Wednesday, March 31, 2010

“A Town Called Disdain”, Episode Eighteen: Dick and Daphne awaken to a brand-new day

With this episode we finally enter day two of
A Town Called Disdain, the sprawling masterwork of the legendary filmmaker, raconteur, bon vivant and sadly underrated novelist, Larry Winchester. Except it turns out that it’s really day three.

(Go here for our previous episode, or click here to return to the beginning.)

In this weird white room again, and having sex with this girl with all these people watching, this thin slight girl, not even his type really but he couldn’t help himself, and it was good, damn good, but so embarrassing with all these people watching, and then a pretty Mexican girl in a maid’s uniform was there with a tray and a slightly tarnished old coffee service.

Dick sat up. He had a hard-on, and he pulled his legs up under the covers to disguise it.

Daphne was still sound asleep, curled up on her side.

“Hello,” said Dick. “What time is it?”

“Eight o’clock, sir. Mr. Johnstone want to know if you want to have some coffee to wake up and then come down for breakfast.”

Dick paused a moment.

“Have we -- slept for a whole day and night?”

“One night, one day, and another night.”

“Wow.” Dick took the coffee pot and poured himself a cup while she held the tray. “Did -- anyone try to wake us up?”

“No. Mr. Johnstone stay in bed all day yesterday too. He had --”

Holding the tray with the flat of her left hand she put her right hand to the side of her sleek lovely head and rocked it back and forth.

“Oh,” said Dick.

He sipped his black coffee, then turned and put his hand on Daphne’s bare shoulder.

“Daphne, wake up, sweety.”

She pushed his hand away.

Daphne refused to come down to breakfast at such an hour, and she wouldn’t believe Dick when he told her it was actually the morning after the morning after.

So the maid (whom Dick found out was named Esmeralda) brought them toast and homemade rutabaga preserves and more coffee (with some hot fresh milk for Daphne) and while Daphne went back to sleep Dick went down to the bathroom in his old kimono.

He had a very enjoyable and lengthy voiding of his bowels, and then an equally enjoyable and even longer bath, using the lavender Yardley soap they’d taken with them on their precipitous departure from the Palm Grove in Singapore, and smoking the last of his Craven A's, reaching over and tapping the ash into the toilet while he read a dozen or so pages of Slaughterhouse-Five.

Finally he got out, plugged in his Remington and had a nice shave, splashing on some Lentheric after-shave (gotten from the shop at the Palm Grove, and put on their never-paid bill), and then he brushed his teeth.

He looked at his handsome face in the mirror. Once again he had survived his own self-depredations and come out of it somehow fresh as a daisy.

As he walked back down the corridor he saw a door close, and he thought he caught a glimpse of a strange dark eye.

He managed to haul Daphne out of the bed, and she went to the bathroom in her turn, toting her own toiletries, including a bottle of Guerlain bath salts (more swag from the palm Grove).

After a half hour or so Dick put down his book and went down to the bathroom again to see if she hadn’t drowned. He woke her up and added some hot water. He lit her a cigarette in her holder, then he washed her with her big soft sponge, and he shampooed her hair.

By the time they got back to their room they were both longing for each other, and she pulled Dick down onto the big brass bed.

In a closet of an adjoining room Hope stood on a shoeshine box and peeked through a crack in the wood, holding her hand over her mouth.

Out in the corridor, having heard the old bedsprings singing and whining, Esmeralda stopped by the door and crouched down, peering through the keyhole.

Dick and Daphne dozed for a while, and then Daphne said, “I am absolutely famished.”

As luck would have it, it was now lunchtime at the Johnstone Ranch.

(Continued here.)

Friday, March 26, 2010

a tale of wonders, part 3

by fan taser

to begin at the beginning, click here

"i am sorry to say," said the comte de st denis, "that it has been a while since i hunted."
"but surely you have not forgotten how," mademoiselle cecile laughed.
"no, no, of course not." the comte chose his words carefully. "but i must have grown rusty. no doubt if i accompanied you tomorrow my ineptitude would embarrass me and hinder you."
"no doubt," the baron responded dryly.
"oh but sir," mademoiselle cecile looked steadily at the comte "you simply must conserve your strength tomorrow. for my sake, if not your own."

