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"Captain Enclave," short story excerpt

Saturday 7/24/21

The writer knew what he’d do. That’s it. He’d call some people with whom he’d gone to graduate school. They’d provide sufficient succor—sweet, saving encomiums—to wrest him from this mire of self-doubt. (He’d tried reading Beowulf again. Just couldn’t get through that sucker.)


Tell him how splendiferous the new words were. That hot new prose which took four months to write, but which he’d pass off as “a little something I did tonight,” because perception was vital.


He used “splendiferous” often in his thoughts as a placeholder before he could really dip into the thesaurus, which he equated to the luxurious thighs of a chubby woman.


He preferred chubby women. He didn’t tell anyone. Plus, there were his writing students. He’d been in certain journals they’d like to be in. Oh sure, they didn’t pay him. The free world had no clue what they were. But you could grease a lot of grad student pussy with the mere mentioning of such venues, he’d also tell himself, when he was drunk, which was often, on cognac he’d inherited by the case; his dad, who never had much time for the boy—being a sportsman, whereas the son thought the term “hockey puck” was a crass neologism that people said in plain view—was a collector. Didn’t even taste the stuff. Failed to understand that it possessed one of the writer’s very favorite words: utility.


But that cognac—hit the spot and filled a hole. Then he’d reorganize his thoughts that would be best to keep secret: definitely the bit about the placeholder—he had a lot of placeholder words before the thesaurus solved his problems; those chunky ladies whom he believed made the best wives, better still if they were white, just to maintain social congruity, if he was being splendiferously truthful, and they’d also do everything he didn’t want to do for himself; the screwing of the writing students which wasn’t even really his “bag”—a phrase he’d encountered in an old John Lennon interview and subsequently used at least thrice but no more than six times per day—but said screwing allowed him to regard himself as virile and helped to downplay his anxiety as per his gut; and obviously the trust fund.


He was an outstanding prosesmith. Another word he leaned hard on when he repeated the statement to himself as though it were on a loop. But everyone has doubts.


“Right?” he asked himself, spelling the world W-R-I-G-H-T in his mind, because he was trying to do this story about the Wright brothers, a work of fused historical fiction and magical realism, and the cognac had gotten between the lobes of his brain and fashioned these muddied motes that made it difficult for clearer thoughts to find their way.


“Fucking Charon,” he mumbled, then laughed, pleased at his own wit, and it was only half past eight on a Monday night.


He thought about whom he might call first. Certain people owed him a favor. They’d be quick with the praise, but it’d be sincere. He’d believe it. You can always tell by the tone of the voice when you’re desperate to believe something.


“All right, dude, sorry, I just can’t anymore. I think you’re talking to me, like you know I’m here, but I erred, you’re not, you’re babbling to yourself. And don’t call me an apparition, don’t reference Hamlet, I’ve had a long day, I know, I’m a little late, but let’s get down to it.”


The writer gasped over what, for half a second, he hoped was the strength of his own imagination in summoning forth this being who seemed to have emerged from the wastebasket next to his desk that contained pages and pages of his latest manuscript. His ms. Which is how he talked, because he dropped writer-y terms with regularity.


He’d made a joke with one of his students after he finished long, long, long before she did, and he lay on the bed as she attended to herself with a device that she’d brought along in her purse, because she’d heard certain things about him. Still, if you wanted to get in the magazine he was an associate editor at, and the third out of five on the masthead, you had to do what you had to do.


“That,” he said, after she finished shuddering, now that his hands were off of her, “is what we call the coda of a piece. A coda can be a nice kicker, even with an exceedingly long ms.” He was always happy to educate.


But now he quaked as Captain Enclave brushed away the balls of crumpled drafts from his person as if they were swamp burs, and went into his—well, not his act, but his routine. The duties of his station.


He spoke of the pockets of being. The recesses of who a person truly is. This guy wasn’t the most refulgent bulb on the old Yule evergreen, so he took some extra care.


“Lo,” declared Captain Enclave, because this was doubtless a man who loved a good lo, “I shall hit you with the definition of my surname! ‘Enclave: a distinct territorial, cultural, or social unit enclosed within or as if within a foreign territory.’ Boom. We are often foreign entities unto ourselves. You get it. Writer.”


The dust bunnies and wisps of pocket lint subtly orbiting Captain Enclave’s head had worked their effect, and the spell had taken hold. The calming agent, which Captain Enclave realized sounded a bit date rape-y, but he could upgrade the terminology later.


