Kendra Fortmeyer

Three and a Half Billion Chances

By Kendra Fortmeyer

Joanie had bad teeth; no one would fall in love with her. We sat at her kitchen table drinking gin and juice out of old jam jars while outside the window the world gathered itself into dusk. She said, “It seems so simple when you consider the odds. Seven billion people. Three-and-a-half billion men. That’s three-and-a-half billion chances. But then when it’s me, and every stranger is someone I’d have to smile at, a million to one I’ll die alone.”

She rose and stood in front of the fridge. “Listen to me, going on,” she said. “How are you and Robert doing? Do you want a cheese and pickle sandwich?”

There was a gentle knocking from upstairs, the ghost of her mother that haunted a bedroom closet. Joanie had left the closet closed for years. At night, she said, she could hear her mother crying, but was afraid to let her out.

Joanie used to be my babysitter. I hadn’t seen her in years, but when we moved into her neighborhood she dutifully appeared to shuffle boxes from truck to house in the flat summer light, arriving earlier and staying later than Robert’s and my friends. She looked how I remembered her: the unreachably aged way that 15-year-olds appear to five-year-olds. The front tooth that crossed over the other like a girl uncomfortably crossing and uncrossing her legs.

Our photographer friend Manny caught Joanie carrying a vase and lifted his camera; she shook her head, thrust the vase toward Robert and me, saying, “Flowers belong with flowers.”

“Joanie, come on,” we shouted, laughing. She returned to the door shyly, arms full of antimacassars, and peeked into the lens. As if the good work of helping a neighbor might, just this once, allow her to be lovely.

Outside the window the blue evening waned into black. Joanie said, “You’ve done so well for yourself, Lorraine. You were always so independent. You don’t even need a man.”

The sentence puddled on the table. I wanted to say, loving isn’t about need, but it felt like telling a starving friend that your turkey dinner isn’t very good as you sit and chew it in front of them.

I rose, and she told me I could leave before I said I had to. Upstairs, the ghost of her mother moaned. I rinsed my glass in the sink and went out into the night.

I was halfway home when flowers began to fall from the sky. The frogs hushed, and the whole night went ripe with gardenia. Then it was on me, a heavy rain, damp petals plastering to my face in the dark: dahlia and lily and rose. Stems and blossoms arcing from the clouds to tangle on trees and bounce wetly on lawns, a fragrant golden crush in the porch lights. Something wild opened in me, then. I twisted back to the yellow square of her kitchen window. I wanted to run back inside, to say, Joanie, come on. I wanted to run into every lonely house of every lonely woman on the street, to take them by the hands and fling their arms wide and lead them shy and tender and fearful into the rain with their arms outstretched, telling them: this is for you, this is all for you.

Originally published at People Holding.

Snake Charming for the Next Generation

By Kendra Fortmeyer

There is a snake on your desk.

It is your first day of work. You are alone after a morning of team-building exercises, which you spent sweating into the armpits of a borrowed shirt. You had a tête-à-tête with your supervisor about time sheets and integrity that ran through your lunch hour, but you were afraid to chew in front of him, so now you are starving.

You do not know if the snake is poisonous. Snakes have never been your specialty. You examine it, try to be rational and adult, but all you can think is, it’s a snake! and it’s black! and it’s as big around as a penis! But you realize how subjective that is, and how revealing, and so you mentally amend this to it’s as big around as a pen! which isn’t true, but it’s hard to think of cylindrical things when the shirt you’re wearing smells like someone else’s detergent and there is a snake on your desk and you are going to get fired and have to work at Pizza Hut like everyone else in your graduating class.

You take a breath. You look around for your boss, or a binder of company policies on unexpected reptilian issues. In the neutral-toned distance, somebody switches on the copy machine. The snake flicks its small, black tongue. It tastes your nervous air.

In college, you believed you’d rather die than work in a cubicle. But then the economy fell out from under you and the rest of the nation, and your diploma failed to be the magic carpet that every adult in your life had always promised it would be. Your friends began to move back home one by one, shelving English and Peace Studies degrees to apply for management positions at Home Depot and Zaxby’s, and you thought: Okay. I can compromise for just a little bit. I can do something I love on the side. Until things even out, you thought. You checked your teeth in the mirror. Maybe they’ll give me dental coverage.

Your parents phoned every Sunday. “Have you found anything?” your father asked, weekly.

“I’m still looking,” you answered, weekly. It was getting harder and harder to say this. Applying for jobs was beginning to feel like stapling your resume to small boulders and pitching them out of airplanes. You just prayed they’d hit the right people. 

