Archives for the month of: January, 2014

AFTER A WELCOME TROUGH OF ACTIVITY following the Blood Drive, we get shaken up by a group Email.

 

I’d just reached the end of a two week free trial of a popular pay-as-you-go scam called Internet Free America, which promised to “reintegrate my top-shelf attention into my so-called life and re-situate my subjectivity in my given body,” so I was checking my inbox with a genuinely feral hunger, like that which Kinski and McDowell harbor for one another in Cat People, when the group Email came in.

 

“Dear People of Dodge City,” it began.

 

“Your communal Blood Drive results have been analyzed by me and a couple friends of mine, and we have determined enough overlaps in plasma-type and DNA-structure to suggest that you are more closely related, ideologically speaking, than is considered safe for the citizenry of a town of your size to be. If anyone would like to see my sources on this, or the results themselves, just let me know and I’ll forward them to you.

 

“The upshot here is that tomorrow I’m going to pay you all a visit and examine your ideas, one by one, in private. If you can convince me that your ideas are, in all ways that count, meaningfully distinct and antithetical to one another, I’ll leave with no further ado, and you’ll be free to go on calling yourselves a town.

 

“If, however, as I suspect, your ideas prove more convergent than divergent, collapsing and narrowing down toward a single fiercely held belief, unalienable at the expense of all others, it will be my displeasure to demote your status from town to cult.

 

“Lastly, just so there’s no misunderstanding when I show up, I am an impersonator of the Inspector whom you all hosted on your streets about a year ago. I am a copycat-Inspector by trade, but, make no mistake, this only bolsters my authority; it in no way undermines or invalidates it. I am such an exact copycat, indeed, that you will be unable to distinguish me from the Inspector himself. You may tell yourselves now, as you read this Email, that you’ll absolutely remember, that nothing can fool you or pry you off your certainty, but you’ll see when I show up …

 

You will treat me as the Inspector himself, and I will know very quickly whether Dodge City is in fact a cult.”

 

THE FIRST THING I DO, after reading and deleting the Email, is delete all my correspondence with Internet Free America (all physical letters, naturally, since they deal in clients cut loose from Email), motivated by some medium-grade fear that my entanglement with them is connected to the coming of this copycat Inspector, or that I might at least be accused of this, Witch Trial style, if Dodge City ends up being declared a cult …

 

Which possibility, I think, as I shower off the sweat I worked up shredding the letters, seems a mile or two less than remote. I don’t know exactly what the fallout from being declared a cult might be, but it’s easy to imagine some harsh tax penalty or mass emigration or, more fearsome still, immigration, if we come to be seen in that light.

 

I towel off, shave, and lie down, trying to think what my ideas are, aware that, first thing in the morning, I’ll have to head down to Dead Sir and ditch them all. I can picture everyone I know down there, purging and trashing their entire mental collections like a mass drug dump on the eve of an historic raid.

 

Whatever the truth of Dodge City actually is, I don’t want to be the one to convince the Inspector that it’s a cult. I shiver as I recognize the potential commonality of this idea — if he catches us all thinking this when he comes, I think, he’ll know we’re a cult for sure.

 

It’s rough going as I flip through everything in my head. The combination of withdrawal-agony and cleanse-ecstasy that Internet Free America stimulated the past few weeks returns now, severalfold, as I endeavor to gut out my whole deal, ball it up into some huge, weird boulder and roll it down through the streets to Dead Sir when the sun comes up.

 

I envision myself like the last survivor of a stricken family during the Black Plague, rolling my dead on a cart through the streets of some skanky French village, shunning eye contact with my fellow survivors as we head grimly to the pit or the incinerator.

 

*****

NEXT MORNING, the scene at the diner is madness. Everyone’s nervous before the trip to Dead Sir, trying to eat a heartening breakfast without ordering the same thing as anyone else, lest there seem to be a morning ritual.

 

Infantile cries of “I ordered it first!” and “He’s copying me!” squirt out everywhere, and the kitchen scrambles to combine ingredients in new and, ideally, random ways, to keep from seeming to have a signature dish or even a menu determined by consistent taste.

 

No one knows when the Inspector will arrive.

 

I order a bowl of powdered sugar and, much as it pains me to skip my coffee, a cup of cool lemon tea, as if that’ll deter the Inspector from seeing me as I really am.

