shoulders

Shoulders

Monica needed a little upgrade in her life. One that would give her the confidence, the space, and the muscle to really live her best life ...

Monica walks home from the coffee shop, her flip flops slapping the uneven sidewalk. Her mind is cloudy; she was supposed to be studying for an exam but instead got lost in memories. She cringes to think how her boyfriend might act if she tries to confide in him later. He insists that she should “just move on” and “stop living in the past.” 

It’s not that easy! She tries to shake off her thoughts and focus on the clouds meandering across the sky. She spies a hastily drawn sign, Sharpie on cardboard, declaring: 

GARAGE SALE — SHOULDERS
FRI + SAT, 9am-3pm. 
41 MAYFIELD STREET. 
CASH ONLY.

She turns, instantly, reaching for her purse to confirm she has cash on her. She does. 

Monica loves garage sales. They pop up in her neighborhood all summer long. Number 41 is about halfway down the street. She walks up the driveway, the only gravel one on the block, and stares up at the baby blue house with yellow shutters. It looks almost crooked. 

Monica doesn’t see any other shoppers, but that doesn’t bother her. She can peruse in peace. She isn’t sure where the homeowner is, either. But her eyes light up at the sight she beholds. Shoulders and shoulders and shoulders — dozens of them! 

All around her the shoulders stretch and roll, waves of movement all the way down the driveway. There are skinny shoulders and muscular shoulders, dainty shoulders and fatty shoulders, tattooed shoulders and unadorned shoulders, scarred shoulders and pristine shoulders. She walks up to the closest pair on her left, a lean, wiry, copper-colored set. She runs a finger across them and they shiver.

What luck to stumble upon a garage sale of shoulders! Monica wants to run through and touch them all, but restrains herself. She makes her way slowly, not sure what she is looking for exactly. Something different. At five foot three, Monica’s build is remarkably average. Her shoulders have hardened from years of carrying a heavy load. They are accustomed to shrinking at the slightest sign of confrontation. Why not trade her shoulders in? The opportunity is too good to pass up.

A pair on her right call to her —feminine, soft, the color of moonlight. She strokes them gently with her index finger. They’re soft as a tulip petal, but they recoil at her touch. Too shy. Not those. 

She wants fierce shoulders. Strong ones that can carry anything, push through, hold up under pressure. She meanders through rows of shifting shoulders; they are restless. 

One pair in the back catches her eye.

Monica races toward them. They have everything: they are defined and muscular, hefty, with their own weight. They look powerful. They would never hold fear or anxiety. She reaches toward them to investigate and they unfurl like a bird showing off its wingspan. 

They are unafraid to take up space. They are perfect. 

“I’ll take them!” she announces. The shoulders straighten with pride and she is confident it is a good match. No one arrives to confirm it.

Monica wanders into the garage and spies a card table with a bell and cash box on top. She dings the bell twice.

“Hello?” an old woman shuffles through the side door with curlers in her hair, face crinkled in confusion. “Oh, I forgot we were having a garage sale today. Jesus. Why did George set it up for today?” 

She frowns and sits on a tattered lawn chair.

“How much for these shoulders?” Monica asks, dragging the perfect pair over, arm wrapped around them in a side hug.

“I dunno, $50?” the old woman says with a yawn.

Monica’s face crumples. “That’s more than I have.” She digs in her purse. “I’ve got $43,” she continues rifling through the bag, coins clinking. “And 74 cents.”

“Sold,” the woman says, opening the cash box and letting Monica plunk in her coins and bills.

Monica shrieks joyfully, dancing around in circles on the garage floor, kicking up clouds of dirt. “Would you … help me install them?” she asks, once she stops spinning.

The old woman pushes herself up with a groan. “Sure, happy to do the honors. Your key?”

More rustling as Monica digs in her purse. 

“Here you go!” she drops a small, golden key into the woman’s open palm.

The woman reaches behind Monica’s ear and inserts the key at the round spot just below the earlobe. It turns and clicks. There’s a creak and a sigh as her shoulders disengage. The woman pulls them out carefully and sets them on a stump off to the side. She picks up the bulky shoulders and tries to slot them into position.

Grunting, she tells Monica, “I don’t know about this.” She heaves again, turns backwards and uses her body weight to push. Finally, they click into place.

“Thank you so much!” Monica coos, bouncing up and down. “Whoa!” she wobbles, suddenly off balance from the heaviness of her new shoulders. She rolls them around, pops them out of their sockets and back in. She sighs with satisfaction. “What should we do about these?” she asks, gesturing to her discarded shoulders. 

They slouch dejectedly on the stump. 

“Oh, just leave them. I’ll dispose of them for ya,” the old woman offers.

