When I’m back in the city and on the subway, I tend to look at my book or at my feet and the feet of other people. I note the different kinds of shoes, their colors and states of wear.
Today is December 23, so there are shopping bags by all the shoes, held fast between lower legs and sometimes kicked out of the way of people coming and going. Bags filled with brown boxes and shoe boxes and stacks of folded clothes.
I’m sitting down, and a man stands above me with his back to me. Under his left arm is a cardboard box that says 6H on the side in thick permanent marker. He never turns around, and I never see him, but I know that he lives in 6H.
Rita Bullwinkel is the author of the story collection Belly Up (A Strange Object). Her writing has been published in Tin House, Conjunctions, BOMB, Vice, NOON, and Guernica. She is a recipient of grants and fellowships from The MacDowell Colony, Brown University, Vanderbilt University, Hawthornden Castle, and The Helene Wurlitzer Foundation. She is an Editor at Large for McSweeney’s, and lives in San Francisco.
Several years ago, when Rita Bullwinkel left New York City for the West Coast, Hilary Leichter went to her bon voyage party, for which Bullwinkel had purchased and reheated 100 pork buns. They did not have any pork buns on hand for this interview, but talked quite a bit over email about what fills their bellies, both literally and literarily.
Discrete Brain Containers: An Interview with Rita Bullwinkel
How long have you lived here: With the exception of two years in Spain, I’ve lived in Puerto Rico almost my whole life. I was born and raised in the center of the island, in a small town called Aibonito.
Three words to describe the climate: Tropical, Hot, Lush (You are going to be hit hard by humidity the moment you walk out of the airport, but then, you will feel the caress of the sun and the wind, and maybe of the rain as well. Also, we are obsessed with air conditioning, so you could go from sweating profusely to freezing in minutes). Also, as Gabriel García Márquez’s novel Cien años de soledad portrayed, in the Caribbean we are still obsessed with ice. Months after the hurricane —when it was really a necessity and we waited 6 or 8 hours in line to buy it— this is still a thing. Ice: the ultimate great thing.
Best time of year to visit? Christmas season (In the island it lasts 50 days and the weather is amazing, but besides that the whole country experiences a feeling of constant celebration during those festive days that start just after Thanksgiving and extend until mid-January when we celebrate Fiestas de la Calle San Sebastián, a popular festivity with a bit of the experience and feeling of a carnival. We also celebrate the Three Kings Day on January 6th, and share lots of “arroz con gandules”, “pasteles”, “lechón asado”, and our beloved “pitorro.” Most of it made by our mothers and grandmothers.)
Ask a Local: Ana Teresa Toro, San Juan, Puerto Rico
A black ant walks across the kitchen counter and I try to flick it away. It dodges my finger, but it’s miscalculated how close it is to the edge and falls off the cliff of the counter and into the dog bowl. It struggles to swim. The ant is dying the way I always die in my worst dreams. In nightmares I sink to the bottom of the lake near my childhood home.
While eating sardines because they swim for a shorter time in the dying oceans than larger fish and are thus less full of mercury and industrial cocktails (and also because they promote neuroplasticity with all their Omega-three fatty acids, and who doesn’t want to grow new neurons?), and while vigorously churning the sardines with a fork in the can so they didn’t look so suited and ready to swim, I spied a lunula of minute vertebrae dangling from my fork.
In Susan Sontag’s short story “Project for a Trip to China,” the unnamed narrator is invited on a junket by the Chinese government. The project unfolds as a loose association of daydreams, epigrams, facts, and memories triggered by the promise of this future trip.
My parents conceived me on a sofa in a department store. My mother worked in the underwear section and was a second-year nursing student. My father worked in the household appliances, hardware, and gardening section, and was a fifth-year social sciences student. They’d hardly been dating a month, and they’d never worked the same shift. Until that morning in May. No one saw them enter the warehouse holding hands—the store wouldn’t open to the public for another hour. No one heard them either, despite the fact that the sofa still had a plastic covering on the cushions to protect it from any stains. The sofa was more cream than yellow; it had solid wood legs and fit three people comfortably. Though my parents didn’t intend it, that morning there were already three of us.
I was seventeen when I met David, back in 1916. Now I don’t very much care to count my age. It’s April 1972 here in Cambridge. White puffballs that must be some sort of seedpod have been floating by the window above my writing desk for days, collecting on the sidewalk like first snow.