Announcing the winner of our first annual Literary Prize! The 2017 So Say We All Literary Prize in Fiction, judged by Leesa Cross-Smith, is awarded to David Henson for his phenomenal short story, “The Tinder Men.”
We’d also like to announce and honor the four additional finalists, whose work (along with David’s) will appear in the upcoming release of The Radvocate, our literary magazine, slated for mid-August.
Kathleen Langstroth, “Primary Education”
Toni Martin, “Fool’s Gold”
Gerardo Gurrola, “Gibbous”
Pouya Razavi, “Echoes”
Here’s David Henson’s story, and Laura Gwynne’s illustration!
accompanying artwork, “The Tinder Men,” by Laura Gwynne
The Tinder Men
by David Henson
Alice spends her mornings searching Tinder for men who look like they might bring weed. She makes plans to meet at a bar of their choosing, then stops responding to their texts for the rest of the day. An hour after she’s supposed to meet the men she says, Sorry, I got sucked into something.
Sorry, I got sucked into something, she texts. I got sucked into something and I lost track of time.
She’s always getting sucked into things.
Sometimes the men respond, sometimes they’re hurt and they never text again. If she hears from them that night, she texts her address. She feels better about casually inviting them over at the end of the night instead of during the day.
Alice likes redheads with messy hair. She likes sex through the underwear, around the underwear, but it rarely happens. She smokes the Tinder men’s weed and observes their many-splendored eyebrows.
Tonight the Tinder man isn’t responding.
It’s late. Alice can smell that something organic has gone off. She wonders if the smell is coming from her. She wonders if she’s been smelling this bad all day and then wonders if she’s rotting and soon she’ll be dead like her brother, but then she sees the halved grapefruit rotting in the nearby garbage can.
Alice always thinks she should bring up her dead brother earlier in conversation because all the best moments in life have real tension. She could say her brother died and she is destroyed, and how can this person standing in front of her ever make any kind of difference to her? Her brother died. Her faith is warped and mangled.
The moon is wading in the black night sky, she thinks. Wading in the kiddie pool sky.
Her brother died and all she could offer was the opposite of proof. A covered up hole in the ground. A name on a stone. A story that somebody once said out loud.
The Tinder man shows up at midnight. He doesn’t mention how she flaked on the first set of plans. Alice is wearing a sweater with no bra.
I want your body, he says as his Burberry coat slips to the floor.
The Burberries taste like Burberries, she thinks.
A woman said that to me at the gym the other day, she lied.
She’s already very high. She says, Do you really want this body? Do you want to wear me like a bear skin rug?
The Tinder man ignores her and reaches for the joint between her lips. Later they burn a pizza together and toss pornographic playing cards across the room, trying to get them stuck in the grates of her tiny space heater.
Alice leans back hard into the last church pew. She wants to snap it in two. The wedding ceremony has been dragging on forever. The groomsmen are wearing pastel bowties and the whole thing feels kind of divorcey.
Alice has always believed that weddings are places of conflict. Her parents met at a wedding. Her parents started her family at a wedding.
Alice would have taken her brother as her plus one but of course he died. She promises that from now on, when people die she’s going to start saying they murdered themselves. They murdered themselves with cholesterol foods. They murdered themselves with life.
Alice’s brother murdered himself with the pointless thoughts that dripped into hardened stalactites in his brain.
Her friend Pat is her plus one, but not really. During the reception he mostly chats up old ladies next to the buffet. She watches him from the singles table. The special catering candles heat the silver trays all lined up behind him. She watches her friend like he is a fantastic film that will never end.
Outside, the black ocean sky is raining. Alice squints through the cold hotel window. She feels like a person looking back on childhood. The role of events in life change over time, she thinks, and she hugs that thought all the way up to her discounted room on the seventh floor.
Two days later Alice returns to work. She remembers that she was promoted just before her brother died and she took a long break. She isn’t sure whether or not she’ll be expected to be the manager when she gets there.
Every day is exactly the same at McDonald’s. Soon they’ll all be robots. Well, soon they’ll all be at home and robots will do the work. The government has no plan for how to deal with that. The government is not for them. For now, the government is against them.
She’s still sitting in her car behind the McDonald’s even though her shift ended hours ago. The engine is on. The car dings continually to remind her that she’s not buckled in.
The moon is waiting in the ocean black sky. The moon will come when you call it. The moon will be sucked under by the currents.
Alice takes her hand off the wheel and reaches into her hair. She gently pokes around and tells herself she is searching for evidence of her brother’s murder.
