Day Ninety-One: Reading Irish Fiction or “The Song is Called ‘Ecce Homo'”

by Tom Noonan

What follows is a creative piece I wrote for a class trying to get at the point of what we read in a new way.  Enjoy:

I take a long pull from this Sprite can I smuggled into the library.  Getting it in here wasn’t the hard part, opening it was, the pressurized can leaking a piercing swoosh that rushed out from the lid in all directions.  The soda is still pretty cold, even though I’ve been waiting on drinking it, and the carbonation crackles down my tongue like an unusually strong pulse.  It’s all physical, everything is.  The cool titanium is stained with my fingerprints, which move like footprints, making a trail that I can follow with my eyes.

I crack my knuckles then run my right hand through my hair.  I’m a structure, well designed over a time period of unimaginable proportions, with some skin stretched out over it like opaque saran wrap covering a sandwich.  My movements aren’t fluid; they’re short, awkward, imperfect.  There’s no particular beauty that can be assigned to a person, really.  There are certain characteristics we recognize, that draw us to certain people, their scent, the way their smile curves up and segments their face, but other than that our physicality is all pretty unappealing.  This is why we make art, why we write stories, play songs, to reveal the beauty that can’t exist within these bodily confines, to dwell in the burden of consciousness.

So I write, here, and read these books, all of them, that seem like a timeline when put end to end.  There’s really little motive in my own ordering of them.  Well that’s not true, I’m not sure why I lied to you, there’s reason.  See, the first one, O’Brien’s At Swim-Two-Birds, is more of a frame, a reason to even be doing this in the first place.  It is the book that will justify my voice breaking from the infrastructure of analytical writing, rebelling against the ingrained maps that were first brought to me in middle school when my teacher used two opposing pyramids to explain the “art” of essay writing.  Ever since then, my voice has been captive, sanded down, tamed, and not exactly moving.  So when I read O’Brien’s narrator writing, on the first page of the novel, that he “withdrew [his] powers of sensual perception and retired into the privacy of my mind, my eyes and face assuming a vacant and preoccupied expression”, I decide to venture out of that same privacy, moving outside my body and into the metaphysical space that these novels inhabit with my thoughts (O’Brien, 1).  Finishing off the last bit of Sprite I have left and setting a soundtrack of Explosions in the Sky’s Take Care, Take Care, Take Care, I escape outwards, where typing these words, in the small amount that they’re worth, is done by something else, my body on auto-pilot, a stenographer seated outside of me.  And now I can finally move.

As I move away from At Swim-Two-Birds, knowing that it was only a framing device, a cheap way to escape, I see James Joyce lurking in the background, casting a shadow over it all.  I don’t know how I recognize him, but I do.  And the light behind him moves like a fog, swallowing whatever it touches.  His hands are worn, each finger calloused and swollen.  I turn and move on, feeling that wall of light bearing down on my neck.

The Butcher Boy

The world is all blurry.  There are no lines, no definitions, just color.  I try and touch it, but I’m just color, too.  I have hands, sure, but that’s only because I can tell you that I have hands.  I can’t actually prove to you that they’re there.  I can’t show them to you let alone actually use them, but I believe that they are, know that they are, can imagine that they are.  Then I imagine something similar, but diluted.  I picture the world melting away like an ice cube left out in the heat, and the colors begin to drip and slink away.  I snap out of it quickly.

Then there’s a voice moving in me, cutting through the colors and formlessness and, somehow, attaching itself to every inch.  “Well done, Philip, I cried, you did it!” (McCabe, 67).  The voice itself sounds like mine, the tone and aesthetic is the same, but it’s not mine.   I can assure you, it’s not mine.  “I clapped him on the back and we all stood round admiring it” (McCabe, 67).  There is no noise accompanying the action, no sense that anything is actually happening around me, other than the voice, which continues, “It was like a rocket that had just made it back from space and we were waiting for a little brown astronaut to open a door in the side and step out waving” (McCabe, 67).  I can see the shuttle, but I picture it taking off somewhere above all of this confusion.  But then the words move in me a little more, I return to the description, and I realize the subject matter.  It’s shit.  The voice is talking about shitting on the floor, like an animal, like a child, and he’s enthused.  He’s elated.  And I feel slightly happy, too, betraying the logic of usual scatological relation.  I find a sense of wonder in this voice’s logic.