He expected a mellifluous sentence in response. Or, rather, a stunted, awkward, downright embarrassing version of one.


But instead the writer just began to weep. Not cry, mind you. Weep. The echo of each sob sounded like someone had hung up a starved crocodile with a bloated, aerated belly, and was beating its leathery stomach with a baseball bat.


“Now, now,” said Captain Enclave, after five minutes had passed, and the night was only getting older as he sat on the other side of this dude’s desk. What a pad this was, he thought. No way this wasn’t at least a two-million-dollar condo.


“I was just going to call some friends,” the writer said, having finally taken hold of himself, with a kind of mustache of mucus over his top lip. Gross. But Captain Enclave had seen worse in his line of work.


“Well…” came the response.


“What?”


“Well, I mean…”


“What?”


“Well, they’re not actually your friends, are they?”


The writer reached for more cognac, but Captain Enclave, who could move with stunning celerity when pressed, dashed the bottle to the ground, spilling it on the carpet that was two inches thick.


“No more tonight,” he said, the firmness of tectonic plates in his voice. “Look, brother man,” he continued, “I’ve been swimming through those drafts of yours. I get that you want to write a story about the Wright Brothers and how Orville lusts after Wilbur’s wife, but he has to put that aside so that they can focus on conquering the challenges of flight. And you’ve made him this voyeur, right?”


“I’m edgy.”


“Well…”


“I try to be edgy.”


Okay. Now they were getting somewhere.


“He’s in these closets, as I understand it, peeping, and each time he watches her, you write the same phrase.”


“It’s a leitmotif. And one true to life. It took me two years to land upon it.”


Captain Enclave picked up one of the balls of crumpled paper from the carpet, with the page now having turned partially brown because of he Cognac, and unrumpled it best he could.

“Okay, my guy, on this one page alone, you’ve written the phrase, ‘He started to erect,’ five times. People don’t talk that way, man. They don’t think that way. What do you believe would actually happen if you were talking to a friend and you were describing this woman you just couldn’t get out of your mind, and you said, ‘she makes me start to erect?’ They’d laugh at you. They are laughing at you.”


“Not mush fahnrns.”


“What?”


The writer was slurring his words, as was typical come nine o’clock on every Monday night.

“Not my friends,” he repeated, with some effort.


Captain Enclave did not want to crush this guy and say that he was a better friend to him than these people. These zombies. Those who said what they said so that what they wanted would be said back to them at a later date. Or in that precise moment. He felt bad for the man. Especially as he represented the voice inside of him, and good God these moments could be so damn hard. When someone just saw themselves. They sure as hell didn’t come along often.


“You don’t have to be this thing you’re not,” he suggested. “You don’t have to play at it. You don’t have to be good at it. It need not define you. What are you, like fifty? You can start again. And if that doesn’t work, start once more. And so on. You can land on what you need to land on. And who you really are.”


“I’m thirty-four,” the writer said. “I’m the second youngest professor with tenure in my department. My agent sent my story to the fourth best magazine there is for fiction eleven months ago when I was thirty-three. We’re still waiting. He hears good things. When you haven’t heard a no for that long, what it usually means is—“


His voice broke away in a sort of eternal ellipse. The dot-dot-dot of what the fuck do I do now? And: Could I ever be strong enough?


“I’ll call them tomorrow, maybe, my friends,” the writer said, hoping to Christ that he wouldn’t.


Maybe just a day in the woods instead. Clear his head. He could bring his abridged copy of Thoreau’s journals. He actually liked Thoreau. It wasn’t make-believe, though there was talk in important publications that Thoreau was a scold and, worse, “judge-y,” which also meant the dreaded M-word: misogynist. One of his pretend-favorite magazines had been quite critical of him, actually. He had several tote bags bearing their logo. Given some to students each time his subscription renewed.


“Your work should be in there,” they’d say, as if on cue, the moment the straps of the bag went around their wrist, voices striated with that forced enthusiasm he knew so well.


“I’m not that make of writer,” he’d demure. Once he said, “It’s not my bag,” failing to realize what he’d done. “I’m a realist,” he mumbled then, and he mumbled it again now, as he passed out with his face on his keyboard, and Captain Enclave blotted up the cognac on the carpet, so at least the guy wouldn’t have to wake up and find that his trust fund carpet was wrecked.