someone lived in the space and, yes, ate yogurt. A symbol of our transference. Remember me, I was here. It causes the whole text to open up. And then I have to think back on those toys and cruddy diapers I found left behind in the supermarkets, wrinkling my nose and moving to find a different, supposedly cleaner cart, and all the times I've tried to force myself to forget long enough to imagine my rented room as solely mine, and maybe think about it a little differently, with slightly thinner skin, more willing to accept the quarter from the unseen person's hand.
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