But everything is still stagnant, like water caught behind a damn.  It feels unnatural, like something needs to break, something needs to get me moving, free me to see what’s in front of me, beyond the dam.  “Now it’s time for us to see how well Mrs. Nugent can perform,” the voice continues, unperturbed by my reservations (McCabe 67).  “Can she poo as well as her son Phillip?  We’ll soon find out!  Are you ready Mrs. Nugent?  I was waiting for her to say yes Francis indeed I am then away she’d go hoisting up her nightdress and scrunching up her red face trying to beat Philip but I’m afraid that wasn’t what happened at all” (McCabe, 67).

Suddenly I worry about this voice and have a feeling that it is permanently stuck to me.  I wonder who it’s talking to, other than me.  Who else is here?  I can’t hear anything.  I certainly can’t see anything.  It’s only now that I realize all of my senses are deadened, non-functional.  Even as the voice speaks of shit, I smell nothing, hear none of the boys responding.  It is only him, me, and nothing else.  We go back a little bit.

“Across on the ditch a snowdrop with a bone china head curtsied and introduced its diminutive troupe. There he is again this year ma used to say about that snowdrop. The sky was the colour of oranges. I looked at my marble-white hands and wondered what it was like to be dead like the woman in the song. You’d think: the beautiful things of the world aren’t much good in the end are they? I’m going to stay dead” (McCabe, 54).  We’re back to beauty, but it’s different now, this isn’t about creation.  It’s about death, a body decaying into the ground, that beautiful timelapsed shot at the beginning of Charlie Kaufman’s Adaptation.  I remember his words,

“I now step into this area blindly, I do not know what the wound is, I do know that it is old. I do know that it is a hole in my being. I do know it is tender. I do believe that it is unknowable, or at least unable to be articulable.  I do believe you have a wound too. I do believe it is both specific to you and common to everyone. I do believe it is the thing about you that must be hidden and protected, it is the thing that must be tap danced over five shows a day, it is the thing that won’t be interesting to other people if revealed. It is the thing that makes you weak and pathetic. It is the thing that truly, truly, truly makes loving you impossible. It is your secret, even from yourself. But it is the thing that wants to live” (Kaufman).

The words sit in front of me, packed tightly into a brick.  As a shape, it’s nothing, but when I stretch it out, destroy its density, I recognize my cage.  The bars are overhead, on all the walls, holding me in here with the colors and the voice’s wound.  Music pumps through my skull, my own, smaller cage, a furious drum line filling in the blanks of my situation.  I will never meet the man, the one that speaks in me right now, because I can’t, because to meet him, to see him from the outside, fully formed, would be blinding myself to what I need to see.  I have to see his madness, all of it, without the context, without anything that is discernibly “real”.  The colors will always be blurred together because they’re not the point.  He’s the point, the speaker, his words, his logic, all of it removes the bandages, reveals the wound, makes the madness parse-able.

Then I think about Gus Van Sant’s Elephant and how it intentionally presented all its characters so flatly because that’s how it is in high school, in youth.  Everything is flat.  Van Sant’s lens moved like the eyes of a 16 year-old boy, seeing complete emotional destruction and moving on until it was all suddenly punctuated by literal, physical violence.  But we see the violence in Elephant, feel it, stare at it.  When the voice presents me with violence, I feel completely detached, like none of it even matters, like there isn’t a body lying somewhere bleeding, like we might all be immortal.  It’s all very strange but in many ways feels freeing, seeing the mind without the body, the motivation without the crime.  I almost want to stay, but I can’t.  So I think about Patrick Bateman describing how he carved up prostitutes, and I fall forward.

