I’ve been reading Tolstoy’s shorter fiction and almost each story contains writing so good that I want to never make the attempt again. Here’s a few examples.
From The Death of Ivan Ilyich:
Ivan Ilych knows quite well and definitely that all this is nonsense and pure deception, but when the doctor, getting down on his knee, leans over him, putting his ear first higher then lower, and performs various gymnastic movements over him with a significant expression on his face, Ivan Ilych submits to it all as he used to submit to the speeches of the lawyers, though he knew very well that they were all lying and why they were lying.
From The Kreutzer Sonata:
“What is wrong with education?” said the lady, with a scarcely perceptible smile. “Surely it can’t be better to marry as they used to in the old days when the bride and bridegroom did not even see one another before the wedding,” she continued, answering not what her interlocutor had said but what she thought he would say, in the way many ladies have. “Without knowing whether they loved, or whether they could love, they married just anybody, and were wretched all their lives. And you think that was better?” she said, evidently addressing me and the lawyer chiefly and least of all the old man with whom she was talking.
From The Devil:
During coffee, as often happened, a peculiarly feminine kind of conversation went on which had no logical sequence but which evidently was connected in some way for it went on uninterruptedly.
Well done, Count.
As for myself, I had a coffee date with a young lady the other day, something I have not made an effort to do in years. As is often the case in situations like mine, I told myself that I was willing to re-enter the dating world for several clear and distinct reasons. Firstly, it is not good for the man to be alone. Secondly, the idea of sexual congress with a woman has not yet become altogether repulsive. Thirdly, and ever present, there is in me still some remnant of fire, quite incapable of scientific scrutiny, that wants to prove–or fail trying–that I might yet possess some quality desirable to a member of the fairer sex.
As for her, she was highly educated, well-spoken, and cultured. And beautiful. On these points there would be no dispute. Not wholly unlike the much publicized cases of celebrity progeny, however, her parents’ more modest wealth still seemed nearest the root of her inability to properly arrange cause and effect. On this point there may be dispute.
From Star Wars Episode VII until Logan, I had determined, for spiritual reasons, to not watch any movies. That’s fourteen months of no movies. While I do confess that several times during those months, I told folks, “If it gets solid reviews, I’ll go see it,” no solid reviews came in for those films. Finally, my childhood hero, Wolverine, seemed to rise to the occasion. Rated-R Adamantium claws and solid reviews? How could I resist?
Unfortunately, I seem to not be able to fully “escape” anymore–darn you, books!
By my thinking Logan normalized the act of harpooning little girls through the chest on screen and also advocated lying to children if it keeps them hopeful while the world falls to shit. No thank you, Hollywood. As Colonel Nathan R. Jessup once said, “You see Danny, I can deal with the bullets, and the bombs, and the blood. I don’t want money, and I don’t want medals. What I do want is for you to (censored) extend me some courtesy.” Do we really need to see a bloody (red-not-British) harpoon point sticking out of a little girl’s chest to be entertained? Fool-ish-ness.
Then, as if I needed another reason to not visit the cineplex again, I resumed reading some Tolstoy short fiction and came across a story called, “God Sees the Truth, But Waits.” It’s a brief account of a wrongfully convicted man spending his adult life in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. And while in prison he finally meets the real killer, who proceeds to try to escape by digging out, little by little, and dumping the sand from his pockets onto the prison yard. Upon light investigation, sho’ ’nuff the internet tells me I’m not the first to notice that Shawshank Redemption totally ripped off Tolstoy.
So I’m back on the movie fast. Twenty-eight plus years of staring at screens. And for what? What a waste.
H- answered, “Officer Judy is from Zootopia.”
“Zootopia, eh? When were you watching that?”
“So you wake up early enough to watch movies before school when you’re at your mom’s?” I asked.
“I wake up when my alarm goes off.”
“What time does your alarm go off?”
“I go down stairs and eat breakfast and then I change clothes.”
“You change clothes downstairs? Why downstairs?”
