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Juan Carlos Reyes

Juan Carlos Reyes takes the idea of “literal” to a new extreme with this humorous web of allusion and wordplay.



This here is a matter of sudden copulation, a remark concerning the origin of private stimulation, and of it, we’d be hard pressed to assume it happened any other way, seeing as spring, with a pointed destination to its every step, will always carry hints of it in the pollinated air.

Sizzle met Flex at the mall. Sizzle met Flex at the Prefix Suffix Outlet Store near the north exit of the mall, where parking was plentiful and the sky bridge from the four-story lot into the building crossed over a creek of flowing punctuations so beautiful that each semicolon in the water glimmered, every comma running successively along the current shimmered, and every quotation mark that clung to the rocky banks seemed to entertain, in its perfectly arched curve, the water’s growing desire to whisper.

Sizzle was standing in line one Sunday afternoon. When the cashier turned to Sizzle, Is that all, the cashier gestured to the suffixes in Sizzle’s hands, Yes this is everything. Sizzle placed her personal amendments on the counter, and the cashier rang them up in turn. First came the suffixes: –r, because when Sizzle cooks her Moroccan lentil soup with its variety of spices including cumin, thyme, red pepper and coriander, she prefers, outright needs, a language format that bears witness to her recipe’s prep work and six-hour cooking time; there was the –ing, her third new –ing that month, boasting dozens already in her closet, everything from the cursive –ing to the straight print one, underlined and even bolded, –ings so tight Sizzle’s curves nearly burst them at the seams, and because on Saturday nights, Sizzle kicks off her e and slips on her –ing, and dances the night away under strobe and flashing spotlights; and, of course, there was the only prefix she purchased that day, the a-, which Sizzle was not proud of, ashamed as she was of her tantrums and outbreaks, most on account of the stress, the lost shipping slips at work, the lost cargo at port, the occasional errant cargo ship that docks, damn near defiantly, two hundred miles down coast when it should have kept its nautical bearings straight and come right home, the burden of being logistics manager at a fledgling company.

Will that be all ma’am, Can I also have a subscript, and the cashier nodded, One or two ma’am, Two, and the cashier reached for the overhead shelves but could not so much as graze the cubby holes retaining the merchandise.

Here let me help you, and this is when Flex arrived, tall, a jutting sculpted chin that exuded a deep air of rootedness, profound curves to his feet’s arches that indicated a quiet mobility, a muted sensibility, perhaps one embedded in the pronunciation, the vocal intonation, of his paired first consonants. And Sizzle watched him as he reached. She stared at him as his hands returned with her subscripts, effortlessly, as if thankful for the opportunity, and the view of Flex was contagious because even the cashier stared at only his ass when he walked away, as he walked passed Sizzle, as he joined the line with his own set of verbal amendments to purchase: the prefix re– and the suffix –ible, the former a necessary don for his softball tournaments, and the latter a workplace requirement on account of his recent promotion to regional manager, supervising a sales workforce for Muscling Bustle, Inc.’s line of barbells and in-home health services.

Flex did not conceal his glances at Sizzle as he walked by, and neither did Sizzle conceal her interest when, after purchasing her language amendments, she walked to the end of the line and simply stopped beside Flex, stared upwards at him through her leaning spectacles, I’ve never been so obvious before, he said, I’ve never been so forward with a stranger before, she said, and then she waited by the store’s front door until Flex was finished with his purchase.

In the food court, Flex and Sizzle shared just as many pleasantries. She asked him about the tattoos on his shoulder, and he offered no more than a sincere surprise at her question: Oh yeah those. She followed up with nothing more, and he accompanied her silence with bites into his cheeseburger and slurps of his fountain soda. She didn’t once take her eyes off his hands, and he didn’t once take his stares off her lips.

As they walked through the mall, she suggested that the spring breeze had done much to improve her moods. He replied that the seasonal changes always wreaked havoc on his nouns, It isn’t always easy to choose the right word, she said. He inhaled and exhaled deeply on the way to the four-story parking lot, and it was only after they’d crossed the sky bridge that he remembered he had no car, I walked here, Where are you going, Home, I’ll drive you then, Let’s be clear about something first, What’s to make clear, I want to make meaning with you, Excuse me, I said I want to make meaning with you, and Sizzle, having awaited and wanted the suggestion ever since they first met at the Outlet Store, had been formulating and then reformulating a reply, more specifically, a rejection, except for the fact that her fumbled her words betrayed her, because, and let’s be frank, anyone would be a stuttering wreck when requests for impromptu liaisons arise, not to mention offhanded request to create definitions.

“We’ll do this at my place.”

“That’s better.”


“Because I have unemployed neighbors.”

“How unfortunate of them.”

“How unfortunate of me.”

