I made the commitment. It seemed the right thing to do. He loved me and I knew he was a decent person. The fact that he had been married for thirty years and was leaving her, coming out now, demonstrated all that I needed to know. I had taught his daughter in high school. That was how we met. But then I realized that I wasn’t a woman – after assuming I was – and was still pining for the idea of my college sweetheart’s breasts.
I told him I couldn’t go through with it. It’s true that I had waited until after the ceremony was over, which both his daughter and wife had attended. They were devastated. They had accepted his decision to be with me and now I had humiliated him. I apologized profusely. I had made a terrible mistake and couldn’t go through with it now. The daughter would not see me and I left the wife in tears
It might have been a raven, but I don’t know the difference. One is bigger. I don’t know which. But I killed it. We were hiking in the Italian Alps, and my sister-in-law called to me, “Oh, McPhedran!”
I didn’t know why she called me – except that I post dead animals on social media – but there it was, not a dead crow but a struggling, gurgling crow. It squawked and flapped terribly, on the verge of the abyss.
“No problem,” I replied. “I will take care of it.”
Everyone in the family continued on up as I looked for a rock to bash its head in. I found a good one, the size of my fist, and realized I didn’t have to bash its head in but only had to place it over its neck and step down hard on that. Much easier and much less gory. It struggled against me. I had to replace the rock a number of times, but then I had it in place and stomped hard. And it was dead. Easy. I looked up to see two small girls – maybe ten years old – aghast. I smiled back, trying not to appear a serial killer, and flicked the dead crow down into the bushes.
“Morte,” I explained.
“Morte?” One of the them, tiny eyes wide, clarified.
“Morte,” I repeated. I continued up the hill, after my wife’s family. Done. I didn’t think about it much at the time – oh, maybe a little – but then, later, I did consider the ramifications of my actions. It was a mercy killing. That was how I saw it. But I had killed a crow. Or a raven. Whatever. The portent of bad things and all of that. No, I didn’t really think that. I conjectured vaguely or something about that. And I knew it was ridiculous. Life is life, and death is death, and there is nothing other. You live and then you die.
And then my life began to unravel. It started with my stepson, who doesn’t like me at all, snapping some nasty retort in my direction, and then me overreacting to that and retreating, feeling hunkered and stupid, hiding in my room, writing, and then arguments with my family ensued, followed by me getting overly angry. And so I would not partake in anything with them the next day. I needed to be on my own. That was the thought in my head.
And, amazingly, it was a wondrous day. I went up alone, straight up, no pausing for food or water, and found myself in an alpine meadow. I sat there, remarkably content.
And I am rarely – never – content. I sat and looked out over everything, the air and sun and sky perfect as it was – alone but for some sort of Italian Marmot squeaking for its mate, and thought I could die here. It was a weird thought that I half embraced but didn’t do that and returned to the town. I vaguely thought that I might have cleared the air in myself, and everyone else would see me as so. But it did not go as that. England were playing Italy in the European Championships, and I got too intense about that. I am used to backing a team that never wins and did that too much with the Saxons and everyone got mad at me again. I sent wildly inflammatory messages to a close English friend about the Italian squad, and those were seen by the family, and nothing went well after that.
My bag was thrown from the car, and I was told to find my own way back – which I did – and found a hotel and thought about how I should never have killed that crow – or raven – even if it was going to suffer a bit.
I recently completed a six-month on-line teaching contract at a chichi Rhode Island school. The pay was not good nor was the collegiality, and I’m sure they would blame Covid for these shortcomings. This had vague validity before they sent the “small gift of appreciation”.
Three cafeteria cookies was their idea of a thoughtful gesture. What is this? Mockery? Abuse? They couldn’t send a book? I taught literature, for God’s sake, not baking.
You think you know something and then you don’t. All stories are only that. He wakes up to some party or hands held out and then he has to do something alone not because he believes in life or strength but because he was lost.
It is as simple as sitting on the fire escape or the corner that he knows and remembering that no one was there for him but paid for her mistakes. She tried. Or she didn’t. But he just has to carry on and become something new from that.
I just completed a more-or-less final draft of Anori, the first book of The Cx Trilogy about leaving earth on a generational space ship to another galaxy. There might have been a brief moment of satisfaction – more of relief – but it was emptiness that reigned.
The final line of the book reads: Dee felt almost calm as she looked ahead for the ship, realizing she had no idea what it would be like, how anything would be at all.
Next up is the first draft of my teaching memoir, Fuck Pedagogy, which should be much easier to write. After all this is not an imagined world but a place that I know all too well. The opening lines of this book now read:
“Why do you want to teach?” Phil was my supervisor in teacher’s college, a big friendly guy with a thick beard and glasses. “I want you to draw what that looks like.”
Posterboards were distributed. I drew a prison.
“Hmm.” Phil hovered over my shoulder for a moment. “Why the barbed wire?”
“I didn’t like school.”
“Interesting.” He stayed another moment, nodding to himself, and then carried on to chat with others.
I have my moments in writing. I can see something and even feel like I know it. And I write that down. The opening of Anori is like that, with Dee looking out over Battery Park as Hurricane Sandy arrives. The cremation of Apollo is real. As is swimming in cold dark water and hiking across the barrens and ice. These moments come clear.
Then there is the in-between, the narrative connecting these scenes. I plod through this, repeating actions and images, forcing the characters to say things not because that’s who they are but because they have to do what I say. I lose their voices and the life of the work then fades into a morass not worth reading. It’s exhausting.
I am back to killing my babies. Today I had to delete a pet scene from Anori which recalled my father’s secret passion for Charlie’s Angels:
“My father’s other guilty pleasure, Tommy, along with the crackers and vodka, was Charlie’s Angels.” She turned around and smiled brightly at the others. “He would never admit it, but he loved the titillation, a knife against their throats, lovely breasts on the verge of exposure.”
“Can’t say I was ever against those girls,” Fitz admitted.
“He would fall asleep before the show was over and then wake up and snap, ‘Who put on this poppycock? What is this nonsense?’ He’d switch the channel before the crime was solved.” Lai looked back and forth between them, her eyes small and dark. “I never found out who did what.”
“Or more importantly who this Charlie fella really was,” Fitz added.
“Christ, it was that guy from Dallas, the oil guy. Everyone knows that.”
“John Forsythe,” Dee sighed.
“But that ain’t the point, is it now?” Fitz added.
“What’s the point then? The girls running about in their underwear, Farrah Fawcett and her big hair?”
“Dare to dream,” Lai replied. “Molestation will be your return.”