by Laurence Luckinbill
(excerpt p. 1 - 4)
2 July, 1961. The living room and foyer of a comfortable hunting lodge. It is just before dawn. Outside, thunder and lightning, rain and wind, as a spectacular summer storm moves swiftly overhead. The room has many windows, which, when the day begins, will reveal distant mountains, a stream, and thick forests surrounding the house. Now, in the gloom of wind driven rain, the trees are green moving shadows. Alive.
A bookcase fills one wall of the room. Three Cezanne oil paintings, all self portraits, hang on the walls. There is an old rocking chair, an antique gun cabinet, a worktable on the floor. Near it are pieces of crumpled writing paper. On the table is a stack of writing paper, pens and a pair of steel-rimmed spectacles.
A white-haired and bearded man, in pajamas and a robe, lies flat on the foyer landing, a bank safety deposit box next to him. He cries out and moves fitfully – speaking as if in a dream. Lightning glimmers. The thunder, growing distant, dies away. The rain slows...
softens...and simply ceases to be.
...Laid flat...arms...legs pinned...can’t breathe...need to breathe...something is on my head, cold...metal...head clamped, can’t move it...need to move it -- no, you son of a bitch – don’t touch me...my eyes...going underwater...I’m drowning! Hear the “chuh-chuh-chuh” of the minenwerfer canister turning as it comes...get down! A flash...blast furnace door swung open…a roar starts white…goes red... I hear someone crying.
Mary, I’m cracking up! I need you here! Shhh! Don't wake her. She’s tired. Tutti mi chiamono bionda...
I thought the blood on me was all from the other guy. The one I carried out. He was 55 years old. You're too old for this war, Pops. “Corpo di bacco,” he said, “I can die as well as any man. Dying is simple. Easiest thing you’ll ever do...”
...’fraid a nothing...! I cried ‘cause my pet fly died. I tried to save him...gave him water and sugar...but he died.
The long whistle of a steam locomotive is heard, approaching. It’s real, but dreamlike. The light in the windows has evolved to a pale green luminescence and the shapes are more recognizable as branches and leaves moving in the wind. The train, closer now, clacks softly over tie-joints.
I slept on her breast the whole way...”lunching frequently”... she said...on the big train, the steamer, the little train, the littlest train, to the lake...the rowboat across...rocking...my first “vogue”...v-o-u-g-e, that’s how I spelled voyage in my very first story...how do you spell “voyage” anyway?...never could spell...
They cut a little hemlock and hung it with presents...Christmas in July...on my fourth, it rained all day, and you took me fishing anyway, all day...taught me how...and I caught the biggest one and I helped you row back!
You trusted me to get things done...set things right. Tomorrow I’ll start digging those spuds...I’ll pluck a couple of chickens for dinner (after wringing their necks, of course, ha ha). All the birds are putting on their beautiful autumn foliage and the trees are gathering in twittering flocks for the flight to the glorious southland...ha, ha. I am a writer. I was always a writer.
Slowly, he sits up. Then stands, painfully.
I am a writer. And I like life...very much. I would hate to die, because every year I have a better time fishing and shooting.
Shadows suddenly move in the windows.
Who’s out there? Somebody’s out there! F.B. I. sonsofbitches tailing me? You stole my passport! I.R.S. bastards auditing me? I’ve paid my taxes, damn it! State Troopers? I know you guys. We’re allowed to have wine here, fellas, it’s a private residence...No? Maybe it’s...
He moves surprisingly fast to the gun cabinet.
I’m armed you know!
He yanks at the door of the cabinet. It’s locked. He turns his back to the wall.
Now you’re in here. I can feel it. You smell like bullshit -- like a bullring. You stink as bad as Lazarus. Okay, maricon, let’s see if you have any cojones.
Shadows move in the window.
Wait...I know you...Manuel? Manuel Garcia -- Maera! Tu ere muy hombre. With you every corrida was a giant tragedy, You were beautiful, you skinny bastard. “El Feo.” But you’re dead. You’re not here...what do you want...Muere, come mierda, y es tu culpa...
“Es mi culpa?” You’re telling me that I killed you? No. I wrote a story about you, about how you loved to kill bulls. And in it you got killed. You died in the ring, in your glory, Manuel. You took the ears and tail. But it was only a story, amigo, what do you want with me?
In his mind, he hears the sound of the bullring, the music, the crowd. “Ole, ole, ole!”
To come with you? Shall I...? Die...? Toro, huh, Toro! I’m not afraid! It would be easy. But I am a writer. I have writing to do....trabajando forzado...deadlines...I have deadlines...
Silence. He moves unsteadily toward the table, and looks down, as if at a hospital bed, or coffin.
Better to die any way but the way you did...not in the ring, in the hospital...tuberculosis. Alone, untended, your filthy sheets soaking wet with slime, coughing up pieces of your lungs in your bloody spit...your body destroyed...your spirit humiliated...in nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritu Sancti...
Mira, amigo, better to die as the author of your own death, in your own story...
But it ain’t finished....Maera...I don’t know how it ends yet. But I’m no novillero, I’m a graceless fool in front of a bull...all I can do is write...I’m not afraid!
