REMY

June 18, 2009

Remy was always coming apart. The skin about his nose was always falling off and his blonde hair was always filled with snow. If Remy saw your eyes wander to his shoulders or chest he would quickly announce his hobbies. He solders, he says, small tiny electronic machines. He sticks tiny colored wires in inviting holes, and when positioned perfectly, he seals the deal with a drop of hot runny metal. And a brief puff of smoke is exhaled. Steam really.

The microchips he explains, are very sensitive. He has no rugs in his home, he remarks. Because static electricity is everywhere, he marvels, like snow. And it is the scourge of tiny machines.

He keeps the humidity low in his apartment, he explains. For the machines. This prevents him from keeping orchids, with their fragile blooms and thirst for airy water, in his apartment.

When, on the first day of graduate school, everyone created a username that would attach to their official email addresses, Remy chose remydelights. One day he sent out an official correspondence to all of his contacts to explain that his full first name was “Jeremy” and his last name was not “Delights”.

(crossposted at http://urbesque.blogspot.com/)

posted by Caroline Picard

9 October 1929

Terrible Baby:

I like your letters, which are sweet, and I like you, because you’re sweet too. And you’re candy, and you’re a wasp, and you’re honey, which comes from bees and not wasps, and everything’s just fine, and Baby should always write me, even when I don’t, which is always, and I’m sad, and I’m crazy ,and no one likes me, and why should they, and that’s exactly right, ande verything goes back to the beginning, and I think  I’ll call you today, and I’d like to kiss you precisely and voraciously on the lips, and to eat your lips and whatever little kisses you’re hiding there, and to lean on your shoulder and slide into the softness of your little doves, and to beg your pardon, and the pardon to be make-believe, and to do it over and over and period until I start again, and why do you like a scoundrel and a troll and a fat slob with a face like a fas meter and the expression of someone who’s not there but in the toilet next door, and indeed, and finally, and I’m going to stop becuase I’m insane, and I always have been, it’s from birth, which is to say ever since I was born, and I wish Baby were m y doll so I could do like a child, taking off her clothes, and I’ve reached the end of the page, and this doesn’t seem like it could be written by a human being, but it was written by me.

Fernando

fernando-pessoa-22

you can read more about this poet by going here, however I noticed a discrepancy between the facts on this website and the facts in my book (The Selected Prose of Fernando Pessoa, Grove Press 2001); my book says Pessoa died one month after the break up with Ophelia, while the web site suggests that Pessoa and Ophelia met again after nine years.

Meanwhile, [Pessoa’s] imaginary friends grow up into a pantheon of poets, with the four major heteronyms listed above, various other semiheteronyms, and some poets appearing only once or twice. As far as is known, he died a virgin; he did take up with one Ophelia Queiroz when he was 31 and she 19 — she also wrote to some of the heteronyms. After six months Pessoa broke it off, saying that he was not like other humans, followed a different Law. They reconnected, briefly, nine years later. Ophelia recalls that once he kissed her on a bus.

When Pessoa died in 1935, he left behind a steamer trunk brimful of manuscripts — 27,543, to be exact, written by some 86 different poets, male, female, young, old. Some of his heteronyms inspired others, wrote criticism of others; a few preceded Pessoa in death, and then, occasionally, some new poems would be found posthumously; the heteronyms founded many schools of poetry; they traveled the world, with many adventures, homosexual, polysexual; they wrote scholarly theses; they had lives and loves. The papers in the trunk are studied like an archaeological dig.

posted by Caroline Picard

Sunday, 29 September 1929

Dear little Ophelia,

So that you won’t say I haven’t written you, since in fact I haven’t, I’m writing you. It won’t be just a line, like I said, but it won’t be many lines. I’m sick, mainly due to all of yesterday’s worres and troubles. if you don’t want to believe I’m sick, then you obviously won’t believe it. But please don’t tell me you don’t believe it. It’s bad enough to be sick without you doubting whtether or not it’s true, or asking me to account for my health as if I were able to, or as if I were obliged to account to anyone about anything.

What I said about going to Cascais (which means Cascais, Sintra, Caxias or anywhere else outside Lisbon but not too far) is absolutely true: true, at least, in intent. I’ve reached that age when a man comes into full possession of his talents and his mind is at the height of its powers. And so it’s time for me to consolidate my literary work, finishing up certain things, compiling others, and writing some things that are still in my head. To do all this I need peace and quiet, and relative isolation. Unfortunately I can’t quite the offices where I work (for the obvious reason I have no other income), but by setting aside tow days a week (Wednesdays and Saturdays) for my office duties, I can have th eother five days for myself. There you ahve the story of Cascais.

