Read Eat Your Heart Out Online

Authors: Katie Boland

Tags: #FICTION / General, #FICTION / Literary, #FICTION / Short Stories (single author), #FICTION / Coming of Age

Eat Your Heart Out

BOOK: Eat Your Heart Out

With unsentimental prose and biting dialogue, Katie Boland brings to life a variety of characters who all have one thing in common—a need for something more. A brilliant debut collection, these stories illuminate the lives of those living on the fringe, from the haunted and heartbroken to the dreamers, losers, and love-lost souls. With a depth of compassion, Boland candidly examines the fragility of human relationships and why people love the way they do.

Bold, poignant, and affecting,
Eat Your Heart Out
is a clear-eyed exploration of youth, life, love, sex, and death.

“A stunning debut collection. Katie Boland captures love in all its terrifying permutations. These are characters we all have known or have been, rendered with unflinching honesty but also with compassion and wit.”

—Nino Ricci

“With her sharpshooter eye and intrepid heart, Katie Boland is the love child of Dorothy Parker and Jack Kerouac. In this, her debut collection, her stories and those who populate them live at the edges of what is civilized: they gamble love and truth, and in reading them, we cannot help but do the same.
Eat Your Heart Out
is a title as much as it is a dare.”

—Claudia Dey

“In this radiantly written collection, Katie Boland tunnels into the beating, mysterious heart of human connections. Pummelled by life and haunted with hope, her characters are so vivid and alive, you'd swear they're right behind you. Astonishing.”

—Caroline Leavitt,
New York Times
best-selling author of
Pictures of You


To sweet Peter,

It was the broken heart you gave me (and that I gave me) that told me to start writing.

And, to Amy, my eternal optimist.


Tragic Hero


Forever Ago

The Falling Action




Gun Shy

The Way We Were




About the Author

Tragic Hero

I met Maggie Dunlappy when
she was seventeen and a half years old.

She reminded me of Scarlett O'Hara. You know how they describe her in that book? She wasn't beautiful, but men rarely noticed because of her personality. Maggie wasn't a real looker, but once you got looking at her you couldn't tell anymore.

It was her eyes. Too close together, but they were goddamn beautiful if you took the time to notice. They were this bright blue and they sparkled at you, whether she wanted them to or not. I watched a lot of men fall into those eyes. Maggie'd say, “Hello,” all sweet and innocentlike, and I would think, Man overboard! Another one drowned! Poor bastards.

She had these pretty lips. Pink, pretty lips. And you got the impression that she knew how to use them. She didn't have a real elegance to her, you get my drift?

And she had this dyed red hair. It was brassy as shit; she never did it right. You could always see the colours from before peeking out. She said she liked it that way, that the colours reminded her of where she'd been. Used to drive me nuts.

She always wore blue jeans, and a showy type of top. She said her mom had always been like that. Said it was womanlike. That drove me nuts too.

Yeah, she wasn't sophisticated, but there was something really charming about her. Don't get the wrong impression, though. There wasn't any monkey business. I liked her like I wanted to help her out or something. She didn't ask, but I just wanted to.

And I think she liked me too.

I was forty-four at the time, but I looked good, I don't think she could tell.

No, she couldn't tell. No way, and I never told her.

I have basically
worked at every goddamn paper across this country. I worked in Chicago, in New York, in Florida, even Alaska. I ended up in this nowhere town, where there are three churches and one volunteer fire station, because people hate to be told the truth. I should be writing for
The New York Times,
but talent is a projection that dissolves when you piss too many people off.

I drink at the bar down the street from the paper. I usually sit alone. I don't have a problem with it.

Actually, I prefer it.

I was having my daily beers. I think I was on the third one, so I was feeling loose but hadn't heard the click in my head yet. The click tells me it's time to stop, time to go home. Some days that click is harder to get than others. This day the click was being a real mother.

I was reading a book when I met her,
The Sun Also Rises
or something like that. I only read the classics. There's too much shit people read today, that's why they are so stupid. Makes me real sick when I get to thinking about it, so I'll change the subject now.

Anyway, I'm reading this book, and out of the corner of my eye I see this young thing walking toward me. I think to myself, She's not bad. Half-decent minus the hair but too young for me. What's more, I'm not looking to talk to anybody. I decide that if she comes up here I'm telling her to take a hike.

