Authors: Matthew Sharpe
1334 Woodbourne Street
Westland, MI 48186
All rights reserved, except for brief quotations in critical articles or reviews. No part of this book may be reproduced in any manner without prior written permission from the publisher.
Copyright Â© 2007 Matthew Sharpe
Published 2014 by Dzanc Books
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eBooks ISBN-13: 978-1-941531-50-1
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The characters and events in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author
For Lore Segal
To whoever is out there, if anyone is out there:
Today has been an awful day in a run of awful days as long as life so far. The thirty of us climbed aboard this bus in haste, fled down the tunnel, and came up on the river's far bank in time to see the Chrysler Building plunge into the earth. The grieving faces of my colleagues being worse to look at than that crumpling shaft of glass, brick, and steel, I used my knees to plug the sockets of my eyes, put my fingers in my ears, and clamped my nose and mouth shut with my thighs. All main entries to my head remained sealed till Delaware, where I looked up in time to see John Martin vault his seatback, steak knife aimed at George Kendall's throat. Kendall, bread knife aimed at Martin's throat, said, “How dare you say that!” Some great, quaint pre-annihilation philosopher described the movement of history as
thesis, antithesis, synthesis
, whereas I've seen a lot more
thesis, antithesis, steak knife, bread knife
. John and George jabbed each other's arms once each before a couple guys broke up the fight, not because they didn't want to see George dead, or John dead, but because we'd signed a contract with our employer stipulating no murder on the bus. Murders off the bus must be approved by a majority of the bus's five-man board of directors. We don't yet know who those five are: their names are sealed in a black box we're meant not to open till we pass from Maryland into Virginiaâthat is, from civilization into its counterpart, if indeed civilization's what to call what we're fleeing, or exporting, or both. I am this trip's communications specialist, having taken a degree from the Manhattan School of Communications Arts, where I received certificates in linguistics, diplomacy, typing, modern dance, telecom, short and long stick.
A mile into Delaware a log or rock got lodged in our tank tread and we came to a halt. We'd passed a trading post a mile back and all of us but three set out for it on foot. Our home having cracked sooner than we'd thought it would, we left without a lot of things we need. Those men walked up the road with what they had to trade for food: small electric things, copper, beads, knives, love; scarcity reveals the nature of exchange.
The driver and mechanic fixed the bus while I sat here and called to my thoughts. None came. I gazed out the dirty bulletproof window at two plump red hares, creatures one sees none of on the island of my birth. “Say
because there's no such thing as bulletproof glass and while that may be a technicality I wouldn't want to sell this glass to you under false pretext however slight,” the used bulletproof glass salesman said to me in my role as this trip's communications specialist, back at home, three days before the earth swallowed the tower. “What will you be using the glass
“For not dying,” I said, and put my fist in contact with his chin, the punishment for poor sales technique in modern-day New York. Stepping over his prone form, I put as much glass in my cart as would fit. Don't judge me, if you exist. Show me a man who goes to sleep each night integrity intact and I will hit him in the chin with my fist and take his glass.
I continued to console myself with the two red hares gently munching grasses in that roadside fieldâthough what was road and what was field was not so easy to discern. Two weeks into spring, the hares seemed unperturbed to find the trees around them dead, all leaves brown and holed and half-mashed in the earth. I liked the hares and wished them all the best, but they were plump and I was starved enough to risk ingesting what toxins they might have contained. I pulled my bodkin from my sock and stood when two brown rodents big as the hares entered the field. So low to the ground were these two new beasts that I couldn't see their legs above the brown and desiccated grass; they seemed to glide along this stiff, brown lake of blades. They tapered at the back end into bushy tails, and at the front end into meager heads each of which came to a point in a weapons-grade black nose. Their tone was frolicsome. They signaled to the hares their wish to play. The hares seemed angry. The brown rodents approached and were rebuffed, approached and were rebuffed, and by now the hares' fiery fur stood on end while their bodies shook in place. The hares were puffed up very big and red and I sensed a miscommunication between these species of dumb beasts that looked like other miscommunications I'd sensed or made. Never have I seen a hare open its mouth as wide as did the red hare who now bit the small head off the brown thing, whose red blood stained the stiff, brown grass. The second brown thing fled along the stalks, but not in time to not get caught by hare two and sheared in half. That was when I turned away and opted not to hunt the hares.
The mechanic, Jack Smith, bounded up the bus's stairs. He gave me a thumbs-up that transitioned into a wave. “Johnny! How you doing? We got the bus fixed. What's with the sick, morose look?”
“Did you see what those hares did to thoseâother things?”
“That's what you're upset about? That's like being upset about earthquakes, or asteroids falling into the sea, or war, or having to breathe to stay alive. Think happy thoughts.”
“And what would be a happy thought for you?”
“That I'm alive.”
