Archives for the month of: November, 2013

IN CLASSIC FASHION, the buried do not stay that way.

 

That’s the thing about Dead Sir that I forgot to mention, though I can’t imagine who was fooled. Easy enough to hack extra-matter away and dump it in the deep; harder to keep it down there when it wants to come back up and you didn’t want to let it go in the first place.

 

You know the classic scene: a fisherman alone in his boat, motoring across the still waters at dusk, hoping for a dinner catch before midnight, comes across a finger with a wring, a blue hand, a mealy wrist with a still-ticking watch, an arm that doesn’t stop there …

 

The two bodies are soon bunched into the middle of his boat, weighing it down, and he’s speeding back to shore.

 

Less classic about the scene in our case is that this particular fisherman went looking for them directly, rather than finding them by guileless accident while actually fishing for, say, fish.

 

This is his racket: he hauls up what we cast off, gone soft and slimy in Dead Sir, and brings it back to Dodge City to sell.

 

Guilty abandoners and regretful onetime stewards that we are, we buy it back every time.

 

He doesn’t sell any other type of fish. Anyone into that kind of thing around here belongs in a grocery store several towns away.

 

When he brings them in they look like Joseph Beuys in Siberia, wrapped in wolf-fat and fur, or by wolves in man-fat and skin, depending on your version. I’ll always remember where and who I was when I first got told about Beuys going down in his fighter jet or bomber or scout plane over the ice flats or steppe or tundra, in WWII I believe, and being nurtured there in the wild for a good decade by wolves before returning to Germany as a kind of transhuman maniac superhero to take the Art World by storm.

 

Which is not to say that Face & Star Simpson are galvanized on this level; just that their blocks of fat are similar (that’s where I got the idea).

 

The fat is translucent, like aspic, so the inward-warping bodies can be observed, in some slow rotation, a churn. I stop in to check them out. I wonder if the material has grown out of their bodies in autoimmune response to the Dead Sir environment, or accreted from that environment onto them, like simple pond scum.

 

They sit in the shop a few days and nights, on ice and sprayed with the fish-mist hose every hour, but, still …

 

They start to stink and then it’s someone’s idea to invite them to Thanksgiving. “They’re all alone,” is the reasoning, common enough this time of year.

 

There’s agreement in town.

 

So the call to the fisherman is made and Face & Star Simpson are ordered up, either as guests or as entrees.

 

*****

THIS TIME LAST YEAR I lived in a house, but now that I’m back at the Hotel, the Function Room downstairs is home to the only dinner I’m likely to find out about.

 

Various guests — Big Pharmakos, Professor Dalton, the Silent Professor, Gottfried Benn, whoever else — arrive in stages, the best ones toward the middle.

 

Amongst us is the baby sired by Stokoe Drifter in that old guy Murph’s protruding intestine a few weeks back. Some stand-in parent types bring it in, done up in a onesie, and let us know they’ve named it Ferttle.

 

OK.

 

We lean our heads into the baby’s POV, trying not to telegraph our disgust at its Origin Scene, since, we know, the facts of one’s parentage are no one’s fault.

 

Ferttle, at this point, may be the Only Child in Dodge City. I forget what happened to the last one.

 

We all sit, palming nuts and sesame sticks, beers, waiting for the two Dead-Sir-flavored-fat-blocks to arrive.

 

I don’t know if I should admit to this group that Face & Star Simpson started out as characters of mine, sideliners in what was and is maybe still known as ANGEL HOUSE.

 

A bout of thinking, another beer, some olives, and I’ve decided not to. Let someone else or the world at large claim them.

 

THEY ARRIVE. Someone signs the fisherman’s order sheet, scanning us with one eye to gauge by expression who’s likely to help split the bill.

 

I couldn’t guess what they cost, a lot or a little.

 

The fisherman, in his baseball cap and windbreaker, looks glad to be rid of them. He leaves in a hurry to get on with his (I’m guessing) other, tamer plans.

 

The Hotel staff brings in the standard Thanksgiving set, turkey and all, but the twin blocks of fat in the corner, sitting on metal ice-sculpture stands, dominate our attention.

 

They dominate mine anyway — enough that I can’t speak for anyone else.

 

I have no other appetite.

 

So, though I would’ve been happy not to be the first, I take up a plastic butter knife and a paper plate from the buffet table and go over to the blocks and invite a little of each onto my plate.