But sure as hell she walks right up to me. In retrospect, I figure she thought that me looking at her was me giving the go-ahead.

“Hi. Are you sitting alone?”

“Yeah. I mean, no. I mean, yeah, I'm sitting alone, but I'm fine.” I gave her this real tight smile, like “You can get along now” type thing. They say facial expressions are ninety percent of human communication. It's true, let me tell you. But Maggie was always real bad at reading that stuff.

“Oh! I'm alone too. It seems silly to sit side by side at two empty tables if we're both here alone. So I'll just sit right here.”

She lifts her hands like she's shrugging when she says that, all innocent, like “Oh! Look at this! A spot for me, just right here!” Like she didn't plan it out. Fat fucking chance. I saw her coming a mile way.

“Listen, sweetheart, you're nice and everything, but I'm busy right now.”

Then I turn back to my book, figuring she'll be on her way.

But half a page later I look up and she's sat her ass right down.

“Was I speaking Swahili?”


“I don't want you here.”

Then she looks at me, real calm, with those sparkly blue eyes, and says, “I don't remember asking.”

She was a pistol like that. I wasn't expecting her to say something like that.

“I like sitting with someone,” she goes.

I look at her, exasperated, and make a big show of going back to my book.

But I couldn't focus, knowing those two sparkly eyes were just staring at me. It was like they were burning holes in my head. Finally, I put my book down on the table with a big flourish.

I looked around for another table. Some Mexican couple had just taken the last one. Just my typical luck.

So then I stare at her in total silence for about a minute, trying to scare her away. But she just stares right back. I respected her for that.

“Okay, miss, if you aren't going to let me read, talk.”

Then she smiles at me real pleased, like she just loved talking.

“Oh, great! Okay, well my name is Maggie Dunlappy. What's yours?”

“I'm Rich.” Then I looked her up and down. “How old are you?”

She leaned over the table, as if she was telling me a secret. Thanks to her showy top I saw a lot more than I wanted to. You get the idea.

“I'm seventeen and a half, but I lied and told the bartender I was twenty-three.” Then she pushes her shoulders back like she's proud of herself. “Do you think I pass?”



I looked up toward the ceiling for a lot of the time after that. I didn't want her to think I was getting fresh.

“Sorry, kid, you look about nineteen tops. I wouldn't even give you a go and you're not half bad.”

She looked like she didn't know if I was complimenting or insulting her, but she recovered quick.

“So tell me about yourself, Rich. Are you married? Do you have kids or anything?”

“Did you rehearse that one?”

She said no, all serious and confused, like why would anyone rehearse something like that?

“I don't believe in marriage and I don't believe in children. No offence on the second count,” I answered.

She looked like she didn't quite know what I meant and was scared to ask. Then she put on this real sweet smile.

“Really? A nice man like you not married?”

“I was married once. A lot of others have wanted to marry me, but the rule is that I stay for dinner, not for breakfast.”

She starts laughing, like I'm a real comedian. I swear to Christ, she laughed at me for about five minutes, like I was killing her, like I just couldn't be serious. I wait for a couple of minutes, like any normal comedian would. Maybe she just thinks I'm funny or something, I don't know. But then it dawns on me.

She isn't laughing at me because I told a funny joke. She's laughing at me because I
the funny joke.

Then I get kind of mad: who's this young thing to be laughing at me and ruining my drink, you know?

“What? Why are you laughing like that?”

Then she looks at me with good intentions, just good intentions, and this real sweetness and understanding. Her eyes get big and blue, and she stops laughing. “You're a real pisser, aren't you?”

Something changed after she said that. She was as tall as a shotgun and just as noisy.

I got to
know Maggie pretty quick. Mostly on account of her love for talking, but also because I would watch her. She showed up at the bar every night. I saw her so often that I couldn't help but like her.

She had this vibe of being alone. Didn't matter if she was in a bar full of people, she always seemed alone. Even when she was sitting across from me at the table she looked alone. It was her face. Her face was a lonely sight.

There is something goddamn tragic about a lonely-looking young person. Looks wrong. I called her on it. In a sensitive-type way, of course.

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