Thomas Denis Gibney

FICTION

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POETRY

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SOUND

The Ghost of Lawrence Tabers Prince

 

Zoë Sikelianos felt that hip hop music as a genre offered a young woman like herself little else than a broad-canvas feeling of self-abasement, subservience, and wholesale objectification. Take for example even those lyrics to be found on the less explicit, more suggestive end of the spectrum:



Hip hop, to Zoë Sikelianos, embodied all the modern pathologies of shit-derivative need—the need to control other people’s shit, the need to prove shit, the need to need shit. Her Judith Butlers and Mary Dalys told her so. Her Mary Dalys and Gayle Rubins and Adrienne Riches had armed her to make informed decisions in the interest of countervailing all the shit: had armed her with a rhetorical palette too queer and mighty for any but the most patient listener to take her seriously. So she preferred to live like this, without telephones, without department stores telling you what sizes you were meant to wear, preferred to live among people who didn’t have social security cards or who otherwise had burned them long ago and then traveled in Winnebagos for a decade or more, defeated or hopeful, manic or benightedly sane, tracing the ribboning path of the road. Standing at her easel, in the company of all the canvases that quilt her bedroom walls—big, contemplative Frankenthaler things—a visceral-like Pavlovian alarm went off inside her when she heard the telltale priapic legato of her most detested musical genre grow louder from somewhere off on the road and then settle half an earshot away. Its discontinuation a moment later indicated a car stereo. Then there was a knock at the door.

No one ever knocked at the door of Chez Denouement.

Zoë put down her brush and made her way down the stairs. She put on her most feminist frown and opened the door. Just as she expected—a couple methed-out-looking dudes in Dickies work shirts.

“Ma’am?”

“…Can I help you?”

“Ma’am I’m with the city septic solutions here? Hear y’all gotta backup?”

Zoë’s mouth was a bow.

“…We come in from central office up’air?” He indicated. “Sounds like y’all got a issue on yer ands.”

He was pretty ugly, which made Zoë feel validated, and his hair was tied back in a ponytail that flowed from a Marlins cap. The other guy was big and round as a cask. His skin color, to Zoë’s painterly eye, struck her as a muted cola. A gray Silverado was parked on the street behind them.

“We don’t deal with any central office here,” she said.

The pretty ugly one referred to a clipboard in his hand. “Thought ya might say that. What it is see is we’re here on orders, see. From up’air.” Their identical navy Dickies bore municipal patches on the breast pockets and such.

“This is private property.”

Then again, the guy wasn’t that ugly. Just slovenly. And redneck.

“Well, ma’am—”

She approved of the objectivity with which she arrived at this observation.

“—ya see, that there’s just the thing, see. Ya see this here’s a public safety matter. All we here on orders a do is scan the grounds, take stock of the sit-chew-way-shun, ass-her-tain just what y’all got yerselves into, zackly—since’s I understand it, y’all do all the excremental dis-charge yerselves here.”

“The excremental what?”

“Mind f’we take a gander round back, ma’am?”

Zoë tried as objectively as possible to consider that the bad vibe she was getting from these characters wasn’t due to anything especially offensive about their persons, but rather to just the circumstances of their being male. And their loathsome taste in music. There was that.

“Technically,” she said as she cleared her throat, “you’ll have to speak with the owner of the house.”

He adjusted his cap, consulted his clipboard. “That wouldn’t happen to be a…Mister Bo Dee-now-ment?”

Zoë narrowed her eyes. “This is private property,” she repeated. “I’ll let him know you said hello.”

[Slam. Exeunt.]

The white one turned to the cola-skinned one. “The fuck are you lookin at?”

~

Back when her love interest jumped from a roof—May—she emptied her orange prescription bottle into the garbage disposal in the ER’s florally wallpapered kitchenette and got in the car and drove. The hospital raced out the rear-view mirror like it didn’t want to be seen. The rushing by of the road signs and the driveways, the mournful way the trees hunched up and watched as you passed—it used to be there was a comfort in all this motion, in the passing of objects, things you would probably never see again. It wasn’t a few miles before the city ended, the city with its miraculous ropings-together of steel and cement, monuments raised to Confederate dead, improbable pubic triangles of pine trees packed against a boulevard, the great drop-offs of bridge overpasses into streams of semis and hatchbacks—cross-country auto marathoners of the night—those tireless interstate athletes pursuing lovers and leavers, pied pipers and willful quixotes— and she was out, thrown into the exurban purgatories beyond. She kept driving. Eventually the bulimic intervals of {strip malls and pastures / gated communities, pastures} stopped feeding themselves altogether and thinned out into blackened farmland. She kept her foot hammered to the floor. For as long as Kaylee could remember her family had piled into cars under the pretense of keeping it all together  …You have your cousins, who are dying to see you, and you have your Aunt Carrie and your Uncle Beaux —he’s a little strange but your aunt did marry him didn’t she— and how to forget your Uncle Erskine who hasn’t been around for a minute we know but he’ll show up eventually and most importantly you have Peepaw and Meemaw —nevermind he’s a rabid recluse and a hoarder and she refuses to talk to him but can’t live a day without him, they’re your grandparents! They’re family!  …as if they knew it would all one day break, and here they were only fleeing the certainty of their giant auto-da-fé…  Or maybe it wasn’t that, it wasn’t a fleeing necessarily, it was a celebration—of course, that’s what it was, a celebration of possibilities, it was only in retrospect she could think of it as a fleeing, only now, in this state of hers, after this ugly lesson in gravity, only now could she interpret the strains her parents exuded as forces that had always existed, and not sprouted suddenly of the moment. And she kept driving. The dark was the same dark they would drive through as kids. The kind of dark that blacks out everything and leaves the imagination to purr on its own.