 

The slices look like those thick jiggly rice-pasta rolls you get at Dim Sum, or used to get.

 

They even have reddish brown roast-porklike flecks worked in.

 

I taste one and then the other.

 

It’s warm and salty, a little bloody, a little rank.

 

I swoon.

 

Others file in behind me and start slicing as well, powerless before my example.

 

Soon they’re swooning too. We all are.

 

The blocks shrink inward toward their centers; everyone stumbles around, lips greasy, jaws and gullets working hard and automatic in gross ritual.

 

I see someone shoving spoonfuls of it down Ferttle’s throat. The baby wails for more.

 

In the hustle for seconds and thirds, there is no pause for wine.

 

*****

BY THE TIME IT’S OVER, we are passed out on the Function Room carpeting, the cleaning staff waiting by the door, perhaps unsure as to what they’re looking at.

 

Through one eye I fight to keep open, I watch the two exposed bodies stand up from their globular casing, bits of it still sticking to them. They waver on their feet, look about to tip over, and then right themselves, somehow strengthened.

 

They don’t look fully awake, but they zero in on the table and walk over to it, running their hands through the buffet spread.

 

Hands is an overstatement: the ends of their arms are worn down to tips or caps, and the arms themselves are just lengths of generic fleshy material, like hose or tubing cut from an endless roll at a hardware store.

 

Dead Sir has worn them so similar I can’t tell which was which, not even along M/F lines. They could be clones. Their faces have been smoothed over, hair and eyes washed away, skin pulled taut over bones that look hollow and soft, genitals rounded out to geometric templates.

 

After prowling a few times around the table, they plop into adjacent chairs and haul over the cold turkey and mashed sweet potatoes by pulling the tablecloth.

 

The forms that were once Face & Star Simpson fall to chewing and swallowing, thighs and wings, rolls and mugs of wine.

 

The buffet spread diminishes. They don’t look ravenous, but they eat steadily for a long time, their sides bulging outward.

 

They are characters in the most basic sense now, undeveloped, free for any story that’ll have them. My stomach boils the fat down to a narcotizing punch and I pass out to the image of them splitting a pumpkin pie.

IN THE GRIP OF A NIGHTMARE about my fingers having been shaved off and sold back to me at a markup, I slop over in my nightshirt and cap to answer the knock at the door.

 

Fingerless, I hug it open.

 

There stands the Night Porter, dressed in his usual cloth with a black plastic poncho stretched over and lashed around his waist with a bungee cord. He’s a lean man, but it’s pulled so tight a few rolls of flesh pop out above and beneath it.

 

“Wet out there,” he mumbles. “Been to Dead Sir twice already and it’s only — ” we both look at the clock to see what time it is. It’s early night. Last I’d known, it was afternoon. I must have acquiesced to lie down for half an hour following a spell of exhaustion that I couldn’t cut with coffee and face-washing, and fallen beneath the rest of the evening.

 

He holds up a maroon cardboard cake box and I don’t need to think to know that my fingers are inside, arranged in two layers of five with ice in between.

 

A moment of black humor where he pushes the box toward me with one hand and, holding up one of those digital package-receipt signature machines with the other, says “Sign here.”

 

We both giggle like What do we have to lose?

 

At this point I kind of lose clarity. It’s not an unusual feeling, that of the Nightmare wearing off like some drug in my system, being slowly filtered out through my pores. I know better than to expect to recognize the point at which I am again “fully awake.”

 

Certainly, the Night Porter is here for real, and my fingers — no ambiguity on this front — are gone, nestled nicely in the box he wants me to sign for.

 

Down in the blear, I ruminate on Dead Sir … a place I haven’t let myself ruminate on in a while. A bog or pit just outside of town where we go to submerge our undesirables, watching them sink and be held by a sub-world whose contours we believe ourselves free not to picture.

 

Unwanted children, impure thoughts, damning proof of indenture or indemnity, skins we’ve shed …

 

The Night Porter too … he hasn’t crossed my mind in long enough for his footprints to have been covered over by fresh leaves and snow.

 

He makes the rounds after we’re asleep, gathering up our stuff — stuff we’ve left in public, like the Hotel lobby and lobby restrooms, and also coming into our bedrooms (the knocking is just a courtesy … he can easily let himself in), to round up what’s not battened down, anything lying on nightstands or coffee tables, vanities, bureaus …

 

Then he either sells it back to us at 1.5x its value, or leads us out to Dead Sir (in classic style, only he knows the way), to dispose of it. He charges us for this service as well.