“Don't be so pessimistic. We'll get down to Virginia, trade with the Indiansâ”
“Maybe someone like you'll meet a nice Indian girl and fall in love.”
“What's someone like me?”
“Someone who believes in love.”
“Love's like me, it does its dirty job. People like you think love's a virtue in itself. That's why I like you.”
“When people say âThat's why I like you,' they're either about to swindle me or they're laboring under a grave misapprehension.”
â“Laboring under a grave misapprehension,' that's cute. You contemplative types are such a gloomy bunch of freaks,” he said, and pinched my cheeks and kissed my ear and stepped down off the bus.
The other guys returned. Their clothes were torn and fouled, their faces bruised. George Kendall, whose throat John Martin had tried to cut, was not among them.
“What happened to Kendall?” I said.
“The less you know, the better,” Martin said.
“Did you finally succeed in killing him?”
Martin lunged at me and Jack Smith, the mechanic, blocked him. The driver started up the bus as Smith knocked Martin to the ground. “Now get up and I'll give you a hug,” he said.
Martin stood, hugged Smith, and tried to stab him in the gut. Smith took his knife from him and sliced his forehead open. Night fell. We drove slowly down the blasted road. Smith stitched Martin's head and dressed the wound and fed him soup and laid him down to sleep. I don't like a bus of guys. Is there any bus of guys on which a man can hug and feed another soup without first having sliced his face?
To the excellent person I know is reading this:
Hi! My name is Pocahontas and I'm nineteen, but Pocahontas isn't my real name. I will never say my real name. If I say my real name you will die. Anyone who hears my real name will die. Pocahontas is my nickname, it means “person who cannot be controlled by her dad.” My dad didn't make up my nickname, my mom did, before she died, and he's kind of mad that that's my nickname because every time someone says itâwhich is any time anyone says my name because anyone who says my
name will die, which has been proven, but right now I can't talk about that because in English, which is not my mom tongue, you can talk about only one thing at a time, at mostâany time anyone says my nickname they're also saying my dad can't control his daughter, and that's bad for my dad, my dad claims, because he's chief of our town and a bunch of other towns in this general areaâSuperchief, I think y'all might say in English.
Oh English! How I love to write to you in English, even though it is so slow to do anything in English, because English moves at the speed of talking, whereas my language moves at the speed of thinking. Thinking in English is beautiful sort of in the way it is beautiful to have smoked a big bowl of busthead. When I think of the world in English, or look at the world in English, it moves so slow, like English, and that feels good cuz life's so short! Like when I look, in English, at my two little cousins, Opechancanough and Steve, throwing a ball back and forth between them in a meadow or former parking lot, the ball slides along the air as a snail slides along the sand, and leaves a furrow of air in the air as thoughts of you, the excellent person I know is reading this, leave the faintest furrow in my brow.
I want to tell you all about the sweet but kind of weird and sad day I had today, okay? After I spent the morning working in the cornfields with my gal pals I was running around and around and around my dad's house. My dad's house is pretty neat, and contains many a mansion! It's shaped like the lowercase letter n, but as if you had a very tall stack of papers and each one had a great black letter n in the exact center of it, so that there was a big stack of n's all kind of connected to each other, and then you took a very sharp knife and cut away all the whiteness of all the paper surrounding the n's, and were left with about five hundred black n's stacked on top of one another, and then you tilted the stack so the n's were standing on their feet, so you had a tunnel of n's, which you lived in with your wife, who bore you a girl when you wanted a boy, or thought you wanted a boy, but you found you loved the girl so much you let her disobey your rules, and so on, so that's what my dad's house looks like, which I was running around and around, a thing a girl my age won't do for much longer, it just ain't right, who knows why, gonna have to find another place to run, and maybe not around but through.
Well so I'm running when this guy, my favorite second cousin, Stickboy, came up to me and asked me to take a walk with him in the woods, and I said yes, why not, it's always good to spend time with him.
Stickboy's smart, and knows things no one else knows, but few acknowledge this. His dad was killed before he was born and his mom, who is the cousin of my dad, came to live with us, and gave birth to Stickboy in our n-shaped house. Like I said, my dad had no boy, i.e., heir, so Stickboy is supposed to take over the family business, which is executive-level politics, except for the little problem that no one thinks he's up to the job. “Doesn't kick,” my father said, with his hand on his cousin's womb a month before Stickboy came down the tunnel of her cunt and out into this vale of tears. “What kind of politician doesn't kick in the womb?” And many years laterânowâwhen my father enters a room Stickboy is already in, Stickboy, without thinking, brings his hands up to his chest as if to defend his heart from a barb my dad would fling at it, and my dad says, “What are you doing, covering your breasts?” and both man and boy wince, boy cuz he wants my dad to love him, man cuz he knows he flings the barb at the heart of his adopted son cuz the boy's weakness reminds him of his own and he's therefore, in a sense, flinging a barb at his own heart. Isn't life sometimes complicated and sad?