EXECUTIVE EDITORS David Ariniello Tammy Quinn
Current and recent undergraduate creative writing students —including nondegree students and students enrolled in other divisions of Columbia University who are taking undergraduate creative writing courses—are encouraged to submit to Quarto. We welcome poetry, fiction, nonfiction, translations, and drama, including excerpts from longer works.
MANAGING EDITOR Kristie Hart ART DIRECTOR Margaret Hepburn
Each submission should be accompanied by a self-addressed stamped envelope. Please include your name, address, telephone number, and e-mail address on your manuscript.
POETRY EDITOR Anne Potter
Manuscripts may be submitted elsewhere while under consideration at Quarto. Please notify us of acceptance by another publication.
EDITORS Diana Caggiano Angela J. Flores Coppeta Margaret Hepburn John C. Koikara 5hannon McDonald Muriel Wang Catie Zeidler
Address all submissions and correspondence to: Quarto 612 Lewisohn Hall 2970 Broadway Mail Code 4108 Columbia University New York, NY 10027
FACULTY ADVISER Leslie T. Sharpe
For information on becoming a patron of Quarto, please call the office of the Creative Writing Center at (212) 854-3774.
DIRECTOR, CREATIVE WRITING CENTER Alan Ziegler
Quarto 1999 wishes to thank the Creative Writing Center, and especially Alan Ziegler, for their continued support. Cover art: Linda Scharck, Texas Inn Copyright © Quarto, 1999 All rights are reserved and revert to authors and artists upon publication. ISSN 0735-6536 Produced at The Print Center, Inc., 225 Varick St., New York, NY 10014, a non-profit facility for literary and arts-related publications. (212) 206-8465
TABLE OF CONTENTS
ROOM ENOUGH, ROAD ENOUGH
AFTER THE WAR
from DYSART'S DREAM
Daniel Roy Connelly
A DINER IN PENNSYLVANIA
BONELESS GUMMY GIRL
Mirela N. Trofin
NEPHEW, WHEN YOU GO ACROSS THE WATER
wen tumbles across the sprouts of crab grass and dirt, the grassy patches pounded flat by her hands and feet. A car stops short at the corner. She catches sight of it as she spins six feet in the air and lands square. The group of boys hoots, then drives on. And it is that hoot, that stare, that moment of someone recognizing something as she does it which pulses her on. Each time you do that, she hears her gym teacher saying, you are performing a life and death move. She has landed on her head, torn ligaments in her toes, broken nails, fallen on her face but now the move is perfect; like someone blowing a smoke ring into the sky, like a ball shooting through a hoop and not touching the rim, like receiving a longed-for kiss, she feels weightless...if only for a second, the second of the thrust, the lift, the spinâ€”perfectly timed by feeling. She didn't understand the science of a round-off back somersault, only the thrill. One day she would be too old or too afraid to soar over the gray scrub grass. One day the world wouldn't spin. One day she would be just like everybody else. She could feel the moments rushing toward her, engulfing her and smothering her in time... She analyzes her faults. Eyes not round enough, she always looks sleepy. Hips too narrow, smile too wide. Kids used to call her Cyclops because of the beauty mark between her eyebrows. She grudgingly admits the light green, catlike color of her eyes is unique. She stands on the edge of the grass, which meshes into the neighbors'. She concentrates on the morning sky. Everything else fades away like a wave rolling back. She grows straight, slaps small hands on hard thighs, rises to her toes and with a hop explodes across the grass in swift strides. Hands down legs up high now gone. The rotation makes her feel like everything is suspended with her and for that second all the world stops. She looks around, but the side street with its dead end sign, the "end" spray-painted out, and single birch tree with green-gold leaves,
Silhouette . 1
small shingled houses with boarded windows, cracked cement stoops and piles of cardboard boxes, shopping carts, rusty cans, plastic containers and stench of sour milk are all as they were a moment before. Gwen, her mother yells, you'll kill yourself. Stop that crap once and for all. You're sixteen and too tall for that to boot. Don't ya see how little they are in the Olympics ? I don't want to be in the Olympics. Her mother walks away and waits on the corner for a ride to the factory. Gwen turns her head so fast it seems as if she's been slapped. She concentrates on the sky again but somehow her enthusiasm, her drive, is lost. She sits on the cool, pebbly stoop and waves good-bye. Eat something before you go to work, her mother calls as she climbs into the back of the crowded old Rambler station wagon, miles of cord dangling from the empty hood rack. Her layered, badly dyed brown hair separates as a breeze fills the car. The bright pink scalp fades in the distance. Morning. Gwen feels the stoop slowly being washed with sunlight. She exhales and sees her breath. Her palms have tiny stones stuck to them. She wipes them on her legs and stares at the cracks in the cement, the ants wandering through to their secret world. When she was small she thought ants were stupid. She would melt the wax of a candle over the line of them to form a tomb, then watch them die. But now they seemed so brave, so diligent. She sees them carrying their dead all along the cracks and disappear in their labyrinth under the sand. She worries that she probably kills hundreds a day, just by walking.
She rides her bicycle to the mall and knows the only thing that keeps her from throwing all the special occasion cards and stationery through the store is the possibility of seeing his beautiful face... Straighten aisle one, her boss yells, interrupting her daydream. A lively song begins to play at the organ shop upstairs. She is sick to death of the deep organ notes, the same three old songs played night and day: "Wave"..."When Sunny Gets Blue"..."Bad Bad Leroy Brown."
Gwen goes through the anniversary cards, pulling large envelopes from small cards and regrouping them where they belong. She dusts off filing chests and folders, restacks notebooks and typing paper. Makes sure all the pencils are erasers-up. In the back of the store, on the left side, out of view of the open stockroom door, she kneels on the gold carpet. He is just upstairs. Straightening gifts—vases, incense and burners, candles, plastic flowers, ceramic people with cartoon faces. She has watched his fine hands picking up a music box to find out the price. Her hands are small and not particularly attractive. Just functional hands, hands meant to work at a stationery store, move on to the factory to shove mascara wands into tubes the rest of her life. But his hands are like a dove's wings—opening a fist gently to expose callous-free palms. How much did you say? He turns the music box over again, seconds after having just looked. Twenty-seven dollars. Yep, he says. Twenty-seven, she says, hmmm. He smiles, cupping his hand to his mouth and says, Yeah and they break all the time. She wants to spend every penny she has on him; buy him a soda for his break, an expensive nail clipper with a leather case. A pair of gloves. You must work in the mall too, he says. How did you know? She thinks for a second that perhaps he has stood across the way and watched her spraying Windex on the counter, shining up the showcases which house Parker ball point pens. She feels so warm suddenly—she hopes she didn't unknowingly sit making weird faces or bite her cuticles. Or look as if she did or didn't like her job too much. You could never tell which would be the right sentiment. You're not wearing a coat, he says, and it's cold out so you must work here. Then someone says, Excuse me, can you help me, young man? With a flick of his hair he is gone down another aisle and she doesn't
even know his name. Gwen, Gwen! Go and take all of the Bic pens out of the display and dust off the boxes. Don't just dawdle around acting like a footstool. She gets off the gold carpet and in a semi-trance, heads to the Big pens. She imagines one day he will be famous. For what, she hasn't a clue. On her break she slowly gets on the escalator and comes to the upper-mall level. She acts as though all she wants to do is get a Coke. Nothing else. She tells herself that's all she's doing, but ends up standing beside a pole in front of J. C. Penny, gazing across at Goody Goody Good Gifts. Any second he may look out and see her. She sips the Coke with her lips in a charming pout. She puts a pinky to the corner of her mouth and brushes a drop of soda with it, then sucks the tip of her finger. She juts out a hip and rests against the pole. A casually sexy, relaxed slump. She hears music begin. The damn organ again, "Wave." She searches for him but doesn't see the thick chestnut hair, his flannel shirt with sleeves rolled up to the elbows. No hands opening to her like eyes. Maybe he quit. Or got hit by a car. Maybe he's just off. Or unloading boxes in the stockroom. The whole place may as well blow up without him there. Her heart pounds as she leans against the pole, growing weak. If he were there he'd see her and she could will him to come and caress her face. She'd feel his cool, smooth hands and be revived. He would hold her hands, cover them with his and twined together, hers would become beautiful.
She stays there long past her break. She stays there after her eyes grow blurry with staring and her thoughts exhaust themselves as she does her body—the cool blades of grass between her fingers, her feet pounding down, then forcing her up in circular flight. She thinks of motion. And as gates begin to come down and store lights dim, she wanders outside. The buildings are silhouetted against the deep gold and blue striped sky. She has left her bicycle at the stationery store. She tells herself she'll be able to pick it up tomorrow but somehow she knows she won't. And as she comes to admit the
fact, she also comes to feel some sort of pattern is being laid which she will follow the rest of her life. There are few cars in the parking lot as the last of the sun lowers to asphalt. She walks on the lines of the parking stalls, expertly making sharp turns. She stares at the ground as the cars edge by. She does a languid cartwheel and lands perfectly on the line. And then she stares at the black silhouettes of buildings. Why shouldn't she do the move? She still could. The thing about it that stayed in her head was the feeling of being in control of your life for one minute. If you didn't concentrate, if you didn't believe—you had the power to choose halfway through, and maybe you'd break your neck. Why should death be left only to chance? To come when you had no notion, no expectation of it? She loved the edge of it in her feet and hands. It gave her the power to smack out of a round-off and thrust six feet up before rotating. She concentrates on a darkening sky, slaps small dry hands on the twitching hard thigh muscles and then bounds forward. As she springs in the air she glimpses a pale hand waving to her. In her heart it is the perfect hand of a saint; so peaceful, a white bird lazily flapping by. She comes out of the move, lands just scraping her knuckles across the ground. He applauds in the distance. And suddenly she looks forward to tomorrow.
s 4 • Silhouette
Silhouette • 5
A L I S O N TRAWEEK
Room Enough, Road Enough
If I were in Texas I could make sense of everything. If I had 3 hours and 215 miles of United States Interstate 10 I would know which way to go. In March the bluebonnets spread across the flat open fields like old blue curtains carelessly dropped. On closer inspection their stalks are thick and light green, their leaves downed with soft white fur; they look too frail to survive in this harsh landscape. My heart explodes with tenderness. They have no scent but they fill the air with a promise of freshness. In March it is too early for the grass (swaying in a slow waltz with the cedar trees) to have been burnt yellow by the relentless Texas sun. On 1-10 at night at about mile 600 I once saw God. I was sixteen and I remember I wept. I was alone in my pickup with all my possessions, I was leaving my mother's house forever. I cried because God was all I had and because the stars were bright enough to hurt my eyes. On 1-10 at night around mile 600 the stars are blinding.
