I teach fiction classes for the Sackett Street Writers’ Workshop, which is awesome. For my last class in the current session I’m teaching, my regular return student, Anabel Graff, who’s also awesome, convinced the class to do the thing where everybody thinks of some weird word or phrase, and then everybody writes a little storylet involving all the words/phrases. The words/phrases that had to be included were:
Agenbite of itwit
Barrel of hay
Here’s my piece. It’s kind of funny, and I figured what the hell, I’ll post it on this blog. Enjoy. Or don’t. Whatever.
(Some Hideously Clichéd Situations Involving a Barrel of Hay, in the Tense of Present)
By Benjamin Hale
“God!” says Cecilia. “I’ve never felt so alive!”
“Me too, baby,” says the barrel of hay. “Me too.”
It is a torturously hot day. The desert wobbles hazily with heat waves all around them. Hopeful, presumptuous vultures reel in their gyres overhead. They are sailing, fucking sailing, doing about ninety-five down Highway 35. The backseat is loaded with Hefty bags stuffed full of hot cash, as they have just robbed Texas First National. A messy job. Shot two men dead in the getaway. Figure they have about twenty-five minutes to pilot Cecilia’s now-late husband’s midnight-blue Caddy across the border before every pig in the Lone Star State picks up their scent on the radio. The barrel of hay is at the wheel, Cecilia in shotgun with her bare feet kicked up on the dash, the wind winsomely whipping her hair into a flurry. They are in a car, and they are in trouble. Big trouble. But somehow, she’s never felt this good in years.
Cecilia Babbage turns to the barrel of hay. A few stray strands of hay are blowing out of the top of the barrel in the wind. Goddamn, this barrel of hay is the sexiest thing she’s ever laid eyes on. The ruggedness of the rough-hewn staves. Even the barrel of hay’s flaws turn her on. The multiple felony convictions. The knothole in the barrel’s side, through which she can see clear through to the hay inside him. The missing rivets in the hoops. The bung hole.
“Barrel of hay,” she says. “I love you.”
EARLIER THAT DAY…
All told, agenbite of inwit has had better days.
“You’re fired, inwit,” said the boss, arms akimbo, belly sagging, cigar wet and fat between his chomping teeth. “Clear your desk!”
Lousy stupid boss, agenbite of inwit grumbles miserably on his drive home. Long commute. Guess this is the last time we’ll have to do that. The cardboard box half full of office supplies sitting on the passenger seat beside him bucks and rattles over the bumps, looking as pathetic and forlorn as agenbite of inwit feels. Agenbite of inwit is not looking forward to explaining to the wife why exactly he’s arriving home in the middle of the day.
He parks the car in the garage, but does not get out right away. Delaying the inevitable. His head is a swarm of nasty thoughts. Financial worries. Debts. Mortgage default. Kids will be in college soon. He rests his forehead against the steering wheel and listens to the feeble ticking of the engine cooling down. Briefly, he catches himself wondering how long it would take to die of carbon monoxide poisoning. He is a failure.
Regret. Remorse. These things practically define agenbite of inwit.
He takes the keys out of the ignition and enters the house.
Right away, something seems definitely not right.
“Hello?” he calls. His voice echoes off the white walls. “Cecilia, I have some bad news.”
Where the hell is she?
Going up the stairs, agenbite of inwit feels his feet growing slower and heavier with each step, as if gravity is condensing with his ascent.
He hears noises. Coming from the bedroom.
The noises are unmistakable.
Agenbite of inwit stands in the hallway before the closed bedroom door. For a long time. Trying to decide what to do. He knows the gist of the situation—but not the particulars. Does he really want to see this?
Sick curiosity gets the better of him.
He opens the door.
The room is hot—moist with sex, as steamy and reeking as a rhino pen. The windows are fogged. His wife, Cecilia, née Babbage, is sprawled across the bed, on her hands and knees, her fingers clawing at the sheets as if for dear life, her face twisted into a grimace, an expression of ecstasy so intense it almost looks like a wince of pain—an expression he knows well, but has not seen in years. Legs spread as wide as a four-lane freeway, she proffers herself, arching her ass into the air, while, kneeling behind her, a barrel of hay slams in and out of her like a jackhammer. The bed wobbles and creaks, knocks against the wall. Their wedding photo on the bedside table is lying on its face.
Slap, slap, slap, slap, go the glistening globes of her sweaty ass against the coarse wooden slats of the barrel of hay.
“Oh, Cecilia,” says the barrel of hay.
“Oh, barrel of hay,” says Cecilia. “Yes, yes! Harder, harder!”
And then the barrel of hay looks up, and notices agenbite of inwit standing in the doorway.
Agenbite of inwit cannot believe his eyes.
How could she?