Peepaw wrote a story, “Nine Lives” it was called, a story that was in his second book, his book of short stories. “Nine Lives” was first serialized in The New Yorker as the nine separate stories of a cohort of characters who fall dejectedly out of love. Theirs is a woeful, exuberant dance with sadness, an almost romantic sadness, a sadness you could take home with you and fuck—quietly, at first, and then violently, violently fucking it, the sadness—and when it was all over curl up with it and fall together into sleep. There was the story of the callow bodega owner’s son, who fell in love with a dancer who practiced across the street. The studio took up the entire second floor of the building, with its tall, wide windows affording a panoramic view of her every leap and twirl. How many times he must have scrubbed the bodega’s storefront that winter in the ostensible interest of dislodging a spider’s web, or a scoff-mark taken roost miraculously overnight. Absentmindedly he smoothed over the glass, peering up at her papier-mâché figure, the figure of a doll or a marionette, as she carved couth triangles throughout the air, traced leaping shapes of rhombi with her tiny limbs, made her body to appear as a runaway kite and flitted from end to end of the room. Every morning at eleven, when her practice was over, she would gather up her belongings in a duffel and disappear off the wide stage the callow bodega owner’s son had erected for her in his mind. Three minutes later she would reappear below, and there she would patiently wait for the light to change—she was always waiting for the light to change—before crossing the street and swishing through the bodega’s incorrigible door. The callow bodega owner’s son would stiffen up as he saw her coming. She never failed to acknowledge him with a hello—a sweet and genuine hello, the kind of genuineness not yet usurped by the encroachment of adolescence—and the boy tried his feeble best not to spill the words he balanced on his tongue like a tray of pots. For three months he followed every swishing movement of her hips between the cantaloupes and the crates of fragrant onions when the splash of the bell announced her entrance. And he would go cold in his tracks, or in his counter-wiping, or in his stacking of bouillon packets and instant noodles, he would go frigid with the rag in his hand and the apron hung disheveled from his neck and he would stare his Moorish green-eyed stare after the young girl with the dancer’s tights hugging her thighs and the crystalline sweat-beads shimmering on her temples and darkening her cords of kalamata-brown hair. It didn’t take long for her to notice his gawking. But she was a kind person, with too big or too free of a heart to strip him from his idolatry with too savage a reproach. She decided to stop going to the bodega after lesson, to allow him to draw his own conclusions. He then began waiting for her on the corner, heading her off as she came down from class. He always came bearing pocketfuls of butterscotch he secreted away from his father’s shop. So then she tried slipping out alternate exits, or knocking on the doors of her dance instructor’s neighbors, asking if she might employ their fire escape. This only served to test and then prove the boy’s resourcefulness. It was like he had a sixth sense for where she had gone, and not even her limber dancer’s body could sneak out without his noticing it; after the alleged three minutes had passed, and he began to suspect she wasn’t coming out the door like a normal person, he’d promptly scale the fire escape on the corner and survey her whereabouts from above. He managed to come running up behind her no matter what route she took, smile brimming and pockets loaded to the sidewalk with individual foils of Werther’s Originals. She could see there was no assuaging him. She resolved that the only way to let him down was to do it hard and succinct. So one day she exited through the front door like a normal person would do, and she quietly brushed past his expectant figure dwelling there on the corner, pausing half a step where her shoulder came in line with his, and suspended in that half-step she quietly told him to fuck off—ever so quietly, her voice, Fuck off, she whispered, so sweetly—and he hobbled away in a daze, more certain than ever that she loved him. When she didn’t return for her lesson the next day, he installed himself outside the dance instructor’s door—it was never explained how he got in the building in the first place—and after ringing the doorbell for too many times the door swung open in a fit and it turned out an older woman was standing there, and she was looking him up and down. He tried to puff his voice with bravado. I’m here for Clara, he said. Her neck was long like a cat’s, or a chicken’s. Her eyes were like those of a cat. But less like those of a chicken. What do you want? she asked. A girl named Clara? Who dances here? She lives here, the woman chuffed in reply. Dancing’s the least of her problems. Huh? Did you want to see her or not? She didn’t ask him in. She made him wait on the other side of the doorframe, standing on a mat that looked like a garage-sale salvage, while she left the door open. He tried to peer into the room, but all he saw was a bland wall, painted an off-white, and empty. Clara came out from the hall somewhere. She stood on the other side of the threshold as he stood on his. Can I help you? she asked. Can I walk you home today? he asked. She looked at him incredulously or perhaps resignedly. I don’t live anywhere else, she said. He said he thought she meant that metaphorically. Clara asked: thought she meant what metaphorically. He could feel the woman hovering on the other side of the wall, out of his line of vision but barely two feet away, and the girl named Clara appeared to be sweating or breathing very hard. When will you come down then? he tried asking. She stood there and didn’t speak. He asked again. I don’t know, she said. Will you come to the park with me? he tried. I don’t know, she said again. I’ll wait for you downstairs tomorrow, he said. She hesitated. Then she asked when. When your lesson’s over. Will you come down? Okay, she said finally. Should I ask you again, to make sure? No, she said. And then the door closed. He flew down the stairs without touching them once, it felt like. Hardly a drop of sleep came to him that night. Next morning, 11:00 came at an agonizing pace. He was waiting all pockets-stuffed on the corner. 11:03 came, and 11:05. 