“Well, my mom throws down my clothes, and then I put them on and watch tv until it’s time to go.”
“I see. Where is your mom while you are watching tv?”
“She’s upstairs with C-.”
“Oh,” I said, cutting myself off quickly. Unable to resist the pull to follow inquiry further, I rejoined with, “What is she doing with him?”
“I think they play with each other.”
“Hmm. What do you mean? Like play games? Maybe play video games?”
“No,” she held the note, “not video games.”
“I don’t think I understand, H-. What are they playing?”
“I don’t know,” she said.
As if Truth’s gateway, the rear-view mirror reflected that her searching eyes did not notice mine.
Finding no satisfaction, H- concluded, “More like wrestling, I think. I don’t have the word.”
Not sure the reason, I found myself standing in the kitchen, holding the Krusteaz Belgian waffle mix box. (H- adorably calls said mix ‘sugar’.) She was finishing her waffles at the nearby table. That’s the reason! I was putting the box back on top of the refrigerator. Beside it, I also keep the cereal and–my favorite non-perishable treat–the Nutty Bars up there. Like her ol’ man, H- too had experienced love at first sight with Little Debbie’s delectable wafers.
“But you can’t give me the peanut butter and chocolate bars for snack time,” H- declared out of the blue.
I turned to look at her. She turned to look at me.
“Oh yeah?” I asked, carefully dividing my attention between the waffle iron and H-‘s mind.
“Why can’t you have them at snack time?”
“Because some kids are allergic to peanut butter.”
“Don’t they eat lunch with you too? How can you have Nutty Bars at lunch, but not at snack time?”
“At snack time the kids sit at the same table as us and they can smell the peanut butter,” she answered steadfastly.
This smelling problem being news to me, I resumed my inquiry with, “Okay, so what do they do at lunch?”
“They sit at the peanut butter table. There are not very many of them.”
“Ha. The ‘peanut butter table?’ What’s that?”
“That’s the table where you can’t have peanut butter.”
“So the poor kids who can’t have peanut butter have to sit all by themselves?”
“No,” she corrected. “They just sit at the peanut butter table. Anyone can sit at the peanut butter table as long as they don’t have peanut butter.”
“So there is no peanut butter at the peanut butter table?” I asked.
The baby is not the last thing that will be removed during an emergency C-section. Neither will the baby be last in a planned C-section or vaginal delivery for that matter. The last thing will be the placenta.
Attempting to quell some of my new-found, seemingly limitless nervous energy, I quickly flipped through the CD book. I was searching for the one she wanted to hear.
“This is it. This is the last car ride as a childless couple,” I pointed out, hoping to distract her. Her musical request now playing, I put it in reverse and slowly backed down the driveway.
She was ten days overdue.
Almost from the moment of conception, though definitely intensifying during the Lamaze classes, I had witnessed her become more and more terrified by the thought of a C-section.
“Do we have the movies?” she asked, playing along in our little game.
“I put them and the DVD player in the backpack three days ago,” I reassured her, tapping the bag stowed behind me.
Having completed the stretching of her skin, the doctor will cease to give consideration to anything or anyone–whether the room’s familiar beeps and buzzing, his assistant’s breathing, or even his own thoughts–as he silently and hurriedly slices through the exposed portion of her tough, clammy, and purple uterus with precision.
Like a consecrated moment of silence, his worth can now be demonstrated solely through execution.
“Well, looks like you’re all settled in. This seems silly. We’re going to sit for twelve hours, eh? Just waiting? Do you want me to put on one of the movies? Or I can read to you from one of the books? I brought T.C. Boyle’s new one.”
The hospital room’s television was already on. She was viewing it from her bed as she shifted her attention over to me briefly. I kept talking about random trivialities, but we both knew there was only one thought being entertained.
