Thursday, April 22, 2004

ole ritin of buddy don:
story frum a novel that never gut writ


this heres a nuther story that wuz writ fer the group, witch i been sayin fer a while is about to git innerduced into the novel, life n pinions of buddy don, hillbilly. whenever me n emily gut back frum west germany, in sted of havin a new novel writ, i had a few notebooks full of thangs i wuz trine to rite. i had a idee fer a novel but i never could git it a'goin. twooda been a novel bout a care acter findin out who he really is, only he wood go down sum blind alleys. so heres one of em. thang bout thisn is how the group gasped whenever i red the last wurd, witch they wuz shocked but emily wuz proud.


A Difficult Departure


Just before the Knoxville flight from Houston got underway, Dennis Scarborough filled his flight sickness bag with the half digested remains of his breakfast.  When the stewardess came, he blushed.


I bet she doesn't see that happen very often.  Still on the ground.  I'm probably the first.


"I'm sorry," he mumbled as he wiped his mouth with his handkerchief.


"It's nothing to worry about, Sir.  It's really very common," she answered, offering a smile he knew had to be put on for his sake — couldn't she smell it? — and taking the bag.


"Thank you.  I really didn't mean to, you know, I just . . .  I feel a little nervous, I guess."


"Many people do, Sir.  If you'll excuse me . . . "


She thinks I've never flown before.


He wiped his mouth again.  He'd come early enough to land a window seat in the non smoker's area.  He took advantage of it to screen the rest of the passengers from his vision by watching the ground shrink as the plane finally began to climb.


How simple: the plane rises; the cars, the buildings, the people shrink.  The further the plane goes, the smaller the people get.  Soon the events will have shrunk as well.  They'll seem like a dream.  The details will blur — the bars, the music, the dancing, the kiss . . .


He wiped his mouth with his handkerchief.  Closing his eyes, he leaned back in his chair and tried to relax.  He rubbed his stomach for a minute, hoping he wouldn't have to use another air sickness bag.  He tried to listen to what the two men in the seats in front of him were saying.


" . . . trying to get this thing settled for weeks now . . . everything arranged according to his . . . of course, there were complications, there always are . . . I told him, I says, look, this whole thing is really waiting on you.  You know we can't go anywhere without your signature . . . "


Signature?  Yes, of course, but . . .  When was it?  Three weeks ago?  Three days?  No, three hours.


"I'm going to put my signature on you, Dennis.  I've almost got it ready.  I wonder if you can take it?"


He'd taken it.  Then, the kiss . . .


He sat up, looked around, wiped his mouth and turned again to the window.  He couldn't see the ground anymore.  The plane had risen above the clouds. I'd never been kissed before.  Must I admit it?  Is it my destiny to be what I never chose to be?  Can't I go home to my normal life?


He saw his home in his mind: a pink two story building in Fort Sanders.  He climbed the dusty, wooden stairs to his apartment, unlocked the green door.  Stepping inside and closing the door, he let his eyes wander about the long, narrow living room: the surface of his large wooden desk was cluttered with old newspapers, forgotten pieces of mail, two ash trays filled with used matches, ink pens, a clock and a large vase of cacti; the red chair squatted, as imposing as ever, near one of the two windows; a small table with a lamp stood to its left and a large shelf of books lined the wall separating the kitchen from the living room; a wooden chair had been jammed into the desk and a Boston rocker faced the window near the red chair.


I never meant for my home to turn out this way.  I'd intended a neater place.  No dust on the floor, an empty desk top — I'd always expected I'd have a piano.


The kitchen, the long, narrow twin of the living room — he'd always felt certain that the two rooms were at one time undivided, making, perhaps, a large upstairs bedroom — the kitchen was crammed with the usual necessities: a wooden table placed against the wall with three wooden chairs crowded around it, a gas stove to the right with four burners — two of them worked, and the third could be started with a match — a single sink, a light metal cabinet painted white and turning grey with human oils and coal dust, a refrigerator whose door couldn't be fully opened due to the narrowness of the room, a window, before which hung a wandering Jew in a green vase, and a few shelves made of blue boards and secured to the wall above the stove.  The floor, greasy, once yellow, had long ago turned grey with the coal dust he tracked in after stoking the furnace each morning and evening of the winter months.  All of his dishes stood dirty in the sink, and cock roaches scattered as he approached.  He killed three of them with the dishrag, one of which was an inch long.  Its body broke in half as he smashed it, and the front half ran as far as the crack in the wall that led to safety before he smashed it.


Fucking cock roaches.


Flushing with guilt — he identified it instantly as guilt — he wiped his mouth and glanced at the other passengers.


Aren't we all just cock roaches in the eyes of God?  Scampering about the filthy remains of paradise, coming close enough to snatch the crumbs proceeding from the mouth of the living God, but hiding, always hiding?  I can't believe in God; I can't not believe in God: one faith is as strong as the other, and I am strong enough for neither.


Don't you think you're being a little too melodramatic?  God?  No God?  Why bother your head with questions that can't be answered?  So you kill a few cock roaches: is that a capital crime?


