‘Literally’ by Antonya Nelson
January 9, 2013
From The New Yorker:
She’s always late!” the sixteen-year-old sobbed. She’d set up the ironing board and its accessories like a shrine to housewifery. Heat shimmered in the air, had already slightly compromised the plastic of the spray bottle. Only Bonita could master the pleats of Suzanne’s ghastly uniform skirt. Other girls did not care. Still others had punctual housekeepers. Or parents who ironed.
“Suse is so anal,” her brother, Danny, noted from the table, where he and his father were studying their computer screens over breakfast, sharing news items and a bowl of pineapple. “She takes three showers a day, which is more than some people take in a year. In the future, that will be illegal. Seriously, I skip showers so that our carbon footprint won’t be so terrible.”
“Do you know there’s a second part to that expression? The ‘retentive’ part?” his father asked. “It’s amazing how comfortable people are tossing that around—‘anal retentive.’ People are very casual with the psychology. So blasé about the butt.”
“God damn it!” the girl cried. “Please please please!”
“Also,” Danny said, “she exaggerates. Constantly.”
“Literally,” his father said. Richard liked to make his son smile by using his favorite word incorrectly.