The Sum of His Sentences
The writer's sentence was so elegant, so yum-yum in its genius berserkness. He read sentence after sentence to me in my drab kitchen while the vegetables I was washing got wetter and wetter, hotter and more gleaming.
I've never heard anything like them, I said. They are like on fucking fire with their own self-absorbed brilliance!
A smile shattered his face. Writers' shallow, fragile faces are always shattering.
He pointed out several more of his own sentences he was especially in love with. He kept pointing until he had pointed to each and every one several times. I could see his grubby fingerprints all over the paper.
Still, I had no doubt that this man was the sum of his sentences. I wanted the feeling his sentences provided to exist deep within my body, to be bludgeoned by that hot, otherworldly sentence feeling.
I made the mistake I have made so often.
While the vegetables slouched in the colander in the sink, dimming and slowly rotting, the writer wailed and went on wailing, not for me, not for my body, but out of love for his own sentences. It was true that I had not heard anything exactly like his, but I had heard many, many other mindblowing sentences before.
Not one of them had done anything for me.
The Sum of His Sentences II
The writer--very young, very strong-jawed, very built like a centaur--sat across from me at my kitchen table. Moneyed and well-bred and pedigreed, he had recently finished graduate school and just returned from a useless trek through the wilderness alone, buoyed by needless overpriced camping gear purchased by his parents, both of whom were plastic surgeons.
I hadn't felt like cooking so I had bought us McDonald's. He was young enough that one meal was as good as another. In light of his beauty, I had been anticipating his sentences for a very long time. The stack--seemingly comprised of every sentence he'd ever written--towered between us: a phallic, skyscraper-sized centerpiece. One by one I dunked McNuggets into the sick-sweet red sauce I loved while he went on reading and reading and reading.
I've never heard anything like them, I said, suddenly aware of my McNuggets' lifeless, shallow, not-quite-meat flavor.
The writer's face shattered with glee.
Did I mention the fact that he was very young? He'd invented a very unsubstantiated subtext beneath my silence and kissed me.
The kiss was surprisingly pleasing, far superior to his sentences.
I had clearly awaited the wrong thing.
The Sum of Her Sentences II
As we strolled through our disdainful city, made slightly less disdainful by spring flowers bursting to life on porches, my friend the writer confessed that since boyhood, all he had wanted from life was someone who loved his sentences, who wanted to hear them broadcast from his mouth over and over and over, to be charmed by them morning, noon, and night.
And what might she want out of her life? I said. Or would she be fully sustained by the miracle of your sentences?
Whenever we discussed his sentences, I did so icily and without praise: beheading clauses and striking out images as he wilted before my eyes. I had few ambitions for my fictions: I only cared to write single lines, not stories or books. I wrote them in illegible handwriting on tiny scraps of paper, which I concealed in my pockets and lost to washing machines. Sometimes I tossed them out my third story window onto the sidewalks where birds flocked to them then flew off, disappointed that they were not food. I did not see what a sentence was good for, beyond the pleasure of writing it.
Often, at our favorite bar, I would emerge from the bathroom to find my friend the writer talking to some beautiful stranger and be surprised to feel my entire body boiling over with jealousy. But the next second I'd overhear him reciting some of my sentences to her, after which he would introduce me as the brilliant writer of them while I stared at the floor, burning with embarrassment.
In the fall, my friend went away for several months to a boring conference for writers. He emailed me about how he'd recited from memory several very stunning sentences he'd penned to a very beautiful young writer, which resulted in a brief affair she ended. He determined that his sentences were no good, that he would never write again. I didn’t tell him not to quit. It seemed essential to his progression as a human being. Nor did I tell him how I had surprised myself, looking out the window as leaves exploded with color and then browned and dropped, by missing his lengthy recitations of his work.
Upon his return, we went to a terrible party for writers. He drunkenly carried on to the crowd about his residency, trying desperately to impress them. When he disappeared into a dark hallway, I found myself suddenly alone. Knowing hardly anyone, I waited in line to hide in the bathroom. I heard the passionate sound of zippers unzipping, clothing being thrown to the floor, then his familiar voice behind the door, whispering sentences into some woman's ear as if they were his own.
Those were very fine sentences I heard you reciting, I said. Some of your finest. Are they new?
I did not speak to my friend the writer all winter, though I was unsure if it was because of his plagiarism or because of the racket I'd heard behind the door. No one had ever been so interested in my sentences, and certainly not me. I imagined him carrying my scraps in his breast pocket, close to his heart until, having memorized them, he held them inside him, a part of himself.
At home, my sentence piles lay scattered around my apartment like useless appendages. I felt saddened by their disheveledness, overwhelmed by a need to unite and mend them. Left alone with my piles, with no one to praise them and nothing better to do, I combined and recombined them, knitting them together into coherent wholes.
In the spring, I ran into my friend the writer at another terrible party for writers. The weather was stunning. My book had recently come out and was met with moderate success, so that people who had had no interest in knowing me before now wanted to know me. I stood surrounded by people I did not like talking about my work while my friend stood near the wine alone, pouring glass after glass.
Watching him through the crowd as he drunkenly swayed, his sentences welled up within me. I felt how they had taken up residence in me, nourishing me without my noticing.
I motioned for him to join the group. When he arrived, I recited several of his sentences from memory. They were perfect as they emerged from my lips. I introduced my friend as their brilliant writer, the way he had always longed to be introduced.
It is a day where I cannot bring myself to make contact.
I want to take off my sandals and let heat penetrate my feet, but I am on my friend's gross deck, mounded with cicada shells, aghast at her commitment to not sweeping.