The Only Beginning To A New, Discursively Related Story, Here

We were watching Larry from our kitchen window, firing off that pellet gun in his backyard next door, when Pat told me about a story he’d been working on.  It was about this guy, around 30 years old, white, and tall, with small features, who lived with all different families most of his life.  Not like a foster child or anything romantic like that.  This guy would pay the families, just show up at their doorstep with a checkbook, and they would take him in for the night.  That’s all it ever was, too, just a night.  Pat said it wasn’t about the fresh cooked food or the warm shower or the soft bed.  The guy just wanted to move through lives.  He thought it was like moving through time or something close to that, changing everything so drastically, what religion he was, what his diet looked like, where he worked, when he lost his virginity, who he voted for.  He never wanted to be any one thing.  Pat said this guy wanted to be everything.

“Would he pretend to be their brother or uncle or what?” I asked.

“It would change every time, but he wouldn’t pretend or act.  When he was with a family, he became one of them, like it was completely normal.  He just told them to be friendly and treat him like family.  And he’d pay them for it, whatever they asked for.”

“How’d he get the money?”

“I haven’t figured that out yet.  Maybe his family died, and he keeps getting life insurance checks or something.  But I don’t want it to be sitcom-y.  I don’t want it to be fucking Oliver either.”

“What happens to him?”

“One night, after he’s already stayed with thousands of families, like he’s already been doing it for years, he’ll stay with an Irish family somewhere outside Philadelphia.  The guy will fall in love with that family’s fifteen year old daughter, and he’ll fuck her.”

“The fifteen year old?”

“Yeah, I know, it’s fucked up right?  But they love each other.  It’s real love, like this explosive, hideous, decimating love that they both can’t shake.  This kind of love that burrows underneath their fingernails, shoots up their veins, and fills out their bodies, making them always feel like everything might burst, like the physical frames imposed on them won’t last.  So he can’t leave, and they become dependent on each other like a drug, like a real potent, destructive drug.  And their teeth start falling out and their skin peels and they age quicker than everyone else.  The family just lets it happen because of the money.  He keeps paying them, and the girl drops out of high school.  By the end they’re both just these two violently dependent addicts, two skeletons fucking and crying and praying that they die before the other one.  They have kids and move out into an apartment in the city.”

“Who dies first?”

“Neither.  One day it just stops.  They just don’t feel it anymore, that awful love.  So he leaves, and somehow they both recover completely.  She gives up the kids and goes back to school.  He moves out to L.A. and works in production.  She calls herself Karen, and he goes by Steve.  They make up new stories.  Everything about them becomes plain, but it’s comfortable.  It fits them the way it could never have before.  They won’t see each other again but will also never feel anything like that rupturing love.  So they sit lighter, always, and both die on the same day, December 11th, two years apart.”

Watt

I’m sitting at a table.  A long, oak dining room table that is completely empty save for two glasses of scotch, on the rocks.  There’s one in front of me.  My hand’s wrapped around it.  The pattern shaped into the glass long ago imposes itself on my fingers, making the whole exercise feel rough, forced.  I can smell the alcohol and even that is too stiff, but I sip it, and the liquid turns into water in my mouth, something totally and completely refreshing.

The other glass sits across from me, at the other head of the table, a man swilling it around constantly, as if stopping its motion would ruin the taste.  He even moves the glass in circles when he brings it to his mouth to drink causing little strings of light brown liquid to curl down the folds in his cheeks.  I recognize him, I know I do, but I don’t get a name until he speaks.

“I’m Sam Beckett,” he says, as if reading my mind, as if it were a response rather than an introduction, because, after all, it is.  And I can see it.  This is definitely him, Sam Beckett.  It is.  I can tell.  I’ve seen his face before, somewhere, maybe on the cover of his book?  Yeah, that was it, on the cover.   Right there, right there on the cover.  Like it was important.  Like knowing what this man looked like, the man who wrote it, was important.  I definitely saw his face on the cover.

