Brandi Homan is the author of the novel BURN FORTUNE (CLASH Books, 2019) and two books of poetry, ”Hard Reds” (2008) and ”Bobcat Country” (2010), from Shearsman Books. She holds a PhD in English, Creative Writing (Fiction), from the University of Denver and an MFA in Poetry from Columbia College Chicago. With her husband and children, she lives in the suburbs of Denver.
The following is an excerpt from BURN FORTUNE.
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2020 Colorado Book Awards finalist for Literary Fiction
SECTION I: JUNE
I SHOULD TELL YOU
I have a Boyfriend, and it’s serious.
I know it’s serious because we try to move his stepmother Darlene out of the house, stack drawers filled with clothes in the backseat of My Boyfriend’s Cavalier.
It’s serious because My Boyfriend’s dad comes home and finds us.
You can beat the shit out of me I don’t care I’m leaving, Darlene screams.
I know it’s serious because My Boyfriend gave me Precious Moments. And they are.
I should tell you everyone is afraid of My Boyfriend’s dad. When he’s gone, we make fun of how he walks tippy-toed, but when he’s around, it’s different.
My Boyfriend’s singing voice is so beautiful I cry. He wants to hear me sing too, and I do.
I should tell you I’m going to move away with My Boyfriend. I’ve already bought Tupperware.
We detassel corn for My Boyfriend’s dad, the JV wrestling coach. We walk through the fields pulling tassels getting cut and blistered and burnt for five dollars an hour, how I learn what “under the table” means.
My Boyfriend sings to keep me going. He sings “Never Gonna Let You Down,” “My Girl,” Rick Astley. Songs about how we’ll be together forever, how I belong to him.
Mother named me after June Carter Cash. Not her voice —alley cat twang makes my eyes water, Mother says—but the song June wrote that Johnny recorded.
What it should feel like, Mother says, falling in love. Her lips flatten into a line and she pauses before asking if Marci’s coming for dinner.
MARCI V. THE WORLD
Marci makes me join Flag Team. I practice routines with her in the parking lot sometimes just to see what she’ll do. She throws her soda at passing cars then flashes her bra to make the peace, she says.
She almost hits Kent Burke’s Camaro. He mouths the C-word at her, smiles sweetly as he passes. Marci shuts her eyes and twirls.
ARE YOU AFRAID I WILL FLY AWAY
Mother’s trying to not show that she’s afraid I will actually move away with My Boyfriend. She brings things home after almost every shift at Wal-Mart, an egg poacher, guest towels, a trash can small enough for the bathroom.
Her discount + sale prices = TOO GOOD TO RESIST, she says, looking at the inventory in the trunk at the end of my bed. She counts what’s there, what’s not, remembers the lists in her head, how I know she loves me.
Marci and I meet Jeremy outside Centennial Pool. He’s a grade older but should be two.
We cross the street to Preservation Park and discover the culvert to the storm drain. The culvert is a round pipe a few feet across that leads to the storm drain’s dank cement room.
By dank cement room, I mean sewer.
Marci crawls in the culvert behind Jeremy on a dare and lets him feel her up under the new Benetton shirt her daddy brought her from Paris. Her daddy is a bigwig at Russell Tool and Manufacturing, but Marci sucks her first two fingers in public. She twirls her hair so hard it falls out.
Trich-o-trill-o-mania, her doctor says. Marci tells people she has trich.
I sit plucking grass by the entrance to the culvert with my knees tucked under my chin. Nobody’s daddy but Marci’s is bringing clothes back from Europe. Town stores don’t carry Benetton. They do, however, carry cropped t-shirts with neon triangles that look like graffiti, and I want one.
The shirts are 32 dollars.
My folks aren’t paying 32 dollars for a t-shirt.
That triangle would lie on me like a stiff, coated tablecloth, Marci’s Benetton stripes already bending nicely around the edges.
I holler into the pipe that I’m leaving.
Reaching between the corn leaves, I pull my first tassel. It slides out with a pop, white like a green onion. I drop it to the ground, wet with dew.
The little black insects that were clumped around the base of the tassel are smushed on my palm.
Jeremy says they are spider mites, and spider mites, he says, crawl up your asshole and lay eggs.
WHEN THE SEA IS CALM
I have to pee in the field, even though the tape from Corporate Office they play on the first day of the season says not to.
Even though I’m afraid of spider mites in my asshole.
Pulling up my shorts, I hear a rustle, a pounding, but when I stand, the field is empty and the tops of the rows are still.
There’s a lot people don’t know about twirling flags. I love practicing with the band in the summer, sweat, horns and drums too loud to think, the best part. I like the marching, one-two, one-two. Reassuring, your body knowing what to do. One-two, one-two. Three four. Like the military but with neon colors and flashy tricks, dazzle camouflage. My chest tightens when they’re coming, the tricks, my heart like shrink wrap, but the flag lands in my hands. It always comes down. Like a sheet for a trampoline in the backyard, I give, hold tight. Bounce back. Snap to. One-two. ONE-TWO.
My Boyfriend buys me a ring. It is sterling silver stamped with .925 on the inside to show it’s real. My Boyfriend knows this because he bought it at the jewelry store in the mall not the kiosk. There is a leaf on each side of the stone, a leaf with three balls beside it, grapes or something, the silver balls on Christmas cookies that break teeth.
