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"Orange Needles", excerpt

Sunday 1/5/20

I have begun work on a new story called "Orange Needles." Motherfuck this is good, this is special. These people are so fucking alive. I'm pretty sure at this point that for one of these new story collections, that being Slide Into My DMs: (Connection) Stories (in a Disconnected Age), that every single story will be narrated by a female character and/or feature a female character as the protagonist. Which no male author could do right now, has ever done, or would dare to do right now. The first three stories will be "Fitty," "Take a Leg," "Jute." No male author does this, period. What every other writer does is they just write about themselves, more less, they make characters--two-dimensional, artificial, stick-figure characters--that are people just like they are. They trade on race and they trade on gender, they do Wokeness and buzz words and have characters say "non-binary" a lot in dialogue because they have absolutely no fucking stories to tell. They take people from their boring lives, they change their names, they write boring stories about being a boring professor. I inhabit all. This is another reason for them to hate me, that they will say I am breaking the rules, I am going out of my "lane," they will bemoan, "fucking hell, he can do this, too?", but I can know all, I inhabit all, I can be all, in my art, in what I create. "Fitty" absolutely changed me. I always had more colors than anyone, but it was like I was only using half of my paintbox. I am going to climb the Monument now, but excerpt here:


***


The word occurring to me when I see a salamander is “membranes.” Most people who are similarly not of a scientific mind nonetheless think different words, I believe. “Slime” and “slick”—“spotted,” which a lot of them seem to be. The salamanders, that is.


The first salamander I ever held had orange spots, which wasn’t the only orange on its back, if you looked under the membranes, the term I give to skin you can see through. Gelatin skin. There were splinters of orange pine needles, like it had been rolling around in a forest from which greens had raced, leaving remnants of revenants, the squash-colored bodkins carpeting the ground, and the spindle-frames of denuded trees that were like upright sewing needles themselves.


I imagined the salamander playing at making needle-angels, like my daughter Dia and I used to get on our backs in the front yard, fashioning snow-seraphs by a frozen birdbath assailed by woodpeckers who drilled and drank.


I’d wonder if they were conscious of, or they just didn’t care about, the assaying jays, perched in branches overhead, who’d come raining down, a white-striped azure wave, beaks primed for battle, when the water had risen through the holes. But the woodpeckers seemed content with early gulps and a peaceful departure. And it wasn’t like the jays ever stayed long after.


“You cannot say no, please,” Dia said to me when she was the age I had been then, when the woodpeckers had their run. My daughter has always dispensed with contractions when she views a matter as paramount. I made the observation to her when she was a kid, and for a long time after she thought the tallest mountains were paramounts like some people think “penultimate” means extra-ultimate. Or like I think membrane means skin you can see through.


She’s long been someone who makes me think about how things become embedded in us. I am not a tattoo person and I do not have any, but when I look at my skin I can see what has happened to me in it, the colors and the shapes, the heat-pattern temperature grids and graphs, the spots and the splinters.


There were only orange needles on the ground of the lake house we still have. People say, “Why do you keep it? Jack was the nature guy, I thought that was not your thing?” He liked to boat. He said it as a verb. Never a gerund, never “Let’s go boating,” but always “Let us boat.” He’d say it as a joke, a pronouncement of regality, but when Dia was little she thought that was her father’s special way of talking when he really cared about something, so she became a contraction-dropper. And it stuck. And he cracked me the hell up. Whereas my daughter, that was different—she was about listening up.