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Excerpt from “We Are Meant for Greater Things” From Earthly Delights and Other Apocalypses by Jen Julian
Winner of the 2018 Press 53 Award for Short Fiction
This girl, she’s one of those people you hear about nowadays, living her life for the second time around. She’s a slack-faced, dream-eyed sister, born—twice now—at the end of a gravel road outside town, a stone’s throw from the slaughterhouse.
She abides with a skittish mother and two large black boxer dogs, and she knows that one of the three will die suffering from a snakebite, hopes she can stop it when the time comes, but she doesn’t know when it’s supposed go down, or if it’s still supposed to go down at all. The girl is Birdy. Birdy Brightlane. Sunny name for such a sad body.
But I don’t judge her, it’s part of the job not to judge her. You’d be sad too, is what I tell myself, after fifteen years at the institution, and besides, these are often sad people, the ones on their second time around. The agency, they call my visits “conversations” to make them sound less clinical, list them on the paperwork informal-like—Convo #1, Convo #2—but Birdy knows what they are. When I come to see her, we sit together on the mossy deck off the back of her mother’s house, and we drink strong coffee and I offer her cigarettes, but she declines. She knows I am not her friend.
I used to smoke, she says.
When was this? I ask.
Sometime— she pauses to think a minute. Sometime a while ago. I must have smoked. I remember it.
I can see in her big mooneyes that she’s drifting off, and sometimes I try to net her in with questions (Birdy, why don’t you stay here, in the now?). But there she goes, which is to say, she’s dreaming about what it was like the first time around, when she didn’t end up here with her mother, at the end of the gravel road outside town, a stone’s throw from the slaughterhouse.
She remembers a long drive, she and the man in the fire. She drives; he lights her cigarettes. A cigarette slips, drops down between her thighs. She curses, pulls over, and then, as she’s rubbing spit on the burn, they see the peppery cloud mushrooming from an overpass, spilling out into the twilight—a colony of Mexican free-tailed bats. Tadarida brasiliensis, she tells me. In college, she wrote a paper about the way their migration patterns affected peach crops. That time? No, both times. Both times she wrote a paper on bats and peach trees, but that time, the first time, she and the man in the fire sat on the hood of the car and watched until they could no longer see, could only hear the tinny week week week and the beating of batwings in the darkness. Birdy tells me that’s when he said he wanted to marry her, his words all warm and honeyed. That’s happenstance (or is it happiness?): a dropped cigarette and some bats and a confession of love.
About The Author
Jen Julian is a writer, artist, and transient North Carolinian. She holds a PhD in Creative Writing from the University of Missouri, Columbia, and an MFA in Fiction from UNC Greensboro. Currently, she teaches fiction and literature at Young Harris College. Her debut short story collection, Earthly Delights and Other Apocalypses, won the 2018 Press 53 Award for Short Fiction and was published by Press 53 in 2018. Her recent fiction and essays have appeared in SmokeLong Quarterly, Jellyfish Review, JuxtaProse, TriQuarterly, Beecher’s Magazine, The Greensboro Review, and The Chattahoochee Review, among other places. She is a 2016 Clarion alumna and an enthusiast for all things strange and speculative.
About The Book
In nine stories and one novella, author Jen Julian explores realms of the surreal and speculative: from two sisters cleaning out their father’s house as it grows and shrinks, to an aunt who watches on anxiously as her niece forges an interdimensional connection; from a small town populated by animate sex dolls, to an eerie near-future in which AI co-opt the social media accounts of the dead. By way of ghosts and fish-men, nuclear threats and giant spiders, each story seeks to capture the inherent otherworldliness of feeling displaced, while at the same time illuminating the intimate and tenacious beauty of human beings in constant search of human connection.
Article originally Published in the February/March 2020 Issue “Short Stories”