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n. infantile pattern of suckle-swallow movement in which the tongue is placed between incisor teeth or between alveolar ridges during initial stage of swallowing (if persistent can lead to various dental abnormalities) v. [content removed due to Bush campaign to clean up the internet] n. act of nyah-nyah v. pursuing with relentless abandon the need to masticate and thrust the world into every bodily incarnation in order to transform it, via the act of salivation, into nutritive agency
Thursday, April 13, 2006
I've been procrastinating again. Avoiding the "novel attempt," which is driving me crazy because I'm impatient and it's going to take me years and years. Maybe just to nail one of the voices. No, just kidding. Sorta.
But to make sure I don't fall into a writing slump because I'm procrastinating on working on Swallow, I've gone back to an older piece and started revising it. This is the story that I applied to different schools with and got shot down on. I got shot down with it because it sucked massively. In order to make it not suck massively, I've whacked out about 90% of it, and taken what's left over and started tweaking and adding to it.
So, here's a rough draft of approximately 1/4-ish or more of what I see the final story being (depending on what I decide to do with it, which depends somewhat on how my advisor reacts to it, which depends quite a bit on how sulky and intransigent I get in our session, which depends a lot on whether she says it's succeeding [at being boring], or failing [at flying off the cliff-of-risk]). Oh, and it's in sections even if it is too long for a blog:
Every Six Hours
12:35 pm. Outgoing.
Wind rapslaps against sheet as Ted launches himself out of the harbor. He is a rubber band released, or a knee hit with a pinhammer.
It takes him thirty seconds to push off the end of the dock, where his sailboat normally sits, and an additional thirty seconds to find breeze. Up above, clouds whir northwest and a seagull slides down the sky like egg falling towards the pan. But Ted does not reef the mainsail. With one last tug, he snaps the sail’s end up against the pulley at the top of the mast, and ties off halyard. The canvas rattles loud. Ted sinks himself into the wind and waits for the world to tilt.
A yacht motors by with a smiling crew leaning against the rails. When the helmsman lifts his hand, Ted turns his head away and tightens the boom-vang. The boom pulls slightly downwards and the boat puts on an inch more speed. A light vee wave splatters up the fiberglass hull. Thick drops spit from the sheet, a few landing on Ted’s bare arm. The yacht captain finally drops his hand and Ted feels a twinge, lets the sheet out only slightly.
Things smell good, fresh air and the bristly scrub of salt. The sun-lightened hairs along his arm stand up straight where the water touches them, but lie down and flutter from side to side where they’re dry. Suddenly he has goose-bumps, suddenly they’re gone. He tucks his hat closer towards his nose.
Looking out past the breakwater, Ted gauges the space. Six near sailboats, a small race perhaps. A powerboat, zipping, nobody towed behind. Further out, a barge passing by, probably heading south to Seattle’s larger ports. The barge bellows in its own overbearing exuberance—no fog or clouds obscure its path—and its baritone resonates in Ted’s lungs. Other than that, water, open water, a bay speckled by islands, and a small city disappearing behind him. Ted sits tight against the tiller, and then reaches over and pops the first lid for the day.
1:32 pm. Outgoing.
Kevin falls out of his bunk, smacks his head on the ridging, and knocks over a pot that has been collecting the forward-hatch leaks. The water splashes across his legs and soaks into the molding carpeting.
“Fucking shit,” Kevin manages to spit out.
He storms down the ten-foot pathway to the cabin door, knocking the three other pots of water off their various perches. Might as well make everything wet and moldy, he thinks.
His place would not meet sailor standards: beer cans, Spam containers, and rotting plates of bread cover his table and counters. A pile of dishes distends from the sink as if a dumpster had ran from its entrails. Kevin’s clothes are strewn across the floor. With the water spilled across the pile of schlock, Kevin is quite satisfied that nothing could be further away from his previous life. He picks up a cigarette and his daily breakable and climbs out of the cabin.
Then he changes his mind, sticks his head back through the door and shouts, “Time for you to get the fuck out of my place.”
