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Foothills

Thursday 6/10/21

Wrote the first 2500 words of a new short story, started the John Coltrane/Ascension feature, wrote an op-ed on the British version of The Office. Last night in bed I worked some more on the Beatles chapter about the first take of "A Day in the Life." Can connect it to Arthur Alexander and rhythm and blues, which is unlike any way the song has ever been discussed. Everything in this Beatles book is utterly unlike anything ever written about the band. This, meanwhile, is from the new story. Again, it's top-level writing, multiple forms of top-level writing, every single damn day.


“She is a sixteen-year-old child,” Edward said, as if restating the facts of a case for a non-existent jury, unless he counted his wife, while simultaneously thrusting a hand into a robe pocket for loose change, his suburban dad version of geologizing in the foothills of Old Virginia.


He wasn’t sure how coins always seemed to end up in the cubby-holes of his cope—it was positively chambered with pockets—as if they were metallurgical foundlings that leapt to his person for conveyance and safekeeping in the lean economy of couch-issued currency.


Edward looked forward to tallying up the receipts and dumping his funds into the limited edition souvenir bowl on his dresser of Elvis rocking hard during his Comeback Special that had been procured at Graceland when he and Courtney drove back North from Sarasota after his father had died. His dad had been a judge and he talked like one to the last.


“Shall we have us some final words?” the old man who wasn’t that old had said after the hospice nurse propped him up in his bed, transforming the mattress into a buckled steppe of pillows and foam braces so that gravity could work its effect on the phlegm blocking the throat, and the judge might address counsel before the adjournment of adjournments.


The nurse made Edward think of a young Courtney, with a slightly scalloped ridge of unofficial, uneven bangs—bangs of a certain, stylist-free primacy—that heightened the color of her eyebrows, which in turn impelled the green eyes to up their color game and glow brighter than they otherwise would.


A silly thought. Courtney wasn’t much older herself. Maybe this was the college-type version of the Courtney-esque daughter they’d have. He felt so vulnerable to images in the air conditioning of his father’s final room.


“What are you thinking, son?” his dad asked.


Edward remembered old photographs of men like Babe Ruth and Lon Chaney, titans regarding whom it must have been hard for people at the time to conceive of as capable of dying, let alone so young, with their captions reading, “Possibly the last photo of so and so ever taken,” like there was no way of truly knowing. It struck Edward that his father may have just called him “son” for the final time.


“I have a question,” Edward said.


“Shoot,” the judge replied through his tubes.


“When we were kids, and you took me and Justine out in the woods geologizing, and you tapped a rock with a hammer and it broke open, how did you always know there’d be a geode inside? Because there wasn’t when we did it.”


“You feel the concavity if you handle enough rocks. A sort of bend of the inside. Just experience.” His blackening eyes danced a little. His father always enjoyed a joke. “Did you think it was magic, son?”


“No,” Edward answered, grateful for hammers and rocks and dads.


“He needs to rest now,” the nurse said, piercing and punctuating the moment. She couldn’t have been much out of school. Whole life in front of her. His too. And his wife’s. But theirs did not feel that way to him in that room.


“Okay,” he answered, rising.


“You rest up, dad,” he said to the man who was already asleep, knowing he wouldn’t see him alive again, and nodded to the girl.


“Thank you,” he mouthed, then shot her a quick thumb’s up, hoping she’d interpret it as the quiet, dignified version, and not the “You rock!” style.


Elvis rocked hard at that Comeback Special. You could see it in the damn bowl, before too many coins were piled atop the various depictions of the mercurial boy wonder from Tupelo. The way he shook those hips in his badass black leather outfit. Elvis had something to prove. He let you know it, and then he let you see him showing it. Elvis was admirable that way.


“We need to get this,” Edward had said to Courtney in the Graceland gift store, a bijou-based, officially-licensed tidal wave of rockabilly bric-a-brac and concomitant images from svelte prime years.


“Okay,” she said. “How much is it?”


He turned the bowl over in his hands. “It’s $19.99,” he replied, triumphant. Elvis was admirable indeed.


Bedroom, robe-clad Edward thought of that day now for some reason, as he scooped the coins from his pocket, powering past a Kit Kat wrapper to make sure he got down into the deepest corners and furrows, and held them out to the light for evaluation and accounting.

One clean dime, plus a scuzzy green swamp monster of a dime that the Creature from the Black Lagoon might have plugged into a jukebox circa 1955, a Bicentennial quarter. 45 damn cents. Not enough for a drying cycle in his college days.


Courtney sat on the corner of the bed in that way of hers like she’d positioned herself in the doorway of an airplane, wanting to pick precisely when it’d be best to parachute into France to bolster the Allied invasion. Sometimes she bounced a little on her haunches, as if warming up for sex, doing her version of stretches in the outfield. She had tidied the old birthday and Christmas cards from his mother that Edward kept next to the King’s coin bowl. He didn’t like when she noticed that they were still there, much less acted as curator.


“She is a sixteen-year-old kid,” he repeated. “And this fucking other kid—“


He let the words trail off with what he hoped was the suggestive menace of a tire iron near to hand, or a rock, minus a concavity, to cave in a skull.


“You will lose your daughter,” Courtney said, making the words seem like there were five unholy minutes between each of them.


He picked at the corner of one of the cards on the dresser. They were all sharp, crisp, mint condition, had come that way in the mail, and he’d been careful not to crease or compromise the structure of the envelopes, save the one card with its crushed, wadded, baggy edge, which he squeezed a lot, as though it was a shrunken, salmon-colored bellows in paper form.