Guys at work, fathers, had recently reminded us–unhelpfully–how doctors were paid more for performing C-sections. “That’s another reason why there are so many these days,” they would speculate. “But the female body needs to experience a natural delivery if the mom is going to come out of the pregnancy alright,” they would continue, with a look that meant alright in the head. “There’s a lot of stuff going on in a woman’s body during a pregnancy and just cutting her open and pulling out the baby does not let nature take its course,” ran the last theory explained before I noticed her dilated pupils and silenced them.
Back in the hospital, she said, “I can’t eat, but if you want to grab some food like we planned, now’s a good time.” She tried to smile.
“Are you sure you’ll be okay by yourself?” I asked before leaving.
Her rushing breaths will never abate even as she unavoidably seeks the eyes of the motherly voice that just announced, “Okay! We’re getting ready to pull baby.”
Four hands will squeeze into her abdomen. They belong to the doctor and his assistant who will have positioned themselves on opposite sides of her. Not even sparing the moment it would take to make eye contact with each other, they will then begin to alternate a violent pulling and tugging. Their pace for stretching her skin will be a mean one–precisely between reckless and urgent. Pull-tug-pull-tug-pull-tug.
“Why don’t we see how laying on your left side works again?” nurse number five suggested. I had just finished my burger.
The nurse–like the others before her–mechanically touched the bedding and then my wife as she waited for task completion.
“I’ll be back in a bit, after we see if that works,” she said on her way out the door.
On one of the screens near the bed, I noticed that the green number relaying my wife’s heart rate had climbed ten digits since last I looked.
Only two of the twelve hours we were told we would have to wait before they would induce delivery had elapsed when a tall forty year old doctor that we had never seen before walked into the room.
“The baby’s heart rate is staying consistent through your contractions which is good,” he began. “But the baby’s heart rate is dropping after them.”
Hearing nothing, I turned to her in time to see her hold back her tears by nodding rapidly in response.
“We need to do a C-section to deliver the baby,” he concluded. Then he left the room.
All I could think about was what the guys had said. The doctor is greedy. He knows the baby would probably be fine, and the only reason he told us anything is to justify his payday.
“I can’t believe this,” I began aloud with an undignified tone that feigned a feeling of helplessness. “Can you believe this?” I asked her as she trembled uncontrollably. “This is exactly what everyone told us would happen. I am so sorry. We don’t even know this man and we were supposed to wait twelve hours before even beginning to induce. It has only been two. What the hell is going on here?”
Waiting for help, she cried.
These days scalpels under a new name are plugged into a power outlet and cauterize as they cut. There will be no blood.
I came into the operating room after being shown how to put on all the disposable sterile gear. The room appeared to still be under construction. A nurse led me to my wife’s side along a path that ensured that the blue sheet hanging over her torso, the sheet meant to obstruct her view of the procedure, would also obstruct mine.
Arms and legs strapped down, the woman will lay on a padded table awake though nauseous from the anesthetics.
“How are you doing, sweetie?” the nurse will ask just prior to the doctor making the initial incision. The doctor will not hear this, his thoughts centering instead on getting the baby out.
The hot blade will then slice through her unfeeling skin, fat, and muscle with little resistance.
Her restricted hand moved. The finest edge in the room was the courage behind the words that I will never forget. Piercing every form of fear, she filled the world with five syllables.
“Will you hold my hand?”
Looking at the still-stiff, sixteen year old, canvas duffel bag with his daughter, he couldn’t prevent the thought, “Man, I can’t believe I still use this bag-”
“What’s in that pocket, daddy?” she interrupted. “Socks?” she guessed as she reached with a raptor’s velocity into the opening. Looking up at him, her excitement was betrayed by her breathlessness and she said, “A glove?!”
“Your gloves,” he answered, pulling out the second one, anxious to keep the pair united. “From when you were smaller. Just give them here.”
“But I want to wear them.”
“Fine. Whatever. Actually, no. Don’t put them on just yet. We have to go to church-”
“-But,” he continued, “I’ll put them in the go-bag and you can put them on after we change into comfy clothes for the trip. Deal?”
