portion of the artwork for Alicia Gifford's fiction

Comedy Central
Alicia Gifford

When Tillie gets home and finds Russell on the toilet posed like The Thinker, he’s already in rigor mortis. “Russell?” she says. “Wake up.” She shoves him a little and he keels off the pot and clatters on the white tile floor, still in a sitting position, the remains of his last supper dissolving in the bowl. She leans over to feel for a pulse at his neck but he’s as cold and hard as the porcelain. Horror raises the hairs on her arms, but also, something bright and shimmery as tin foil flickers around the edges.

But, God. Russell.

She flushes the toilet and calls 911, and then she calls Gabe.

“Russell’s dead. I found him on the toilet. The police are coming.”

“Whoa,” Gabe says. “I guess you won’t be at the gym tomorrow.”

“No,” she says. “Unless—if—no.”

“See ya.”

It’s not until two men wheel Russell out in a black plastic body bag still curled on his side in a sitting position that it sinks in that her husband of twenty-five years is gone for good, and a muffled wail bursts from between her fingers.

* * *

She’d met Russell when she was a nurse—twenty-four—working in the ICU at Holy Cross. He was a cardiovascular surgeon, handsome, forty, married. They started their affair amidst beeping monitors, whooshing respirators, and pumping IVACs, and over naked, wired patients. The intensity of the critical care unit charged them up, fueled them with sexual energy. The more unstable the crisis, the more electric it got between them.

Over drinks and dinner in a restaurant she could never afford, he told her that his wife was cold. Prudish. He said they’d grown in different ways over the years. He said he could fall in love with her. For Tillie, who’d been dumped recently by a guy she’d hoped to marry, Russell landed just right. That he was married made her feel reckless and French. They started an affair with back door visits to her apartment, remote restaurants, secret gropes in hospital elevators, so many lies to the wife. They sneaked strenuous, desperate moments, moments that left them spent and awed and wanting more.

Russell told Sally, his wife, that he was in love with someone else, and he told her with whom. Sally then accosted Tillie in front of the ICU waiting room as Tillie headed back from lunch with a few other nurses. Sally, in a soiled ivory pantsuit and reeking of booze, had lurched at her. “Find your own goddamn husband!” she’d screamed. The patients’ families watched, momentarily distracted from the blaring TV and their critically ill loved ones. Her fellow nurses also watched, with wide eyes and suppressed smiles, the Numero Uno Hospital Rumor now confirmed. Tillie winced with mortification, shoving down her shame, transforming it to condescension. It was a lot easier to think of Sally as a loser.

Poor Sally.

Russell moved into her apartment. They married as soon as his divorce was final, and bought a big, new house in the Glendale hills to celebrate. Before their first anniversary, their son, Neal, was born, and Tillie quit the ICU for good.

* * *

The cloying scent of lilies fills the cemetery chapel as mourners file in to pay their last respects to Dr. Russell Chap. Tillie holds a Kleenex to her nose to filter out the decay smell of the flowers. She’d wanted gardenias but the florist had pushed the lilies, and despite the stench, they look beautiful.

She has asked Neal’s partner, Derek, to say the eulogy, a final poke at Russell’s homophobia. Russell had hated the “faggot parade” that had traipsed through their house over the years. Now, two rows in the chapel are filled with those fags, Neal and Derek’s friends.

Neal sits next to her in the front row, listening to Derek’s eulogy, his throat working, his flat, wide face radiant. She resists planting a big fat kiss on his cheek. Derek, a stand-up comedian hot in the L.A. comedy club circuit, gives an eloquent, moving eulogy even though he’d never met Russell, nor heard anything good about him. They have been a couple for two years and Neal is over the moon in love. The real deal, he says. They had a monogamy ceremony at Pismo Beach last year that Russell refused to attend.