"i bow to your judgment, mademoiselle." the comte turned in the direction of his host. "if you don't mind my asking, sir, what exactly do you hunt in this remote area? i may be mistaken, but it seems unlikely that you have keepers, or any system to keep a supply of game."
"gamekeepers - what a thought!" for the first time the comte heard the baron actually laugh. "no sir, one of the many advantages of living outside the confines is that one get to hunt truly wild animals. animals that have no fear - only contempt - for humans."
"and you hunt them without recourse to - what for lack of a better term i shall term supernatural - resources?"

mademoiselle cecile laughed but did not respond.
"there is no such thing as the supernatural, sir," the baron replied in a milder voice than the traveler expected. "there are only the known and the unknown."
"and no one can know everything, can they?" added cecile.
"i suppose not."
"but here," said the baron. "is gruz, no doubt to rescue you and us from these fruitless and tiresome speculations. gruz, i take it our guest's repast is prepared and ready?"
"yes, sir."
"in that case, sir, i bid you good night. gruz will accompany you and then see you to your room. we will see you again tomorrow evening, when the sun has gone down."

the traveler rose from the couch. he was a little embarrassed to find himself suddenly overcome with weariness and unsteady on his feet. gruz took his arm unobtrusively and guided him out of the room.
a blast of cold air - from outside? - revived him when they were in the corridor. it was very dark in the corridor. the traveler looked back over his shoulder. no light seemed to be coming from the room they had left.
gruz stared at him and pointed him back down the corridor with his candle.


it was the most perfect day for a horse race that paris had ever seen.

the glittering world had made the milliners and haberdashers of the continent prosperous beyond their wildest dreams overnight , in their mad quest to have the latest cut of the finest cloth at any price, so as each to outshine their fellow on this most glorious of days.
however, one class of personage was miserably unhappy. the baron de t--------, and the other bookmakers of paris were having one of the worst cup days in memory. word had leaked out that the fix was in - the comte de g-----------'s horse, jebadar, would win in a walk, as a result of the foreign minister's gratitude to the comte de g-------- for his good offices in arranging the secret treaty with the sultan of y---------. (the treaty itself remained a secret known only to the foreign minister and his most trusted underlings, but the gesture of gratitude had been irrevocably compromised. when the baron de t---------, on behalf of the fraternity of bookmakers, had made a personal appeal to the foreign minister he had been rebuffed in a manner that bordered on insult, and had bowed and withdrawn rather than press the affair to a conclusion which would certainly have proved most unhappy for the minister).
but on the morning of the race the baron de t------ was determined to put a good face on things and to enjoy the spectacle and fine weather at least. he was lounging insouciantly at his favorite spot under an elm tree a hundred yards from the main gate, when he was hailed by his old friend the marquis de a-------. the marquis was accompanied by aristide b------, a young man from the provinces. the most distant provinces, as a quick glance at the cut of his clothes revealed to the baron, who, however, being a perfect gentleman, repressed a smile.

the marquis de a-------, who was not a bookmaker, and who, though an inveterate gambler on the turn of cards, did not wager on the sport of kings, was in a mood in harmony with the glorious day. after greetings had been exchanged and introductions made, the marquis turned a bemused countenance from the young man to the baron, and announced:
"my young cousin has had some good fortune lately - something about silver being found in his african possessions - and he wishes to increase that good fortune by wagering on the main race."
barely concealing his annoyance, the baron nodded politely to the young man. "on jebadar, no doubt."
"oh, no, monsieur, i am determined to wager all on assyrian prince."
"on assyrian prince!" the baron glanced at the marquis with the barest raising of his eyebrow.
"i have explained the situation to him." the marquis announced. "but he is determined to press on. i also explained that no one bookmaker, not even yourself, could guarantee a wager of the size he wishes to make. he is hoping to use your good offices to help him spread his wager among the brethren."
"and he is determined to wager "all", is he?" the baron's customary sangfroid was almost unequal to his astonishment. "do you have a reason for this, young man?"
"indeed i do, monsieur. the archangel jehudiel appeared to me in a dream last night, and told me that today i would see the most beautiful woman in the world, and that i should stake my entire fortune on assyrian prince in the cup."

"i see. and have you seen the most beautiful woman in the world?"
"not as yet, monsieur. but i have faith in the archangel."
just then a small commotion and excited murmuring broke out among the fops and neer-do-wells mingling just outside the main gate. a small white carriage, in the round antique style., had pulled up and its single occupant was stepping lightly to the ground.
it was mademoiselle cecile, in a simple white dress, her pale hair and green eyes flashing in the sun beneath a tiny blue parasol.

a tale of wonders, parts 1 and 2

by fan taser

it was a dark and stormy night.
thunder crashed. lightning flashed.
in a dark and stormy land, far from the brightly lit cities and towns of genteel civilization,
a lone traveler rode furiously across a battered and windswept landscape, heedless of the uprooted trees, fallen boulders and other obstacles that the maddened lightning periodically illuminated in his path.
animals, too, wolves, bears and panthers growled and hissed in his path. still he rode on.
behind him, audible over the din of the howling wind, the howling of dogs, the pounding of an army of hooves, the clanging of armor and the occasional explosion of firearms could be heard.
suddenly his horse reared up at an enormous mossy rock illuminated in the path by an bright bolt of lightning. a huge black panther crouched on top of the boulder. rain streamed over its sinewy body and dripped from its red roaring jaws.
how it rained!
with a desperate effort, the blinded rider forced his terrified steed to its four feet and dismounted. red eyes appeared in the boiling mist around them. suddenly the panther sprung from the rock, landing a scant six feet from the traveler!
calmly, the rider drew a saber from beneath his rain-drenched cloak. the panther reared back, growling deeply. the other animals drew back also, except for a shaggy bear, with a raven on its shoulder, a hideous black-and-white wolf, and a thin elongated jaguar.