“Callate, come mierda, y escribe lo que tienes que decir!” “Then shut up, shithead, and write what you have to say!”
Outside it grows lighter as dawn approaches.
I’ve been sick to the marrow of my bones, and beaten it. Beaten hepatitis and nephritis. Three crushed vertebrae, five concussions, a ruptured liver, spleen, kidney. Five car wrecks, two plane crashes, I’ve inhaled fire, been shot at and shot myself -- by accident! – I’ve had a paralysis of my sphincter, which would have been better when I had dysentery. No shit. I know death as well as I know the oldest whore in Havana. I might buy her a drink, but I wouldn’t go upstairs with her. (laughs) I’ve been very sick and I’ve risen above it to a belle epoque of writing. So...I will again. Why not?
He retrieves the bank box from the floor and puts it on the table. He shuffles through the discarded pages on the floor and on the table. He picks one up, smoothes it, lays it flat, stares at it blankly. Suddenly he overturns the bank box dumping its contents: manuscripts – each clipped separately (the “Paris Stories”), a letter with an attached telegram – he opens the letter clipped to the telegram, reads:
“Mrs. Hemingway and I were greatly honored to have been invited to the Inaugural Ceremonies January 19th and 20th, but unfortunately I was at the Mayo Clinic being treated for...high blood pressure...and we were unable to attend. Watching from Rochester, there was happiness and the hope and the pride, and how beautiful we thought Mrs. Kennedy was. Watching on the screen...I was sure our President would stand any of the heat to come as he had taken the cold of that day. Each day since I have renewed my faith and tried to understand the practical difficulties of governing he..admire the true courage he...it is a good thing to have a brave man as our president in times as...
What a bunch of chickenshit crap! Nauseating. “High blood pressure?” A fucking half-lie -- I was having a complete nervous crack-up -- not to mention physical -- right, Mrs. Hemingway? “Watching on the screen I was sure...” Yeah, that’s where you get the true gen -- television! ÒA good thing to have a brave man as...” Yes, better than an hijo de puta like Batista. Christ, this is author’s toe jam prose. Like Steinbeck’s toenail parings...
But I wrote it. It’s sure as hell my large, schoolboy handwriting. I wrote it in the winter. It’s summer now.
He looks again at the piece of paper he had smoothed over. He speaks now to his wife, as if she were present.
“One July, 1961.” Christ, Mary, that’s yesterday! Now I remember!
I was asked to contribute a sentence for a presentation volume for President Kennedy. Just one sentence. I started early. Worked all morning...I did stop for lunch, Mary...then went back to it. One sentence...You couldn’t stand the tension, Mary. You went out for a walk. I kept going...one sentence...just...writing’s a hard job, Mary, but nothing makes you feel better...have to try to think only from day to day...today I’ll work hard again...I’ll walk two miles after lunch...maybe see the school kids to wave to on the way home: “Il faut d’abord durer...”
He shifts the papers on the desk again, rearranging things that need no rearranging. He moves to the bookcase. On a shelf is a miniature wire recorder. He presses “Play,” and hears his own voice:
Ladies and gentlemen, having no facility for speech making nor any domination of rhetoric, I wish to thank the administrators of the generosity of Alfred Nobel for this prize. No writer who knows the great writers who did not receive the prize can accept it other than with humility...
He snaps off the machine.
No son-of-a-bitch who ever won the Nobel Prize ever wrote anything worth reading afterwards!
He turns to the table, seems to see someone there.
But I’ve sure tried, Max, you know that. But it never gets any easier -- and how can you expect it to if you keep trying for something better than you can do...? Yeah, yeah, I know... Il faut d’abord do shit...! I need a better title for the new book than “The Paris Stories.” I’m making you a list of possibilities, Mr. Genius Editor Friend...because Paris has been used so often it blights everything. If I had a King James Bible with large, clear print for the title-ing... (waves a hand impatiently) Get out of the way, Max....
He moves to the bookcase to look for a Bible, kneeling to search the low shelves. No luck. He sits on the floor, back to the shelves.
Titles are important, Max. What do you think: The Sun Also Rises or Also The Sun Rises? A Farewell to Arms or Goodbye to the Weapons? For Whom the Bell Tolls or For Whom Tolls the Bell?...or how about The Tolling of the Bell? How’s that? Or do people think of tolls as long distance charges and Bell as the telephone system? If so, it’s out. I’m ruthless. And I’m not changing The Old Man and The Sea to A Senior Citizen’s Symbolic Sunset Sail, in which the author’s Fifteen Foot Phallic Fish is Systematically Circumcised by Six Sinister Symbolic Sharks. No Max, not for two Pullover Prizes. Not even if your symbolic spouse and five dopey daughters would love it. Sorry, that’s mean. But true. I’m ruthless, see?
Forty-five thousand words so far, Max...give or take. Nineteen chapters. Arranged in order. Working on one more, but got to have a good title -- if you were lucky enough to live in Paris when you were young, it stays with you the rest of your life -- Paris is a moveable feast -- so this stuff deserves a tastier title than “The Paris Stories!” But, got to be ruthless. Eliminate. A man is judged by the quality of what he cuts away!