Let's play the week game for last week. I don't like talking about the past and it is Thursday morning now, so we are deep into this week, but I just composed two short stories this AM--which is insane--and another one on Monday, after staring one Sunday, and talking on the radio Tuesday, so, yes, I will allow the quick look back.
Last week I climbed the Monument a person best fifty times. This included a personal best of three straight days in a row with at least ten climbs, and a single day best of twenty straight climbs. Twenty. Twenty! The Monument has stood since 1843, and no one has ever done that.
An op-ed on baseball as the wisest sport ran in The Wall Street Journal. It was touch-and-go for a bit, going into Monday, the day before it had to run, on account that the piece looked at a photo that I would venture that less than 200 people in the world know even exists--or knew then; many more know now--for which there was no attribution. This required a certain of reasoning and diplomacy on my part, to make sure the piece ran, given that we could not--immediately--document attribution, but the editors were fair and heard me out, and I think that went well. Had a good long segment on Downtown discussing horror films from 1959-1973, but we got into some other stuff as well. Also, there were the various blog entries, naturally, as there always are.
And I wrote four complete stories: "Jute," circle (the title being the actual shape of a circle), "Mummers," and "Cine."
"Jute" is told by a woman who leaves her husband in bed, walks down to the water where they live, a cliff. She is pregnant--or was--and she witnesses a scene play out repeatedly, in which a man, from another time period, rows a dingy beneath the woman, on the rocks above, and throws what seems to be a child--a lifeless child--into the water. Excerpt:
My husband I leave in bed. If he is aware that I go, I do not know it. At night he is sessile. He has told me that as a boy he often walked in his sleep. Our systems excel at purgation. I used to be allergic to bees. My throat closed once. A friend’s father put a stick down my mouth. I could breathe. Otherwise I would not have become pregnant with my first child. When I go at night the child is also sessile. No jarring. He does not kick. Painted ship. Upon a painted sea. Belly sea.
The air smells of conifers, pulled roots, table salt, stewed tea. Used galoshes; coconut, rum-drizzled. We do not have a cliff in our town, but there are rocks and boulders akin to stairs, dropped by giants, before they could organize something tidier. Ashlar face observing the sea, crags like broken lumps of forehead, granitic pustules, displaced nodes, cubic veins. Incrusted. Barnacle pores. Top of the head, a landing. Lookout point. Lobotomized skull. Flat ground. Matted grasses, creeper skeins, roots having broken the skin of the earth, no longer subcutaneous, nowhere else to advance. A copper bench made from old weather vanes melted into each other. Once atop the barns that used to be in our town.
Circle is about a man in the woods, who is not going to get out of the woods. He is on the ground. He's injured, badly, he's going to die there. He comes to to see a wolf--a single wolf--standing before him, and then moving in a circle around him. He knows a lot about wolves. What they do, how they will target the jugular vein. He's not just in this moment, he's in his past, his recent past, and he has a decision to make. To allow this creature--and there is a bond between them--to do what it is going to try to do, ending his life in mere seconds--he knows how long it will take--or try, somehow--the means he uses is insane; it is absolutely nuts--to defend himself, which will ultimately mean, if he's successful, that his death will take longer and be more painful. Excerpt:
His thoughts paused, lingered on the way he referenced “Shattered” in his mind as an old Rolling Stones song.
Normally he thought about songs from the 1960s as old songs. “Satisfaction.” “Ruby Tuesday.” “Get Off of My Cloud.” Not songs from the 1970s. “Shattered” was from 1978. Off of Some Girls. What you remember when you do. It was likely the context. A speeding up and sifting. Definitely the context. How the mind thinks at the end. Present in the moment. This was a unique opportunity. He’d know what was happening. Perhaps that would serve him well with where he went to next. He tried to be open. If this has to happen, be open to all possibilities. It was going to happen.
Again he tried to move himself at the waist. A wiggle. Then pressing forefinger to his hip as he lay on the ground. Not two fingers at once, just one. Two felt like a second opinion. A considered second opinion. One left wiggle room, ironically. Interpretatively. There did not feel as if there was anything solid inside the hip. Bread crumbs in a bag for the Thanksgiving stuffing. Last Thanksgiving only weeks before. Made it up with Martha. Still didn’t think he was wrong to have expected his sister to give up her friendship with his ex-wife. The affair hadn’t been his. Missed his kid. Always missed his kid. Shit wife doesn’t mean bad mom. Still. Your sister. Your back. Former ought to have the latter. But need to find a way to resume. Even if. Life isn’t anything else. So. Made it up with Martha.
The sweat dripped from one place above his forehead. A single lock of hair. Like a diving board. Coiled board. A board that was really a spring. Second grade teacher told him he had tresses. Hadn’t known what that it meant. Looked it up. Said he was pretty for a boy. Kept him in at recess a lot. The sounds of kids outside always felt like they were made with rubber. Sneaker rubber. Their voices, too. He had been cold for hours. Now this heat. It was like having pneumonia. “Rockin’ Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu.” Huey “Piano” Smith. Cool middle name. Hadn’t heard that song in much longer than “Shattered.” Should have listened to it more. His hand had fused to the ground as he slept. Some skin came off when he pulled it free again. Skin already turned yellow on the topsoil. Maybe it was the hoarfrost. Perhaps the wolf did not know about the breadcrumbs in his hip. Wanted to play it safe. Lest he spring up, counterattack. Mount a first attack. Maybe that could be coming. This was quite new, even if certain familiar themes persisted.