My life’s entire future depends on whether I can do thi, and soon, for my life revolves around my literary work, however good or bad it may be. Everything else in life is of secondary interest to me. Some things I would naturally enjoy having, while others leave me completely indifferent. Those who know and deal with me have to understand that that’s how I am, and that to want me to have the feelings (which I fully respect) of an ordinary person is like wanting me to have blue eyes and blond hair. And to treat me as if I were someone else isn’t the best way to hold on to my affection. It would be better to go and find that “someone else” for whom such treatment is suitable.

I’m very, very fond of you, Ophelia. I adore your character and temperment. If I marry, it will only be with you. It remains to be seen whether marriage and home (or whatever one wants to call it) are compatible with my life of thought. I doubt it. For not I want to organize, without delay, this life of thought and my literary work. If I can’t organize it, then I won’t even think of thinking about marriage. And if I organize it in such a way that marriage would be a hinderance, then I’m sure not to marry. But I suspect this won’t be the case. The future, and I mean the near future, will tell.

There you have it, and it happens to be the truth.

So long, Ophelia. Sleep and eat, and don’t lose any weight.

Your very devoted

Fernando

Posted by Nick Sarno

 

Peter Anderson read the following story at The Parlor’s 2nd Annual Emerging Writer’s Festival. Look for the podcast soon at theparlorreads.com. In the meantime, check out Mr. Anderson’s site for more of his work. 

 

contestonumeraluno

 

One Son Resists

 

Had Harold Lee Avery not died suddenly in April 1937, his weakened heart falling victim to too many years of rich meals, the knowledge of how his only son ended up after graduating from Elmhurst Prep would surely have killed him anyway. This would, one day, become the oft-repeated and bitterly heartfelt claim of Millicent Avery, wife of Harold Lee and mother of young Harold.

Such statements of disapproval and disappointment had become so common, so routine and familiar, that Harold barely heard them any longer. This afternoon she was voicing some similar lament, but Harold barely listened as the two sat far apart, across the broad distance of the Packard’s rear seat, looking away from each other at differing street scenes outside. He didn’t hear her specific words, but soberly grasped her meaning, which rarely varied.

“Well, never mind any of that now,” Millicent concluded. “We have a fine evening ahead of us.”

He merely grunted in reply while continuing to stare out the window, as the Packard made its smooth and leisurely pace along the tree-shaded and broad-lawned avenues of Magnolia Park, the finest neighborhood in Atlanta.

 

***

 

Millicent Avery always said she wanted only the best for her son, her only child, perhaps even more so than her husband had. After the latter’s sudden death Millicent became the diligent caretaker of young Harold’s future, intent on fulfilling all of the arrangements Harold Lee had made for his son. Four years at William & Mary and two years at Yale Law—the father’s alma maters—and then an apprenticeship at Avery Fordham & Stearns, Attorneys at Law. A stellar early career as an attorney would be followed by a judgeship, both of which Harold Lee had himself attained, and then the United States Senate, a position to which Harold Lee had always aspired but ruefully never achieved.

Harold Lee—his middle name willfully given in tribute to the Confederate general, in proud defiance of Reconstruction—had been a quietly powerful and imperious man, scion of one of Atlanta’s oldest families. For decades he methodically controlled the lives of scores of people around him, family and friends and colleagues alike, moving them around like pawns on a chess board, their every movement known to him in advance precisely as he had plotted out, each one serving his various needs and desires.

He had every reason to believe it would be no different with Harold, his own son. For Harold Lee saw in Harold the perpetuation of the Avery family destiny, one of greatness and of relentless ascension. As did Millicent.

 

***

 

The car rolled to a stop, driveway gravel crunching beneath the whitewalled tires. The right-side door promptly opened and Millicent briskly but elegantly stepped out. Harold heard a muffled but clearly subservient greeting, and saw a white-gloved hand resting politely atop the door frame, before he turned back to his own window.

“Harold?” Millicent said, bowing her head back inside the car. She spoke with a friendly air with an undercurrent which he immediately recognized as displeasure. “You are coming, aren’t you, dear?”

