In keeping with the I can’t believe I ever submitted to them theme of my last random rejection, this morning I reached into my vast file of “go away scum” letters and pulled out a rejection from The Missouri Review:
At least The Missouri Review wishes me luck placing this story elsewhere. They also sent back the first page of the submission, so I can still tell what it was they were rejecting: “Cold Turkey”. This story later went on to win a flash fiction contest sponsored by the writer J.A. Konrath — which reminds me, I never ordered my copy of Dirty Martini, which (as part of my prize) is supposed to have a character named after me in it. Off to do that now!
Oh, by the way, here’s “Cold Turkey”, if you’re interested:
The day he quit all his bad habits, Booth woke up early. When his friend Lundquist arrived at work and saw Booth already in his cubicle, he stopped and said: “You’re here on time? Did hell freeze over during the night?”
Booth just smiled at him and kept working.
Around ten, Lundquist came around and said, “Ready to get a cigarette?”
“I quit,” Booth said.
“Cold turkey?” Lundquist shook his head. “It’ll never last. How about coffee instead, then?”
“Quit that too.”
“You quit cigarettes and coffee? Wow.” Lundquist did a mock bow. “Teach me the secret of your willpower, O Great Master.”
“I just decided to quit, that’s all. You should too. It’s not that hard.”
“Sure,” Lundquist said. “See you at lunch.”
At noon, Booth went to the cafeteria. He had already started eating when Lundquist arrived, out of breath, carrying a big greasy fast-food bag. He sat down across from Booth and looked aghast at the small salad and cup of yogurt he was eating. “Don’t tell me you gave up junk food too,” Lundquist said. “I brought you a burger and a double order of fries!”
“I wasn’t doing my body any favors eating that stuff,” Booth said. “Want some salad?”
“Man, you are just asking for trouble, giving up all that at once,” Lundquist said. “But hey, more power to you.” He proceeded to devour the entire takeout meal, including what he had brought for Booth.
Booth left promptly at five, having vowed not to work eleven hour days anymore. A few hours later he sat at a table in a bar many miles from his home, drinking a seltzer and watching the dance floor. A woman came over and sat down across from him. She looked expensive, yet trashy. “Hi, I’m Monique,” she said. “You looking for a date?”
“I’ve given up all my bad habits,” Booth said.
“All of them?” She sounded disappointed.
“I bet I can change your mind,” she said.
Instead of answering, Booth sucked seltzer through his straw.
The next morning, Booth woke up late. Monique had gotten him back into his bad habits, all right. He groaned and went out onto his deck. The sun had already risen but the lake was still misty. Booth went back into the kitchen and put on the coffee, then called Lundquist at work. “I’m going to be late,” he said.
“That’s my buddy!” Lundquist said. “I’ll tell the boss when he gets in.”
“Thanks.” Booth hung up and sighed. Lundquist was right; he had tried to give up too many bad habits at once.
He went out to the shed and got the shovel. Then he dragged Monique’s corpse out of the garage, rolled it up in burlap, and took it out into the woods to bury it with the others.
He should’ve known he couldn’t go cold turkey.