Bone China by Kathryn McMahon

Written for The Big O Challenge and chosen by Guest Editor, Monet P. Thomas


Bone China

My next door neighbor is a pornstar and every morning when I’m going to work I pass her colleagues on the steps hauling in props or banging lights around. When I moved in a few months ago, she invited me over for dinner because she said she wanted to make sure I could ask questions if I needed to, and maybe to diminish the gossip. She had blue Delft tiles in her kitchen and served rice pilaf, roast chicken, and green beans tossed with a dollop of almond butter. Between bites, I wondered, how does one gossip about a pornstar? “I bet she fucks a lot. I bet she takes it up the ass. I bet she —” Yes, all true, what then? I wanted to look in her closets, open her cabinets, hold her bone china up to the light. Was it her grandmother’s? Had she bought it herself? When she really wants something, will she ask for it, or, so used to shouting yes, is she always the politest, most selfless person in the room? I haven’t had her over for dinner yet. I’m not as good a cook and my tiles are beige; my china plates, chipped and opaque. If her hand lingers on mine, if — will my hand be a match for hers? Her real name is Shirley, and for a while I feared what her porn name could be, but it isn’t anything disturbing; it’s Agatha Spank-me. She specializes in adult mysteries. I’ve never watched one, though I might as well have because by the time I get home Shirley is at the height of filming, and the walls of the townhouse are so thin that the sound guy asked me to shut my door a little more softly. There is a P.I., a “private dick,” who solves crimes of passion presumably with his dick. Once or twice, Shirley has been the handcuffing detective, but in a wig or dye job, she is the femme fatale in her strap-on or the over-grateful victim or the apologetic mistress fucking everyone into forgiveness. Someone’s whim is always satisfied, and Shirley has a distinctive moan. I can hear it over the others like a bassoon in an orchestra. Sometimes, I pretend I am her conductor. I’ll call in sick and turn off the lights, shut the curtains, and lie back on the sofa and listen with my hand in my pants and my mouth pressed to a throw pillow. Through the wall, the director will say, “Shirley, grind your hips,” and I’ll whisper, “Yes, bring them to me.” Once, I was heading to a date when I saw them filming a fossil hunter mystery out back. I’d already done my hair, but I canceled anyway. Just as Dr. Triceratits started going down on her, Shirley looked up through the window and her eyes met mine, and she smiled, and I lifted the hem of my dress and we watched each other watch each other until the glass was steam and I was swimming in her name, asking, what do you like? What is it you really like?


Bone China


Kathryn McMahon is a queer American writer living abroad with her British wife and dog. Her stories have appeared or are forthcoming in places such as Hobart, Wigleaf, Atticus ReviewSmokeLong Quarterly, Booth, Passages North, The Cincinnati Review, Split Lip and here in Jellyfish Review. She is the 2018-19 winner of New Delta Review’s Ryan R. Gibbs Award for Flash Fiction. She tweets as @katoscope. Find more of her writing at

Monet P. Thomas interviews Kathryn McMahon about this story here

Also by Kathryn – Crocodile Wife / Dirty Red Questions


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