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"Your Story," short story excerpt

Thursday 10/27/22

My father had a friend named Clark who’d come to stay with us in pulsing two-day flashes, usually a burst of a weekend near the holidays, but I’m not sure if Clark was his name as it may have been Park, which would have been a weird name.


Actually, I could definitely see Clark being Park. He was a gray shoelace of a man. Thin and faded. I’d look at him and want to lace him into my boots and double knot his ass.


He always had some younger woman with him who could have fit in with my regular retinue of babysitters. Stand them in a line, and you wouldn’t have been able to pick out this guy’s girlfriend. My dad would be ill at ease, but on account of my mother, who was mortified and trying not to show it, as my dad gave her these looks that seemed to say, “I’ll make it up to you,” though with the understanding that neither of them thought this creditable.


He was very handsy, this Clark or Park. Lots of pawing of whomever he’d brought, right on the couch in front of me. Hand going up the thigh, and he’d sort of stroke their faces with the back of his fingers, as if he were making sure they felt the nails, so that I’d think, “Is that allowed?”

Each time he visited—in the aforesaid bursts which also had this grimy whiff of him being on the run—he’d go into the downstairs bathroom and shower with one of these women. The water would go on with the screechy hiss—kind of like an asthmatic cobra—that it made in that bathroom of our house, and then he’d bellow, “Lunch is served!”


I had no earthly clue why this guy was eating with his girlfriend in our downstairs bathroom with the shower running. Many years later he sent my father what I thought of as a snake of wine. I’m not sure there was another label to more accurately describe whatever the hell this was. It must have been a bitch to ship. This huge, long glass, a bizarre tube that had to have been ten feet long, filled with red wine. “California’s finest table wine,” according to the label. Not Merlot, or Cabernet. Table wine. The label was adamant on that score and apparently not embarrassed in the slightest.


For years it sat in the closest perched at these bisecting, space-eating angles in the basement that doubled as my dad’s workshop, because it was essentially a small room, and the wine snake took up a good chunk of it, which made traversing that room nearly impossible, unless you ducked down and waddled under the wine snake. You could say the wine snake dominated that room, despite its relative thinness. Those angles were hell. Any time you turned, the wine snake was there to cut you off and it was as if Park or Clark was somehow still there, save that he wasn’t, and the wine snake didn’t announce that lunch was served.


Moving on. There was this guy named Rolphe and his girlfriend, a woman named Cartagena. Rolphe was a professor and he went to jail. There is absolutely no onus on me to tell you why he went to jail. Ordinarily an author has to give you these reasons, and they have to sound believable, but eh, I say no. I don’t think that’s real.


I look up some stuff, I put in these details, and I try to convince you? That’s misleading. And why waste our time? Because the truth is, you can go to jail for just about anything. Everyone assumes they’re not going to jail. You could totally be in jail fifteen years from now. Might be along the lines of The Wrong Man, that Hitchcock film with Henry Fonda. He didn’t think he was going to jail, did he?


Same as marriages. You get married, you assume that you’ll be with that person forever, never mind that you don’t even mean forever. You mean for the rest of your life or theirs, so you’ve actually started with a lie to yourself. The confidence people have and the vast storehouse faith of assumption. Stores get depleted fast, though, and five years in, it’s time to get out. After never thinking it could happen.


I could say that Rolphe went to jail because he helped all of these students at Harvard cheat. You’d perhaps counter by saying that’s not a jail-able offense, but I guarantee you I could find so many examples of people doing just that and going to prison. So what does it matter what I stick in here when it could be anything? Like I said, moving on.


Rolphe gets out of jail and he reunites with Cartagena. He’s raring to go, because he hasn’t been with a woman so long. He doesn’t own any money anymore, because it all went to his fruitless defense, and he doesn’t want to have kids at the moment since he has a real budget crisis, so he puts Cartagena on her belly and he goes right up her ass. Gives her no warning.

They used to do it like that, oh, 60% of the time, which is a high percentage, so you can see where he was coming from and why he thought this was most likely okay. She’s hurting and yelling. She wants him to stop, and Rolphe starts shouting, “It’s nobody’s fault, it’s nobody’s fault,” as he keeps going and finishes.


They don’t talk, they don’t cuddle, but even during the salad days, that was the norm, oh, 90% of the time. Rolphe goes home. He was staying at the Pine Street Inn, which is a hotel for transients.