I z o
6 • Room Enough, Road Enough
Five years later in my Honda which had seen Redwoods— Vancouver— two oceans and the Gulf of Mexico— the desert— tornadoes— a swarm of cicadas— and me in every aspect— I sang at the top of my lungs and laughed to breathe the old Texas dust. Scatter my ashes in that dust. On US 1-10 I know the rhythm of the road when you get close enough to Houston to smell it: the highway bounces beneath my car like a good horse in a strong canter. I know my way by that. On US 1-101 always know my way. I know all the billboards and gas stations and "TruXtops" and where to get the cheapest Blue Bell Ice Cream and how far to the next grilled cheese sandwich and how many miles from my mother's house to mine and whether I'll make it on the amount of sleep I've had. In Texas the oak trees have leaves like the elms have everywhere else and grow stooped like old women bent by remembering. In Texas I never need a scarf and coat and gloves, just jeans and a jacket and my car. At my grandmother's house in Texas it was 54 degrees on Christmas Day.
Room Enough, Road Enough • 7
RICH MCHUGH from Concordance—a work in progress
The sky there is large enough to house my uncertainty and there's room leftover for hope. In Texas I am barefoot I am sitting on porches drinking sweet tea swatting mosquitoes and dodging roaches. I would never walk anywhere. If I were in Texas I would be Well On My Way, I would be Almost Home. I would be tipping my hat to the white blue sky which would tip its hat back to me in a slow sunset reflected in my rear view mirror blinding me to everything I'd already driven through. Even the birds have a drawl in Texas and wear many different hats and respect a good pair of boots. I would make my peace with God on US 1-10 at about mile 600, halfway to everywhere. By mile 600 I will have had enough time to pick my path carefully and time enough left to relax. The flowers are quiet but not shy in Texas and didn't I learn from them?
8 • Room Enough, Road Enough
he night was still undeniably hot and the deep gray humidity cast all the tro-tro bus lights and peddlers before their kerosene-lit tables in a milky glow. In the distance we could make out the red blinking tower of the airport and, from the thinning row of lights, we could see where the hills ended and the Aburi rainforest began. In the air were hints of ocean salt and burning cane but we could not escape the small of decaying garbage. Nat and I slugged our way through the street vendors of Nkrumah circle. It was two in the morning. The city of Accra was recklessly alive and on the move. Market women laughed back and forth and peddlers shouted slogans for their bananas, bars of soap—anything that could be sold—to passengers biding their time in the tro-tro buses, buses that would soon fire and dust down the streets to villages somewhere in the distance. And the reggae beat overflowed the tin walls of the music bars and forced its way into every dark corridor. It felt as if a gigantic gong had been struck, and we were standing on it. We were exhausted and hungry from all the walking. We sat down before a red-red man, at his wooden table. The man was bald and slim, and wore an intricate set of scars on his cheek. "We'll have," Nat said, "two red-red and two wah-tahs." The man acknowledged and turned his focus back to his pans and bowls of vegetables. Our seat was such a relief that we laughed, we could've been there till sunrise. "Oboroni," the man said to me, pointing at my wrist. "You have good watch." "Thank you," I said, "thank you very much." "They," Nat hushed her laugh, "have probably never seen indiglo before." "I have eight watches for that watch? Oboroni, very good watches!" "No thank you, sir," I said. "It was a gift. I can't." "I have ten watches!" He stood, waiting, as if suddenly a bulb would go on in my head and I'd say, "Ten? Sure!" Other men caught from Concordance •
wind of our bargaining and angled in over Nat's shoulder. It made her noticeably antsy. "No, sir," I said. "It was a gift and I'm sorry, but thanks." "Mmmm..." the man sucked his cheek. "She is your wife?" "Yes," Nat said impatiently. "Yes I am his wife and yes I gave him that watch and, no, he will not trade it." I had known Nat less than seventy-two hours. "You are medaase kind, thank you," he said and turned back to his pots. Nat and I sat silent. "Paul, I had to say something, sorry." She leaned in closer. "Look at his cheek," she said. "Are those tribal?" "You could ask him." Another silence. In the time it took for our food to come, we agreed that we both needed a drink or two. We ate, tipped the man a few extra Cedis, stretched and made our way to the Kilimanjaro Spot. Although there was a whirlwind of people dancing inside to reggae, we found it a great comfort to be in a bar. It was second nature for both of us. We reconciled ourselves to a corner table, filled ourselves with five beers each, and when by my watch it was near four, we had had enough. The haze outside had grown into a milky, brooding fog and through it we searched for a taxi. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a man running in our direction, then toward us, closer and closer. I felt a huge hand wrap around my wrist and with a feverish yank on my arm, the man was off through tro-tros and vendors. My watch was gone. A woman nearby stood from her pot of boiling peppers and cried frantically, "Kromfol Kromfol Thief! Thief! KromfoV
Immediately, tro-tro drivers pushed open their doors, jumped out and with the peddlers and everyone else that poured onto the street, they sped after him. Nat and I stood petrified and watched forty men run off, yelling and screaming into the Ghanaian night. "C'mon, Nat," I urged. "C'mon." We jogged between the tro-tros where women and children gazed
from windows, we jogged behind shops and vendors and booths, over gutters, into back alleys, and the whole time Nat said, "Did this just happen? Did this just happen?" When we stopped for a moment's breath, the shouting horde was not far off. "C'mon, C'mon," I said and we jogged into a smaller, dimly lit alley and there, panting, stood the impromptu circle. The posse had grown to sixty; Nat and I slowly crept up. From behind the rows of shoulders and necks and heads I saw the body that lay feeble in the center. Three men circled him like hyenas. The man's white shirt was streaked with dust where the sweat held it, and when they rolled him on his back, what I saw made me cringe. "What, Paul? What? What?" Nat said. Luckily, she was too short to see. Nat paced in circles nearby. I heard the zipperish tear of his shirt, then another. The man was stunned, curled in a ball. Then came the sound of boot on bone, twice, and the man wailed. The kickers circled with eyes focused. The man lay naked. The blood on his skull was shiny and trailed from his forehead, from his nose, and from the white of his mouth. His hands were clasped—as if in prayer—above his groin. "Me pa cheow," he pleaded. "Me pa cheow Me pa cheow Me pa cheow Me pa cheow Me pa cheow Me pa cheow Me pa cheow." They would not listen. So I pleaded with the men. "Please," I yelled. "Please don't do this. Please don't do this. Please! I don't care about the watch! Let the man go! Please, do not do this." An elder faced me. "We must," he said, softly. "If we do not, the city will be much worse. We must." His sad eyes assured me of their obligation. The kicking resumed, and the man never once unclasped his hands. One kicker, determined, ran three steps and delivered a blow just above the stomach into his ribs. It was cold and unmistakable, the sound of thick ice cracking under you on a lake. The man's eyes rolled back, and he wheezed for air. The horde watched dispassionately. They'd seen it all before. The kickers had grown tired and the naked man lay shaking. Fresh
o X u u
10 • from Concordance
from Concordance •
TREVOR LAWS ON
After the War legs emerged from the posse. Another kick. In a minute, the man's hands had freed themselves and his eyes floated back and I wondered, hoped, that he was already in some supreme place. Nat was gasping hard. I walked over and put my arm on her shoulder. When a second crack came 1 felt her wince under me. 1 looked back; the men had not seen us leave and, somehow, it seemed better that way. Nat sobbed into my armpit the whole walk back through the maze of alleys and gutters and tro-tros. We didn't say a word. The streets became more vacant and the last of the market women packed into tro-tros and headed home. Kilimanjaro Spot was quieting and the abandoned tro-tros sat there, doors open, engines still running. When we passed by the red-red stand, Nat did not look. She did not see that the man was no longer there and I knew she had not seen, had not connected the events. I promised myself right then that I would never tell her. The night dripped slowly into the early hours of the morning. Over and over I envisioned his doorway, and the soldier who would knock on the door in the morning and the children who would watch their mother cry.
S o X u y
12 â€˘ from Concordance
fter the war, when nobody had anything to do anymore, everyone pretty much cleared out of the city. The only ones who stayed were the younger ones, and they had mostly spent their time trying to figure out how to get out. Everyone left talked at length about how they would go someplace else, and when they said this, it was with the understanding that "someplace else" was somewhere specific, a polity unto itself. Over the years, the population had dwindled as people flocked out. All the stores had closed, so those who were left had stolen what they needed until there had been nothing left to steal, then they had scavenged for the rest. It was a good life, then the plague came.
The plague skewered everything, nearly everyone got it. It made the skin on their bodies blister and peel. The "face-peeling disease" we called it, since it was only a matter of time after catching it before it would spread and cover your head. The skin would break, crack and drop off, taking your hair and anything else with it. Nobody died from the disease, but everyone who got it either lost the will to live or went nuts, and they all wound up dead sooner or later. Everyone had their own idea about where it came from. Some said it started with a sewer rat. One of the degenerates who had been in the war and came back not right-in-the-head had killed and eaten it, and it had spread through him. Others said it came from a can of bad tuna the guy had scavenged. About the only thing everyone agreed on was that it spread through the air, and after it started breaking out all over the place, we spent most of our time locked up in rooms, with towels shoved into the cracks underneath the doors. When circumstance demanded that we venture out, we had to wrap old smelly rags around our heads. After six months of the plague, rumors started going around that some quack, a Dr. Zizmor, had found some sort of cure. Problem was, no one I talked to had ever seen this Zizmor character, and whether or not he really even existed was often debated. Then one day, the whole
After the War . 13
question stopped bothering me. That was the day I got the facepeeling disease. That day I became convinced of Zizmor's existence once and for all. I had woken up feeling like a bucket of hot grease had been dumped on my arm. My first instinct was to stumble into the bathroom and run cold water over it. Then, when I flipped on the light, I saw it and froze. A crop of tiny blisters bubbled up from the skin, some already erupting and itching. At first I just stood there, looking at my arm, and in the mirrorâ€”searching for any abnormalities I could find, blotchy patches of skin, or those horrible blisters. I didn't leave the apartment for three days, I just lay in bed cursing the plague, cursing the war, cursing the name of Zizmor. By the fourth day, the infection had spread to my face and neck. I was desperate for anything to keep it from crawling its way onto my face. I thought about the poor wretches I had seen, losing their skin, losing their hair. I resolved to track down the elusive Dr. Zizmor and his magical mystery cure.
