RUSSIAN ADVICE by Joshua Hebburn

The only tenderable advice Mom had given him was if a woman threatens to throw a plate at your head, she might, but if she takes her shoes off first, she’s going to kill you. Mom said she learned this while reading Turgenev. In college. 

He started taking magnesium supplements for better sleep. His therapist recommended it when he mentioned his disturbances in his sleep and insomnia. He Googled magnesium. He learned that magnesium burns especially hot, and that bad people—child pornographers, hackers, drug cartel accountants—used magnesium-based flip-switch ignition setups to melt their hard drives full of illegal information when the men in heavy gear and gas masks stormed in. He learned about nutritional magnesium. He went to Target.

His dreams became vivid from the magnesium. The dead and the lost things in his life returned to him in everyday settings, and the famous people—politicians and actors and actresses—all articulated together into nonsense. The people were speaking out of character, sometimes in a language that was almost decipherable. The settings flowed into the wrong next one. They committed unconjoined, sometimes tender, sometimes disgusting acts. These would be disturbing. This isn’t speaking of the objects and other nouns. That is if they weren’t, as memories, faint, thin, and rapidly fading. But maybe they wouldn’t: they don’t wake him up in their progress. He thinks of these as his magnesium dreams. He has magnesium dreams almost every night now. He didn’t dream this much before, either. He likes it even if it makes him feel bad. 

The other advice Mom gave was—for instance, only eat cake after thirty if you’re not married, women like plump guys but don’t keep them—it was stuff that made only surface sense, made too complete a feeling, was calculated to imply a kind of person, it was like a magazine ad. 

He thought of the way she would turn her hand palm up when she talked. She curled her index finger in towards the palm. It alarmed him that he couldn’t think of the hand beyond the gesture. In his mind’s eye it was a smudge, like the limb of one of the figures in the background of a painting, exactly what came into his mind when he thought generically of a “woman’s palm,” or “woman’s index finger.”  He could look at his own hand and observe the fold of flesh in the groin between his thumb and his pointer. He wished he could see a picture of the same place on her hand, or, if he could only consult a reference to jar his memory into particulars.  He imaged some library that contained volumes of photographs of human hands, human wrists, human arms, and all of the other parts, photographs made in hard light and printed in large format on thick, smooth art book paper.  It would be forgotten, the form of any human hand, her hand was going to be forgotten, and even his own hand as it was now because it would be another hand in the future, a hand with different creases.  

Nobody’s home. He went to her room and applied her makeup from the crowded table. He does it in the same way you might invert your shirt and go bongos on your belly, or sing a song loudly and badly, inserting cusses and slurs, or the way you pretend to be Jim Carrey in The Mask. Hummanahummana! Because you can. First a metallic dusting. Then an outline with a wet black pen. An oyster colored, oyster cool cream on the hands that smells like lavender, and salt. The satisfying twist of the plastic gold tube to raise the ruby worn down by Mom’s lips. I’m a glamorita, a glamourpuss. I look divine.

He was occasioned for all of this. He thought while he sat beside his second wife, who he knew he didn’t love recently, or maybe never. His hands were folded into his hands. The pew was hard. Everyone wears black. The pastor said the pastor’s scripture of love, God, and death. The light passed through the stained glass windows and it filled the enormous room with color.

He thinks of Mom smacking the bottom of the bear shaped bottle of pure clover honey, then looking at Dad at the kitchen table, and moving her hand to the hollowed bear rump, patting and laughing. Later, she would throw something at Dad, and for a reason. He couldn’t remember if she was wearing shoes, she often did or didn’t inside the house. How did she feel? 

Like a duel, he supposed, you make a commitment and do it out of some idea that you will feel some way after you’ve gone through. They say, go through with it. You go to the dentist. You go to the funeral. You snort cocaine. You divorce a wife. You say Jesus Christ.


Joshua Hebburn recommends Steven Arcieri, Nathan Dragon, and Honor Levy.

Art by Bob Schofield @anothertower

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