 

I’ve been shaving down my novel, ANGEL HOUSE, pretty relentlessly of late. My Room is filled with knives and razors, bandages and Nu Skin for all the places where I’ve cut into it, rank with the lardy smell of slashed excess and a body’s endlessly disturbed efforts to heal.

 

[What is the Night Porter doing while I’m thinking all this?]

 

There are piles of shavings on all the surfaces in my Room. Some are just little aggregations of hair and fingernails, while others are meatier, folds of skin and sinew stuffed into envelopes of one another.

 

In one corner, in twin burlap COFFEE, BRAZIL sacks, lie two entire characters that I hacked out earlier this week: Face & Star Simpson, lover-proprietors of a demon circus that, in the early drafts, came to my town and enticed my children out of their minds by offering them access to a “genuinely angelic landscape” in which nothing else could reach them. These were the days before I’d accepted (or even quite known) that people like Joe Hill and Will Elliott had beaten me to those punches, and recently too.

 

So now Face & Star Simpson, not dead but badly cut, lie entangled in their sacks, propped on wads of paper towels to soak up some of whatever fluid runs through the rough burlap.

 

The Night Porter, still in my doorway, looks at them, then at me, assessing the big picture.

 

“Hold on,” he says. “Let me get a hand truck.”

 

*****

First, we reattach my fingers. I tell him, optimistically, that I can pay for everything at the start of next month. He puts my word in his ledger.

 

We sit down at my bathroom counter and spread all ten out, painting the stumps with superglue like we’re applying false fingernails.

 

“I only shaved them down a little,” he says, consolingly, maybe guiltily, as if my fingers had been slight ungainly protrusions and not full, finger-length extremities.

 

Once attached, I hold them down by my side and wait for the glue to dry. They feel more like things I’m carrying than things that are me.

 

*****

The Night Porter compresses all my shaggy novel detritus into several plastic trashbags, then loads Face & Star Simpson in their burlap onto the hand truck, and shoves his way out the door.

 

I follow behind, feeling the Nightmare recede further and the glue on my knuckles start to bind with skin flaps and exposed bone. I shuffle along behind him like some kind of gimp henchman, unable to help.

 

As we make our way out to Dead Sir, I ruminate on why the Night Porter took my fingers tonight.

 

Perhaps, I think, he’s telling me to slow down on the cutting. “Put the tools away, son,” he’s maybe saying. “Let the poor thing heal. Process what you’ve cut before cutting any more.”

 

I smile to remember the feeling of logical thought, the assumption of a universe governed by comprehensible laws, as if it were possible that some things had tangible relations to other things. Ha.

 

WE ARRIVE.

 

Fuck, I think. This is why no one can remember the way to Dead Sir. If I’d just paid attention to the path instead of slipping into reverie, I could start coming here on my own, without ever paying him again …

 

It’s dark in all directions, thick with trees until you get right down to the bank.

 

After we push through, the Night Porter clicks on a flashlight. I notice that he’s removed the bungee cord lashing on his poncho, and used it to lash my bags to the hand truck.

 

“Ready?” he asks.

 

I hesitate, then nod yes.

 

He pushes the hand truck’s wheels right up to the very edge of Dead Sir, unties the cord, and tips it forward. The trashbags and COFFEE, BRAZIL sacks roll off, down, in.

 

I watch them break the surface and earn entry into a liquid as thick as oil.

 

Goodbye Face & Star Simpson, I think, their final bubbles popping in the dark. I appreciate your coming this far with me and I’m sorry I couldn’t take you farther.

 

The Night Porter has his back turned and headphones on, giving me privacy.

 

Looking up after the sacks have sunk all the way down and the ripples have stopped, I see a few other writers on the far banks, trying to keep themselves from my view as much as I am from theirs. All emptying their sacks, ridding themselves of ideas they’ve had and loved but can no longer live with.

 

Do we truly believe they will not resurface? Right at this moment, maybe we do. And maybe we deserve to — maybe that’s what we’re paying the Night Porter for.

 

The sun beginning to rise, we trudge away, back into the woodland lining Dead Sir’s edges, to be alone with the enormity and relief of what we’ve done.

 

More likely than not, we’ll all end up eating breakfast together at some Outskirt diner in an hour or so, looking down at our salt shakers, pretending not to be seen.