Female Education
  Flash Fiction by Rita Ciresi
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  About the Author  |  echapbook.com  |  Summer 2019 Fiction Issue

Female Education

I. Bildungsroman

The professor talked about Candide, Tom Jones, Tristram Shandy, Wilheim Meister, David Copperfield, Young Torless.

Not Emma. Nor Jane Eyre. Nor Jo March.

She closed her eyes, causing the professor to ask, Are you paying attention, young lady?

Intently, said she.

II. Suffragette

After the election, the poll worker failed to hand her a sticker that proclaimed I VOTED!

Maybe he didn’t like the look of her face.

Or maybe he was put off by the T-shirt slogan stretched across her breasts:

Remember when I asked for your opinion?

Yeah. Me neither.

III. Just Mouth the Words

She lost her voice.

When and where did you lose it? the doctor asked.

She wondered.

Was it last week, when her daughter told her, Who cares what you think?

Or this morning, when her husband said, If you’d stop interrupting—?

Or did it date back to her dad hollering, In my day girls listened to their fathers instead of talking back?

Maybe it came from the teachers who were talking to the boys, but looked straight at the girls, as they commanded, Quiet please! Keep your voice down! Raise your hand before you speak!

The speech teacher who said, That feeble argument won’t win the debate.

The English professor who wrote NOT A VALID THESIS next to her thesis statement.

The boy who called her a prude because she wouldn’t do what he wanted her to do.

The boy who said, Faster.

The boy who said, Watch the teeth.

The glee club director who said, You’re not an alto, but you’re not a true soprano, so when we come to the high notes, just mouth the words.

It didn’t happen overnight. Impossible to put a finger on a single time and place. She only knew her voice—too high, too low, too tentative, too shrill, too full of longing, too unable to carry the right tune, too determined to say the right thing but too prone to saying the wrong—had shriveled over the years, like the shrunken head of a woman in a natural history museum.

IV. Paper or Plastic?

the bag boy asked, looking straight through her to the cute cashier the next aisle over.

As she pushed the shopping cart across the parking lot—the plastic bags already spilling soup cans and sliced ham, pot roast and corn flakes—she remembered the black notebook that had circulated in 11th grade.

Rate each girl from 0 to 10 for fuckability.

Under her long-lost maiden name she had received a 0.5 without comment. A 2 for her boobs. A 3 for at least she’s not fat. And the cutting 1 that said, the only way I’d do her was if she wore a paper bag over her head. 

V. What the Universe Is Telling Her

We can make your face more welcoming.

Try a skirted swimsuit.

You might want to take your hair color up a notch.

It might be time for trifocals.

It might be time to stop driving after dark.

You aren’t seventeen anymore.

You aren’t twenty-one.

You aren’t thirty.

You aren’t forty. Fifty. Sixty.

You aren’t. You’re just not.

  © Rita Ciresi, 2019

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