“Great! Thanks again!” Monica marches out without a spare thought for the shoulders that carried her head around for the past 26 years. This is for the best.

She is not used to the new set and bangs her right shoulder on a chain link fence as she turns the corner. She picked these shoulders for a reason, though, and knew they would serve her well. Monica would adapt. She always did.

* * *

At home that evening, Monica struts around the kitchen preparing dinner, settling into her new shoulders. She rolls them, turns on the music and shimmies with them. She closes the refrigerator and slams cupboards shut with them. They are powerful, as she suspected. She made a good investment.

She is making tacos for dinner, Charlie’s favorite. She pushes the ground beef around in the pan and sprinkles in more Ortega seasoning. It smells good. The front door eases open.

“Hey sweetie!” she calls.

“Hey babe,” he replies, heading into the kitchen and giving her a quick kiss on the cheek. He is about to head to the fridge for a beer but stops abruptly, noticing her new, meaty shoulders.

“Babe?” he asks, running his hands up and down her shoulder blades. “What are these?” They feel jacked under his hands, rippling with muscle.

“I got some new shoulders at a garage sale today!” she says, smiling brightly. “I’m making tacos for you,” she adds as she spoons hot beef into his mouth. He sputters.

“Babe! I want to talk about your shoulders, don’t change the subject.”

“Charlie, you know I hate it when you call me babe. How many times have I asked you not to?”

“This isn’t about that! Why did you buy man shoulders?”

“They’re not man shoulders, they’re just shoulders!”

“You look like a dude.”

“I do not!”

“I would know. I’m a dude.”

“It’s not like you look at your own shoulders all the time and have perfectly memorized the anatomy of a dude-shoulder,” she fires back.

“No, but I have to stare at yours all the time. How am I supposed to go out in public with you when you have beefcake shoulders?”

“It’s my body and my decision!” she huffs, frantically stirring the beef in the frying pan. It is starting to burn.

“You could have at least asked me first!” he retorts, face reddening. 

“I don’t need your permission!” she says. Teeth gritted. The windows are open in their tiny apartment, the first floor of an old house. She does not want the neighbors to hear another fight. She abandons the stove and scurries around closing windows. Frazzled, she returns to the kitchen. 

“When you got a new chest last winter, I supported you 100%.” She is trying to keep her cool. She only wanted these new, muscly shoulders so she could carry all the heaviness better. Charlie wouldn’t understand.

“I got a new chest for you!” he bellows. “You think I want to fuck you with those man-shoulders?” 

Her jaw clenches. “Why don’t we talk about this later and just enjoy our tacos?” 

She thinks she’s being very generous, letting that comment slide.

“I’m allowed to want my girl to be feminine! I don’t want to look like a pussy because you’re stronger than me.” 

“You’re even more insecure than I thought,” she mutters.

“Well, you’re a bitch. An ugly, mannish bitch.” He shoves her hard into the refrigerator. The handle jams into her shoulder blades and she can feel a bruise start to blossom. “I want you to regret getting those hideous shoulders. Babe.”

“I’m keeping the shoulders, Charlie.”

“Like hell you are.” He picks up the full frying pan and advances toward her. “Won’t look so good with burn scars, will they?” He swings the frying pan blindly, meat flying everywhere. 

Monica ducks and rolls to, her shoulders catching her when she hits the linoleum.

Charlie’s eyes are red. Lightly seasoned beef drips down the yellow walls, leaving a trail of grease in its wake. Monica was just trying to be strong. Was strength too much to want for herself? 

She pushes herself up from the floor and prowls toward Charlie, fury coursing through her body.

She grunts like an animal. She pins him against the wall with her new shoulders, watching his eyes widen in fear. That fear she feels all the time, it is all over his face now, and it feels good

She shifts her shoulder, puts some muscle behind it, and sends him through the window with a crash. 

Shattered glass sparkles onto the porch floorboards like hail, followed by the dull thud of his lanky body. 

Monica turns up the volume on the music, dusts off her beloved new shoulders, and bends down to sweep up the greasy beef before it stains the floor. 

Tonight, she will crawl into their queen bed and enjoy the extra room, sprawling her legs wide. 

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Emily Hessney Lynch

Emily Hessney Lynch

Emily Hessney Lynch (she/her) is a short story and memoir writer. Her work has appeared in McSweeney’s, West Trade Review, Sledgehammer Lit, The Plentitudes, Lilac Magazine, Gastropoda Lit, Spellbinder Magazine, and others. She lives in Rochester, NY with her husband and their three rescue dogs. You can follow her on Instagram at @EHL_writes or visit her website: www.ehlwrites.com.

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