I figured that if Zizmor had been around before the war, he must have been listed in one of the old phone books. To obtain one, I needed to go no further than my own kitchen, where one had been sitting since this apartment had last had a phone under the ownership of its previous tenants. There were, of course, no phones anymore, but lots of people kept the old books around in order to have something to read other than the books that had been reprinted for a brief period immediately after the war. I quickly found a listing for Dr. Zizmor on the East Side, in the armpit of the city. Before the war, the East Side had housed the most degenerate members of society. In many ways it had changed little since that time. Not knowing what to expect, and unsure whether or not Zizmor still operated out of his old office, I tucked the service pistol that the Army had given me during the war into my jacket pocket. I then set out, without even bothering to cover my exposed areas, since, being infected already, I no longer needed to take such precautionary measures. It took me an hour to cross the park in order to reach the East Side. It would have been less, had I not been forced to check behind nearly
14 . After the War
every bush for fear that I would be attacked by a murderous gang of thugs, young men who had nothing better to do than harass anyone wandering through their territory. The park, no longer used, had become a prime location for any degenerates, chased out of the rest of the city, to settle in. Those poor bastards, I thought. I would have made a good degenerate, had I not still been in the army at the end of the war. As it had happened, I had been wounded in a routine training exercise days before the final confrontation between the two armies in an Iowa cornfield. Providence had decreed that I be allowed to escape unharmed, for the medical tent was spared the carnage of that battle. It was the only thing that survived. When I realized that the war would at last be over, with no one left to fight, I quietly grabbed some supplies and made my getaway. I eventually returned home and found the city in its current state. I had still been a young man then. Now I was rapidly approaching thirty. At last I passed the decrepit old museum and came out of the park and into the East Side. I quickly found the address. It was a gray stone building; its door was centrally located. I searched the listing of inhabitants, and found what I was looking for, Zizmor 3C. Before I rang the buzzer, I checked and found the door unlocked. Cautiously, I slipped inside and found myself in a dark, filthy stairwell, in which the smell of rotten milk was overwhelming. To my surprise, I could hear music softly filtering through the air, and coming from upstairs. I recognized the music; it was Schubert's Death and the Maiden. It had been one of my father's favorite pieces. At any rate, it gave me the energy to brave the stench, since I was now convinced that Zizmor was somewhere in this building. I climbed the stairs. The door to 3C was open, and I stepped into the office of Dr. Zizmor. The horrible odor was no longer noticeable, and the office was surprisingly immaculate. Papers representing professional and academic achievements dotted the walls. In the center of the room there was a desk, with a dark-haired young lady sitting behind it. She had not seen me come in. She had been reading. I recognized the book; it was
After the War . 15
DeSade's One Hundred Twenty Days of Sodom. It had been one of the few books to be printed after the war by a group of militant degenerates, along with other notables like Petronius's Satyricon and The Memoirs of Pol Pot. Dreadful stuff, in my opinion, but they could be found just about everywhere, and everyone I knew had read at least those three.
The girl, Zizmor's nurse, looked up and seemed startled. "May T help you?" she asked coldly, betraying a slight Spanish accent. I was slightly nervous about the whole scene. "Maybe you can," I told her. "The phone book said that this is Zizmor's office." "Oh, you've come to see Doctor Zizmor? Then you have..." "The plague," I broke in. "Yes. I've been told that Zizmor might be able to help me." "1 don't know who told you that," she said. "Dr. Zizmor doesn't see anyone. Did you not notice the smell downstairs?" "Of course," I told her, "how could I not?" She was trying to give me the runaround. 1 started to look around the room; there were three doors. One of the doors had a metal plate with ZIZMOR inscribed on it. "It comes from a machine." She was still going on about the damned smell, her brown eyes that were nearly black piercing, looking through me as if I were a plate-glass window. "It was put there to keep unwanted company out. Unwanted company like yourself." I had heard enough. Whatever this girl thought about me wasn't important. Zizmor was. The girl had not been worried when she saw the blisters on my arm or on my neck, and that meant that the plague was not a concern for her. She obviously didn't have it, so that son-ofa-bitch Zizmor must have found the cure after all. I immediately headed for the door with the plaque. "Hey, What..." the girl started to say, but it was too late, I was already in Zizmor's private office. He was looking out the window when I walked in, but turned and looked at me, smiling. My first impression was this: Zizmor was a walking cartoon. His features were exaggerated, his grin too wide. He immediately said "hello" and shook
16 â€˘ After the War
my hand, repeating hello and throwing in a "how are you doing?" for added measure. He invited me to sit down, which 1 did. "Yes, yes, and how can I help you? You've come for the cure, haven't you? Well, well, cure you we shall. And what is your name? Did you fill out the forms? Claudia, Claudia! Bring this fellow the proper paperwork!" Zizmor was on a talking jag. Like he had snorted a couple of lines before I had walked in. "So you're Zizmor, huh?" I asked. "And this cure is real?" "Of course," he looked at me as if he could not believe that I would ask such a stupid question. "I need only to inject you with my serum once, and all traces of the virus will be gone in three days." He looked at me with his Cheshire grin, as if he had just finished eating a bucket of warm shit. "Would you like something to read?" he asked me. "WhatV I stammered, not believing this goofball. "Read!" he smiled. "You do know how to read, don't you? You're certainly old enough! I mean you had to be born long enough ago to remember how to read!" "Of course I can read, but what the hell does that have to do with anything?" I asked. "Oh, Claudia didn't tell you..." he nearly pouted when he said this. "Well, as you can imagine, I can't just go around giving the cure for free. And since there is no money anymore, I have to ask other favors of my clients." Claudia, the Latina nurse, had come into the office with a bunch of papers for me to sign, and a hypodermic with what I hoped was the cure. "So, let me get this straight," I said. "In order to pay you for the cure, you want me to read something? I don't get it, Zizmor. Are you putting me on?" "No, no. You don't have to read anything, if you don't want to. No, you have to take a case of my books, give them to your friends, give them to the degenerates, I don't care. Just help me distribute them, get the good news out! What do you say?" "What books?" I could feel the words coming out, but I was feeling
After the War . 17
ANDREW MORAN Nephew, When You Go Across the Water
lightheaded, and they seemed to be bypassing my brain altogether. The girl, Claudia, popped the syringe into my arm, and I could feel the injection, the cure. "That's a good question, young man," Zizmor laughed, "I have printed several new ones in the past week. I have several by Jean Genet, Kleist's Marquise of O, and.. .oh, I have the perfect one for you, The Celistine Prophecyl" This was too much. So Zizmor was the degenerate printer, as well as the cure giver. I felt the overwhelming urge to vomit. Nevertheless, had Zizmor asked me to distribute any other book, even La Nouvelle Justine, I would probably have done it, but The Celistine Prophecy... No, I could not bear the responsibility for the downfall of civilized society, even a degenerate civilization such as this. Zizmor had to be stopped. I reached into my pocket and pulled out the Army Pistol. I had, after all, never been discharged, and I owed a duty to the nation I represented, regardless of whether the government existed or not. Who knows what damage this godless man could do? Zizmor barely got out the words "What are you doing?" before I shot him through the forehead and he tumbled backwards onto the floor. The girl screamed and ran through the office and down the stairwell, dropping the paperwork on the floor. I put the gun back in my pocket, and kicked Zizmor's body, making sure he was really dead. He was. I turned and left. As for the plague, someone else must have gotten the same idea as I had, because two or three weeks later, the cure started popping up on the street. The name Zizmor was gradually forgotten, and that wretched book, The Celistine Prophecy, never reared its ugly head. Having contented myself on saving humanity, I returned to reading the phone book.
Joshua, when I peer inside you, the bowl of your retina glows like a chinese lantern and luminous veins trace runes in red fields, like jet trails in the sky. What did you first think of darkness? How swiftly it extinguished your nursery room totems. Animals and mobiles returned to the riverbed of night, flickering black and white. When lightning scuttled quick about the room its murmur and hiss vanishing into corners, did it snatch your soul in mandibles and suck it like an oyster? The slow ascendence of the kingdom of sound marched upon you, companion to the night. Clock tick, branch scratch, hard wind. Frantic overturnings and a scuffle for mother's dove wing, until a voice, what you searched for, without knowing, a convict in the yard, a can-picker in the alley, sang, calling from the other shore. Joshua, when you go across the water recall the streets I showed you, recall how Mercury rises above Grand Central. Workmen wiped clean the stars for you.
o in >
when you go across the water.
S s w p <
18 . After the War
Nephew, When You Go Across the Water â€˘ 19
She's complaining again of Paradise. "Too much naming," she says, swatting flies, "it ruins the moon, and bruises the clouds." "Oh fallen star!" I say, "Oh bottle blue sky!" Encumbering it all, using up oxygen, the Unnameable watches from the fire tower. In the beginning was the bathtub stretched outside its oval, groaning slag and mud. The ravening red-throated cellist poised to stab the wavering arrow to the greased pig between her sharp knees. The music box solar system wrecked high in tree branches. A frayed distant sound from a conch shell dragged twenty blocks under a Lincoln Town Car. The slow progress of a stilt-bird, its piercing cry. How was naming part of Paradise ? The noise of it all curving in an endless on-ramp, colliding, sparking. A tin star with streamers, hung on the white wall above.
ometimes I put French music into the tape player and sing along while I cook dinner. Those French-Canadian words, la langue de ma jeunesse, they come back to me in moments now, usually when I'm tired. My French was best when I was five and living in Ontario. I was in a French-immersion kindergarten program, but spoke English at home. I learned to read the two simultaneously, from tiny library books that had one page in English and the facing page in French. Sometimes I dream in French. Sometimes the words roll off my tongue before the English ones. Merci, I'll say to someone in a shop. De rien, I'll say before I'll say "you're welcome." "You're welcome" is such a self-important phrase, whereas de rien, it's nothing, tries to brush off the praise. "You're welcome" sticks in the jaw, becomes tangled in r's and l's, and then that hard c. Yer welcum. It looks like Welsh. Madame and I used to have talks. She was my Year 11 French teacher in Australia. She was from Algeria and wore large glasses on a chain around her neck, like my second-grade teacher in Canada used to. We would talk about moving to new countries. Madame had been in Melbourne for many years, though not long enough to change her accent: Algerian French, Algerian English, and Australian colloquialisms all mixed into one. "I was so confused when I moved here," Madame told me. "My husband and I went to the house of one of his co-workers for dinner, and they said to bring a plate."