Russell’s rejection devastated Neal, and it chipped away at Tillie’s respect and love for her husband. Russell tried, she’ll give him that, but he couldn’t suppress his dismay and judgment over anything gay. He couldn’t bear it, and she developed her own intolerances—his milk breath, the dental spatters when he flossed, the self righteous way he chewed cereal—everything grated.

Before all that there had been family vacations, great restaurants, movies, concerts, plays, the three of them, the happy family living large in the fat folds of the Reagan years. They had a sweet life until their son, at seventeen, came out to his father.

* * *

She sees Gabe enter the chapel and sit in the back. She concentrates to hide the rush slamming through her. He’s wearing a black wool suit with a black t-shirt. He’s combed back his tawny waves and tamed them with some kind of gel that makes them gleam like polished bronze. Tillie is a moose cow in estrus, her introitus swollen red and shiny wet, lowing for her bull. The only other time she felt so animal was when she nursed Neal. She’d wanted to sit on her haunches and bare her teeth at any threatening invader. The sight of his toothless gums made her fierce with love and desperation to keep him safe.

At the graveside, the casket is settled in its concrete vault and sealed. Tillie tosses the first handful of dirt into her husband’s grave. Neal throws the next, and then everyone takes turns grabbing handfuls of soil and tossing them in, laying Russell to rest. She scans the crowd for Gabe, but doesn’t see him. She hopes he’ll show up at the house for the post-funeral affair—food, drinks, condolences. She’s given him directions and he said he’d come.

As she heads to the waiting limo, Tillie glances back and sees Russell’s first wife, Sally, bone-thin and dressed in black and wearing huge sunglasses, lingering by the grave, her silvered hair frizzed out around her head catching the sun like a halo. Tillie watches her pick up a handful of dirt, bring it toward her mouth, and then toss it into the grave. Sally never remarried and Tillie knows that Russell helped her financially after the alimony stopped, though they’d never discussed it. She lives not far from them in a small house she owns. They ran into her enough that Tillie joked about her stalking them. Sally always spoke to Russell, a polite hello, sometimes bringing up some news from their hometown in Poplar Bluff, all friendly chit-chat while pointedly ignoring Tillie, which was fine.

* * *

Russell had tried to get Neal interested in manly, father-son activities as a child, but the violence of football made Neal nervous, and baseball and basketball bored him. They went camping and fishing and Neal hated the dirt and bugs. Dead fish made him cry.

“He’s sensitive, Russ,” Tillie told her husband. “Artistic. Like my dad.” Russell agreed. He doted on his son, they both did. When Neal began to listen to his father’s opera collections, Russell took him to see Pagliacci, and Neal was blown away by the music, the story, the staging, so Russell got Sunday matinee season tickets. Tillie didn’t go—she snored through opera, and she wanted this time to be especially theirs—so they bonded over Leoncavallo, Puccini, Bizet, Verdi, Rossini, and Wagner. It would lead Neal to Otis Parsons to study costume design and to work for the Los Angeles Opera.

In seventh grade Neal confessed a crush on his math teacher, a man.

“I love him so much,” he told his mother.

“Let’s not tell Daddy,” Tillie said, hoping that this was just a phase, something to get through.

* * *

Tillie arrives at the house in the limo accompanied by Neal and Derek. The caterers have everything ready and Tillie heads straight to the bar. She wants champagne but the caterer says no champagne at funerals, too festive with all that cork-popping and foam, so she orders scotch.

Guests file in, speaking in low, serious voices at first, and then raising in pitch as the liquor flows. Tillie shakes hands and accepts condolences, scanning the room for Gabe, and then there he is, filling the space in the doorway. A cluster of Neal’s friends nudge each other and stare.

He’s never been to the house before and she becomes sharply aware of its gleaming opulence: the French crystal vases, silk-covered walls, the polished granite surfaces. It oozes affluence and privilege, making her proud and uneasily self-conscious at the same time. She’d never voted for Reagan—neither had Russell—but they and her whole social gang of doctors and their wives had benefited hugely from the lark of trickledown economics. They’d raked in the dough and stuffed as much as they could into their bulging stock portfolios and IRAs until the grim, dark cloud of Medicare reform snuffed out all the fun.

