A range of acts of violence. This is my retrospective view. I’m not sure how to organize matters, how to frame events and find the neatness. I remember hearing of my mother’s family sheltered around the television set for days after the president was killed. The event didn’t seem to matter nearly as much as the vying for narrative, the ritual search for beginning-middle-end. Thinking over it now seems a cliché. I try to find cohesion and there’s only blips of self-pity and –indulgence. We search for parental figures. We hope they’ll offer sustenance or the means anyway. This is not about a youth. There is no need for reflection as such. I only illustrate acts after his absence to come to terms. Just what they are I’m hard-pressed, I’m afraid. It’s tiring, this. To say nothing of the jobs, the work, the squandered money. This is how I sought some light of meaning.
Come home to sister, mother, brother, asleep. They have had tiring days of late; appointmented, looming. A leaving took place. I see the need for it and it brings about some new moods in me, and thus the nights away. Where I’ve gone, my tending, is often immaterial. I shop for hats, something to don. My skull feels chilly maybe. I see a film; its contents haze and wander inside the cooling skull as I digress within myself mourning the drive back to these empty snoring heads. Check in on them: one, two, three; there is order in the universe. A balletic step from room to room, a glass of water drunk. Nothing heavy, no loftiness or concern. We keep a cat, the cat who has its way in permanence. A family tiptoeing around a dinner table, an island in the kitchen. My mother torn up inside presses her hands against a cutting board with nothing there to cut. My sister consoles her by staring out the window in the next room. My brother protects them both from outsiders by sleeping forgetting in his bed. I keep my peace and observe the varying smells within the basement. It is an old home, on a noted street, in a small town. Purchased before children, it will likely never again exist bereft of yelling. I’m uncertain when my mother will up and decide to sell the place. Our neighbors are kind. I’m fucking weary.
“You too huh?” my sister asks after my mother’s smoking cigarette.
“Uh-huh. Yea. My little treat.”
“Nothing’s funny anymore. Is Frederick going back to school?”
“Nobody’s nothing. No more. Frederick might well be going back to school. Ask after him. Ask after your brother.”
“Ted just sleeps. He always did. Only time without when he was going-going on those meds. Senior always said as much, ‘Ted’s going-going today yeah?’”
“Senior had his funny ways before your noted shift to nothing’s funny. These smokes’ve lost bite.” She wetted, blended them into the porchwood, a sopping plastic artwork. Through the halved basement window they looked familial, angelic. My mother the serene, my sister the energetic. I touched my hands to the concrete of the basement and felt a similar wetness to the outside damp. Endless project begun down there, all to wither on the vine. A family’s project, the endearing attempts to reenact the vine time and again, only leaving longer traces of failure.
Frequently they’d sit there just those girls and I would listen from wherever, my carved-out places in the home. We were too linked and talkative. A room containing one contained each of our histories and my mother was always prattling on. A dance as such grew tiresome. It was a bit as if in his leaving he’d left the starts to hundreds of conversations just at the fore of our minds, each of them veering in infinite directions, never to quite connect. The home’s furniture was from a previous era, flowered and all in some hue of brown regardless of its actual color. All of it comforted me. The television lined in wood, comforted me. The basement and its assortments, comforted. I’d create things and mess with old machinery down there, drawing connections. I was getting on in years to live this way, some small handful of possible lives I’d left in nearby cities. False starts, tryings, efforts. It all tended to bring me back, the series of events of late seemed cementing.
Sometimes my mother’d get dressed up to watch a film on TV. This might be Saturday, the house vaguely therapeutic. My sister off and vying, my brother perhaps asleep or getting himself off. I’d sit at the stool in the kitchen drinking cup after cup of coffee and my mother’d be there talking to Bruce Willis about her medication. She liked the sequential weekly dose device. I’d heard it referred to more aptly by a doctor of hers once before but one night I’d imagined a conversation with my brother, us both happy, and he muttered out “sequential weekly dose device” while showering the seven days of dope across his face. Some reached his mouth, some not, we’d laughed. All a fiction. Since then I’d called it that in secret. The clouded blue plastic marked “SMTWTFS” became a sort of joke without end. The little boxes acting as the governors of her days. All connected they amounted to a week of living.
Mother had her share of hefts. Without speaking directly to the matter it was an ugly series of events. The fellow gone and his pluck restored up underneath some shaven shell. He’d gone from concerned citizen to fundraising quasi-public figure to tanned cliché in the quickest series of missteps I’d seen. His new bride equally burnt but young, her own confused missteps leading her into the hair-carpeted arms and gold-watch-desperation of Senior. A disease remaining after in the home bearing weakness and withdrawal, my mother’s, its initials seemed to hang in each doorway. His monies exponentially enhanced and ours dwindled. A Country Kitchen employment opportunity. The hearth of home reduced to sentimental hubbub. None of us bothered by it excepting in the abstract. Each a little tormented. I fell for each of my employees in their way, young and old they all seemed to tie up my loose ends. We’d serve a range of takes on slop and watery juices. The city emanated from the place of business, a diner/city hall. Just as expectant of a horde of angry villagers some night as teenagers pressing fleshy bits of denim to their sweethearts. Good work.