Harold exhaled with irritation, then slid across the seat and climbed out. As Millicent gazed at her son he looked away, taking in the massive expanse of house before him. Two and a half stories with wings on each end and a broad veranda in front, with classic Atlanta red brick and freshly-painted white shutters, the surrounding grounds lushly and impeccably landscaped. Magnificent, even Harold had to admit to himself.

“Don’t the Hutchinsons have a lovely home, dear?”

“Home,” Harold replied. “Or house.”

“Yes, a lovely home,” Millicent repeated. She leaned in close, as if keeping a secret from the butler. “Still, it’s not quite as nice as ours, now, is it?”

“Oh, it seems quite a bit like our house,” he said, taking in the long line of large, spotless automobiles—Packards and Cadillacs and Lincolns—parked at the edge of the circular drive. “Quite a bit.”

 

***

 

Despite Harold Lee Avery’s diligent efforts, none of his beliefs or ambitions were ever successfully instilled in the young man. Harold was eased into elite private schools, where despite middling grades he was continually promoted upward as a favor to his father and his charitable largesse, and introduced into the loftiest and best social circles. But despite his father’s well-intentioned prodding, the young man showed little interest in advancing academically or gaining the right friends.

Harold instead kept to himself and was rarely away from the family house, where he was usually found with his nose in a book—in his father’s estimation, nothing but middling, populist tripe such as Dickens or Wilkie Collins—or otherwise idling with a menagerie of mongrel animals which he kept in an unused wing of the coach house.

It was just such simple and unambitious pursuits—reading popular literature, tending to cats and dogs and rabbits and a belligerent goose, or just being alone—which occupied Harold’s thoughts as he hesitated before the Wendell Hutchinson house. Pursuits which he longed to returned to, and might have done so were it not for his mother’s insistent pulling-forward.

Very well. He would do this for her, and for his father, and be done with it. Tonight, for a few more hours, he would observe and respect the formalities of refined society, the norms which his parents so revered. He would do so again, likely for the very last time. He gathered himself and followed his mother through the house’s arched front doorway, their shoes tap-tapping across the marble floor, to the receiving line which awaited on the opposite side of the portrait-lined foyer.

“Harold, how good to see you,” Mrs. Hutchinson said, with only the slightest suggestion of warmth. To Harold she seemed matronly, almost an old woman, even though she was the mother of his classmate, Emily, and couldn’t have been much older than his own mother.

He nodded, purely out of polite habit, without a word, and shook her pallid hand.

“I’m so sorry to hear about your father,” the woman continued. “That was such a shock, a terrible shock. How is your mother holding up, dear?”

It occurred to Harold that Mrs. Hutchinson could have asked his mother—then already past the receiving line and moving toward the ballroom—that very question herself, just seconds earlier. But he remembered that the woman was a notorious gossip, one presumably more interested in what other people thought of someone else rather than how that person actually was.

“She’s holding up well, thank you,” Harold replied, hurriedly, having quickly realized that his silent musing had caused a delayed response which might be construed as rudeness. Although being rude didn’t particularly bother him, he wanted to be finished with this evening, and the entire weekend, with a minimum of repercussions from his mother. As tempting as it might be, he thought it best not to offend her society friends.

“That’s good. It’s wonderful that she has a fine son like you to look after her.”

He nodded at her, gesturing his farewell in silence, and continued toward the ballroom, in his mother’s blustering wake.

Oh, she’s holding up just fine, he had wanted to reply. She’s overcoming her grief by keeping Harold Lee alive through me, never mind what I might want for myself. But he refrained from saying so, as satisfying as it might have felt.

He moved with his mother through the milling throng, keeping just behind her, remaining on the distant fringes of her chattering conversations. There, but not entirely so. Everyone who struck up conversation with Harold began with some variant on the same words—”Sorry to hear about your father”—followed by subdued commiserations about Harold Lee’s fine character, inquiries about his mother’s well-being, and offers of whatever assistance might be needed, before Harold’s subdued responses would send them along to another circle and a more inviting conversation.

After an hour had passed, Harold realized that no one—not one single person—had asked about him, how he was feeling, what he had been doing lately, what his plans were for after graduation. A few more well-wishers came and went as Harold went through the motions of polite discourse while darkly considering his newfound insight.

