It took me four years, two months and twelve days to get to this day: 100,000 views at mcphedranbadside.com. That’s good, right? Whatever it is, thanks for visiting whenever you do. I still have some gas left in the tank. We’ll see what’s next.
Down the row of empty metal chairs/There’s only polished light/My bad side/The photographer at his best I reach back to touch/And wait for her to undress/I reach back to touch/And wait for her to undress Escape this picture of me/Where nothing can be seen/Broken light/My silhouette/Against herI reach back to touch/And wait for her to undress/I reach back to touch/And wait for her to undress.
She doesn’t accept/Thinks I need something else/As I reach back to touch/And wait for her to undress A long way back/Holding to her light/Her hands on me/Reaching back to accept/My bad side/She reaches to caress
One of the greatest challenges in writing is getting the sex right, which was an especially difficult matter in my bad side, because it’s a key aspect of the novel.
“But now let us go to bed.” He pulled off my blouse and kissed down my back and stayed at my hips and held himself just away, me standing, legs spread, naked and had me play with his penis. I opened my mouth, my jaw down, pliant, and ran my nails across his stomach and neck, watching the pink trail up his cheek until he had my thumb and forefinger in his mouth, sucking like a baby, getting frantic. He pressed against me hard, knocking us onto the bed, desperate, burrowing into my breasts, his tongue sloppily out, like a honey bear, unable to slow his thrusting, faster, kissing and licking my ear and then quiet, trying to pull back, to look at me and then just grabbing as hard as he could. He had his hand on my face and neck, almost choking me, and then pushed all the way in. I grabbed the edge of the bed, pulling the sheet up in clumps. I kept him in that ecstasy, on the brink, tight, and he was trying to lift us all the way to the ceiling and then crazed, holding my leg up like a post.
He snorted coke and wanted me to pose again and held himself exact above me. “Who has been taking my bed from the place in which I left it? He must have found it a hard task, no matter how skilled a workman he was, unless some god came and helped him to shift it.” His penis bounced wildly, and went into me, doing knee bends, carrying us into the bathroom. My shoulder and head were pressed flat on the ceramic tiles, white against my face, a coiling of green vines and branches against my breasts. “I was victorious over the Cicons. I vanquished the Cyclops, Telepylos and Circe. I have been to Hades. I have heard the Sirens.” He grabbed my waist, the cool of his ring against my bellybutton, and pinched my nipple, whimpered and was done. He filled the Jacuzzi with salts and massaged my back and shoulders and went down into my legs.“I have seen terrible Charybdis and Scylla. I was promised immortality by Calypso. I have come back to you.”
I have drifted from the blog, back to be my former non-blogger state; issues arose, conflicts, work and drink alike. I have felt guilty about leaving the blog on its lonesome, a confused guilt of sorts, because I don’t know why I should care about doing it. I don’t and then I do, thinking about things that I might post, some of them vaguely interesting, some not so much. And there are moments that I actually enjoy it, the process of making it work most of all, and apparently I’m supposed to be doing this so as I can raise my profile when, one day, my work might be in demand. But this virtual platform and the jabbering nonsense that it represents subjects me to doublethink, having to reflect on what is a worthwhile waste of time. It’s a meandering, endless thing, and so I’ve had it in the back of my mind that a thousand posts would be something, something irrelevant, but a goal nonetheless. Which means I have only 376 to go.
Laurie Anderson was on my flight to Los Angeles. I wanted to say something, but I didn’t know what. She looked so sweet and vulnerable. I mean, she was sitting in coach, just like us. I thought about what I would say, and considered offering her my condolences for Lou Reed’s death. But that was just stupid, an excuse to be a sycophant. So I said nothing. I didn’t even smile. Still…I really did want to tell her how much I admire her, her work, her voice, her wit. “I’m a big fan.” Yeah, I would probably say something like that. Our flight was delayed and while we sat waiting for a part, it occurred to me that I could give her my book.
The truth was it was a good thing Laurie Anderson didn’t have to deal with me pitching ideas at her while she was just trying to read, maybe sleep a little before we landed.
And yet…if I told her all of this. What then? Wouldn’t she laugh? Wouldn’t she say, “Oh, okay. Let’s see this book of yours. my bad side. It’s a good title. I like it. I like it a lot.” And even since I didn’t do any of this and just watched her walk away at LAX, there is still the chance she will read this blog. I mean, she would only have to search her name and scroll down a few dozens pages or so. And here it is!