20 â€˘ Royal Palm
I smiled, guessing how the story would end. The older woman nodded her head. "1 brought plates, and I was so embarrassed when I discovered that I was supposed to bring some food on them." She told me that there were so many words here that did not mean what they should mean. So many words that made her shudder. Like murmure, she pronounced it in French, though it is the same word, "murmur," in English. "It is the sound of girls talking behind their hands, wives at the
Mother Tongue â€˘ 21
dinner parties talking about me when I'm in the other room, looking in my direction when I walk past. But whisper. Such a beautiful word. So light, like air." 1 think of the wind whispering in the trees in the woods of Ontario, when I go walking in August. The leaves are dry and the wind is coming out of the north and almost smells of snow. The trees sigh so heavily that I look behind me sometimes, wondering if someone is speaking in my ear, calling my name from far away. I told Madame about the wind in the trees once. I told her about the sound of the water at night, against the rocks on the shore, down the hill from the room where I tried to sleep, in the blackest part of the night, when you can't see your hand in front of your face. "This place in Canada," she said, "C'est le pays de ton coeur." It is the country of your heart. In the Ontario woods, my dad and I sat in the house on the lake one summer evening, reading. "Listen," he said, and I looked up. "I don't hear anything."
"Exactly." Then a motor boat went past the house. "Well, for a minute, there, it was absolutely silent." He looked out into the dark beyond the windows. I closed my eyes, listening to the water break on the shore. Once in Australia I was staying with a friend in her beach house. I lay in the top bunk awake while she slept in the bottom bunk. The room was dark-dark, black-dark, and all I could hear was the water, far down the street, the tide coming in, coming in wooshes, rhythmic, pulsing. In Australia, Katie and I faked our way through French class. Neither of us had a particularly spectacular vocabulary or a stellar grasp of grammar, but we both had French-Canadian accents that had been only mildly altered by our Parisian and Algerian teachers. Neither of us had lived in Canada in many years, but the fact that Canada is English/French bilingual separates it from the rest of North America. The language tied us to the country. We would sit in the
22 • Mother Tongue
back of the room and make up words when we couldn't remember the right ones. "Don't worry, Madame, we know what we're talking about —it's French-Canadian." Madame always looked at us like she believed us, but when we had turned to each other, laughing, I could see her out of the corner of my eye, laughing with us. She knew we were trying to hold on to something. Once, at the first school I attended in Melbourne, I was talking with Naomi and Jenny Dobson and Jenny Scott-Macquenzie. Naomi was planning to get her ears pierced on the weekend. Jenny ScottMacquenzie, who had just been living in the States for six months, had gotten an extra hole pierced in one ear, so now she had three. She couldn't wear an earring in that one to school—there were strict oneearring-per-ear rules, and that one-per-ear had to be 3mm in diameter. She said that everyone in America had their ears pierced, and I was some kind of proof of this. I only remember what Jenny Dobson said: "My father won't let me get pierced ears. He says it makes girls look like tarts. I'm sure you're not a tart, Catherine, but that's what my dad thinks." Anthony Chong used to call me a damn Yank. He tried to explain to me once that although I was probably a very nice person, he couldn't stand George Bush, so he couldn't like me because I was born in that country. Never mind that I had grown up in Canada—apparently my personality was stamped on my U.S. passport. Katie and Chelsey and I cried when we were put together in a group to rewrite an American account of an historical event. The two of them were upset because they were Canadian, not American, and didn't like being grouped in the eyes of the Australian education system. I was upset because I would always be grouped, and I would always be the odd one out. Daena used to say, every time she saw me, "Hi Ca-thar-en" in a
whiny quasi-American accent. I hated her for that, but I was never quite sure why. Mother Tongue • 23
pr When I moved back to New York, I didn't understand any of the slang my friends used. Just like when I first moved to Australia. "What, you don't understand what that means?" No. 1 don't understand. My Year 10 English teacher, Mrs. Westhorpe, wouldn't let me read aloud in class. She painted her eyelids with blue eye shadow all the way up to the eyebrows, and she never called on me. I would volunteer every day in class, until I got tired of raising my hand. I thought it was me (since the other English teachers didn't like me either) until Claire, one of her favorites, came back from an exchange in California. Claire talked all the time in class, and every time she opened her mouth, Mrs. Westhorpe would squint her eyes into blue eye-shadowed caves. Mrs. Westhorpe never called on Claire to read either, and I thought this was odd until I listened, and I realized that maybe she hated our accents. She hated the way Claire and I said the "r" at the end of words like mother and lunar, the way we pronounced Nestle's chocolate, refusing to call it "ness-els". She hated that we knew the difference.
My first day of school in Australia I walked into my homeroom and my house mistress introduced me. "You're from America?" one of the girls asked. To her, "America" seemed to encompass the entire North American continent. I nodded. "Where?" "New York. But 1 grew up in Canada." "Wow, New York. Have you ever been mugged?" she asked, wide-eyed. I shook my head, and another girl pushed her way into the conversation. "Have you ever been to Disneyland?" I looked at her and my eyebrows met as my forehead wrinkled. "Why would I want to go there?" Whenever my classmates tried to talk American, they came out sounding like television Texas cowboys. So now I say "A-stray-yan" and leave out the "r" in Melbourne. When I go back to Australia, I try to sound just a bit more Canadian than American. This isn't particularly difficult, since I still spell
"color" with a "u" and I say "shaun" instead of "shone." My friends from the States comment on "out" and "about" because my "u"s are long. When I'm in Canada, I say "eh" so much that you can't tell I spend most of the year in New York, except when I get angry and start gesturing wildly like the old Italian men who play dominoes on my corner in Brooklyn. All of these places are a part of me, no matter what my passport says. I used to say that my accent changed with the color of the sky in different latitudes, and the truth is that different words, different sounds, mean different things in different places.
w a U w
24 â€˘ Mother Tongue
Mother Tongue â€˘ 25
DANIEL ROY CONNELLY
from Dysart's Dream—a work in progress
e was in the wardrobe again, for the recurrent nightmare had forced him to flee his bed. Melvin Dysart held his breath, and listened to his pounding heart. He had cracked his head, and his pajamas were soaked with the tears and the sweat of fright and close confinement. He put a hand instinctively to his throat and massaged the throbbing arteries. From the numb tingling in his legs, he guessed he had been there more than an hour. His throat was dry so he coughed—lamely—and broke the stillness of the room in which he spent nearly all of his time when at home. Melvin gathered his limbs and sat up gingerly. His left knee ached, and he thought he must have banged it on the ottoman during whatever desperate journey he had made from the bed. Even awake, he was always crashing into the ottoman, for Melvin, at fifty, was as clumsy as a toddler. He pushed against the door, but knew from experience that he would remain here until his cloying mother brought him tea at seven.
o u o
During his most fretful somnambulance, Melvin would yank the wardrobe door closed behind him and the lock would slip. Twice, maybe three times, since this nightmare had started to invade his sleep, his mother, tea in hand, would see an empty bed, and hear a plangent cry from the cupboard. Such was her shock the first time, when Dysart had stood up before she pulled the door open, when his matted grey hair and cracked face had seemed to jump out at her in the half-light, that he remained on the floor, as calmly as a trapped man can be. He looked through the keyhole, saw the aura of dull winter light surrounding the ill-fitting curtain, and heard two crows chattering in the garden outside his window. He guessed it was six, maybe six-thirty, but so alive, so hurried, were his senses that rational thought escaped clean away. It could have been five, or close on seven. Dysart crouched down again and rubbed his face vigourously. He dared not close his eyes even though he had never dreamt this, or anything, twice in the same night. But the pictures were still vivid, still exact, right down to the stumble on the fifth step of the scaffold.
26 • from Dysart's Dream
Can't even die without making a fool of myself. He was always picked up with dignity for his frailty, and placed on the platform. The black bag was forced down over his head, and the rope looped over and pulled taut behind the left ear. He felt his Adam's apple held tight in the noose, and heard the metallic sound of the safety latch being removed. The sequence ended as he fell, for his head never failed to snap him awake. And this, for Dysart, was the current bane of his dull life. If only he could dream of the moment of death, and not be rescued by waking up; if only he could be forced down to the rope's end; hear his death pronounced by the priest's last amen; feel the cutting of the rope and collapse of his body, then he might be free of this awful vignette which played out every night. But as long as he cheated death every time, his immediate waking thought was the certitude of the same scene playing again and again and again, like some infernal punishment doled out to the most violent transgressor. Except that Melvin Dysart had been condemned not by deed, but by mere association. When the knock came at the door, Melvin was ready. "Good morning, Mother. I am in the wardrobe. Do not be alarmed." His mother, whose mind often struggled for supremacy over her years, and whose natural impulse for inquisition was tamed by the wish not to seem meddlesome—for they only had one another—would react with forced indifference. "That's nice. I'll leave your tea by the bed, dear." "Mother, before you go, would you open the door, please? The lock has slipped." And then, as her memory pierced the fog created by a lifetime of lassitude, she asked (not quite nonchalantly): "Are you sitting down this time?" Once out, Melvin hurriedly removed the cup of tea from her working hand, and explained into her left ear that he had heard a noise coming from his wardrobe, just as he woke up, not ten minutes ago, honestly, which necessitated...what? Oh, sorry, Mother, which made him have a look inside, and he stumbled on the box of records, and fell ...yes, I'm alright...fell inside, and accidentally pulled the door to,
from Dysart's Dream • 27
behind him.. .and that she mustn't worry. Everything is fine! "Oh," said his mother, amazed at how round Melvin's eyes were, "so it's got nothing to do with that horrible hanging dream this time then?" The immediate provenance of Melvin's dream was the least of his concerns: his father, dead and gone for thirty years, had been Britain's last licensed executioner. When the conscience of a more humanitarian government had established the absurdity of punishing inhumanity with further inhumanity, capital punishment was statutorily abolished, and Derek Dysart—or "Dangler" to anybody who read a newspaper—found himself unemployed. What truly worried Melvin was the length of time that had passed—forty or so years in which he had known no more or less than he did now of the grisly family business—before the dream had come to occupy his every thought.
