Thomas Denis Gibney

FICTION

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POETRY

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SOUND

Which Treats Of Pedro’s Obsession With His Books Of Pugilism

 

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III. Which Treats Of Pedro’s Obsession With His Books Of Pugilism

Before the lurid glow of the computer, holed up in his decrepit apartment, delusion abscessed. Spread across his brain, honed in, stained it—like a plump, swollen spider. He was tearing through pixels at an alarming clip. Wuxia, steampunk, romancero, gaslamp, medievalist revenge dramas, straight up fantasy. He read uncontrollably. He read of the exploits of Foreign Bushido, whose massive Heirloom blade could cleave any object in two. He read of tiger killers, caiman charmers, and quick-draw nuns; of magistrates and warlocks; secret societies and kung fu masters. He could duel with the ebullient prose of Jin Yong in the morning and tackle the likes of Celestina de la Plata by PC-light. He read about Vermelho’s conquests in the Hindquarters; the esoteric Flying Sand style of the Brothers Du; the seedy underworld of smugglers, gauchos, and vigilantes who haunted the border region of Brazil Self-Governing Principate and the Republic Formerly Known as Argentina; he read about the ruthless Iron Palm Zhou, leader of the Chilean arm of the Triads; about the lethal Foggy-Eyed Poets, so named for their tendency to shroud meaning in shifty, obscure references to lowbrow culture; and the Bleary-Eyed Poets, who repudiated the code of the Foggy-Eyed Poets and who sought to destroy meaning altogether; he read about the legendary imperial eunuch of the court of Santos Pantanal, who soon revealed himself to be anything but; the badass warrior-priestess Yumi, who tattooed her victims with verses from the Analects; the sultry-Arab-princess-turned-reluctant-assassin in Herbacious Peony, Nefarious Wisteria; the apparent psychic and emotional hamstringing of Counselor Wen, and a markedly asphyxiated duck; and the summarily present Doga, who was never the lacking in needles to thread.

And far from being stunted by such a display, it stoked the imagination that was firebranded inside him. He was slowly beginning to understand his plan. Night after night, days on end without sleep, hypnotized, utterly entranced before cobalt screen, saliva dribbling from his lip, eyes bugged out, eyebrows on tiptoes, brow standing at attention, those eyes immensely dark and beady, pencil mustache pointed, that saliva forming a kind of riverine pastoral upon the mini hills and depressions of the keyboard, spilling over toward the mouse, crusting, some days after, into little spittle-lagoons and spittle-estuaries, through all this, he began—slowly, at first, then ever more fervently—to project himself in the narrative. And not just the narrative but the metanarrative, the histories behind the crafting of the texts and the incalculable lives of the authors themselves, and of the manuscripts themselves. The lives of the manuscripts. He became inflamed with passion. He read of lost manuscripts, fancied himself a warrior plucked straight from the pages of his epics. A regular Don Q. A crusader in a world populated by people who wished death to manuscripts. Who wanted them pushed to the margins of the culture, to the black holes of the Internet, where—who would read them? The legions of fan fablists? The Oscar Waos of the world, the wiki kids raised on Sephiroth and Voldemort, who flung their imaginations from thread to Java-scripted thread under such web avatars as cloud1986 and whoknowsjohndoe? This was not enough. There were hundreds, thousands, hundreds of thousands of manuscripts out there, drifting, homeless, flotsam in some purgatorial hypertext, and this was not enough for Pedro. He wanted to become something. He desired to be someone. Not a link, not some post, not a back-alley footnote in the annals of Internet literature. He wanted to be a writer.

~

He began writing all kinds of litanous banter. It was as if this creative energy had been stored in him, bottled up over years, past lives maybe, and was coming out in terrific emissions. He wrote as if at the threshold of some perpetual verbal coppice. In his decrepit, airy apartment, the topmost loft of a tall, Bavarian-looking gingerbread house, with its single high window looking over the plaza, the wooden ceiling beams exposed—his own white turret—he was there at all hours, stabbing at a keyboard, fleet-fingered and slavering.