Now his gray hair sits in thin stalks, like a dying wheat field blown down in the wind.  He’s more of a person here in the same way a mounted lion’s head is a lion.  There’s a haze of personality to him, lingering inside, kind of like this fog of the man who actually is.  And you can never actually know it, the fog, or even glance it.  It even feels more you than it is him, too, like what’s there is only your projection onto the unmoving, hollow face.  A stuffed Sam Beckett.

But he keeps talking, I think, through his gulps of scotch, which he seems to have a bottomless supply of.  “It was just writing, I guess, when I started.  It wasn’t this artistic thing that everyone wanted to turn it into.  I just wanted to write, to be on the page, you know?”

He looks at me, but his eyes seem hard.  Not dead like the way your grandparents’ eyes are before the doctor comes in to close them, all milky and rolling back into the brain.  They were more solid, like glass lenses, taking in all that I am.  I give him a response, “I guess I follow.  Your work became more a product of the readers than you?  Like, your creative vision was lost along the way, sorta?”

“If that’s how you want to talk about it, fine, I’ll relent.  I’m not going to waste another breath.  We can just drink in silence if that’s what you want.  Just drink and consider our own words.  You speak to me as if I’m a student.”

He turns his eyes, and I stare at the raising and lowering of his glass, the ebb and flow, trying to collect my thoughts and start over.  “Ok, so with the lists and the long winded asides, that was intentional… Ok, that came out wrong… let me try again… I’m nervous… I’ve never spoken to a writer like you before… I’ve never really had to impress anyone… So, here, this part, about the servitude, Watt’s servitude, for Mr. Knott, clever names by the way…”

“I’m not here to talk about cleverness, you can have cleverness.  Here, keep my cleverness.”  He tosses me a quill.

“No, I know… I didn’t mean it… I just, well, ok, so the servitude, serving Mr. Knott, right?”

“Sure.”

“So Watt serves Mr. Knott, and you write, ‘Even in the dining room Watt saw little of Mr. Knott, although Watt was responsible for the dining-room and for the serving there…”

“’Service there’.”

“Right, right… ‘service there of Mr. Knott’s meals.  The reasons for this may appear when the time comes to treat of that complex and delicate matter, Mr. Knott’s food.’ (Beckett, 54).”

“Why did you site me?”

“I’m sorry?”

“The parenthetical, why did you site me?”

“I had to, code of honor and all that.  I don’t have your freedom.”

“Sure, go on, what does that quote matter?”

“Well the food, I mean the servant, that’s you right?  The writer, he’s the servant, and the food is his writing.  You leave it there for us, like a meal, like something cooked up, slaved over for hours and put together perfectly, ready for us to consume, and we don’t even see you, we don’t even relate to you.  When we eat this meal, we can only thank the chef, never share it, never really have those moments together.  That’s what this is about, right?  I’ve been worried about it.  Ever since then, I’ve been worried.”

“You want to be a writer?”

“I’m not sure anymore.  Sometimes, yeah, well, most times, yeah.  But when I read this, I began to worry, like what part of me will I have to sacrifice to write?  What will I lose?  How can it bring me closer to anyone if they just keep consuming it?  Consuming me, too, without realizing it till I’m not even there and it’s just the meal?  Yeah, there are awards, but what the fuck do they matter?  I guess.”

“They’re just names, really.”

“What are?”

“Those awards, any of them, they’re all bullshit.”

“So was I right?  Is that what you meant?”

“With Watt, it was something close to, What if I put myself in there, make myself unavoidable, then what?  Will they complain?  Will they finally get it?  It’s worth a try.”

“Did it work?”

“I’m not sure, did it?”  You tell me.  You read this for a class, right?  What did your classmates say about it?”

“Most of them kinda thought it was bullshit.”

“Then it worked.”

“I’m not sure I follow.”

“If they called it bullshit, if it got to them, then I think I’ve done my job.  Or, at least, I think I did what I set out to do.  They got mad at me.  They saw me and said, ‘Fuck that guy.’  If someone calls your book bullshit, then you’re doing at least one thing right.”

With this, Mr. Beckett turned, stopped moving, staring at nothing in particular, nothing at all, really, and I knew it was time to leave.