Do any of these people really know me? he thought, his frustration rising. Am I anything to them other than the son of Harold Lee Avery?

The answer, suddenly so obvious to him, came painfully, and with gritted teeth he readied himself to break free, to escape the crowd and its superficialities. He was about to set aside his empty punch cup and move toward the exit when he felt a finger gently tap his shoulder. He turned to see the smiling face of Emily Hutchinson and, just beyond at the edge of his vision, his mother looking on, beaming with approval.

“Ask a girl to dance?” Emily said, grinning.

“I don’t think—”

“Of course he’ll dance, Emily dear,” his mother interjected, projecting her voice into the midst of their conversation.

“Come on, Harold, it’s the waltz!” Emily gently prodded.

He sighed and nodded, allowing Emily to lead him by the hand to the dance floor. He would submit to this formality, not for Emily—who had always been kind to him—and certainly not for his mother, but to fulfill his obligation. To dance, and particularly to waltz, was such a deeply ingrained custom in such society that his refusal might bring about a minor scandal. Or perhaps he would do this partly for Emily, after all. Besides being kind to him, she was quite fetching—Easy on the eyes, his father might have said in one of his rare relaxed moments—and particularly so this evening. He might easily have been attracted to her, but had always sensed some emotional distance between them.

They began their waltz, stuttering to a start as Harold remembered only at the last moment to take the lead. He had never learn to dance properly. The activity seemed pointless to him—rigid couples flitting about in perfect but soulless circles, making only the lightest and emptiest of conversation—and his disinterest prevented him from mastering even the most basic steps. Which, when added to his lack of physical grace, always resulted in a generally sorry performance on the polished parquet floors of Atlanta’s great houses, on those few occasions he had been enticed onto them. But he would give it one last chance. If nothing else, he would show once and for all that he didn’t belong here.

As they moved about the floor—Emily lithe but Harold hopelessly stiff—she chatted, slowly drawing him out, showing interest in him which, while mild, was still greater than that shown by all of the other partygoers.

“We haven’t decided yet where we’re summering,” she said, glancing up at Harold who stood a full foot taller than her. “Either Asheville or Ocean City. How about you?”

“Well, I don’t know yet, but it surely won’t be any place like that,” he replied while further thinking No, not Asheville or Ocean City, and certainly not ‘summering.’

“At any rate, at least you know where you’ll be in the fall.” Their feet shuffled in clumsy unison, one-two-three, one-two-three. “William & Mary. I’m so jealous of you. My father couldn’t get me in there, no matter how hard he tried.”

“Yes, my father certainly had influence,” Harold grimly replied.

“Why, Harold Avery, you don’t seem the least bit excited about any of this,” she playfully admonished. “About graduation, the summer, college in the fall, and everything after that.”

It was true. He wasn’t excited about any of it, and he would no longer pretend otherwise. Within a few minutes he would leave the Hutchinsons’ party, far earlier than his mother would have preferred, offering curt goodbyes to just a few people before moving swiftly through the arched doorway, down the spotless front steps and into the street for the long walk home, to his books and his animals and his solitude.

“No, I’m not really excited about any of that,” Harold said to Emily as the waltz ended, just before his goodbye. “But I have something else in mind.”

 

***

 

The graduation ceremony at Elmhurst Prep was every bit as grand as expected, the sons and daughters of the city’s elite impeccably dressed and lavishly adorned, quietly glowing in anticipation of the glorious futures ahead of them. Harold, by contrast, sat stiffly throughout the ceremony, his face serious and his thoughts clearly elsewhere.

Millicent accompanied Harold home from the ceremony, the two of them stepping out of the Packard while the colored chauffeur held open the door. She had just opened her mouth to speak—brief, perfunctory congratulations prefacing another reaffirmation of the grand scheme for his future—when he interrupted her line of thought before it could once again be put into words.

“I’m not going to William & Mary, Mother,” he said quietly before he had even removed the mortarboard from his head. He didn’t look at her as he spoke, instead walking away from her, past the paneled oak front door and the stiffly silent butler.

She didn’t follow him immediately, instead stopping in silent shock just outside the doorway. Her jaw dropped slightly before she composed herself and hurried after him.

“Not going? What do you mean, not going?”

“Just what I said,” he replied, stopping and turning but barely returning her piercing gaze. “Not going.”

“You most certainly are going, young man. It’s all arranged.”

