A short story

There was nothing waiting for me on the other side of my MFA in fiction. So I moved back home and started selling insurance. 

That’s how I found myself in Lauren’s living room, watching The Real Housewives of New York. It makes me angry. All that money and privilege. None of them ladies have ever heard of my town and they never will. Why would they? But it’s Lauren’s favorite show. And Lauren’s one of the only other girls to go away to college and come back home too. 

On TV, Jill is showing Bethenny her new apartment. Jill’s calling it her “casa.” 

Then outta nowhere Lauren says, “You know the house I grew up in right?” 

“Yeah,” I say. I see it in my mind, a one story white clapboard off the road.

“Well everyday after school I would help the neighbor kids with homework” she says. “I don’t think you knew them. They didn’t go to school with us. They were a lot younger than us anyways. The girl was probably in the fourth grade and the boy was in kindergarten.”

On TV, Jill’s apartment is in a high rise, the city glints outside the windows. There’s an island in the kitchen. Looks like it’s never been used. 

“But one day I was helping the kids with their homework and I guess it was about 4 o’clock,” Lauren says. “Mama and Daddy weren’t home yet. I was probably in the eighth grade. And I’m trying to help them with their homework and there’s this banging on the door. It’s their mama and she’s begging me to let her in. She says that the kids’ daddy has taken all the guns in the house and that he’s going to come back to kill them. Bout that time, my daddy comes home and he’s standing there guarding the front door of our house with a gun and the mama is terrified. But she asked me if I’d still help her kids with the homework. I guess to try to keep up some normalcy.” 

It felt stupid to ask but I did anyways: “How the hell could they concentrate?”  

“It didn’t seem THAT much of a big deal to them. Made me think they had to concentrate through worse at home.” And then Lauren paused. “But I won’t ever forget for the rest of my life what happened. We stood right there at the window and watched when that daddy came home, he drove right into the side of the house, right into the living room where he’d left his wife and kids. And the woman turned and looked at me and said, ‘I’d be dead if you hadn’t let me in here.’” 

While Lauren told me what happened, she never turned from the TV. We saw Jill’s brand new apartment, her “casa.” The chandelier above the bathtub, the headless lady statue behind the couch. “Some goddess,” Jill squeeled. 

“I don’t know whatever happened to that woman,” Lauren goes on. “Ricky Dunn told me he heard she’d ended up at the Northside mental hospital. And the daddy’s the one that got killed in that real bad motorcycle accident outside of Greenville a couple of years ago.” 

“But I just feel so bad for those children,” she says. 

We watch a commercial for the new iphone, we watch a commercial for Burger King. Kim Kardashian has invented bras with built-in nipples.

But I’m wondering what those kids had for homework that day. I know Lauren would tell me but I’m not gonna ask.

She says, “You can use that for a story if you want to… I think that boy’s at the Perdue plant now.”

“Yeah,” she says. “I think that boy works at the Perdue Plant now.” 

But I can’t stop thinking about the girl. She’s trying to do her homework. 


The girl. Her name is Genesis. I used to work with a girl at Belk’s named Genesis, she helped teach me how to use the register. She wore glasses and always asked me to give her samples of the raspberry vanilla smelling hand cream. 

But let’s say my Genesis saw this happen when she was in seventh grade, her daddy driving the truck into the house, while she was trying to work on some Algebra. The chapter is on exponents, the powers of zero. Zero to the positive integer is zero. 

Her daddy comes back home a couple of nights later. Genesis finds her mama and daddy, he’s kissing all over her mama’s neck, putting her on the kitchen counter. 

Genesis fails the Algebra exam. She gets really into eating macaroni and cheese. Has to have it once a day either for lunch or supper. The classic plain Velveeta cheese kind. If her mama brings home the Kraft, she just won’t eat it. 

The next thing that happens is one night Genesis’s mama is found running across the road in nothing but her tennis shoes. She’s running into the cotton field. The couple who finds her is on their way home from Roanoke Rapids, they’ve been on a date to Texas Steakhouse. 

And despite this couple telling the rest of the county that Genesis’s mama is crazy, Genesis’s mama never leaves town. She can’t. 

