Carina Estellovich’s Baggage ~ fiction by Natalie Plotkin

Carina Estellovich is a twenty-four-year-old poet living in Seattle, Washington. She doesn’t break necks, but she also isn’t mistakenly sat on in malls. All around, Carina is average. One might even unmaliciously and objectively call her shallow. Indeed, the aphorism “what you see is what you get” very nearly describes Carina in full. It is only made more accurate after a few adjustments: “what you see in Carina after a five-minute conversation is all you will ever get. Full stop.” For boredom-related reasons, Carina—that is, Carina as a subject—will not be featured here. She has no story worth relaying. However, Carina owns a deep brown satchel that’s, like, about the size of an overfed lap-dog. This bag and it’s contents are the material encapsulation of everything there is to know about Carina. So while Carina as a subject is not worth considering, the matter of her bag is. The following is that matter, itemized:

(1) A sticker-covered laptop computer. The stickers are: 

(a) “Fierce, Fabulous, Femme Fatale Feminist” in, like, cute magenta script.
(b) A custom-made, license plate font “SOLA FIDE” (faith alone) that was going to be an under-boob tattoo until Carina’s real-good friend said she didn’t have the ‘right bod’ for under-boob tatting. A point for clarity: Carina isn’t religious. She takes creative liberty in her interpretation of sola fide. To her, it doesn’t signify a, like, Protestant devoutness; instead, it’s an excuse for Carina not to “bend her attitudes” without her fide’s say so.
(c) A decal of omnipotent buttocks protruding from cartoon clouds and expelling religious emblems. Carina found it on the floor of her dentist’s office during her last visit in ’09.

(2) Monthly planners for March through August. They do not contain anything. If they did they would probably contain plans, contacts, recipes, etc. 

(3) Index cards, crumpled, stained (thanks to coffee), and smelly (thanks to an old snack bag of bell peppers that was forgotten until remembered via, like, sharp miasma). Carina intended to use the index cards for the same business as the notebooks. Unsurprisingly, the index cards went the way of the notebooks (unused).

(4) Several ripped perfume samples that Carina lifted from fashion mags during her last dental appointment (’09). The samples, miraculously, still smell. Carina stores the perfume samples in an interior pocket of her bag. They are for rare, social-anxiety-body-odor-type emergencies. She thinks they also will come in handy if the bell pepper phantom re-emerges. The samples have asinine names and don’t, like, limit themselves to their wrappings; meaning, when its interior pocket is opened, Carina’s bag becomes a stale, howling pit of lavender and frankincense and sandalwood and rose and daisy and “Aqua Tenor” (which Carina thinks smells like what would happen if someone put seaweed in with their linens). The bag is a “howling” pit because its smell, when released, catches the attention of anyone within a five foot radius, as though it had been baying like a dog forced to wear tiny galoshes.

(5) Napkin doodles/Carina-conceived truisms dubbed “worth saving”:

(a) A wilting pot of flowers floating on the ocean, leaves facing away from viewer and toward an island, suggesting, like, a wave goodbye.
(b) “Failure is the you they see when the ‘you’ you know can’t live up to their expectations.” (Carina keeps this less because she thinks it sage and more because she hasn’t figured out what it means since its conception.)
(c) A sketch of Brain. Brain is holding a pen. Brain is sipping coffee. Brain is wearing a collar that says “Carina.”
(d) A little fairy with pink wings and well-proportioned limbs. Kept as a reference for future fairy drawings.
(e) “Colors are the ___ of the soul.” 
(e.1)  “___” of the soul: blotted out by a water stain.
(f) “You are the person who cares the most about your suffering.”
(g) A dog wearing tiny galoshes.