His first manuscript was a sweeping, allusive mess of a novel called Dragon Versus Phoenix. Written in five parts, it employed conventional martial arts narration with a mill of eccentric characters ranging from a tone-deaf flautist accomplished in projectiles to a one-eyed swordsman charged with protecting the heirloom dragon-phoenix urn of a powerful Sichuan clan relocated to Chile. To make a long story short, no one turns out to be who he says he is. The jolty, incorrigible narrative nevertheless features some breathtaking close-combat descriptions, and one memorable scene involving a toupee, should the voracious reader be interested. All told, not counting some minor revisions, Dragon Versus Phoenix was written in about thirty-eight hours. That was his first novel.

It was soon followed by the [respectively] curious, alternative, dithering, and manic-pretentious volumes, Girl Carrying Lantern, Subtly Awash with Terror and Other Stories, Return of the Sumptuous Wuhan Beauty, and La Araucana: A Modern-Day Rewrite, in sum totaling about six days of writing.

A year of frenzied output passed. Muscular atrophy should have taken hold, but didn’t, because he was at all hours leaping back and forth from screen to cot—a puny hay-and-trough kind of thing—acting out ad nauseam his scenes to an imaginary prolixity of his characters, as if they all inhabited the room with him, ready to spring-to at a word’s notice. Neighbors took pity on him; the old cat-infested lady downstairs brought him saucers of milk [literally cats crawling over and about her general person], actually trudged up the steep flight of stairs to the attic loft where Pedro lived, reciting Hail Marys with each step. This time saw the production of such material as the epic Dao of Revenge series, the turgid, though rhapsodic, Last Stand of the Concubine, and the insistently morbid Death of an Era. By 2009, Pedro’s name had become a fixture on several wuxia fanlit websites based in Buenos Aires.

~

Duncan Hyder ran the museum gift shop outside Placéres. It was a nice, polished nook, full of big windows, the right amount of light: a clean, well-lighted place. Every morning he retrieved his blue bottle of window cleaner from beneath the register, opening the cabinet with the key, and got out a clean rag from the drawer full of rags above. For the first thirty minutes of work—and it was always thirty minutes, a leisurely pace, a Zen-like pace—for those first thirty minutes before anyone arrived, before the doors of the museum were opened to visitors, Duncan circumambulated his nook, misting the windows in cobalt blue, slowly, deliberately, and with clockwise revolutions of his palm, smoothing over the streaks as they sparkled and shone. There was Sandoval, who ran the photography shop next door, the consummate opposite of Duncan in terms of deliberation and timeliness, fumbling at the keys each morning as Duncan watched through his immaculate glass, taking note of his friend’s great mass, his galumphing form, his Argentine asado belly. The script always went like so: Duncan smoothing over the easterly window that doubled as a door, watching Sandoval on the other side, across the small street that separated them, narrow in the way of compact old BA streets—Sandoval at last stooping down to yank up the corrugated aluminum partition, jamming the keys in the door, Duncan by this time having circumambulated the inside, stepping out now to spray down the outside of the door, his blond beard igniting in the morning’s sun, his blond stubble so artfully shaved, Sandoval grunting, muttering things.

‘Buenos,’ Duncan would say.

‘Eh? Eh. Buenos, buenos’, Sandoval’s unfailing reply.

Never much to talk about. And this suited Duncan well. He didn’t have much to say, anyhow.

‘Think I’ve got a whooping cough,’ was Sandoval’s salutation du jour.

‘Así?’

‘It’s like—’ he coughed for illustration— ‘sabés, like a bird’s nest down in there.’

‘Así?’

Eso.’ Same routine every morning. Same routine, different malaise. ‘Te juro que me muero, güey, que te ju-ro.’ Always. Que te ju-ro.

And sometimes Duncan would ask, because he was curious. ‘And what are the symptoms? Of the  _____________  [Ex: whooping cough]  ?’

‘Eh? Eh. Symptoms.’ He struck a match and lit a cigarette. ‘How should I know? It’s a cough. You cough. You cough up things.’

‘Así?’

Eso, güey. Eso.’

It was a nice day outside the plaza near Placéres. A breezy, November kind of day. Spring in full. Duncan noticed a smudge on the other side of the glass—on the inside, back where he’d just gone over. It was hard to imagine he’d missed a spot. But he was human, he told himself. The crazy lady was setting up her watermelon stand at the plaza steps, where she sold big, ripe as rain wedges of watermelon, sliced like big red lips. Duncan moved back inside to right the smudge. She would tell you your fortune, too, if you didn’t move on quick enough. She said she could read fortunes in the seeds scattered in the watermelon flesh. If you didn’t get out of there quick enough, if you didn’t just snatch your wedge of watermelon and shuffle on with your life, she’d waste no time in spinning any kind of yarn from the black constellation wedged in there, and lighten you of some pesos by the end of it. Duncan and Sandoval had heard all manner of fortunes over the years. There were some wild fortunes came out of the crazy lady’s mouth.

