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"Apples in Oranges," short story excerpt

Tuesday 9/8/20

This is a fucking good one.


*


I grew up next to this kid who’d go out into his driveway and piss on himself. We were like seven or eight and it’d be January and he’d run around, stop—his spraddled legs locked under him—and fire up at his own face. Steam came off cheeks and neck like he’d just been broiled. I used to be baffled by people cooking hotdogs that way, if it was even technically cooking. His name was Chela, which we thought was a fucked up name, so there was a kind of accordance. “Walk it off!” he’d yell, same as your baseball coach said or your dad when you were hurt but not seriously. You’d also get “spit on it,” or “rub some dirt on it.” Each to his own. Chela apparently believed in pissing on it. “Walk it off!” he'd shout again, then run back into his house. Sometimes I’d see him reading in a window seat off of their kitchen. I’d been in there once when our school had a field trip and Chela didn’t go. We went apple picking. I brought him a bag of green apples so he didn’t have to miss out entirely, plus my mom told me to. He had on a tight sweatshirt and his hands were inside of it. Arms down his side, as if he was in an institution that doubled as a pantry. His mom watched us like she was watching me babysit someone else. “What do you say, Chela?” she said when I put the bag of apples down on the table in the kitchen. “I already said thank you,” he told her. “Sorry,” he said to me.

***

I knew this kid in college who said that “rapine” means rape, but it was classier. Elizabethan poets indulged in a spot of rapine, which could be gentlemanly, ironically enough. A spot was a unit of measurement with no precise value, usually for grog, which sounds like it’d be beer but was more regularly rum or gin, or both mixed together. My understanding of a spot was that you’d say that was all you wanted, as though it’d be a small amount, but then you’d get plowed and it still fell under the umbrella of a mere spot. I was embarrassed because a few minutes before he’d been in my ass and he said that it was a mess, so he’d go fast to finish up and then we’d jump in the shower, but the showers were all full in his dorm, and we had to wait and just lay there. That’s when he told me about the rapine. To kill time. He was a meathead who thought he was ethereal, which I pretended as well. He’d say, “I really like you Kate, there’s an amalgamation here,” and I thought that was great. Powerful and learned and no reason to laugh in his face at all, and laugh in mine, if you can laugh in your own face. We only did it that way in the morning—usually before football games, as it turned out—and he had checked that the showers weren’t full before we started, which made me feel like shit, though it contained a certain amount of sense. “Okay, we’re good to go,” he’d say, coming back in.

***

I read a lot of science fiction when I was a kid. My dad liked the old sci-fi movies, but I liked the books best. When there was a book version of a movie I’d read that and then we’d watch together. “That’s different,” I’d say. “She’s a new character. The aliens spoke in their own language in the book, they didn’t use English.” My father found this all quite interesting. “Will you lend me the book?” he’d often ask. “If you love it, you can keep it,” I said to him, because I wanted him to be so into those books like I was, and I knew he’d let me borrow them. He always gave them back to me right away, though, and then we’d watch the films again. We enjoyed spotting the differences in things. “Plus, it’s important,” he said. “Same as when knowing not to compare.” I didn’t get that at all then. Which I figure he probably knew. You get it later. I thought he meant that apples and oranges things people always say. A music critic once likened Chopin’s music to cannons buried under flowers. My dad understood that there were things not like oranges inside of oranges. Sometimes they were like apples.

***

When Bob Dylan played with the Band at the house they called Big Pink in rural New York in 1967, they were doing something no one in music was doing. Everything by everyone else was psychedelia, or proto-metal, or fuzz-box garage music, but Dylan and the Band played this skeletal Americana way off by themselves. The guys in the Band would be like, “Is this really what we’re doing?” as if they were uncertain that you were allowed to proceed that way, and Dylan said, “Yeah, yeah it is,” and as they did it, it made sense to them. Because they didn’t compare. “You’re so young to be widowed,” a man in a bar said to me, after he had asked me my story, thinking he was trying to pick me up, but I was trying to pick him up. He segued into “So what’s your story?” shortly upon sucking down his third rum and Coke. A spot of it, you might say. Is it possible to answer that question the way that the person asking it wishes it to be answered—in a couple sentences, and ideally one—if you’re not utterly simple or even if you are? So I just said I’m a widow, aiming to get back in the swing of things. In time. Alone in a bar at one in the morning spoke for itself. Which was the story as he wished to know it. The real story? I thought of that when I was under him and he had done what I asked and kept his shirt so I could cry into a shoulder without him knowing anything was wrong and I was so desperate to move on with my life and unable to meet my desperation with hope or drive. So I forced myself to do things I hated. I ossified. I had to break bones or be all bone. That was the real story. When and why and to whom do you tell real stories? The answer comprises the real story. In many ways it is the entire story of every story.