11:20 came. Finally 11:30 came, an agonizing lapse of time for a teenager, and he decided to go up and fetch her. He was at the door again. There was nothing but a hollowness to the raps he left on the door. He rang the bell until he was certain that no one was there. He waited on the corner for the rest of the day, but neither the girl nor the strange woman with the chicken’s neck materialized. Night fell; and the studio was draped in a cold, dark pall. Not a single light came on in the building all evening. The next morning, having hardly slept again, he returned to his post on the corner, stirred to mania by anyone who passed, anyone who might enter the desolate building and break its sudden strange darkness. But no one came in or out of the building the whole day; and neither did one come or go the next day; nor the day after that, nor the day after that. The very trace of the girl had vanished overnight with the strange apparition of the woman with the chicken’s neck. And she never came down those stairs again. Just the howling of the wind and the great urban cold bristling its teeth as the weeks mowed on. Plaintively, summer announced itself. Everyone was out in the streets: seemingly, as the dwellers of that city seem, overjoyed at their collective survival through another winter. Merely the volume of foot-fare outside made it appear as though the population had quadrupled overnight—that three-fourths of them had been living underground, hibernating like animals, until the winter let up enough to budge them from their sleep. They came out in the streets blood-eyed, full of lust, racing about wildly to snatch up as much of summer’s finite perfume as they could before it disappeared again. The boy liked these nights, in spite of all the snatching, and he would wander up and down the wide avenues, drifting through the ebb and flow of the people. One warm night he left the small apartment above the bodega where he lived with his father and escaped into the anonymity of their joy, following wherever it happened to be going. Though he was young, or perhaps because he was young, he knew that the joy he could find in himself was lesser than that to be found in the company of strangers. He reached a crook in the avenue where it split into two streets, one heading directly east and another, smaller street forking off to the north. At the crook in the avenue was the little apex of a minor park, nothing more than a bench and some trees, swarming with people as though a salt lick. The vision that appeared to him then resembled at first an outline, like the outline of a thought, sandwiched somewhere between the plane of a couple holding hands and the plane of an old man bent at the knee, struggling with his shoe. Then, in a moment’s flash, the image arrived fully presented in the aperture of his eye: the papier-mâché legs, the thin, graceful arms— the figure could be seen from behind, paused at the curb, waiting for the light to change; it changed: the crowd swelled with shapeshifting passersby; the figure disappeared; —and he found his feet moving. The crowd swelled like a wound. He picked up his pace, knifed in and out of the torpid stampede. He glimpsed the back of her head—it was unmistakable—the same kalamata hair—then the figure disappeared around a corner. The park was long behind him now. He threaded himself through the crowd, certain of the glimpses of her hair, her swishing waistline, those inconsolably graceful arms. He watched the figure, now an outline, now a figure, as she disappeared under the subway station’s dome. He plunged underground after her. He glimpsed her as the train pulled up, as she squeezed into the train some two cars down, and he threw himself into the nearest car just as the doors shuttered with a racket behind him. The train was packed to the brim. Two cars down, he could see the back of the figure’s head through the train’s winding gullet. The train climbed the steep interval up from Canal St. It strained across the mighty river, the city righteous and majestic below him. After a few stops the beast coughed up little spores of passengers one by one, enough so that the boy stepped off to the platform and advanced a few cars down. He slipped in the car where he’d seen the outline or the figure sketched between the impasses of bulkier arms and guts and shoulders—but she wasn’t there anymore. He looked around him, and there, several cars ahead, the outline materialized again—the same small head, the same kalamata hair. He reasoned she must have urged herself up to a farther car during all the commotion, as he’d done. He waited until the next stop, and then he alighted and moved up to the car he’d seen her in. He boarded; but again, she was nowhere to be found. He strained his eyes up the gullet of cars again— there she was— with her back to him as before, or the outline’s back to him, its hand hanging loosely from a handlebar above it. He felt a long disquiet stretch out in him, like it was molding to the insides of his frame. The figure didn’t look back. The passengers had thinned considerably now, and he was certain, through the four-windowed gullet of cars ahead, he was certain that it had to be her—of that there was no doubt in his mind. The next stop came. Again he tried to move up to where she stood. This time he made sure to keep his eyes fixed straight ahead, but only a few passengers exited the cars in front of him, none of whom was the outline of the girl named Clara. There weren’t that many cars left in front of him now. When he alighted and jogged up the platform, he found himself nearing the nose of the train—but he boarded the chosen car, the lone passenger remaining inside, and as the doors closed the spectral vision of the figure installed itself in the place he’d left it: two cars ahead, facing forward, hand hooked loosely on the handlebar. The disquiet moved to his throat. The train took off again. His breaths were thinning out, becoming more rapid now, as if the passengers in all their busy snatchings-up of summer had taken little morsels of oxygen away with them as they got off. He stayed like that in the car for the next few stops. The figure didn’t move from its spot when the doors opened. Without knowing it he was holding his breath, and then gasping for air when he remembered to breathe. He had a clear view of the train’s fluorescent gullet now. It appeared to stretch away into infinity. They were the only two left as far as he could see on either side now. When the figure moved it was only in place, like a real marionette, affixed to the spot: like an animate thing bound: shrugging her shoulders slightly or adjusting her hand in the handlebar. They reached the end. The silver beast glided to a stop before the platform. He must have beheld the rail map overhead for the first time. Coney Island: the end of the N line. He waited as the doors opened and watched the figure through the windows ahead. At that moment she turned ninety degrees: not slowly, but not quickly either: turning on her heels: and her hair concealed the profile of her face in ropes of kalamata brown—dirtied by the light, the strange quality of the air. She stepped right off onto the platform. When he had gasped for a breath of air he launched between the doors after her, and he found her walking briskly up the platform toward the worn tile steps, her heels ringing on the floor. The station was deserted. He took off after her, not wanting to call out to her, because he suddenly found himself without a voice, and it was all he could do to suck back the air in