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"Fitty"; excerpt

Tuesday 7/16/19

You cannot write better than this. The story--which is now over 3000 words--will most likely be completed tomorrow. Jesus Christ this is good. And when will anyone ever see it? Also wrote an op-ed today on censorship that is not going to be published.


Approaching from the hallway side, the balusters of the staircase, from the corner of the eye, came together like a multi-part face, an ashlar face.


One was conscious of the presence of a face, while simultaneously aware that it would dissolve into architectural forms upon being directly witnessed.


Perhaps all faces were that way. The child was gone, and yet Carlene heard a child upstairs, in this house that was not hers, in the ever-so-slight altitudinous distance beyond the face, where a scalp would have been, if this had really been a face, and not a staircase in a home where a child had lived.


“It is like when you lose something,” she would tell Dr. Pettigran, “and you play that game in your head. ‘I would give this from my life—six months, a year, a day off of it—to find that thing right now.’ It’s usually something connected to you. Not your keys, not your travel mug. Notes you had written to yourself after a crisis to begin moving again. The kind of list you write out twice, in better handwriting the second time.”


“Would anyone else hear this voice?” Dr. Pettigran asked.


“No. I don’t think so. But stairs have a way of saying things. Like when you’re getting old. Maybe more.”


Dr. Pettigran made a tight-lipped smile to show that he understood the little joke, and that he understood that it was not only a joke.


No child was present in the house. Nor a child’s parents. The parents were off together, in some faraway, but drivable spot—a cabin, a motel, vacation home, a succession of removed-places with beds—to try and heal from The Event. For two weeks. Maybe less if they decided that two weeks was too long an amount of time to continue to know each other. Carlene remembered when her father was dying a friend had said, “we often have to help people to die,” and maybe marriages were like that, too.


“You’ve never gone up after you have heard this child?” Dr. Pettigran resumed.


“I feel like I cannot. Immobilized. Like I am in that elevator and it is hurtling to the ground and you pour that liquid. You think it should come out but it wouldn’t. Though your mind can’t really go there until you see it.”


“And you think that the voice is Fitty?”


“I don’t need to think.”


When Fitty was in sixth grade, Carlene had come out of her classroom, looking forward to reconnecting with her husband, and seen this small child, time and again, at the top of the flight of stairs leading to the next floor of the school where the science and math classes were taught. She tried to give the child a smile each time, figuring that the girl, with a book on her lap, as she sat, after the school day, did not notice her.


“I remember who you were,” Fitty said later, when she was old enough to be in Carlene’s class. “You were that woman who always smiled at me when I was playing pennies.”


“What’s playing pennies?”


“When I didn’t want to go home after school, and I wanted to read, I’d sit in the hallway, and sometimes to take a break from reading. You know how I can get involved in my reading.”


“I do.”


“Even then I could read the fuck out of things.”


“Fitty…”


“Sorry. Anyway, I’d put my pennies on the ground and move them around into shapes and make designs that made me think of what I had just read, or stories that I might write someday. It wasn’t a very good game. But you always looked up and smiled at me.”


“I didn’t think you noticed.”


“It was part of the game, but by then it wasn’t. It was something that happened.”

In her home, Carlene had stood at the top of the stairs leading to the small living room, toweling off from her shower. Jake was on a date. He would probably not be home until morning. The young girl looked up at her, her mouth open. She seemed confused, happy. But lost, wondering. Carlene had an initial fillip of reaction that here instantaneously was the child. She hadn’t expected to see Fitty, despite how she would come and go. The door was never locked. Nor had she the heart to tell her that it would be better to phone first but that was because she didn’t want to hurt herself by feeling like she had hurt the child. They moved closer to each other, the one going up, the other descending, reaching the midpoint of the stairs, where they sat, sides touching, Carlene moving the towel across her midsection, breasts warming as her body dried.


“You shave it?” Fitty asked.


“I do.”


“Does it feel better?”


“Some things can feel better.”


“I came by to drop this book off and get another.” She produced a volume of Chekhov stories from under her thigh. There was dirt under her nails, new pimples on her nose. The book was in the same condition as it was when Carlene lent it to her.


“I get nervous about your books,” Fitty had said. “They’re so nice.” Carlene could always tell from the state of her nose and her fingernails when she had last showered. She refrained from making an offer.


When Fitty’s mom had been with Carlene’s husband, Carlene had left the house for the evening, gone to visit her sister, stayed overnight. It was a one-time thing, when they had first opened up their marriage.


“Well, you could think of it as a justice fuck,” Carlene had said over a light dinner—she understood Jake’s reasoning there—and her husband had been surprised by her terminology.


“That’s not how you normally talk.”


“What? I can’t be jazzed by a justice fuck?”


“You are very alliterative today, Mrs. Anselmo,” he had said. He thought it was cuter than she did to lapse into student mode at his age of thirty-two, but she inwardly deemed it sweet that he believed it did something for her, like when his thumb went wandering.


Carlene would watch Fitty, out in the school parking lot, reach up to hug her father on the days when he did not stay after class with students and he drove her home, and he half-hugged her with one arm, whether he had his bag or not.


The child would reach upwards—always upwards, because she was so short—as if celestially stretching, moving towards and beyond you, eyes closed, slowly reaching lest you be startled as this was not a perfunctory clasp and two pats on the back, more like an indoctrination, bestowed in tandem. Her chin-length hair was dyed purple, with the texture of sisal, a mid-teen fastforwarded in time from the woven cover of an incunable, such was the feeling of communion she radiated, to your arms, to later still under a pair of headphones in which the Ramones would rock as the child thought.


“He’s a fucking prick, that father,” Carlene had said, when it was over, about Fitty’s dad, Reginald, Reg, her social studies colleague. “He’s a dick to her because she’s gay. He’s simple. Stupid.”


Jake told her what Fitty’s mom said to him after they they had been together several times the evening that Carlene had spent at her sister’s, how she was going to reach up into herself, daub her fingers in his seed, coat her lips, and give her husband a big kiss. “That will take him aback,” she added, then she cried. Jake had not known what to say. So he made her tea. She recognized the volume of Coleridge, lying on the nightstand, as it had also been on Fitty’s nightstand, in her bedroom, before the child returned it.


“My daughter absolutely adores your wife. She’s been a good friend to her.”


“It’s mutual,” Jake had said, with a kiss above the ear, where the hair was curled thicker and tucked back.