“You know there’s always room for you at home,” your mother said, weekly.

“It’s not that we don’t think you can do it,” your father said, weekly. Which meant, of course, that they didn’t.

You fudged some numbers. You made follow-up calls. You were enthusiastic but not overeager. You smiled plastic smiles at plastic interviewers and described your qualifications and eagerness to work for a Company Just Like This One—only not Like This One, but actually This One, because This Company is appealing to you in some deeply personal way that is exactly the kind of bullshit that the interviewers are paid to believe about Their Companies. Your friends, in parents’ basements across the country, donned polyester uniforms, baseball hats with chickens on them. Their Facebook updates now are frequent, and bitter.

“I can fix up the basement for you,” your mother offered.

“What happened to my room?” you asked.

“Nothing,” she said. “I just moved in a few things. Sewing. Scrapbooking. The dog.”

“The basement is creepy,” you said.

“It’s amazing what a few throw pillows can do,” she said.

But somehow you got hired, and here you are: your first day in the real world, and there is a snake on your desk. 

It stretches lazily across your keyboard, black in a way that drinks in the light and spits nothing back out—almost too black to be real. Perhaps it’s not. Perhaps this is a test. They knew they made a mistake hiring you, and now they’re just waiting for you to fail so they can outsource your job to India. “Couldn’t even handle a snake,” they’ll scoff. “Kids these days. Think life should be handed to them on a silver spoon.” 

You tug at the cuffs of your shirt. The snake drapes itself across your QWERTY row.

You walk to your neighbor’s cubicle, trying to project an air of confidence. His nameplate says Bill. You are a little angry that somebody named Bill works in Billing. You think he could have made better life choices.

“Um,” you say, sticking your head in his doorway. “Hi.”

Bill is watching a YouTube video of fainting goats. He sees you and jumps.

“Oh, hey,” he says, whipping his headphones off and trying to look official. “You’re the new kid.”

Your hands are empty. You wish you’d brought something with you, something work-related, like a stapler or a three-hole punch, but there is nothing in your cubicle yet except your computer and a snake.

“How’s it going so far?” he asks.

You nod vigorously. “Oh, good, you know. Pretty good.”

“You have any questions or anything?” Bill from Billing asks.

You shake your head. Your voice is a squeak in your throat, a squeak of cheerful desperation. “Nope,” you squeak.

Bill nods. It is obvious he wants to get back to his goat video. “Well, let me know if you need help.” He tries for a joke. “You know where to find me!”

“Yep,” you say. You don’t want to leave because there’s nothing for you to do but go back to your cubicle and the maybe-poisonous snake, but Bill fiddles meaningfully with his headphones, and you are forced to take the hint. “All right,” you say. “Goodbye!” You punch the air a little. “Neighbor!”

The headphones are on. Bill offers a jaunty salute. He thinks you’re useless. You can tell already.

You hope that the snake will be gone by the time you get back, but it is still there. It has coiled itself around your computer. It makes sense, you guess. Snakes are cold-blooded, after all. They have to take their warmth where they can find it.

You approach your desk. The snake watches you, eyes glittering like grommets. Okay, snake, you think. I am just going to do some work now. You can stay there and sleep, and I am going to have a productive, adult day. And I am going to earn a paycheck like a productive adult person, and not move back in with my parents even though the economy is miserable, and I majored in comparative literature and there is a snake on my desk.

Heart pounding, you creep onto the edge of your chair. The snake doesn’t move. 

Emboldened, you switch on the computer. You log in, open an empty spreadsheet. 

The snake unwinds itself from the computer, undulates silently across your desk. Your throat goes dry. You wish you’d thought to get coffee. You never liked coffee, but you could use one now.

The snake spills itself across your mouse pad, dragging the smooth skin of its underbelly over your wrist. It is surprisingly soft. You didn’t realize it would be so soft. You swallow, affect an ergonomic posture as it spirals up your elbow, cool and dry. It settles itself in the hollow of your throat, and you hold your body very still. You type only with your pinkies, your left thumb. It is less difficult than you expected. You can easily copy and paste.

The back of your throat begins to ache. You think longingly of the water cooler, a coffee. You think: maybe something half-caf. With three Splendas, no cream. If a Starbucks order goes out later, maybe you can chip in. Maybe, once the snake has gone, you can be the one who takes the order.

Originally published by Monkeybicycle.