Finding themselves changing in the old church’s random nursing station, the father couldn’t have had more on his mind. Remnants of the adrenaline his body released earlier that morning whilst playing the piano for the congregation lingered, and also capturing his attention was the anxiety of starting a road-trip from an unknown location in the city.
“My hands are cold, Daddy.”
“Okay, H-. That’s fine,” he said. “We’ll be in the car in a minute.”
Upon her entry into the back seat, she found the gloves and put them on.
“Clevah gairl,” he mumbled to himself.
“So you’re hands were cold, eh?” he asked, laughing. “You sure do have a one track mind. ‘I see gloves. I want to wear gloves. Dad controls gloves. Gloves make hands warm. I need cold hands. Must share hand temperature with Dad.’ Ha.”
“Daddy, I’m hungry. When are we stopping for lunch?”
“We’re headed to Limon for lunch. I just want to knock out a bit of the trip before we stop. Sound fair?”
“H-, where are you going? The restroom is over here.”
“Huh-uh,” she said, pointing to the family restroom sign.
“Ah. Okay. Good call. Let’s go then. We need to hurry and get back on the road.”
She stood and watched as he ran his hands under the faucet.
“You gonna wash your hands or what?”
He watched an incredulous look come over her face as she began to fiddle with her hands.
“You want me to take off my gloves?”
Mirroring the mood with his own bewildered look, he answered, “You still have your gloves on? Fine. Okay. Nope. I guess there’s no need to wash your hands if you went potty with your gloves on. Come on. Let’s go.”
So I don’t like admitting that there are ever any parts of anything to do with Batman that I question, but for a long time I had a lingering doubt that the whole “Make the climb…without the rope” theory would work. You know, the idea that only when we are spurred on by the fear of death in all its finality will we truly find the strength to do what needs to be done. Well, it turns out I was wrong. The fear of death does increase jumping distance.
Picture this: H- and I at the pool. Goggles on. We’re in the three-foot deep shallow end. Every four seconds she’s adding the post-script to what I can only describe as an entry into a no-holds-barred splashing contest, “See, Daddy? I can swim?”
I smile and say, “Just about.”
Then she says, “I want to jump in.”
I say, “Go ahead.”
She gets out of the pool and with a decent running start proceeds to jump into this same three-foot deep shallow end of the pool. Her head never does go fully under the water and she says, “Ow.”
I say, “You should tuck your knees up so you don’t just land on your feet.”
She says, “Like a cannon-ball?”
I say, “Yep.” So off she goes for attempt number two.
“Ow. I can’t really do a cannon-ball.”
I say, “Well, then, you should come over to the deeper end and jump in.” She starts shaking her head and I soothe, “I’ll be there. Don’t worry.”
Notwithstanding all the splashing, she actually can stay afloat a while during her attempts to swim in the shallow end. And if I remember right, swimming is like riding a bike. Add these things together, and you will see me a decent bit away from the wall in the hopes that when she jumps in, she may just start swimming to me and more importantly, realize she actually can swim. Ta da.
Instead, I learn that she can jump a helluva lot farther than I ever expected or have seen before as she nearly tackled me in a leap that can only be described as springing from legs attached to a brain that really thought a visit to the pool with her father might be the last event on her earthly journey.
The lesson: Teach kids how to swim before how to read the number four.
Constitution or no constitution, I think it’s a valid question.
And if my daughter’s classroom had anything to say about them around last St. Patty’s Day, what with chairs overturned and tables on their side, I wouldn’t want to piss those little guys off. They can be awfully mischievous.
With a full-time job again, I don’t have time to work, come up with fiction blog posts, and write fiction books. That said, I recently received what I would call the divine inspiration I have been waiting for regarding my next book, so until it is complete, the only posts you’ll likely see will be book/movie reviews or “daughter project” ones. But the new book is going to be great.
One thing I have learned from my two short novels that I hope to put to practice with the new book is that while I was thinking, “Let them test the waters”, the truth is I prefer to settle into a long book if I’m going to read a book at all, and I don’t think I’m alone in that. Whereas my books are similar to a movie’s two-hour run-time, a book differs from a movie in that it is something I want to build a relationship with. So this next book is going to be long. And that makes me smile. And it’s going to have violence and sex just the way you want it. And that should make you smile. Suckers!
