Nadia Arioli (nee Wolnisty)

 

Nadia Arioli (nee Wolnisty)
is the founder and editor in chief of Thimble Literary Magazine. Their work has appeared or is forthcoming in Spry, SWWIM, Apogee, Penn Review, McNeese Review, Kissing Dynamite, Bateau, Heavy Feather Review, Whale Road Review, SOFTBLOW, and others. They have chapbooks from Cringe-Worthy Poetry Collective, Dancing Girl Press, and a full-length from Spartan.

 

Paltry


Everything has a skin
you can take off at least once.

Have you seen a knife
skim the surface of paper?

What is it I can give–
my fingernails like bone confetti?

I had a dream I was given a clone
just so I could have an abortion.

You wrote in your poem about Lent
Please love this too.

The neighbors will say of my home
Don’t go there; she eats old birds. 

 

The Deal with Necco Wafers

 
A void opens up in apartment 5A. Three, youngish people are trapped on different parts of it, the woman in the kitchen stage left, the tall man in what is left of the living room, upstage, and the bald man is down stage right. The woman puts her hands on her hips and cocks her head. She looks annoyed. Well, she says to everybody and nobody. The tall man is by the couch, cut off from the kitchen. Rats. I can’t get to the cereal, he says, gesticulating wildly. The bald man makes soft, animal noises.

In Seinfeld, the characters are obsessed with food. They are always stuffing their gullets. Snacks, milk, juice are a must. The titular character in his stand-up routine remarked that when you’re a kid, your whole world is candy. I thought, has anything changed for these people?

But what stood out to me the most during the pandemic of 2020 is the sort of ease the characters have with eating. We all wish George would be a little more uneasy—watching him eat is horrid. For a nervous man, you’d think he’d be more discrete with his enthusiasm for food. The four go out to eat like it’s nothing. They come over to Jerry’s and peruse his snacks. What ease! What comfort to go to your best friend’s house and eat their cereal without having to ask. I miss that unspeakable make-your-self-at homeness in a place that’s not my home.


Hey, says the tall man, Will ya toss me a box? A box, asks the woman, what do you mean a box? Of cereal, says the tall man, becoming agitated. What did you think I meant? Sure, I can try, says the woman after making a rueful face, and she walks around the counter into the kitchen. She looks into the built-in shelf and discovers only dust.

Here, your mother says, Let’s practice again. You are sitting in your dining room, at what is called the kid’s table. You and your younger sister share a plastic table to the side of the grown-up table where your older sister and parents are allowed to eat. It doesn’t seem fair because you are seven and Sarah is only five. It doesn’t seem fair that you get treated the same way. You had protested the matter a few months ago, because Claire was eating at the grown-up table when she was seven. Your parents explain that it’s because you still eat messily. This is largely true, and your cheeks burn. You know this. It’s your fault you still eat with your mouth open.

Your mother hands you a Necco wafer. The body of Christ, she says. You are determined to get it right. Lips together, you think to yourself, preparing for the moment you stick him on your tongue. Out loud, you say, Thank you.


Huh, that’s odd, the woman says, No cereal. What do you mean no cereal? There’s always cereal here, says the tall man, whose agitation seems to have swung around to bemusement. He only cares about two things, this guy: Cereal and Superman. Isn’t that right, George? The bald man doesn’t respond but makes soft, animal noises.

I had a friend like that, a person who I could be at-home with when I was not at home. I guess I still do. But past tense works for me too. She and her husband moved away during the pandemic, and that is very rude of her. I’m bad at people moving. I act like a little kid whose ball has been taken away. I pretend it’s just not happening, will never happen, and ignore the whole thing until it’s too late.

So much of friendship centers around food. We meet our friends for coffee. Later, when we are better acquainted, we meet for dinner. When she and her husband would visit my house, they’d always say, we’ll pick up one or two things, but it would wind up being absurd. Enough cheese to feed a village. An army of sausages. Three different kinds of crackers. I should have felt embarrassed eating it like that, but I really didn’t. Because that’s how old friendships work—you let them feed you without a second thought.


Well, what else does he have? asks the tall man to the woman who is strutting around the small kitchenette with more confidence than would be expected of someone walking so close to a void. Um, let’s see here, she says, now opening various cabinets. Pretzels, peanuts, ew, that looks old, um, kasha, some candy. Do ya like Necco wafers?

Your politeness gets a laugh. No, no, Nadia, it’s Amen. It means ‘I believe’. So you have to try again when you are finished crunching down on chalk. The wafers taste like old teeth with sugar but not in a bad way. You like the yellow the best. You and your mother are saving the purple for your father, the only one who likes licorice. He calls that color black, but you know better.

Your mother holds up a pink one. The body of Christ, she says, again. You say, Amen. She places it in your sweaty palm. You use your right hand to pick it up and put in on your tongue. Lips together, you crunch on Christ.


Yowza, says the tall man, flapping his arms, I haven’t thought of Necco wafers for years.

Nothing happens for a beat.