“I don’t care if it’s arranged,” he said, finally looking directly into her eyes. “I’m not going.”

“And what, may I ask, are you planning to do?”

He hardened his stare, hoping it would strengthen his stance. “I’m joining the CCC.”

“The CCC?” she responded, a sour look yellowing her face, her disgust readily apparent. “The Civilian…what’s it called? Civilian Conservation Corps? That socialist outfit?”

“It’s not socialist, Mother. It’s a government program. The U.S. government, remember? The one in Washington, the one that Father wanted me to end up in?”

“Your father wanted you in Congress, in the Senate. Not digging ditches in Indiana or some such place.”

“It’s not just digging ditches, Mother,” he said. His voice was quiet at first but steadily rose as he continued. “It’s building roads, planting trees, stringing power lines. Most of all, the Corps is about giving of yourself, bettering mankind. It’s President Roosevelt’s project, and I admire him for it. He’s a great man.”

“Roosevelt, a great man,” she spat, livid. “It’s a good thing your dear father isn’t alive to hear you talk like that. As it is, he’s probably churning up the inside of his grave.”

“Oh, Mother, you’re so dramatic sometimes.”

“Harold, son, listen to me,” she said, calming herself, her tone softening. “I appreciate that you want to better mankind, as you put it. But the CCC isn’t for people like us. It’s for the poor, the unemployed, the veterans who have nowhere else to go. You’re none of those things.”

He said nothing, looking away.

“Your father, and your grandfather and great-grandfather before him, made sure of that,” she continued. “They all saw to it that you would have every opportunity in life to succeed. And now the opportunity is right there, waiting for you—William & Mary, and Yale, and all the rest. Why in heavens would you give up all of that?”

“If you have to ask that question, Mother,” Harold said bitterly as their eyes again met, “I guess you don’t really know me.”

She was silent as she considered his words, stunned, her quiet anger soon replaced by sadness. But he ignored her weakened state, her vulnerability, as he found himself unable to resist continuing.

“Father never did either. Neither of you ever understood me,” he said in a low voice. “Never let me be myself. Never bothered getting to know me.”

He walked away and ascended the staircase which curved upward toward the shadowed ceiling, never looking back at her, and moved toward the bedroom which would be his for only a short time longer.

 

***

 

“Hey, Hal, look at my new camera.”

Despite the familiarity with which Goodman greeted him, Hal hadn’t made any close new friends in the Corps, merely a few friendly acquaintances. Though he was on good terms with nearly everyone he met, he keep enough distance to reveal little about himself—about his upbringing, his legacy, and the opportunity he left behind to come to the dusty desolation of West Texas.

His colleagues liked him for what he was—a quiet, decent, hard-working young man—and not for what he could do for them. It was something his mother would never have understood.

“It’s a Brownie. Come on, let me take your picture.”

He knew a few things about Goodman, much more than he would ever allow to be known about himself. Goodman was from Brooklyn, working class, father deceased and mother still alive but endlessly worrying about him, Jewish but not practicing, garrulous and fearless, funny and casual and relaxed, poor but relentlessly happy. He admired Goodman, seeing in his friend many qualities which he himself longed to possess.

Hal’s mother had been right about one thing: he was indeed digging ditches for the Corps. He was stationed at a work camp forty miles east of El Paso, helping to run irrigation pipe from the Rio Grande to a dry valley which, it was hoped, might someday take to cotton farming. A fanciful idea, perhaps, but what most appealed to him about the Corps was its willingness to try anything, to daringly risk failure, in the hope of bringing a better life to those in need.

“Sure, where?”

“Well, not in here. No flashbulb. Let’s go outside.”

He liked the idea of having his photograph taken, but didn’t think it would look quite right to simply stand and pose. His Corps uniform looked good in person, neat and modest, but he knew enough about the art to realize the uniform might not photograph well, particularly under the harsh Texas sun.

He looked around for suitable props but soon realized that the Corps’ humble accommodations might not provide much of visual interest. In harmony with its selfless mission, the Corps’ provisions were sparse, giving him little to choose from. The barracks were austere, to the point of barrenness—a dozen plain cots in each room, each neatly made with a crisp sheet and a thin wool blanket, with a small wooden footlocker underneath in which each volunteer stowed his few belongings. The plywood walls were bare except for a few calendars showing the month of July and pastoral watercolor scenes of country lanes and suburban boulevards.