By Kendra Fortmeyer

The trouble was that the shark had been born a human.  Certain things were very difficult.  The dryness of the air, for one.  The stillness of food.  As a baby, the shark-child cried constantly and without sound, a great white yawn of woe.  It wanted to bite everything but had no teeth.

“She’s so sleepy,” her proud mother said.

“A born napper,” her father said. 

The shark-child, of course, did not sleep.  The shark-child lay awake in her crib in the silent house, moving her feet ceaselessly beneath the blankets.


The child grew up and forgot she was a shark.  Her parents called her Anna.  She did well in things like dodgeball and running away.  She was running away constantly.  Anna’s parents laughed.  They bought a toddler leash.  She outgrew the toddler leash.  She disappeared for hours at a time in grocery stores, in parks.  But she always circled back.

When Anna was six she got a younger brother named Lyle.  Lyle was a normal child.  Which is to say: he was not a shark.  He was a human baby with Down’s Syndrome.  The entire family loved him to pieces.  At night, lying on the couch, their mother would find the two of them, Anna and Lyle, each holding the other’s arm gently in their mouths, and smiling.

After Lyle, Anna did not tire of running away.  But she began to bring back things for him: buttons and sticks and the tail of a baby squirrel.


Their parents were very good at loving.  They loved and loved and loved.

“We love you,” they told Anna when she didn’t make the volleyball team.

“We love you!” they told Lyle when he sang them songs at dinner.

“We love you,” they told Anna when she was 25 and had just come home again for the 4,815th time, “but maybe it’s time for you to strike out on your own.”

It was the first time Anna had heard love come with a but.


It was a difficult world for a young shark.  Several career paths were obvious: cards, for one.  Loans.  Swim instructor.  But Anna’s path had never been a straight one.  She applied for everything she knew nothing about.  She fell in love with all of the wrong men.  She rubbed up against her lovers like she was sandpaper, and they came away from her bleeding and frightened and smooth.


Anna was working as a welder when she met Luis.  Luis was a giant man who wore button-down shirts with the top buttons missing, a dark cloud of hair constantly threatening to spill free.  He looked like someone who had been a refrigerator in a past life.  Instead, he had been a bear.

From 1950 to 1961, Luis had lived in the remote Idahoan wilderness as an 800-pound grizzly.  He had been female as a bear, which lead to many confusing encounters in his young human life.  He had been shot once in a bar, when a drunk man took a swing at a shrimpy punk kid and a protective instinct that Luis could not understand had reared up in him, roaring.  He walked now with a limp.

It was the limp that attracted Anna to Luis.  Watching him walk, she felt a sweet ache in her molars.


He approached her after a few months.  It had taken him a while to work up the nerve.

“Maurice says you’re pretty good at double-U butt welds,” he said. 

It was not a good first line and, saying it, he knew it was a mistake.  But the shark girl straightened and smiled. 

“I do what I can,” she said.  Which was modest.  She was exceedingly great at double-U butt welds.  But this generosity gave him courage.

“I feel like I know you from somewhere,” he said, tentatively.

She laughed.  “We’ve been working together for the last three months,” she said.

He rubbed the back of his neck with a massive hand.

“But before that,” he said.  “You seem really familiar somehow.”

Anna tilted her head to the side, scrutinizing him with a flat yellow gaze.

“Yes,” she said.  “You too.”

Her torch was beginning to glow hot and bright.

“Do you—want to go out sometime?” Luis asked.  “Grab a beer?”

Anna smiled up at him with all of her teeth.  Every tooth was saying, yes, you, I choose you.


The bear was the first man Anna stayed with for more than a week.  Nothing she did could make him go.  When she bit, he bit back.  The two of them had enormous, roaring, bloody tussles.  Her friends said, you’re crazy.  They said, this is a mistake.  They said, how can you love a man who’s always at your throat.  She’d corrected, we’re always at each other’s throats, and when they stared at her, she said, also the sex is really great.  And they said, okay, we guess. Staring at the happiness glowing from her face.  Wondering what it was they were missing.

They moved in together in autumn.  Luis’ appetite was enormous—for Anna, for food, for life.  He repainted her stoop, stacked firewood, talked about putting in a fence.  He came home one day with a length of fabric he’d found by a Dumpster.  He had plans: washing, ironing, cutting into curtains.  “I can do the hemming,” he said, misreading the look on her face.  “I taught myself to sew when I was a teenager.”

“Okay,” she said, flatly.  That night, she lay apart from him in bed, feeling the tension that ran through her body every time she thought the word curtains.  It was fierce and anxious and almost sexual. Curtains.  Release.  Curtains.  Release.  Curtains.


