w g o
An extract from
We’re getting on A NOVELL
B O O KS
M O N S T E R M E A N M A N B O O KS ww w.monstermeanman .com
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The characters and events in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author. except in the case of Saddam Hussein. Heâ€™s totally real.
Copyright ÂŠ 2009, Text by James Kaelan/Kaelan Smith
All rights reserved, except for brief quotations in critical articles or reviews. No part of this book may be reproduced in any manner without prior written permission from the publisher.
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his book is dedicated to Leslie Epstein, who must still hate much of its content, and to Ha
Jin and Jennifer Haigh, who may be more amenable.
nto silence, it’s worse than the noise, you listen, it’s worse than talking, no, not worse, no worse, you wait, in anguish, have they forgotten me, no, yes, no, someone calls me, I crawl out again, what is it, a little hole, in the wilderness ...” — Samuel Beckett, The Unnamable
e’ve been on the property a month now, or some similar period of time. Until last night we were getting on well. But I woke this morning able to see my breath. I unzipped the flap on my tent, walked to the barrel, and leaning in for a drink, found a layer of ice ensconcing our water. At
first I thought little of it. The weather in the desert is volatile. Without the mitigating effects of an ocean or lake, temperatures tend to fluctuate. I hadn’t expected such severe cold in June, but I suppose I wasn’t surprised to be experiencing it. I might have been more apprehensive, though, had I understood how a late freeze could affect our garden.
We’re getting on
We planted three weeks ago. The ground, then, was hardly tillable, although enough manure lay scattered around the hills that we could amend the soil. Cattle must have grazed our acreage in the recent past. At the upper end of the lot, for it slopes from west to east, flows a canal we use for irrigation and hydration. Mary, who’d driven through Battle Mountain two years before en route to Elko, suggested this refuge. It stands to reason that in so desolate a spot we wouldn’t be bothered. Forests teem with life. The parcel we commandeered is deserted, and holds true to that etymology. It sits at the base of a mountain that blocks the advancing rain, and there are no homes here; there’s nothing to support a town for miles. After three days’ labor, sharing amongst the five of us one hoe and one trowel, we cultivated a plot fifteen yards wide by twenty long. In it we planted squash, kale, broccoli, twenty fledgling watermelon vines, and, despite the season, one hundred and fifty potatoes, give or take an eye, that we purchased with the last of our money in town. A week ago the first tuber shoots pushed through the dirt. As of yesterday, one of the watermelon vines was fourteen inches long. Last night, however, the freeze arrested everything. I inspected the garden this morning and found the sprouts stiff and wrinkled, as if they’d gone without water for a week. If any of the produce matures now, I’ll be surprised. Perhaps the tubers will flower, but how long will twelve dozen potatoes last five people? Three weeks at most if we don’t supplement them with meat.
But I had prepared, to some extent, for a protracted harvest. In my tent I keep a thirty-pound bag of peanuts. Twice daily I dole out two handfuls each to my congregants. The nuts are high enough in fat to sustain many of our basic needs. Diana, of course, has begun to develop liver spots on her thighs, and Michael’s gums bleed regularly. I feel lethargic, even depressed. Two days ago, because I didn’t get up at sunrise, I stayed in my tent all day. The water we drink, as I’d guessed, is far from sanitary. The canal begins somewhere in the north, and after flowing through our property, or by it, terminates somewhere to the south. I base this statement on my previous experience with rivers, all of which start and stop somewhere. I can’t conceive of our canal beginning or ending, as I’m only privy to it’s motile center, but for the sake of getting this over with, I’ll assume that it travels between two points, and always in the same direction. What I can say for certain, though, is that the water is tainted, and it collects contaminants somewhere near its mouth. If it accumulated bacteria at its destination, we wouldn’t visit the pit so often. I should describe the pit. It was one of the first things we made, although made seems a hyperbolic term. Mary spent an hour on her knees digging a hole and now we shit in it. Excavation isn’t a synonym for construction, nor is it a synonym for demolition, which is the antonym of construction. Therefore, the first two terms, excavation and construction,
We’re getting on
are separate. Digging is certainly work, but the product is a negative space. I’ll revise my first statement. The pit was the first result of our labor. The garden was the second. But unlike the garden, the pit still functions. It’s filling with excrement, though, and faster than I anticipated. Because of the parasites, we egest frequently. I defecate five times a day, and the others must keep a similar schedule. The irony, of course, is that the more we shit the more dehydrated we become, and the more polluted water we’re forced to drink. I thought we’d develop a tolerance to the bacteria, but so far I haven’t seen an improvement. Before wandering off on that tangent, I’d intended to think about meat. The freeze ruined the garden, or most of it, and we ought to start killing things. I understand that, prehistorically, horticulture succeeds hunting, rather than vice versa. But we’re not trying to reënact evolution. No, we’ve set out to do the opposite, to get to the bottom of this whole human condition. Purchase, garden, hunt, scavenge: that shall be our sequence.