the rider advanced toward the panther. the panther retreated two steps, then sprang!! the horseman seemed to slip forward in the mud, then brought the saber down on the leaping beast's skull, splitting it in two. red blood, white brains, and a loathsome green gas boiled out, briefly illuminating the scene, then was quickly effaced by the increasingly furious wind and rain.
the other beasts who had witnessed the affair began a horrible cacaphony and began to surround the human and his steed, but with an imperious gesture he waved them away. they slunk back into the darkness. only the bear with its raven companion paused to mark the rider's countenance (hidden, indeed, by his thick cloak) before joining its fellows in the darkness.

it was over in minutes. now the clangor of the pursuing army, which had been partially obscured by the raging storm, manifested itself anew.
leaping back on the horse, as the lightning flashed, flashed and flashed again, the rider had just time to see in the distance the outline of a castle, curiously undefended and alone on the horizon.
then the lightning disappeared as quickly as it had come, leaving the cosmos in total darkness, as before. now, the heavens opened in earnest.

after what seemed an eternity the lone traveler reached the castle. it was completely unlit, and he would never have seen it had it not been for the lightning.
the pursuing army had been left behind in the downpour which had still not ceased.
the travelers clothes were hopelessly soaked through. he had ridden his horse to death - when he dismounted the heroic beast collapsed and expired in the mud.
the traveler looked around as best he could. he could not help but notice the most singular aspect of the castle - that although the landscape around abounded in hills, crags and rocky terrain more suitable for a defensive position, it had been built in the most exposed spot imaginable, as if taunting any would be attackers.
there were no moat or other outer outer fortifications so he strode right up to the door.
although no light shone from within, the building, as best he could tell, did not look neglected. the windows (all barred) were not broken, and no rubbish was visible around the walls.
"it is inhabited - i feel it," he spoke aloud. he proceeded to pound on the front door. after about ten minutes of the hardest blows he could muster, a faint light finally appeared under the door. it opened, and the waterlogged traveler found himself facing the oldest servant he had ever seen - the fellow must be one hundred and twenty years old, he muttered to himself.
"actually, sir, i am four hundred and eighty-seven, but i still have excellent hearing." the ancient lifted his head from the base of his curved spine and fixed the traveler with the eye of a condor or cobra. "are you making a claim on the master's hospitality?"
"it seems the appropriate course of action under the circumstances."
"indeed. will your horse require attention? do you have more than one horse?"
"my horse has expired and will require disposal. and he was, i am afraid, the only one."
"no servants accompany you?"
"very well then." the old man stood aside and the traveler entered. he was led dpwn a long low ceilinged hall unadorned by pictures, statues, banners or armaments. a door at the end was opened, revealing a spacious though low ceilinged drawing room. it was immediately apparent that the lack of light on the outside was not due to the lack of light within, but to the tightness of the shuttered windows. a veritable bonfire blazed in the hearth, revealing the figure seated next to it in the most ravishing light possible. but despite the fire and the tight window, a chill shook the travelers frame as he entered.
"from this wet clothing," he muttered to himself.
the figure beside the fire did not speak. instead the deep voice of one to whom command was first and second nature emerged from the shadows of the room.
"gruz, don't bring the fellow in here dripping wet, put some dry clothes on him."
"yes, sir. i thought you might want to see him first."
"i will see him when he's dry."
the traveler gave a short bow in the direction of the voice. "i apologize, sir -"
a cold breeze brushed the travelers cheek, as if from the wave of the voice's hand. "your apologies can wait, sir," the voice replied in a polite enough tone. "we have all night."
"all night and more," the servant added. "this way, sir."

the clothes provided the traveler were old but cut from the finest cloth in the finest style. he recognized them as the work of the celebrated guido of florence, tailor to crowned heads. they fit loosely but very comfortably, with a hint of unsightly bagginess under the arms.
gruz watched impassively as the traveler dressed himself. "are the clothes to your satisfaction, sir?"
"indeed. they are very dry."
"will you wanting something to eat?"

