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Candiru worms, it goes without saying.

Courage itself is a bit frightening, of course, for you’ve posited its opposite, and that is fear; therefore, you’ve posited its opposite, lack of fear, and lack of fear is fear itself, especially when detected in others, perhaps the most fearful moment of all.



Duty in all guises, suggestions, hints, and evil, quiet hortations.

All things beyond one’s control, of course, are frightening, but the very few within call for duty.

And shooting from the hip. My name is Bobby Love; I sometimes call myself, and insist others do, too, Robert, and am curiously not afraid of pretentiousness and other forms of self-importance, for the folly is so high there is finally no joke beneath it, no failure of mind in the arrogant who lack the mentality for arrogance. My name is Bob Love II; my father pawed a thirteen-year-old bovinity of such melon-colored and abundant flesh that straps were not corralling it to the satisfaction of disguised satyrs like my poor old man. How many boys can say of their fathers, I like him? Well, I’m very afraid, more afraid than of a brain escape, a jailbreak of your wits, I am very afraid of saying I like him, I like my old man, who ran from a book, from a book a kook wrote who did not know him — no, he ran from a girl and the kooks that would kick him in the balls for having some, and you tell me not to be frightened? You know what is going on on this earth? Does anyone? Do you think you would not be afraid of things — can think of nothing I’m not — if your father was Labove?

Don’t give me that. Not Robert Love II.

Mr. & Mrs. Elliot and Cleveland

MR. ELLIOT HAD BEEN under the natural strain that a young sculptor with a new wife and young child and more teaching credits than sculptures can be under. He carefully adjusted his domestic behavior to the bad so that it would substitute for the wild-side, marginal-member-of-society behavior expected of someone of his artistic temperament.

The large zones of non-participation — he liked to say non-proliferation — in his domestic behavior were anything to do with the baby, other than playing with her, and anything to do with the house, other than sleeping in it and tending its miniature wet bar, and anything to do with his wife’s parents. The house itself had come to mock him. It was not a castle and he was certainly not its king.

It was a cinder-block suburban affair, beige and white, with a nice fenced yard, three bedrooms, and sliding glass doors to the rear patio; it was the sort of house that people laugh at until they find themselves, somehow, in one.

Somehow for Mr. Elliot was this: his wife’s parents insisted they move to a safe neighborhood. That had been that, and the beginning of Mr. Elliot’s guerrilla resistance to them, the house, the wife, and the child. They, the enemy, had also, he managed to divine, decided to withhold any further aid except the rent on this safehouse, because in their opinion their daughter was too young to marry and have a child. He was forced to intuit this, and to intuit that they, the enemy, were quite well off. The pregnancy was of the accidental and overnight variety and had been more or less the raison d’être for the marriage, and had been certainly a fait accompli when all parents were notified. Consequently, he had met his wife’s parents once, at the hospital, and they had visited around each other, as had his parents her parents, and his parents him as well, for the three days, and that was that.

Now Mr. and Mrs. Elliot were on their own except for the safehouse, which constantly assaulted him, involved him, in particulars of class warfare. A half day he would have to spend getting belts for a vacuum cleaner, because the house was wall-to-wall in odious carpet that was sculpted in patterns and little mountain ranges of nap or pile or whatever it was. The floor reminded him of a groomed poodle. Before the class struggle got him, he would have had dirty floors. It was safe for an artist to have a drink in the morning on a gritty floor, but not on a static-giving carpet which held invisible filth.

He got up one morning and found his wife eating white beans in ham stock, one of her favorite dishes and, before the house, one of his. There was a bean on the baby’s chin and a bean on his wife’s chin, too. She was holding the baby and could not get either bean. It set him off. The beans would have been all right over the dirty floors of a proper apartment, certainly all right in one in which he alone as an artist was eating poorly in the service of vision, but here, with … it all, it set him off. One of his big ideas rang in his head like a bell, a big bell with a big clapper: All women are whores.

He walked out of the house, wearing only his pants. He started his car and drove to the convenience store. It was not at all unusual to see shirtless, shoeless men in convenience stores in north Florida. Usually they were handsome young men working as surveyors or house framers with tanned washboard stomachs and bleached white hairs on them — Mr. Elliot called these men, or boys, cracker surfers. He did not look like them, but he did not believe he would be discriminated against because of his looks. His stomach did not suggest so much a washboard as laundry itself, and his hair, instead of the long, sun-bleached Ted-Nugent-dos, as the Florida boys themselves referred to such styles, was so thin that uncombed it gave Mr. Elliot the look of a man with a head wound.

His wife was beautiful, eating white beans at 8:30 in the morning or not. He believed she had the nastiest sexual past of any woman he’d ever known, and nastier than any he could imagine. They made great gustatory love — the word was his — but when he got up and saw her doing something like eating homemade pork and beans, and feeding the baby pork and beans, a food sold canned to the poor with a federally mandated tincture of pork in it balanced by a federally mandated maximum of rodent hair … if you pressed Mr. Elliot: All women were whores — he was a Catholic, he had got out of the house as soon as possible, he had had to.

He would buy a shirt by running into K mart. With the shirt on, albeit something cheap with fish-smelling dye, he’d be presentable enough to calmly stroll into SHOES and buy a pair of socks and vinyl shoes. Then some beer at the first joint open on I-10, and full recovery of dignity. It was possible that his wife had slept with her brother, and it was probable that she was the most beautiful woman in Florida or any other state shy maybe of New York, where there was unnatural transplanted beauty. He had a good car, a good solid four-door Chevrolet that would never let him down on the freeway.

When they made great gustatory love, it thoroughly and pleasantly ragged him out, and of her pleasure he had decided this: if it wasn’t the best she’d ever had, it was her fault. How was he to compete with … with whatever was out there in the dark? That was what she had come from, smiling like an angel. He asked her out the first time he saw her, and to marry him the second. She was quite possibly pregnant by then. Woodpile, he thought, when this aspect of things drifted before him.

After the baby was born and the bloom wore off the baby, which bloom wore off proportionately to his washing off the baby’s cream-bespinached bottom, he left his bean-eating ineffably attractive past-besmirched wife and Raphaelic infant and rented a $100 room and got a typewriter and decided to write it all down. The whole thing. How … well, the entire affair, and then some. And a lot of stuff before that.

It went well. There was not enough paper or beer to keep him going. It got cold and he started burning the bond paper to keep warm and kept the beer outside to keep it cold. He burned paper from the bottom of the ream and typed on it from the top, and when the two dwindling supplies met he still had beer and was conscious. He would not type on an empty platen — a fair gesture where art and soul were concerned, perhaps, but it was bad for a typewriter to type on an empty platen. The money he had left was not enough for another ream of paper but was enough for another case of beer. He got that and many newspapers — financial ones were the best paper value — and burned them and drank beer and thought the rest of his novel, as he was calling it, through.