A bleary face pokes out from the V-berth. Devon’s hair sticks out on all sides, and Kevin curses to himself. Why, why, why?
“You serious?” Devon asks.
Kevin didn’t mean to sleep with him, but tell that to the psychiatrist. Kevin remembers being drunk, and he remembers saying stupid things like “your tattoo is so unique,” when in reality the tattoo was just another skull and crossbones with the word ‘Mother’ stenciled below in Old English script. Kevin remembers taking the few drinks Devon had set before him, and he even remembers crowing Prince’s “maybe I’m just like my mother, she’s never satisfied” as they swerved down the dock at some ungodly hour. But he does not remember making the particular choice to sleep with the stupid asshole who liked to pee off the end of his boat at any odd hour of the day.
“Everyone does it,” Devon told Kevin when he complained one afternoon.
“Indubitably, dumbass,” he said. “But usually at night when nobody’s gonna see your dick spouting like some miniscule beluga.”
But there he was, this morning, drooling out the corner of his mouth onto Kevin’s pillow, his pillow.
Devon finally drops off the side of Kevin’s bunk and rolls over to grab his clothes.
“Don’t bother,” Kevin hisses. “Just get off. You’re only five spots down.”
“Fine.” Devon gathers his clothes and walks out the door past Kevin. At the side of the boat, Devon turns around, his face blank and eyes narrowed. “I had a nice time too.”
Kevin tilts his head and grimaces.
As soon as Devon’s gone, Kevin checks to make sure that nobody is nearby.
Every morning before work, Kevin gets up and looks around, checking to make sure that nobody has seen him in the early-morning halflight of the harbor. Sometimes he sees a curious face at the cannery behind his pier, a man pausing in the midst of pushing a cart of boxes, or a cigarette-drawn face glancing out behind burning ash, but they are only briefly interested and disconnect from harbor worries after only a few seconds. But if they look too long, Kevin glares and the spite in his eyes scares them off. He is going to continue as long as he can.
Shivering in the wind, feeling resentful of the morning hours that have disappeared, Kevin fingers the edges of his breakable, a dish from the rotting sink. It’s too late for today, he thinks. He tries to feel the right way to wrap his hand around the surface. Not this day. Or maybe just today, but this is the last time. A throw for a fuck-up. He feels himself growing red with the thought of Devon’s drool on his pillow. Checking one last time, Kevin flings his breakable as far as he can, trying to get it to the rocks of the breakwater.
The wind spins the plate so that it skips once on the water’s surface. Kevin watches it slowly, his eyes jumbling its path like in a stylized silent film. The breakable does not reach the rocks, but instead slaps down against the water and disappears. As always, there is the pure three seconds of satisfaction at another pointless disposal.
2:37 pm. Outgoing.
Caleb pushes his mother along the docks. Kerchunk, kerchunk, her wheels hit every crack in the planking. As they near his houseboat, his mother starts moaning at each thwack. He can just hear the hum of her voice from underneath the bulk of her tightened down coat. He stops and runs his hands through his hair. He is sweating. It was hard not to let her slide down the grated ramp to the docks, and for a few seconds it was more of an urge than something he was fighting. Caleb rolls up his sleeves, moves to the front of his mother’s wheelchair and squats down.
“We’re almost there, momma,” he says. “I’m sorry it hurts.”
Her rheumy eyes stare out from her puffy hood. Her nose is running and a crystal clear slime runs down her lip and disappears into the swaths of scarf at her chin. The left side of her face pulls downward with sloping freefall, and Caleb brushes a finger against her flushed cheeks, which are cold to his touch. She blinks her eyes, but doesn’t look at him. Caleb stops himself from stepping in front of her gaze, which is directed at the tin roofs over the covered boats.
“Are you ready to keep going? I’ll try to go slower.”
She keeps looking at the roofs, but blinks her eyes. Caleb tells himself this means she’s ready. He goes back to the handlebars and starts pushing again, trying to lift her front wheels when they approach a new board. But the boards are too closely spaced, and it’s either the front or the back wheels. Caleb continues very slowly, breathing in and breathing out through his mouth.