the dungeonous station, and the air felt as though it were draining from the station like sand from an hourglass, wet and thin as the air in a crypt, or what he imagined a crypt to be, for in that moment his mind had abandoned him with only the imagination swelling on all sides of him, and his reason, his sensibilities, none of them were left intact—they lay scattered without him like the slain of Macbeth. He lost his footing and came down with a wrenching blow on his chin. When he looked up the figure had disappeared up the steps. He scrambled to his feet and dashed up after her, clutching his jaw in his palm. The gush of air that met him at the top of the steps filled his chest like a sail and he almost fell over again, his aggrieved lungs demanding pause. As he caught his breath and cradled his jaw he saw the figure moving away from the station. Full night now. He had to keep following her before the darkness swallowed her outline along the promenade. There he could see it, as he jogged ahead: the Ferris wheel, fixed and illuminated in the sky, its tiny carriages suspended as though by invisible nails driven through a blackboard. The figure was walking faster than he could keep up. As the sounds of the carnival billowed nearer—all the pantoums of automated machines and amusement jingles piping disembodied all around him—he at first failed to observe the phantasmagoric panorama he’d found himself in. Such was the fervency of the lights and the singularity with which he affixed his eye on the outline disappearing before him that only after the boardwalk grew wide beneath his feet and the booths sprang up like empty cradles did he begin to notice that he was alone. He slowed his steps; he suddenly felt so incredibly tired; and the figure flitted on ahead to the wide gate sluiced with its turnstiles. An abandoned stage darkened his periphery. The curtains were in a swaddling heap on the floor. He called out to the figure, but his voice failed him, snapping like a rope, producing what he felt deep inside him as a nothing-sound—not so much a sound derailed but the unformed skein of a sound, an anti-sound. That was when he realized that the park was only patchily illuminated—some booths with half-trussed lights dangling like downed deciduous boughs; a carousel spinning slowly under its honeycomb of bulbs; and the great Ferris wheel, a constellation, brighter than the rest—a stock-still Cyclops dormant. Not a soul was around, and the wind had begun to pick up. But the figure was undeterred: without breaking her stride she had approached the ticket booth, darkened but for a single window and a nest of lamps overhead, and now she was moving from the booth and through the turnstile’s hips. The turnstile gave without effort; she continued through and disappeared behind the tents straight ahead. The glare from the lights obscured his view of the window, but, encouraged by her progress, the boy jogged forward to the ticket booth. When he got there the window was closed. A small wooden placard leaned against the glass from the inside, announcing: closed for repair. His heart sunk so far it felt to reappear above in his throat. The wind off the bay prodded at his sleeves. Frightened now, his upper lip beginning to quiver, he moved one leg after the other toward the gate. The light was casting terrible shadows before him that his imagination coaxed into caricatures of distended faces and the disproportioned scabbards of jowls. The carnival music whistled in the dark. He approached the turnstile. Something felt like a dumbwaiter going haywire up and down his throat. He put his hand to the turnstile. He pushed his weight against it—[clunk. clunk.]—the turnstile refused. His heart stopped right on its pulley. Excuse me, sir, excuse. —He sprang back from the turnstile. He whipped around to where the voice had come from. In the opposite corner, nosed up against the metal bars, a heavy man in a bristling beard had appeared at a card table, his legs spread wide in his chair. The boy didn’t move. Excuse me, sir? Excuse me? The phantom music punctuated his words with chilling harmony. The boy didn’t move. Sir? Excuse me? The music stopped— …Would you like to buy a book, sir? The heavy man and his table were tucked in a crook of shadows. A nearby lamp threw an oblique light on the side of his face. He seemed the apparition of a Civil War dead. Sir? Ex-cuse me. All fine books, sir, sell ’em on the cheap. Would you like to buy a book, sir? The boy put his quivering hand up to shield the light. Is…the park open? he asked, all the bravado gone from his voice. The heavy man’s face seemed to droop at that. The park, sir? Sir I don’t know about no park, if you’ll excuse. Would you like to buy a book though? All fine books, sir. Sell ’em on the cheap. The boy stood there as the wind stuttered and then fell away. He took a step forward, and then another, until he stood several paces from the man and his card table. A ziggurat of paperbacks lined the weathered table. Did you see anybody come by here? the boy asked, the quivering palpable in his voice. I just saw someone go in the park. Excuse me? answered the man. Ex-cuse me, sir, I hain’t seen no body here. Hain’t no body been through here. All day long, not a single sale. No, sir, there hain’t been no body done come through here. The music was gone; the wind was gone; the park seemed wreathed in a pall of stillness. The wind had receded to wherever it had come from. Even the shadows seemed to recede, leaving only a pale dark, a total dark, a dark of one shade. The man saw that the boy was looking around, and he scratched his cheek. Sir? he said. Sir, can I int’rest you in a book? Would you like to buy a book, sir? Then the boy turned back to the man at the table. He tried to smooth the disquiet into something calm. What do you have? the boy asked. Don’t mind me, said the man, take a look. He handed him a book. The boy held it to his face to make out the title in the dark. Dubliners, the boy said aloud. Oh me? the man said. Oh don’t mind me, no-sir. You take a look, sir. Take a look, if you’ll excuse. The boy looked down but the pile of books seemed to have shrunk. With the one book in his hand he ran his finger across the others. A viscous horror seized him. Dubliners. Dubliners. Dubliners. Dubliners. He felt a tug at the pulley in his throat and he looked up—all of a sudden the man had changed positions—his legs were folded; he had his neck turned and he was scratching at his cheek, digging into where his beard bristled grotesquely. The patch where the beard met the skin was scratched raw. The boy looked on in horror. Ex-cuse me, the man said. Bits of flesh clung to his beard, flakes of flesh. The boy looked on in horror. The patch shone raw and red in his eye. Suddenly the music sprang back to life. The arcade whistled toward him from all sides. He was backing up quicker than his legs could find the ground. The wind had disappeared into the night. The demented music closed in on him. The Ferris wheel towered above like an eye.

