It’s late Christmas Eve at Spinelli’s when Dominic presents us, the waitstaff, with his dumb idea of a bonus–Italian hams in casings so tight they shimmer like Gilda’s gold lame stockings.
At home, Gilda’s waiting up for me with a surprise of her own: my stuff from the last three months is sitting on the stoop. Arms crossed, scarlet nails tapping the white satin sleeves of her robe, she says she’s heard about Fiona. I balance the ham on my hip and pack my things–CD’s, weights, a vintage Polaroid–into garbage bags she’s provided free of charge. Then I let it all drop and offer up the ham in both hands, cradling it as if it might have been our child. She doesn’t want any explanations–or the ham.
Fiona belongs to Dominic, and we are a short sad story of one night’s restaurant despair. But the story’s out and for sure I don’t want Dominic coming after my ham.
Under Gilda’s unforgiving eye, I sling my garbage bags into the trunk of the car and all Christmas day I drive with the radio off except when I call Gilda from a phone booth by the side of the road. Bing Crosgy and me singing “White Christmas” means nothing to her, so I head west, the ham glistening beside me in the passenger’s seat. Somewhere in Indiana I strap it into a seat belt.
I stop to call again, but Gilda hangs up every time. After the next state, I send her pictures of my trip instead: The Ham under the silver arch of St. Louis; The Ham at the Grand Canyon; The Ham in Las Vegas. I’m taking a picture of The Ham in the Pacific when a big wave washes it out to sea. I send the picture anyway: The Ham in the Pacific Undertow. In this picture, you can’t tell which of us is missing.
‘The New Year’ was originally published in Microfiction, Ed Jerome Stern, 1996. and, Wouldn’t You Like to Know, Very Short Stories. Pamela Painter, 2010
FEATURED IMAGE: “Beach at Zoutelande (The Netherlands)” (2020), Acrylic on canvas. 100 x 70 cm.
Painter: Arienne Molenaar-Annot – www.ariennemolenaar.nl
Pamela Painter is the author of five story collections, most recently, Fabrications: New and Selected stories. She is also co-author with Anne Bernays of the widely-used textbook, What If? Writing Exercises for Fiction Writers. Her stories have appeared in numerous publications, such as Sudden Fiction, Flash Fiction, MicroFiction, Nothing Short of 100, Best Micro of 2020, and New Micro, and won three Pushcart Prizes and Agni Review’s John Cheever Award for Fiction. Painter’s stories have been presented on National Public Radio, and on stage by Cedering Fox’s Word Theatre, and appear on artist Anthony Russo’s YouTube channel CRONOGO. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.