The Part that Follows the Beginning, Here

I noticed that Larry had hit something next door.  A rabbit limped from his backyard, small stripes of blood streaking down its leg, parting white fur as they moved.  Larry hadn’t reacted.  He always seemed like he was waiting for the animals to scream back at him, to let him know what he’d done.  The pellet gun sat still in his lap, aimed towards the area of fence-less perimeter that had been pulled apart a couple of months ago during Irene.  When his brother had come over after the storm with a truck full of supplies, offering to put another stretch of fence up to keep the garden enclosed from the fields of wild grass that stretched for miles behind it, Larry kept his eyes on the recently revealed horizon and muttered, “Ah, I don’t mind.”

            A few weeks later, Larry’s brother came by again.  I was outside digging for worms with Rebecca when it happened.  He had heard Larry was just been sitting out there in that lawn chair, shooting at these animals coming through the gaps in the fence, and the cops were finding all kinds of corpses along the roads out of town.  Rabbits, raccoons, groundhogs, their infected wounds smelling horribly, the rotting bodies unable to fully decompose on the pavement.  Larry’s brother said he’d smelled them, too, the dead animals, and the foulness of it all still lingered in his car.  It was a staining smell, he said, something that you just couldn’t get to go away no matter what you did.  So he just started fixing the fence anyway, assuming it would put a stop to everything: the dead animals, Larry’s stare, all the questions, but when he started digging out the foundation, Larry took a shot, missing his brother only slightly.

            “Fucking prick,” his brother yelled across the garden.  “Put the fucking gun down.”  I gathered Rebecca in my arms, rushing her back inside.  I put her down right across the threshold, making sure she wouldn’t be able to see anything, then turned back.  I saw Larry still sitting in his chair, but the sloped yard kept his brother mostly out of view, a dirt caked baseball cap the only thing I could make out over the remaining fence.

            Larry didn’t move, just stared at his brother, eyes sunken, hiding from the peripheries he couldn’t imagine.  Ever since the accident, everything Larry saw, everything that sunk in, was straight ahead, on a line segment, slowly moving, nothing could be connected, and each shard of the world stood on its own.  When he stared at something, he’d focus until he destroyed it, till he stripped away what it could have been, what it might have been, and knew what was it was in totality.

            His brother tried to go back to digging, the baseball cap disappearing back below my field of vision, but Larry shot at him again, making contact this time.  Twitching quickly, and charging through a bed of limp azaleas, petals audibly tearing under his boots, Larry’s brother howled, coming into full view, “You’re lucky you ain’t right, cocksucker, or I’d break your neck right now.  Shooting that gun at me?  Shooting me in the fucking leg?”

            “I don’t want a fence.”

“You’re getting a fucking fence,” he was in Larry’s face now, but still didn’t have his brother’s full attention.  “You can sit there the rest of your life, it won’t bother me none, but I’m not hearing about you killing those animals anymore.  I’m done hearing about you being a sorry son of a bitch.”  He started back through the azaleas.

            “I’ll take it down.  If you put one up, I’ll take it down.”  Larry began to shake, never moving his eyes from his brother

            “With what?  You can’t shoot down a fence with a pellet gun.”

“I’ll take it down,” Larry’s body moved in small fits when he spoke, like something inside was trying to make itself known.  His head looked like it might roll from his neck.  “I’ll take it d…”

His brother took a swing, landing it on the corner of Larry’s right eye.  The chair tipped, and he hit the ground, letting out a whimper that sounded like something a dog might yell at night.  His brother gave Larry a few kicks to the chest, not even looking to see if anyone was around.  I stood silently watching.  I wasn’t in shock as much as I didn’t have any plan of action.  Pat was out for a bike ride when it happened, and I couldn’t leave Rebecca who was scratching at the screen door behind me.  Larry ended up sprawled on the ground, silently quivering, arms slumped weakly over his eyes, blocking out his brother’s shadow.

