EDITOR’S NOTE BY JEFFREY DESHELL
This is not an introduction. The story doesn’t need one, doesn’t require that sort of genteel reader, this is story, story, reader bourgeois dinner party gesture. It’s just not that kind of story. If there’s electricity, if your eyes meet and then drop, if you feel the beginnings of something in your chest, gut and below, then what do you need me for? You’ll find each other. In the afternoon, in someplace dark, with the faint taste of mezcal on your breath and thin smoke in your eyes, fragrance of brown-eyed Susans from far away. A tiny Grahame Greene priest passed out in the corner. And you’ll have to pay attention, because no one here’s dull enough to say what they mean right off. Where’ the fun in that?
And I’ll nurse my third of the afternoon and watch the slow dance, the careful circling with the decreasing circumference, the gradual shedding of companions. You’re both beautiful, you know, in that been around the block wasn’t born yesterday a few stories of my own sort of way: beauty that’s not immediately apparent, but all the stronger for that. Beauty that’s not a cliché. You’ll meet at the bar, heads bowed forward and backs to the priest, and I’ll stare at my drink and eavesdrop just a little, catching of few whispers of telescopes, tears and steak and eggs, and smile to my drink, and maybe, depending on my mood, give you a little toast with the tip of my glass. But you won’t need it. You’ll soon slide off the bar and float to one of the shadowed corners. Where you can be alone. And I’ll think of a gospel, a dead brother and a broken tooth, and eventually of something else. But first, I’ll treat myself to another. For staying out of the way.
FC2 Board Member and 2012 Judge of the Ronald Sukenick Prize for Innovative Fiction
Boot of the Boot
by Luke B. Goebel, recommended by FC2
If I ever meet a man named Manuelo from Paris, he’d better watch his fucking head. I mean it. I told her one day when I was soaked with rain, in a white shirt stained brown from shoulder to opposite hip, from a cheap leather strap wet from the rain. I was using the strap to hold a bag with my belongings in it. It needed to be said. I’d been walking in rain lost talking, talking to myself, appearing at an art opening in NY to meet Catherine, and each past boyfriend of hers came by to shake my wet hand. Each one looked at me and stifled a gasp, a laugh, a crack — I gripped her elbow, staring at her ex’s tie clip, and said, “Never make me shake hands. If we don’t make it, don’t you ever introduce me. You hear me? I don’t want to be anybody’s former anybody. Please, don’t make me shake a damn hand. I might not give it back.” Giving her some credit, I wasn’t easy to be with.
I looked through a very expensive telescope in a grocery store parking lot tonight, and saw what’s out there.
And it’s impressive!
I mean in space.
I saw the craters of the moon in blinding bone white brilliance, rippling in light and I don’t know what. But rippling and bone white right into the craters was mostly enough.
I saw Saturn.
This is not a metaphor. This is not about Manuelo and whatever he is doing over there with Catherine in the boot of the boot. Can you imagine what he is doing with her? In Italy! Christ!
(This is all what I felt and wrote while living at the new ranch only a few months and Catherine went off with a Spanish man named Manuelo who she’d met in Paris, where she was visiting during living for a few months in Italy after I moved to Texas, and we were still together, and I felt it, the moment he touched her and I somehow knew it, what had happened, while staring at St. Jude’s Chapel’s mural, sitting down to coffee and steak and eggs in Dallas, and later found out, and the times matched up, and I fell to writing this all down.)
I tried to give the man anything. Anything. Food, bottles of wine, sushi, my home to stay in. He wanted nothing — the man with the scope.
I want to tell you about the man with the scope. I mean to tell you what is out there around us in space. I want to tell you about her.
Catherine. Her name is like space and what there is unto itself that I saw out there. Last time I told it I showed her all wrong — in the wrong light. Last time, she came back and we went to Puerto Rico. We saw wild horses. We swam in the dark before the moon rose to swim and the water lit up wherever we swam and made glowing dots green on our skins in the dark. We had rode a motorbike all over the island, me driving too fast, as fast as it would go over the wild, bumpy, bare earth to the sea to swim in a bioluminescent bay full of sharks. Her dark hair and pale skin and a vein dark across her unknown heart.
