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Back You are here: Home Stories Words for the People Poetry Writers in Residence: Ryan Wilson May 2011 Writer in Residence - Spiral Bound Brother: Chapter 3
Monday, 23 May 2011 03:45

May 2011 Writer in Residence - Spiral Bound Brother: Chapter 3

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Awakening Mutilated in Starched White & The Evaporation of Space-Time


My wife divorced me without warning on my fortieth birthday. So there was that; an old sore, but somehow it still determined all the waking hours of my life.

Until Lila called me, and I predictably accepted her advances, I hadn’t touched a naked woman in six years, that’s counting the last year or so with Megan, my wife. Part of a death cycle, woman to man to man to woman to man, unable to think of her body like fruit, then his body becomes oppressive and stupid.

Bright and early following our one sided tryst, my department chair, Tim Conroy, poured me a cup of coffee , like he always did. He was a bartender in Paris for a few years ages ago.

“Craft, you know I would never mention this to anyone.”


“But I just can’t be around you all the time every day unless you know that I know about you hand-jiving the Bell girl.”

“Hmm. Yes.”

“Good for you, Craft.”

“Oh? How’s that?”

“Energize your life. Stella used to tie me up. Lightly. You know that. And Viv, well, sometimes I think she’s going to give me a heart attack.”

“Tim,” I said.

I looked into my coffee cup. A red push-pin was floating, still.

“I’m afraid this is just the beginning of a nightmare. A nightmare that starts off with convincingly pleasant carnality.”

“Yeah, I hear that. But don’t get all careful and scared now. And don’t take any bullshit about this.”

“How did you learn about it?”

“Oh, everybody knows. But I just found out. I think I was the last one. Nobody tells me anything, man, never have. I have to get everything from the kids.”

“Oh yes. The kids.”

I was teaching “Richard Cory” that day, the poem by E.A. Robinson, One calm cool night Richard Cory went home and put a bullet in his head. Well, Robert Zyler, a boy in my seventh period class, lost his father in a freak accident the day before he was to begin high school.

If only that horrific non-fact were true.

But no, young Robert’s father plunged off the roof of their house (which was built on a hill, putting him sixty feet up), the day before Robert was to begin high school, and this tragedy was explained to us, the beloved Earhart High Faculty, as the equivalent of an after-school special, a riding mower tipped over, crushed him, the perils of lawn care and the family’s struggle to cope.

Oh, and did I mention young Robert played the trumpet? He was outstanding—in eighth grade he earned a spot with the high school orchestra and played a large portion of a Miles Davis solo from “Kind of Blue,” out of the blue, at the Christmas Concert. No one understood why he played it, but you could hear about six or seven people sobbing. The orchestra director, Thomas Ortiz, waved his arms around, trying to get him to stop for the first minute or so, and it became clear Zyler was going off script. Ortiz gave up, because the audience was riveted, caught off guard, confused and moved.

I was waiting for my classroom phone to ring, beginning with the beckoning death toll voice of the assistant to the principal, Patty Wagner, her pious disgust; then the gallows shuffle into the office of the Lilliputian big man, Dr. Dave Fillman, all of sixty-four inches, to discuss my perfectly legal indiscretion with Lila. How and when I would feel the axe. But sixth period ended, and no voice from the wall had come. My last class filed in: Keisha Settle, Melanie Roarbach, Eddie Flome, finally Robert Zyler just before the bell. They had read “Richard Cory” the night before for homework. I always made them do a page of notes and ideas along with the reading. I asked them to think about: The way the speaker describes Richard Cory’s suicide, perhaps the speaker is someone who lives in the town, has some special interest, but can we say for certain that the speaker is moved by Cory‘s death? And what does the speaker’s voice intimate and indicate about how Cory is perceived in the town? What is Cory‘s life worth? To Cory? To the speaker? To the town?

The discussion was vigorous. Some highlights:

1. Like, it says he was “imperially slim,” maybe he kills himself because he’s an imperialist, like a rich parasite. --Morty Spezzio

2. That’s dumb. Sorry. I mean, he’s “always human when he talked,” Cory isn’t a phony. He’s on some whole other trip. The point is probably that nobody knows anything about it, and so everybody guesses, like the paparazzi. -- Sky King

3. Envy is the worst. You can feel it on the page. -- Keisha Settle

4. It’s right here, “So on we worked, and waited for the light.” The

light is heaven, and you have to work in life until you get there, that’s what all the town’s people are doing. Not committing suicide. -- Natalie Stockard

5.   Look out! -- Eddie Flome

The bell rang and my cheek was sliced open by the edge of a horn, my knees buckled, and the back of my head cracked against the linoleum. The -ting!- of brass on cheekbone was shockingly audible, even with the school bell clanging overhead. I saw Zyler drop his trumpet and snap a pencil. I blacked out.