I don’t know how he could afford the ring because he can’t have a job during the school year, wrestling practice plus lifting and meets.
Maybe he got the money from his grandmother. His grandmother is the type of person who would give you 50 bucks for your birthday after burning your favorite stuffed animal in a barrel out back.
Once we stopped to visit his grandmother. She yelled at My Boyfriend and told him not to bring any more whores around.
This is a blood-birthday-money ring.
The stone is amber, which I look up. It’s tree sap that’s hardened, but the best gross thing about amber is the insects, preserved inside it with twigs, seeds, and bubbles for like bazillions of years.
My ring doesn’t have an insect, no fly or beetle, but I can see how people would want something like that. Still and whole and kept the same.
My amber has black particles only, flakes. I like to think they’re the fly’s legs, the beetle’s hindquarters. Pieces of claw and tarsus, thorax and antennae.
I like to think my beetle struggled.
I like to think she worked her way out.
The man holding the clipboard on the edge of the field is My Boyfriend’s dad. In the rows, we talk about his booming voice, black hair. His tippy-toed walk for height.
He’s like that guy in the old Popeye cartoons, what’s his name? I say.
Brutus, Chet says.
I don’t think that’s it.
We wipe the sweat from our brows, sigh.
Bluto, says Jeremy. It’s Bluto, but sometimes they call him Brutus. Copyright or something.
Bluto’s bloated chest, swollen arms.
After this, we call My Boyfriend’s dad Bluto behind his back, even My Boyfriend.
The Dairy Creme is an ice cream stand built into the front porch of someone’s house. It has two windows and two flavors of ice cream closer to custard but who knows what to call it. An additional flavor is rotated in every few weeks and advertised in block letters in the parking lot with a flashing arrow.
Marci works there before detasseling season. She and her coworker Melanie come up with the most amazing concoctions, chocolate-blue-raspberry slushees, banana- peanut-butter-mint shakes.
For a while, I work at the fast food joint across the street. I am not lying when I say my manager takes fries from one of the trash barrels by the picnic tables, rinses them off, and throws them back in the fryer.
I cannot make this shit up.
Melanie is thrown from the back of a motorcycle and dies. At the funeral, I don’t know how to feel because she has been mean to Marci and me but now she is dead and Marci is crying hard enough for both of us so I am embarrassed. I didn’t know about open caskets, but there she is, Melanie, an awful orange color, kind of Oompa-Loompa.
I never want to see another dead body again.
GOD HAS CHOSEN YOU AMONG ALL WOMEN
The Gerken Grotto of the Annunciation is this big hand‐ made structure out a little past town. People call it the Jerkin’ Grotto and say they’re Goin’ to the Grotto when they mean jerk off. We don’t want any pregnancies being announced round here.
The Grotto consists of four rooms plus a shrine. Each room depicts a stage of the Annunciation: The Virgin Mary being startled by the Angel Gabriel, Gabriel telling her she’s knocked up by God, Mary questioning the news, and Mary’s reluctant acceptance.
Our mayor serves as the president of the board for the Greater Midwestern Grotto Partnership after it was discovered that the Jerkin’ Grotto didn’t get listed in their annual directory.
I know these things because strangers ask, passing through, visiting relatives, or riding in the Great State Bike Race. They go to the Grotto to ooh and aah over the handi‐ work—37 years to build—and to admire the semi-precious gems, seashells, petrified wood, marbles, broken glass, coyote bones, and bird skulls planted by some priest and his compatriots a billion years ago.
If you ask me, that priest was bored.
is a fancy Italian restaurant in Pitt Lake. They have candles and cloth napkins and everything.
My Boyfriend picks me up and we drive to Durante.
I want lasagna because I don’t know the other dishes— cavatappi, conchiglie, polpettine. After My Boyfriend orders he says the lady will have and orders chicken parmesan. They bring our sodas in wine glasses so we toast.
To you, My Boyfriend says.
To us, I say.
We are so romantic. We are having such a good time.
After, we make out in his car in the parking lot.
When My Boyfriend brings me home, Mother flashes the porch lights to say time’s up, come in.
Chet and I throw tassels at each other but Jeremy runs at me full force, hoists me over his shoulder.
I kick and scream but he spins and spins, leaves slapping my face like a carwash.
WE ALL HAVE PROBLEMS
But Father is no Bluto.
He shakes my hand when I put it out for money and keeps leftover vanilla-extra-malts in the door of the freezer.
He keeps his glass eye in a mason jar on the bathroom counter when he sleeps, which Marci thinks is gross but is AMAZING. He uses a tiny suction cup to put the eye in and take it out.
Bluto may have broken My Boyfriend’s arm but Father would never do something like that, even if he and Mother barely touch.
I bring home a goldfish in a plastic bag that My Boyfriend won flinging frogs at the carnival in the mall parking lot.
My Boyfriend and I don’t come right home and by the time we do, the goldfish’s fins are barely waving.
We sit the bag in the middle of the table and stare, My Boyfriend, Father, and me.
The problem is… My Boyfriend stops, distraught.
Without a sound, Father goes to the kitchen, opens a drawer, and pulls out a straw. He unties the bag, sticks the straw in the water, and blows.
The goldfish’s fins start wiggling.
Bluto wouldn’t save a spider, let alone a goldfish.
He named the German Shepard Himmler.
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