I was held up at gunpoint by a man in Puerto Rico and the man who held me up had tears in his eyes. I made him give me a cigarette after I gave him my money, which wasn’t much. I had thought about punching him, since it was just me and him, and he was bleary eyed, leaning against a palm tree on a motorbike, but I just made him light my cigarette. He was so Christian about it. Him crying for robbing me in the dark. He had a great .45. Catherine was back in the room, naked under the sheets. I was six and a half feet tall, searching, white fake Indian cowboy, with the world going two-thousand m.p.h. around itself at any given point, and the peyote in my senses for six years so far, as I went cooling through my pants and sky and the world and I made that sonofabitch light my cigarette and he cried and circled me in his hidden drugged pain. For the shame of not carrying his pain without the drugs, maybe he cried. I was still overcoming pancreatitis. (There’s more to this story. This was before Texas, after the hospital, before Manuelo.) He had his friends come over from across the street where they’d hid in the dark. Back then I felt if I stared anyone in the eyes they could see my inner self, straight from the peyote, could see I was the real genuine leather. Now I’d be afraid and serious. They tried to translate but I already spoke Spanish. I’m talking about he who robbed me and lit my cig and his friends from across the street. They were so sad when they heard about the pancreatitis. I made the mistake and told the crying robber I didn’t want the rest of his cigarettes because I was getting over pancreatitis. They said the word pancreatitis like the last part of the word was titties. I felt so foolish, smoking, as a cop drove past and I signaled I was doing fine.
She won’t come back this time. (Catherine. It’s been years.)
[I went on my first date after Catherine, and the woman’s tooth had broken in half the night before. She kept the date and stuck the tooth, the broken away half, up in her gumline to hold it in there. It was one of her front ones. She kept excusing herself to the bathroom. With dinner served, it kept falling out and she would say, “My tooth. My tooth!” and cover her mouth with her hand and relocate to the bathroom for repair. During the meal, it (her tooth) kept falling out into her creamy pasta and she would search and dig for it with her fork. I took her home by cab after the dinner during which her half (tooth!) kept coming out, remember, and she would return to the bathroom and return to the table. I was embarrassed, but as a man, you know, you can’t just leave. You can’t just say, “I’m sorry, this isn’t working. I am going to go home.” There are certain performances, you know, for everyone, and we aren’t all animals, us animals. She tried to get me to kiss her wildly in the cab. I wish I could say I had wildly kissed her. That I had kissed her and gone mad with passion. I kept thinking about Catherine and what I was doing in exchange for losing her. Fink I was. I should have thought, what a girl! So willing and ready to see me she comes with a broken tooth stuck up within the gumline.]
I moved into the ranch house full of a family’s things. There’s pictures of boys with big ears on a wall. One wall has a cutout of Texas made from yellow wood, with varnished little shelves. On a clothespin glued into a tin of an old heat lamp is a sign made many years ago. It says, Mother my darling Mother my dear… I love you… I love you… each day of the year. There is a candle in a drawer, shaped as an 8. There is a bottle of Norrel perfume in the bathroom and photos of people who came from Mother my darling, Mother my dear, and I am not from this family. I rent this home. The Mother my darling is dead as can be.
Catherine is hard and keeps herself to herself and everyone who sees her sees she is hard but there is something else to Catherine. She has a child inside her — a girl who may have written the sign from the shelf on the wall. She hasn’t lost that. She is intact. She can write, too. Have anyone. What a beauty full of brains and a good heart, but I said I would show her this time. Anything went wrong with me, she’d say, “I think it’s a good thing” and then tell me why. She would hold my ear to cool us down. She put up with me being insane in NY, smoking, on nicotine patch systems, chewing drugged gums, running too many miles in all directions snapping on my forehead with my fingers and dressed in the same clothes everyday, panicking with visions in NYC. We moved to my family’s home in Oregon in the desert. We bought lingerie and had fires. She took to running. Her hardness has kept the child in her alive, maybe, along with her immense beauty, or she isn’t hard at all but I made her so with me (first chasing her around before and after classes with the old man in the hat, then when I was with her and cowering in New York in her room, smoking up all night with fear from exhaustion and so in love with her while she just tried to sleep, me talking and moaning and putting it in her with her sleeping, thinking and sensing with my corpus something evil all around in the buzzing city night, me: up, up, up. In love with the old man with the feather in the city with the city in America with America! She and I both working to be true.) Manuelo must see her, now. I wanted to make her pregnant and have a live baby. I once or twice or every time came inside her with hope we might make life without her consent — to carry on the great family. Hers and mine, both.
There was and is a church in the town where I grew up and at the front is a mural in gold squares and blues and reds and greens and it is Jesus with a pierced side bleeding and the blood turns to fire and the fire into wine in a chalice and from the chalice doves appear and fly upwards in rippling white. My parents married in the church. I was baptized in the church and I loved the church and later I became afraid of the church and loved the church as well.