My son’s shoulders were red and his tank top was drenched with sweat. He smelled bad too and though I didn’t want drive away–not yet–I couldn’t help but think how if I didn’t, his car seat would get sweatier and sweatier and probably never not stink again. Only the very top section of his hair was not plastered to his head and was standing straight up as if he was still running around with the other kids. If you looked close enough, you could almost see little chests sticking out of each of the hairs as if they were proud to be counted among the few who held out to the end of the battle.
“Mommy, what’s funny?”
I didn’t raise my head from the steering wheel where I had just placed it. As for me, I was warm for a different reason and in a different place. My shoulders were red from the sun except for where my spaghetti string tank top had only slightly covered each of them, and now that I was away from the man I could finally allow my face to fully flush and match the hue. But I didn’t want Billy to see and comment. Not expecting nor suppressing the giggle that erupted, I deliberately focused on memorizing every feature of his face, physique, and sense of humor. He was perfect. I did not want to forget him. And yet I forgot to give him my number. Dammit. What was his name again? Steve? Brian? Eric! Eric. His name was Eric. Whew.
I did consider raising my head when I heard a knock on my window followed by “Mommy, the man from the park is knocking on your window.” Shocked and not wanting him to see me in this state, as I raised my head I kept my hands where I had had them at the ten and three and I tensely looked away. There was a second round of knocking and a second round of Billy announcing the knocking. For a moment I wondered how long he would stand there and for a briefer moment I wanted to test him–only partly playing–but I didn’t. Finally, turning my head with no small amount what-I-knew-would-be-an-enticing flash of my shoulder length, cute, jet black hair, I looked up at him, smiled, and attempted to lower the window. I had hoped my skin’s normal color had returned to my face, but as I pressed down on the window button, I was certain my face regained whatever red it had lost, this time due to embarrassment. I had forgotten to even turn on the car. No wonder I was so hot. Poor Billy, I chuckled to myself. I could hear the local news’ coverage already: “Local boy and mom rushed to the hospital earlier today. After recovering from a mild case of heat stroke, the mom admitted she had become absentminded after talking to a nice man for the first time in years and subsequently forgot to turn on the car after getting in it to drive home.”
Luckily, the car started and I had the a/c on and window down in no time.
“Hey-” I began.
“Hey-” he interrupted.
“What’s funny, mommy?”
He didn’t seem like he would start again so I finally said, “Yes-” right as he did begin again with, “So-”
We laughed again.
Billy laughed from the back seat.
We laughed harder because of it and Billy kept laughing.
“Should we ro-sham-beaux to determine the order of speakers?” Eric asked.
“Ro-sham-beaux?” Billy repeated.
“No. I’m sorry. Please, go ahead,” I insisted, looking right through his only lightly tinted, tan designer sun-glass lenses and into his remarkable and piercing dark brown eyes.
He looked back at Billy, waived, and then said, “Before you go, I just thought you might want to see this,” as he handed me his phone.
“Can I see, mommy?”
I almost gave the phone right back to him as the screen did not have whatever I was expecting, which I guess I would have to say was another cute meme like the ones he had already shown me. Only a moment before that awkwardness, I realized what he was doing. He was so considerate. He had given me his phone on the “Add New Contact” page with my name so that I could give him my number without the kiddo knowing. He remembered my name. You better believe I triple checked the number, even going as far as texting myself and checking my phone to see that I got it before handing his phone back to him.
“Funny,” I said finally. Turning to Billy, I said, “Not this time, sport.”
“Well, it was my pleasure. Nice to meet you, Billy. Be good for your mom.”
I then watched as he stepped back a ways and stoically raised his open right hand. I would’ve kept looking at him, but when he coolly smiled and winked, I couldn’t keep a straight face so I pretended to clear the passenger side of my reverse.