 

Gottfried Benn works the tables, trying to shake people down for his usual $60, but no one will acknowledge him, noxious as his presence is.

 

He gets folded into the procession to Dead Sir, everyone tramping out of the diner without paying, the manager too flustered to call us out.

 

We lurch through the streets and into the woods taking care not to march or in any way fall into step with one another. This reminds me of how, in Dune, everyone always had to walk totally without rhythm across the desert so as not to alert the slumbering sandworms to human passage overhead … thoughts of Dune lead naturally to thoughts of Lynch and Jodorowsky, which lead to …

 

NO.

 

I stop myself here, before I get any more carried in the direction I don’t want to go.

 

I try to focus, totally purging my mental space. I picture it like a room filled with boxes and clothes and suitcases and busted furniture all tipped over and piled crooked. Then I start warming up a mental wrecking ball, swinging it in power-hungry arcs just outside the window.

 

*****

I’M WAIST DEEP IN DEAD SIR, along with everyone else in Dodge City — all the Cavernous, the Editors, spitting out the parts of my novel I’ve stuffed them with (so much for editing, I suppose), and Gibbering Pete, Rigid Steve, Fiscal Steven, Professor Dalton, Internethead … literally everyone.

 

I keep losing track of what I’m doing here, looking around at everyone else, ambiently dreaming of checking Email.

 

Cultish forces circle me like hawks, waiting to swoop down and take a bite of where I’m softest.

 

Just don’t stop purging, some way-inner taskmaster commands. Open your mouth, fat boy.

 

I do, and feel my whole collection blasting itself out, spewing up my throat and over my tongue and into Dead Sir (whose name I’m soon to forget), filling in the watery brine around me, thickening it and upping its temperature.

 

Last thing I see before the purge overwhelms my optical nerves is everyone I know ceasing to be everyone I know, becoming scarecrows in some bath that’s getting so hot their skin turns red and starts to bubble.

 

*****

“… right, exactly, they’re all just standing here in this, um, sort of outdoor tank, like a pit they must’ve dug and filled in, and it’s kind of, I think you’d have to say, fulminating all around them …”

 

My eyes drift open and I can see it’s late afternoon and we’re all in the water and someone I don’t know is standing on the shore, talking into an iPhone.

 

I can tell I won’t be able to move until some external condition changes, so I stand where I am and listen:

 

“… totally vacant expressions, that’s correct sir, like dead cow, or sub-cow, eyes, and kind of swaying at the knees and hips … thoroughly entranced. A few are looking in my direction, but I don’t think they can really see me. I told them I was coming. You’d think they’d make at least some effort to disguise their ritual, but I guess not with these folks. Pretty baldfaced cult, gotta hand it to them.”

 

The Inspector — somewhere way back in myself I remember this is his name — continues, “And some are mumbling repetitive sounds like ‘vu vu vu vu’ and ‘tn tn tn tn tn,’ along those lines. And this thing they’re standing in is making sounds too, like a call and response. Uncanny to behold, sir. I don’t like it. They all look similar too, like they’ve taken pains to make themselves outwardly identical. Probably all respond to the same name too, not that I want to know what it is.”

 

I have an instinct to do something erratic right now, anything, just to shake things up, remind me that I’m me and stick my foot in the door that I can see is about to slam shut on all of us, but my body won’t respond. I’ve purged too much of what made it tick.

 

“Any further questions, sir?” the Inspector asks. “I really can’t see any ambiguity at all in this case … great, well I’ll book them then. I’ll let you know once the paperwork’s filed. Speak soon, sir … yup, you too. Give my best to Raquel, and … um … oh yeah, Henry. My best to Henry too.”

 

He hangs up and looks directly at me and our eyes stay locked like that until he turns away, opening his briefcase to extract the paperwork and a pen.

ROUNDABOUT THE POINT at which there’s no one left in Dodge City except stuffed Cavernous, the Editors, each lumpy with novel in his own way — and some gone female, crowding the Wayfarer’s Tavern with the rest of us, barking out phrases at no one and nothing between one drink and the second — a citywide blood drive is called.

 

A stocktaking, a time to juice ourselves out and see what’s afloat in us.

