Flash Fiction: for writers, readers, editors, publishers, & fans


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.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *