Fiction Collective Two is an author-run, not-for-profit publisher of artistically adventurous, non-traditional fiction.

The End of Free Love


The End of Free Love
by Susan Steinberg

Paperback
2003
Price: $13.95

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Susan Steinberg's first collection of stories, The End of Free Love, evokes the schizophrenia of our times, a community of voices at the zero point. Like the voices that splinter from Marguerite Duras' work, these characters, too, are neurotic, taking refuge in comic books, food, music, sex, and lies. Violence is everywhere: in every emotion, in every word. Throughout The End of Free Love Steinberg creates a hybrid text, blending poetry and fiction in writing that is as much about its form as it is content. This is fiction that offers itself up for our delight, while remaining as elusive and unpredictable as language itself.


"The stories of The End of Free Love mark a great beginning. They are seductive and migratory, tapped into our earliest sense of the world. Steinberg inhabits our first bewilderments, the terrors and the tenderness that shape our lives. To read her is to fall out of the daily into a fresh elation."—Noy Holland


"Her debut is a phenomenal collection of stories written in the uncertain, hesitating dialect of the bewildered—fragmented sentences that mirror fragmented souls."—San Diego Union-Tribune


"Given FC2's overall project, it is no surprise that Susan Steinberg's collection of short stories is formally innovative. When done poorly, playing with forms stems from gimmicks. When done well, as is the case in The End of Free Love, formal creativity unleashes a wonderful synergy between form and content."—Rain Taxi


"When you finish the tough task of reading one of Steinberg's stories, you can look forward to the more pleasurable experience of thinking and wondering about it. I tried to rush through the first step to get on with the second, but obviously it didn't work. It's a constant temptation, though. The stories' packaging—the lists, short paragraphs, long streams of consciousness, and sentences that somehow move at a high speed—invite you to consume them rapidly."—Pop Matters


Excerpt


ISLA


1. Never tuck the napkin.

2. Four stars means tops. One two three four. Meaning the top. Número uno.

3. Spread the napkin like this. A flick and drop. Do it. These are real cloth. A flick. Drop in the lap.

4. Tell the waitress your drink. Tea please por favor and bread.

5. Always ask for by the window. For the sunset.

6. Sugar is the enemy. It gets in the blood and spreads. We all get it from the sugar. Our one enemy number one is sweets.

7. Trust me. They aren't Jews. There by the kitchen. Don't look.

8. White sand is all you need. Setting sun. What more could you need.

9. Salt slows the blood. It poisons. Take a glass of water. Pour in a shaker of salt. Now two. The blood from salt.

10. Never buy German made.

11. Seabirds are dirty and beggars.

12. An aperitif. Rouge. A twist.

13. They work the native girls hard. These girls are close to your age. They make a nickel an hour. Just nickels in a four star. How would you survive. This is why we tip. We're known for good tipping.

14. Hard liquor is the enemy. It poisons the bloodstream. Hard liquor is for the crass. The whiskies and gins. They can have it.

15. There are things your old pop knows.

16. Never gamble.

17. Never smoke.

18. Sometimes we cheat.

19. Red sunsets are all you need. See the sailboats. A picture postcard. When have you seen a red sunset. Think. Never. I like the blue boat there but sailboats tip. One tilt and splash.

20. New Yorkers are crass. Look at that fellow eating. By the kitchen. What a piece of meat. Look. Showy. An animal from New York you know it. That slob. Napkin tucked. He's hard from the city living don't I know it.

21. Aperitifs come rouge and blonde. Some ice and a twist of lemon and you sip. Aperitifs come first before dinner. With a twist. Sip slow. After dinner drinks come after.

22. When you want more tea. Cuando quieres más tea. Say more tea. Dices más tea por favor.

23. The waitress thinks you're my girlfriend.

24. Blonde. Ice and a twist.

25. They make nickels an hour. They have children at home. They live in shanties in ghettoes. How would you survive. They start when they're thirteen. No car no trips. No Sunday school. Some start at twelve.

26. Never bring home a New Yorker. You'll kill me. Never bring home a non Jew.

27. A trip for my girl and we deserve it don't we Sweetie.

28. Never feed the seabirds. They carry sickness. They eat garbage from the ghettoes. Let the slobs bring them bread.

29. You can tell non Jews. Even dark haired ones. The small handbags. Plastic beads. Fake stones.

30. I can still get a young girl.

31. Four stars means tops. Not three but four. Straighten. Look proud. Four stars Sweetie. Wait until your mother hears. Her head will go through the roof.

32. Never sit by the kitchen. You don't want to hear it. The clatter. Or see it.

33. Never go to the ghetto.

34. We'll start with this. Soup. Then this. Ensalada. How old are you. I guess seventeen. Am I right. Seventeen. Sweetie what do you think. How old is she. Wipe your face. She must be seventeen. This here's my girlfriend. You laugh. This is my lucky lady. Say hello Sweetie. Say hola to the waitress. Hola Sweetie. I want this here and my lucky girlfriend will have this and done well cooked. And bring me a clean knife.