His eyes finally fell upon a frying pan. His mother thought cooking was beneath men of their class; that was the cook’s work, and for the unfortunate lower classes that couldn’t afford a cook it was the wife’s. Yet during his short time in the Corps, he had already learned the simple joy of cooking, for himself and for the others. His mother would never have imagined such a thing.

Yes, he thought, the frying pan is perfect.

He looked around further, seeing little at first. But at last he spotted his drinking cup, into which he would regularly draw water from the common barrel. His mother wouldn’t approve of sharing water with others, particularly the type of men who worked for the Corps. Nor would his father—a man who refused to share a bottle of bourbon with even a valued client—have approved. Not proper, they both would have said.

So the drinking cup was in, as well.

He stepped outside, looking for one more prop for the photograph, when across his path ambled an orange-striped tomcat which lived in the camp and reminded him of one he had kept back home. He casually reached down and scooped up the cat, which immediately began purring in the strength of his grasp.

He stood stiffly, facing away from the unpainted barracks wall which stood a dozen feet behind him, the tomcat held under one arm and the frying pan and drinking cup in the opposite hand. He didn’t smile as Goodman released the camera’s shutter, the tomcat looking more amiable than he did himself.

 

*** 


Weeks later, Goodman passed him the photograph, gesturing that it was his to keep. Hal looked at it, smiled, and reached down into his footlocker, searching for an envelope. He found one, wrote down the destination address and affixed a postage stamp to the upper right corner.

He stared at the photograph for another minute or two, trying to think of the right words, his lips moving almost imperceptibly. Finally he turned the photograph over and wrote out a simple message in elegant script on the reverse side.

Mother: Maybe someday you’ll finally get to know me. –Hal

He read the message once more, just to be certain. Then he rose, sealed the envelope and walked toward the door. The outbound mail would be picked up in just a few minutes.

Night Train Spectre

June 2, 2009

posted by Caroline Picard

train-at-night608x446

An Excerpt from Housekeeping

by Marilynne Robinson

pub. Picador, 1980

Sometimes we used to watch trains passing in the dark afternoon, creeping through the blue snow with their windows all alight, and full of people eating and arguing and reading newspapers. They could not see us watching, of course, because by five-thirty on a winter day the landscape had disappeared, and they would have seen their own depthless images on the black glass, if they had looked, and not the black trees and the black houses, or the slender black bridge and the dim blue expanse of the lake. Some of them probably did not know what it was the train approached so cautiously. Once, Lucille and I walked beside the train to the shore. There had been a freezing rain that glazed the snow with a crust of ice, and we found that, when the sun went down, the crust was thick enough for us to walk on. So we followed the train at a distance of twenty feet or so, falling now and then, because the glazed snow swelled and sank in dunes, and the tops of bushes and fence posts rose out of it in places where we did not expect them to be. But by crawling up, and sliding down, and steadying ourselves against the roofs of sheds and rabbit hutches, we managed to stay just abreast of the window of a young woman with a small head and a small hat and a brightly painted face. She wore pearl-gray gloves that reached almost to her elbows, and hooped bracelets that fell down her arms when she reached up to push a loose wisp of hair underneath her hat. The woman looked at the window very often, clearly absorbed by what she saw, which was not but merely seemed to be Lucille and me scrambling to stay beside her, too breathless to shout. When we came to the shore, where the land fell down and the bridge began to rise, we stopped and watched her window sail slowly away, along the abstract arc of the bridge. “We could walk across the lake,” I said. The thought was terrible. “It’s too cold,”Lucille replied. So she was gone. Yet I remember her neither less nor differently than I remember others I have known better, and indeed I dream of her, and the dream is very like the event itself, except that in the dream the bridge pilings do not tremble so perilously under the weight of the train.