The hospital—I have no memory of being there until I woke up in a room. It was sunny, a great surprise, I thought, to be alive, sunny outside, yes, although I couldn’t think of much in the way of something tangible, something propelling me to keep moving out of one day and into the next, except my job. I took it as a good sign though, my being able, still, to appreciate a lovely morning.

In the bed next to me was a balding, slender man about my age.   He appeared perfectly calm and healthy.   The nurses hung a small whiteboard on the bars of his bed, his name in red marker - IVERBE. I taught English for twenty-five years, taught e.e. cummings all twenty-five of them, only to awaken in a stupor and see something like that—and then suddenly discover I was on no pain medication whatsoever. A wave of a thousand ultra thin needles on my cheek, I screamed out, then started laughing so hard I opened up my stitches, blood came pouring out, well, trickling anyway. Iverbe turned to me and smiled, and a little voice inside me, I presumed at the time, whispered indecipherably, like a gnome. But the things it was saying were true, I knew that. It scared me to death.

“Say, friend, what is your name?” I said to my roommate, testing reality.

“He can’t talk right now, sir. He suffered some serious trauma and just needs to rest.”

“Nonsense. That man is wide awake.”

The nurse paused and turned to me in a full character break, her face shifting to become a brand new person, one who decided to speak instead of filling the air with familiar sound patterns.

“Well, he doesn’t really feel like talking to new people right now. Are you going to give me a hard time?”

“I simply wanted to say hello to my roommate.”

“Alright, go ahead. Just don’t let the doctor see you doing it, because forbid anyone from agitating Mr. Iverbe.”

“Does he have a condition that’s agitated by greetings?”

“It’s not appropriate to discuss his condition with you. Listen—”

“I’m not trying to cause a problem. I’ll be very discrete.”

“You do that. You don’t have to listen to Dr. Kingshit Jackass dress you down in front of everyone. He’s got terrible breath. I think about it when I eat. You need a new pillowcase. Lean forward.”

“Yes. It won’t stop oozing.”

“Like I haven’t heard that before.”

I felt the urge to run down to the gift shop and buy the nurse flowers and dark chocolate. She was my age, more or less, and I liked the way she said pillowcase, as if it meant spinal cord.   Her eyebrows and abundant nose hair reminded me of my great grandmother from Manchester, England, who smiled at me whenever I was lost in thought.

“I’m Craft,” I waved to my roommate.

He pointed at the sign, so he at least knew he was being identified as the name on the whiteboard.

“Can you believe that sun shining? December wearing May glasses. You don’t happen to have a hammock over there do you?”

This man, Iverbe, looked up at me, and his eyes sucked my beating heart out of my chest. I thought I was looking straight into the sun, but free of the excruciating glare. He pulled my whole being from my throat, and I hung suspended in the middle of the room. We paused there together, then exploded through the ceiling into a vacuum. I know it was a vacuum because my lungs didn’t work. The seconds-old memories, my voice, the sheets, my thoughts, were rendered ludicrous, dirt you crumble in a stiff breeze.

“My boy. Florida. The Mouse. Comfort him.”

The words boomed around us and floated, with a penetration that stung my inner ear, but Iverbe’s mouth hadn’t moved. Yes, I’d absorbed a blow to the front and back of my skull, so there was that stain of doubt about the supernatural origin of this strange sensation. I didn’t know shit from what was happening in that room, but I was there. The man had my attention, like he was in the window of a burning building.

“Comfort him,” again, the words, again, his still lips.

I had options, but they all seemed to include immense courage, and so were automatically disqualified. No, I did not simply nod my head as if I’d just received his message clearly—which I had. I raced away from his piercing consciousness. I remember the feeling of an opaque shade being pulled over my eyes before answering.

“So you have family then? That’s good,” I said.

And with that we were back in our beds as if nothing had happened. Iverbe looked out the window and shrugged, then turned back to me with a sadness I’d only seen in the mirror, before school, on those days that almost drive away with the rest of you.

He looked down and shut his eyes tight, then began mouthing words and rocking. I couldn’t make out the words, not for sure. No one? No more?

“Can I help you in any way?”

He groaned and thrust himself violently against the back of the bed, raised to about a hundred twenty degrees.

“I’ll come back after they let me out. How is that? We can talk.”

He agreed or disagreed with a wave of his hand. I’d just about convinced myself that this was the right course, that I would actually return and glean something, and provide a service for a fellow injured soldier. Asshole, yes.

But he fell asleep sometime in the early evening, an hour or so after I got the okay to go, and didn’t wake up again.

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Ryan Wilson

Ryan Wilson’s Spiral Bound Brother, won a fellowship for novels in progress from the Vermont Studio Center. He is Stories Editor of The Black Boot (theblackboot.com). Ryan works in counseling and teaches writing at Harvard-Westlake School in Los Angeles. He wishes to lovingly namecheck his family: Sarah, Chance, Seamus, and Tuva.   To reach Ryan-- ryanewilson5@yahoo.com

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