And then I know she would smile to herself, look for my contact icon and write something like, “Hello. Let’s talk.”
I’ve changed the opening to my bad side. Yes, again, but now it has more action, more of a hook, as those in the know have advised…My hand reflected ghostly in the silver elevator panel. There was a kind of liquid sound, almost like metal rain, inside me, a fluid crinkling in my brain, chewing into my ears and down my neck. I didn’t know what was wrong, a sickness or terror. Crystal was convinced she had brain cancer. She was always saying things like that, determined to be the loneliest, the purest of all. I rotated my heel back on the stiletto, my foot angling sharply up, and thrust through out of the elevator, only half open, my key already out, and pushed hard on the apartment door.
“Last warning.” Derek stood between the back of the couch and the window, a broom held up. Apollo crouched, his sleek serval shoulders tensed, his rear legs coiled like springs.
“What are you doing?!”
He turned on me. “Your fucking cat—“
“Leave Apollo alone!”
“Leave him alone?” Derek stepped sideways, his fire fighter’s cap tilted back. “Are you fucking serious?”
Apollo kept his body tight, his eyes on Derek, watching him, a rodent in the savanna.
“This fucking exotic monster of yours attacked me!”
“You need to leave.”
He came around the couch, stepping drunkenly; that’s when I realized he had a gun. “What’s with the dress? You fucking a prince?”
I stepped back.
“You turned your sister against me!”
“You need to go home.”Apollo sprang, stretching fully across Derek’s chest and dug his claws into his shoulder. There was a bang, like a window slamming shut. Apollo fell suddenly, in the middle of the rug, his bottom leg stuck out. I crouched over him and saw the hole in his shoulder, a tiny nothing and then a watery line of red trailing into the rug.
“I told her to call me.” Derek stood just above. “You know that.”
Everything in me was twisted tight, my heart erratic, a mess of veins squenched together, vibrating madly, almost still. I grunted as I swung around and threw myself fully into his legs, bringing both of us down, my arm under him. I swung at his face, missed, hitting the floor, surprised that none of it hurt, that I was that strong and had the gun, got up and kicked him in the neck.
“Stay there. Just stay there.”
He slumped back, his hand drunkenly clawing the air.
I tried to lift Apollo, but my arm wouldn’t work, and could only pull him around, his long legs almost lifeless. I drew the clothes off the dresser into a bag, a pile of shirts and underwear from a drawer, all of it onto his cage, like I had been waiting for this, and dragged everything behind me onto the elevator.
I wasn’t going to make it. I knew that. I had only been in the water for ten minutes. Not even that. Five. And I was tired. We were still in the bay. Hammer’s Island was still there. I banged my hand against the canoe. My fingernail was broken. I was just going to stop.“You okay, Dee?” Reilly looked down at me, her paddle across her legs. She was a three-time Bawigian; she had a tattoo of a fish on her wrist.
“Yeah.” I didn’t know why but I started again. I would make it out past Hammer’s, and that would be it.
“You’re doing great.”
I hated how dark the water was, how my arms went out in front of me and became brown and gross. The sunlight went down in long sharp lines and then got lost, like there was something there, branches, something reaching up, fish in the gloom. I closed my eyes and counted my strokes. I made it to ten before hitting the canoe again. “You want to take a break?”
“It’s not a big deal. We’ve got all day.”
I could see the other canoes getting further ahead. There were twelve of them, painted green and red. 22 swimmers, everyone ahead. I kicked and counted, my eyes open, my arms coming across my face, digging out, pulling back. I had to remember to kick. I got to 20 this time. I was going to stop and then started again and got higher. I looked up at 50. The canoe was still there, Reilly looking at me over her paddle. I really liked her. I counted and kicked again. We were down from Hammer’s, out in the open lake, the deepest part, a hundred feet down, more. I thought about something coming out from that, that long prehistoric body, its row of teeth, swimming faster and faster, coming at me, coming after my arm as it came back, my toes dragging behind. I had to remember to kick. I did it twice and dragged again. I had water in my ears; it was humming and starting to hurt. I banged my head against the surface. “You’re almost a third of the way.”