For all their shallowness and callousness, there is a beauty to the kind of friendship we see on Seinfeld. It’s not deep or profound or something that’ll go down in books—but a certain relaxedness, familiarity, and profound lack of embarrassment. There are friendships that will aspire you to greatness, help you weather the storm, and change your character for the good. But then there are friendships you can just be at home in—and that is hard to come by, especially when one is stuck in their house, watching television one doesn’t even particularly like during a pandemic.

I said goodbye from the porch, six feet apart, in a mask between stuffed olives she brought with her. This is a friend I’ve known for twelve years—almost half my life. This is a friend who was there. Someone whose apartment I’ve long thought of as a safety-net. Once, I came over, and we were both very tired, so we took a nap in her bed. I always figured, if it all goes to shit, if I lose my job or my mind, I’ll just go there.


Yeah, what the heck, toss ‘em over, Elaine, says the tall man. Okay Kramer, says the woman, Ya ready? Ready, says the tall man, I was a ballman once, remember?

Things have been good, more or less. The good thing about living through my twenties is things had a way of settling down. I find a job that doesn’t suck. I find a partner who doesn’t drain the love out of me—chipping away at my sense of self so that parts come off in shards. The bad man is long gone, but the other day, I thought of my body, the enormity of it, and how I can’t think of one square inch anywhere that hasn’t been criticized by him. All of this was too big, this was too dry, this bled all the time. It was good to go to an apartment you didn’t own and be with someone who fed you and didn’t think of your body as a problem that needed fixing.

I don’t need that place anymore. But it was good to know it was there.


The tall man gets ready to catch. The woman gets ready to throw. The bald man makes soft, animal noises.

The real Christ doesn’t taste so sweet like Necco wafers. He’s more of a Styrofoam and sticks to the roof of your mouth. You’ve tongued Christ from the roof of your mouth. It does not, as far as you can tell, give you any special advantage at blowjobs as an adult.


The woman tosses the wafers, while making a smirk, which quickly turns into a dismayed frown. The candy goes down into the void with a woosh. No thud is heard. Nothing is heard for a while, except, of course, the small, animal noises coming from the bald man.

My oldest friend comes over and we sit on the porch. We talk about her family, large and in each other’s business. We talk religion. We talk about Trump.


It wasn’t my fault, says the woman when that moment is over. How was I supposed to know it would be sucked down there? It’s like this thing has a mind of its own. Um, want me to toss ya the pretzels?

Nah, that’s okay. Pretzels didn’t work out for me that good the last time. But I am hungry. Say, where is Jerry anyways? Aren’t we supposed to meet here and get Chinese?

As child, you love communion. The whole ritual of it. Marching with the adults to the front of the church. The same thing every time. When you are ten you write a poem; While God holds me in His Hands / I hope Him in mine / The circle is complete.

You take poetry class in junior high, and the teach complains that your poetry, while good, is focused on the macabre and morbid. Both of you are Catholic. What did he expect?

And that year you learned a new word: Macabre. It too stuck to the roof of your mouth. Macabre.


A buzz is heard on the intercom. The woman is the only one that can reach it, due to the void in the living room. She is distracted by going through the fridge and laying everything—pickles, old take-out, bottles of Snapple— out on the counter. She sniffs the orange juice, makes a decision in her face, and takes a swig from the carton.

The buzzer, says the tall man, Get the buzzer. I’m very busy, says the woman. But you’re the only one who can reach it, protests the tall man.

A second buzz is heard.

Alright, alright, says the woman, Jeeze. She moves towards the buzzer. The phone rings. The tall man moves to get it but realizes he can’t; the void is where the phone usually is.

We move into the garage because it is so hot out but leave the door open. I say this is supposed to be safer this way. I pour the olives into bowls, and we eat them. It’s odd that she brought olives, when we both love sugar, her desserts, me candy.


The woman pushes the button and says, Yeah? and a third man’s voice is heard over the intercom. Hi Elaine, it’s me. I forgot my keys. How’d you’d forget your keys? You always put them on the coffee table near the phone, says the woman, sounding like a very wet bird who is annoyed at being wet. Yeah, yeah, says the third man, Just let me up already. Well, you better hurry. says the woman, We were supposed to leave for dinner an hour ago. I don’t want to have to wait. Can’t we meet you in the lobby?

No, no, says the third man, I want to come up and look for my keys. Just let me in, would ya? She unlocks the door. Alright, okay, she says over the intercom, and sighs.

The phone rings again. No one does anything about it, but they all look at each other with no particular expression.

Perhaps communion is why you stay Catholic as long as you do, with a heart as queer and empty as yours. Promised redemption is fine, but it’s going to have to get pretty grim to get there. In a family that eats their young, eating God is the ultimate power-move.

When you tell your few non-Catholic friends about communion, they are horrified. And you think you should have been too. You think God is bread. God gave his only son for our redemption, and we just proceed to eat the man? What the fuck? What the actual fuck?


The door opens, and the third man enters, out of breath as if he had been running. He pauses, What the? he says as if exaggerating, with his eyebrows up and palms up. He looks at the woman, then the tall man, then the bald man who is making soft, animal noises. Well, I guess that’s new, says the third man, as if trying to amuse someone not in the room.

The phone rings again.

