Issue #88

Fall 2023


by Scott Pomfret

You decide to do it yourself. Drill down to the studs. Uncover the layers. The hidden flaws. The unacceptable conditions people find ways to endure day to day, that they say they're going to fix, now that it's spring.

Some people tell you how lucky you are. Others accuse you of being a glutton for punishment. Still others sit astride their gleaming piles and tell you how you can't possibly anticipate what's coming.

But it was worth it, they say. Hard work, but absolutely worth it. Here's my number. Don't hesitate to call.

You hesitate. You double delete the number. No way you're going to invite some smarmy know-it-all into the inner sanctum of your rehabilitation. Even your own mother's been clearly and unequivocally told to back off and mind her own.

You need nobody's help, but your long-time lover and partner in crime. And your brother, of course, who's good with power tools.

You're tempted to back out at the last moment. Not to change a thing. There's a certain shabby elegance to the way things are within you. The whole structure of yourself is so tenuous that it leans into the prevailing wind to avoid being pushed over.

But the onlookers applaud and insist on the change, now that you've proposed it. No one doubts your motives.

Fired up, you urge them to enter within. Into the shell. The wreck of you. The empty frame, now that all the detritus has been dumped on the curb.

The onlookers regard each other timidly, as if having expressed approval of the project was like exposing their genitals to one another. Delicious, but maybe forbidden.

You insist. You issue tickets. One group of neighbors debates how you possibly obtained a permit for such an extreme makeover. They list all the projects for which they've sought permission, which weren't approved. They mark for death all the municipal betrayers and the stupid and those who ought but didn't know better, who authorized your project. Fortunately, they didn't have the courage of their convictions to carry through.

Convinced they've done their duty by themselves, they, too, enter. You show them around. You put them to work. You say, this is really your project as much as mine. Grab a crowbar. Remember your safety goggles. Give my brother a hand.

One of the neighbors, more observant than the rest, posits that there's no way out. No turning back.

No one takes her seriously. Her observation has a whiff of the academy about it. A bit of the hypothetical.

A similar warning from a second neighbor contains a hint of a tarot card reader's red velvet boudoir.

You assure them that these concerns–if they have any merit at all–are something to which your neighbors can attend another day.

A third neighbor nods at what you say, and she definitely doesn't mean to raise unnecessary alarm, but she, too, has observed no obvious means of egress.

Instantly, the original neighbor panics. She says, We're stuck here.

Your brother observes that stuck is a relative term.

A fourth concedes in a manly whisper, I can't find a way out.

The third echoes, I can't find a way out.

Remain calm, you say. There's no reason to panic. There's a way out.

Build, build, build, you urge. String a wire. Plumb a line. That's how it's done. In work, freedom, right?

You're a monster. You're a mess. Now that they've been drawn in, you won't let them not participate in making you over.

Others, not you, now hesitate to do what needs to be done, violating their vows to complete the project, if it damn well kills them, or you, or both.

Author Bio


Scott Pomfret is author of Since My Last Confession: A Gay Catholic Memoir; Hot Sauce: A Novel; the Q Guide to Wine and Cocktails, and dozens of short stories published in, among other venues, Ecotone, The Short Story (UK), Post Road, New Orleans Review, Fiction International, and Fourteen Hills. Scott writes from the cramped confines of his Provincetown beach shack. He's currently an MFA candidate at Emerson College at work on a comic queer Know-Nothing alternative history novel set in antebellum New Orleans. More at