I floated there, almost treading backwards, thinking I would just get her to pull me up, and kicked and reached again. I counted to 50. My arms were heavy. I couldn’t kick. I was gasping for breath. I counted again. I made it to 40 this time. I stopped. There was a canoe just ahead.
“Jasmine’s getting out.”
She was the only other Frog in the Bawigi.
“You’re doing great.”
I kicked and counted again. I made it to 50 and kept going. I was at 100, but I wasn’t swimming right. My arms were flopping down and I wasn’t kicking at all. I wasn’t going anywhere. I flipped onto my back and let my legs flutter. The sun was over the front of the canoe. I was cold. I wanted to get out.
“You’re halfway, Dee. Suze and Lizzie just got out.”I wasn’t going to make it. I knew that. I had nothing left, but I would go as long as I could. I flipped over and counted again. I got to 80, and I was going to stop. My hands were pruned. I couldn’t feel anything, like I had something around me, like my skin had a skin on top of that. My legs felt like that too. It wasn’t in me. I was going to drown, something like that, and then I had Jabberjaw in my head. Jabberjaw was a cartoon shark in a cartoon band with cartoon teen-aged kids. He played drums. And he was a giant shark, a Great White. He must have been 20 feet tall, towering over everyone in the band. Jabberjaw was always getting into trouble because of his lamebrain ideas and bumbling antics.He had a crazy laugh, “Knuck-knuck-knuck!” He laughed like that whenever he got into trouble. “Knuck-knuck-knuck!” He was always in trouble. That’s what drove the show. “Knuck-knuck-knuck!” It wasn’t just Jabberjaw laughing in my head; it was Marlin Perkins too, the old man from Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom. Jabberjaw was the subject of today’s show. Marlin Perkins was on the edge of his desk with a picture of Jabberjaw over his shoulder, Jabberjaw, the crazy cartoon shark, dancing on the water. “We seek the mysterious Jabberjaw in the clear waters off Cozumel,” Marlin Perkins announced. He said ‘Jabberjaw’ like he had practiced it too much or knew him like a brother. “The mysterious Jabberjaw in the clear waters of Cozumel.”He repeated, intoning each syllable, Jab-ber-jaw and Co-zu-mel like lyrics, words he was teaching. Jabberjaw! I stopped and looked up. We were in the channel, turning through the islands. The harbor, the end of the Bawigi, was over a mile away.
Reilly’s head bobbed above the water. She looked very cool. I was happy about that. I was happy that I was going through the islands. I was happy that I had made it to here. I was happy that I was still in the water. I didn’t care that I wasn’t going to make it. “The mysterious Jabberjaw in the clear waters of Cozumel.” Marlin Perkins’ face was big, like Jabberjaw’s, bright blue and white. And then Jabberjaw was saying Marlin Perkins’ lines: “The mysterious Jabberjaw in the clear waters of Cozumel.” He was laughing at that. “Knuck-knuck-knuck.” He was laughing like he was teaching it to Marlin. “Knuck-knuck-knuck!” Marlin Perkins tried it, but he didn’t have the ending right. It was too hard, too enunciated. “Knuck-knuck-knuck!”Jabberjaw laughed it slowly, like a baby. And then he explained it like Marlin would understand: “The mysterious Jabberjaw in the clear waters of Cozumel. Knuck-knuck-knuck!” Marlin Perkins tried it again. “Knuck-knuck-knuck!” Jabberjaw replied, “Jabberjaw in the clear waters of Cozumel.” And then Marlin Perkins had it. “In the clear waters of Cozumel, the laugh of the Jabberjaw his hallmark, professing his lamebrain ideas and bumbling antics. Knuck-knuck-knuck!” Jabberjaw was on the edge of the desk with him now, listening, his front fins crossed in his knees. “Knuck-knuck-knuck!” They did it together. “Knuck-knuck-knuck! The mysterious Jabberjaw in the clear waters of Cozumel.” Their voices were combined, Marlin Perkins’ professorial tone, Jabberjaw’s high-pitched chuckle. “The mysterious Jabberjaw!” Marlin Perkins patted Jabberjaw on the back. “Knuck-knuck-knuck!” I was doing frogs kicks now, my face just above the surface. The bay had narrowed to a line of cottages on each side. I focused on Reilly’s paddle, in and out of the water, the curl of the far side of the blade, the line of bubbles, out and just ahead, cutting through the brown water, the light off that, flat and the bubbles and out again. “The mysterious Jabberjaw! The clear waters of Cozumel. Jabberjaw! Knuck-knuck-knuck! Jabberjaw!” Marlin Perkins was tired, waiting for commercial, sitting behind the desk. Jabberjaw wasn’t a cartoon anymore. He was just lines, smudged, not even talking. “Knuck-knuck.” Marlin Perkins tried to get him going but that was it. I could see the bottom. Swirls of light slid up and down off the green rocks, and then there was sand and the dock. I was there.