            “The town wants to put you away, I’m not fighting ‘em now.  I done it for too long.  You ain’t in there no more.  There ain’t no person in that body.”

            I waited for his brother’s truck to fade from the driveway, and I brought a towel over to help Larry clean up, leaving Rebecca in front of the TV.  There was already a small swell of fluid forming under his eye that looked like some sort of insect larvae, and a few inadvertent tears rolled along the wrinkles lining his face.   

“I’ll take it down,” he repeated to himself while I wiped the smudged dirt from his face.  “Put one up, I’ll take it down.”

I helped Larry to his feet, but he pushed away from me, shuffling up the back stairs and into his house, his weaker leg always dragging a little behind.  When I got back inside, Rebecca was asleep, curled up a few feet in front of the TV screen that was on one of the nature channels.  I lied down next to her and watched a group of hundreds of ants converge on a crab, slowly tearing it apart.

Larry fell out of that pick-up truck on a Friday about ten years ago.  He’d been drinking and playing poker with some other townies who all soak up dust like old trophies in a bar on Chestnut.  Some kids were messing with powders on the pool table next to them, and Larry threw a punch, breaking off the bottom corner of one kid’s tooth.  They said he was standing in a townie’s truck bed driving away from the bar and singing a Bob Dylan song when he was thrown into a guard rail, his head suffering initial impact. The paramedics found a piece of his skull on the pavement.  It took him three weeks to come out of the coma.

A few months later, Larry’s wife found him with a shotgun in his mouth.  It was around then that she left, citing that particular incident, but Larry held that she felt like she was living with a ghost.  “She wasn’t even talking before she left,” he said one night when Pat and I had him over for dinner.  “Not that I ever had much to say, but she was never talking to me.”

Larry came over for dinner almost every night back then, right when we had first moved in and before he got worse.  When Pat and I had Rebecca, she grew up calling him, “Uncle Larry”, like the title might heal him.  He never held her, but he did love to look at Rebecca back when she couldn’t really move.  When she started crawling, he’d follow her around the living room, dragging his feet behind her, both of them silent and curious.           

Then, earlier this summer, around the day Rebecca ended her first year of school, Larry heard that his wife had died down in Florida.  She’d drowned in a resort pool one night after taking a handful of Oleptro and trying to swim off her burdens, a therapy method she’d picked up after jumping around from counselor to counselor and failing to find any use in her sessions.  I was with Larry unloading groceries when he got the call explaining all that had happened.  I could feel him trying to focus on it, to destroy it, but he couldn’t.  That was the last night he ate dinner with us.  The next morning he was in the garden.

The garden was something his wife had kept, a small plot behind their house, covered with different breeds of flowers laid out in rows.  From our kitchen window it looked like an empire, organized into towns and cities, each flying their own colors, as spectacular as it was concise.  Larry’s wife made great use of the small space she was allotted, perfectly manicuring each area, their borders never crossing. She wore a white hat when she worked back there, almost everyday, that had a small brownish ring around the top, residue from dedicated labor. 

When she left, Larry let it go untended, the empire crumbling, but most of the flowers still managed to bloom, so he would pull out a chair every spring before she died to sit and stare into the buds.  On those nights, when he would come over for dinner, his face was freckled with pollen.

After her death, he spent everyday in the garden, watching the plants, which were now being lost amongst opportunistic weeds, sway in the wind.  He lost weight rapidly, his once friendly beer gut receding, leaving all his shirts with plenty of stretched, unused fabric hanging down below his crotch.  By the time Irene hit, Larry was more shirt than man.

During Irene, Pat and I sat up and listened to the wind crash against the house, Rebecca sleeping quietly between us.  He kept talking about religion in the future, when the ocean starts to eat our cities.  “People won’t have these shells anymore, the ones we wear under our skin, these conglomerations of muscle and fat that keep heat in.  They won’t look like us.  They’ll soak through.  They’ll be all water, all ocean.”

“They’ll be starving?”

“No, they’ll want to be closer to God, and they’ll realize that He’s in the ocean.

“Why the ocean?”