Sandoval was still smoking, the jacarandas in the plaza going loose and purplish in the morning breeze. It was a fine day to be alive, out here, among all this, Duncan thought. A fine day for the opening of the Mummy of Tutankhamen exhibit. For all the gauzy corpses to have their day, their month, their tour in the South American sun. The coffee mugs circumfiligreed in hieroglyphics cheered in the sun’s glint and the bobbing-head pharaohs all nodded their assent. A day for eager porteños to stock up on limited edition hieratic gourds and bombillas. He sprays the offending portion of the glass. And when he’s rubbed with gentle clockwise motions and the plaza is once again visible at the park’s edge, Duncan stops his hand at the vision that presents itself through the freshly scrubbed glass: Porteños, take back your country! 16 Domingo, say no to the burqa! 8:00 a.m. here. — which he found exceedingly odd.

 

 

Δ

The day Daniel Greenberg got a call from one Vicky Constantinos, he was rather nibbling on a mayo-bathed Mother Clucker at the Chik’n’Bun, which, all things equal, wasn’t the best Mother Clucker he’d had in his lifetime, that was for sure, what with the orgy of mayo going on, and an unplaceable gravelly texture. But then Vicky Constantinos called, Vicky Constantinos—of Flying Trouser Press!—whose voice sounded taut and King-sized for what he imagined to be a rather diminutive woman. A piece of lettuce clung pasted to Daniel’s lip.

“Of Flying Trouser? Flying Trouser Press.”

His mouth was open; a moratorium on chews.

“…Are you selling something?”

No. Oi. Fly-ing Trou-ser. You entered a contest with us. On a cereal box?”

Oh. Right. “Oh. Right.”

“You are Daniel Greenberg? Yes?”

“Did I win something?”

His imagination tended to assign outsized characteristics and life histories to people on the other ends of phones. Whopping breasts, quicksilver eye shadow, superhero suits already donned and ready to go beneath business attire, probably violent domestic disputes, substance and dependency issues, gallivanting boyfriends run amok in other states, firing rifles into the air and robbing Rite Aids for oxycodones. He imagined all of them at once for this woman—Vicky Constantinos!—and decided right then that he liked her. That he would like to meet her. That she could use a man like him in her life.

“…and would like for you to come on up, get to the know the family, that kind of thing.”

It was all so real it overshadowed, for a moment, the decided un-reality of his winning a contest. Of his imminent getting published.

“Okay,” was what he said.

“…Okay. Great. Great. Well it’s this Monday. And I would be happy to meet you in front of Blackadder’s. You’ll see us. Signs all over the place. We expect a big crowd for this reading.”

“This?”

“The one with Masters, I was just saying.”

“His name is Masters?”

“Sorros, Masters Sorros. Masters is his first name.”

“Oh.”

“It helps with the sales.”

“Okay.”

“So we’ll see you there, then.”

“Okay?”

“I’ll be in a black cardigan. With these hoops. It’s hard to explain.”

“Monday. Great.”

“Bye, then.”

“Bye, then.”

.
.
.

[Monday, Blackadder’s New & Pre-loved. 8:06 pm.] He believes he looks good. Maybe he does. He was wearing that chocolate and mint-green flannel. “You must be Daniel,” said the very tall woman with the eagle’s nose. She offered an enthused hand. She had the kind of tall, slim frame of upwardly mobile women in business. “Present,” he said. “And you must be Ms.—” “Please.” Her handshake was no joke. She placed the other hand on top of the still-squeezing one. “There’s no need for formalities. Just call me Mira.” “Mira?” he went. “They’ve only just started,” she said.

“—before I bore you out of your minds— without further ado— it’s Miiiisterrrr Maaasterrrrs Soooorrrros!” [she led him to the back of the bookshop’s T-shaped wing. it was a game show, she was one of those busty women in hot pink bikinis who parade around with placards and pick you out of the audience, she was guiding him through the crowds, she was like a ship—] The crowd billowed. “Grab a seat,” Mira said beneath the applause. They grabbed a couple chairs. Daniel chose not to say he’d been here many times before at events precisely like this. Then he decided to say it. “What?” Mira said. “Nothing,” he said. There was something polo-ish to the gait of the big fellow who stepped to the podium. He retrieved a book from the pyramidal display with his photo blown up beside it and the words “B  k L  nch, Ton  ht!” visible through the interstices of spectators’ heads. He hooked a crooked hand around the mic.