Russell’s office staff arrives and they besiege Tillie before she can greet Gabe, and she finds herself in the role of the comforter as they wail for their dead boss. She leads them to the bar and food tables and they quickly fill their plates with crab cakes and cold shrimp, and grab bottles of beer. When she frees herself, she finds Gabe in conversation with a woman, late thirties, in a tight emerald-green knit suit.

“How good of you to come,” Tillie says to Gabe. She gives him her cheek, and then she turns to the woman in the green suit and holds out her hand. “I’m Tillie,” she says.

“Allison Cabrera,” the woman says, taking Tillie’s hand. “I’m with Bristol Pharmaceuticals. So shocking about Dr. Chap. I considered him a friend.”

“Please,” Tillie says, waving toward the food and bar. She takes Gabe’s arm and leads him away, leaving Allison looking after them.

“I can’t wait for all this to be over,” Tillie whispers. “Promise you’ll stay until everyone leaves.”

“Nice house,” Gabe says, looking around.

* * *

She met Gabe at the gym a year ago. He’d been oblivious to her while she became obsessed watching his big, beautiful body as he worked out, imagining him naked. Erect. She fantasized about fucking him right there, straddling him on a flat bench, hanging from pulleys, suspended in machines, sweat dripping off the both of them. She and Russell no longer had sex, part of the wreckage. They made a few half-hearted attempts, and just stopped. Sometimes she wondered if it was all over for her, crying with her vibrator whirring away in the guest room where more and more she slept to get away from Russell’s snoring.

She started by saying hi to Gabe, catching his eye and smiling until they routinely greeted each other. She made small talk waiting for whatever machine he was working on. Then she asked him to spot her on squats and bench presses, to give her an assist on lying triceps curls. She asked him about walking lunges and the best way to split up body work.

She offered to buy him a margarita and he accepted. They went to a dark, cool Mexican restaurant in sweaty gym clothes and she learned he was a carpenter between construction jobs, and that she had fifteen years on him. He’d also written a screenplay he was trying to sell, an action drama. “It’s L.A., right?” he said, smiling.

“I want to go to bed with you,” she’d replied. “I’m married.”

He shrugged.

They went to his small, converted garage apartment that he rented from an old lady named Fay, who leered from the windows of the main house. Tillie was nervous as hell, she hadn’t slept with anyone but Russell for well over two decades and it had been several years since she and Russell had sex. The happy couple was celibate. The happy couple was a sham.

Gabe shed his clothes and she got light-headed. His skin was smooth and reddish brown over his well-defined muscles. She glanced down and his man-energy came at her like ocean waves, knocking her down in the surf. She wondered how much blood it would take to erect so much penis, and how her dusty, rusty vault would ever accommodate it. She worried about her body, the age difference. Her breasts had left their former perch, her nipples like demure and downcast eyes. Despite extreme sessions with the Butt Blaster, the skin on her ass hung in mini folds she could tuck dimes into.

He stepped forward to enfold her and her legs gave, she lifted her face and pressed her mouth to his and took in his tongue. She felt him hard against her belly. For so long she’d repressed the heady yin-yang polarity of being a woman. Blood filled her spongy places in an achy rush, and there was no turning back.

* * *

Tillie floats around the guests, making sure the caterers keep the food plentiful, spacing out her booze so she doesn’t get completely hammered. She keeps an eye out for Gabe, who’s drinking beer and mingling. Allison Cabrera has glommed onto him again, teetering on her stilettos and touching his arm. Gabe has a way of lasering his eyes on whomever he’s talking to, and Tillie knows its effect. It’s obviously affecting Allison Cabrera, who’s leaning into him closer and closer. Tillie wants that cunt out of here.