z z o u
Melvin had reached the age of fifty without experiencing anything that might be called "exciting." Melvin was born, Melvin stayed in his room, Melvin went to school. Melvin also read English at university for a year, before the untimely suicide of his father sapped Melvin of what little vigour he possessed, and he failed his first set of exams. Returning with complete apathy to the family home, Melvin dedicated himself to the support of his mother. With a small government pension from the Prison Service to supplement his salary as a junior stockist in the town library, Melvin and his mother could continue to live with the austere comforts that they had always enjoyed, namely: occasional electricity, adequate heat, and inadequate light. There was no television in the tiny house, just a small, old-fashioned wireless. His father had been a meticulous reader, a discipline he handed down to his son. Aside from the two tattered leather armchairs, the only other piece of furniture in the living room was a stuffed, creaking bookcase, which housed various works by most of the last century's more popular English-language writers. Pride of place was a 1922 edition of Collected Poems of Oscar Wilde, which held Derek Dysart's
D 28 • from Dysart's Dream
most cherished work, "The Ballad of Reading Gaol." Perhaps unsurprisingly for one who placed great emphasis on the exactitude of his trade, Melvin's father delighted in the words of those talented enough to conjure poetry from the grizzle of his duties. Although the senior Dysart never revealed the precise details of his work to his wife and only child, it was enough for Melvin to know his father's occupation—information supplied by all the national newspapers on the day of an execution—to be in mute awe of it. In a box in his wardrobe, Melvin had a collection of press cuttings from his father's "swinging" years, which included grainy black and white photographs of the nation's finest entering Wandsworth Gaol on the morning of an execution, and leaving again, suitably dour, after carrying out his unique duty to Queen and country. WATTS HANGED: JUSTICE FOR ALL carried the front page of one wrinkled London Chronicle, and deep into the third column of sombre reportage, Melvin could read, whenever he felt the need to weigh up the consequence of having a notorious father, that "Mr Derek Dysart, Esq. presided on the occasion with due solemnity. Watts's execution was Mr Dysart's fourteenth in the last five years." When Derek had been pensioned off he wrote a book—quite a sensation at the time although of little personal profit (for the proceeds were held in the public purse)—in which he recounted each of his individual executions in as much detail as decency and respect for surviving family would allow. So it was that a fixated sixties public learnt of the intricacies of the executioner's trade—what one should wear on execution day, how one rehearses, exactly what one carried in one's small black case, and where the hoods were made—as well as direct quotes from ne'er-do-wells like the wife poisoner Major Tweed, whose last words on this earth had been: "Let's see if it's as quick as cyanide, shall we?" Underneath photographs of the condemned during their last twenty-four hours, Derek had interlaced some choice Wildean couplets with his very own quotable quotes about his clientele. Of one "Boris Lunkevski," a Russian emigre turned multiple stabber, Wilde led in with "We waited for the stroke of eight; each
z z o u o ai
from Dysart's Dream • 29
tongue was thick with thirst, for the stroke of eight is the stroke of fate that makes a man accursed," followed by Derek, who recalled feeling that he doubted the mental competence of the man he had despatched to oblivion (although he thoughtfully left unanswered the enquiry as to the mental competence of those who really despatched him). Another revelatory snippet was the sheer joie de vivre with which Mary-Anne Proctor (aka the "Gloucester Cannibal," and sole female victim of "Dangler") mounted the scaffold. Dysart wrote that she "took the steps two at a time" and had a "smile as wide as the Thames" as he bound her arms and legs with his customised leather straps. This book, now well thumbed, was in the box along with the newspaper cuttings, some fan mail, and letters of appreciation from the victims' (and in one strange case, the culprit's) families. And it was in this box that Melvin had found the means to look back over the gruesome past that maintained such a firm hold on his wretched present.
z z o u >o o< z D
But looking had not proved enough. Looking had not rid Melvin of the nightmare which now possessed both his sleeping and waking hours. So, unknown to his mother, he had taken the advice of Arnold, manic depressive cum Deputy Librarian, and had started to visit a local psycho-therapist. During his weekly call at the office of Dr Etienne Grimaud, Melvin would attempt to recapture as much of his past, particularly his early formative years, as forty years in between would allow. Not least of the weighty barriers before the reticent Melvin was the vicarious thrill, mingled with the profound guilt, that Melvin felt at the act of deceiving his mother. But the need for secrecy was clear, for Mrs Dysart—even at eighty and with just one good arm and ear to feel and hear her way through the twilight years—was firm in the opinion that only she knew what was best for Melvin, and that only under her roof would Melvin find the comfort he needed. The scope for open dissent was non-existent, and in any case Melvin was so fearful of upsetting his only surviving family member, that he preferred taciturnity to opposition, and capitulation to antagonism. But in a moment of weakness—or was it strength at last—Melvin had taken the photocopied business card given him by a mumbling Arnold,
30 . from Dysart's Dream
and made arrangements to meet the once eminent, now, through ravage of drink, largely forgotten, Dr Grimaud. Before his sixth session, as he sat in the waiting room and contemplated the centre-page print in Dr Grimaud's copy of Edvard Munch: Existential Nightmares, Melvin suddenly recalled what he thought might be a defining moment. Grimaud buzzed the intercom and his heavily accented voice filled the small ante-chamber: "Melvan, please curm in now." Melvin grasped the ornate devil's-head knocker, and moved as one with the heavy door. "Gerd afternoon, Melvan. 'Ow are we feeling today, my friend?" Doctor Grimaud always used the first-person plural when talking to the second-person singular—a fact that simply confused Melvin, who often felt he needed to answer for both of them. "We're, er, I'm a little tired, Dr Grimaud." "But zis is not unusual for us, Melvan. One look at us tells me zat we 'ave been dreaming again." "Seven days since we were last here, seven times we've, er, I've, had the dream." "Please, lie down, and tell me anything that comes to our mind." Melvin removed his shoes, banged his right knee on the ornate wooden pedestal which held aloft the couch, and, still rubbing furiously, stretched his tall, skinny frame over the length of the leather chaise-longue. He took care not to disturb the kitchen towelling that Dr Grimaud had laid in place to catch the excess grease from his hair, and this achieved, placed his head gently onto the intended target. He stared at the artex ceiling for three or four minutes, before commencing with the following memory from his fourteenth year. Melvin, in spite of thick glasses, a large promontorial nose, and startlingly upright hair, had an unusually passive time at school. In the winter term of 1959, he pulled off something of a major coup. In a moment of schoolboy madness, this normally timid boy launched an unwanted Scotch egg from the middle of a crowd of classmates straight at the left temple of the deputy headmaster, Mr Cornwallis, who was
from Dysart's Dream • 31
locking his bicycle in the racks some forty yards away. The unlikeliness of this occurrence cannot be overstressed, for Melvin was weak and febrile, forever standing, as do many such debilitated youth, with his feet pointing inward at one another, and his spindly knees improbably twisted. In short, Melvin Dysart, who could not project either his voice or his personality beyond very immediate boundaries, was not thought capable of hurling a Scotch egg with such ferocity. But one who would seem a natural target for local bullies, held a highly potent trump card: his father's occupation. Thus, Melvin managed to enlist the protection of the universally feared "Ellis" brothers, purveyors of violence par extraordinaire, who were suitably in awe of Melvin's family "Ties" (for want of a better term). In exchange for largely fabricated tidbits of hangman gossip, Melvin escaped the whipping end of the brothers' ire. And perhaps less surprising than finding himself under the Ellis aegis, was the fact that the older Ellis brother—whose scant regard for normative societal behaviour was to become legend throughout Britain—later found his own premature demise, dancing airily at the end of one of Dangler's ropes.
The spectacle of the Scotch egg's slow ascent, even trajectory, and perfect hit, was spellbinding, and a crowd of twenty animalistic fourteen-year-olds was held agog at the event. From somewhere in their midst, Melvin had hurled the egg—no target intended—as far as his arm would allow. Usually this would have meant a pitiful flop some twenty feet away, but on this day, the egg seemed to be borne on demons' wings, and as the arc of the egg's descent intersected with the crouching figure in the bicycle rack, none present could possibly doubt a major furor in the making. Unfortunately for Melvin, the schoolboy's finely honed Darwinian notion of individual survival supplanted the need to remain united, and no sooner had Cornwallis wiped the gelatinous albumen and bread crumbs from his face, then Melvin found himself entirely alone in the middle of the playground, with a huge grin snaking round his face. What Melvin had assumed to have been shielded by the chorus line in fact took on a starring role in a oneman show. His name was screamed as if by a maniac, and within
32 • from Dysart's Dream
fifteen minutes Melvin was up in Headmaster Crabtree's office, riven with fear, and standing next to a fulminating Mr Cornwallis. Melvin sat bolt upright on Grimaud's couch. "Are you listening?" Silence. "Are you listening?" "Why do you ask zis, Melvin?" "I want to be sure of your attention. I don't want my life to fall on deaf ears." "Does it?" "It has. It does. Nobody listens to me."" "I am listening to you, Melvin," said Dr Grimaud, as he rotated a new lead into his retractable pencil. "Please, go on." The immediate upshot of the flying egg was for the senior Dysart to be called to the school. The summons was answered immediately, because Derek Dysart was rarely away from home. His job was deemed too stressful to the mind to consider auxiliary employment, and it would not be too much of an exaggeration to state that Derek worked no more than six hours in a year, with three of these devoted to issues of fine-tuning, and three to the actual despatch of clients. His remuneration, however, was over-compensatory, and along with a small inheritance from his own father, and a paid-up mortgage on a threebedroom terraced house, the family lived comfortably within its means. Outgoings were minimal, for the Dysarts were not the sort to socialise beyond Christmas bonuses for the paper-boy and the milkman. They had no other relatives, and few friends. Family life was almost entirely self-contained, and Melvin's daily outing to school was his only contact with his peers. Thus, Derek Dysart stood next to his son in the headmaster's office just one hour after he had been telephoned. Given the notoriety of his father, a certain aura of fear as well as manifest visceral terror would come to enshroud those who met him. Fear, for this was a man whose stern, mustachioed face was the very last that a select, but wretched, few had seen; and terror, at how it must feel to meet him in the other set of circumstances. Neither Crabtree nor Cornwallis proved themselves beyond human reckoning in this
z u o Pi
from Dysart's Dream • 33
z z o u
(or indeed, any other) regard. As Derek "Dangler" Dysart was led into Crabtree's office, his first words, even as he held out a stiff hand to the headmaster, were that he hoped he had been called in on a matter of the gravest importance, as he was preparing for "a little business" next week, and that it was rare for anybody to ask to see him unless his presence was essential, if you understand my meaning, gentlemen. Crabtree meekly offered his hand back, and shivered at the shake. Cornwallis broke into an immediate sweat and was unable to say anything more than "Hnng dya do, Mr D-D-Dangsart, sir." On the precise subject of what his lad had been up to, Crabtree laughed nervously and said it was hardly a capital offence, ha ha, but that Melvin had hit Mr Cornwallis with a Scotch egg, and that such behaviour was... was... was... Crabtree stopped abruptly. Derek Dysart had shifted his steely gaze from the headmaster's face, and was instead looking up and down the length of his five-four-five frame while, Crabtree was convinced, making an heuristic assessment of his weight. When Cornwallis was asked to recall the precise nature of Melvin's offence, his teeth rattled like a struck glockenspiel, and the three others could merely stare at him, open-mouthed. He was on the point of regaining his composure when Derek Dysart looked hard at his Adam's apple, and suggested that the hapless stammerer should undo his top button, the better to breathe easily. This was too much for Cornwallis, who bolted horizontally out of the door as quickly as "Dangler" had seen anybody bolt vertically. Now deprived of his key witness, Mr Crabtree apologised profusely for the trouble caused and suggested that, in future, Melvin be a little more careful when he threw his eggs, and that normally boys could expect to be suspended for such a misdemeanour, but in view of the.. .the.. .well.. .the.. .then Melvin could be let off with a warning. On leaving the study with Melvin firmly under his arm, Derek stated, gruffly, that he was quite aware of the gravity of suspending people, and that but for this waste of time, he would be researching that very topic. Crabtree gulped, bade them all good day, and limply shook the hands of both father and son. "And why do you tell me this story, Melvan?"