"of course, if there is anything."
"i will speak frankly, sir. our larder is limited, as the master and his ward are not great trencherpersons."
"i am sorry to hear that." the traveler shrugged. "anything you can provide would be appreciated."
"no doubt, sir. i was thinking of your horse."
"ah. no doubt you can prepare him properly."
"the cook is quite an old hand at such matters. with mars being in the ascendancy for so long."
"of course. there is no reason the poor beast who served me so well in life should not render me this final service. and it will not, i am sorry to say, be a novel experience for myself."
"it's settled then. would you prefer to wait in the great room with the master, or in the kitchen?"
"in the kitchen!" for the first time since his arrival the traveler displayed something other than complete equanimity.
"i am afraid the only table is in the kitchen," gruz answered impassively. "i could, i suppose, bring you a plate in the great room. no doubt you are quite dextrous with a knife and fork. be that as it may, the thought of a single spot of grease from a side of grilled horsemeat falling on the furnishings in the great room - i don't care to think of it."
the traveler finished tying his cravat. "well - i've eaten in worse places. perhaps in worse company. but i think i will wait in the great room, as you call it, with the master."
"very good, sir." gruz picked up the candle and they left the room.
'will i be sleeping in that room?" the traveler asked as they moved down the corridor.
"if you like, sir. and if you sleep."
"so the master and his ward - they don't dine at all?"
"they don't dine at table."
"stop a minute."
gruz stopped, but did not turn.
"i am not a complete fool, you know. i know what your master is."

"really,sir?" now gruz did turn to face him. "i wouldn't have thought you the type to discuss masters with servants."
"your master is a gravigne - a creature who feeds on the golden souls of the innocent."
"but, you see," gruz replied. "i am not the type of servant who discusses his master - with either masters or servants."
"but i am not asking you anything. i am simply telling you what i know."
gruz gestured forward with the candle. "let us proceed. i am sure the master is grateful for your company and looks forward to it."
neither the master nor the ward rose when gruz and the traveler entered the room.
gruz was dismissed with the briefest of nods.
"be seated, sir," the voice from the shadows commanded. there were no chairs in the room , and the only other sofa was some distance from the fire. the traveler lowered himself on to it. he found himself directly across but at some distance from the woman but unable to see his host.
"i apologize for any lack of comfort in our hospitality," the powerful voice went on. "we go for long stretches of time here with no visitors at all. and then, suddenly, the visitors fall like rain. one never knows what to expect."
"yes," the traveler replied loudly. "especially with mars so long in the ascendancy. allow me to thank you for the dry clothing. i couldn't have done better at a visit to the tailor."
"no need to shout, sir. we both have excellent hearing. and now that you are properly seated, may i ask whom i have the pleasure of entertaining?"
"i have many names at my disposal," the traveler replied. "as i am sure you do yourself. for the present, i use the name, comte de st denis."
"ah! the comte de st denis, the comte de st denis! with such a name, i have no wonder you are being chased through the night. as for myself, you may know me as the baron anonyme. and this is my cousin, madamoiselle cecile."
"very good." the traveler bowed to the woman. seated beside the blazing fire and blending with its light, she was almost the only thing visible in the room.

"my servant has asked if you need anything in the nature of food and drink," the baron continued.
"that has been taken care of, very satisfactorily."
"would you like to spend the night with my cousin?"
"indeed i would. i see, sir, that you have not abandoned the old ways of hospitality."
"of course not." the voice showed a slight trace of annoyance. "do you take me for some puling christian, or man of the enlightenment? i am not monsieur de condorcet."
madamoiselle cecile spoke for the first time. "the night grows short, cousin. i am not sure i can do justice to this gallant fellow in the time left." she faced the traveler. "tomorrow night, sir, would that not be more suitable? you can spend the day here, gathering your strength."
"that sounds most agreeable."
"it is settled then."
"and you - you sleep during the day?"
"sleep!" cried the baron. "what a thought! no, sir, we hunt during the day. we hunt!"

part 3

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

"A Town Called Disdain", Episode 17: Hope

Let us return to the Johnstone Ranch (just a short drive from a town called Disdain) and to the mysterious and lovely Daphne Ridpath (AKA "Smith")...

(Go here to see our previous episode, or click here to return to the beginning of this first-ever uncut and unexpurgated edition of Larry Winchester's long-out-of print cult classic. "I'm so glad this new edition is being made available. My Scotch-taped-up old Gold Medal paperback has sure seen better days!" -- Cormac McCarthy)

She woke up because she was dreaming she was at Miss Porter’s again, except she was grown up because she kept flunking and had never been allowed to graduate (which had almost been the case).

She was in French class and she really had to take a pee but Mademoiselle Louchette made you say everything in French or she would ignore you, and Daphne couldn’t remember how to say she had to go to the lavatory. She was thinking she had to use the subjunctive, which was simply impossible. And then she woke up.

It was night somewhere and she hadn’t the faintest idea where she was. She sat up.

There was Dick, thank God. He was on his back completely passed out. She tried lifting up one of his arms and it fell heavily back to the bed.