 

 

~

The forlorn biographer, in her faded pajama pants and taffeta, is standing at the window. She’s not short and not tall. She’s white or Eastern European. She has maudlin auburn hair. Her skin is browned with sunspots. She’s dignified in spite of herself, in the skin that goes slack beneath her chin. In the same skin that firms up, browned like soda bread in cast iron, where it slopes off the collarbone and smoothes across the breastplate. She has wire frames on her nose. Dark folds sag beneath her eyes like bags of tea. Her hair is the sort that hints at its former brilliance, still holds on to it, like the cactus on her windowsill that the motel staff hasn’t watered for years. The forlorn biographer has the sort of eyes that are set squarely below her brow and speak of a tired, succorless grit, and of a patience. But also of a kind of anomie.

~

The forlorn biographer, in her faded pajama pants and taffeta, has the deaf old tape recorder in her hand. The window is turbid with a something of fungal growth, milky-white and creased with faults, like an ice cube under a magnifying glass. On the outside, a pair of tiny swinging saloon doors, thrown open. The carpet has a faint offal smell to it. The forlorn biographer has the legal pad spread on the heating unit. Phrases maroon.  “amassed their fortune”  “Old World misogynists”  “prohibitive primogeniture customs”    she begins with her free hand to unhook the bra beneath her taffeta. In the closet, the scarlet-red hijab hangs on a hanger; the safari cap loafs on the shelf. On the chair, folded, are the blouse, the lace, the hose, the dress, the cap, the bonnet, the other Amish accoutrement. The breathy translucency of the window does not much occlude one’s view of her disrobing, to her oblivion. She stands there, topless, veiny, boobs slack, one hand fitted in the crook of one arm. The recorder in the other, her lips slightly open.

~

The Princes, the forlorn biographer goes, became as enigmatic a family to the public as they were an obsessive subject of excoriation at the hands of their most traducive son. She disliked her narrative voice sometimes. L. T. Prince was the kind of author who seemed to arrive at just the right time, whose entrance on the scene was so disruptive that successive generations of writers would find themselves measured against his shadow. [Cough.]

Famous for the obloquy he brought upon his kin, through a slim but precipitously influential body of work that charted the ostensible fictions of the Inman family, he was catapulted to the pinnacle of literary stardom—and famously walked away from it all.

Prince was the son of second-generation Swiss-German immigrants whose fathers built the railroads of the eastern United States. His father would come to be known as the more industrious of his six older siblings, capable of deposing them all in. In the course of. A bitter takeover of the family business.

Note: in, or in the course of.

Note: write a fucking straightforward sentence, for once.

[cough]

Bloodlines, one continually finds, thread the story of Lawrence Tabers Prince with an inescapable sense of entanglement.

Good. That was good.

~

[…



…]

 

 

~

When Kaylee woke up it was like she hadn’t been asleep. She found all the covers in a pile at her feet. The shadows danced above them on the wall, like lint dancing on filmstrip, in the small projection booth of her second-floor room. That great projector, the silent moon. All dark and quiet-like through the window’s lens. A faint-like crackling sound to the quiet.

~

The tremorish part was the cold it left. It moved quick, gun-quick, passed right through you. But it felt not like something from a gun. It felt alive. And when it slithered through your brain-leaves—one side to the next—it left a quick kind of cold behind. Like you could feel where it had tunneled through. A psychic worm. A bilious snake. That zapped you quick-like and left a shivering trail. And then it was gone.

~

Kaylee did not think it was going off of anti-depressants could summon up a snake like that. It had been seven, near eight months now. The zaps came and went. The script-types had given her all kinds of medicines over the years. But none of them left a snake that slithered about in your brain to remind you of whatever SSRI you were missing. Left just as quick as it came. Like in the therapist’s office, in November, before it got hard to breathe. Then, here, at her cousin’s house in Florida, she was standing at the window in a long T-shirt, in front of the moon, holding her head, because she’d woken up and the snake was back, only this time it was chewing back-and-forth-like behind her eyes. Which was unquieting-like, this feeling, because Kaylee hadn’t felt much of anything for a while now. She had willed herself not to. Feeling things got you in trouble. They’d chew you alive if you let them, feelings would. She just tried to keep her nerves in their cauldron, tried to fill up her mind with the nearest distraction—anything—when she felt them crawling up the back of her chest.

And the point was: to not feel. You had to convince yourself that the only way to recover from a nervous breakdown, short of psychotropic gavage, was to will yourself into a staring contest with the nearest landscape, to turn everything into a museum painting on a wall, to imagine that the cool splashes of light through the window weren’t nothing else but just a rarefied glimpse of the mind’s reel wheeling. That was all. No feelings, just sensations. Just passing perceptions in a vacuum. Just the crackling of the wind outside and what looked like contorted spools of tape, posing as the shadows of trees on the yard.

You have to get a job tomorrow, Kaylee, she told the window. You’re gonna go crazy with yourself if you don’t.