34 â€˘ from Dysart's Dream
"Because it was the first time I realised how terrified people were of my father, and that his occupation was the reason why nobody ever called at the house, and why we never went out together as a family." "And 'ow did you feel about zis.. .zis.. .estrangement?" "Like I would have to spend the rest of my life in the cocoon that my father had built his wife and son. And sure enough. I have completely failed to adapt to.. .to.. .other people. My father's job was to take the most wicked people out of society for good, and that's exactly what he did to his son, too." "Hmmm. Zis is very good, Melvan. You are talking very bravely, very bravely. Ahm afraid we 'ave no more time today. But next week, perhaps we could start again with our feelings of exile. Zat will be fifty pounds please." Melvin handed over the money, which Grimaud walked across to a large walnut cupboard on the other side of his spacious study. Inside the half-open door, Melvin could see a small metallic safe alongside several bottles of whisky in various stages of demise. As he closed the study door behind him, he heard a clinking of crystal on glass. He reconfirmed next week's appointment with the secretary, and left.
z z o u o z < from Dysart's Dream â€˘ 35
A Diner in Pennsylvania
(INSPIRED BY ALLEN GINSRURG'S "A SUPERMARKET IN CALIFORNIA"
What could have brought you here tonight? Buddha, I saw you in pink lights on Hamilton Street escaping the biting November night through a steamed-up door. I was there with cold toes meandering to the same stuffy retreat, the only place I was certain would be open on Thanksgiving. The permanence of it all: Crowds of high school kids taking refuge in bloated pink seats, slumping over ketchup bottles. A pack of reified selves making the waitresses grumble and leaving bad tips. Horny selves looking to be touched alone in the cluttered womb of an old car parked outside, chasing after the bluest hair, the most piercings, the plaidest pants. Tonight you took your place among us, watching the things that feed our bored, empassioned mouths. Piles of French fries jerked by, milkshakes crowned with whipped cream, toasted cheese sandwiches with dried-up pickles on the side.
Egos reborn to the same place a million times. The city is fat—with lonely men who stay at home watching TV, single mothers who work nights in dim restaurants, grandparents and parents who blame the PRs, the defeated ghosts of silk mills and department stores. This is what's become of our souls, Sakyamuni—spattered with ketchup and neglect, smudged with tobacco tar and English-only laws. Sit us down on the floor with its crumbs and ashes to meditate— watch the thick paste that's become our air. Whatever vehicle you can offer, Buddha—I'll build you a stupa from stale donuts stacked loosely if you could sprinkle the Dharma on our fried mozzarella sticks. If you could make wisdom transcend our strip malls and salad bars. Where are we going, Sakyamuni? I followed you outside into a frigid night buzzing with pink and green lights. We walked up the sidewalk blinking with traffic lights after bedtime, heading toward the slow, unholy stomach of Allentown.
You were an ageless round man on a pink stool sipping tea with a smile. Invisible beside the coffee cups—you must have been. No one noticed your auspicious marks, your big belly in an orange robe. What do you think of us, Sakyamuni? Piled up in a room without a beat, just a blur of cigarette smoke mingling with lost diplomas, forgotten curfews, I'm gonnas, and I won't become my parents.
36 • A Diner in Pennsylvania
A Diner in Pennsylvania • 37
fter Christmessy break we were inforwarned by various teechurls that a new transfer student was to be treated eversonicely; mostly bescuz she suffered from a severely cantankerous toyminal degenervative bone disease, but also bescuz her spew-spanky father was the clarpy new owner of Flavorco, the chief industry in our defuncky ittle varmin town, emplannoying most of our paired-runts. My fizzhead teacher looked directly at me when he said scumone should ask her to the Valentiny's Day Prance. She was surwheeled into my pollysigh class by her well-begroomed smother and lifted into the desk chair. "Everyone, this is Marcy Banish" chirped our glitchy teacher. "Hello Marcy," we sung in lovely unison, none of us looking at her as we were forewarned not to stopstare. Class proceeded and we all cricked our crannecks to have a snooksee. She was small and yellow, peucy, wrinkled and shiny. She smiled at us. The bell riprang and teacher made it clear we were all responsible for transgetting her from class to class to classyassyass. We were care-respecting with her in the beginning inning, transputting her from surwheelchair to desk chair and back. After a few tweeks o'calendar time we dispensyhenced with the surwheelchair as she was so light and we went from carrying her craddlocked in our arms to desholding her adunder packarcelike, passing her off in the hall to anygoner going in el correcto diewrecksheonay. She arrived in classyass dishevly with bits of lint and plapel stuck to her stickpasty skin. When I finally smackasked her to the goddam Venereal Day Prance she glooked all startlestruck. All her crinkles pulled up&away from her eyes and mouth. I took that for a 'ja' and said I would poke her up at 7:31ish. I arrived a little beerbedrunk but my hair was comied, tie clippied, and my breath smelled passionfruity. Her father was all crank-crunchy about driveling scareful and getting her home on time and being osogentlentle with her ribbyibies they being so dellyelicate so I was saying "yessir ofcoursir" and about to bark "yawant me to
o 55 5 u 38
Boneless Gummy Girl
take her out or not" when her smiling smother came down the stairs and handgave her over to me. She had on a fliffy dress, her lips were spinky and her hair was becurlycued. Her smother snapflashed our photato. All was heavyquiet in the car and I was wondundering if the other squirrels had squealed what I usually up&do and whether she'd be grindy if I didn't so I pulled off the main road, gleaned way over and gave her a lipsmacker with some snakey-tongue. Her head snarped up and back and she skeemed and glasped for air. Then she sneezlesplattered a brown paste onto the windshield. My mother's cart is quite small and not wanting to gutchuck on the steering wheel I leaned over and upgutchucked on her fluffy lap and quickly tried to skoosh and shrub it off with my jacket sleeve. Her ittle arms upshot, her eyes scrunched, her mouth wide-opened and she was glaspshafting for air. She was gallaughing. So I started gallaughing. When she could get enough air she said all prettyitally "you just spit-up all over me," and we upflorped into convulsions, practacally cry-dying. When we began to snatch our breath I fingerpointed to the brown paste on the windshield and we slacked back into sprainful convulsing glaughter. As we recovered, sighing and breathing, she said, "they call you Tongue Dickanhairy." We glarfed some and I said, "they scald you Mooshy Danish the Boneless Gummy Girl." .. .Dead black skylance. I shook my floppy head pooking at my droopy reflection in the snide window and said "stupidiot, stupidiotfuck, stupidiotfuckenidiot." I didn't want to look at her. I thought she might be crybawling. I only looked because a snapsour smell nipcaught my attenciention. She was glarfing so hard no noise could out and she was peeing, making a peepuddle on the javinyl upholstery around her. "Dammit Mooshy," I scollered, "stop pisspeeing-up the upholstery," and I gliggled to hear myself so shtook and shucky. "Sorry," she sniffled sweetly when she could get some sound out, "I leak." I sputtered up the cart and headed back onto the main road. "Look,"
Boneless Gummy Girl â€˘
S 5 s
MlRELA N. T R O H N
Eastbound she tweeped, pointing to Flavorco, "let's." So I sideswerved into the porkinglot and carried her onto the looting dock where she squizzled in through a three inch gap and let me in straightways thru the dorportle. I carried her while she gave the five-scent tour down aisles of steaming pools. "Bananacabana, pumkin frothily, sourish cucumber, mixed-up seafood essence, kiwiwi, ancient stinkey mushroom, oldfruit lunch, sweet&foul beef, southern gumboat, crapapple splice, teriyuki, dijonglaze, spinach-chic,..." I beseated her on the edge of a tank, shunked off my clothes and climbed into burgundy cherry. T'was warm and glarmy like cough slurup. I slooped under holding my lungbreath as long as I mightcould, listening to the tank eardrumming all mechanucklesque. When I came up and grubbed my eyesprockets her ittle dress was on the floor and she was glowing yellow-green, backwading out into lime-cooler-delite, humming and singing.
Each summer, until the age of nine, I kissed mama good-bye, and traveled East to spend time with a tough-soft man I called tataie. 1 traveled by train, my head out the window in the rain —cool drops in a cloud of steam slapped my face. Each summer, sharp-tongued tanti Fana would swing and sway as she sat next to me on the train, her eyes closed in repose. She was as tall as she was wide, and now, I realize, she was at a point, when hot flashes came and went making the skin 'round her throat glow, the color of red mud. Each summer, as the train curved along the contours of the earth, I daydreamed from dawn to dusk, on the cracked leather seat of a second-class cabin. The train cut through towns, big and small, and once in a while I'd be surprised to see children my age, gathered along the way to wave, and throw stones at the passing train.
u 40 • Boneless Gummy Girl
Eastbound • 41
A L I S O N TRAWEEK Dry Father
In August 1985 we moved to San Antonio. I remember the air was dry. I remember that was when I started praying and just before I gave it up. I remember my father was loved in church. In church my mother let me lay my head in her lap and sleep through the sermon and she didn't tell my father when I took The Body of Christ home as bloody medicine to save my dying dog. I remember the incense stifling my thoughts and I remember the air was dry. Ten years later, in the desert, alone on top of the water tower on top of Monte Luna absorbing the full force of the Santa Fe sun I laughed out loud and raised my arms to heaven because I was Master of the Universe and powerless to change it. The air was dry, I remember, and my throat was dry, and I was crying for the beauty of life.
