To avoid spoilers, read Meg Porkrass' story on Vox Populi: 'Puppy Breath.'
For me, Meg Pokrass’ stories often exhibit a sort of immediate, clever wryness. Her story, ‘Puppy Breath,’ is no exception. The title is quite brilliant, and so too the first line: ‘I was hilariously pretty, awkwardly pretty, not easy to recognize pretty.’ Throughout the story, the narrator expresses a feeling of inadequacy: ‘I sounded desperate. Not easy-breezy. A serious idiot. A woman who could not get a man to even look at her shoes.’ This inadequacy is also expressed in admitting how much older she is than the man: ‘How much younger was he? Ten, eleven years? More? No way. Not more.’
What is moving beneath the surface in this story, is the idea the narrator is going to AA herself, if it is here she meets the young man. Although she is self-deprecating, the narrator is bold enough to call the man she meets at the AA meeting.
I love the dialogue; it’s both real and humorous: ‘…I mean, we could maybe do that sometime, but only if you’re into it? I mean, we talked about it at the last Friday night downtown meeting, and you said to follow up, and so I am following up. And stuff.’ The repetition of ‘I mean,’ and then the final line, ‘And stuff,’ make me smile because this captures perfectly a time when people actually asked other people out on a date on the phone and not through the swipe of a screen.
There are some brilliant lines in this story, but I particularly like: ‘We had dinner, talked about stupid things, went to his place—and had amazing sex. Ex-drinkers really were something else, especially young ones.’ Again, these lines make me smile; it seems outrageous to claim ex-drinkers are better at sex, and yet, the reader understands the meaning — like their destructive nature, or hedonistic outlook might improve their sexual prowess.
Towards the end of the story, there is the sense that the woman feels more like the young man’s mother than his lover. When the young man moves her hand towards his penis, the narrator says, ‘Goodness! Where are your manners! Before coffee?’ Closely followed by, ‘And someone needs to brush their teeth.’ The final image of the young man is of him skittering out of the room. There is the sense the narrator feels different to the young man, expressed brilliantly in the last few lines: ‘In his bathroom, naked, I stood there, looking at what he had. Roll-on deodorant, hand soap, two small towels, a razor. Stacks of magazines. This was a man with no smile lines.’ It is the fact the man has no smile lines, conveying his youth, that hits hard here — as does the allusion to the title: ‘A man with Puppy breath.’ The way the young man does as the woman tells him and fetches the coffee, and ‘skittered’ out of the room, and had ‘puppy breath,’ expresses how she feels towards this younger man, or 'puppy'. The last line, for me, is wonderfully ambiguous, but has me thinking about the narrator’s intention of keeping him as a sort of pet.
This is a wonderful piece of flash fiction written by one of its masters.
Note to self: Use the cumulative effect of a semantic field to convey overall meaning. So here: ageing and youth.
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