Thursday, May 11, 2006



“Red Fish Vanish, Then Grow Bigger” is a common pneumonic device teachers use to teach children the layout of the keyboard. He’s been repeating the words compulsively for seven years. He’s been typing since leaving middle school, mostly stories about ghosts and dragons. Education takes time. The phrases will come together.

He stays up late in the night dreaming love stories. The loss of women he's interacted with replay in his mind so when he meets a new girl, it's hard to stop the tape. He tries very hard to stay with the present voice, to remember names, to place the faces with names, though, to be honest, it's getting harder.

He still gets them into bed, fucks them. “Don't you know no that's odd could have sworn that sweetie so where have you been tonight for your part you seem to be cold are you feeling okay yes (shaking the head and a pensive glance to the east.) Do you want me to walk you home?” She does. This story isn’t about that. This story is about literary devices.

Mandy disappears into the rhetoric tickling-him-pink. With her halter cut-off, he’s able to barely make out the espionage of secret agent breasts. Behind enemy lace and the silver metal shrapnel flush on her moaning clavicle, below those warm rubicund cheeks flushing cherry red, and that thin Mona Lisa smile, his eyes lead up to hers: empty, staring intently for a cease fire. How does a girl become a metaphor for war? Why do drunk girls always taste like dirt? How do losing battles become obsessions?

He frequently dreams about the perfect act of brutal sex: Have you ever eaten kettle corn? Opening the edges of burnt bag, enveloped in the scalding hiss of steam, the isometric ivory concealing rough kernels ground into your teeth. Under your gums the taste is drained in butter, decimated under white granulated sugar, words raining salt in wounds, melted Hershey’s eyes, brown caramel thighs, her tongue a dimpled strawberry, soft skin the napkin wiping up the sweat against the background of a cotton candy sunrise. The dreams always revert to softness, how he tried the world.

He wakes up with the words: “What Stops X-rays?” Another pneumonic. The answer is, of course, lead. His feet are on the dance floor. His eyes are pressed against the sight of flashing red and blue 5-0 peddling down the street, the insidious bicycle cop, so proud of his huffy and his badge leaving the scene. No crime has been committed. There are no criminals tonight.

The pound of Tubthumper’s drowning bass runs under Mandy’s whispering, a barely audible “the two guys to your right” into his ear on the dance floor. The pounding of her thighs against his paint-stained jeans remind him of his fingers on the keyboard combinging to drown the murmer of the rest of the sentence: “I made out with them this evening.” Yes, she is afraid to tell him anymore. He can touch that. The way her cracked hands slide down into his belt loops, the way his hands move up around her firm, smooth breasts. Her eyes seem not to blink when blown. She is blitzed. Extinct. Wasted. She’s looking outside for her boyfriend.

She once loved God. She commented witfully on C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity and the beauty of Spring Hill. Who can make forests that spread across the Earth? Who will save his soul? She seems to lose track of the Man when rain falls, an intense case of seasonal affective disorder (SAD). When the sun hides, she has a tendency to run jagged shards of mirror across her wrist, gushing blood out on the keyboard, ruining the keys.

Once upon a time he loved God. It wasn’t very practical asking himself over and over again, “What would Jesus do?” when downing shots of Tequila and fucking sorority girls. What would Jesus do? Hang-glide. Make a facebook profile. Give a lecture on intelligent design. Wouldn’t ask any questions. No need for Him to ask questions.

Or him, for that matter. Sometimes he gets high and rewrites the experience. He is aware of the colors of God, then, the salvatious infinite merengue-flavored hues. Suddenly God is a lemon merengue pie. With extra whipped filling.

Sweet sunshine. He wakes up the next morning, the cold hours of a late afternoon with ash on his lips in the disorienting gap between “Good Morning Darling!” and a completely non-existant fugue state. There is no darling present, though a man wrapped in a blue comforter passes him a scalding cup of Prince of Wales tea, a complex brand from China with organic whole milk from a Michigan dairy farm, a true “diversitea.”

On the way home he spots Mandy again, now the where-are-you-going sorority girl with a pensive stare into a street sign that states the answer he asked her last night in octogonal red. She has lycra black pants, cut-off at the calves, her legs crossed, closed for buisness. She has a copy of The Sun Also Rises under her caramel arm. The day is a little cold. He wonders about her cut-off pants. She must be in a hurry Her calves are tanned and firm. Is she a runner?

Where is she running to? Perhaps home. Does her mother wear cut-offs? Perhaps she’s a child of West Bloomfield and then her dad definatly might have expensive slippers made of smooth Italian leather. Questions and answers are all transient and he never concerns himself with them.

He would like to uncross her legs, run his fingers through that straightened and burnt brown hair. She has that same vacant stare. Sorority girl where are you going? A silver Razr phone (Kelly Clarkston ringtone) and extra-strength mace in case she runs into someone like him. Mace will burn the eyes but can she reach the mace? In time? If she’s attacked? On the street?

She’s keeping track of his stare with a light tap of her foot on the concrete, her firm tanned thighs swaying only slightly with the drumbeat. The tautness of her breasts beneathe the camo are moving him away. Too close to a question answered on a stop sign.

When he arrives back in the dorm room he wants desperately to call her. He’s holding the phone in his hand, shaking, cordless, frozen in his hand, a dying battery, dial tone unaware and endless, a low-pitched hum hum. Asked if he would like to make a call please hang up and try again and he will, because he knows the number by heart. Can’t count how many times he’s called that number on sidewalk streets, down alleyways, from New Orleans to Detroit, laying on white sand beaches, working in Scotland, swimming in Mexico, driving through twelve intercontinental states, paying outrageous charges on those dirty hotel and over-priced airplane lines.

He puts down the phone. The number is on the screen always and this ritual is performed at least once a night now, usually more, though he doesn’t count. He thinks too much about rituals, about the phone, at least he thinks he’s over thinking and then he thinks again, circular logic, traveling round and round, taking him right back to how he is here.


Manisha said...

Wow, Jerry, this is... intense.

Actually, I read this yesterday and was going to comment on it today, but I see you've revised it. It's certainly more polished now, but if you still have it, could you put up the previous draft too? It was rough, but there were some cool ideas there that you've taken out of here... I particularly remember the last line "This story is about typing and fucking", I think?

The first thing that strikes me when I read this is the intensity (which I think you've diluted a little bit in this draft)... the steady stream of images and ideas that really puts you in the narrator's mind, and comes at you in sort of a sluggish but aggressive succession, a sensory overload. Mandy is both crystal clear and completely ambiguous, which works really well with the theme of him not remembering the women he has slept with. I specially like the Jesus paragraph and the kettle corn metaphor.

Where I get lost is the plot. I know you're going for a fluidity, but there is no sense of chronology and time at all to ground this piece. What happens between when he's dancing with Mandy and he sees her again as the sorority girl? The narrator's voice changes there, too, becomes more distant. Is she the same girl he calls? How long has he known her? Just be a little more clear in tying the events together. On a technical note, watch the spellings of "definitely" and "beneath".

Overall, I really liked this. Strangely enough, it vaguely reminds me of a short story I'm in the middle of writing. Except your writing has this vivid immediacy that's really cool. A pleasure to read.

Neil said...

I really like this one - I'm at work right now, but when I get a chance I'll give you some more feedback.