At Sizzle’s place, Flex again found himself wordless. His hands felt idle and his feet numb. He tried on two occasions to sit, but Sizzle’s chairs creaked when he tried pulling them from beneath the kitchen table. And so he took to standing by the stove, holding his wine glass and perusing her pictures magnetized to the refrigerator, And this is you, Let me see, This picture here, Yes that’s me, and Flex looked carefully at the picture of Sizzle dressed in her suffix on the beach. He exhaled. He moved away from the fridge, away from her, and leaned back against the kitchen sink, You look nice in it, In the picture, Yes in the picture, I know. Flex, for the first time that afternoon, hinted at a smile, which must have served wonders for Sizzle because, for the first time since they arrived at her apartment, she didn’t mind just standing, lingering by the stove.

“How do you like the wine?”

He nodded.

“Very much.”

She leaned against the fridge. She eyed him closely. He sipped his wine, crossed his arms, exhaled when he found her eyes, and then they watched each other from across the kitchen. She sipped her glass. Her gaze lingered around the room, and she turned to him again, found herself eyeing his collar and neck. Without warning, she put her glass on the table, and then she left kitchen.

When he walked into her room, she was not inside. The television was on and muted, and the open window allowed the spring’s recurring breeze to circulate between walls. When she finally came in from the bathroom, she found him sitting at the edge of the bed, playing with the callous on his hands, a patient child waiting for this or that next command. She walked to him. She stopped at his feet. Her stance wasn’t the welcoming gesture of dawn, and because she hadn’t showered since morning, her splayed hair accentuated a day’s worth of shopping, walking around crowded corners and filing behind crowding people. He told her again he wanted to make meaning, and she reminded him that she already knew. And then he dropped his hands to his side, and she sat on his lap. Their foreheads met softly, and she grazed the back of his ears. He breathed onto her neck, and he grazed the back of her hips. They stopped to look at each other before he raised his hands to her shoulders. And then she took his hands and rubbed her palms against his—he took her fingers and pressed them against his cheek.

Beyond that, the rest is a mess of panting and stray fingers, grazing and opened pores, tugged shoulders and scattered pants, pressed hips and covered eyes, rubbing navels and warm mist, entangled toes and curious palms, tired knees and tapping thighs, a relentless mattress and an arched back, tussled hair and stray saliva, the exhaustion of bouncing breasts that, when Flex pulled Sizzle atop him, flayed as she winced, Oh fuck that’s deep, and it was only after he pulled her face to his that he smelled the coming in his own breath, her dripping down his thighs, and the culmination of a meaning that, until then, had only been alluded to because definitions need words, and no word had yet been born that wholly, or even in part, foretold the gestures between them, perhaps because no one before Sizzle and Flex had ever suggested it with so few implications, indeed, with such quiet thoughts.

The next day, Sizzle appeared at Flex’s front door, I’m with word, and he exhaled, Say what, I’m with word. That spring Monday had unveiled another blossoming line of trees and gardens on Flex’s street and, having glanced at them, he turned to Sizzle and reached for her hand. He said nothing to accompany the gesture. Disbelieving and cautious and wondering and lost for the right word, the end of his lips smiled. He leaned against the doorframe, Come in, and he helped Sizzle into the house.

After seven gestational days, their word was born. Unassuming in its bundled towel, the nurse handed it to Sizzle and Sizzle cried. She let Flex take it and he held it, surprised that a word so brief in his arms could make him so warm. An officer from the Registry of Names Meaning and Context peeked into the birthing room, Is this a bad time, No come in please, she entered the room and made her way to Flex. She looked over his shoulder. She reached for the word’s forehead, It’s beautiful. Flex smiled, We must have a name, Excuse me, The Registry of Names Meaning and Context requires that as soon as linguistically possible parents of a newborn word bestow upon it its proper name from whichever context they find most meaning. The woman nodded, I’ll be right outside the room waiting, and Flex laid the word back into Sizzle’s arms and looked at it, What do you think, and Flex shrugged. He knelt at Sizzle’s bedside and looked intently into the word’s eyes, Let’s name it after you, And you, and Flex nodded. Unplanned and quick, the proud parents spoke the word’s name, convincingly and at once, as if, in its mere pronouncement, its name gave meaning to the very gesture that made it: Sex. Sizzle smiled, the auric warm smile of a new mother, and Flex beamed as he reached for his baby’s face, and then he spoke its name aloud, this time for its own sake, this time because, like all fathers, he knew its wild abrupt unexpected arrival most likely foreshadowed equally impetuous and unpredictable adventures awaiting it.







Juan Carlos Reyes is originally from Guayaquil, Ecuador. He was awarded a PEN USA Emerging Voices Rosenthal Fellowship in 2007 and is currently pursuing his MFA at The University of Alabama. You can wander his thoughts on his blog,

A perfectly healthy sentence, it is true, is extremely rare. For the most part we miss the hue and fragrance of the thought; as if we could be satisfied with the dews of the morning or evening without their colors, or the heavens without their azure. - Henry David Thoreau


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