35. First blow on the spoon.

36. If it's too hot add ice.

37. New Yorkers are showy. They drive German cars. You know this.

38. Playing slots is not gambling. Five dollars big deal. Nickels.

39. Place the knife on the plate. All the way top and bottom against the rim. Not like this but like this. It shouldn't touch the table.

40. Never ride a sailboat. One tip then splash and you drown. Would you like to drown. Would you. You don't want to find out. Trust me.

41. Leave a bite on your plate.

42. We can fool the waitress. She's staring. Look. I'll put my arm around you. Sit still. Don't look she's looking. We're so bad.

43. Jews don't drink beer with dinner. They don't drink milk. They don't drink hard liquor. We don't have the stomachs. Besides.

44. No one drinks the native coffee. It will put you under the table. You could stand a knife up in their coffee.

45. Taste before salting. Always. Why presume. Your mother the way she shakes the salt. She salts meat. Soup. Foods salted. Am I right. She would salt a cake if you didn't take the shaker. Her blood will screech to a halt. I always told her. Watch it.

46. You're the tops.

47. Jews don't call dinner supper.

48. If you laugh then laugh quiet.

49. New Yorkers are slobs. Look tugging on his meat. Crass. A zoo animal.
50. Cut three squares of meat. Then eat them one two three. Then cut three more. Then eat one two three.

51. Your eyes are bigger than your stomach.

52. You need fat on the skeleton. Why don't you eat up. You would never survive a roundup. Do you know what a roundup is. What do they teach in that slob Sunday school. You need some fat.

53. If it turned cold send it back.

54. Blondes are lookers. The New Yorker's date. Mean looking but a blonde. That my Sweetie is a looker. By the kitchen. Your mother was a looker a long way back.

55. You don't eat the garnish.

56. Cut smaller pieces. Do you want to choke.

57. We can't go into the ghetto. We can drive around the edge. I can show you how the other half survives. Would you like that Sweetie. They carry pistols and knives. They sell their trinkets. We don't need that garbage. And the poor children. We'll keep our doors locked.

58. Un vaso de vino. For my young lady. White or red. Wait don't tell me. Blanco o rojo. Am I right. Blanco or rojo Sweetie. How about it. She's shy and always has been. She can sip some blanco. Her mother's head will shoot to the stars. Her first glass.

59. Solamente cuando su madre no está aquí. Comprendes.

60. Your pop takes care. This ring will be yours. Solid fourteen. This is fashion. Not a trinket. Your mother chose the stone and one day my sweets. All for you. But what's the hurry am I right.

61. The world is unfair. A looker and a slob. Turn slowly and tell me. The blonde with the. Tell me is she a looker. Mean looking with the cigarette. The lipstick. Now look. Am I right. Don't look.

62. If you can't pay you wash dishes.

63. The middle of the island is a zoo. Pistol shooting. Stray goats. They shoot dogs and live in shanties. They live in ghettoes. Such litter. They race cars.

64. I'll never let you starve.

65. There are things we do when no one's looking. Everyone does. Your old pop isn't so bad. There are just things that happen. You understand this Sweetie. Things. Comprendes for me por favor.

66. We all used to struggle. We ate soup from cans. Before you Sweetie. Before we left the zoo. But we danced. We went dancing. But soups from cans imagine can you.

67. Let's be extravagant.

68. Tap the water glass for attention. Ting ting. Or raise one finger like this.

69. American coffee por favor black no sugar. Más tea for my lady.

70. Eat up. You're a skeleton. Skin on a skeleton. Don't you like dinner. This isn't a joke. Eat up. Let's see you eat. Is it any good. Chew first then swallow. Slow. This isn't a race.

71. German cars are the enemy. Do you know this. Do you know why. What do they teach you on Sundays. Peace and love. The happy world. To hell. Ask me about the car seats. Come on Sweetie. Ask me about the ghettoes.

72. There are things your old pop knows.

73. Dessert is for slobs. The sugar is what kills. The sugar got all your grandparents. All your aunts and uncles. That and the smoking. The drinking. All of them. Ask your mother and still she eats desserts. She pours the salt. She smokes and drinks. Did you know this. She keeps it quiet. You didn't know.

74. The waitress thinks I'm twenty years younger.

75. The waitress never went to school. Imagine no school Sweetie.

76. There is always someone better smarter funnier. Always someone richer happier better. Always someone nipping at your seat. Shoving you the way out. Tell your poor mother. She never listened. You have to watch it or you'll fall. I warned her. She was in fashion. I got a fat wallet. They colored her hair. Fatter and they painted her nails. Magic. How she looked on our honeymoon. But now. Shape up I told her. Someone will push you out. Did she listen. Eat Sweetie. Watch it I told her. Does she listen.

77. The waitress is no older than seventeen. She's closer to your age. You're close to seventeen hard to believe. You're fourteen hard to believe.

78. Your pop's a strong man. Look at the size of this fist. Let's see your little hand Sweetie. Make a fist. I could crush that little thing.

79. I'll never let you get hurt.

80. They grow up quick here. They know how to make a man happy. They cook can they ever. Rice and beans and meat from their farms. Imagine a farm of stupid skinny goats Sweetie. Would you eat goat. They eat the meat and boy can they clean a house. They treat men as men. The boss of the house. They work as maids. Waitresses. They know when enough's enough. They know how to give. How to listen. How to milk a goat. And they keep quiet.

