Joseph G. Peterson


      You are an obsessive. Can we say that you are penniless which would be the truth or that you live in a garret, which also happens to be the truth, or that you will never emerge into view as an artist—of course there was your breakdown, your failed shock therapy and later you became sequestered: a hermit. Some of these biographical facts are glossed over because you are too accustomed to them to notice. You now sit at the bar drinking and as far as your money situation will allow, you drink vodka and orange juice.

      Anyway months before this shock therapy and all this other stuff happened that led to your sequestration as a literal hermit, well out of the blue you decided you should design dresses. Do you remember that? Dresses . . . And not just any dress would do but a hundred dresses to match a thought you had.

      You worked rapidly drafting and cutting patterns out of paper. You hired a seamstress instructing exactly how to make this dress or that. You worked by exact specification. You picked the fabric. White for a wedding. You preferred silk to rayon though you could virtually afford neither and how you afforded the seamstress no one knows. Within a month the seamstress had produced dozens of dresses to match what? The dress of your imagination or the dream that would embody it? No girl was found to fill the dresses until you put an ad out for models. A teenager from the local high school answered the ad. She showed up in your apartment and tried each dress on while you, camera in hand, snapped photographs.

      In the bright afternoon light you watched through the shutter the harsh beauty of her plain skin; too much to bear. You used her as long as the money lasted and then it was over. Then came the long nights of wandering that you couldn’t account for, the raving, and the threats to blow up the Sears Tower and the holding of the knife to your mother’s throat until you were subdued, shocked, and sequestered.

      Your mother is dead now and with your small inheritance you live out your days as meagerly as possible. You are a hermit and when not a hermit you sit here at the Old Home you call it, which is really just the Bar.

      You sit there drinking your orange juice and vodka and you tell people that there were a hundred dresses she had worn for you as you snapped her picture and when she left you hung the dresses on a rack and covered them in layers of red acrylic paint that you smeared with your hands until the dresses stuck together and when they had dried it was as if they had become frozen in a rictus of death like sides of beef in a slaughterhouse.


Joseph G. Peterson grew up in Wheeling, Illinois. He worked in an aluminum mill and the masonry trade to pay for his education at the University of Chicago. He is the author of three novels: Beautiful Piece, Inside the Whale, and Wanted: Elevator Man. His forthcoming novel, Gideon’s Confession, will be out in May of 2014. He lives in Chicago with his wife and two daughters.