Axis of Distraction by Max Talley

Macy goes through her scribbled “to-do” lists, adding forgotten or neglected items from previous ones onto the current master list. Then she reviews things she texted to herself and writes those down too. Beyond belief. How can she ever complete it? And new tasks are always incoming. Separately, she has a running internal monologue of reminders playing on a loop: Do the laundry, pick up Hunter and Tyler from school, take Merlot to ballet class, get Brendan’s dress shirts from dry cleaner’s, scrub the oven, wash your hair, find something attractive to wear to the dumb party tonight.

“You don’t really try to look sexy anymore,” Brendan had told her in bed. Never in the mood when she was, nor was she when he was.

“I’ve got a lot on my plate,” she replied, but was thinking, I’m holding your little bullshit world together, mister.

“All day I’m leveraging debt and foreclosing on loans so you can stay at home,” he said. “If you found a part-time job, then we’d hire someone around the apartment and you could fix yourself up, like you used to.”

Do your laundry, pick up the boys, buy the groceries, ignore the husband.

The ancient landline rings and she disconnects it. Pings chime from her iPhone. Ignore. The laptop on the table sounds like a plane taking off; something wrong with the internal fan. She can’t finish any of the multiple tasks that cry out to her. What a fucking time for an Adderall shortage! Half the world is on prescription pep pills, or crystal meth. And if not stimulants, then opiates. The war on drugs? Lost long ago. Most everyone Macy knew teetered on the edge of some addiction or was in rehab to get off another.

She transports the boys home from school uptown. Tyler takes her aside. “Call me Skyler, okay?”


“Remember Sean? He’s Shivonne now. I want to switch genders too.”

“You’re eleven. Wait a while, please.”

“Can I have surgery for my next birthday?”

“Don’t you understand? When you remove your, um…you can’t reattach it.”

“I’d keep it around my neck, in a locket.”

Macy grimaces. “Is that a thing?” She presses a hand to her throbbing forehead. Migraine. “We’re not discussing this now.”

It sounded so silly, but later she Googles “penis necklaces.” No it definitely wasn’t a thing in American culture, but certain headhunters in Borneo had done that. Get those images out of your brain. Google is evil. Nobody trekked to the library to research stupid information in the past.

Put laundry in the dryer, take Merlot to dance class, keep boys from watching porn on the internet, withhold feminine harbor access to Battleship Brendan.

Not sexy anymore? He’s the one with a beer belly and receding hair.

Hunter is almost fourteen. Growing taller. “Mom, if we move Upstate, can I buy a rifle?”

“No,” she says. “If we go anywhere, it’ll be to Queens.”

“Queens? That’s a shithole.”

“Hey, no cursing in the house. Or in school, or in public.”

“Where can I swear?”

She ponders. “Underwater, outer space.”

“You’re so weird.”

Merlot appears in her ballet outfit. Walk her over, it’s only five blocks. Can’t throw money around on cabs anymore. Outside, crowds of pedestrians, distracted people, buses swerving, cars honking forever, idiots on e-scooters, bikes pedaling against traffic, sirens blaring. Everyone’s going to die! There’s the ballet school just across Sixth Avenue.

“Mom, can I take Irish stepdance? It’s more fun.”

“What, like the Lord of the Dance?”

“Who’s he?”

“I thought you loved ballet.”

“It hurts my toes.”

“You’re ten, Merlot. You don’t understand the true meaning of pain.”

“Are you okay?”

Macy leans against a brick building, diesel exhaust in her nostrils. Out of rhythm with the universe. “Mommy didn’t have her vitamins today.”

“Oh. My teacher calls me Merle. Is that a boy name?”

“Goes either way. Merle Haggard, Merle Oberon.”

Merlot’s face is pinched in confusion. Macy might as well be speaking in Latin. She brings her daughter inside, waves to the instructor as if they know the slightest thing about one another, and remembers the nearby dry cleaners. Brendan drops his clothes off there and she retrieves them.

“Too much perfume and lipstick on your husband’s shirts,” the woman tells her. “Have to charge more to clean.” Macy doesn’t use perfume, and wears mostly lip gloss of late. 

Pay for the clothes, get Hunter to his French tutor, pick an outfit for tonight, scrub the oven, broil the husband.

No, that’s harsh. 

Returning home, the manager guy from a bank that abuts her building’s lobby smiles through the glass, his mustache rising. His eyes show desire, but she has no time to schedule an affair. Though, after the revelation at the dry cleaner’s, she wants to. Just for revenge. If only she could clone herself. Technology goes whizzing by humans with no advances in cloning to speak of. Just sheep. Who wanted more sheep? No one. The world needed people cloning, hair cloning and baby fat cloning.

She Googles “Adderall” again. How many times today? The shortage continues. Users paying exorbitant amounts to street dealers, some buying bigger dosage pills and carving them in half, or into quarters.

“Spacey Macy,” a voice yells. Her nickname as a teenager. Sure enough, it’s a high school classmate—Rod, Todd?—but he’s become all forehead and a massive ass in khaki pants. Pretend not to recognize. Keep moving; dash around the corner.

Flapping pigeon strays near her face. Diseased and polluted. I will go full Ozzy on you in a nanosecond. Macy notices how crowded the stores are, the streets extra-massed, and on a Wednesday, to boot. Fuck, tomorrow’s Thanksgiving…

Back upstairs, she hands the shirts to Brendan, air kisses him, stays in motion. He talks incessantly. “It’s a small group tomorrow. Just make the usual spread for nine of us.”

“I’m overwhelmed. Can’t we eat out instead, please?”

“No, no, that’s why I’m going to the office party alone tonight.” He stinks of new cologne.

“You are?” She’s confused. “Why?”

“To give you a break, babe. So you can make the stuffing, mix the gravy, prepare the bird.” He darts away then returns beaming. “Don’t worry about last night. There’s counseling, and surrogates who can help us work through our intimacy issues. Happens to everyone in their late forties.”


“Trained professionals to lend a hand.”

Macy retreats into the kitchen. Keeping the lights off, she squats under the high kitchen table to listen to her sons stomping around the apartment. If she doesn’t sleep, she might be able to mash the potatoes, shop at Food Emporium for vegetables, find all the kids’ favorite stuff. Kids. Oh shit, she forgot Merlot at dance class. Macy takes two sharp cutting knives from a wood block and scrapes them together, enjoying the zingy metallic sound.

“Honey, I’ll leave a list to help you,” Brendan shouts. He pushes through the swinging kitchen door. “It’s so dark. I can hear you, but where are you?”

Pick up your daughter, score some street Adderall, take a power nap, carve the turkey, carve the turkey, carve the turkey…

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