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Padgett Powell

Typicaclass="underline" Stories

For Pat Strachan

Truth is greatly overrated, volition where it exists must

be protected, wanting itself

can be obliterated, some people

have forgotten how to want.

— Donald Barthelme


YESTERDAY A FEW THINGS happened. Every day a few do. My dog beat up another dog. He does this when he can. It’s his living, more or less, though I’ve never let him make money doing it. He could. Beating up other dogs is his thing. He means no harm by it, expects other dogs to beat him up — no anxiety about it. If anything makes him nervous, it’s that he won’t get a chance to beat up or be beaten up. He’s healthy. I don’t think I am.

For one thing, after some dog-beating-up, I think I feel better than even the dog. It’s an occasion calls for drinking. I have gotten a pain in the liver zone, which it is supposed to be impossible to feel. My doctor won’t say I can’t feel anything, outright, but he does say he can’t feel anything. He figures I’ll feel myself into quitting if he doesn’t say I’m nuts. Not that I see any reason he’d particularly cry if I drank myself into the laundry bag.

I drank so much once, came home, announced to my wife it was high time I went out, got me a black woman. A friend of mine, well before this, got in the laundry bag and suddenly screamed at his wife to keep away from him because she had turned black, but I don’t think there’s a connection. I just told mine I was heading for some black women pronto, and I knew where the best ones were, they were clearly in Beaumont. The next day she was not speaking, little rough on pots and pans, so I had to begin the drunk-detective game and open the box of bad breath no drunk ever wants to open. That let out the black women of Beaumont, who were not so attractive in the shaky light of day with your wife standing there pink-eyed holding her lips still with little inside bites. I sympathized fully with her, fully.

I’m not nice, not too smart, don’t see too much point in pretending to be either. Why I am telling anyone this trash is a good question, and it’s stuff it obviously doesn’t need me to tell myself. Hell, I know it, it’s mine. It would be like the retired justice of the peace that married me and my wife.

We took a witness which it turned out we didn’t need him, all a retired JP needs to marry is a twenty-dollar tip, and he’d gotten two thousand of those tips in his twenty years retired, cash. Anyway, he came to the part asks did anyone present object to our holy union please speak up now or forever shut up, looked up at the useless witness, said, “Well, hell, he’s the only one here, and y’all brought him, so let’s get on with it.” Which we did.

This was in Sealy, Texas. We crossed the town square, my wife feeling very married, proper and weepy, not knowing yet I was the kind to talk of shagging black whores, and we went into a nice bar with a marble bartop and good stools and geezers at dominoes in the back, and we drank all afternoon on one ten-dollar bill from large frozen goblet-steins of some lousy Texas beer we’re supposed to be so proud of and this once it wasn’t actually terribly bad beer. There was our bouquet of flowers on the bar and my wife was in a dressy dress and looked younger and more innocent than she really was. The flowers were yellow, as I recall, the marble white with a blue vein, and her dress a light, flowery blue. Light was coming into the bar from high transomlike windows making glary edges and silhouettes — the pool players were on fire, but the table was a black hole. All the stuff in the air was visible, smoke and dust and tiny webs. The brass nails in the old floor looked like stars. And the beer was 50¢. What else? It was pretty.

She’s not so innocent as it looked that day because she had a husband for about ten years who basically wouldn’t sleep with her. That tends to reduce innocence about marriage. So she was game for a higher stepper like me, but maybe thinks about the cold frying pan she quit when I volunteer to liberate the dark women of the world.

I probably mean no harm, to her or to black women, probably am like my dog, nervous I won’t get the chance. I might fold up at the first shot. I regret knowing I’ll never have a date with Candice Bergen, this is in the same line of thought. Candice Bergen is my pick for the most good to look at and probably kiss and maybe all-you-could-do woman in the world. All fools have their whims. Should an ordinary, daily kind of regular person carry around desire like this? Why do people do this? Of course a lot of money is made on fools with pinups in the backs of their head, but why do we continue to buy? We’d be better off with movie stars what look like the girls from high school that had to have sex to get any attention at all. You put Juicy Lucy Spoonts on the silver screen and everybody’d be happy to go home to his faithful, hopeful wife. I don’t know what they do in Russia, on film, but if the street women are any clue, they’re on to a way of reducing foolish desire. They look like good soup-makers, and no head problems, but they look like potatoes, I’m sorry. They’ve done something over there that prevents a common man from wanting the women of Beaumont.

There are many mysteries in this world. I should be a better person, I know I should, but I don’t see that finally being up to choice. If it were, I would not stop at being a better person. Who would? The girls what could not get dates in high school, for example, are my kind of people now, but then they weren’t. I was like everybody else.

I thought I was the first piece of sliced bread to come wrapped in plastic then. Who didn’t. To me it is really comical, how people come to realize they are really a piece of shit. More or less. Not everybody’s the Candy Man or a dog poisoner. I don’t mean that. But a whole lot of folk who once thought otherwise of themself come to see they’re just not that hot. That is something to think on, if you ask me, but you don’t, and you shouldn’t, which it proves my point. I’m a fellow discovers he’s nearly worth disappearing without a difference to anyone or anything, no one to be listened to, trying to say that not being worth being listened to is the discovery we make in our life that then immediately, sort of, ends the life and its feedbag of self-serious and importance.

I used to think niggers were the worst. First they were loud as Zulus at bus stations and their own bars, and then they started walking around with radio stations with jive jamming up the entire air. Then I realized you get the same who-the-hell-asked-for-it noise off half, more than half, the white fools everywhere you are. Go to the ice house: noise. Rodeo: Jesus. Had to quit football games. There’s a million hot shots in this world wearing shorts and loud socks won’t take no for an answer.

And unlike high school, you can’t make them go home, quit coming. You can’t make them quit playing life. I’d like to put up a cut-list on the locker-room door to the world itself. Don’t suit up today, the following:

And I’m saying I’d be in the cut myself. Check your pads in, sell your shoes if you haven’t fucked them up. I did get cut once, and a nigger who was going to play for UT down the road wouldn’t buy my shoes because he said they stank — a nigger now. He was goddamned right about the toe jam which a pint of foo-foo water had made worse, but the hair on his ass to say something like that to me. I must say he was nice about it, and I’m kind of proud to tell it was Earl Campbell wouldn’t wear a stink shoe off me.

Hell, just take what I’m saying right here in that deal. I’m better than a nigger who breaks all the rushing records they had at UT twice and then pro records and on bad teams, when I get cut from a bad team that names itself after a tree. Or something, I’ve forgotten. We might have been the Tyler Rosebuds. That’s the lunacy I’m saying. People have to wake up. Some do. Some don’t. I have: I’m nobody. A many hasn’t. Go to the ice house and hold your ears.