She was naked. She didn’t know where her clothes were, she didn’t know where the bathroom was, but she really had to go, and right now.

There was some starlight coming through a couple of windows with gauzy blowing curtains, and as she blinked and looked around she saw a door beneath a small glowing crucifix.

She got out of bed and went to the door. She staggered slightly, although she didn’t feel in the least bit drunk any more. It was just hard to walk for some reason.

She opened the door and saw this old-looking corridor. There was a lit wall lamp in some old yellow fixture. There must be a bathroom on this floor somewhere, and if it was it was probably down at one end or the other. At any rate she determined to find a bathroom, come hell or high water. The house was deathly quiet so she decided not to look for clothes but just go. And as she weaved down the corridor, very gradually finding her sea legs, she realized that this must be that Big Jake’s house. Okay then.

Sure enough the door down at the end on the left was a bathroom, and she sat down just in time, without bothering to close the door or put the light on, and she peed and peed. It was great, and it took so long she sort of wished she had a cigarette while she was doing it.

It took so long that she looked at her thighs in the starlight that came through a window and a skylight, and felt herself for fat, and also twisted her head so she could look down at the side of her bottom, and she felt that too. It was okay but not great. She had gotten that Miss Craig’s 21-Day Shape-Up Program for Men and Women even though Dick had scoffed, and she would have to crack it open soon. She felt her breasts to see if they were saggy at all, and she wondered if they had a tennis court here, or a swimming pool, but then she thought, oh, horses, of course, now there’s a good exercise, riding those big beasts.

Finally the peeing stopped, and she was just about to reach for the toilet paper when this odd light shone through the skylight.

Everything was very still.

She looked up and then suddenly there was this tremendous great flash of light that just made everything white, and she looked down and she could see through the skin of her body to the veins and muscles and bones like one of those pictures in an encyclopedia.

She closed her eyes and she could see through the eyelids, right through the little veins, and then everything disappeared except the whiteness, and she got a funny feeling down through her spine like when she was a little kid on a swing and she had swung up really high, and she was just about to swing down again, and then there came a sound like a heavy wind, and the light was gone, and she opened her eyes and it was just as if someone had popped a flashbulb in her face.

Now what was that all about, she thought, as her eyes adjusted to the bathroom’s returned starlit dimness. She was sure she hadn’t taken any LSD the night before. But perhaps she had overdone it a bit during that long car trip.

Finally she could see well enough to reach for the toilet paper again, and as she did a sort of ethereally beautiful girl of about seventeen or eighteen in a long sangria-colored nightgown appeared in the doorway of the bathroom.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” said the girl.

But she didn’t look away or leave. She just stood there.

“My fault,” said Daphne. “I should’ve closed the door.”

She wiped herself with the toilet paper, and the silly little bitch just stood there looking at her. She was quite small and pale with long black hair and sad dark eyes. Quite pretty really if you went for that look. Didn’t seem to have much breasts or hips to speak of. But she did have those eyes which seemed to grow larger by the second, and these quite sensuous full lips that Daphne immediately envied.

“I was scared,” said the girl.

Daphne got up, looked for the toilet handle, then saw it was one of those handle-and-chain affairs. She gave it a good yank and the toilet flushed with this absolutely unnerving racket.

“Didn’t you see it?” said the girl.

“See what?” said Daphne. She went to the sink. The tap handles squeaked when she turned them, and the water just sort of belched angrily out of the spigots.

“That -- that light,” said the girl.

Ivory soap. Daphne would have to bring her Neutragena in here. And of course take it out with her after each use.

“Didn’t you see that light?” said the girl.

“Oh. Yeah. Thought it was just me. You know, a little bit too much partaken last night.”

“No! I saw it too! It woke me up!”

“Well, don’t you worry, sweety, it was probably just a --” A what? “-- a comet or something.”

“It was not a comet.”

Daphne realized now that she was horribly thirsty, but she was dubious of the little Archie and Veronica glass in the metal holder above the sink. She cupped her hands under the cold water tap (not that the hot water tap produced water much different in temperature) and drank a bit. It tasted funny, like clams and damp cotton.

She could see the earnest almost opalescent face of the girl in the mirror.

The towel looked clean, and Daphne dried her hands and lips.

“Well, it was nice meeting you, but I am quite starkers at the moment and it is just a teeny bit chilly tonight.”

“You have a beautiful body.”

“Oh. Do you think so?”

Daphne was always ready to drop everything for a compliment. She looked down at herself. True, not bad, especially when compared to a waif-like creature like this kid.

“You have such beautiful breasts,” said the girl.

“Oh, thank you so much for saying so.”

Daphne touched their undersides with her fingers.

“My husband’s always saying, ‘Get pregnant!’ but I can just see these turning into great floppy water balloons.”

“I don’t think they will.”

