Monday, September 9, 2019

#77 Inside the Emotion of Fiction: THEORETICS OF LOVE by Joe Taylor

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***Joe Taylor’s THEORETICS OF LOVE is #77 in the never-ending series called INSIDE THE EMOTION OF FICTION where the Chris Rice Cooper Blog (CRC) focuses on one specific excerpt from a fiction genre and how that fiction writer wrote that specific excerpt.  All INSIDE THE EMOTION OF FICTION links are at the end of this piece. 

Name of fiction work? And were there other names you considered that you would like to share with us? The Theoretics of Love.  It’s a novel due out in September 2019 from NewSouth Books. No, stuck with that name throughout.

What is the date you began writing this piece of fiction and the date when you completely finished the piece of fiction?
Oh gee, about twelve years ago, I think, was when I started writing it. Finished it about four years ago.

Where did you do most of your writing for this fiction work? And please describe in detail. My home, with varying numbers of dogs sleeping or barking.  I try to write outside to get my vitamin D.

What were your writing habits while writing this work- did you drink something as you wrote, listen to music, write in pen and paper, directly on laptop; specific time of day? Mornings. Two or three hours. Coffee or water or tea. Directly on laptop. (Below Left)
What is the summary of this specific fiction work?
A young woman gets her degree in forensic anthropology from the “Bone Farm” at U of Tennessee, then takes a job at U of Kentucky, where she consults with Lexington police about uncovered cadavers. She has an on-off relationship with a Black homicide detective, who returns the favor by having an on-off relationship with her.

Can you give the reader just enough information for them to understand what is going on in the excerpt? This excerpt is from a minor—but quite important character named Gray whose mental problems mount throughout the novel.

Please include just one excerpt and include page numbers as reference. This one excerpt can be as short or as long as you prefer. 
I’ll include his chapter, which comes second in the novel. He has two others. This chapter was published as a story in Bayou magazine.