“They’ll have no reason to believe that He’s not in the ocean.  It’s the one thing on earth that we can’t control, this force that is always moving, waves crashing into land.  To a certain distance, the tide will pull you back in, but past that, past where we can see, it pulls you away and down until you sink, without resistance, into absolute darkness.  That’s what most of the ocean is, a place where we would exist only as a consciousness, where shape and color doesn’t matter.

“So God is a collection of our consciousness?”

“No, God is the ability to isolate our consciousness from our body.”

“Then why not worship the blackest corner of space?  Couldn’t God be there, in that darkness?  Shouldn’t we worship that?”

“No.”

“What’s the difference?”

“We can touch the ocean.”  Somewhere outside we heard wood snapping, a weakened tree finally giving into the strength of the storm.

The Snapper

            From where I stand I can see two distinct buildings, their walls removed like an old doll house, but each alive and breathing.  The first is a home, full of motion, the entropic nature of life.  But there’s a tenderness to it, a glow moving from one spot, reaching outwards, like the lyrics to some old Soul song.  Before I look for the source, I head towards the second building, a bar, but it’s pretty much just any bar, or pub, it’s definitely a pub, why’d I say bar?  Shit, I shouldn’t have said bar.  I probably sounded like a fucker, huh?

So the pub, it’s exactly what I imagined, the sunny conversations, sounds of glasses coming down emphatically on wooden tables.  There’s a jukebox.  All that I expected.  All that I placed here in my mind before coming.  It’s strange.

A wearied gentleman sits next to me.  What a bizarre word to say, “gentleman”, but he was, though his voice was not.  – You got yerself any stout, there?  His voice was textured, you could feel it, kind of like a singer’s voice, where the words stick together so well, so smooth, even if its all kind of jumbled when you step away.  – I got to get outta here quick, now.  Didn’t yeh here?

I play into it, not really looking for another conversation, trying to avoid his steam-rolling voice.  – I have heard.  Better get a move on.  Can’t get caught here.

– Yer not from here.  Yeh heard wha’ I say?  Ah, nevermind ya.

And he’s gone, off to another table, but then the room starts to shift, as if I’m placing everything here, I’m controlling the room.  It’s as if the puppeteer has given me the strings, but not quite.  The people still have agency, so I’m more of a set designer.  This is my own geography.

But then it’s here, that glow, it found me.  There is a warmth to it, to everything, now, even the stout I drink rides smoother down my throat.  With every worry, I have a hand guiding me, gently.  So I turn and see her, with the bump, a big one, barely hiding beneath her clothes, and I know.  She sits next to me at the bar, and I turn to talk, but can’t, she’s not mine to save.  There’s already someone off-screen doing that, redeeming her, making all of this make sense, letting all of it be ok.  And I can see the lines here, drawn neatly between man and woman.  The men are simply here, screaming, babbling on like toddlers, their shirts ripped open.  But she orders a drink.  I see it happen.  And still I do nothing.

When it comes, and she raises it, my muscles tighten.  It feels like what I’d imagine rigor mortis feeling like, and I am still, but not calm, anything but calm.  When she begins to act like a man, her glow changes, lessens.  I close my eyes.  I can’t watch.

“She grabbed her bag from the counter. She unclasped and opened it quickly. It wasn’t a big bag but she got as much of her head as she could into it; her chin, her mouth and her nose. Then she puked. It was a quick rush of vodka and Coke and a few little things. Then up with her head and she shut the bag.

“Jackie gave her a paper hankie. She wiped her mouth and opened the bag a bit and threw the tissue in on top of the vodka and the rest. She held the bag up (Doyle, 206).”

It’s awful, the sound.  I could hear it.  Feel all of it.  Looking away was worse than actually experiencing it.  It’s the lowest point on the graph, and I’m here for it, soaking in it.  I feel sick, too.

