Black dye is sweating from her pores. As a teenager she dyed her hair black and apparently it went into her body and now, finally, with all these carrots and special water and supplements, is coming out. Her forehead looks sooty. Like she’s gone jogging through a mineshaft. She is wearing a white cotton long sleeved shirt and she swipes her sleeve across her face like an athlete and a charcoal smear appears in the folds around her elbow.
“Look at this shit,” she says. She is still chewing. I can see carrots bits in her mouth. She plucks the rubber tube from its hook on the shoulder strap of the backpack, takes a pull, swallows, rehooks it, and points at the schmutz on her shirt. “That’s my insides.”
—from “Fontanel” (Unstuck #1)
Marisa Matarazzo is author of Drenched: Stories of Love and Other Deliriums. Her fiction has appeared online and in literary journals such as FiveChapters, The Nervous Breakdown, Faultline, and HOBART.
Interview by Allie Werner
UNSTUCK: After I read this story for the first time, I went back and looked up the title and found that a fontanel is the soft spot on a baby's head. Did the title come before the story, or vice versa?
MARISA MATARAZZO: The title came after. The narrator in the story is questioning or examining his or her brain, is worried something's gone wrong with it. Feels that it's not been protected from the world, or life, or feelings/experiences. Much like I imagine the soft spot on a baby's head—it leaves the brain vulnerable.
UNSTUCK: I find that "his or her" in your response illuminating. On a first read, I assumed that the narrator was male, but later realized that the story never revealed the narrator's gender.
MARISA MATARAZZO: Yes, the narrator's gender is never specified.
UNSTUCK: Did choosing to keep the narrator's gender ambiguous affect how you conceptualized him or her as a character?
MARISA MATARAZZO: I think the gender-ambiguous narrator can be an exciting choice because it leaves room in the reader's mind to project his or her understanding of the situation, or to identify with the narrator. My experience as a reader is to cast the characters I read, as I read, assembling a play in my mind. And I guess who I cast is representative of my familiarity with and interpretation of the world. First-person narrators can lend themselves to gender ambiguity because that narrator is "I" and not "she" or "he.” English is tricky, because we don't have any gender-neutral pronouns for people. Except, of course, in the first person. And there's fun to be had with that.
UNSTUCK: How did this story originate?
MARISA MATARAZZO: I don't really remember. Which is probably how it originated.
I was noticing I was not remembering moments/events/stories, and as a writer, I thought, that's what I've got—a memory. And if that becomes so unreliable, that's a problem. Slap the panic button. But then it became an interest. A narrator who couldn't remember important things. That seems like a decent problem to examine, or try to solve. And doing that in a story engaged me.
UNSTUCK: What's the most important thing you've ever forgotten? And then, of course, remembered that you forgot it. Otherwise it'd be very difficult to answer this question.
MARISA MATARAZZO: I feel like there are some important things I've forgotten then realized I've forgotten them, then re-remembered them, and hopefully handled them... I'm sure they were traumatizing. And the result is I've blocked them out. I'll probably remember one of them tonight or tomorrow.
Sometimes I'll think about something, something I want to tell someone. I'll think about it enough that at some point, I'm not sure if I've told the person or maybe dreamt it. Then I'll tell the person and have to ask if I'm repeating myself.
UNSTUCK: I actually almost forgot we were having this interview today. Then I miscalculated the time zone difference and was convinced for about five minutes that I was two hours late.
MARISA MATARAZZO: I love that you thought you were late for our interview. I rather like that experience. The rollercoaster drop that happens in the stomach. And immediate sweatiness. And then realizing everything's okay. And it's like the nicest breeze blowing by.
UNSTUCK: Memory is notoriously unreliable. I noticed that in “Fontanel," the narrator relies heavily on the people around him or her to confirm what did and didn't happen.
MARISA MATARAZZO: Yeah, detective work. Eyewitness accounts that are equally unreliable.
UNSTUCK: Have you ever embarked on a cleanse, or known anybody who did so? I was fascinated by the narrator's girlfriend walking around with her bowl of carrots and backpack full of specially distilled water. There's something very new age and ritualistic about cleansing trends.
MARISA MATARAZZO: I've never done a cleanse, but I have friends who have. I live in L.A. Cleansing seems really popular here. And that bit about sweating out black hair dye came from high school—I remember talking to a woman years and years ago about a cleanse she did and she claimed it was so deep that her high school hair dye resurfaced through her pores. That image stuck with me.
UNSTUCK: I found that scene to be one of the story's more surreal moments, so it's unsettling to imagine that actually happening to someone. It reminds me a little of those notoriously quackish foot cleansing detox pads that supposedly turn black by drawing toxins out of your body while you sleep. (It's actually just oxidation of certain substances in the pads.)
MARISA MATARAZZO: Yes! I've seen those commercials. And after the commercial I always want to purchase and use those pads! But not now, though. Not that you've told me what all that gunk is—that it's not actually internal life and body gunk at all. I'm disappointed.
UNSTUCK: I think those products always have a strange kind of appeal, though, even when you know they don't really work. It's the idea of reversing one's past, almost.
MARISA MATARAZZO: Yes, exactly. Or even taking account of one's past. Looking at the debris.
UNSTUCK: What are you reading right now?
MARISA MATARAZZO: I've been reading the collected stories of Lydia Davis. She floors me. I like to read her during moments of mind-quiet. When my brain is calm, her stories wander around in it so nicely. I've just started THREATS by Amelia Gray (who is also in Unstuck!) and am enjoying it. A story called "Toast" by Matt Sumell is in a recent issue of The Paris Review and it is delicious. I'm reading Ramona Ausubel's debut novel No One Is Here Except All of Us and Ismet Prcic's debut novel Shards. They are wonderful. I went to UCI for grad school with Matt and Mona and Izzy, and while these recommendations might come across as pluggish, the truth is, they're what I'm reading right now. And I'm finding it's really fun to read work by writers I know because I like to hear the actual sound of their voices in the prose. It feels so intimate.
UNSTUCK: Where can we find more of your work?
MARISA MATARAZZO: You can read my book Drenched: Stories of Love and Other Deliriums. It's a collection of interconnected off-beat love stories. And hopefully soon I will have another book—I'm working on a piece now that has got my interest in its fist.
* * *
Allie Werner is a graduate of Reed College. Before joining Unstuck as an Assistant Editor, she read slush for Tin House and interned with American Short Fiction. Her first published story appeared in Storyglossia last summer. She can be found online at A. is A. In her spare time she enjoys coffee and comic books, preferably simultaneously.