“Knuck-knuck.” I loved that shark.
I crept into my horrible hole, my knees bruising against the ice, everything brittle and cracking, and beat my arms across my body, kicking my legs to get warm, and then lay still, as cold as before, worse.I was breathing fog and closed my eyes. It was so awful and cold. I couldn’t move my fingers. My cheeks hurt. I couldn’t breathe right. I felt for my heart and couldn’t feel that and then it wasn’t right, half beating and then too many in a row and then none at all. I had to tear myself out of my sleeping bag, out of my fucking snow tomb. And I was going to do it. I was going to scream, insanely scream. Scream! It didn’t come out like that. It was just a noise, a groan, hardly like it had come out of me at all. And then there was something else, another noise, a crunch or snap. I held myself and listened. It was a branch or snow falling, an animal looking for food. A bear. I turned onto my side, its teeth and giant paws in my head. I could hear it circling. I dug my hands between my legs and stared. I’m not cold. I’m not cold. I’m not going to die here. I said that around and around in my head. I’m not cold. I’m not cold. I’m not going to die here. And then it wasn’t so dark. I could see the shadow of my snow ceiling and my hand. I stared and waited. It was almost light. I was the first one at the fire. I stood over it, staring into it, feeling horrible.* (*From my bad side)
I’ve edited the opening to my bad side again, for the 30th time? I’ve lost count. I might have it now. It’s focused and clear, emotionally charged, paced, punctuated by effective dialogue; it has the right cadence. I watched my face in the window, fading in and out with the shadows, my eyes and mouth against the doorways, my neck and chest over the slumped scaffolding, the empty street and then Bowling Green, a rectangular line of light sliding down my arm, vanishing in a flash across my dress. The cab rattled heavily over a rutted grate and stopped in front of my building. The driver watched me through his mirror. “$9.40.”
“It’s a $7 fare.”
“What do you want with me?”
I gave him $8.
He snapped around, his white collar tip jutting up like a tiny paper airplane. “I’m not a beggar.”
“And I’m not a tourist.” I didn’t have time to close the door before the car lurched ahead, its wheels catching in a sudden threatening jolt.
“Are you all right?” George wore his uniform perfectly, tie tight, shirt sleeves just out from his jacket.
“Oh, he charged me out of zone.”
“I’ve heard about that.” He walked me up the steps to the apartment doors. “Mr. Walter looked very official tonight. I thought we were being inspected.”
“He said he would give Apollo some company.”
“He’s here now?”
George frowned. “I hope that’s all right, Miss Sinclair.”
“How long ago?”
“It must have been around 2:00, maybe a little after.”
“Thank you.”My hand reflected ghostly in the silver elevator panel. Derek knew that I didn’t want him near me. I had told him exactly that. When would he go back to his sad drunken life and leave me alone? I rotated my heel back on the stiletto, my foot angling sharply up, and thrust myself through the door before they were half open, my key already out, and pushed the apartment door in too hard.
I’ll go over it one more time tomorrow. Just once. Maybe twice.
I don’t know how to end. It seems like I just go on and then it comes to a stop, the story just gone, ended, like a final breath. This is the way of life, but it’s not supposed to be for writing. The problem is that endings can be so ridiculous and easy to predict, which I blogged about last year. I have had a multitude of endings for my bad side, some of them obtuse, others pointed, all of them too introspective. I had an ending, a moment, part revelatory, part happenstance, but it came across as a blunt object struck on the reader’s head.I have tried to avoid core themes and images and end up with a moment that means more than it should. I need something in between, something clean, something that begs for more but doesn’t, like a good drink.Something like that.