But then something strange happens.  Everything subsides.  The worry, the queasiness.  I feel like I’m resting, like a child being tucked into bed.  Most of us here are just children, anyway.  And somehow, I know that this had to happen.  All of it had to or else we’d keep telling the same stories.  This all happened to stop those stories from being told again, repeated, maybe.  It was comfort food.  I think of Beckett, how he put himself in his own story, not as a character, but as an idea, and I see something like that here too.  Only now it enlightens, gives us the perspective we’ve been missing, shows us the humanity in this bar, in this town.  Everything here may be my geography, but it’s certainly not my creation.  I didn’t make these people.  Whoever is pulling the strings here, the ones that make me feel this way, gets it.  Finally gets it.  And I’m ready to drift through an ending of my own.

The Ending to The Story, Here

Later on, on that night we saw Larry shoot the rabbit, I sat up watching him with only the moon interfering, while Pat put Rebecca to bed.  The night before, a couple of cops had come to our door asking about our relationship with Larry.  They wanted to know if we’d ever seen him fire on animals that were outside his yard.  “Now a man has a right to protect his land,” the younger, more interested officer had said, “but once he fires at animals on protected lands, like those fields behind his house, and your house, there, well, we have to take action.”

The men didn’t say it, but we could tell they were canvassing to put Larry away.  When they didn’t find willing participants in Pat and I, they moved on.  I knew the rest of our neighborhood would not be so kind.  By now, mostly everyone had heard about Larry firing on his brother, and all it took was one mention of that story and they’d have him.  Larry was not long for this town or for civilization.

As I watched over him, considering the days out in front, seeing each path and its end point, like green signs lining the highway, I noticed a lithe shadow slinking through the fractured fence.  It moved on four legs in smooth, direct strides, finding its way to the barrel of Larry’s gun.  When it came under the moon’s reach, I was unable to recognize what exactly the creature was.  Its sharply muscled and thinly furred legs were fragmented with sturdy, rounded feet that sprouted what looked like curled talons.  Next to Larry’s gaunt frame, the creature seemed large, though its own protruding ribs betrayed this intimidation.  More than anything, I could sense that the creature was starving.  It had this aggressive hunger about it, like the type of hunger you imagine during late night infomercials set in poverty, the type of feeling that makes you want to eat everything you could possibly consume so that you will never have to feel that way, so that you will never have to feel your insides shrinking deeper into themselves.

Larry broke his gaze from beyond the fence and brought his eyes to the animal in front of him.  Their breathing patterns matched up, and the creature showed Larry his teeth.  Caked in dried blood and with holes rotted through the sides, the long rows of kniving enamel came to abrupt, sharpened ends, and a small snarl snuck through the slight gaps where they were unable to overlap.  Larry dropped his gun, throwing his hands to the side.  I screamed for Pat, and Larry turned to spot me at my kitchen window, the veins in his forehead trying to cleave their way out.  The creature lunged, and I dropped below the windowpane, my head hiding between my own clunky knees.  I could hear the sound of bones breaking violently in the distance.

Another Ending, Actually Here

The library is silent.  It’s late.  Some water droplets have condensed on my Sprite can, which I consider leaving but decide to carry out, proudly.  I’m wearing headphones, so all I hear is,

“Okay, I think by now we’ve established
Everything is inherently worthless
And there’s nothing in the Universe.
With any kind of objective purpose
And you can scream for a hundred years.
Split that sky with a thousand curses
To tell the evil that men do,
Honey, you wouldn’t even scratch the surface.
Too many implications
Not enough time to make them explicit
Too many generalizations
Not enough time to make them specific” (Stickles, 2013).

It’s an abrasive verse but ultimately becomes liberating as I climb the stairs to my dorm room.  We make art to disprove this type of thesis.  There must be something of worth.

Then I get to thinking about Larry, hear him talking in fragmented words, like someone shaved them down around the edges.  And I think about love as an Empire.  I think about the ruins, the inhumanity, the poverty that Swift wrote about, the prison of language, and then the creature, eating everything whole, all of it, you, me, Mr. Beckett.  It eats it all.

When I hear the door close behind me, I think about opening up the books again, seeing what I missed the last time around, but I’m asleep before I can even unzip my backpack.

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