Curious if his keys are down there, the third man inches from the doorway to the edge of the void, and peers down into it, making his face long with concentration. He looks into it a good while then suddenly jerks back. He asks the woman, Hey, while you three were waitin’ on me, did any of you think of looking at this thing?

Then it’s time for my friend to go. Texas saw three jobs, and I’m not sure how many nervous breakdowns.  In a month she will move across the country with her husband and her dog. I want so badly to tell her try. I know mental illness is real, I know, but please, I need you to try. But I don’t. I mostly listen and tug at my fingernails.  I laugh at her jokes, even though I don’t understand them some of the time. That’s all I remember of the visit. I can’t make it more than it was. I still have the half-finished jar of olives in my fridge.


No, I—says the woman.

Nah, says the tall man.

The bald man makes soft, animal noises.

Well, I did, says the third man, And let me tell you, I’m not impressed. I saw, I saw a man, and he had my same exact haircut. I mean, exactly the same. I think he really looked like me.

When you are eleven, though, a dentist discovers your mouth is misshapen. It juts out like the prow of a ship. Your teeth are bent so far forward your lips can’t cover them. That was why you ate with your mouth open. No one thinks to apologize to you for all those nights sent to your room from the supper table. Your parents are angry at you for having a misshapen mouth that will cost god knows how much in braces. You won’t be eating much candy for the next few years.

And the braces work. You remember that ache. All wired up and teeth moving slowly back, back, back until your lips can cover them, until your lips can close. On Sundays, you fish little bits of Christ from their wires.

You remember your last communion, in college, graduation day for your friends the class above yours. You knew it was going to be your last, too. One more hit of Styrofoam, one more tongue scraping. You have a cigarette right after.


For the first time, the studio audience laughs, nervously at first, but then louder and louder, a robust laugh, a laugh with a future. The audience keeps laughing. The audience keeps laughing. The audience keeps laughing. The audience keeps laughing. Over the laughter, we hear from the bald man, soft, animal noises.

And then you do all sorts of dirty things with your mouth. All kinds of bad, swirly things with your tongue because you wanted to. And still later your mouth gets dirtier—shouting as loud as you could that you never, ever said yes that one night junior year. Your mouth will demand no one interrupt you, and people will laugh until they realize you’re not joking, and then laugh anyways. Your mouth will refuse to be put at the kids’ table. You can eat any goddamn table you please, even if you leave a trail of candy on the ground after.

 

Diary


I don’t want to read your diary,

but I do want to hold it up to my ear,
like it is a seashell, and I could listen
without invading and know where you live.

She emailed me, once, the sentence,
“I was re-reading your diary, and I’m worried
that you might find us invasive.”
I chose to find this funny.

The same way I chose to find jokes
about Obsessive Compulsive Disorder funny.
Oh, you tucked in my shirt label because you have OCD?
Hilarious.
Oh, you only use pens with good ink because you
are so fucking special?
Jabs about cute quirks and annoying habits.
The need for clean spaces, perfection,
or mismatched socks.

Because there was nothing adorable when
I bought three sets of plane tickets
for my sisters and I to fly out, when I had
to take time off work, with no explainable
explanation, when I visited her in the hospital
and read her diagnosis. It wasn’t a quirk
when I couldn’t cry at all until I realized, mid-piss
there was still a bloodstain on the bathroom wall.
There was nothing funny
about her email when I realized it was sent
the day before she tried to kill herself,
and there was nothing funny about the times
she told me I wasn’t good enough.

I don’t want to read your diary,

because I would probably write in page numbers
and read in eleven page segments.

My mother is the one with OCD, not me.
I don’t have OCD.
I don’t have OCD.
I don’t have OCD.

I don’t have OCD.
I don’t have OCD.
I don’t have OCD.
I don’t have OCD.
I don’t have OCD.
I don’t have OCD.
I don’t have OCD.
I don’t have OCD.
I said that eleven times because eleven is a safe number it’s safe the way six is safe because it divides
so neatly
in groups of one and a half
in groups of one and a half
in groups of one and a half

in groups of one and a half
in groups of.

It feels safe the way I pick at my fingers, long strips of flesh
like wallpaper that bleeds raw like grapefruit.

I don’t want to read your diary,

but I do want to hold it up to my ear.

I have an urge to know what part of her behavior
is her mental illness
and how much of it is her being a bad person
and what parts I inherited. 

I want to know. But I won’t.
I won’t pick it apart like wallpaper
that bleeds that bleeds that bleeds that bleeds that bleeds that bleeds.
I won’t chew
and devour
and dissect
and swallow
and examine
like a scientist, like those fucking nurses
that prod, that prod, that prod.

I won’t cut you open
because I am choosing not to.
I’m choosing to close the door on this one—and there might be blood on its side.
I’m choosing not to determine which part goes where
and reassemble
and reassemble
and reassemble
until we make sense.

I am choosing to
love—and no amount of handwashing
or counting
or timing
or criticizing
will undo. And I don’t know where you are or what you’re thinking or
if you even know half of what I am, but I am choosing, I am choosing,
I choosing, I am choosing,  I am.

I don’t want to read your diary,
but I do want to hold it up to my ear. 

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