Sister, Ellen, had her ways of coping. An ambivalence, so to speak, such that she might find intense meanings in aisles of gas stations, experience epiphanies in friends’ basements even long after they’d wanted her gone. I admired that about her. Class of a different sort, economic and yet artful, Henry Miller she was, bereft of cock. I never knew what she might be reading or getting into, which I guess explained her art. Some people have a way of being that renders the lives of the some hundred souls or so they come across as perhaps atilt, often as I’d observed it Ellen gave the push. I admired that far more for my entire misunderstanding of matters. If I ought to be born a woman, I might shout, let it be in the image of Ellen.
Mother might well be explored by way of her teeth, unironically. Even without the Senior’s profession her teeth had seen their days. I’d asked for stories on as much: she’d bitten into arms of national guardsmen on entering chained academic halls; she’d smoked ten thousand cigarettes in cars through toxic waves of desert charring the will within those teeth to yearn; she’d chewed on cups in anxiety as a girl and bit her gums to blood awaiting her father’s various returns; she’d emptied more coffee in her face than Balzac and each as wired and chemical as the last. Her teeth had seen their days. She wore them almost proudly now, as aging artists might. Simply-clad she’d nonetheless light up various sections of grocers by what they’d assumed she’d chewed. Maternity nothing, her entire being seemed political. I’d find myself staring pleasantly at what had withered, what the years and erosion of matrimony had done to the old gal. Nonetheless on occasion she’d flash a smile composed of concrete bits of living, and I knew that she did well.
Ted was tired. Never certain the cause I nonetheless—we—respected his disinterest. Spending one’s time around the sleeping has its holy components. You know the dream is there, the possibility. A perpetual state of shift, Ted experienced. He might be any place. Medically though I’m uncertain, they’d flood him with some such and no one told if that rendered dreams unlikely, or nightmares certain. I’d watch him occasionally, though seldom. He had his twitches. I admired that about him, physically. The avoidance of atrophy. The tendency to jerk ourselves to waking if only to assure our mind we haven’t yet passed on. Our boy was near to death, I figured. I’d say as much while patrolling the home as a sort of sheriff. I made sure the entities kept on. I came from work awaft in grease. My mother’d smile and hand me coffee. We’d sit there pondering the ebbs.
My father could be a nuisance in the truest sense. His tirades were Mussolinian. We lived thus in the dust of his leaving, trying to put together something like the pieces. Our home was stable, affordable. The neighbors entered and left with freedom and my mother knew each of their grandchildren’s histories by heart. There was such weight amid these lives. Sister and mother were duly bitter as brother and I were fairly inept. I’d spent the bulk of my youth awash in bathtubs reading strange stories in magazines about conspiracy theories. I’d wanted to study computer science, go someplace where I might fall asleep at my terminal making sense of codes that only made sense for split seconds before being encrypted ad nauseam and torn to bits by teenaged masturbators. Fucking being, it looms over all of us in horrific ways. My father the tooth man the philanderer the arbiter of my homeland howled until you couldn’t make out the words and eventually seemed to get bored enough to leave. That’s all it was: a boredom. I remember looking over at my sister she was crying and asking whether we deserved a father, and he’d attempted to console and I just sat there wondering at paternity, fatherhood, the fatherland. My father had his German bearing. A naïve chauvinism maybe made him a proud American and thus he even looked the part of Nicolas Chauvin dawdling behind Napoleon and it was this that made him act the way he did, perhaps. The presidency, my father agape and sycophantic on each election day feeling the monotony of his daily works transcended by a dream of an America where drilling teeth held grave import. His fleeing then, political. An attempt to align his life with pundits.
I say it now comfortably in retrospect as his entire face just seemed to smack of moneyed anger. His skin seemed pulled. I’d watch him smiling in various news stories. The donater. The giver. The philanthropist. Some drooling nineteen year old love slave hung across his whey-caked bicep. A nausea, then, in staring at my mother. This whole American spectrum. The lines between the figures in American Gothic and their import, the tines of his pitchfork, a family rent asunder by determined following. I’m not sure. One night my sister and I drove around listening to Stephen Wright albums and laughing. One night I read to my brother while he largely slept from Tolkien. One night I danced with my mother across the floor of our living room while on television a murder was investigated. If these are things that matter why the emptiness, largely, of our accounts?
