Fiction For Your Lunch Break: Jason DeYoung’s “Act Like You Mean It”

Welcome to the third installment of Fiction For Your Lunch Break, a regular series I invented. Each week I pick a quick n’ easy — and excellent — new story from one of the many online mags that seem to be sprouting up like sweet weeds these days. This week’s story comes from Monkeybicycle, a journal based out of Seattle, founded by Steven Seighman, and currently edited by poet/fiction writer Shya Scanlon, who’s brilliant debut novel, Forecast, just dropped. Monkeybicycle publishes two stories a week, Monday and Friday. This week’s story comes from author Jason DeYoung, a guy I hadn’t heard of before, but whose talent, if this short blast of prose is any indication, is something to be reckoned with.

The story takes place at a children’s tea party, during which several very modern children play a bit too well at being adults, thereby exposing the warped values of our current culture. It starts out as pure comedy, but within the span of a single page, DeYoung is able to deftly maneuver the reader into a haunting and serious headspace:

I put my legs on the table and tried to lean back in my chair. “No, no. You can’t do that at a tea party.” And I immediately took my legs down. “Boys don’t know anything about how to act.” She looked away as if grief-pierced and held her chest for a moment and then looked back. “At a tea party, we sip our tea, eat our biscuits”— she pointed to a plate where imaginary biscuits cooled (I couldn’t help imagining them stale, ridged things)—“and we talk.”

“What do we talk about?”

“Our periods. Our husbands. The whiskery pervert who lives next door. College days.”

“I don’t know anything about any of that.”

“You can pretend can’t you?”

I shrugged and nodded.

Merry began talking, but I didn’t understand anything of what she talked about. She told me she knew her period was coming because she had the urge to call a repairman. “Why,” I asked. “Because things needed to be fixed,” she said, making me feel stupid. She went on about her husband and how hard he worked. How undemanding he was. How their lives were so tame. “I really wish he’d have an affair sometimes. You know?”

I didn’t.