Neal comes over to her and asks if she’d like for him to spend the night. “No, baby,” she says. “I’m dying for everyone to leave.”

“Derek and I are going to take off, then,” he says. “He has an early meeting with his agent and a rep for Comedy Central. My boyfriend the comedian.” He smiles the same sweet smile he’s smiled since he was a toddler, and then he pulls his mom aside. “Who’s the hunk?” he asks, indicating Gabe who’s now chatting up a bunch of O.R. nurses who have joined him and Allison.

“A patient of Daddy’s.”

“Lucky Daddy.”

Around nine o’clock the last drunken stragglers leave. She writes a check to the caterers, thanking them for the great job. She finds Gabe watching TV in the family room, and sits next to him on the sofa.

“God. It’s over.” She turns to him. “I hope you can stay. Can you spend the night?”

“Kind of cold, isn’t it? The guy’s put in the ground and I’m sleeping in his bed?”

“It’s not like—“

“I’m not staying. But I’m here now.” He loops his heavy arm around her. She knows she should keep her mouth shut, but that’s never stopped her. “You made a friend,” she says.



“Who’s Allison?”

“Allison. The one in the green suit.”

“Russell’s girlfriend.”

“Russell’s girlfriend?”

“She says she was banging him pretty regular.”

“She was banging Russell?”

“So? You’re banging me.”

“She was banging Russell?” Tillie sits upright, processing. Russell banging? “She comes to my house and says she’s been banging Russell?”

“And I’m at his house and I’m banging you,” Gabe says.

“It’s different.”

“She says we’re paramours-in-law. A paramour is someone who’s—”

She jerks her head around. “I know what it is. You told Allison about us?”

“No big deal. Pretty funny, really.”

Tillie steams. This pharma rep is going to slither around to the doctors she calls on, spreading her juicy gossip: Did you hear? The better gossip she brings, the more likely they’ll prescribe her products. They’re all a bunch of raptors. And it didn’t occur to that lunkhead that their affair might warrant some discretion? But if she thinks of the lunkhead not being in her life, she gets panicky. She doesn’t get it, the hold he has on her.

By Wednesday her social crowd will all know that Tillie has been cuckolding Russell with a hunk from the gym fifteen years her junior. Does she care? Without Dr. Russell Chap—who the fuck is she? Who’s going to invite her to their elegant soirées now?

“Are you pissed?” Gabe says, an edge to his voice.

“I just wish you hadn’t said anything.”

He gets up. “I’m going. This place is too fancy for me anyway. I’d be afraid of wrecking something.”

Her impulse is to wrap herself around his knees and beg, but she’s too exhausted. What she needs are her pajamas, her bed, and a sleeping pill.

She walks him to the front door. They kiss and she holds his lips until he breaks away.

“See you tomorrow,” she says.


As he leaves, she notices the worn, shiny elbows on his suit, and a button is missing. She wonders if Russell’s clothes would fit him—maybe with some alterations to broaden the shoulders, take in the waist, lengthen the pants. Add some IQ points.

* * *

Russell’s been cheating on her! Indifferent, dull, nerdy, gay-bashing Russell. The years had drained him, as had his grief over his homosexual son—or so she’d thought. How long had he been unfaithful? If she pictures him aroused, Allison’s dark hair spread on the pillow, Russell humping away on top, grunting, buttocks grinding, banging, she gets queasy—he was her husband—hers!

And yet, she’d been guilty of the same thing.

And yet, she’d mostly loathed him.

And yet and yet and yet.

She thinks about Sally, alone, working at the library. Sally and Russell had been high school sweethearts in Poplar Bluff, Missouri, marrying after they’d graduated from college, before Russell went to medical school. She’d majored in library science, and then she’d worked in various libraries while Russell went through med school, his internship, residencies, and fellowships. When he finished, they’d wanted to start a family, but Sally had a hysterectomy for cancer. She’d become depressed, and lost all interest in sex.

Poor Sally.