He woke to find her packing bags.

“Where are we going?” he asked.  In a voice that knew the answer.  There was a ring hidden in the underwear drawer.  There were champagne flutes coming in from Amazon, with free shipping.

She crammed a sweater into the bag.  She crammed an unmatched sock.

The man said from the dark, “But why?”

His voice was raw enough that something in her flitted back, circled with interest.  But then he said, “Please stay,” and everything in her felt like drowning.


Anna lay in the bathtub at her parents’ house all that winter, biting everything in reach with her cute pebble teeth.  The whole world seemed too dry and too bright.

“Keep your head up,” her friends said.

“Just keep swimming,” they said.  “There are plenty more fish in the sea,” they said.

They did not know that Anna was a shark.  Anna did not know, either.  Sharks are not renowned for self-awareness.

Lyle came to visit her in the bathtub and she cried.  Because she was crying, Lyle cried.  She fell asleep and woke to find him poised delicately beside her with a toothpick, picking bits of things from between her teeth.


Luis found her again when she was working as a school counselor.  He came to see her in the teachers’ lounge.  He leaned on the vending machine.  They were similar in shape.

She asked about his job.  He asked about hers.  That morning, a little girl had come in to talk about her parents’ divorce, and Anna had suggested they make voodoo dolls.  The little girl had gone to the principal, crying. 

She said, “It’s good.”

“I miss you,” he said.

The shark-girl said nothing, and then said, “I miss you too.”

Luis was thinner, bright-eyed.  There was a new hardness to his edges.  He said, “What’s keeping you?”

She had new friends now.  She had taken up jogging.  While they jogged around the park in their bright jog tops her new friends gave her advice about men.  She let them think Luis had done the leaving.  They ran in the same path every day and said men and said take his number out of your phone and said he never deserved you.  She went to the dentist once a week and had them check for cavities.  It wouldn’t be long now.

Anna said, “You know I’m not that kind of woman.”

He said, “What kind?”

She said, “The right kind.”  And then, “The keeping kind.”

They looked at her hands, spread on the table.  They seemed like hands that did not belong to a complete fuck-up.  They did not seem relevant to the situation. 

But the bear took them in his own and placed her knuckle in his living mouth: not to bite, but gently.  She felt his tongue against her skin: a small, warm resting place.

The shark-woman gnashed her tiny teeth, thought no.  Thought of the deathless march ahead of her: the endless succession of lovers, the jog tops, the bars.  How sure a thing it seemed to run, smooth and uncomplicated.  How cold.

The bear-man held her in his eyes and waited while Anna’s thoughts circled around and around the rest of her life.  Waited until, terrified, she opened wide her human arms and sank.

Originally published by Smoking Glue Gun.


The Monster Under Your Bed

By Kendra Fortmeyer

There is a monster living underneath your bed and the monster is lonely. His wife has left him and taken the dog, and his only son is a queer who went to UCLA and got liberated and runs around with a gaggle of men in v-neck shirts. The monster learned all this from his ex-wife's neighbor, the only person from his old life who still talks to him. She is kind of hot, the neighbor, in an older, spank-you-with-a-spatula way, but the monster knows that she pities him, and that's a huge turn-off for the monster. The monster has pride. Not the way his son has pride, mind you, but pride. Pride in his character, pride in his work. The monster has worked for the same company for the last thirty years, in a cubicle next to salesmen named Lenny and Bob. The monster always arrives at eight on the dot and has never taken lunch. Sometimes people try to talk with the monster about football or the weather, but since his wife has left him the monster exudes an air of horrible sadness that makes people feel tired, and so they talk about football without him. Somebody still has to do it.

The monster goes home on Friday nights and sits on the couch and stares into the quiet empty space of time ahead of him with no dog to walk no wife to argue with no son to speak of. The light is gray and aging in the window. The monster lies beneath your bed and stares at the springs. He wonders what it's like to carry all that weight, and thinks that if someone would give him some weight again, something to carry, maybe he could squeal for joy, too.

The monster frightened you when you were little and still believed you could grow up to become anything. You tucked away your fingers and toes, worried that his loneliness would touch you. But now you are old enough to know better. The monster deserved it, you think. Why else would he be a monster?

One night, drunk after your high school graduation party, your ears still ringing with congratulations, you let your hand trail down to the floor beside your bed. You wait for the monster to take it. The monster thinks about his son. He stares at your hand, and he stares at the phone. By the time he reaches out, if he reaches out, you have long since gone to sleep.

Originally published in Broad! magazine