 

I wouldn’t volunteer, but it’s mandatory and I’m not in fighting shape.

 

On the day of, I wake up early in my Room, eat a sweet breakfast of fruit and sugar, do a kind of prayer / meditation regimen like I did in the basement of my childhood home at dawn before I took the SAT’s … then I put away all my editing tools (though no Cavernous is with me now — the last one claimed his Reinforcement would be a few weeks in coming, as he’d been engaged by another novel across the country when the call came), and cap all my bottles of Barbicide, the chemical smell so familiar it has a laxative effect, and shower and check my visible veins, counting how many I have left.

 

WHEN I exit the lobby, I can’t remember the last time I did so in daylight. It feels like a season has shifted, like the last one was one long night and this one is, by the looks of it, shaping up to be one long day.

 

On the walk to the hospital, I fall in with hordes of Cavernous, the Editors, exiting the houses they’ve started to live in now that the prior population of Dodge City is over with. I look at them, not too inconspicuously, and try to remember which parts of the novel are stuffed into which body. The procession reminds me of the Funeral of Harry Crews, which I haven’t thought about in well over a year.

 

THEN, LIKE I JUST FRITTERED AWAY ALL THE PREP TIME I’D BEEN ALLOTTED, I’m lying on a bed with a needle in my forearm and blood’s shooting out into a tube.

 

I’m swooning hard. The ceiling looks like one big ceiling fan.

 

I follow its rotation as the sound of blood fills my ears and I see it all running together into an uncovered pool in the center of the room … and what is this room? It’s like the whole hospital is just one empty interior … flowing together into one stew, despite how, I believe, blood drives are meant to be run with each blood being stored and tagged separately, according to type, genre, etc.

 

All this blood-mixing puts me in a Faulkner cast of mind (which I picture like a helmet, slamming down over my head and neck), and now all I can see is:

 

An old man in a mansion in an archaic Mississippi, capacious grounds gone to seed, a long-dead wife buried out back, three beautiful and slightly insane daughters aged 14 to 17.

 

The old man roams the hallways of his once-great mansion wearing a Chinese silk nightshirt, blue and crimson, muttering, bumping into statues and rotting chests.

 

Paintings hang crooked from the walls and the walls themselves sit crooked on their floors, soft as wet cork.

 

The old man sees Death in every crud-covered window and dusty glass door, taunting him with the baleful wiping-away of his life and its failure to make a mark, even an indentation, on this estate inherited from his father and grandfather and on and on, all more notorious figures than he.

 

In moods like this he passes his daughters in the halls, drifting in gowns on feet that seem barely to touch floor, and he plays at pretending he cannot tell them apart, and then wonders, indeed, whether he can.

 

ON ONE SUCH A DAY — and they’re all like this — a terminal idea blooms up in him:

 

I will end my life an Incest Father, surrounded by children who are also my grandchildren, my daughters defiled and damned.

 

A parting bid at lasting shame.

 

There is a long and vaunted tradition, in his Southern gothic mind — I think in my blood drive stupor — of old men implanting in their young daughters the children who will one day to inherit the estate, and one day bury their mothers on its grounds.

 

Indeed, such is the story of my own parentage, thinks the old man, as if this were a fact he’d long forgotten and just now remembered.

 

If I can bring this shame upon myself, I will die with a measure of dignity within the tradition I belong to, he thinks.

 

SO HE GIVES IT A TRY.

 

Starting that evening, after dinner and cocktails, he fucks each of his daughters, each in a different place — pantry, basement stairwell, laundry room — whispering to each not to tell the others, trying to work into his tone a note of threat that he and she both know he cannot back up.

 

The daughters suffer his incursions with a kind of formalized and ironic disdain, playing at trauma and disgust, aware of the cliche in his behavior, the conformity to stereotype, and their own roles in the classic scandal.

 

Each pretends to promise not to tell her sisters, and then tells her sisters, and this too, of course, is part of it.

 

The atmosphere in the house stabilizes for a while, the old man doing his best to keep his strength and stay consistent, waiting for one or two or all of his daughters to take pregnant and for the shame-babies to start their months-long Southward crawl.

 

But it doesn’t happen.

 

He’s just too old; he’s waited too long, spent too many years wandering in celibate delusion, forestalling the idea he should have had as soon as the first daughter reached puberty.