Genesis fails Algebra and has to take it over again that summer. She knows that her mama was running from her daddy. Feels like she’s running from him every night. The hole in the living room wall is still there. Genesis’s mama hangs a sheet over it with nails. She tries to match the color of the sheet to the wall the best she can. Genesis looks at it all the time.

She basically fails the summer school Algebra too but they pass her on to the next school year. Sadly she develops really big boobs. The boys sit behind her in class, saying “motorboat motorboat motorboat” over and over and over and when she turns around to tell them to stop they shake their heads back and forth very quickly at her with their tongues out like they’re something out of hell. But some of them are handsome. And the most handsome one is the quarterback. He makes all A’s. His daddy is a lawyer and he’s been accepted to UNC Chapel Hill for the fall. 

He takes Genesis to the party hole after school. It’s an open patch of dirt that’s worn down and silky from all the people before who’ve rolled on it. And the most handsome, smartest guy at school starts making out with Genesis. He runs the tips of his fingers from her ankle to her knee to her hip bone to her nipple. He pinches it. And Genesis gives everything she can to him, whatever he asks for. 

He doesn’t care that Genesis isn’t good at school or that her mama was caught running across the road in nothing but her tennis shoes so many years ago. He asks Genesis to be his girlfriend. He asks Genesis to prom. She wears a dress that cuts down real low to show off her breasts. Her daddy gets her mama to take a picture of them standing there together. His arm around her shoulder. Her daddy will keep this photo in his wallet for the rest of his life, use it for his Facebook profile picture. 

And when they’re having sex, Genesis’s boyfriend will say, “Can you come for me baby? Can you show me how good you can come? You should see how beautiful you look when you come, how sexy. Just amazing.” 

“You’re amazing,” he says.

He takes Genesis on his family’s vacation to Nags Head. They have a beach house there. She swims with him in the ocean and he fingers her when no one is looking. And before bed, he holds his iPhone above her while he’s fucking her and she does the best she can to look sexy for him while he records. After the beach trip he breaks up with her. Because he’s going to UNC Chapel Hill so very soon. He’s going to be a lawyer. And Genesis won’t ever expect to go off anywhere anyways. She knew she wasn’t smart enough. 

She eats more Velveeta macaroni and cheese, starts hanging around the party hole and the hunting lodge because there’s nothing better to do. She wants to tell her daddy that she knows all about him, how he really is, how he’s a fucking evil person—his foot on that gas pedal, all the way to the floor—this is on loop in her head. Has been for a long time now. But Genesis doesn’t confront her daddy. She focuses on what she’ll do next. Dental hygiene school, hair school, or becoming an EMT. 

But by now everyone thinks Genesis is a slut. Even though her ex-boyfriend is far away in a dorm room in Chapel Hill, he’s started sharing the videos he made of her. And everyone has seen them. Not only do the boys from school start to look at her differently, but her male teachers and the men at church, even her cousins too. She keeps hanging out at the party hole and the hunting lodge because there’s nothing else to do. 

Years later she meets a guy from Roanoke Rapids who doesn’t know about the video, or her crazy mama or how her daddy drove a hole into their house. He’s a police officer and likes to take pictures of the people he arrests in the back of his cop car. When they’re having sex he says, “C’mon baby, milk my cock.” She moves in with him quickly. Doesn’t go home to see her family much except when they really need her. She gets fat from the Velveeta and always wears her hair pulled back into a ponytail, and then slicks down the frizzies with gel. She starts smacking on mint gum all the time too. She’s smacking on it during her wedding. And when she’s giving birth. 

She names her son Jaelyn. When he’s 8, he asks for a Make America Great Again themed birthday party. Genesis’s mother-in-law in Roanoke Rapids has a pool. So Genesis throws her son Jaelyn a Make America Great Again pool party. She takes a picture of Trump saluting with his hand on his head into the Food Lion and they scan it onto a vanilla cake with red, white and blue icing trim, red glitter sprinkles. Genesis orders a Trump cardboard cutout—he looks kinda mean in the picture, but he’s smiling. Genesis’s husband borrows his best friend’s big Trump 2020 flag and she uses that as a backdrop for all the group pictures of all of Jaelyn’s lil friends. And Jaelyn is so happy about the party. Genesis posts pics of him blowing out his cake, and pictures of all the lil kids in front of the Trump flag smiling, wet with colorful lil towels draped over their shoulders. Genesis’s parents and her husband and even all the people who think she’s a slut comment on the photos saying:

 “What an awesome birthday party!”