She thinks about how her brother used to say that the world is a collaboration of symbols that were never meant to add up to a meaningful thought. She wonders if he thought that thought on the day he died. She wonders if people have any good thoughts on the day they die.
The emoji for the world is a blue circle with some green splatters on it. She texts three of them in a row to Pat. Pat texts back a yellow thumbs up and a red apple. She takes a blurry picture of herself biting her thumb in her dark car but she doesn’t send it. She lets a few drops of blood drip onto her rubber phone case, then rolls her thumb in it. When she pushes the button for the dashboard light, there’s no fingerprint, only a smear of pale blood.
When she gets home she signs up for a Christian dating website. She lets self-identified Christian men buy her dinner every other night for a month. They spend hours at restaurants named after days of the week. There isn’t any sex. After the first few dinners, she starts imagining she’s going on auditions to be these men’s mother. She hears it in every man’s voice. Are you willing to take care of me? She knows some of them have weed but none of them offer any.
She takes half of her dinner home in a styrofoam container and eats alone the other nights.
At work she fades into the background, watching as one employee at a time is replaced by an electronic equivalent. The new cashiers are cartoon faces on two foot tall computer screens. Besides pushing the power button, there’s nothing else she needs to do to manage them. Pat meets her in back and they smoke the last of his weed. He has also recently been replaced at his job by a car that drives itself.
Pat is staring at a flashing sign advertising the triumphant return of a pork sandwich.
Isn’t it nuts that little kids eat food every day even though they don’t know why they’re doing it? he says. Or, like, cavemen ate food their whole lives and they had no idea how food works.
They got hungry, she says. So they ate.
But they were just going around and finding stuff they could shove into themselves. That was like the whole point of being alive back then.
Before they unplugged him, machines performed all the normal human functions for her brother. Different sized tubes ran to his mouth and his wrist, secured with medical adhesive tape. His last meal was humid air and IV fluid.
It sounds lovely, she says.
That night, Alice receives an email informing her that surveillance cameras caught her smoking behind the McDonald’s and that she’s fired. The email is from the cameras. The surveillance cameras are the ones who fired her.
It was only a matter of time, she thinks as she drops her nametag into the nearby garbage can. One of the thoughts that haunted her brother taps her on the shoulder but she deftly ignores it.
The moon had been growing bigger each night, and now the moon was the whole sky, and you had to hope that a crater was perched over your bedroom window otherwise it would be too bright to sleep.
She’d been the one who picked her brother up from the therapist after his court-mandated appointments. When he told her that the only fix for his brain would be shutting it off, she’d suggested he drive an hour to an isolation tank she’d read about but had never been to. It cost seventy-five dollars to sit in the dark of the isolation tank for one hour, floating in the extra-buoyant liquid. That seemed like fifteen dollars too much to spend on herself. She wishes she’d offered to pay for him, but what difference could that perfect dark really have made?
There were no more jobs to be had. Alice put a thin rubber band around the stack of unopened bills on the kitchen table. The thermostat hovered at uncomfortable temperatures.
She was mad at herself for being jealous of her brother’s carefree deadness. He wasn’t around to laugh at her or tell her she was being stupid, so she had to keep thinking that same thought over and over.
Eventually all she could think about was that her problems would never end, but of course that isn’t true for anyone. Everything ends, but the brain has no use for finality, so it chooses to forget the lessons of dead brothers.
Instead, things were dire for a while, and then Pat borrowed money from his father and lent it to her. In fact, they all borrowed money from each other, all the people around, and they borrowed other things, and everyone knew everyone. Alice borrowed money from her dead brother. She wore his winter hat and borrowed the smell behind his ears. The government borrowed their labor, which they lent for free until they were tired and needed to sleep under the glow of the moon. The moon borrowed the night sky, and during the day they all borrowed the rays of the sun. They borrowed memories of each other and played them in their heads when they were having trouble sleeping at night. Viruses borrowed their health and they slept on their couches with the TV on. The atmosphere borrowed their breath and returned it promptly. Or didn’t.
Everyone and everything was so busy borrowing that no one thought to keep track of who owed who, and they forgot what debts were, and they forgot to renew their vehicle registrations, and whenever they felt a certain feeling inside their stomachs, they went out and found pieces of the world to put in their mouths and chew and swallow.
They chewed and swallowed, chewed and swallowed the moon white sky.
David Henson is pursuing a PhD in English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. His work has appeared at Fluland, Big Bridge, and won the 2016 Problem House Press short story contest. He writes and records music under the name Shadows on a River, which can be heard at shadowsonariver.bandcamp.com. He tweets @davidbhenson
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