He’s eating a packet of sodium-free Saltines later that night on his cot after having had a conversation with this newcomer about a string of successful drug deals the latter did, though there wasn’t much money it, and he hated himself for the bad choices he kept making (to which Rolphe nodded in agreement if not empathy), when the cops come in to get Rolphe.


They have all of this evidence, too, of rape, which Cartagena provided. Two kits’ worth. Not just the one. You can be all, “That’s not true, author, they just use the one kit every time,” and to you I’d say, really? Because I bet I can find a case where they used five of those kits.

He’s booked and held in jail. Cartagena turns up to his court date and he calls her a stupid Mexican and makes a crack about tacos. She tells him through tears that she’s from Spain and how could he not know. This is confusing to Rolphe, because it seems like they eat tacos in Spain, probably, but on second thought, no, they definitely don’t.


He’s back in jail. Another stint. He writes a slow blues about paella, humming the melody to himself. Cartagena comes to visit him. One time she arrives and she’s pregnant. Rolphe says, “Oh shit,” because he’s going to have to pay for this, and it’s worse because this is one of those rare cases where anal penetration resulted in impregnation, on account of the drip-down. Rolphe finds himself disappointed in statistics. Failed—no, betrayed—by math.


Then Cartagena says the baby isn’t Rolphe’s, and once more he rages and calls her a stupid taco eating Mexican whore. Later, on his hard prison bunk, he’ll wish he worked in a line about tamales, because that would have hit her hard. He’s pissed. It’s a good thing he’s in jail, because he’d kill that bitch. He figures he’ll probably never teach again at the university level.


I have a friend who says, “You can write anything, and it will be something.” Here’s what I believe: you make the eye bop along and that will be most of it, that will see everyone through and carry them forward, bounding. That’s the key: the eye has to bop along.


People are like, “Oh, do you enjoy my luxurious background I’ve provided you? My setting of the scene like it was a magical banquet table for lords and ladies? Look at all of these paragraphs of description I’ve done.” But they can be fucking anything. You just want to get through them. Blah blah blah blah blah. Okay, we get it. You’re describing shit.


Here’s what you have to say instead: This is my story. You don’t actually say it. You think it. That’s it. It’s your story. If you want to have everyone walk around on their hands and exhale red smoke, then have them walk around on their hands and exhale red smoke. Just have it be that way. Act like it’s normal, because in your story, it is. You don’t have to apologize, make allowances, explain it away. That’s your story. Own it. All you have to do is be true to it.


People do that thing where they write something and under the title they add, “In the manner of so and so,” or “After the fashion of blah blah,” and insert some other author’s name. You could do it with Daniil Kharms, for instance, then do a pastiche, a homage, a riff.


Kharms would be like, “This is my story,” and people could walk around on their hands and exhale red smoke. No apologies from him, no sir. Who is Daniil Kharms? Because who is going to know that, right? Someone asked me earlier today what I was reading. I answered her and she said, “I hadn’t heard of that one!” to which I thought, “Did you expect you would have?” and “What are the chances?” and “How many do you know?” We’re holding our phones all the time. Surely we can look up Daniil Kharms. Why else are we always holding our phones if we can’t learn something once a week or whatever?


Anyway, in Daniil Kharms’ stories, it has always seemed to me that lot of people get tossed out of windows, but this is not the death of them. Annoying, sure, but like a paper cut is annoying and sizzles the skin a bit, before you realize it’s only a paper cut.


I love that we even have a word that means to throw someone out a window in this fashion: defenestrate. What a specific crime! Disembowel seems specific, too, but not nearly as much, right? People in Daniil Kharms stories get defenestrated, then race back inside to either screw a prostitute, pet a cat, stash some rubbles, or quaff some vodka, or a combo, but the vodka option is the most common.


But what if you were in a vacant building, like that was where you lived. Why is it vacant, why is that where you live? This again? Anything can be a reason. Everything is out there. We can skip the reasons right now. Don’t you want to? You’re in your room—the one you prefer, because, again, it’s a vacant building, so you pick what you wish—and fighting with this badass of a guy who has gained admittance to what you think is your palace, after a fashion. Your name is Park and his is Clark, so maybe that’s why it’s heated between you, because neither of you are distinct enough and you both want to be.