Once while younger I’d made a mixup and got myself stuck within the bathroom. I remember hearing it as if the whole house wanted to come in toward me, and I within feeling very strongly these would be my last moments on this earth. I’d fallen on exiting the bathtub, the room flashed then with white tile and as I screamed out new pain shot through my leg as my father imposed his weight against the door. Just below my knee where rounded chalks of bone connected to shin or calf the door was thrust. I’d pulled the light on falling for balance and only slipped more fully into darkness as he shoved the structure hard into my skin. I felt it pulling at me and shouted out. I heard my mother’s voice and discouragement, a calming. I laid there helpless in the dark my body curled and wet and strung. The world seemed to hold my leg inside a jaw, clamped and metallic tastes rushed up my throat. Everything closing in, my father hovering and mumbling something, my mother concerned. My body held there and as they’re pushing lightly small winces ring out from me and my pink limbs. The room was freezing then, the family a squalid thing, everything as disordered as my frame as slowly I slid in darkness across the floor dragging wetted blood to offer entry. I remember my mother’s face. I remember an inward horror. I remember the swollen leg for days and my father’s solemn attention to its care; the application of various medicines that left the thing shined and vulnerable, his various encouragements and cups of Tang. I could be such a meditative patient.
At one point, nearing on a month our family hadn’t much seen Ted. We’d known where he was and he’d eat enough when we were sleeping, but something in the home itself seemed to cause his slip to rest. I couldn’t figure. When your contacts are narrowed considerably the emotional drag they impose upon the heart tends to overwhelm. Ted was sleeping pulling each heart toward his forested hell.
Our neighbor was Carl. Carl’d lost his wife; found a dog. He hadn’t done much in the last years but engage his mind with television. I admired the man. Ted, when conscious, had always spoken highly of their talks. Ted used to walk that way with our former pet and stop for minutes of conversation. One night Carl made his way into my mother’s kitchen complaining of pained chest, something. We were each asleep, excepting Ted, I later learned. Carl stumbled in on Ted swallowing handsful of dry cereal. His eyes black sockets. His stomach sunken in, Ted looked sickly, freshly freed from being locked away. I’d seen him later in the hospital and noted the odd markings along the ridges of his hands. They seemed extended and warped, bad Dali replicas or Nosferatus, he reached toward Carl once as the sun shone through hospital shade and it seemed to look clean through to Ted’s blood cells. Red marks along from forearm to the very edge of that vampiric pointer finger. It was the first time I’d registered sympathy in Ted’s physique in years.
So Carl had entered my mother’s kitchen to discover my inept Ted. The two of them stared apparently until Ted’s conscience overwhelmed; an ambulance then called. Each of us at rest the home might’ve as easily been Carl’s casket. The home might’ve burnt to dust, upped and fled on my father’s coattails. I’m uncertain; it doesn’t matter. As Ted reached out under bad hospital glassine light I imagined the conversations they ought to have had there. The awkward gestures. Carl reaching toward his heart. Ted attempting to convey what he’d been up to over the months. Neither of them succeeding, both of them suffering well. Carl’s eyes were sunken too, a surrogate for Ted. My mother brought his yapping rat and Carl seemed unhappy to see it, only continuing to vent to Ted just what he’d seen, just what he’d missed. A widower, a male, his children up and gone, my mother just a reach or toss from all his windows. My mother, left, aging, sickly, unfortunate, weary and disgusted at most things. The two of them made logical mates, but neither saw as much. Ted seemed to know it at times, I remember that. He’d reach out for alternate fathers as Ellen sought my mom. This incestuous inward looking, it spread to everything. I, Frederick, held no sway inside my mind, merely subject to the waxes and wanes of these familial ropes.
I spat once on my father’s fancy car. It wasn’t out of spite but curiosity. I don’t know whether anyone notices anything. The jury is ever out, you might’ve guessed. I’m on this medication that makes my teeth feel deprived, barren. I can barely hawk spit to save face and yet that day walking by en route home from greased employ I leant away for dear life like some pitcher’s last stand and phlegmed what felt my whole gut’s contents on the driver’s window, the soft convertible’s roof, and wherever else I couldn’t see. I’m not sure what occurred thereafter but my imagination knew multitudes. Endless possibilities of his dissatisfaction. My stomach gets hot over the various materials we use to heat the families’ repasts. There’s nothing glorious about it, just sequential movement. We inch and inch. Of late Ted’s been up and about a bit, not much though. I yearn for Carl but he never much took to my conversation. His heart ought to persist.
Grant Maierhofer is the author of Postures, Marcel, and the PX138 3100 2686 User’s Manual, forthcoming from Solar Luxuriance.