The girl came softly forward, floating in that lacy shiny nightgown, and she put her hands on Daphne’s hands. She had an almost birdlike touch. But this was getting far too weird. Daphne slipped her own hands down to the girl’s wrists, her fingers easily went all the way around them, and she gently but firmly lowered the girl’s hands to her side.

“I’m sorry,” said the girl, and she looked up at Daphne with those great oval dark eyes. “You’re just so beautiful.”

“Thank you darling but now I simply must return to bed. I am ready to drop with sleepiness.”


She didn’t move, so Daphne stepped around her.

“My name is Hope,” said the girl.

Daphne turned.

“Hi, Hope. I’m Daphne.”

“Hi, Daphne.”

Daphne almost turned again but then she said, “By the way, Hope, um, do you -- live here?”


“Oh. And would you by any chance be some sort of relation to this Big Jake person?”

“He’s my father.”

“Okay. Well -- good night, Hope.”

“Good night, Daphne.”

Daphne turned and started padding off back up the corridor, but then the girl called out in a stage whisper:


Daphne turned again and saw the girl outside the bathroom doorway, lit up by the yellow wall lamp that made her look like a wax statue.

“I’m glad I met you, Daphne! I hope we can be friends!”

Daphne smiled uneasily and waved, then padded off again.

She made it back to the room and closed the door.

She found her shoulder bag on the floor, got out her cigarette case and lighter.

She sat crosslegged on the bed next to the oblivious Dick, and lit a cigarette. There was a small ashtray on the table, from The Sands in Las Vegas.

This big sort of empty sound, this sense of something really huge outside. The cigarette smoke swirled around in the air blowing in from the windows, the air smelling cool and fresh, but along with that absolutely heaven-sent aroma of burning tobacco there were odd little tints of things like cowshit and burnt dirt and squashed lightning bugs, but it was nice.

She saw the lights of a full squadron of airplanes pass by the window in the distance but she couldn’t hear them at all.

A coyote or what she assumed to be a coyote started to howl somewhere, just like in a movie. After a while it quieted down, and then everything was quiet and still except for that huge soft sound of the earth slowly turning through space.

All of a sudden she got really, really sleepy. She ground out the cigarette, got under the covers, pushed Dick’s arm away from the pillow and fell asleep at once.

(Continued here, and until someone stops us.)

Sunday, March 21, 2010

tell me a story, part 4: valentine's day

to begin at the beginning, click here

words by genghis , pictures by rhoda

"since today is st valentine's day, or maybe it's confucius' birthday, or lenin's birthday, or the feast of lupercal, the assignment will be a simple one."
miss susan b anthony, or maybe she was agrippina or madame ching or ethel rosenberg, adressed the class.

"the assignment is to write a story so simple that no originality could be claimed for it, and therefore, could not be copyrighted. are there any questions? there shouldn't be."

jughead, or maybe he was gilgamesh or agammemnon or ishmael, started to raise his hand, but put it down and began writing his story.

valentine's day, by gilgamesh

joey liked shirley.
he really liked her.

he thought about her all the time
it was the day of the big game.
joey was on the team.

when coach and the guys came by in the bus to pick him up, he had forgotten all about the game. he got in the bus and sat in the back. he was thinking about shirley so much he forgot to say goodbye to his mom or ask her for some cookies to give to the guys.
danny was the leader of the pack. what he said, went. where he went, the other guys followed. all the girls wanted to run away to hollywood or a desert island with him. all the guys wanted to follow him to hell and back. coach loved him. coach's wife, when she made cookies and brownies, always gave danny the best ones.

so when danny looked over at joey and laughed, naturally all the other guys and coach laughed too, even though danny hadn't let on yet what he was laughing about.
danny just kept laughing at joey, until finally reese asked him what was so funny. reese was danny's best friend, and laughed at all his jokes. well obviously everybody laughed at danny's jokes. but only the ones they heard. reese was danny's best friend and so he heard them all. so because reese was danny's best friend and also because the bus was almost at the opposing teams field, reese finally asked danny what was so funny.

and danny just said, " ah, he just looks like such a goof." and that set off a fresh round of laughter that lasted until the bus stopped.
joey was actually relieved. he had been afraid danny was going to say something about shirley.

joey started thinking about shirley again as soon as they got of the bus. he was the last guy to finish getting into his uniform. he stood for minutes at a time in front of the locker just staring into space and thinking about shirley.

joey really liked shirley.

agrippina picked the composition book out from under gilgamesh's ball point pen

and began reading it, with an increasing look of bewilderment and disgust on her face.
"what is this garbage, agammemnon?" madame ching asked.
"it's - it's what you said you wanted,' ishmael stammered. "i'm just writing the first stuff that comes into my head. how original can it be?"