 

There is nothing, it would appear, of the genuine Incest Father left in him.

 

He starts drinking heavily and eating rare meat at every meal, but his potency will not increase. He can hear his daughters laughing at him in the echoes of the house, and it’s little more than a mockery, now, whenever he corners one of them and rucks his nightshirt up.

 

HE ADMITS DEFEAT, LIES DOWN, PREPARES TO DIE.

 

He lies there a long time, but Death will not take him. He stands above the frail old man and says, “Prove to me you’re worth it.”

 

Here, at the bottom of his life, the old man uncovers an idea. A last resort, certainly, but a viable option nonetheless.

 

He sits up, showers, and leaves the house for the first time in a decade.

 

Asks the shed-dwelling groundskeeper to ready the Cadillac and drives off to the next town, seven miles north, toward Memphis, across a broad tract of swampland.

 

Here, the old man fetches a young man, strong, healthy, naive.

 

THE YOUNG MAN IS INSTALLED IN THE HOUSE, and — my head slipping off my paper pillow on the blood drive gurney, blood still shooting from my arm — I watch as the old man sits the young man down at the dinner table with his three daughters and explains how it’s going to be:

 

“You will fuck them as me,” he explains, handing the young man the silk nightshirt to wear, “and they will become pregnant with my children, and I will be the Incest Father after all, and after I die, you will go into a grave in the basement and remain in there forever, so that my daughters may be left alone in this big house to grow old with these children fathered in shame, losing hold, year by year, of the memory of anyone but their Father … you, young man, will become to them a vague fantasy, a kind of long-lost Incubus … any questions?”

 

The young man and the three daughters shake their heads.

 

“Then you may begin,” says the old man.

 

THEY DO. The house fills with sex-noise and nine months later four babies arrive: one each for two of the daughters, and twins for the youngest.

 

The old man calls the Church and says he’s dying and would like a pastor to pay him a last visit. The Church says one will be right over.

 

“Okay,” says the old man. “A witness is coming. Ladies, please arrange to be around with your babies. And you,” he says to the young man, “are finished here. Please crawl into your grave in the basement now.”

 

The young man, though something of a simpleton, appears to understand.

 

The old man prepares to meet his demise, scorned in the eyes of the Church as yet another Incest Father from a long line of them, a notoriety he’s certain he deserves at the end of such a long and lonely life.

 

BUT WHEN THE PASTOR ARRIVES, things go wrong:

 

The old man begins dying on the divan, and the pastor comes to his side and opens his briefcase, and the daughters, on cue, emerge with their babies, and the pastor, also on cue, puts two and two together, whitening with shock …

 

BUT THEN the young man enters the room, in good cheer, drinking milk from a gallon bottle in his boxers, his massively chiseled, tattooed torso in full view, and the lustiness with which the daughters regard him, combined with the degree of resemblance in the babies’ faces, reorders the pastor’s assumptions entirely.

 

“Ah,” says the pastor, relieved. “I didn’t know the babies’ father was … at home. For a moment, sir,” he says, gazing now lovingly at the old man, “I’d wrongly assumed that … ”

 

AND THUS THE OLD MAN DIES, from shame, but a genuine rather than a generic shame, a shame of impotence, a true shame that Death cannot expiate, a damning shame, SHAME-SHAME RATHER THAN PRIDE-SHAME, mortally humiliated by the pastor’s Last Rites.

 

When he’s buried in the backyard later that day, he is not at all looking forward to meeting his forebears in hell, all those legitimate Incest Fathers lined up to receive him, wrongly believing that he is one of them … he wonders, as the dirt falls on his face and lands in his mouth, whether it is possible to lie in hell, or if down there all things are transparent.

 

*****

I WAKE UP as the needle comes out of my arm, and, eating the Snickers bar the nurse hands me, waddle over to the pool where all the drawn blood has collected, the Faulkner helmet loosening somewhat but still heavy on my head and neck.

 

Through its eyeholes I gaze at the pool, mottled with veins of red and black novel-plasma from all the Editors, swampy and hot, steaming up at me. I open a window and a few leaves and sticks blow in, and bees and mosquitoes, all easing into the blood, helping to stir its many substances into one.