—Got a joke for you. There’s this guy. Is he from the Midwest? St. Louis, maybe? Sure, but it doesn’t really matter. We’ll leave it in anyway—I’ve already said it—if he wasn’t from St. Louis before, he sure as hell is now, there’s no escaping that. [hehe] But for now: there’s this guy. He orders a coffee from a busy, open-aired juice bar on the corner of two big, busy streets. The man slanging orders to the back slangs the order out of the corner of his mouth, to the back, in some language this guy doesn’t understand. As a way of comparison, let’s say the order-slanger is beefy — Italian and beefy — [He he] — while the guy, the guy is of regular build, literally about as average as you can imagine, and vaguely Jewish. [hehehe he he] It’s true. Would I lie? Why would I lie? [Hehhhh.]

He went on for some minutes about this guy from the Midwest.

[He, he.]

[Ha, ha.]

The crowd let off into an extended round of applause. [But seriously, I’m a children’s author!] Then the man did a few more of his monologues from choice pages in his book. When he read, he held the book up and tilted the mic way up, instead of hunching over the podium, and his picture from the back of the dust jacket, which measured the length and width of the book, stared back at the crowd as he read. Like the man was reading from the book but watching them at the same time. In between the monologues he interjected little self-deprecating quips or illuminating contexts to the piece on-deck. Finally all of this ended and Daniel found himself standing and applauding like everyone else. “You should count yourself lucky for this one,” Mira said beneath the applause. “What?” “I said you should count yourself lucky,” she said again. “I can’t hear you,” Daniel said. She waved it off and the clapping continued for some time and then Masters Sorros came back to the podium and agreed to do an encore. He used the word “encore”. He ended up doing two pieces for the so-called encore and then everyone stood up again and then he made as if to go back to his seat and feinted like he was coming back for another, second encore and then grinned real wide and chuckled and kept walking off as before. Finally everyone sat down, after that. The MC got back up and thanked certain people profusely and then enjoined the crowd to indulge in wine and cheese. Then everyone disbanded into different circles and Daniel got up with Mira when she did.

“And he’s just one of them,” she said, smoothing her skirt. “We like to think of ourselves as this big editorial family here. —Not editorial—I meant writerly. A big writerly family.”

Daniel tried to think of something to say but he couldn’t.

“We like to be on family-type terms with our writers. Like a…you know. Like a family.”

“Yeah, no, it seems like you all really have that going on here.”

“You can tell by the way we all interact with each other.” She waved to none other than Masters Sorros across the room. He waved his crooked hand at someone behind her. She turned back to Daniel. “So, Vicky is out with her fibrosis again, huh?”

“What?”

“I know.” Mira sighed and shook her head. “She calls me like half the time and asks me to cover for her. At these events. Do you want some wine?”

“Wine?”

“I’m pretty sure she’s faking it half the time. —Oh God. That’s a horrible thing to say. I’m sorry.”

“That’s okay—”

“Oh Jesus. Why did I say that? I’m fucking horrible.”

“You’re not horrible.”

“I’m horrible. Why would I say that?”

“I don’t know.”

“Why would I say that? That’s a horrible thing to say.”

“I don’t think it’s that horrible.”

“Anyway. Jesus. You must think I’m like, some heartless bitch or something. In reality I’m just the intern.” She went in for a cutesy pinch at his elbow. “We go way back, though. Hey, Masters! Maaas-ters! He’s busy now. But no, we’re friends. I shouldn’t have said that.”

“I thought I was gonna be meeting Vicky tonight.”

“Vicky? No. Hell no. She never comes to these things.”

“Oh.”

“Did you want some wine?”