It's the cock roach in me that has me worried.  It's a scared little insect.  No wonder it creeps and hides.


You know, of course, cockroaches are really harmless.  Their only defenses consist of being so damned repulsive looking and so damned quick to breed.  Most people are afraid to touch them.  It's the same way with snakes.  People find snakes repulsive.  They call them slimy.  Snakes are not slimy.  They're very clean animals.  Useful.  Cock roaches could also be useful as a source of protein.  But people think cock roaches are dangerous and carry diseases and are filthy.  Cock roaches don't have to be filthy.  Raised under the right conditions, they could be eaten alive.  But people think cock roaches are slimy.  Like snakes.  But neither cock roaches nor snakes are slimy.  People, though.  People are slimy.


Unfolding his handkerchief, Dennis blew his nose.  Refolding it so that the mucus, which he was relieved to find was neither too green nor too thick, was surrounded by dry handkerchief, he wiped his mouth twice and patted the sweat from his forehead.


Slimy.  I guess that's the best way to describe me.


In fact, ever since taking his first course in German, he'd considered himself slimy.


He felt his heart pounding and tried to swallow.


It's not true.  I don't have to accept the signature.  After all, there is Janie to consider.  Didn't the very thought of her just cause my heart to pound?  Didn't I look forward to every class?  Didn't I admire her knowledge, her walk, her strict discipline?


BUT: Didn't I read that newspaper article?  Wasn't I shocked by the pictures?  Didn't I carefully gather all of the details of the closing of one of Knoxville's most notorious bars?  And there, in the picture accompanying the story, didn't I recognize Janie, her stringy hair and bulging eyes and small chin and smirk of smile?  Janie.  Being led away from such a place by a fat policeman.  No name under the picture — thank goodness! — but the features left no doubt: Janie, her elbow twisted by the grimy grip of the greasy pig, her shoulder jutting forward, her features plainly visible and caught by the camera.  Plainly visible.


Yes, and visibly plain.  No, I can't say Janie proves anything.  It was only a brief infatuation, maybe, based on a chance vocabulary list.  She was a good German teacher and had chosen mucus — der Schleim — purely by chance.  I had nothing to do with it.


Little could have shocked Dennis more than seeing der Schleim included in a list of vocabulary words.  Janie — Mrs. Metzger, as he referred to her at that time — handed out a vocabulary list every day and tested the class on it the following day.  When Dennis, who always sat in the back near the door, saw the word on the list, he felt himself blush furiously.  Herzklopfen.  Mir ist Ubel.  Had she noticed his sinus problem in spite of everything?  Did she have the same problem?  Surely she didn't choose such an unnecessary word by chance.


He'd entertained these thoughts so often that they had taken on an almost impersonal character . . . once they started, they ran on effortlessly.


He'd been aware of the slimy nature of mucus for as long as he'd been aware of anything.  His earliest memory: was he older than two?  Unlikely.  He lay beneath a quilt his grandmother had made him.  It was early in the day.  Birds announced it; soft sunlight proved it.  Must have been spring.  A cool day.  So quiet that the tiny twittering of the birds came straight through the closed window.  The house, like his mother, lay still, awake but not moving, eyes tightly squeezed to deny the light, which filtered in anyway beneath the curtains.


He felt hungry.  He began inspecting the orifices of his body.  Finger scraped this hole and then stuck into mouth.  Sweet the smell, bitter the taste.  Finger plunging, scratching.  Bland taste, sickening smell.  Finger probing.  No smell, salty taste.  He liked it.  Again.  Again.  Then his nose was bleeding.  Then his mother was there — had he cried? — and a wad of toilet paper — wet toilet paper — was jammed up underneath his upper lip.  Wicked, angry noises filled the air:  "Nasty boy, mustn't pick your nose, shoo, nasty, no no, nasty boy."


Poor Mother.  She tried, but she never could break me of the habit.


Dear God, please forgive me for picking my nose.  In Jesus' name.  Amen.


But God didn't forgive you, did he?  First the allergies, then the colds and sore throats and bronchitis, and finally the chronic sinus infection.  The ever present post nasal drip.  The frequent colds.  The fear of other people coming too close, smelling your breath.  And the unconscious nose picking which goes on even to this day and which, though you are very careful and usually — but not always? — very furtive, leads everyone to avoid your company and to see what a repulsive thing you are.


But I can't really blame God for my nose picking.  I should be able to stop.  Surely a person should have that much self control.


"Excuse me, Sir.  Would you like something to drink?"


"Ma'am?"


"Would you like a drink?"


"Why not?  A gin and tonic would be nice."


The stewardess poured the drink and placed it on his tray.


"That'll be one fifty."


When he pulled out his billfold, a note fell from it into his lap.  After giving the woman two dollars and waving her away, he picked it up and unfolded it.


Call me, it read.  555 3137.  Chuck.


He wiped his mouth with his handkerchief.  Patted his forehead.  Took a drink.


Which one was Chuck?

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