"yes, that's all very well," ethel rosenberg snapped. "but that's no excuse for writing such slobbering nonsense as this. please try to tighten up your brain a little." she slapped the composition book back down on the desk.
chastened and bewildered, jughead continued:

"hey, goof," danny called to joey, "let's go!" this brought more laughter, especially from coach. joey finished pulling his jersey over his left shoulder pad, picked up his helmet and ran out on to the field behind the other guys, still thinking about shirley.

wade hampton high won the toss and elected to receive the ball from home town john brown high.
the john brown kicker sailed the ball over the end zone - to the cheers of the home crowd.

the wade hampton team. in their road white uniforms with confederate flags on the back above their numbers, lined up on the 20 yard line.
coach was an avid devotee of the single wing formation. danny of course was the tailback. joey lined up at right end. he would be the most frequent target of danny's passes.
herman goering, the fattest boy in wade hampton high and a regular recipient of coach's and danny's barbs, was the center. he snapped the ball accurately to danny, who started to run to the left behind the quarterback, blackie mcgurk, then pulled up and passed to joey, whose defender had moved a little to his right.

danny's passes were accurate enough but tended to be a little high, making for long afternoons for the receivers who had to take their licks going up to get them.
miss susan b anthony picked the composition book on gilgamesh's desk up again and scanned it. "can you please tell me how any sane civilized human being is supposed to make sense out of this imbecilic drivel?"

she glared at him. " single wing formation - does that mean something or did you make it up? and why does the pedestaled shirley not have a face or a voice?"
agammemnon hung his head. at least, he thought, she is using up her supply of invectives. "i'm sorry," he mumbled, 'i'll try to do better."

reggie, or maybe he was mark antony or sir henry morgan or frank james, spoke up from the seat on ishmael's right, spoke up. "the single wing formation is actually quite interesting, miss agrippina , when you consider that it dominated football for decades but is now -"
madame ching silenced poor mark with a withering glare.
veronica, or maybe she was salambo or morgan le fay or valeska suratt, was seated behind jughead.
ethel picked up agammemnon's composition book and handed it to salambo.

"perhaps you could point out to this hapless creature exactly what his problem is."
morgan le fay quickly scanned the book and handed it back to miss anthony. "actually i think it is developing quite nicely," she fluttered her eyelashes at agrippina.

"a little slow perhaps, but i think you should give it a chance. i think it plays quite nicely on some classic themes. and i am sure" - she smiled again - "we will hear most interestingly from shirley, whose delayed entrance only adds to the subtle tension of the narrative."
the teacher was not proof against the young woman's charms and handed the composition book back.

reprieved, gilgamesh picked his pen back up and continued:

danny's first pass of the day proved no exception. joey had to go up as high as he could to get it on his fingertips and he had just got it between his hands when he took a picture book hit from john brown's best player - john brown, the quarterback and left outside linebacker.

it was whispered that john brown the player had negro blood in him - that he was the love child of jack johnson and greta garbo.
joey managed to hold on to the ball. he got up slowly after john brown got up slowly off him. somewhat to joey's surprise, john brown said nothing to him.
joey had made nine yards on the play. it was second and one. he went back to the huddle.

"nice catch, goof," danny greeted him. the other guys (except blackie mcgurk) were awed by danny's generous response.
"he could have got the one extra yard," reese, who played left end, muttered.
"sure he could," blackie said, "if the ball had been put in his hands so he could run with it."
danny clapped his hands together. "guys, come on. it's just one yard. play 31, right up the middle."

danny took the snap from herman goering. he headed to herman's left behind blackie but the two guards, the siamese twins bucky and bunky o'banion, were stopped cold by the opposing john brown linemen. blackie, with danny close behind, cut right, but john brown the player had gone right around danny, blasted through the feeble efforts of the wingback and fullback, and pushed blackie back into danny. danny tried to veer left but was tackled for a loss by the john brown right cornerback . it was obvious that john brown the player was going to be a problem.

"what are we going to do?," reese asked in the huddle. "the goof is no match for the negro."
danny was upbeat. "coach will figure something out."
"right," said jeff davis the left tackle and class clown, "he'll get some negroes of our own. " blackie mcgurk laughed at this but nobody else did.
"what we are going to do right now," said danny, "is go to reese, play 43. let's go!"

but danny's pass to reese cutting across the middle was a little high, and poor reese was almost cut in half by the john brown middle linebacker when he got his fingertips on it.
now it was fourth and four, and danny dropped back to punt.
on the sidelines coach remained calm and smiling.

danny's girl friend magnolia carlson, the head cheerleader, stood with her hand and megaphone on her hip. "what a bunch of sissies - can't any of them play except danny?"

standing beside her, shirley nodded.