~

The next morning Daniel was woken up by a crude ray piercing through the window. Why anyone would put a window at that angle, and with no blinds there, was a mystery of the highest order. Mira wasn’t in the bed. He admired the beige linens for a while. White, with a beige fringe. And beige pillows and comforter. He made his way across the room. It was exciting to wake up somewhere strange. It felt illicit and, because of that, stimulating. To see the weird ways another person lived. Where the toothbrush was kept, how many pillows were on the bed (how many pillows were on the bed!), what kind of grotesqueries were stashed away in closets and under bathroom sinks. Like Mira’s apparent inability to properly scrub the tile floor outside the shower. The tiles were white alright, but the grout—the grout, Holmes, the grout!—displayed subtectonic shades of grime and gunge. Everyone knows you have to get down there hands-and-knees style and scrub with disinfectants sold in black bottles with skulls and crossbones on them and admonitions of XXXs stamped across, “Not for household use” warnings slapped on there too. Daniel Greenberg is slightly repulsed. But then he remembers the slender, [slovenly] mermaidenly figure of Mira Demarco reclined across the bed, a single beam of moonlight coming in through the sky window which at that moment had seemed like anything but a bad idea, lying there all [slovenly—{fuck, stop calling her that, you fuck you fuck}] supple and dreamy, her chest rising like a little child’s. And he is grateful. He is grateful and only slightly repulsed.

Hey.”

He turned. “Hi.”

She waved around the plates she held in either hand, egg-loaded and steamy. “Look what I found.”

“Obliged,” he went, accepting her offering. She stole a kiss in the transaction. [Has she brushed her teeth?] She was pretty.

“I usually just eat here on the bed—” she plopped down; he squinted— “you know, the one-stop shop.” She chewed like she was cheering. With some effort he joined her. “You’re the chef,” he started, and right there— [Ohh. Ohhh.]—something—his fork in mid-plunge—some—thinglikenose hairs. Three of them. Dark and stiff—garnishing a mound of egg.

“If you ask me,” she was saying, “I think your book is really great. I’ve seen it. And there’s some serious material you’re broaching there.”

Grisly, porcupinish nibs of nasal flotsam.

“…like it’s come from deep within, you know? I mean I’m just the intern. But.”

Have they multiplied? Surely not. Surely?

“…but if you ask me it’s like you’re onto something big, and we think this book has some crazy potential. Like it could be a breakout. What are you looking at?”

~

“Hey, Tob,” Daniel said. “Hey, kiddo,” Toba said from her chair, spinning a pen around her knuckles like some people can do. “Good night, you author, you?”

“Oy.” Daniel reached into the fridge. There was milk and there was cold matzo ball soup and there was leftover McCrackin’s Biscuits n Gravy.

Toba put down her pen. “What now? Let me guess—it was all a prank, they wanted your credit card, they’re ax murderers. They sell children’s books door to door and then they ax murder. What?”

Daniel emptied some matter into the microwave. “Supportive, sis, real supportive.”

“Aww, come on.” Toba got up. Her dark long curly dancer’s hair. “I’m psyched for you. Most authors have to pay their dues for a bit. Before they start, you know, doing what they want to do. Writing what they really wanna write.”

Daniel looked. She stood extremely close to people when she spoke to them. “You know I haven’t once written a children’s book in my life?” he said.

“Eh! Eighth grade class project…? Eh? Mm?”

“Yeah, yeah. Ms. Oates. That doesn’t count.”

“That totally counts.”

“I wrote about a freakin poison ivy tree.”

“People write about purple crayons. It’s what children read.”

“But bird euthanasia? I mean,  …what’s so funny?”

“Hah… I’m sorry. The title. I can’t get over the title.”

“I know.”

Emphatic Corpse. Psssttaaahh!!”

“I know.”

“Your chicken biscuit’s smoking.”

[Beep.] “It’s a little effed up, don’t you agree?” Daniel was turning from side to side, hot potatoing the biscuit back and forth in his hand. His face betrayed the look of the flustered.

“It’s funny, is what it is.” Toba extended a plate.

“It’s a little effed up.”

“I think it’s funny.”

“You’re a good housemate, Tob. You have radical views on what constitutes supportive criticism, but you’re a good housemate. I’ll give you that.” He brushed some crumbs off his flannel. Sat down. “I just can’t imagine a book like that getting anywhere. I don’t even know why I submitted it.”

“You were moved by the muse, you were seeking catharsis.”

“I was eating that cereal that turns gooey when the milk hits it.”

“You were determined to make your mark.”

“Those little mini cinnamon buns.”

“You took my seat.”

“How’s your studying?”

Toba was arms-crossed and leaning against the kitchen threshold. “You’re a dweeb of a brother. But you never know. Something may come of you yet.”

 

 

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