~

Monday, late January, Chez Denouement. Kaylee’s looking at the headstone. She had gotten used to coming out here, in the mornings, the breeze the lone assailant on her quiet. Mornings here involved first a prolonged effort to dislodge herself from the bed; then making her way down the dappled stairs; then installing herself on an errant tree stump. The rest of the day was spent in the company of the chez’s ecosystem of personalities. She had spent the better part of a month in it now.

The headstone is streaked with the residue of Carolyn’s a.m. libations. A single nube settled in the sky over it. The sky’s a viscous blue today. A Floridian aqua. Behind the headstone, the aging live oak that seemed it was on to something. Decked in its spectral Spanish moss. She stares long and hard at the purple woods beyond it.

If the point was to get better, as her mother had insisted, then her extended insulation here might thus far be counted as a kind of victory. To get some fresh air, to readjust herself, and like.

But she was not her mother’s daughter. She had different ideas of getting better.

“From now on, you’re gonna answer to yourself,” she tells the headstone.

There’s a creepy morning glow to the woods. The winter light sharp and thin like a van Eyck copy, not a real van Eyck but a copy, almost identical to the original—though in substance, if you knew how to look, it appeared very nearly the stuff of something else.

The inscription stares back at her: HERE LIES LAWRENCE TABERS PRINCE, 1918-2010 — “fare thee well flier, unto the edge of doom”, in a Didot-family typeset with metric kerning.

“Did you hear me?” she demands.

The look of the rock is so bromidic as to appear cynical.

“I said did you hear me?!

She launches a kick in the headstone’s gut—horrible idea—spiderwebs of pain shoot up her foot. But the sensation is overwhelmed immediately by something else: the headstone has dislodged from the ground, sending up abscessed clumps. It clings, its obelisk shape, 45 degrees posterior, like a maligned cuspid.

“Oh fuck,” Kaylee goes.

She hobbles on her pigeon toes, trying to stamp the grass back in place. Looks around her shoulder—her foot feels like lava—no one looking—urges the rock back in place.

“No wonder. You’re a little baby tooth. Are you on your way out or something?” She gives the rock a little interring shove. “Now stay put. I’m coming back here tomorrow, and you better be right where I left you.”

Kaylee, with her long legs, her grandfather’s legs, limps back in the direction of the pond. No, she was not her mother’s daughter. Though the therapist-types liked to read into it and shit. Kaylee can remember her first day of kindergarten, with her mother’s hand squared firmly at her back, guiding her through the Mordorish doors. Pictures of flayed Christs bleeding on the walls. How her mother powerwalked through those doors and shunted Kaylee right up in front of Principal Sister Mary John Joseph and instructed Kaylee to say good morning, Sister, may Christ be with you. And how Kaylee, when the catarrhal nun stooped down to level eyes with Kaylee, how Kaylee’s face quivered up and then went firm and the next thing anyone knew tears were gushing down her cheeks and they were streaming all over her chin and onto the floor, a hydrantile emission, bereft, if Kaylee can remember, of any sort of pain. And how the nun looked at Jacquelyn and Jacquelyn looked at the nun and quickly deflected the look toward Kaylee and Kaylee looked at the nun and then at Jacquelyn and Jacquelyn back to the nun who was still looking at Jacquelyn and Jacquelyn right back to Kaylee who was still looking at Jacquelyn and Jacquelyn back to the nun and the nun back to Kaylee and then the nun back to Jacquelyn and Jacquelyn to Kaylee and then to the nun, and then back to Kaylee, and then, mortified, back to the nun, whose nose was running goopy stuff down her habit.

So they tried to realign her, cause it wasn’t right, a girl crying out of nowhere, a girl unable to control her emotions—which is a vice of the lowest order, such inability. When she couldn’t read as fast as the others, they found a medicine for that too. And as the years went on and the medicines piled up it became difficult to separate the medicines from the ailments… it went on and over the years at one time or another she was diagnosed with dyslexia, attention deficit disorder, test anxiety, listlessness, nerves, depression, mania, boredom, puberty, quietude, unpredictability, unresponsiveness, disinterest, various imbalances, uncooperative behavior, sleep indulgence, squeamishness, preoccupations with art history, lack of direction, lack of interest in romance, extenuating circumstances, artistic interests, quietude. As the years went on and the diagnoses accumulated, the perfectionist in Jacquelyn, unable to watch one of her children fail to develop in the exact manner she’d groomed the previous three, signed check after check for month-long tabs at the pharmacy; and Kaylee found herself on a diet of ambers, whites, & gel-capsule blues, those candies—she still resented her mother for calling them that—that dissolved in her bloodstream without the slightest bodily protest…they became as natural as the cup of water that accompanied them. And Jacquelyn kept extending the credit line, hellbent on correcting this abnormality in her family. That is until they stopped running credit at the pharmacy. Which coincided, Kaylee noticed, with the no more trips to Carolina. And the vague overheard comment or two, from her mother, about the house back in Nashville.

She sets off along the edge of the pond. The arc of her steps hugs the neck of the woods where the last of Beersheba Drive gets swallowed en route to its dead end of briars.

She crosses the street.

She crosses the shallow part of the creek you can stonestep over.

She continues up the slight incline where the Mermaid Motel sulks beside the Bi-Rite.

She waits at the bus stop until the silver and gritty-blue ghost pulls up and she gets on to sit among the Mexicans and the black women.

So this is your problem. So you gave those pills the finger. So the haze was starting to lift—so you felt like a sailboat or a tiny island jutting from the sea—so the mist was clearing and you were finding an ocean. You were so much smaller than you imagined. So you didn’t recognize the shape of the person under the mist.