Heavy Brother

Our last week here Emma’s not teaching yoga. So we swim, make love, and swim. Charlie hangs at the yoga pavilion but comes here to cook dinner. Emma’s grateful, I guess, because otherwise she’d cook. I, however, have to ask why he’s doing it.

“Because I want to, Scott. And if that’s not good enough, let’s say I need the practice.”

“Practice for what, Charlie? You’re not opening a restaurant.”

(click here to read the first episode and here  for the previous one)

“No, I’m not—” Charlie tips his head back, sniffing hard, “—opening a restaurant, Scott. I like cooking for my family.”

“What family is that?”

“All right then. My friends, you and Emma.”

He registers a rise in my continual exasperation, and asks, “What’s so terrible?”

“Nothing’s terrible.”

Tonight Charlie’s cooking something special. Emma hints there’s a reason but won’t give me a clue even when we’re walking back from the waterfall and are almost home.

She’s wearing her black bikini and playing tag with the waves—leaving me alone awhile.

Ever since Charlie arrived this year, he annoys the shit out of me, and I can’t figure out why. He’s the same as always: a living, breathing party with keen intuition.

That day the policeman stopped by, Charlie was doling out the goods to anyone who felt like getting happy. That’s why those girls stripped on the beach in the first place. What pissed me off wasn’t the stupid B-12 injections; that’s Logan’s thing. But Charlie sitting down with the cop and telling him jokes in Spanglish that he learned from my dad’s housekeeper. It still bothers me, which is just insane.

Buddying up to the cop was smart. Necessary, really if Kitty wants to stay in business. And—Charlie was really funny with his Chicago Spanglish. He had the cop laughing and slapping the counter. Soon he’s trying to correct Charlie’s pronunciation. “¿Cómo está?” the policeman demonstrates. Charlie flattens it out like a south-side Chicagoan saying, “Come on Esta.” A little more lemonade and more laughs and the cop’s waving, “Pure Vida,” all around. Afterwards, Kitty grabs Charlie from behind, her arms around his wide girth until he spins to face her and she kisses his head. “Leave it to you, baby.”

After allowing me time alone, Emma’s holding my hand. “What is it about him that’s bugging you?”

I stroke the nape of her neck. “We’re not brothers. Maybe I’m tired of pretending we are. It’s time to start separate families.”

In truth, Charlie’s the oldest of four brothers that I doubt he’s seen since ninth grade when he moved in with me. His overwhelmed mother, working two jobs, told him he had to quit using or leave—he was supposed to babysit, not pass on his bad habits. His dad had moved to Atlanta when Charlie’s youngest brother was three. Kinda like my mom moving to Florida.

My dad liked (if not loved) Charlie. His serious, money-fixated eyes changed and brightened when I asked if Charlie could live with us. “Nothing I’d like better, Scott. The kid makes me happy.”

“Why didn’t I know this?” Emma acts like I’ve kept this from her on purpose. “Are you jealous of him? One thing you’re always saying, Scott, like it’s part of his name is that ‘everybody loves Charlie; everybody just loves him.’”

I tug her hand. “Emma, don’t talk like that. I mean it. Because nobody loves Charlie as much as I do. Nobody.”

We walk awhile, the two of us still confused about the same thing, when she says, as if this might be the thing: “He’s never even looked at me, Scott. Nothing close.”

“I know that, Emma. I’d be surprised if Charlie has ever intentionally looked at a woman. He’ll go along, like with Kitty, if coaxed, but it’s not what he’s after.”

Emma edges away from the water, wanting to sit in the shade. Like, maybe if we talk about this all the way through, we’ll discover a solution. She inches close to me and lays a hand on my thigh. That’s okay, though. She can leave it there. But goddamn it, why’d I mention that shit about Charlie not being my real brother? I never cry, but no way in hell I’m letting this once in a million fluke happen when Emma’s with me.

“Enough ancient history.” I fling her over my shoulder and she shrieks as if it’s scary. I toss her into the water and jump on her as a wave curls over us. We ride it in, side by side and let the next one drag us out where we swim side by side, like a pair of dolphins.

(click here for the next episode)

Friday, March 19, 2010

5 poems

by horace p sternwall

pictures by rhoda


arabia is far away
and stretches out in every direction
but though you cut it up every which way
there's nothing but sand in every section


boom-ba-de-boom, ba-de-boom-boom-boom
boom-ba-de-boom, ba-de-boom-boom-boom
bury my heart in a golden tomb
at the end of the earth, if there's any room


i want to go to china before i die
to see if everything i was taught was a lie
i'll pay some wise old sages a call
we'll sit and talk, beside a waterfall


weary waitresses and bored detectives
fill the hallways with vile invective
hotel down by the railroad tracks
dead shoe salesmen never come back


i woke up this morning with a feeling of despair
and looked around for my teddy bear
but someone had slipped through the bars of my cell
and carried poor teddy off to hell