(My brother was baptized there too. We wore the same lace gown. He then I. We were like little Christs and grew side by side toward our trouble making heartfelt lives. We had our differences of course. We didn’t stay two by two. We each had our path, but by the end and the way through we never turned a back. We always loved one another. In the end and all through he loved me and let me grow up the way I did, into the thing I am, the man, if you want to say that, and I always felt and feel he was the secret greatest. There’s more of him to come! [He died at 33, year I am now.] I cannot believe he has gone on, rode on ahead, not here with us, me, crazy, and my family, dead. But I wrote this before he left.)
(I smoked a strange drug with an Indian when I was a younger man and went back to the church ((on the drug)) in Ohio with my spirit. You leave your body on this drug. I saw the stained glass windows pinwheel with light and geometry. They were always beautiful in physical presence. But this was warmth and light not from the sun through glass but from God, or from the soul of the self, the universe, from the tomahawk of what was loaded up for me in that pipe, which the brain lets rip when you die, which also makes you dream, and there was no anxiety of being — anxiety that being separate from the universe is the source of all pain and suffering I wasn’t separated. I felt God beside me and in me and I in It. Looking without the eyes. Feeling God behind the poker face. I felt the world after death and it is beyond impressive! Hours later a car flew off a cliff before the rig I was in, which had a driver who’d picked me up hitching. Who had one leg but never mind that, the driver’s half leg. This was real life. The car that flew off the road landed at a forty-five degree angle and nose planted in the river, standing on its grill in the water like an enormous arrow. I rushed down a herder’s path and held a boy alive and in shock and felt parts of him go soft. He looked into my eyes, which back then were clear and I showed anyone. Others had come down switchbacks from the road high above. “You’re doing fine,” I told him. I felt the easiest sense of calm. Old God and me looking into him with great affection. A helicopter came out of the sky. Times like that the world isn’t doing too bad in America. Boys and girls coming down in a helicopter to save him and his girlfriend, she in worse shape, who knows if she lived. He did, I believe, but her, who knows. They lifted them into the sky. There we were, finding our own way home from then on and forever. I was sort of wearing a half dressed outfit, by this time, and the man with the half leg had me drive him to the Mission in San Francisco, my golden town. The driver, now I’ll tell you, had lost half his leg in a single nod off on junk. Circulation. Me in a half dressed state, barechested in youth. When he scored and shot, what was I still doing there? He filled the center chute with his own blood mixing with the junk. I guess I wanted to see it live, and then he shot some up to the sky. There was, on the ceiling of the RV he drove, blood and brown from before. What was my cue? Arrivederci, I was off, and not to cocksucking Italy.)
Sometimes I get to thinking of her over there with Manuelo and Italy and how it’s every girl’s dream to go to Paris and fall in love and then I get in my little rig and drive to walmart in town and walk around at two or two-twenty-three a.m. and look at anyone. Look at all those people. I have seen an odd armadillo in the grass tottering on its legs — and I think of all the men who ever loved and lost and went out to outer space to live with themselves.
Then a song on the radio plays as I drive over the stumpenly remains of a freshskinned skunk torso twisted in the roadway stinking through the boat of my car’s undercarriage.
She’s over there in Paris with Manuelo. She was visiting Italy only, she said. You have got to love the thing that will not cease itself or be killed or to let itself die. Guess that’s not us. Once it’s gone, how can you love it? Is it something else you are loving then? When it comes to sexual love? Mother my darling… Mother my dear… I love you… I love you.
I picture them in Paris. I have never been there, but I imagine the streets are prettier than here.
In a desk in this home I rent there is a box of Mirado quality writing pencils — the best! There is a small clear sharpening box taped to the box of pencils. Somebody taped that there. Let me tell you, they’re the best!
At the grocery store tonight, there was a man with a very nice telescope. He was waiting for fools like me who wanted to look out into space. He moved the position of the telescope and found the moon. I looked into the scope.
I once saw my sister being born. Me and my brother did. I watched a man in a uniform with scalpel and blood dripped into a silver bowl and I watched my mother scream. Yell, really. Yell and yell. Whoop. Whoop. Whoop. Mother my darling… Mother my dear…
Saturn was so far away, even through the telescope, it looked like a little trick on a screen.
Manuelo isn’t half the crazy that I am. I can prove that, too.
Why do you suppose he did it? Why are we so interested in space? Whose stars are those you see at night? Who has got his hands upon Catherine right now? Her skin lit up green in a dark moonless bay? Her whole heart alive. The man with the telescope, his eyes were screwed up like he hadn’t spent much time looking at things down here. What do you think makes a man do a thing like that?