Chardonnay (My Fantasy America I)

Illustration by Adam Myers
Illustration by Adam Myers

[Author’s note: Italo Calvino’s masterpiece “Invisible Cities” finds the explorer Marco Polo describing to Emperor Kublai Khan various fantastical cities he’s encountered in his travels. Here I describe three fantastical cities I’ve encountered in my travels across this, my fantasy America.]

Every house in the city of Chardonnay was built in 2005, has three-too-many gables, and a tiny, superfluous balcony adjacent every laundry room.

Families in Chardonnay pose frozen in circular driveways waiting for camera crews that arrive daily to film establishing shots and title sequences with wacky yet relatable fonts. 

All children are twelve until they are sixteen, an occasion marked with a guest appearance by DJ Khalid and a Porsche Boxster the exact cerulean of the grotto waters in Capri. 

The men in Chardonnay have vague jobs like “sitting-behind-a-computer-man” or “cell-phone-shouter” and suffer the perpetual complaint of every side player: They want always more lines and more story.

But as they were bred for their even keel and weak jaw this is, of course, impossible.

This makes the men resentful and so sometimes they purposely undercook the sirloins at backyard barbeques and then pretend ignorance when one of their neighbors falls ill. 

The women in Chardonnay are all peacocks of identical feather. The city takes its name from the chief industry of the women, that is, provoking an unnecessary fight about misunderstood gossip and then throwing Chardonnay in another woman’s face. 

The women feel powerful when they throw the Chardonnay and they see Dior mascara run like warpaint down their supposed best friend’s face. It feels a lot but not quite like freedom. 

It’s just spectacle, they tell their mothers when they call worried on a hangover Sunday. We’re P.T. Barnum in a velvet tophat. No Mama, the women say, we’re very happy. Happy as larks in a Swarovski cage. 

The producers say syndication. Contracts extended five more seasons. We’ll put you on the VIP list for Sonny’s sixteenth birthday.

No, no cake, just jello shots. We heard J. Lo’s going to be there. 

Before becoming a writer Elizabeth was a waitress, a pollster, an Avon lady, and an opera singer. Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in The Idaho Review, The LA Review of Books, The Rumpus, and elsewhere, and her stories and essays have received multiple Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net nominations. Her first novel, MONA AT SEA, is forthcoming, Spring 2021, from Santa Fe Writers Project. Originally from South Texas, Elizabeth now lives with her family in Oakland, California. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram: @unefemmejames

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