 “Those kids are just adorable!”

 “Amazing job Genesis!” 

“So COOL!” 

“That is Awesome!” 




Genesis’s husband eventually finds out about the sex tape she did so long ago. But he doesn’t care. At this point she’s fat and no one wants to be with her like when she was young. Her ex-boyfriend never moved back home. He grew out his hair real long, moved to New York City to be an actor. 

She imagines her ex-boyfriend there with all the beautiful women, so smart and rich, none of them bigger than a toothpick. She sees him in the background of a Verizon Wireless commercial. He’s eating a donut. 

Genesis listens to Fox News when her husband puts it on. When she is on top of him during sex she says, “Tell me baby, tell me what you want me to do. Tell me! Tell me!”

Genesis learns how to use the pistols in the house when her husband shows her how to do it. Because he comes home from work one day saying that protesters are coming to target their house since he’s a policeman. Genesis doesn’t let Jaelyn see her with the guns. She makes sure he’s playing the Playstation. She has never seen a protester in real life but she’s seen them on the news burning buildings everywhere and stealing. Genesis helps her husband hide his cop car under a blanket under the shed, so no one will see where they live. So no one will kill them. 

Genesis dreams of being killed by protesters. She dreams of her daddy driving into the house. She watches Teen Mom and The Bachelor and never goes to the party hole again. But she still goes with her husband to the hunting lodge from time to time. Where he finds another younger skinnier woman to hold onto named Kenlee Ann. One cold clear night at the turkey shoot, Genesis stands beside her at a fire barrel. They’re together warming their hands. “Kenlee Ann, please just don’t get pregnate,” she says. 

Genesis clocks in on time at work. She posts selfies with the rabbit filter. She gets her nails done before she starts going to church again. She buys a Phillipians 4:13 bumper sticker. I Can Do All Things Through Christ Who Strengthens Me. She stops eating Velveeta. Gets gastric bypass, gets skinny minnie and starts wearing her hair down again. She jumps into tight jeans. She throws candy out the back of her preacher’s truck at the Easter parade. She takes her mama out for mother’s day and her daddy out for father’s day too. She never uses self-checkout. She’s never hit a deer. She plays music on her phone when she’s getting ready. She uses dryer sheets and lint rollers, takes her time picking out car air fresheners, smelling every one of them in the Walmart aisle. Yankee Candle’s Pink Sands reminds her of the beach. Wild Orchid makes her feel pretty. She likes the strawberry daiquiris at Logan’s. She makes $3,162 dollars in 2021 selling skincare in a pyramid scheme. She doesn’t tell anyone about the money and starts Jaelyn a college fund. She is in the stands for every one of his baseball games. And one day he asks her, “How come you never told me about grandaddy driving the truck into y’alls house and trying to kill y’all?” He laughs, “That’s crazy.” 

And she tells him not to ever ask her about that again. 

“Who told you about that?” she says. 

 “I don’t know. I just heard it around.” 

And Genesis drives all the way over to her daddy’s house and asks him why he did that? Why in the fuck did he want to kill his wife and children that day? 

And he says he wasn’t trying to kill Genesis, that he was just drunk. 

“No, you wanted me dead Daddy,” she says. 

He’s sitting under her, looking small in his recliner. 

“You wanted me dead,” she says. 

“But you’re still alive ain’t ya?” He laughs. 

“Yeah, I am,” Genesis says. ~


  • Ashleigh Bryant Phillips

    Ashleigh Bryant Phillips is from Woodland, North Carolina. She wrote Sleepovers. Her short stories have appeared in The Paris Review, The Oxford American, and Archway Editions Journal.

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