Authors: Jack Pendarvis
YOUR BODY IS CHANGING
A Novel by Jack Pendarvis
ebook ISBN: 978-1-59692-875-6
M P Publishing Limited
12 Strathallan Crescent
Isle of Man
Telephone: +44 (0)1624 618672
email: [email protected]
Originally published by:
155 Sansome Street, Suite 550
San Francisco, CA 94104
Copyright © 2007 by Jack Pendarvis
all rights reserved
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Pendarvis, Jack, 1963-
Your body is changing : stories / by Jack Pendarvis.
ISBN 978-1-59692-234-1 (alk. paper)
Paperback edition: May 2007
Book and cover design by Dorothy Carico Smith
Some of the stories in this collection were previously published elsewhere, often in somewhat different forms or with different titles:
“Courageous Blast” in McSweeney’s Internet Tendency; “Final Remarks” in The Duck & Herring Co.’s Pocket Field Guide; “Lumber Land” in McSweeney’s Quarterly; “Outsiders” in The Chattahoochee Review; “Tollbooth Confidential” in The Oxford American; “The Train Going Back” in Mississippi Review online; various portions of “Your Body Is Changing” in nerve.com and the anthology A Cast of Characters (MacAdam/Cage, 2006).
Excerpt from Charles Fort’s Lo! taken from The Complete Books of Charles Fort (New York: Dover, 1974). Lo! was originally published in 1931.
Lines from Po Chu-i’s poem “Resignation” taken from Arthur Waley’s Translations from the Chinese (Alfred A. Knopf), originally published in 1919.
Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed…
—I Corinthians 15:51
Eastern Daily Press (norwich), Feb. 7, 1908—that, early in the morning of the 5th, Mr. E. S. Cannell, of Lower Hellesdon, saw something shining on a grass bank. According to him, it fluttered up to him, and he found that it was the explanation of a mystery. It was a luminous owl, he said; and, as told by him, he carried it to his home, where it died, “still luminous.”
But see the Press of the 8th—that Mr. Cannell’s dead owl had been taken to a taxidermist, who had been interviewed. Of course a phosphorescence of a bird, whether from decayed wood, or feather fungi, would be independent of life or death of the bird. Questioned as to whether the body of the owl was luminous or not, the taxidermist said: “I have seen nothing luminous about it.”
Stories by Jack Pendarvis
udley Durden, 50, was the only reporter for the Lumber Land Monitor in Lumber Land, Alabama, a pine mill town owned historically by the Cuff family. His boss was 22, a concubine named Farrah with blond dreadlocks and a Chinese tattoo. That’s who his BOSS was!
The newspaper office was located in a detached, early-twentieth-century private railroad car, which sat like a gazebo on the Cuff family homestead.
Dud checked in with Farrah every Monday morning.
“Any assignments this week?”
“Can I pick up my paycheck?”
“It’s right there in front of you.”
“Turns out the eczema’s spread to my eyeballs,” said Dud.
“Mm,” said Farrah.
“Well, not my eyeballs, don’t panic. My eyelids. Can you see it?”
“I’ve been told to wash my face with Johnson’s baby shampoo.”
“I’m doing something important,” said Farrah. Dud looked. She was tracing her hand with magic marker on a piece of yellow construction paper.
“I think the baby shampoo is helping,” said Dud. “Sure you can’t see it?”
The pink tip of Farrah’s tongue was showing as she concentrated on finishing her hand.
“You know what I thought? I thought I was scratching my jock itch and then accidentally touching my eyes. I thought I had jock eye. I really shouldn’t complain. Compared to my poor wife’s skin, the skin she had when she was alive, I’ve got it easy. Only I don’t have it easy. I keep hanging up the phone with my cheek.”
Farrah held up her construction paper and squinted at it. Dud could see that the magic marker had gone through and ruined the desk, but Farrah didn’t seem to notice or care. “Did you know you can make a Thanksgiving turkey using this method?” she said. “If it was Thanksgiving I’d show you how. See, that’s what we would call an interesting topic.”
Dud laughed politely. “Anyhoo, there’s an off button right there on the receiver and my cheek keeps pushing on it when I talk. My cheek hangs up on people, isn’t that funny? Last night I was eating potato chips and one of my teeth fell out. Not a whole tooth, just about half, I would estimate. It’s one of my back ones so you can’t tell. It didn’t hurt or bleed or anything. Want to see it? I’ve got it in my shirt pocket. On the inside it looks kind of like a peanut M&M with the peanut out. Guess what it smells like.”
“I’d rather not.”
“Bad breath. Isn’t that funny?”
Farrah crumpled up her hand and threw it away.
“I know, I know, you think I should go to the dentist. I haven’t been to a dentist in thirty-five years and I’m not going to start now. I already know what he would say: ‘You’re some dumb Alabama hick that doesn’t even know how to floss your teeth.’ And then he’d charge me eight hundred dollars for the privilege. It didn’t hurt or bleed or anything. These potato chips were strong enough to break anybody’s tooth, they were the thick kind, cooked in a kettle full of peanut oil. They’re supposed to be all natural. I think I may have bulimia. In bulimia you throw up so much that the acid rots out your tooth enamel. I don’t make myself throw up, though. But what if I’m throwing up a lot but I don’t remember it because my mind is blocking it out? You know how they say a bulimic can look in the mirror and perceive their body as fat even though it’s really skinny? What if I’m only fat in my mind? How would I know?”
“Somebody would tell you. I’d tell you if one Monday you walked in here and you weren’t a big fat guy. I’d be like, no way.”
“And I wouldn’t believe you. That’s the nature of the disease.”
“You could check your humongous shirt size.”