"Mummers" is a ballet story. Of sorts. A mummer's play is a kind of drunken, English holiday celebration, a skit with a dragon, usually. A man in this story has a bar he goes to about once a year, where he sees a kinda/sorta friend in the bartender, and another man, who enacts something annually. He does this for reasons that emerge as we go along, before the visiting man departs, his wife waiting for him in her car outside. Excerpt:
Every year at Christmas, Ned the bartender reminds me not to ask my friend Hutton about his daughter the ballet dancer. “Don’t do it, man,” Ned will say. His voice never rises above a certain decimal level, but it is always audible. He is the kind of guy that you knew in college who would preside. A presider. A holder of court. A little overweight, always in his dorm room freshman year, comfy slippers, maybe a robe. He’d tell you that your taste in music was bad. The sort of kid who knew about better beers, which he thought were things like Newcastle Brown Ale. You didn’t know.
“Friend” is perhaps too strong a claim to lay. I only see Hutton once year, with few exceptions. One exception was on a Thanksgiving. My wife and daughter were in Connecticut and I had stayed home because of work. There was a dance recital competition, all of the best ballet dancers in the tri-state area for mid-teens. They were excited. So I went to the bar, lone pilgrim. There’s a field across the street where a fire house used to be and we chucked the football around, with Ned keeping an eye on the door in case a customer came in. We ran pass plays. Ned was the quarterback and me the receiver, with Hutton on defense, and he’d get in there and bust up the play almost every time, swat the ball to the ground. You’d think he was Ronnie Lott.
There won’t be more than three, four people in the bar when I get there at night and it’s near Christmas. Ned is like a man you grew up with but with whom you lost touch so all of your memories date to when you were fourteen, fifteen, and you wonder if that’s enough for a relationship now, but I didn’t grow up with him. He shakes his head when I say, “sure sure” and walk down to the far end of the bar where Hutton always sits. Hutton seems to be the only person who can’t always hear Ned. Maybe it’s selective hearing, but I don’t think he’s that kind of man.
It feels like it’s always just snowed outside when I see Hutton. I stomp my boots. Water splashes off the floor and splashes up on the backs of my jeans at the calves. “Hey, Hut,” I say, and that sounds like a football term. I don’t want him to think I’m referencing that time at Thanksgiving when he broke up all of those passes. He’s put on a lot of weight since then. I’ve dropped a lot. This is the only time of the year I drink now. Because I cannot be drinking, but I allow myself this one night, for old Hutton.
"Cine" takes place in October 1940, in London, during the Blitz. A man is alone in a cinema where no one else is, no employees seem to be either, a cinema that only plays horror films. Monster movies. He believes himself unable to leave, and not because the Nazis are dropping bombs outside. A woman comes to fetch him, and they attempt to leave together. Excerpt:
There were solely monsters on the screen. Not doughty suitors. Rakehell pirates. Sharp-tongued spinsters. Loose-limbed comedians. Hoary tragedians. Madcap sidekicks. He would only attend monster shows. The bombs that shook the theater made him feel like he was in a tea kettle. Bouncing atom. Lone bouncing atom. No one took a ticket, nor funds. No ushers with flashlights, as if everything during the Blitz needed to have gone dark, save for the screen, where the monsters played, and it was important that they did so. No ushers. A fallen house of them.
Karloff’s Frankenstein creation came to life tethered to a night sky riven by shocks of light. Pinioned to bolts. The celestial rack. Like being raped by energy made visual. He was confident as he strode the streets. Confident that no bombs or flying detritus would compromise his unarmored self. This would not be how he’d get got. A monster knows how it will come, if it comes.
Initially he thought he would see fellow wanders, defiers of ordinances to remain inside, requirers of ambulation, those whom no solace could reach; the blackened ends of human galaxies. Dirt landed upon his head, ash. Never stone, pavement, piercing wooden arrow. Mortal splinter. The monsters protected him, he thought, but at a cost. Each time it was harder to leave the theater. He was more vulnerable, his powers instead at their apogee as the films played. He walked up to the screen, embraced Lugosi’s Dracula. If the sound of the bombs cancelled out the words of the vampire, he replaced them in their stead, touched the throat of victims when it seemed that the count might waver.
He could feast on this form of light. The beam from the projectionist’s room. There was dust in it. A trillion lifeforms. The blood is the life, Lugosi intoned—or he would personally intone himself, when Lugosi faltered, relishing the sepulchral quality of his apt sibilance—but the devil was in the details of particles, never the whole, always the pieces. He slept under chairs. Seat-bottomed coffin lid. The floor was not sticky. There were even untenanted cobwebs. No one had been here for a long time. But the beam went on. Perhaps a machine had been rigged a certain way.