This is a friend who takes great pleasure in describing the great force with which she can gush, who speaks of her body's capabilities so highly and with such great pride, as if hers is the body of royalty! Within her royal, gushing body, she has written several famous books.
It is too damp to want to work, but I am writing this story anyway. I have produced so few pages in my lifetime and you will maybe read it, or someone will. I mean, I am not a moron.
Once a man contacted me via the internet to ask, "hypothetically," what he should do if he read his friend's story but could not understand what was happening. This man had been my inaugural fuck. The first time was in a bed. I said: Oh. Okay. Oh? He seemed like the kind of man who had only ever fucked on a twin mattress, who would fuck exclusively on twin mattresses for the rest of his life.
But later, with a perfectly fine bed in the next room, he imprinted my tits with the sharp pattern of bathroom tile. I mean, I felt pleasure. The problem was and was not locational.
Probably you need to learn how not to read in the way you were taught to read, I wrote back, though what he would really need was to become a completely different kind of human being. I did not hear from him again.
I crush my friend’s exoskeletons under the soles of my feet, let my story loosely drift off above the trees, eventually disappearing, like a small girl's pink balloon.
I need to have friends so that I will have material. If I don't have friends, I will write another book where all the narrator does is stare at the curtains all day: wind ominously billowing, beside themselves.
I make arrangements to hang out. In M's basement, we sit like grandfathers on plaid chairs, listening to scratched country albums on a tiny plastic record player. This is the basement where M., a better writer than me, sits facing cinder blocks under bright year-round Christmas lights and writes.
The basement itself feels like the right place for M. to be writing, but in the rest of the house she seems out of place, like she has become the wrong kind of person. In one of the other rooms is M's baby: its smile oozing like too-sweet, lukewarm food.
How are you? What's new? she says, then runs upstairs to check on the baby. She returns with it squirming in her arms, describes in detail the shit bomb that just exploded in its diaper. I feel resentful that the baby and its shit bomb have invaded M's basement, where we used to drink beers and write poems and plot reckless affairs.
Between burpings, M. asks about my date.
His very brown socks matched his very brown pants? I say.
The baby shrieks into M's breasts, so I don't explain how he sometimes gives the impression that whatever thing I'm doing, which I am doing very correctly, is not being done the way he would like it to be done, which is the only way he considers correct. I don't mention all the reckless affairs he's likely plotting.
I go home and fall asleep on my couch, imagine M. curling into bed, surrounded by the warmth of her tiny family. Tomorrow, a holiday, she'll take her sweet little family to visit the people who raised her.
I will wake up early with a hangover and write a story about M's basement. It won't be as good as any of M's stories. I'll work and rework it, wondering if I have become the wrong kind of person. I'll make arrangements to hang out.
I was looking for a new podcast. But all of them were about the new and terrible misdeeds our fucker of a President had performed that very morning. Or about God or Science, which seemed just as abhorrent.
On the one I settled on, two lady poets, one very famous and one less famous, were describing to each other the dead people who had visited them in their dreams. The podcast was supposed to be about the writing practices of poets, but now that it had become about ghosts, it was greatly improved.
The less famous poetess said her mother had not visited her dreams in some time, and felt it was her fault. She believed that she was unconsciously denying her dead mother access to her dreams because her dead mother was angry with her. To this, the famous poetess said with great certainty: She's not angry with you! Of course she's not! Don't be a fucking moron! In her dream, of course, the famous poetess's mother had brought her the perfect recipe for Chicken Kiev.
My father had never visited my dreams, maybe because I did not believe the dead went anywhere they could return from. And even if he could have, my father wouldn't have chosen my morose dream landscape, where I would certainly want to talk exclusively and in great detail about how bleak my life felt under this President while my father would want to talk exclusively and in great detail about his latest round of golf, just as he had in life, unconcerned with whether he was engaging anyone.
Sometimes, my best-ever cat visited, but she was always sick. Once I papoosed her to my chest in a little pink blanket and fed her medicine. Another time she arrived with a broken arm and I built her a dainty feathered sling. In real life, she was sick for too long because I had convinced myself she had seventeen lives. I wasn't home when she died. Clearly I dream-conjured her in order to repent.
I so wanted to be the poets on the podcast, to trade my rational fiction brain for a poet's mind that could go on believing the dead were still basically alive, that everything before me was not quite as it seemed, to have such faithful certainty about the unknown, which seemed to be expanding every day to touch everything.
Probably the man I maybe love is contemplating the blonde's twat across the cafe or maybe has already fucked the twat or maybe is fucking himself with his lonely hand in the bleakest Prague hotel room...
If I were my mother I would be trying to marry this man: just yesterday he went deeper into me than I will ever go. I love this man, probably, though I do not trust his haircut: the haircut of an adult whose sole form of transit is skateboard. He’s not unlike my college ex: wrists cuffed to bedposts, I commanded him to slap my ass until it bloomed with ghastly purple bruises...
Once, I wriggled on my belly into a cave's mouth behind the bruising man I loved. I wasn't sure why he was going first: he was afraid of dark and spiders and most everything else. I just wanted the cave's center-of-earth smell to surround me like some dank perfume.
The diner where we went afterwards had a confederate flag out front and flood-damaged walls and a retirement home smell, all of which I was too in love to notice. The waitress loudly whispered: Honey, why! He can't even commit to a haircut.
We scarfed fried chicken and instant mashed potatoes and I sucked at his greasy lips between bites, unable to help myself. I licked gravy from my plate like a dog.
The waitress, of course, hadn't been wrong. But even in the center of the worst place, I could find what was hot and wantable. Underground, even when I thought I'd die from the lack of air down there, I kept going.