This isn't going to be what you might think it's going to be. First section of the new story, "Wingnuts." A wingnut is a name given to winged achene, which you probably most familiarly recognize in the form of maple seeds, also known as helicopter seeds, whirlybirds, helicopters, spinning jennys, whirligigs, polynoses; those seeds you peel open and wear on your nose. They are central to the story, which I am also tempted to call "Patriarchy," which would give editors heart attacks even if they liked me and I was a dyed in the wool system person they were trying to fete and advance, and wanted to put out my work at every opportunity. But work that can give such people heart attacks is work that can reach far and wide. Such works will be the works of a revolution and a rebirth--the rebirth of the reading experience. They just don't get that connection. Quick side note regarding "Fitty." A teacher read it the other day, a person whom I would say cares as much about the shooting epidemic as they care about anything. They're the second teacher to have read the story. Their initial expressed reaction: "Read 'Fitty' on Sunday...can't decide if it was the best time or the worst, given the events of the weekend. Very powerful...brought out the humanity, the failings, and the goodness that everyone possesses. Who knows which direction anyone will go under duress? I need to read it again."
From "Wingnuts," the first section in its entirety:
The way his daughter said the words she generally led with, as part of their little game, made him think of when he had seen the name of the Star Wars character R2-D2 rendered as “Artoo” on the packaging of an action figure.
Did the people at Kenner not know the correct name? Were they trying to be flexible? Maybe the craze, at the time, felt too faddish to necessitate checks and balances. Wasn’t like trotting a kid out into the world. Or trotting out after one.
Artoo. Fair enough.
Their game first began when they walked in the woods. She was five. He held out pussy willows, and told her what they were.
“Are not,” she said, laughing, incredulous, though he wasn’t sure what portion of the nomenclature had given her the mirthful pause.
“But they are,” he replied. “They actually are.”
She remained dubious, but granted, at least, a scrunched nose, this being her acknowledgment, via slight, olfactory acquiescence, that maybe her leg, in connection, was not being pulled.
Still, further explanation would definitely be required.
“Look, you hold them.”
He gave her the little clump that they’d later put in a beach pail, with some water, at her insistence, though he wondered if water for pussy willows was like water for twigs and made no difference at all.
“See how they feel like a little cat? That’s the pussy cat part. And the other part is just the tree part. So it actually makes a lot of sense.”
The nose de-scrunched, the mind deciding that the leg had been left alone. Probably.
Hitting various checkpoints of botanical accuracy in his thoughts, his internal voice took over. “Good on that one, good on that one, and that is also true, we are good,” after which his eyes, having rolled slightly skyward, turned again to the child.
That meant that she completely believed him, as they both knew this to mean.
Over time, she became the starter of the game. He would express incredulity. Such and such could surely not be doing this and that. The normal life stuff. Was the antiquated Mr. Jenkerson seriously cutting his lawn in one of those banana hammock bathing suits as his wife brought him one bottle of Samuel Adams after another?
“They are to.”
“They’re not. It’s not possible.”
Their game. He figured it meant a lot to her, but not because it meant a lot to him, though it did.
College, done, finally. Money found, somehow. Four-year patch job. Take a little here, move some there, pinch off one artery, open a new vein, get a little more blood until the vein goes dry. Hallie graduated. Top of her class. Final road trip home. Their ritual, like their game. Could have taken the bus, train. Just a few bags to tote. People always help a vibrant girl traveling home. The good kind of strangers who put things in overhead compartments, say no problem, get on with their lives.
But they liked to drive. She liked him to come and get her, not just because she knew how much he liked it. The dorm, almost entirely empty. She stayed until the end each year. She was friends with everyone and wanted to see the last of them off, he figured, but she just liked being there when the peace came back. The quiet that waited for next year’s kids. It was a gravid quiet. Wise quiet. A quiet that had seen some things. A quiet that could tell you about what it had seen. But wouldn’t. Not unless you knew how touch, tickle it. You had to have certain kinds of ears, for that to work.
He imagined how she’d look when he came into her dorm. He hoped her back would be to him. There would be dust bunnies. Bags in the center of the room, beds already pulled out by staff, no more nights to stay here.
He liked to see her hair down her neck, shoulder blades, before she turned to face him. Always worked on what he’d say first. “Excuse me, miss, are you looking for that great dad of yours?” “Somebody said something about a chauffeur.” “Hallie.”
He thought about the times in life that he might have been prouder. Not the day she was born. His neighbor buddy Josh Prest had weighed in on that. Prest said that having a kid is the result of a successful orgasm inside of someone else at a given time in a given month. Simple science. Anything but a miracle. There weren’t millions of miracles a day. That cheapened miracles. “They’re rare,” he concluded, and even if he was trying to be edgy, he had a point.
So he wasn’t prouder the day she was born. There had been moments of evanescent pride. Beating his old man in a sprint—and the guy was really trying, because he gave neither inches nor quarter—for the first time, skating on the pond out back. Not the same as taking his kid home from college for the last time, the summer she was getting married. She heard him coming down the empty hallway. It had to be him. Bulk to the sound of his tread, pressed into memory. There wasn’t a forensic podiatrist who could nab a ghost, but recollection, spread over a joint past, might convert sound into footprints; you could put your fingers in them, if you had to. She turned her back to the door, squatted down over a bag, pretended to struggle mightily with a zipper. Approaching, he took her line in their game.
“Are not,” she said, standing, turning.
That first look at her each time, after a long time, was like getting to meet her all over again, without any doubt that they might not click. The movie you know you are going to love before you see it. When you do? Whoa.
“I’m not what?”
“Oh. No. I’m not that. I’m definitely not that.”
He might have said, “Though I am so proud of you,” but she knew he couldn’t. With regular quiet, sure. But this was gravid quiet. Gravid quiet is different. R2, Artoo. He was so happy to be in her space again.