* * *

Gabe has told Tillie that he loves her, once. It was after they’d made love and she’d blurted it and he’d replied, “I love you, too.” They’d both been drinking. After that she’s said it a few times in the heat of a moment, but he’s never repeated it.

Is it love to have a grinding obsession? A needy, emotional lust? Saying I love you to him doesn’t feel right in her mouth. She wishes she had Neal’s clarity. He’s always had this calm common sense about things, even as a little kid.

She’s a widow now, her new phase, a new identity. She is financially secure and free, but all she wants is Gabe. He doesn’t want to come to her house because he feels uncomfortable there, so she goes to his tiny apartment, tiptoeing down the driveway so as not to bring his old landlady, Fay, to the window to gawk at her. He can’t afford to eat out often, especially in the restaurants she likes, so she conjures celebratory occasions to have an excuse to take him out and pay. Initially he’s reluctant, and then it becomes easier for him to accept her generosity, first ordering the least expensive items and then, with her encouragement, ordering extravagantly.

He remains unemployed and she doesn’t ask him how he pays his rent or if he’s looking for work. Once in a while he grumbles about his union, how they have their favorites who get all the plum construction jobs.

He sends his script out to a few studios and to Bruce Willis’s agent, since he’s written the lead role with Willis in mind. One night she asks if she can read it and he gives it to her. She reads it as he watches, and it’s formulaic crap about terrorists taking over Disneyland, holding hostages in the Magic Kingdom and blowing up Space Mountain.

“It’s a blockbuster,” she tells him. He pulls her to him, lifts her skirt, and yanks off her panties. He gets on his knees and tongues her.

“You’re going to be soooo famous,” she moans.

* * *

After a few weeks, the concerned phone calls asking “how-was-she-doing and did-she-need-anything?” stop, and she’s glad. Gabe starts coming over and spending time at her house. She encourages it, of course, open, needy arms.

She knew that he smoked now and then, but it turns out that he really smokes, more than a pack a day, and she has a former smoker’s aversion for it. He also drinks a hell of a lot more than she knew. He often gets plastered in the evenings in front of the TV. And still, no job.

He talks about starting another screenplay, a romantic comedy involving twins.

She’s embarrassed to tell Neal about Gabe. He’d say, seriously, I know what you’re doing with this guy, but, seriously, what are you doing with this guy? And she’d say, seriously, I have no idea, except that the thought of being without him—she can’t think of it.

She asks him not to smoke in the house but she comes home to clouds of nicotine.

“Can you smoke outside, please?”

Gabe is stretched out in bed in a t-shirt and his Jockeys with a beer next to him and an ashtray balanced on his hard, flat stomach. He takes a final drag, and then stubs out his cigarette. He gets up and pulls on his jeans, his boots.

“ You don’t have to leave,” she says, hating herself. But he just pushes past her, down the stairs, slamming the front door.

A few miserable days and he won’t respond to her calls. She goes to his apartment, but he refuses to talk to her, says it’s over. She slumps at his door. Somewhere along the way she’s lost her mind.

She hears the back door of the main house open; it’s Fay beckoning her to come inside. Tillie wipes her face with her sleeve and gets up.

“I’m sorry. I’m leaving,” she says.

“Come in, have a cup of tea with me,” Fay says. A cup of tea sounds good and then maybe she can try again to change Gabe’s mind. She climbs the steps to the back door and enters Fay’s neat little home. They sit at the small, square kitchen table covered with a red-and-white checked oilcloth.

“He’s just like his father,” Fay says. “Stubborn as a goat.”

“You knew his father?” Tillie blinks with surprise.

“I’m his mother,” Fay says.

They have tea and pound cake, and Tillie learns that Gabe was a change-of-life baby who never left the nest. Fay says he’s a good carpenter, but a lazy one, working a job or two until he has enough money to take off for long stretches of time, easy for him since he doesn’t pay her any rent.