“Mmmmmmmaaa,” his momma hums as they hit another deep crack.
When they reach the boat, Caleb locks the brakes on her chair and then rushes through the door of his home. He grabs the chair that he placed near the entrance and takes it outside. Near the stern, which faces the breakwater, he unfolds it and blocks up its legs with a few boards he had gathered for the job. Then he runs back, collects the pile of blankets, and totes them outside too. When they are ready, Caleb goes back to the dock and carefully lifts his mother from her chair.
She is not too heavy, not very heavy at all. Even before, she seemed unrelated to him; it seemed impossible to imagine her reed-thin body as ever having produced something as large as Caleb. Now it comes in handy, and his thick hands grab tightly around her arms and legs as he lifts her on board. He maneuvers around the two crab-pots he thoughtlessly left on the deck, and he sets her down slowly in the chair. She moans again as he tucks the blankets around her—first the fleece, then the wool, then the down. When she is thoroughly wrapped up in blankets, Caleb bends down and rolls into a sitting position near her. The wind seemed to have picked up since the morning, and the pirate flag tied to his radio antennae cracks and then shudders.
“See, momma,” he says. “Doesn’t the air feel real nice?”
3:39 pm. Outgoing.
Trent lies flat on the dock and rubs his hands against the piling in the water. He can see little minnows below, and the water is a transparent green. Nearby, a cigarette butt swirls in an eddy. Trent reaches further down and finds the bumpy edges of the mussels he is looking for. He stretches out his fingers, circles as many as he can, and then gives a hard yank. He pulls the black cluster onto the dock.
“Okay,” he says to Ann. “First you get them like this, then you step on them.”
He stands up, lifts his leg and smashes his foot down. The shells break open with a crunch, and the brown-grey of their flesh splatters out. Ann’s eyes get wide.
“Does that hurt them?” she asks.
“Don’t be stupid. It kills them.”
Trent sits down and starts pulling out the innards and lying them along the edges of the dock. Ann watches him carefully, and then pulls a few of the mussels towards herself. She picks at the rims of the shells and lifts them close to her eyes, where she can look inside the broken holes. She expects a pair of eyes to be looking out at her, but all she can see are little globs and a pursed siphon.
“Do they ever have pearls, Trent?”
“Naaah. They’re not that type of shell. Only oysters got pearls.”
“Why?” Ann doesn’t think this is fair.
“I dunno,” he says and pauses. “Maybe they don’t have the little man inside.”
Ann takes a glob of muscle out and pushes it onto her hook.
“Yeah, you know. The little man, the one who rolls the salt up into pearls. Just like us making snowmen.”
Ann wraps the mussel around and around and pushes it through the sharp barb several times. When she is done, Trent grabs the hook away from her and inspects her work. He purses his lips and nods his head sharply. “Good.”
Ann turns away from him and looks down into the water. She can see a fish roaming around down below her, but she doesn’t point it out to Trent, who will just say “yeah, whatever.” This is his new phrase and Ann doesn’t like it very much. On the piling, an anemone is thick and spongy like a fern that got blown up with water and then slimed by a slug. It washes around, and she sees a minnow float into its hands and then back out again.
“Do you think Daddy will come fish with us?” she asks.
Trent shakes his head and drops Ann’s hook into the water. He hands the line over to her, carefully spinning it onto the stick they have made into a pole.
“Dad’s busy,” he says. “You saw the boat; it needs lots of work.”
“Are we going to be here all day?”
“Just catch your fish, stupid.”
Trent lies down next to Ann, and their feet stretch halfway across the dock, Trent’s slightly further. The concrete below their stomachs is warm, and Ann kicks a sandaled foot upwards in the air. Their lines dangle two feet down in the empty water. A patch of seaweed drifts past, and Ann can hear the sound of their dad’s sander whirring away at the trimming on his boat.
“Trent?” she asks.
“Were you kidding about the little man?”
