Sunday, October 17, 2010

Dark and Gloomy Arabian Nights

Though I like to pretend I’ve just now figured out that I am The Fly to The Cowboy’s cruel Spider, I have, of course, known this fact all along. Even when I was still on my meds and only one thousandth as paranoid as I am now, there were moments of jarring lucidity in which I understood fully that I was The Fly. And, in moments more jarring still, that I was not even The Fly, but one of a whole flotilla of flies he rotates, as I guess all cowboys must, in and out of his big rawhide web.

“You really think he’s cheating on you?” Ed Head would ask me in such times of darkness.

“There’s nothing to cheat on,” I would remind him. “We have no relationship.”

“You mean you don’t have a commitment,” he’d say.

“Well, I'm committed, if that means anything.”

“Why don’t you just ask him?” Hank Fitz would ask me when Ed Head could no longer endure such conversations.

“Ask him what? How many cowgirls he’s sleeping with?”

And then I’d have to explain to the nodding Hank Fitz that The Cowboy was not just The Cowboy, he was also Mel Belli, and as such would answer my question with one of his own:  How many cowboys was I sleeping with? 

To which I’d say “None.”

To which he’d say: “Aw Jeannie, ah know they’re all after yew, yew must hafta fight them off with a stick.”

“Why don’t you just have him followed?” Hank Fitz asked me one day in a rare state of pique. “Then you’d know the truth once and for all.”

“You mean hire a P.I.? “ I asked, as if Hank Fitz might not be speaking English. “You mean like spending actual money?”

But it wasn’t my penury, or even my cheapness, that got in the way, it was Hank Fitz’s usage of “once and for all.” Such a death knell, that phrase. Such a biopsy coming back with bad news. Such a swatter whose only job is to swoop down and smash—once and for all—this fly unto irreversible death.

No, the only thing a fly can do to stay whole is to forget she’s a fly and pretend she’s the spider. And the only real way she can properly do this is to keep spinning what she believes is a web—a purely fictitious web, to be sure (preferably the fiction of others, from Stephen King to the constantly wondrous T. Coraghessan Boyle)—and make it so sticky that even the boots of The Cowboy might some day adhere.

The thing about short stories, however, is that they are short. By the time I am reading “The End” to The Cowboy, it is the end, and he has to leave. To a fly still on meds, this might seem like a problem, but to a fly off her meds who thinks she’s The Spider, it’s merely the seed that will yield a new bloom:  The Scheherazade Thinking Disorder.

Chapters, I’m thinking (and I use the term loosely).  Chapters.  Cliff-hangers.  You know, suspense. 

Friday, October 8, 2010

You'd Think So, Wouldn't You? If You Were Insane.

The first tale I ever read to the cowboy was a Stephen King story called Premium Harmony, a cumbersome title for an elegant narrative whose horrors and humors (and indeed what’s the difference?) popped like so much corn from each page.

I tried to read with what my grammar school teachers once called “expression” so as to maximize the cowboy’s enjoyment—okay, let's face it, so as to maximize my own completely deluded enjoyment in imagining that this “reading aloud thing” would turn out to be The Thing---the grail, the key, the magical secret, the tipping point, the unstoppable power--that would get him, at long last, to love me.

While I was busy e-nun-ci-a-ting and sliding my voice around like a trombone the better to suit King’s various (but always doomed) characters, I was, of course, missing the point of what the cowboy was actually hearing: his first narrative concerning people not named Dick and Jane.

Which meant, of course, that I was also missing the point of what he was actually experiencing: the almost unbelievable gulf that lay between Dick and Jane (not to mention Spot and Puff) and Ray and Mary.  Ray and Mary being King’s married couple whose modern lives of bickering sorrow are forever changed by one trip to Wal-Mart.

When I say unbelievable gulf, I mean that the cowboy did not believe such a gulf had ever existed, let alone that he had, thanks to my benevolent spidery self, just been lifted across it.

“Does it really say that?” he would ask whenever I read him something particularly delicious, mean, or profane.

“Yes!” I would say, showing him the page so he could see for himself.

But even when he looked at it he didn’t believe it.

“They really print fuck?” he marveled.

There’s a point in the story where Ray tells himself that if he comes back to the Wal-Mart (in which his wife Mary has just keeled over dead) in a week or so and plays his cards right, that one of the sympathetic clerks just might toss him a mercy fuck. (Not that he would, but he sees that maybe he could. If he wanted to.)  

“Yes,” I assured the cowboy. “They can print anything now.”

It was as if I had just shown him sliced bread.   And wouldn't you fall in love with anyone who had just shown you sliced bread?  Especially if you were never going to slice it yourself and she was the only person you knew with a slicer?  

You'd think so, wouldn't you? 

If you were insane.

“That was great,” he said when I finished the story. “You read with such great expression,” he said.

Really, he said that. That’s because, well-read, unread, or anything else, he is the spider and I am the fly.  And he knows exactly which words to say to keep me forever trapped in his web.