“It’s my fault,” Fay says. “I spoiled him rotten. The ladies like him, though.” She slurps her tea.

“The ladies?”

“Like flies. Always been like that. His daddy was the same way.” She holds her fragile china teacup between two gnarly-fingered hands, her eyes flat and blue.

“The ladies? Other—ladies?”

“Oh, honey. You thought you were special.” A cracked smile.

It’s all too much, but she can’t stop.

“You mean there are others—besides me?”

“You should ask him about that. But yes.” She squints at Tillie. “You’re a bit long in the tooth for him.”

Tillie feels the blood rush to her face. She stands up and thanks her for the tea and heads out the back door. She looks at Gabe’s apartment; she hears music, country western. She hates country western. She forces herself to walk down the driveway and out to her car. She gets in the driver’s seat and puts her head against the steering wheel.

She thinks about Kenny, the guy who dumped her before she met Russell. He left her for some coke-snorting bank teller, and she was devastated, drinking heavily and showing up to work hung over with greasy hair and B.O. She wanted to die until one day she realized that, in her grief, she’d dropped fifteen pounds and she looked really good, so she went shopping for all new clothes, and then the thing with Russell started.

But Kenny. She fell hard for him, a structural engineer who dreamed of one day opening the perfect hot dog stand. They smoked a lot of dope, laughed like crazy, and had a lot of zealous sex. They went fishing once, a pristine alpine lake high in the Eastern Sierras. It was beautiful, a day and setting that made you glad to be alive and she was feeling it: the swooshing breezes, the shimmering aspens, the fat, blue lake and the quicksilver fish. She was feeling it and Kenny took out a cigar and pulled off the cellophane and cigar band and tossed it on the ground, right where the crystal quartz water lapped gently on the shore. She was no tree hugger, but she was outraged that he’d litter like that, especially in the unspoiled, practically holy ground that is the backcountry of the John Muir Woods. She discreetly pocketed his trash plus the trash from his fishing supplies, and kept her mouth shut instead of calling him out on it like she would’ve if he’d been a stranger.

And when she’d told him about the abortion she’d had when she was twenty, he’d looked at her as if she were dog shit on a shoe.

“How can you live with that,” he said.

What she wanted to say was: Easy. I live with it so, so, so very easy.

What she wanted to say was: Who are you to judge me, you self-righteous fuck? But she’d kept quiet. Spineless! Afraid he’d get mad. Afraid he’d leave her. Which he did.

And all these years later, all this polish and affluence, all this maturing—and nothing’s changed! She is still a sniveling belly crawler. Was she born this way? A genetic belly crawler? Right now it’s all she can do to stay in the car and not go skulking down the driveway to pound on Gabe’s door and grovel like a good dog.

Your self-respect called. Oh, wait. Wrong number.

Mustering a herculean effort, she starts the car and heads home, driving slowly in the right lane so she can’t whip around in an impulsive U-turn and go back.

Neal’s car is parked in front of her home, and good, because Neal and Derek are great company and generous, big-hearted listeners. She is ready to unload, to find a path, to grow a backbone, and they can help.

She enters the house. It’s dark downstairs, but she hears Pavarotti’s tenor, and “Vesti la Giubba” from Pagliacci pours down the stairs. She loves the boys, but she hopes to not see or hear them fucking. She goes up and the rooms are dark and empty until she comes to her room, and she prepares to be annoyed.

Neal’s alone, sitting on her bed, laptop open with Pavarotti blaring in front of him. He’s got a broad blue headband pulling his hair back from his face, which is heavily made up—false eyelashes, white pancake make-up, two round pools of blush, smoky, spangled eyes, and waxy red lips. He wears a silk clown costume with a gold ruff, one of his designs for the opera. An open bottle of champagne sits wet and drippy on her bedside table. He takes a belt.

“Neal,” she says.

“I’m applying to clown school,” he says. He has a lace hanky, and he waves it at her. “Don’t try and stop me.”