“The bulimia might be making me see the wrong shirt size. Last night I went to sleep with my left ear clogged and this morning I woke up with my right ear clogged worse than my left ear. I think the left ear has cleared up some, but it might be that the right ear is so much worse it’s just making the left ear seem better. And that, young lady, is why they call it the Theory of Relativity. The funny thing is, every time I burp my right ear completely clears up, but only for a second. That’s followed by a tremendous sucking sound, after which the clogging returns. I suppose if I could just manage to belch twenty-four hours a day, I’d have it made in the shade!”
The intercom buzzed, a message from the Big House.
“Thank God,” said Farrah.
She said Three needed to see him.
Three was his private-eye name. His real name was Lombard Cuff III. He was the “publisher”—really the dead publisher’s son, who lived in the dead publisher’s mansion. He had a private detective’s license that he had probably bribed somebody to get. He and Farrah lived in a fantasy world as far as Dud was concerned, where Three was a tough guy ferreting out big cases and his ladylove Farrah was a champion of freedom of the press.
Dud pocketed his paycheck and headed across the big, dewy lawn to the mansion.
Three met him in the back doorway, wearing some kind of yellow suit that rich people wore. It looked so fruity and cheap that you’d have to be rich to wear it, in Dud’s humble opinion.
“There he is! Come on in.”
Three led Dud to the library, where the wisdom of ages stood floor to ceiling and a sideboard glittered with bottles. Three went over to pour drinks.
“Grab yourself one of those monster leather chairs the color of boeuf a la fucking bourguignonne. You won’t fucking believe it. They’re so fucking soft you could cut them with a spoon. Damn, I must be hungry! You want some scotch?”
“Yes, please,” said Dud. He strolled and brooded along the library’s endless spines.
“If that’s the way it’s preferable. I wouldn’t know.”
“I could put a bow tie on it, is that neat enough?”
Three’s toothless little comment was just the sort of thing that he celebrated as wry.
Dud remembered being in the train car that day when Three kept holding up his hand to shush him because a radio commentator was talking about How Hard It Is to Put Together Bookshelves or Your Plants Seem to Die No Matter How Much You Water Them or some other rotten thing that wouldn’t make a monkey laugh, much less a normal human being with an IQ over moron level. Then Three explained to Dud and Farrah why the little verbal essay had been so fucking wry—he said “fucking wry” about two hundred times—while Dud and Farrah sat there nodding. After that he made them listen to a program where men and women with soft voices tried to use various words in sentences. Three was extraordinarily drunk because earlier that day two of his bloodhounds had fallen out of an airplane and he was sad about it. He played along with the radio contestants, screaming every time he messed up, like it was the radio’s fault. Then the nasally local announcer came on and said to stay tuned because he’d “be right Bach.” And—and!—he said it with a muffled self-congratulatory gurgle: “We’ll be right mmnngghhaahhnnh Bach.” Three was so thrilled by how “fucking droll” it was that he tried to call and donate ten thousand dollars in the name of his bloodhounds. Then he took about twenty minutes to explain the difference between “fucking droll” and “fucking wry.”
There was, Dud imagined, a multitude of coddled, civilized semi-drunks who found nothing more comforting than the weak puns and wretched insights of NPR.
Such was the intellect that had inherited this magnificent library.
“I guess you’ve read all these books,” said Dud.
“Oh hell no,” said Three. “I just sit in here and drink and wait for a client to appear out of the fucking ether. Sometimes I’ll pull out a fucking tome and take one look at the cover and put it right back. I get depressed.”
“You should always judge a book by its cover,” said Dud. What a comeback! It was way over Three’s head.
“That’s the spirit,” said Three. He raised his glass. “Now come over here and let’s drink to it.”
You have just openly acknowledged that I have won our battle of wits, thought Dud. He sat in the chair facing Three’s and picked up his glass from the end table. The scotch made his eyes water with its terrible power and he couldn’t even make the rim of the glass go all the way to his mouth from fear of gagging. So he mimicked taking a sip and put it back down.
Three moved his glass so he could get to the volume he had been using as a coaster.
“How to Knit. Isn’t that fucking charming?”
Adorable, thought Dud. He forced a successful sip of the scotch.
Three brought a knitting basket out of hiding. He bent over a bright ball of orange yarn and went to work.
“Don’t you think knitting would be a fucking great gimmick for a detective? I can just imagine myself working out the intricacies of a case in my mind, as the methodical clacking of my ivory needles lulls my faculties into a meditative fucking bliss. Look, I’ve just about mastered the fucking chain stitch. Do you think it’s gay?”
“Not in the sense you apparently mean. No, it’s nice to have a hobby,” said Dud. “I wish I was a rich guy who could sit around having hobbies with all the time in the world.”
“You don’t do shit, Dud,” said Three. “No, I’m just fucking with you. I’m sure you do some goddamn thing, I just don’t know what it is.” Three put down the yarn. “The thing is, I snagged a client somehow. Okay, she’s a friend of the monsignor down in Bayou Cottard, you know, he was golfing buddies with the old man, and anyway… there’s a thing I have to do, and Farrah doesn’t want me going by myself—you know women.”
“I was lucky enough to have a wife until she died.”
“Right. Then you know what I’m talking about. What I’m putting on the table is, how would you like to earn the money I pay you for a change? You’d be like my goon.”
“I’ve never envisioned myself as a goon, I’m sorry to say.”
“Well, envision it, baby! It’s not a term of fucking approbation. It’s something detectives say. Like my right-hand man, that’s all. Watching my back in case everything goes blooey. It’s nothing strenuous. A stakeout. We probably won’t even spot the guy.”