lready this morning I’ve left my tent, walked to the barrel, drank two mouthfuls of water, gone to the garden, and inspected it for new growth. Such is my normal routine. But in performing the third and fifth items on the agenda, I encountered abnormalities. There clung a layer of ice to the drinking water, and the plants were dead. I suppose I’ll still approach the tents as per usual and rouse the others—although with greater apprehension, in part because I have to explain to them about the
freeze, and in part because instead of feeding them, I must convince them to hunt with me in the mountains. I detest deviating from the itinerary. But more than that, I dread telling them about the damaged garden. In a sense, I couldn’t be happier that the crop died last night. But I expect them to be devastated. They might construe it as a setback since, I fear, they’re secretly in search of a utopia. On the other hand I’m looking for nothing. That’s not to say that I came here without a goal—far from it. I arrived here at the end and have already moved to the middle. To the south of the property sits Diana’s car, in which we arrived. I hate what it reminds me of, so we’ll discard it soon. On the far side of the garden the others pitched their tents—Michael and Diana’s on the left, Mary and Joshua’s on the right. I take my usual path this morning, walking east around the garden. Despite the cold, the air is extremely dry, and accordingly, so is the ground. With every step I kick up dust. To announce my approach, I clap my hands. “Everyone up!” I yell. This incepts commotion, first in the tent nearest, and then the farthest from me. I stand between the two and wait. Mary emerges first. She wears a flannel shirt with the top two buttons unclasped. The bones in her chest have started to show, and her hair, which is the color, and perhaps the texture, of wheat chaff, hangs down to her shoulders. She’s thinned since our arrival, but she’s lost none of her beauty. A rash has developed on her face. She lifts one hand and scratches her cheek. Behind her, still in the tent, Joshua turns over in his sleeping bag. Despite his physical robustness, he’s been the least
We’re getting on
contributive, sleeping sometimes until dusk. Since the incident in the motel room, he’s avoided me. Having exhibited the first weakness, I believe he’s ashamed of himself. Diana unzips her flap and walks out. She’s shorter than Mary and thin enough, I imagine, that if she got pregnant her legs wouldn’t support the extra weight. Perhaps she and Michael will conceive and name the result Daniel. If I had a choice in the matter I’d inseminate Mary. We would produce an attractive child. But I don’t come to fertilize eggs. If anything, I want to watch a child retard, rather than develop. We don’t need something advancing while we regress. Michael, at last, issues from the tent like a specter. The cleft in his skull, because of his orientation to the sun, accepts no light and appears bottomless. Joshua remains in his tent. “Is he getting up?” I ask Mary. Mary turns to the tent. “Are you getting up?” “There are bugs in here!” yells Joshua. I ask Mary what that means. “It means he’ll have to kill them before he does anything.” I lead the others to the garden. “Speaking of killing,” I say irreverently, “We’ve had a setback. It seems the temperature dropped below freezing last night, and everything has died.” Both the women look over at the garden. Diana stands very still, and Mary moves toward the plot. Michael, perhaps unaware of the gravity of the situation (I never know what he apprehends), stares up at the sky. Joshua,
entombed in his tent, hasn’t heard the news. I’m witnessing, therefore, the four archetypical reactions to a crisis. Joshua is ignorant of the predicament, but no less affected by it than the sleeping man by the fire burning down the house around him. Michael is cognizant, but oblivious. Diana is paralyzed by shock. And Mary is active, searching amongst the furrows, though with no more hope of correcting the damage than the woman combing the ashes for her child. My response might be worth documenting, too. I’m observant, because there should always be a spectator to put the facts in order. Diana, eventually, walks toward Mary. She wears a pair of Michael’s cut-off jean shorts. The barrels of the pants are not particularly accommodating, but her legs are so slim, and her steps so small, that as she moves her thighs don’t contact the material enclosing them. Above and below her knees her skin looks bruised, as if she’s been caned. She seems to be in pain. Mary is bent over inspecting the soil around a wilted watermelon vine, and Diana kneels beside her, not as if to garden, but as if to pray. Michael looks at me and then over at his tent. “What do you think about my tent?” he asks. “What about it?” “The color. Is it a good color?” He tilts his head back and closes his eyes. “I don’t want to eat any more peanuts.” Mary moves to another section of the garden and starts to dig with her fingers. Diana leans toward Mary, as if trying to follow her, but remains kneeling. She puts both hands on the ground. Perhaps she’s preparing to
crawl. The neck of her shirt hangs open. Her small breasts, exposed in that attitude, cling to her like dew to an eave. She looks desperate positioned on all fours. Mary, conversely, seems confident. She’s dedicated to working, at least. I have no need to motivate her, though I might have to direct her energy. The others I’ll have to reinvigorate. A crisis is treacherous. It can sap confidence and encourage mutiny if the leader doesn’t respond emphatically. I walk to Diana and put my hand on her shoulder. She tries to shrug me off. I kneel down and whisper in her ear, “I’ve formulated a plan.” Beyond her I see Michael sit down on the ground. He extends his arms behind him for support and rests his chin on his chest as if he no longer has the strength to lift it. How very close he is to failure. “Today,” I say, “we hunt.”
Fiction. WE'RE GETTING ON explores youth, dissolution, and the impact technology has on the modern world, and what happens when you try to l...