Trent giggles, dips his fingers in the water, and then flicks a few drops onto his sister’s face.
4:33 pm. Outgoing.
Four amply-bosomed seagulls select and shit. They have selected her boat for shitting, and they perch themselves in three various respites. Emily can name each of their chosen perches, and has come to expect them sitting there whenever she leaves her cabin.
The cleanest seagull, very white with a red-marked nose, always sits on the rail next to the forestay, and its white deposit just catches the front of the Advent and leaves a growing streak down the bow. The very biggest seagull manages the precarious perch on the boom just over the opening to Emily’s cabin. In this case, the degree of balance required for the seagull to sway with his talons scrabbling on the wrapped and covered mainsail is remarkable. Emily cannot interpret it as anything other than spite. Every day, she must be careful to keep the cabin door closed because whenever her back is turned, the seagull is aware. During these moments, it perfectly times and aims its release onto the cabin stairs, where Emily will inevitably slip on it and then mop it up later. The two youngest gulls, gossipers still mottled with their baby grey, sit on the small propane tank at the stern, with their butts facing into the boat so that their feces is firmly cupped into the Advent’s cockpit.
As she leans against the stairs down to her cabin, her eyes squeeze to near slits and Emily wonders at the word cockpit. She wonders if this word developed because cockpits so closely resemble a woman’s nether regions. The captain perches in the middle, she thinks, like some glowing clitoris rising skyward. This thought makes the young seagulls’ bathroom choice seem especially disgusting and appropriate.
Her lips slink upwards at the corners as she thinks about this, and she tucks the bb-gun closer to her thick breasts. Her finger rests tightly against the trigger. Before too long, Emily is busy contemplating the red eruption of feathers that will occur when she pops the beaks off their smug little faces.
5:37 pm. Outgoing.
Every six hours, the waters change and the structure of the entire harbor changes with it. The floating docks lift with the high tide to erase the black-grimed mussels that cover the pilings. As the docks and their boats rise, the shore of the city seems to sink into the earth, while the mountains and islands grow unexpectedly from the empty sky. The breakwater, separated by deep moat, lowers itself incompletely into swirling water, and without its height, the ships seem more important, less fleetingly weak. Wind whips sharper across the boats without the breakwater to hinder its entrance, and the boats rattle, almost proud in their stoicism.
But then, with the passing of another six hours, the harbor shrinks, the docks drifting downward to settle closer to the seafloor as the water flows out. In these moments, the harbor is at its quietest, the barrier between boats and world thick and unbreakable. The surge and pressure of water streams outwards and the currents drain the harbor of noise and wind.
Steve the harbor watchman carries a small tide-book so that each day he can measure the changes to come. Steve is hypnotized by the harbor’s special time—the back forth, back forth, the rotation of tides along the month’s track. Perhaps it is that Steve knows, quite entirely from experience, that minutes cannot capture that something the tide is capable of expressing perfectly. The folks who line the docks of the harbor, who each huddle in their unique ways on their boats, are pulled there by the very changeability of the water, the capture of time. Harbors suspend time differently: hung out in the salt air, dirtied and washed again, the seconds fall. Time stolen, time re-lived too frequently, time wasted and regretted, time shattered, time brought to standstill by bleak linings and the banality of dreams.
People come for the wind’s hurtle through the riggings, the repetitive clank of lines against the ship masts, the thought of endless chosen solitude, and the run of liquid under the boat. Drawn to the harbors with their horizontal piles of boats and boats, stacked repetitively outward into the ocean, with the piers creating a deniable sort of ligament, the heartbroken come to stay, to live, to beg the harbor nights for beer answers or Buddha light.
Steve wonders sometimes if he might be able to act differently, do something exactly right, if only he could understand more accurately the little lines of numbers: four columns per day, a moon next to each row, red highlighting the lowest lows. So he keeps notes in the margins of this book. Next to 12:33, a note from G-west. Next to 4:33, a note from Gate 2. One day he will compile, but for now, Steve walks tentatively down the solid planks and floating concrete, watching as the emotions blow right on through the riggings.