Another Excerpt

May 29, 2009

posted by caroline picard

CAR CRASH.

portrait the plunk
When the car spun out of control the little boy had been sitting in the back seat feeling more grown up than he was accustomed to feeling. He had been looking out of the window with an assumed and speculative air, considering his manner above all else, while imagining simultaneously what thoughts could reinforce his posture. He looked forward to growing up, when, he felt, he might have a natural influence that spanned beyond the current boundaries of his life. He thought he could be a diplomat, imagined the suit he might wear, the man he might look like and the papers he would have to study late at night, papers he’d sign the next day, in order to save countries and distressed impoverished people. He would have a fleet of personal spies. An essential point. When he looked away from the window, he experienced his first bout of adolescent restlessness—that desire to do large things: to influence the world in a way not yet within his childish means. He looked between the seats of his mother and father and through the windshield, on to the road ahead. He saw the car coming toward them. He heard the squeal of breaks. He was not afraid, for he could not conceive of death.
He did not think about an afterlife. Rather he was poised on the crown of the present, more aware and focused than he had ever been before. The seconds before and after impact stretched out, as though time itself was lolling in a pool of sap. The boy found that despite this new medium, his mind was unaffected, moving with smooth rapidity. He watched, a little perplexed, as his mother reached her arm across the passenger seat and pressed it against her husband, many pounds larger than she, as though to keep him pressed in the seat with the force of her will.
The boy heard her arm snap first.
Then he felt the car shudder as his head snapped forward then back.
The right wall of the car bashed in, dashing his mother to the center of the car. Unnatural.
He saw blood.
His father crashed through her arm, into the windshield and bounced, leaving a bright smear of red on the glass, it made a sound, shattered, his father vomited, flecks of waste sprayed over everyone, the boy felt himself thrown forward. The lost all feeling in his body. Calm, still, he heard himself speak in a faraway voice,  “Ne me quitte pas.” He didn’t know why he said that, recalling first and vaguely as though in a dream Billy Holiday’s voice, his mother angry, the dog, the x-box, his father, Christmas, Tiger Woods eating a wheat bread sandwich on a green and perfect golf course where he’d seen it flickering through their dim room living room earlier that same day, the camera zoomed in and focused on the athlete chewing slowly as he looked up at a flag overhead (the camera panned back to follow the golfer’s gaze).
“What’s he doing?” Freddy asked, smelling the Old Spice aftershave of his father mixed with Irish Spring soap, his old man just took a shower as he did after work.
“He’s checking the direction of the wind so he can gauge his shot,” his father said, snugly seated on the leather couch, drinking a can of beer.
They watched Tiger Woods lay the remaining half of a sandwich on the bag of his clubs.
They watched the caddy pick up the remainder, bring the bread to his mouth and slowly, start to chew.
“That damn sandwich is probably the only thing on either of them that’s not endorsed,” his father said.
He forgot about Tiger Woods when he heard his father groan.
The last thing Freddy saw before he lost consciousness: the expression of his dead mother’s face—her hair an instant glaring mess of dyed red blazing in the light of the other car’s headlights, the tongue out of her mouth where it had been bitten through, blood on her chin, he stared at her chest for a moment to see her breath, glanced down to the blood on her pants, a growing stain bloody and virile he looked at her face again, the color drained in an instant, her head unnaturally slumped, hanging midair against the taught seatbelt.
Against a terrible silence.

posted by Caroline Picard

joemeno

Come hear Joe Meno read at The Parlor, Tuesday June 2nd at 7pm.


Joe Meno is a fiction writer and playwright that lives in Chicago. A winner of the Nelson Algren Literary Award and the Society of Midland Author’s Fiction Prize, he is the author of four novels, The Boy Detective Fails (Akashic 2006,) Hairstyles of the Damned (Akashic 2004,) Tender as Hellfire (St. Martin’s 1999), and How the Hula Girl Sings (HarperCollins 2001.) His short story collection is Bluebirds Used to Croon in the Choir (TriQuarterly 2005.) His online serial, The Secret Hand, runs through Playboy magazine at playboy.com. His short fiction has been published in the likes of McSweeney’s, Witness, TriQuarterly, Mid-American Review, Alaska Quarterly Review, Washington Square, Other Voices, Gulf Coast, and broadcast on NPR. He is a contributing editor to Punk Planet magazine and is a professor who teaches creative writing at Columbia College Chicago.


Following his 30 minute reading, Joe will take questions from the audience.


As always, the event will be recorded and published on-line for your repeated listening pleasure on iTunes and at www.theparlorreads.com

All readings take place at The Green Lantern 1511 N. Milwaukee Ave, 2nd Floor

(www.thegreenlantern.org)

For more information, please visit www.theparlorreads.com or contact theparlorreads@gmail.com

The Parlor is a monthly reading series, hosted by Chicago’s Green Lantern and sponsored by Bad At Sports Podcast.