David Pace was the inaugural literary editor for 15 Bytes for seven years. He is the author of the novel Dream House on Golan Drive (Signature Books) and the forthcoming collection of short fiction American Trinity (BCC Press, February 2024). His creative work has appeared in two anthologies as well as the forthcoming anthology The Path & The Gate (Signature Books, October 2023) where “Lana Turner Has Collapsed!”, this month’s READ LOCAL First feature, will debut.
Pace’s title is lifted from the poem by Frank O’Hara. The short story is a concise, witty and insightful portrayal of a Mormon woman navigating mid-life in 1990s Utah. The following is a short excerpt from the beginning of the story. Warning: this excerpt discusses fellatio.
from “Lana Turner Has Collapsed!”
Gloria sat drinking her coffee and thumbing through a magazine. She was early, taking a long lunch break so that she could talk to Trudy who was just finishing up with her eleven o’clock. Sister Bodell sat in the chrome and padded hooded hair dryer. She looked like a prune with a giant bonnet on her head, the traditional style and set that, it being 1995, seemed more than outdated to Gloria. Grotesque, she thought. Just like her own name: antique and grotesque. Like something out of the Dick van Dyke Show. In spite of this, the old woman was smiling away, quite pleased to be under the caring, skilled hands of her trusted beautician, who kept checking on her, smiling conspiratorially. Who am I to judge Sister Bodell? Gloria thought. This could be the highlight of her week.
Trudy extracted Sister Bodell from the hair dryer and helped her back into the swivel chair where she dropped like a sack of sand. She turned her client around to face the mirror, and after working a brush expertly through her hair, sprayed the woman’s bouf, now dyed a gentle blue. “A regular Lana Turner,” said Trudy finally, her hands resting lightly on the woman’s shoulders. The two of them smiled into the mirror. It was the very picture—even a framed picture, thought Gloria—of sisterly affection and the commerce of beauty.
While Trudy took a phone call, Gloria walked Sister Bodell to the door. “Trudy has made you look like a movie star,” she said as she helped the old woman on with her coat. She asked how her children were doing, her grandchildren. They now numbered thirty-two, she learned.
“Oh, my. You are lovely to help me. Bless you!” Sister Bodell said.
“And it’s pretty darn sexy, if you ask me,” Gloria continued. She couldn’t resist spiking her language a little. Sister Bodell leaned hard against Gloria as she lowered herself down the steps to the walk, but then she didn’t let go. Suddenly, her tone changed, as if someone had flipped a switch. “You know, Gloria, the only regret I have since my husband died is that I didn’t suck on his penis the way he always wanted me to.” Gloria coughed. “I loved that man,” continued Sister Bodell. “But when I asked the bishop about whether it was allowed, he gave me one of those priesthood lectures. Said that I should not be behaving in bed like a pole dancer.” She gripped Gloria’s arm harder. “What does dancing have to do with it? The dope was almost young enough to be my grandson. Imagine that. And telling me that I couldn’t suck on my own husband’s penis?” She let go finally, hiked her purse up over her shoulder, and moved toward her car. Then she turned, and in a stage whisper said, “Give him what he wants, sister. Don’t wait until you’re living with regret like me.” Gloria watched the LTD lurch away from the curb.
“You’re the only one in here who drinks coffee,” said Trudy when Gloria returned to the shop—and her mug. “It makes everyone uncomfortable, you know.”
“And it’s lousy coffee,” Gloria quipped.
“Like I say. You’re the only one. And if the bishop finds out, he’ll be calling you in.” Trudy shook Sister Bodell’s hair clippings from the plastic covering and readjusted a large aluminum hair pin on the rolled-up cuff of her sleeve.
“Only among the Mormons could drinking coffee turn into a social statement,” said Gloria, collapsing into the chair next to the sink. “I need something more up-to-date, Trudy,” Gloria sighed, her back to the sink. She looked at herself in the mirror opposite, turning her head from side to side. “Don’s gone back to the temple, and he wants me to go with him.”
Trudy tipped Gloria’s head back. “Mid-life thing going on? Couldn’t he just buy a fast car?” Gloria closed her eyes and took a deep breath. The water gurgled and sprayed. Negative ions elevated her mood. Twenty, thirty years from now she would be Sister Bodell getting her wash and blow-dry once a week and walking out of the Wildflower Salon smiling beneath her helmet hair. That was as good as it was going to get for her.
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