 

figure 1. An examination of the facts:

You are Kaylee Prince.

This is you.

You don’t happen to be anyone else at the moment.

rebuttal. The fraudulent idea of a contiguous self.

figure 1. Fraudulent?

rebuttal. And you tried to separate your life into stages, tried to trace how one self became this other, but you couldn’t—

figure 1. Don’t be ridiculous.

rebuttal. —And you found that each one was its own little island, its own world apart—like those lost islands in the Pacific or the tepui of Venezuela that developed their own singular ecosystems—none of the things that flourished on one of them could be found on another—

figure 1. But it’s the you that’s doing the finding. Who do you think’s doing the finding?

rebuttal. —entire species unique in the history of evolution, only to exist at this one set of coordinates, this one point in time, and never to come back again—

figure 1. —something constant beneath it all that goes through the changes—

rebuttal. —and when you looked back all you found were these little islands, now uninhabited, and the line you’d taken from one to the next now lost forever—the way the mist parts when a boat pulls through it and seals back up when the boat’s gone its way,

figure 1, rebuttal. —moving discontinuous-like through the narrative—

 

Downtown, Sarasota is filled with palm trees and the homeless. Leafy buildings spread their contraband of glass and steel along the sky. Tamiami. Ringling. Names meant as a stay against forgetting. A façade lined with terra cotta crown molding striking a belligerent bas-relief pose from the glazed green brick at its back. Be normal, she says aloud. Just be normal, for once.

 

 

~

Carolyn Prince at her antique writing desk. Carolyn Prince buried in the rubicund glow of a Tiffany lamp. Carolyn Prince framed among stacks of undergrad essays and critical theory anthologies. Carolyn Prince barefoot on her Hopi shag rug. Carolyn Prince’s shakti-red sari con cleavage and profusion of bangles. DRA. CAROLYN PRINCE – assoc. prof. of anthroplogy and liberal studies/ program coordinator, first-year bucket list core program. A knock on Carolyn Prince’s office door.

“Come in?”

“Doctora?”

“Come in?”

“Phone for you.”

“Lovely, Meursault, you can set it right there.”

“It’s a landline, Doctora.”

“You can just set it right there, Meursault, very nice of you.”

“It’s that…it won’t stretch?”

“Meursault. Just hold your horses, dear.”

“…”

“…”

“…Should I—?”

“Oh good God son, I’m coming already.”

“—”

“Thank you, dear. I’ll just stand by the door. See? It stretches. You could have stretched it more. No no, go on. Thank you, Meursault. Yes, hello? Hello?”

“Well finally.”

“Jacquelyn! Well what a surprise!”

[Jacquelyn’s voice is prickly through the line] “I have literally talked to eight different departments to get to you.”

“Well what a lovely surprise this is.”

“Doesn’t anyone know where you work?”

“How are you, my long-lost sister?”

“How am I? How are you? I’ve left like eight separate messages at your house. Eight separate ones.”

“Oh you know I don’t check that machine.” Pinched up inside the crook of the door, Carolyn negotiates the bulky phone. Meursault follows the cord back to the department office.

“I don’t understand how it can be so hard to get in touch with you.”

“Jacquelyn—urg—hold on—this cord. Is really.” Carolyn gives it a tug.

“You could start by getting a phone. Like a normal person.” The unmistakable sound of a picture frame clattering to the floor, two doors down.

“Urg! This is exactly why I don’t use these things.”

“Don’t sermonize, don’t sermonize, don’t sermonize,” intones Jacquelyn to herself.

Carolyn slides down doorframe into comfortable lotus-pose squat. “Well! It’s Sister Jacquelyn!”

“Hello, Carrie. How are you?”

“I’m great! How are you!”

“Well that’s good. That’s good, you see, because I hadn’t heard from you, and if you recall my daughter is staying with you—presumably she’s still there—I don’t know, she doesn’t really call—and call it a motherly instinct but I felt like feeling in the loop from time to time with you all—”

“Oh Jacquelyn she is just fan-tastic, thanks for asking!” [Poor Meursault two doors down, stage left, limboing under the catholicly-taut cord to retrieve the picture of his mother] “She could not be more wonderful, not at all.”

[expectantly] “Could she?”

“Don’t you worry about her, love! We have the whole village behind the effort.”

“That is quite possibly precisely what worries me.”

“Oh don’t worry, love. You sound stressed. Are you stressed? Have you done those yoga exercises I sent you in the mail?”

“Is she eating? Is she taking her medication?”

“Of course she’s eating. What do you think I run here, a circus?”

“And her medication?”

“Medication?”

“Carolyn? Seriously?”

“Really, I don’t know why people use these things, they’re so awkward and bony—”

“I made this very explicit before I sent her.”

[Carolyn shifts; Meursault’s mother somersaults to the floor again. *Curses*]

“Hm…you know, I am remembering now that you said something about that.”

“Carolyn!”

“Yes, you almost certainly said something about medication.”

Carolyn. Listen to me. This is very important.” [Meursault contorting his arm, probing under the desk] “Kaylee can not be desisting from her regimen. This is salient, Carolyn.” Jacquelyn’s diction tended to tumefy under pressure. “You have to make sure she’s taking them.”

“Sister, love. I’ll keep an eye on her. But I swear to you, she seems every bit to be as stable a girl her age can be.”

“That’s because—that’s because, Carolyn, these kids, when they grow up with all these disorders—[her voice was sounding hot through the line—] they get good at hiding things, Carrie. They become occluders.”