81. Chew then swallow. There's no race.

82. You can always send it back.

83. Watch your old pop in action. Come here honey. Ting. Ting. An after dinner por favor. Surprise me.

84. I'm the boss. Do you hear me. I can always disown you.

85. You never can win.

86. Sometimes we lie.

87. Obesity is a crime that poor slob. He should be dragged out and shot. I'll hold a pistol. You grab the steak knife. Cut off his fingers. He'll still eat poor slob. We can take his date and drive and drive until they find us.

88. Never drive German made.

89. I was an expert dancer way back. Ask your mother.

90. Breathe the air. It's the real thing. Salt air. Sun. You can taste it in the air.

91. You're my lucky lady. My Sweetie. Say hola to the waitress. My girl here's a good girl. She goes to school. Not a brain though. You know what a brain is. She's not the brainy type. Cómo se dice. Who knows right. But she'll make me proud. I have plans for this one. I have a business. I'm el presidente. She'll learn the ropes. Just a joke. She's not good with business. Easy. Where's your humor. A joke Sweetie. Joking.

92. You're number one.

93. Say dónde está el cuarto de baño.

94. No dessert. I'm watching it. How about you Sweetie. Do you dare. Some cake. Pie. Look at those eyes. Her eyes are bigger than her stomach. Look at her looking but I think she knows better.

95. I love you Sweetie.

96. Picture the ghettoes. Shanties. Little shack houses. Hardly a window. Goats chewing the dried up grass. Thin dirt roads. Cars racing past. They race into children. We're so lucky. Guess what else. They toss children from roofs. The accidents.

97. The only good German is a what Sweetie. The only good German is a what German. Come on Sweetie.

98. You're a lucky thing.

99. You're Jewish first. American second. German last.

100. The slots age is eighteen. I'll give you five dollars. All those nickels. Your mother's head will hit the ceiling. We won't tell her. She used to be different way back. She was some looker. You don't remember. This was in New York. She could dance. We danced like a couple of kids.

101. American coffee. You can always tell American.

102. The salt air clears the head. Don't worry about your mother. She'll snap back. I did nothing wrong. We'll send a postcard. I did nothing at all. She can't say I did. What has she said. She can't say anything. I warned her. You can't listen to her.

103. You wave away musicians like this. A flick of the wrist. They're a pain in the seat. They play for tips. Beggars.

104. Never bring home a musician.

105. We can make you eighteen. Some lipstick. Magic. Four years older. You'll be my girlfriend. We'll dance.

106. I should never have married your mother.

107. The sky's the limit. How about that Sweetie. How about we get you in fashion. New shoes Sweetie. The ones they wear now. The ones they wear here. Tops. Lipsticks. You'll come back a new you. Your mother will die from shock. We'll get you a hairdo. New nails. The sun's the limit.

108. The Germans are the enemy. They got your great grandparents.

109. You die you rot.

110. I always told her no children. She was too young. And why did I need children. She should have never. She wasn't ready. Accidents happen. But did she listen. Does she ever.

111. It's good to get away. You leave everything behind. But it catches you Sweetie. I hate to say it. But it nips you in the seat.

112. Never ask me why.

113. You pour a dot of cream. Wait. Another dot. Wait. See how it lightens. If you pour too much you mess the whole cup. I mean do you want coffee or a glass of milk. Ask yourself.

114. I deserve the best don't I. She couldn't give the best. She gave half that. A quarter that. This fat wallet and she gave nothing. Don't I deserve the most.

115. Guess the check. Hurry Sweetie. Guess it. A hint. Think high. Higher. Higher. You'll never guess. Never.

116. Don't stare. Look at them stumbling out. Poor slobs.

117. A nice Jew is all you need. A nice home. I'll fill your wallet. You don't need your mother. You don't need school. Finish junior high if you like. Find a nice Jew. A nice house. Take an island honeymoon.

118. Don't listen to your mother.

119. You're Jewish first. American second. German last.

120. Your mother never loved her child.

121. You're my número uno.

122. Wipe your face.

123. Take the check. You're paying. You're my lucky girlfriend right. Dinner's on you. Come on Sweetie. Where's your wallet. Show the waitress your fat wallet. Who's going to pay if not you. There are dishes waiting. Come on Sweetie. We're waiting for you. Come on. Waiting.

124. A joke. Just a joke. Where's your humor. Both of you.

125. Put the napkin on your plate.

126. You are your own worst enemy.

127. A five dollar tip can buy a new goat.

128. A trip just you and me. It's been fun hasn't it. We'll get you in fashion. Then we can see some of that white sand and look for shells. We can lie around the sand like a couple of kids. How about it Sweetie. We'll race past the ghetto. I have friends in there. Would you eat goat. We can race through the ghetto and see what's what.

129. How about it Sweetie. Let's do this again sometime. While we still can.

130. I love you Sweetie. How about that.

131. Wipe here Sweetie. Wipe your eyes.

132. Give me the napkin. Let me help.

133. How can I help.

134. How can I help Sweetie.