In 1985 I didn't know about "deserts," or "God" or "powerless to change it" but I remember waking up those mornings Aftershadow of my father still heavy on my chest shadow of impossibility slapped across my mouth. I was alone in my room the air was dry. I was praying for options, I was choking down truth as bloody medicine to save myself. Having grown up in Houstonport city— bayou city— flooding thunderstorm water to my thighs city— I always noticed how dry it was in San Antonio. And that my father had at least two faces. And I couldn't get the stink of incense off my clothes, and my dog died anyway. One of my father's faces could only be seen at night, the other needed water to breathe. In San Antonio at night, I remember, the air was always dry.
42 • Dry Father
Dry Father • 43
In the highlands of Judah, the almond tree Opens its naked buds to winter stars. No error, one generation says to the next, Its daughters dance—so bold a virgin strut. Branches jingle like bangles; young petals flare, Mocking wet blue rancor which pelts the canopy. Judah is a lion's whelp—So too the early almond tree, Brandishing blossoms before its rivals dare.
3 2 ai
m 44 • Yehuda
wait for my daughter Shannon to come down the stairs and drink the coffee I have made before she drives to school. Her alarm bleeps on eternal snooze and I call up to her, an action I have repeated so often that the parrot now shrieks "Shannon, wake up!" at six-thirty each morning. She is seventeen now. Her father and I divorced two years ago. She tells me she can't wait to go to college so she can escape "this shithole of a town" where she spends hours at the local diner with friends, drinking coffee and not sleeping. I let her stay out late; she will anyway. It also keeps her with me, instead of her father. I go up the stairs and touch Shannon's shoulder. She puts henna on her hair to make it a vibrant red instead of the beautiful brown-blond she was born with. "Honey." I put my hand on her shoulder and she twitches. "You're going to miss your class." She sits up and blinks as if she has no idea where she is. For a second 1 imagine her waking up in someone else's bed, looking for her panties the way I sometimes did when I stayed with my college boyfriend. But for some reason I picture Shannon not with the smile of the recently kissed, but afraid, raped and crying. I push the image away. I start to put my arms around her, to hold her next to me like I did when she was afraid or sleepy as a child. "Okay," Shannon says, and sits up. "I'm awake." When she goes into the shower I straighten her bed and pick up the clothes she threw on the floor, fold them neatly, and place them on the corduroy armchair that used to be her grandfather's. She wears jeans and sweaters, like me. I pretend not to notice the condom wrappers that have fallen behind the headboard—did it break or were they just careless? For a second I'm afraid that it happened here, in my house. But no, Shannon has never brought boys home while I'm here. Unless they come over while I'm at work. I glance over the empty beer bottles she hides in the back of her closet along with a bong made from a plastic milk carton. When a bottle of pennyroyal fell out of her back-
2 >< w u
Wintering • 45
pack—an herb that's used for inducing abortion—I said nothing. We are close these days. She hasn't slammed the door and told me what a bitch I am in almost a year. In turn, I haven't called her selfish. Though it makes me wonder if this trust I thought we had between us is merely an illusion. Each morning, every night, I wait for her to tell me she is pregnant. When the phone rings I expect to hear her voice, quavering and honest over the scratchy line of a pay phone. Sometimes I stand outside her door and listen to her crying on the phone. The conversations always have the same theme: doctor, fear, the pregnancy-induced panic that I have heard in my own friends' voices. I want to burst in but then I think no, that isn't the way to do it. In the kitchen I make Shannon toast so she will not drink her entire thermos of coffee on an empty stomach. She bolts down the stairs and trips, sliding down the last four. "Fuck," she mutters. She rubs her knee and stares at the steps with an expression of genuine surprise. We have lived in this house for six years and she misjudges the steps at least once a week. I'm amazed she doesn't have constantly banged-up elbows but Shannon was never one to bruise easily. When she stands, I am struck by how exhausted she looks. I have an image of her at age six, the tallest girl in ballet, looking like an adorable, misplaced giraffe on her spindly legs which were clad in the pink tights she loathed. Shannon had refused to attend the recital once she found out she would have to wear pink. I let her skip it. The recital was silly anyway.
"I made you some toast," I offer. Shannon fills her coffee thermos. She puts a slice of toast between her teeth and mutters thanks. In ten seconds she's out the door trying to start the rusted Toyota she bought with the money she earned waitressing at that wretched little cafe. Because her father wouldn't buy her a car and I couldn't afford to. The engine makes a crunching sound like a can smashing underfoot. The noise continues for a few minutes until Shannon gives up. She comes back inside, not bothering to stomp the snow off her boots. There are tears in her eyes. She's going to tell me now, I think. She throws her book bag on the floor of the hall and I don't even mind. Just tell me; I will her to say it. Shannon narrows her eyes at me. Even for me, the
46 • Wintering
flip of her moods is hard to anticipate. "Forget it," she says. "I'm not going today. Will you call for me?" "Did you have a test?" "No." Shannon shrugs. "Plus," she says. "I only have three classes today and I'm sick of saying T want to be the sweetheart of Michael J. Fox' in Spanish class." "How do you say that?" Shannon says, "Yo quiero ser la novia de Michael ]. Fox." She pauses. "Pere* el us en cadron feisimo y no voy con el si la vida solamente en este planeta erdn las cucarrachas." I don't speak Spanish but I've heard it enough to know her pronunciation sounds right. "That's 'But he's an incredibly ugly bastard and I wouldn't go out with him if cockroaches were the only life on this planet.'" It's not hard to see why Shannon's teacher's aren't terribly upset when she storms out in the middle of their classes—something I'm told she does more and more frequently. Shannon's a day student at a private school that schedules her time from seven in the morning until six at night. But it's better than the public schools in our area where the teachers can't even spell and are intimidated by a student as bright and rebellious as Shannon. I make the call, tell them she has the stomach flu. The secretary, Patty, knows I'm lying but who cares? Shannon still gets almost all A's, sometimes a B+. I think it's great, her father always asks why she didn't get straight A's, if she thinks that won't affect where she goes to college. At least he still has to pay for her education. It's funny how, after twenty years, once you're divorced, the person you fell in love with exists only as the father of your child. I mean, that's my only connection with Matt, how I try to think of him. As if I never held him all night after he was embarrassed by premature ejaculation, as if he never touched me. I used to think what does sex matter if you have love ? Now I think it was a sign, a very clear sign I chose to ignore. I watch Shannon go back upstairs where I know she will sleep for another few hours. I work only part time right now, at a clothing store
Wintering • 47
and today I don't have to go in. I stay at the kitchen table feeling that I should be doing something productive like cleaning the house or figuring out a way to pay the mortgage, which is so late I've been getting threats from the bank. I could have gotten alimony, I guess, but it just didn't feel right. I stare out at the snow, holding my coffee. I'm glad my horses are warm in their barn. The bird has quieted down and sleeps in her cage. The snow is bright, like pieces of glass. It gives a shine to the mountains and trees and almost obscures the only other house I can see from this window. Even the driveway is covered— shimmering. It makes me think of a Robert Frost poem I read in college. Many people thought it was about death but I focused on the beauty of the snow, the peacefulness on that road where it seemed that nothing could go wrong. What I like about snow is that, if you aren't going skiing, it gives you an excuse to stay in and build a fire and think about those things that only enter your mind when you are alone. I'm not afraid of being alone anymore, just curious. When I was a little older than Shannon, twenty-five, and right after I'd gotten married, the doctor found unusual cells on my cervix that had to be frozen off. I remember that my husband and I were poor then. If we wanted to go to the movies we had to search through all the pockets of our jeans for forgotten quarters and rumpled dollar bills. I thought it was bohemian and I guess, at that time, Matt did too. Later he thought we were just naive. It was because we were poor that we chose this particular doctor instead of one of the very professional gynecologists my parents had always paid for me to see.
I had to wear one of those awful cloth gowns and put my feet up in the stirrups. I felt like a dairy cow—neck locked in a metal clamp, dreading the milk machine. Matt was in the waiting area. I recognized the doctor from when I was a child. He was a short man with black hair and an oily face who had tried to move into the Polo Grounds, where my family lived, but was rejected. He hovered over me and I could see the huge pores of his nose oozing sweat and grease. Of all the gynecologists in the Denver area, I had just picked the wrong office.
48 • Wintering
"Will this be painful?" I asked and stared at the chair behind him. "It may be. It's because we have to get you cleaned out. You're dirty inside," he told me. I wanted to leave and go somewhere else. Who cared what it cost? How could I have picked this guy? This was my body. But the nurse had already given me some kind of pain medication and I felt groggy. I could hear the sounds of instruments and the doctor talking to the nurse. The doctor spread my legs with a his gloved hand and inserted a metal speculum. His assistant had described it like a wart on the cervix. My breath got trapped halfway up my throat when I felt him touch the metal thing to my cervix. Like a sharp wand of ice searing inside me. I wanted the nurse to come over and let me hold her hand like they're supposed to do. But I couldn't reach her. I said, "Give me more painkiller." "We can't give you anymore," the nurse answered. "We have to get you clean," the doctor told me. When the whole thing was done I got dressed. I promised myself not to let the doctor know how much he had hurt me. When he met me at the reception desk he told me I would have to get a follow-up. "Go to hell," I said. I called him a bastard. I told him he was the most unprofessional doctor I had ever met and I would do my best to see that his license was revoked. Then I threw up in the parking lot. I sobbed while Matt held me. "He hated me because I had more than him when I was young," I told Matt. "Because my parents had money." Matt smoothed my hair. "You can go lie down at home," he suggested. "Then you'll feel better." Matt never had much sympathy for the plight of the rich until he became preoccupied with making money himself. But that was much later. My hand drifts to that space between my hip and belly button. It's something I used to do to when I was pregnant, to feel Shannon move. The snow's still falling. In tremendous flakes almost the size of popcorn. How many shapes can you find in a snowflake? A dancer? A crystal ? The lock to a secret door? I used to ask Shannon that when
Wintering • 49
she was little. "No two are the same," I said as we watched the flakes come down and she would catch them on her tongue and giggle. She was so happy then. When we were a family. Now she says she wants to go to college in the East, away from here. What about your family? I ask. What family? she responds. The phone rings and I jump, suddenly aware of the inside of my house, of Shannon sleeping upstairs. "Hello?" I repeat it. The caller hangs up. I suspect it's the boy who got Shannon pregnant. He used to call and ask for her but now when I answer the phone, he hangs up. There are clicks on the answering machine where a voice should be. I asked Shannon about him, Nick, if she were still seeing him. She said something about how relationships were pointless and that men just wanted to screw over women as best they could. That's not the feminism she learned from me. I think about calling this boy Nick. He's also a day student at Shannon's school, a year older than she. 1 would be friendly, just tell him that, as Shannon's mother, I wanted to know what was going on and help. Give them money or whatever they needed. Take her to the clinic. I would have to be nice to him—if I wasn't he'd never meet with me. But then maybe I'd just want to wring his neck. Shake him. Make him cower into a corner and beg forgiveness. I decide to make lunch for Shannon and me. When she was younger I used to let her ditch school and the two of us would drive to a nearby town, have French onion soup, and go shopping. I called them our mental health days. Sometimes I would sip a glass of Chardonnay and listen to Shannon talk about school or books or dreams she had. Some of those dreams are lost now, I think. She used to create fantasy boyfriends that she would have in college. Someone to impress. "If I go to school in New England," she'd say, "we'll drive to New York on the weekends to see plays. Have dinner. Maybe go to museums." There was always a "we." Shannon let her eyes linger on a young man passing by the restaurant. "I love it when guys have those crinkles around their eyes. You know the ones you can only see when they smile? Any guy I go out with has got to have that."