(6) Thank-you note Carina received after Carina’s mother’s fiftieth birthday party. For the celebration in Carina’s hometown (Dunkirk, MA) that past April, Carina Estellovich bought Mariana Upton-Estellovich (aka Mom) a frilly, blush apron with a black sheep embroidered on a front pocket that was more the size of a kangaroo pouch than a pocket. Carina thought it was a great gift since Mariana and Carina hadn’t been on genial-speaking-terms for about three years, so Carina’d had to dive into her memory and pull out every, like, mom-related factoid she’d retained from her adolescence in order to think up what to buy. Factoids include: 

(a) Mariana enjoys food. 
(a.1) She was the one who’d gotten Carina into bagging bell peppers (among other vegetables) for snacking.
(b) Mariana likes pink.
(b.1) Her engagement ring was set with a pink diamond.
(c) Mariana fancies herself a black sheep among her Dunkirk book club.
(c.1) She’s their resident un-closeted feminist. 
(c.2) Mariana’s black-sheep-pride is something Carina resents; Carina has it on good authority (good authority = multiple lectures) that Mariana doesn’t believe Carina will be successful with her art (poetry) until she (Carina) has a husband to take the pressure of generating money-making material off of her shoulders. 

The thank-you note itself is filled with generic mother-to-daughter compliments—“you are the light of my life” and “you have the ingenuity of an Aesop, the courage of a Socrates, and the bullishness of a Milton” et al.—plus the gut-punch confession that Mariana has yet to use her apron because, as a divorced empty-nester, Mariana isn’t cooking for a family. But Mariana goes on to say she’ll start baking again just to have an excuse to don Carina’s gift. When describing her mother’s letter to her friends, Carina uses words like “gall” and “consolation” and “embarrassing.”

(7) Two hard-copy manuscripts of Carina’s unpublished book of poetry. It’s called Less Bell, More Pepper and has been viewed by ten agents (rejected by eight, tabled by two). Carina explains in her cover letter (and to anyone who asks) that the collection of poems is largely “an inquiry on hegemonic expectations and the subtle ways they permeate social justice movements.” Carina’s definition of hegemony is: “you know, the way things have been for, like, ages and stuff.”

As a white female, when Carina says her book’s focus is “social justice movements,” she really means “movement.” And by “movement,” she means the one that’s most relevant to her. It’s not that Carina is against other movements; but since she figures they don’t apply to her, she thinks it would be best if she doesn’t pretend to know what she’s talking about in that regard. 

This, like, glaring hypocrisy is lost on Carina, though it has been noted by six out of ten agents after skimming her collection in full. These notes were not delivered to Carina. They were delivered during spousal dinner conversations that Carina had not been privy to. Once, however, a male friend had the “gall” to deliver the social justice note to Carina at a poetry mixer. He’d said: 

(a) Feminism is, of course, “incredibly important.”
(b) But if Carina wants to reach a wider audience, she’ll have to help her non-Carina audience commiserate with her struggle. 
(c) She won’t do that by acting like nobody can understand suffering except her.
(d) The writing is, however, very good.
(e) He particularly liked the poem about an epiphany inspired by a sticker found on the floor of a dentist’s office.

After her conversation with the male friend, Carina retold the story of his audacity to the other female poets at the party. She proudly reported that she’d given the male-friend directions to “a brand new hole” where he could expel what he thought about her manuscript. Carina’s ending remark across retellings was: 

(a) “People are so quick to mix-up content with intent.” 

(8) Detritus from a broken blush compact sprinkled across the bottom of the satchel like fairy dust. Interestingly, Carina does not remember buying the blush compact when it was unbroken, let alone putting it at the bottom of her bag. The blush, Carina once observed, isn’t even her color. She is vexed, but not full-on upset by how, despite multiple cleanings and shake-outs, everything Carina puts in her bag comes up tinted around the edges with like, ballet slipper pink. 

Natalie Plotkin is a writer and undergraduate student at New York University. She is double majoring in English and neural science. Her past work has been published in October Hill Magazine and she is the co-founder of the NYU-funded magazine, THIS. Magazine, which will launch this September. She works at a neuroscience lab researching memory in her spare time. Eventually, she wants to go on to pursue a PhD in psychology, with a possible future in forensic psychology. You can find more of Natalie’s work through her Instagram, or check out THIS. Magazine at

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