Hidden Talents

By  |  May 26, 2016
“Midlothian, Virginia: Still Life with Richard’s Road #4 8.08.198,” by Willie Anne Wright. From DIRECT POSITIVE, published by Candela Books “Midlothian, Virginia: Still Life with Richard’s Road #4 8.08.198,” by Willie Anne Wright. From DIRECT POSITIVE, published by Candela Books


And what is it you do? he asked, after a moment of silence. My mother was in the bathroom exchanging her dress for the cotton gown. 

I had the sense that he was asking to fulfill some kind of med school training: Engage the patient’s loved ones in conversation. 

Five outlandish occupations pinged through my head, all lies. But I knew I shouldn’t mess with him. I needed to get him on our side and keep him there. Im a writer, I said.

A rider? A light turned on in his eyes, suddenly as blue as his scrubs. He put his fists up and bounced them: a cowboy bounding over the plains.

No, I said. A writer. Which now seemed to require a gesture, so I held up my imaginary pen and wiggled it.

Oh, he said, all business again as my mother came out of the bathroom. Well, he said, me too. He untied her gown with one hand and slipped the black Sharpie from his scrubs pocket with the other, clamped it between his teeth to remove the cap, then drew dashes on my mother’s naked chest, outlining where his scalpel would go. 



I remember being in the car on the way to my sister’s surprise funeral. In the backseat, I think. I can’t imagine who was driving. At a stop sign my head swiveled toward a flicker in the roadside greenery: a fox, poking its snout from between two bushes. I thought, or chose to think, That is my sister. That is my sister, come back in animal form to tell me it’s okay. She’s okay. I’ll be okay. 

But it was not okay. She was not okay. I would not be okay. I would not be okay for so long that when okay arrived it couldn’t place me. It looked right past the veil of flickering leaves, my long red snout, my gloved paws swiping tears into my little black mouth. 



I think of picnicking at Blair’s studio. Reaching for my second slice of watermelon, I saw some lines—a black Sharpie?—crossing the green rind. 

“Did you draw on this, Blair?” I asked. 

“Oh, sure,” she said, with a shrug. “Melon skin is one of my favorite media.”



It’s a kind of parlor game, a question someone asks at the after-party, perhaps, lounging on couches, shoes off, everyone half-drunk and one-quarter enamored and not ready for the long night to die. What’s your hidden talent? This is no invitation to brag—I got straight A’s in college, I can bench-press 220. Oh no no no, you win this game by trotting out your most bizarre and useless skill. 

Laura can stand on one leg forever. She moves to the center of the room and slides one heel up the other leg, squares off in tree pose, and balances until we pelt her with pillows. Thisbe can recite the entire back cover of Flowers in the Attic. Gaylord can pour the remains of a glass of wine back into the bottle without spilling a drop, even with his eyes closed (how he became aware of that skill God only knows—I’ve never seen him walk away from a glass unless he’d drained it). Tom, who asked the question in the first place, can do achingly beautiful armpit farts. He rises to tuck his wrist under his arm, writhes and contorts, creates and names—Here’s a burner, here’s a wet one—while everyone laughs and calls out requests. Im gonna pee myself, Ann warbles. 

Which brings us to me. I used to hate this game because I couldn’t think of a hidden talent. But that’s only because, as I’ve come to learn, my hidden talent is very hidden. I’ve got the biggest bladder you’ve never seen. 

This is not a matter of “holding it.” At home I pee as much as anybody. But when I go out with my friends, I simply forget to pee. And then later someone mentions, say, the wallpaper in a certain bathroom and I think, I didn’t see it. Or the next bathroom, or the one before. And I count back until I realize it’s been six hours since I peed. 

One time I needed an ultrasound, and the nurse told me not to urinate beforehand because a full bladder pushes the baby up, better for viewing. I didn’t pee that whole morning and when the nurse gessoed the wand and lowered it to my abdomen, she shouted for the doctor, “Get in here!” Not about the baby, the baby was fine. About me: “Lookit the size of her bladder!” I never saw the pixelated screen but I like to imagine my supremely visible baby rising and falling, buoyed on an undulating bladder-shaped raft. 

Because I can go so long between pees, when I do pee, I pee forever. Like I’ll be in the stall and hear someone enter the next stall, hear her unzip, sit, pee, wipe, flush, zip, and exit, and the whole time I’ll have been peeing. Like if I’d started peeing when you’d started reading this, I’d still be peeing. 

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Beth Ann Fennelly directs the MFA program at Ole Miss, where she was named the 2011 Outstanding Liberal Arts Teacher of the Year. She has published four-and-a-half books (the half being a novel, The Tilted World, which she coauthored with her husband, Tom Franklin). Her new book, Heating & Cooling: 52 Micro-Memoirs, will be released by Norton this fall.