50 • Wintering
Now she just feels sour. "Men want to hurt you," she told me "Even if they don't know it, that's what they want." I remember I touched her hand and said I didn't think all men were like that, not in my experience. "Like Dad was so different," she answered. I hear Shannon come out of her room and go into the bathroom and then the sound of retching, coughing. Morning sickness. 1 had it when I was pregnant with her as well. I run upstairs and knock on the door. "Are you all right?" More coughing. Then a feeble "Yeah." The toilet flushes. The shower turns on. I go back downstairs and reheat two baked potatoes in the oven. It's faster in the microwave but they don't taste as good. I always make Shannon baked potatoes when she's sick because they're easy on the stomach and she hates chicken soup. "I think I have the flu," she tells me when she comes down. Her long hair leaves wet spots on her shirt because she hasn't bothered to dry it with the towel. Her face is pale. She tells me her stomach hurts. "I'm making us some potatoes," I say. "And when I drive into town I'll get you some movies." "1 just want this month to be over," Shannon stares at the ends of her hair and watches drops of water fall off. Lately she has given up on wearing any makeup or paying attention to her looks. Still, she's a lovely girl and I don't just say that because I'm her mother. She doesn't even realize that when she enters a room people turn to look at her, are intimidated by her beauty. I had the same effect when I was younger and I never appreciated it until it was gone. "Look," I say. There's a herd of elk moving into our front yard, into the horse pasture. They walk slowly, deliberately through snow up to their knees. "The elk are getting so thin. There's not enough for them to eat in the winter." "You always think that. They're wild animals. They're fine." 1 wonder what she sees when she looks at those elk. To me they're majestic—they possess a kind of grace and dignity unknown to us. I watch a large one perk its ears and raise its head. The brown collar of his fur ripples in the wind and he has at least four points on his antlers, Wintering • 51
which means he is old. I look back to Shannon. She's not staring at the elk but somewhere beyond them with the same expression she got when she was six and had a fever of 103. Shannon coughs. I get up and take the potatoes out of the oven. I put just a little butter on both of them, some salt and pepper. I bring us both a glass of water. We eat in silence. Shannon sips from her thermos, a different one than she had this morning. "You shouldn't drink coffee if your stomach feels bad," I say. Shannon shrugs. "It's just tea." She takes tiny bites of her potato, smashes it with her fork in grid patterns. It's useless when she's in this mood. I stare out at the snow. Even the pine trees are covered with white. I'll have to give the elk some of the hay I have for the horses, so they can make it through the winter. Two headlights come up our driveway. It's a car I don't know and Shannon hasn't seen it yet. A young man parks the car and slips on the snow when he gets out. He falls in the snow and brushes his jeans without getting much of the snow off. I guess because he doesn't care. Maybe it's that he looks like a boy I had a crush on in college, or the fact that he fell and is probably cold, but I open the door for him despite the way Shannon's face has just hardened. I see that he has light lines around his eyes that would give him a charming look if he were to smile. He doesn't. Shannon's got to resolve this, I think. She can't just run away to college in the East and forget the things that have happened to her here, the people who have shaped her life. She comes to the door, throws on a coat and steps onto the porch instead of letting the boy come inside. I put my plate in the dishwasher but then I come back so I can hear what they are saying. "I really needed to see you," the boy says to Shannon. "Well, you have." If she were not standing on our porch she would probably light a cigarette and blow her smoke at him. "It's just—" o u
"I'm sorry," the boy says. "I'm scared too." I sit at the kitchen table where I can see them. The boy stares at his shoes. Shannon glares at his forehead as if she boring a hole there with her eyes. "I don't know what you want me to do." He doesn't raise his eyes. "I want you to feel just half of what I do. To wake up and puke. To hate your body for making someone want to do this to you." "I didn't think—" "That 1 would get pregnant?" Shannon's entire body is rigid. She looks as if she could either flee into the house crying or tear this boy's limbs from his body. "I would have married you." The boy tries to touch Shannon's shoulder. Shannon stares straight at the boy. He looks hopeful for a moment, a little goofy with his hair hanging down into his eyes. "We can still get married," he says. "I would never marry you," Shannon says. Her voice is icy and removed and she stands there, completely locked into herself so nothing can reach her. I can't tell if she ever cared for this boy just like I was never sure if Matt had loved me. The boy turns and gets into his car. Shannon glares at the car driving away and only comes inside when the car is now longer visible, when the rattle of the engine has disappeared. "Maybe his car will go off the road," she says. "Did you listen'!" she hisses. "Honey—" God, if she would just say those words. If she could just trust me that much. Her amber eyes are wide. I wonder what happened to the little girl who thought the world was hers, who didn't have to worry about getting hurt. "You can talk to me, you know. About anything." "Sure." She's doubtful. But she sits down at the kitchen table next to me. She brings her knees up in front of her chest on the wooden
"I don't care," Shannon says. "You're not the one who has to get your body scraped out. You're not the one who was drunk and was told we were using condoms."
52 . Wintering
chair. She curls herself into a ball, the way she used to when she was a little girl hiding from the world. "Do you remember when you cut your finger to the bone chopping Wintering . 53
CONTRIBUTORS vegetables?" she asks. "When I was six and I wanted to see it?" I nod. "For some stupid reason I thought the blood would be just one drop—shiny ruby-red blood. Like the ruby ring Grandma had." Shannon plays with the ends of her long hair—her nervous habit. "But it was so gross." "It was just blood," I tell her. Shannon has always had a weak stomach. She didn't even want to tell me when she first got her period. "You're right," she says. "Just blood." It's as if she's trying out the words, seeing if she can believe them. "It's just blood." I put my hand on hers. "I'll go with you," I whisper. She bends her neck down for a moment, to keep herself from crying. I feel her body tense and I know she is trying to be strong, that for her strength is denying how she feels. "I always knew it's what I'd do. I just didn't really think it would be like this, so hard." Her eyes glisten. She takes a deep breath. I can almost hear her counting in her mind, trying not to break down. She takes another loud breath. "Why the hell do they tell you to take breaths?" she almost yells. "As if that ever got anyone anywhere." "Shannon—" I stand and put my arms around her, holding her body that she has curled onto itself so that no one can penetrate it. She rocks back and forth, cries into her folded arms and I rock with her. We stay like that for a long time. The light outside gets flat and dim and the elk shuffle around looking for hay that my horses didn't eat. The big elk saunters toward the house. I nudge Shannon and she lifts her head. Together we watch the elk lead his herd away from the pasture, past our house toward the stream. I hope they will all cross the road to the water without getting hit by a car. The ones that do will make holes in the ice with their muzzles and suck cold water so they can make it through the winter. O O
54 • Wintering
CATHERINE CHAMBERS lives in Brooklyn. She spends most of her time on the subway shuttling between Brooklyn, where she sleeps, and Columbia, where she works and takes writing classes. She graduated from Barnard in 1997 with a major in Physics and Philosophy.
DANIEL ROY CONNELLY graduates from the School of General Studies this spring. He lives and works in London.
KELLEY KREITZ is a senior at Columbia College from Allentown, Pennsylvania. She is a Comparative Literature major, focusing in French and Latin American literature. After graduating in May, she will spend next year as an English teaching assistant in France.
TREVOR L A W S O N is a junior in the School of General Studies. He is currently working on a collection of short stories based in his hometown of Columbus, Ohio.
JOYCEANN MASTERS is a recent recipient of the Alligator Juniper Award for fiction. The Cream City Review awarded her story "Leaving the Door Open" the Editor's Award in fiction. She was also a nominee for the Pushcart Prize. Joyceann is currently studying playwriting with Austin Flint and wishes to thank him for his continued support.
ANDREW MORAN is a third-year medical student at Columbia University. Writing poetry has allowed him to sustain his attachment to landscape and a surrealist sensibility. He studied poetry at Columbia with Colette Inez and Meena Alexander.
S 3 H z o u Quarto • 55
RlCH M C H U G H graduated magna cum laude from the Literature/Writing Program in 1999. Prior to studying at the School of General Studies, Rich was a student at the University of Accra in Ghana, the setting for Concordance. He has recently returned to Ghana, where he plans to realize his passion for both Africa and writing.
KELCEY NlCHOLS's writing has been published in Quarto and the Village Voice. Born in Colorado, she now lives in Brooklyn with her cat Max, and works at Zoetrope: All-Story. She graduated from Barnard College in 1997.
ALISON TRAWEEK is a classical pianist and a student in the School of General Studies majoring in creative writing and literature. She grew up in Texas and still believes mockingbirds are the most wonderful birds, bluebonnets the most perfect flowers, and Texas the best representation of heaven imaginable.
MlRELA N. TROFIN, born in Romania, is a graduate of Barnard and Teachers College. She is currently a Columbia University employee in the Department of Medicine. This is the first time her work is being published and she's thankful for the guidance of Colette Inez. Thank you, Quartol
BRIAN W A I N G E R is a second-year student at the College of Physicians and Surgeons. He has studied poetry during the past year with Colette Inez.
u 56 â€˘ Quarto