“Neal,” she says, again.

“Hi, mums.” He belches, and swigs more champagne.

“You’re drunk.”

“Little bit.”

“Where’s Derek?”

Pavarotti’s tenor escalates mightily, and Neal clasps his hands together under his chin, his face broken and tragic, and sings with him:

Ridi, Pagliaccio,

sul tuo amore infranto!

He collapses and his thin shoulders heave. She closes the laptop and swoops down on her kid, enveloping him. “What is it, honey? What’s happened?”

“Derek’s been fucking around, Mom, porking some fucking—comedian. He says it’s meaningless but when I asked if he’d stop seeing him, he said, no, he can’t. So what the fuck does that mean?” He dabs at his eyes with the hanky, smearing it with black. One eyelash flaps like a crow wing on his lid, and he rips it off. “What’s wrong with people? Is monogamy some vestigial fucking—some anachronistic—” he flings about for a word—“appendix?”

“Oh, baby.” She strokes his head.

“Even Dad—” He stops abruptly.

“You knew about Dad?” she says.

“Did you?”

“I found out after he died. How did you know?”

“When I was I kid, we’d all go to the opera together, and then go back to her house and do jigsaw puzzles or play Scrabble.”

Tillie sits there, stunned. Had Russell been seeing Allison since Neal was a kid?

Then Neal asks, “How did you find out about Dad and Sally?” Spastic sobs tear up his words.

“Sally? No, not Sally, honey. Allison. The woman that came after the funeral, the pharmaceutical rep. Sally? Sally? Sally is—”

“I know—Dad’s first wife. I thought they were just friends, but—” Neal fidgets with the hanky.

“But what?”

“I saw them kissing. He said it was just to comfort her and that I shouldn’t say anything to you. It made me feel close to Dad, like we were sharing something, guys only.”

Russell was seeing Sally all these years? Taking Sally the Loser to the opera with their son? Kissing her?

This would be hilarious if it weren’t so—wait—it is hilarious, fucking hilarious, all of it, a regular laugh riot. Tillie’s shoulders start shaking. But seriously, folks. All the air squeezes out of her upper body as she keels over, laughing.

“Mom, are you OK? What’s so funny?” But he’s getting giggly, too, watching her helpless and flung down, tears streaming as she slaps the bed and squeezes her legs together, unable to breathe.


“You’re freaking me out,” Neal titters.

“Ah—ah, oh, honey, it’s just that, oh Jesus.” Nothing is what it seems, the whole world—SURPRISE!—hysterical, really. Comedy Central.

Who’s on first?

Hoo’s on first.



An Abbott and Costello bit.

The phone rings. Neal looks anxiously at the caller ID, which indicates a private number. “It might be Derek. He knows I’m here.” He licks his crimson lips and answers. “Hello?”

A horse walks into a bar. The bartender says, “Why the long face?”

“Who’s calling?” Hoo’s calling. He hands the phone to his mother, who’s wiping her eyes and starting to regain some composure. “Someone named Gabe.”

Gabe! Gabe. A beat—and then her face screws into a red, toothy fist. She screeches like a shore bird and stomps her feet. Neal’s incredulous clown face sets off new gales.

Now, take my wife—please!

She takes a deep breath and goes for it, laughing with all she’s got, laughing like she’s never laughed before, like life itself depended on her every hoot.

Alica Gifford’s Comments

I had a compulsion to write an opening about a dead guy in rigor mortis sitting on the toilet and posed like Rodin’s The Thinker. I saw him clattering off the pot. I wrote the opening and the rest of the story followed. I worked in ICU and know the irrational sexual energy that happens in high-stress situations. And I knew lots of people who benefited financially from the Reagan years and who seemingly “had it all” while living sham lives. I took these experiences and mixed them up in “Comedy Central.”

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FRiGG: A Magazine of Fiction and Poetry | Issue 33 | Summer 2011