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Flash Fiction Reprint: Susan Rukeyser’s “His Venus”

His Venus

Susan Rukey­ser


A year ago, Dana was fat in a fer­til­ity-fetish sort of way. Her tits bloomed over her belly, her belly swung down to her knees. In her museum guard’s uni­form she was reli­ably squat. A year ago, Dana was flushed with eupho­ria, a star­tling new lust. Dwight worked in Pre-Columbian, cat­a­logu­ing new acqui­si­tions. He’d devel­oped a thing for the volup­tuous female form. “Occu­pa­tional haz­ard,” he joked as he buried him­self into her, as greedy for her as she’d ever been for buf­falo wings or choco­late. She liked soft cen­ters best, but­ter-creams and caramels. Dwight said he’d found his Venus.

Dwight moved him­self in. Dana noticed some of her neigh­bors grin­ning at her that day. One of them even said Con­grats.

She was a source of life, Dwight said, “Just look at your­self.” He told her to undress, then stood behind her at the mir­ror. He put his hands on her stom­ach, between her thighs. She hated watch­ing her­self like this, but if she was what he wanted–? She tried to close her eyes, but he said No. He breathed into her ear, “God, your hips.”

Dwight said he had pow­ers. He com­mu­ni­cated with all biol­ogy, his own sperm included. “I’ll let them know it’s time,” he said. A year ago, she believed. There was no real rea­son she didn’t want a baby, and his hands felt good. Soon she was just as greedy for him. Her skin bris­tled as he moved onto her, into her.

In the morn­ings, before dri­ving them to work, he fried eggs. Dwight stood naked at the stove. As he cooked, Dana thought of the museum’s Greek and Roman stat­ues with their hard white mar­ble thighs. Solid thighs, immov­able.

Dwight wanted every­thing from her. He told her how to give it. She’d never had that; she was so grate­ful.

On their way home, Dwight stopped for bur­ri­tos, a pizza, buck­ets of meat. He’d grab bags of cheese pop­corn, chewy fruit candy, slid­ers and grinders and chips. “Eat,” he insisted, push­ing plates towards her. Dana was big­ger each week, but not from a baby. Dwight said he’d have a chat with her fat cells, get her ovaries on board.

Dwight started fill­ing up the house. He brought home sec­ond-hand toys and baby clothes, because any day now Dana’s body would obey. He found a bouncy swing at Good­will and hung it from their bed­room door­way. Dana couldn’t squeeze past but was too ashamed to say. She started sleep­ing in her recliner, but not well.

“Pig,” Dwight mut­tered one evening, as he placed a bowl of spaghetti on her TV tray. He was mad, but she didn’t know why. It’d been over a week since he’d wanted her, and she burned for his fin­gers, for his weight on her. “That food’s going to waste?” he snarled. She dug in her fork. Dwight perched on the last clear sec­tion of couch. Stacked between them were piles of stuff he’d bought, then for­got. He watched her eat.

The museum fired Dana when she was caught doz­ing in the sculp­ture gar­den. Her legs just weren’t up to all the walk­ing any­more. Dec­o­ra­tive Arts did her in. Dwight didn’t like to be dis­turbed dur­ing the work­day, so she took a cab home. At the front door she took a breath, pulled in her belly and turned side­ways, inched her way inside. The hall­way was espe­cially dif­fi­cult, crowded with Dwight’s lat­est pur­chases: a filthy old stroller, a crib mat­tress, a playpen with rusted hinges, and a col­lec­tion of stuffed bears, mat­ted and spilling their guts. Items had tum­bled into the path to her recliner. She climbed over them as best she could. A stack of pic­ture books top­pled down. Dana rubbed her shoul­der, won­dered what Dwight saw in junk.

Months later, still no baby. Dwight hardly touched her any­more, hardly went near her, and Dana was relieved. On her ankles and heels were sores she couldn’t reach. When she shifted, there was an odor. One night, she didn’t get the bed­pan under her in time. Mor­ti­fied, she screamed at Dwight, “You never told my body any­thing!” He didn’t say a word, just handed her the phone. Dana couldn’t turn around, but she knew. He was gone.

Men with saws cut their way inside. Every point of entry was blocked by garbage, they said. She heard the word unin­hab­it­able. They removed a ragged square of wall, then stepped into her liv­ing room. The EMTs loaded her onto a gur­ney and wres­tled her out of her mess.

The night air took her breath, all that sky. The moon was a hard white stone. “Thighs,” was all she could man­age. The EMTs laughed, said she must be hun­gry for chicken.

Dana felt her neigh­bors spy­ing from behind cur­tains. Of course they stared, she didn’t blame them. Just a year ago, Dana was fat in a fer­til­ity-fetish sort of way, a shiny round Venus flush with lust.


Note: Orig­i­nally pub­lished in Novem­ber 2011, Metazen.


Author’s Note

I was briefly obsessed with the TV show “Hoard­ers.” That is one way to retreat from life, behind stacks of failed plans and garbage. Or you can dis­ap­pear into your own body. 1,000-lb. Michael Hebranko, once a Richard Sim­mons suc­cess story, had to be cut from his Brook­lyn home and removed by fork­lift. I think these sto­ries fas­ci­nate me because the iso­la­tion feels uncom­fort­ably famil­iar. Many of us feel walled off, maybe by hope­less­ness, shame. Lone­li­ness. We’re drawn to lovers instinc­tively, urgently, sens­ing they have what we need. We expect them to know what that is, even if we’re not sure. How swiftly and per­ma­nently we are dis­ap­pointed. How unfor­giv­ing we can be in silence. Writ­ing “His Venus” as flash chal­lenged me to dis­till these var­i­ous ideas into a spare but com­plete story. I had to trust the reader to see beyond the page. Each word was stud­ied for mean­ing and sound: “flush” and “lust” reap­pear at the con­clu­sion, echo­ing the story’s begin­ning. The rep­e­ti­tion gives the piece a brack­eted, fin­ished qual­ity, I think, and helps infuse it with an earthy sen­su­al­ity.


Susan Rukeyser.FlashFiction.jpgSusan Rukey­ser enjoys art muse­ums and choco­late and peo­ple who sur­vive ter­ri­ble choices. Her debut novel, Not On Fire, Only Dying, was pub­lished by Twisted Road Pub­li­ca­tions (2015). Her short fic­tion and cre­ative non­fic­tion appear in Foundling Review, Whiskey­Pa­per, Hip­pocam­pus, and Smoke­Long Quar­terly, among oth­ers. Susan is a lousy cook but once wrote a Recipe for com­pressed fic­tion. Find her here: www.susanrukeyser.com

One comment

Excel­lent story! I love how not a word is wasted, but each con­tributes to the over­all atmos­phere. You give us a very quick, deep, and insight­ful look into the natures of both Dwight and Dana. Chekhov once said in his five prin­ci­ples of writ­ing to use “sym­pa­thetic” char­ac­ters, and that is Dana to a T. Dwight is the foil or ficelle against which Dana’s char­ac­ter is played and by which her char­ac­ter is revealed. These type of family/relationship dra­mas are not my cup of tea, but this one is excep­tion­ally well done and I enjoyed it immensely.

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