“Daphne and Fifi” by John Stahle from Best Gay Stories 2009 (Lethe Press). Edited by Steve Berman.
I really enjoyed this story, which apparently won the Pushcart Prize, and I was saddened to learn that the author died shortly after it was re-printed in this collection.
First of all, I love the names Daphne and Fifi. I also love the internet. Thanks to its magic it’s possible to unearth that Daphne-Fifi is the name of a cyclone originally thought to be two distinct weather events that came in quick succession back in 1982. Pretty damned clever to nab that factoid and use it here.
The fictional Daphne and Fifi are cyclonic (“fascinating in the manner of auto crashes”), and while they could be said to be part of the same weather system, I don’t think they are meant to be understood as one person. Still, they do whirl through the narrator’s life and stir things up. Then again, this isn’t Kansas. He’s in a gay resort town; it’s all part of the fun.
It starts with the narrator running into an ex on the beach, before we are introduced to the titular characters. The bit with the ex seems not to serve any real purpose, which is odd, and a little while later a section begins “I lean on the railing of an Oceanside deck in the Pines, remembering my last visit to this house 25 years ago.” Now, in the main body of the tale he is clearly a young man, as are Daphne and Fifi. It seems to me there must be a larger story framing this one, which we get only a glimpse of here. The volume where this story originally appeared, I Was Like, apparently contains several stories and essays and photographs, too. I am curious to know if the rest of the stories complete the picture.
That being said, it’s a minor distraction. The story events featuring the main character’s exploits with Daphne and Fifi—one truly vapid, trading on his looks to float through life, the other merely feigning vacuousness—are so entertaining that it doesn’t actually matter whether or not this is a slice of something larger. It’s definitely worth reading just as it is.