Выбрать главу

But since J.D. Steelritter is the type of parousia whose advent leaves exactly zero to chance, the bloody, chocked field of the Reunion's next five days cannot change. And Magda sees that, in that time, Mark, his complicated bow exchanged for a bulky rented key, will shut the Funhouse franchise doors against the reveled babble, sit his ass down, and actually write a story — though it'll be one he'll believe is not his own. He'll see the piece as basically a rearranged rip-off of the radio's "People's Precinct" episode they've heard just now, and of the whole long, slow, stalled trip in general. It'll be a kind of plagiarism, a small usurpation; and Mark will be visibly embarrassed about the fact that the Nechtr-story Professor Ambrose will approve best, and will maybe base letters of recommendation on, will not be any type of recognized classified fiction, but simply a weird blind rearrangement of what's been in plain sight, the whole time, through the moving windows. That its claim to be a lie will itself be a lie.

The story that isn't Mark Nechtr's by Mark Nechtr concerns a young competitive archer, named Dave, and his live-in lover, named L—. Dave, who is not nearly so healthy as Mark, believes that the only things that give his life meaning and direction are his competitive archery and his lover, L—, who is a great deal more attractive and sympathetic than D.L., with cheekbones out to here and a zest for life Dave cannot but share, through her.

L— is pretty much an emblem of Dave's generation, is deprived and aimless and mildly wacko, with moods that change like the shapes of the moon that obsess her. Dave stands witness to all of her faults, though only some of his own, and but anyway loves L— anyway. It's implied that he's dependent on her, for support; she stands in the hushed tournament galleries when he stands perpendicular to targets and shoots competitively with his complex fiberglass bow and Dexter Aluminum arrows. Dave is a solid young competitive archer, but by no means the best, even in his age division, and at the piece's outset he feels like a true, born-to-be archer only when L— is standing there, in the gallery, watching him stand and deliver.

But they fight, as lovers. L— is self-conscious, neurasthenic, insecure, moody, diffracted. Dave is introverted, self-counseled, and tends to be about as expressive as processed cheese. When the hottest darkest mood in L—'s weather collides with his cold white quiet, they have violent arguments that seem utterly to transform them. Dave had never even raised his voice to a girl before he fell for L—, and hates confrontation's habit of making his hands (which he values) unsteady. But when she slips into the worst of herself, they scream and fight and carry on like things possessed. Pointy personal shrapnel flies. The air gets coppery with violence.

In truth, Dave is often afraid to turn his back on L—, especially in their kitchen, when sharp things are handy; and he's ashamed of this, and of the fact that after a fight he's often afraid to go to sleep when she is awake and malevolent and boiling water is only a stove and kettle away. Nevertheless he loves his lover, and cannot understand the dark heat that fills him when they fight, or his need to lick his lips while she lists real and imagined grievances — or that his only really true deep concern during the screaming matches is that the neighbors in their community might hear her screams, or his screams, or her different screams as they reconcile, always via violent union. Though callow and beardless and not experienced, Dave loves L— enough to maintain the form of excitement throughout broad stretches of heated lovemaking; and L— believes, wrongly, that he is a born lover. She loves him physically with an intensity that is informed by her zest for a life she consumes. But the intensity of her loyalty to Dave is shot through with streaks of what can only be called a kind of greed. When she loves him, and cries out through the thin ceiling to maybe the whole neighborhood oh just how much she loves him, he fears that she means only that she loves what she feels. And he wishes, in the cold quiet of his archer's heart, that he himself could feel the intensity of their reconciliations as strongly as he feels that of their battles.

The workshop and Ambrose approve this overture, this setting-up, though they do point out that it goes on a bit longer than absolutely necessary, limitations of space and patience being a constant and defining limitation, these quick and distracting days.

And but yes there is something self-obsessed about L—'s love, we can feel. For example, she wishes Dave to tell her, instead of that he loves her, that she is loved. Her father used to say it as he tucked her gently into his USMC-surplus poncho-liner at bedtime, she explains; and it made her happy. That she was loved. That she is loved. Dave feels like not he, but rather her desire to be loved, to be beloved, is what gives L— 's life its direction and meaning; and some tiny targeteer's voice cries out inside him against telling her that she is loved just because the fact that he loves her isn't enough to stave off insecurity and self-consciousness and dissension and row.

Etc. etc. Dave, pretty darn stubborn when it comes to his tiny archer's cry, refuses, inside, to use the passive voice to articulate his love. And one fine day he actually articulates this refusal, and the reasonable arguments that lie behind it. He does this at significant personal risk.

For, articulated-to, enraged, L— blows off her appearance at the most important junior archery tournament of the Tidewater shooting season. Dave shoots alone, unwatched, afraid — and but he overcomes, shoots so surprisingly well that he places an overall third in his age-division. His best finish yet. When L— bursts into their loft at nighttime, darkly transformed by both his articulated refusal to use the passive voice and his subsequent failure to fail without her, Dave wills himself to appear cool and distant and emotionally mute, but is actually licking his lips furtively as a dusky heat inside him dawns and breaks into tributaries and attendant falls, spreading. Maybe the loudest fight in the history of this generation's verbal love ensues, with broken valuables and threats of a very great stabbing.

But L— hates herself more than she loves or hates Dave, it turns out, is the thing. Which makes her climactic lover's thrust at him sort of perfect in both directions. Having de-quivered and brandished Dave's best and unlosable Dexter Aluminum target arrow, as if to stab her lover, L— turns it shaft-backwards and, with a look on her Valentine face past all belief — a look that communicates perfectly her three true selves: the blindly loyal, the greedily past-impassioned, and the self-imprisoned hating — with this look, reflected bulgingly in Dave's TV's dead green eye, she unfortunately puts the Dexter arrow through her own creamy oft-kissed throat, right up to the nock. She falls and lies there, victorious and pierced, her pelvis moving and life a bright fountain around the boy's unlosable shaft.

So far it's a good graduate-workshop story, the rare kind that imposes the very logic it obeys; and plus it has the unnameable but stomach-punching quality of something real, a welcome relief from those dread watch-me-be-clever pieces — or, even more dread, a fashionably modern minimal exercise, going through its weary motions as it slouches toward epiphany. What "works least well" for Dr. Ambrose and Mark's colleagues at the E.C.T. seminar is the part that deals with why this guy Dave is subsequently arrested and incarcerated and tried and imprisoned for L—'s murder. The section's chattery, and about as subtle as a brick, but the gist is that picture this: L— lies twisted and punctured and spent and moving and red before the mute Sony in Dave's shared room, losing blood with every pulse, self-stabbed with the high-tech arrow that had placed Dave third alone. She's clearly near death, and looks with supplication and a trust born of true love's blind loyalty at Dave, waiting for him to obey basic human instincts and leap to remove the wickedly intrusive shaft. But Dave, come suddenly of age, hears no ching of instinct's bell; he feels only the kind of numb visual objectivity that makes a born archer mature. He takes precious time out to look at the big picture, here. He takes the long view. He: sees that L— has pulled crunchingly into death's gravel driveway, that no way can she be saved in time (tourniquet pretty obviously impractical); fears that their community's collective ear has heard the violent row he didn't start; concludes that if he takes hold of the aluminum shaft to remove the weapon, the whorled oil his fingers exude will establish itself as his forensic mark on the Dexter arrow; and then his lover will die anyway, and the whole thing will maybe be interpreted by others as exactly what it will look like. Crime of passion. Murder-1. Dave licks his lips absently as he tries to anticipate interpretation. This goes on forever, narratively speaking. L—, her eyes never leaving her lover's, finally, to pretty much everyone's relief, expires.