So I bought a little city (it was Galveston, Texas) and told everybody that nobody had to move, we were going to do it just gradually, very relaxed, no big changes overnight…I thought, What a nice little city, it suits me fine.
It suited me fine so I started to change it.
-Donald Barthelme, I Bought A Little City
The steady thrum of the one light I’ve turned on is filling my ears like liquid wax and I’m sitting facing the door, staring at its handle wondering what someone would think if they came in and saw me sitting there. Maybe they’d be too frightened to think. Maybe they’d jump back a little at the sight of a shadowy sentry flush against the wall. I start imagining what she would do if she walked in and saw me sitting in her mother’s chair against the wall like this. I picture her saying “hi” like it’s just another day; like she’s just come home from work; like the sun has just set. She walks past me and into the kitchen to start dinner. Once it’s ready she sets the table and sits down at it, calls my name until I push myself out of the chair to join her.
The door handle looks to be rattling but nobody pushes past the giant piece of wood it’s attached to.
“It might have happened that way. Being right or wrong about what happened is less important sometimes than finding a good way to tell it. What’s anybody want to hear anyway. Not the truth people want. No-no-no. People want the best told story, the lie that entertains and turns them on. No question about it, is there. What people want. What gets people’s attention. What sells soap. Why else do the biggest, most barefaced liars rule the world.”
-John Edgar Wideman, Weight
I was waiting to feel her return my touch, and I felt at that moment, felt with all my heart, that I could wait the whole life of the world for such a thing, until the earth and the sky met and locked and the distance between them closed forever.
-Kevin Brockmeier, The Ceiling
“Hush!” said the sick woman. “You never went to school. You never came and you never went. You never were anything—only here. You never were born! You don’t know anything. Your head is empty, your heart and hands and your old black purse are all empty, even that little old box that you brought with you you brought empty—you showed it to me. And yet you talk, talk, talk, talk, talk all the time until I think I’m losing my mind! Who are you? You’re a stranger—a perfect stranger! Don’t you know you’re a stranger? Is it possible that they have actually done a thing like this to anyone—sent them in a stranger to talk, and rock, and tell away her whole long rigmarole? Do they seriously supposed that I’ll be able to keep it up, day in, day out, night in, night out, living in the same rom with a terrible old woman—forever?”
Eudora Welty, A Visit of Charity
We sat there, sipping beer and staring into the flame, not really speaking. The strangeness of the situation was just starting to occur to me. It felt colder than before, now that the sun had gone down, and I wished I had brought a coat, but the heat from the flames was warm enough. The sounds of the fire hung in the air around my ears, like a thick fog, until his voice broke it.
“Cancer?” It sounded like his voice had come from within the tree line.
I hesitated. “Sorry?”
“Is that what ya got?” When I turned to him he was still staring at the fire, like he had never said anything. “Y’said ya were sick.” He paused. “Cancer?” He repeated with the same nonchalant tone as before.
“No.” I looked back at the fire. “I don’t think so.” The flames flitted in the cold air and every so often a piece of bark would start to fizz in the heat and then pop.
“I had it.” The voice among the trees spoke again.
“Cancer.” He took a sip of beer. I followed suit. “Five years ago. They tol’ me I was gonna’ die.” The cracking and the popping echoed in the woods as he paused. “Left’m home, left’m job, went north t’stay with a friend who flies small airplanes.”
I listened, but it felt like he was talking to himself.
“I remember the first time he took me up. Looked out, and down’t all the trees…and m’heart just raced.” He trailed off and took another sip of beer. The foamy liquid, caught between the lips of his mouth and the lip of the metal, made a sluggish, relaxed slurp.
I slumped down and leaned my head back looking up toward the sky, up past the reaching of the tip of the fire, and the stretching of the arms of the trees. I looked up at the clear sky, filled with stars, and my heart started to beat faster. That’s another thing I liked about Vermont. There were so many stars at night. They just hung there, and it looked like at any moment, they could just fall out of the great, big nothing that held them there. As I looked up, I could feel something scratching at my foot. I didn’t look down, I couldn’t. I kept staring at the stars held aloft in the night sky, as if I didn’t, they’d all begin to fall out, one by one.
“Sorry, your call startled me”
“Were you sleeping again?”
“I guess I was…”
“What do you mean, you guess you were?”
“I guess I was dreaming…I thought I was having cereal in the kitchen. I was staring at the clock on the wall and the phone started to ring, only, when I looked at the phone, it was one of those old-fashioned wall phones with the spinny dial thing. I stared at it for a minute and then I woke up on the couch with the cordless under my pillow.”
“Jesus, Mike.” I laughed at this because it sounded like she was talking to both Jesus and myself.
“I gotta get back to work. go back to the doctor and see if he can do anything about your being tired all the time.”
I went to the doctor. I went to a few doctors. They all had ideas. Everyone has ideas. Hell, I have ideas.