“Honey. I know this ain’t my place.” Either one of them was liable to slip back into the alto-Southern of their upbringings. “But don’t you think she’s old enough to decide for herself?”

“Mary Katherine’s my baby,” Jacquelyn rebuffs, her voice hot. “Please, Carolyn. Just— …”

Now Carolyn’s face crumples with exemplary empathy. “Oh Jackie honey, I am hearing you. You need to get yourself under control. Find your calm space, love, find your calm space.”

“What if she has another episode? What if something happens?”

“I’ve got her, dear. She’s in good hands. I promise you—”

“She just hasn’t been the same. She isn’t the same, Carolyn.”

“Everything will work itself out, Jackie dear. It’s the way of the world.”

They let some quiet stretch out between them for a second.

“…There, you okay, honey?”

“I’m okay,” Jacquelyn says.

“You sound so stressed, Jackie. What’s going on over there?”

Sighs through telephones sound like logs on fires. “Sister pledge?”

“Sister pledge,” goes Carolyn, raising a pinkie to the air.

Jacquelyn’s mouth unhinges like a recusant in a confessional. “I am miserable. Jack is never home. I hate the North. Now I know why I didn’t want to raise a family here the first time around. My hands are radishes from all the wringing they do. I bake things. We’re having money problems,” she adds.

“Try to look at the good. You gotta look at the good, Jacquelyn. The Navajo have this saying—”

“Carrie, you’re not hearing me. We’re having money problems.”

“Uh huh?”

“Jack took this new job in New York. Fine. I wanted to be the supportive wife. What was it to me to leave behind my friends, my way of life? But nevermind. The problem is the house hasn’t sold. It’s been seven months now.”

“I’m listenin, sis.”

“We’ve come down on the price twice. But no one’s buying. I mean no one. Which would be fine.”

“But?”

“But there’s other things. John’s accident.”

[Carolyn nodding methodically; Meursault clearing all valuables from his desktop and setting up shop on the floor]

Carolyn: “Oh bless his heart. Wasn’t he recovering just fine though?”

“We had to take out a lot of money for that. I never really told you.”

“Such an awful situation.”

“There’s this other part.”

“Uh huh?”

“It’s John. You never knew this, but he was drunk that night. We’ve kept it hidden from everyone.”

“Sis!”

“We’ve had to front everything. John’s surgery as you know.”

“You didn’t think he would make it.”

“Was a huge thing.”

[nod, nod]

“It exceeded the coverage limit for the insurance, so there was that. And all the therapy afterwards and all. But the other guy.”

“Uh huh?”

“The other guy had to leave in a stretcher.”

[Carolyn nodding profusely like her Nonviolent Communication workshops have instructed her to—]

“We’ve been paying him off ever since. I just didn’t know, Carrie…I was so scared, I didn’t want my John to end up in jail—”

[The cord is undulating vertically like a sound wave, whipping horizontally like a jump rope—Meursault gets licked across the eye—]

“We’ve been footing this Wayland character’s bills, which is just—”

[Meursault crumples to the floor, landing on the frame of his mother he thought was out of harm’s way     (*prodigious cursing*)]

“—which is shit, pardon my French, because he’s fine now and has been. Clean bill of health. And we would know.”

“But he’s blackmailing you.”

“He has some in with the police—”

“Jeez Louise, sis.”

“He agreed not to press charges if we settled. But he has taken this too far. Isn’t this too far, Carolyn?”

“Jeez Louise, sis.”

“And then you know about Papa—”

“Jacquelyn—slow down, love. Jeez Louise. This is horrible. I can’t believe I’m hearing this.”

Her voice sinks. “I thought that was our way out.”

Carolyn nods in comprehension to the spine of a Lacan volume. “You were banking on that.”

“I miss dad terribly.”

[*curses, moans*]

“But yes…and I feel so terribly guilty about this, Carolyn, I really do—I miss him but at the same time I’m so…what’s the goddamn word? apoplectic at him for doing this. How could he do this? Leave us with nothing? Waste an entire fortune?”

“I’ve stopped asking myself, love, I really have. I don’t have an answer for you.”

“Something isn’t right about this.”

“Hm?”

“The more I think about it.”

“…”

“Carrie?”

“Jackie dear, I’m as upset as you are. I had no idea. The money thing—we don’t need it. Beaux and I—we’ve carved out something special here.”

“…”

“But let us help you. We can get something together.”

“I can’t ask you to do that, Carolyn.”

“You need the money.”

“I just need you to look after my Kaylee. Please, Carrie. Tell me you will.”

“I promise—”

“It was hard enough almost losing one child. And when Kaylee…all her life that girl has struggled. It’s been a struggle for me too. I can’t stand to ever see her that sad again.”

“Hold on—[tug]—it sounds like a dying animal in here.”

“Are you listening to me, Carolyn?”

The NVC-trained listener in Carolyn redoubles her attention. “Sister. Dear. I hear you. And I’m here for you. You have to be strong, honey. Find your inner space. Meantime don’t worry about Kaylee. I’m taking good care of her, sis, I really am.”

Jacquelyn’s breaths fell hushed for a few brief moments. “Ask her about it,” she goes then, “about her friend and all. She’ll tell you. She’s always adored you. I have to admit it’s made me jealous.”

“About that boy that died? Jacquelyn, that’s not my place.”

“If I can’t be there, I want to make sure she has her angels beside her. That girl needs it, Carrie. She needs you to be her aunt now.”

“Okay, honey. Okay.”

“She’ll tell you,” Jacquelyn affirms. “Kaylee loved that boy, I’m sure of it. It’s nearly the only thing I’m sure about with her.”

 

 

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