Corey Fah Does Social Mobility


The following is from Isabel Waidner’s Corey Fah Does Social Mobility. Waidner is the author of Sterling Karat Gold, We Are Made of Diamond Stuff, and Gaudy Bauble. They are the winner of the Goldsmiths Prize and cofounded the event series Queers Read This. They live in London.

I found myself at Koszmar Circus, beneath the old bandstand’s prominent, pyramid-shaped roof, contemplating a UFO. When I say UFO I don’t mean spaceship. I mean it in the literal sense, Unidentified Flying Object. Circa half a metre tall, it hovered directly in my eyeline. It radiated neon beige, what a concept. I just stood there, one hand on my head, the other on my hip, considering the likelihood.

Was still thinking on it, still processing, when I noticed someone or something moving behind me. I turned around and saw it was Bambi. When I say Bambi I mean Bambi, but not as we know him. On top of his famously unsteady legs, he had four spider’s legs, grand total was eight. Besides, he had multiple sets of eyes, like that seraph-filtered kitty on Instagram, or most common spiders: pavouk, in one Euro language. The fawn looked at me, batting four sets of lashes, giving disarming smile. Off he went, hustling around the bandstand, rattling the local blue tits to the core.

My modus operandi was dissociation and tonight was no exception. This was a deer-in-headlights situation, and by deer I mean myself, not Bambi Pavok. I was at a loss what to do, especially about the task I’d been sent to carry out.

Did I say, I’d won a mad prize, likely by mistake. ‘The Award for the Fictionalisation of Social Evils goes to—.’ Chair of the judging committee saying my name, Corey Fah. That’d been at the online winner announcement I’d attended with Drew Szumski, my soulmate and partner, earlier tonight at home in our flat on Sociální Estate. Drew going, shut the front door! Wtf! I’d missed much of what had followed the announcement. I’d just sat there in my white Fruit-of-the-Loom type charity shop t-shirt and watched myself on the livestream. I’d worn grey cotton joggers, t-shirt tucked in, a detail wasted on camera, of course. Black brogues, I’d got them involved. I was fairly certain, though, that in the after-session to the public announcement the prize coordinator had asked me to go Koszmar Circus and collect the physical representation of the cultural capital I’d just acquired. ‘Go get your trophy,’ she’d said. ‘Do it quickly, before the judges change their minds.’ I hadn’t been sure if she was joking or not. So I’d told Drew I’d be going. ‘What, now?’ they’d asked. Would be an hour’s walk at a minimum, even if I cut through the little woods just south of estate.

No matter, I’d left straight away.

Koszmar Circus was an ornamental mount at the centre of a social housing estate in the east of the international capital. Surrounded by thirteen-storey-high concrete apartment blocks, it felt fenced in. Blackthorn, hawthorn and elder bushes grew in concentric flower beds between street level and the first tier, and again, between the first and second tiers. Historical bandstand on top. Problem was, I couldn’t see any trophy. Just the UFO and Bambi Pavok. Pampas grass in mid-distance. Was I in the wrong place, I wondered. Had I misunderstood the instructions. Detail had, I want to say, not been forthcoming. More like, withheld. ‘It’ll be self-explanatory,’ the prize coordinator had said. The assumption had been that a winner would know how to collect. That prize culture etiquette, its unwritten rules and regulations, would be second nature to them. But I didn’t, know how to collect; and they weren’t, second nature to me. I’d not won an award before, and neither had anybody I knew.

A lot going on for me at this juncture, and that was without Bambi Pavok feeling his feelings over there. He’d seemed fine before, but now he was lying against the bandstand’s historical railing, head buried in two sets of front legs at least. He was having tears. I hadn’t known, but in 1942, Bambi Pavok had lost his mother to Man, apparently—.

Back in his native Forest, death had arrived in the shape of a person with a legalised gun, firing shots in a blinding snowstorm. Bambi Pavok and his mother had run, fast as they could, dodging bullets. ‘Faster, Bambi Pavok! Don’t look back! Keep running!’ Mother had called.

So Bambi Pavok ran for his life. Always looking ahead, he made it into the safety of the single-parent family hideout. ‘We made it, Mother!’ he exclaimed. The relief was short-lived. When Bambi Pavok turned around, he saw that his mother hadn’t, in fact, made it. She’d fallen behind. ‘Mother?’ No answer.

Despite the danger, Bambi Pavok went back outside to look for her. Snow fell thicker now. ‘Mooother!’ Nothing. Tentatively at first, Bambi Pavok ventured deeper into the woodland, all the time calling, ‘Mother, where are you!’ He bounded from tree to tree, stopping, calling, and cocking his ears. Still no response. Bambi Pavok picked up the pace, searching a wider territory now. He slalomed round fir trees a hundred times taller than him. He zigzagged through pines. Eventually, he slowed down, calling his mother increasingly unconvincingly. ‘Mother—.’ Until he stopped.

Oh! Bambi Pavok shot up like a flick knife. The False Widower of the Forest appeared right in front of him – a spider the size of a twelve-pointer stag. ‘Your mother can’t be with you anymore,’ False Widower said – whistled, rather, through the drinking-straw-like device that was his mouth.

Hearing this, Bambi Pavok caved in a little. He got it, mum’s dead. He shed one single tear. One. That was it. No floodgates. Not like under the bandstand over there.

‘Come,’ False Widower said, ‘my son.’ He turned around and walked off, expecting to be followed. But Bambi Pavok hesitated. He looked back. No mother. No doe. Just snow and foreboding Forest. He had no choice but to follow the False Widower into the white, abominable winter.

Begged the question, what was Bambi Pavok doing here at Koszmar Circus in the east of the international capital, in 2024. After the death of his mother, hadn’t he rebuilt his life in the Forest? Why hadn’t he aged during the intervening years, eighty-two by my calculation? At least he seemed chirpier now, getting up and playing among the hydrangeas. Suited me, I had urgent matters to see to. A trophy to collect. Where was it—.

As I tried to refocus, the UFO was making its presence felt. Under the bandstand’s pyramidal roof, it started to tremble. It was dialling up the neon beige glow, as if it were vying for my attention.

It got Bambi Pavok’s. Mouth full of flowers, the latter tilted his head, wondering what the agitation was about. He let go of the dog rose he’d been mauling and came running over. He hurtled right past me, towards an already skittish UFO, jumping up, and snapping at it, yelling, ‘bir, bir’, and eventually, ‘bir-ddd’, like the UFO were a bird, freaking it out.

Without warning, the Unidentified Flying Object swung out wide over Koszmar Circus. It hovered for a second, taking bearings of, as far as I was concerned, nevereverland, and took off. Whereas I was left on Earth with Bambi Pavok.

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Excerpt from Corey Fah Does Social Mobility. Copyright © 2023 by Isabel Waidner. Reprinted with the permission of Graywolf Press, Minneapolis, Minnesota, www.graywolfpress.org



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