Fiction Dispatch: 496 words by Jenny Zhang

The New York-based author of "Sour Heart" considers a pair of boots

  • Text: Jenny Zhang
  • Photography: Jenny Zhang

Introducing a new SSENSE series: Fiction Dispatch. The concept is simple. An author selects an item from our site valued at under $500, photographs it, and writes a piece of short fiction under 500 words.


She was so used to walking in bad shoes that the good ones gave her problems. The steadiness confused her. Who was she anyway without pain? A big, bleating nothing! The rich people she hung around never wore new things out, at least not around her. They only let her see the used-up things they owned. Did they even use them or did someone else? she wondered and decided it had to have been others. This was a class of people who got others to do everything. It was true that nothing was more expensive-looking than rags on a well-fed body, or better yet, a sickly body that rejected fullness for deprivation.

Her first pair of expensive shoes were a pair of black ankle boots with three metal buckles across the front. She had tried to abuse them—scuffing them on purpose and stepping into filthy puddles of standing water—until they were beat-up, but still, something wasn’t right. Ashley had lacked the ability to not care and that cheapened her, it betrayed her lowly origins.

After marrying, she developed a bad case of vertigo. It was dramatic—she could slide into a buckled drop at any moment. Her husband, Bennett, found her crumpled body especially beautiful. Staggering, too, looked hot on her. Sometimes he stood by while it was happening, the pleasure overriding the guilt. Once, she knocked out her two front teeth and her boots went flying in the air. Someone else would wear them now, she thought. She would donate them to a delusional girl without real family money. Someone exactly like who she used to be, essentially.

Bennett, overcome with bliss, knelt down by her side and cradled her head. “I love you so much, you know that right?” Of course she knew! Her wrecked body made him feel heroic. Anyway, it was only ugly to be ugly when you were poor, Ashley realized after marrying up. That was true of many formerly loathsome things. Stealing, for example, was now a political act.

Her mother had died of an infected tooth and her father of a bothersome cough, but Ashley would live, it was written: she had health insurance and a legalized relationship with a man born from means into more means. When she first met Bennett, he took her to a party where everyone worked zero to two hours a week, and spent the rest of the time making art, being an activist, and/or juggling three to six romantic relationships. Somehow a horizontal anti-statist approach to dismantling wage labor resulted in everyone fucking everyone. By the end of the party, Ashley was shouting, “Praxis! Praxis over theory! Put it into praxis!” making everyone laugh, though she wasn’t sure what the word meant, having never encountered it until that night.

“Don’t you want to know how I got here?” she asked her husband, spitting blood through her missing teeth.

“No,” he beamed, thinking it was the height of romance to not care.

Jenny Zhang is the author of the short story collection Sour Heart
and the poetry collection Dear Jenny, We Are All Find.

  • Text: Jenny Zhang
  • Photography: Jenny Zhang