2. Dumb Show

Year 2001

rhyme-time-mime: I remember how the outside of the campus building was fairy-tale glowing with safety lights showing hot moths chasing one another. Glowing, showing, but it wasn’t snowing. Even more, I remember the high-low chatter of beautiful women and handsome men who were going to be engineers and lawyers and doctors. And too much snore more, I remember the smell of perfume that caught in my nose and my lungs, knitting my chest like my grandmother’s red and black afghan. Afghan is a hard word to rhyme. You try it.
       I stood on the sidewalk, in the shadows that led to the building. Then I saw this beautiful girl who was thin and short with honey hair that I could see moths through. She was talking with another girl with black hair that frizzed and curled all up. Someone lit a cigarette by them, and they moved away. My mother smokes, so I thought it was good that they moved away. The girl with the lots of black hair that curled coughed once, loud, at the guy who lit a cigarette; then she and her honey-haired friend walked inside the building. I could see them walk inside, I mean I could see their beautiful backsides besides. The thin girl’s shoulder blades protruded like two tiny reverse breasts.
       Feeling in my front left pocket I felt some bills, dollars and five-dollar bills, so I moved to the left across the grass, nearing the man who was smoking, until I could see through the glass doors. I saw the beautiful girl with the honey hair and her friend standing before a display case. Hamlet, the sign outside the glass doors said. It showed a picture of a man dressed in black holding a skull. Ever since I’d been going to college I’d been dressing in black. My mother said that black was the Devil’s color and that people who wore too much of it were opening theirselves to Him. But that’s just not true.
       “Can I help you?”
       I looked through this new glass, and then where the sound of her voice had come through a round hole in the new glass, surprised that I’d already walked through the doors by the smoking man. On the other side of the new glass stood a beautiful girl with a beautiful smile. Or maybe she was sitting on a stool; I was afraid to look because I might see knees. I think she was in a class I was taking, a math class, where the teacher wrote on the board and spread chalk dust in the air. Everywhere.
       Some people stood in behind me. I could smell that they smoked. And I could smell whiskey, too.
       “Can I buy a ticket?”
       “Do you have a student I.D.?”
       I showed her the I.D., but she said that she needed to scan it. Already, after only two weeks, so many people had to touch my I.D. The rays from scanning made it soft, the leftover scaly skin made it hard. This time it felt both soft and warm when she handed it back. A lot of times it felt that way, though four times it felt cold and hard.
       “Four dollars,” she said.
       I pulled the bills from my pocket, dropping some, and when I bent down I saw a woman’s feet and toes in golden high heels with lots of straps so I had trouble standing up, wobble trouble, I mean.
       I handed the girl from my math class four dollar bills that I hoped weren’t too crumpled or wet, since I’d been sweating, since it was late summer, early fall and all. She gave me a ticket and the person who smoked and drank whiskey behind me pushed against my right arm, so I couldn’t say anything about math class, so I just walked toward a door, where someone nodded at me, wanting to touch my ticket.
       The beautiful girl with honey hair and her friend with black hair still stood by the display case. The girl with the honey hair looked like she had on maroon pajamas. I didn’t know you could go to plays in pajamas. But maybe they weren’t pajamas, maybe they were pants. Slacks, my mother calls them. The girl’s friend with the curly black hair had on blue jeans, but they weren’t blue, they were black. And you know what my mother says about that. I turned and went to the water fountain, since they hadn’t gone in. There was a piece of chewed green gum stuck on the wall next to the water fountain, so I didn’t drink anything, just started the water and bent to pretend, so that the person who’d walked behind me for a drink wouldn’t think I was crazy or anything.
       I saw that they were going in, so I hurried and let the man rip my ticket. I sat three rows behind them in the play. Before the lights went out, I saw that the honey-haired girl had a beautiful long neck. Even three rows back I could see her vertebrae and how her neck was so long that it curved in, then came back out. When Hamlet hit his mother and threw her on the bed with the red satin sheets, I started to get sick and had to hold onto my knees, and then onto the armrests. I could hear the woman next to me breathing. She was older than my mother even, but she wasn’t as old as my grandmother.
       I saw my English teacher when a bunch of lights glittered in the play. She was a student too. She told us that she was working on her Ph.D. in Shakespeare. That was why she was here. She told us about this play yesterday. She said we were lucky to have this professional group here so early in the semester and that she’d seen it in Boston and that it was very innovative. She likes to use words like innovative. All I’d like to do is work at the Toyota place in Georgetown. But sometimes I think that I’d like to be a psychiatrist like Dr. Kiefer, who is even older than my grandmother. One time I was staring at her breasts so that I didn’t have to look at her mouth or eyes, and I thought that they were so huge that a catfish could swim in them. Not my grandmother’s breasts. I wouldn’t do that, stare at them. My grandmother is 62. I always forget how old my mother is, but I think that she’s 42. I’m not 22, or things would be easy.
       Dr. Kiefer might be 82. Really.
       I see a man that looks like the man that’s been lugging around my mother lately. Lugging, slugging, fugging. She’s smoking and stinking up the house with perfume, and he’s smoking and stinking up the house with whiskey and cum. I want to move out and I’ve looked at the want ads for maybe some kind of pizza cook, though I’d really like to work in a clothing store or maybe a shoe store. But not really a shoe store, though it would be nice if all the customers were as beautiful as the girl with the honey hair, or even her friend with the curly black hair. I’d touch their instep in just the right way. I was a pizza cook in high school. That way I didn’t have to play sports.
       Lights flash and loud music starts, so something’s changing. This Hamlet is set in Las Vegas, my English teacher told us yesterday. There’s a ghost, and Hamlet is snorting cocaine with his friend, but what I remember most, like I said, is Hamlet slapping his mother with a loud crack and throwing her on the bed with the red satin. I had to hold my knees then, and all I saw was the honey-haired girl whose neck looked like my mother’s neck. I saw her and her beautiful friend turn to one another and smile. I couldn’t see how they could smile about Hamlet hitting his mother. Then he kissed her on the head and rubbed her hair back from her cheek from where he’d hit her. I did that with my hand—next to my knees, I mean. Rubbed, I mean.
       I went back in after half time but mostly I just slunk down and watched her honey hair silhouette off the stage lights. And her friend’s black hair, too. I pretended that a moth was still flitting behind the honey hair, or maybe in front of it—that is, between it and the stage. The old woman next to me didn’t come back and neither did her male friend, whose eyes looked like he wore mascara. I saw them padding on one another’s feet before the play started, they were both wearing sandals like they were old hippies or something, so I guess that’s what they went off to do, pray for peace. Of course, of course, of course I know what they really went to do. I’m not stupid. I remember once putting on my mother’s mascara. It scared me because it wouldn’t come off, and she was at work and coming home. I couldn’t fit into a pair of satin white high heels she had, no matter how hard I pushed. I had to take a bath and use dish soap and Pine-Sol to get the mascara off. I’m glad my little toe didn’t break in the high heels.
       The dumb show came, and it creeped me out, since the fake uncle and the fake queen descended on maroon silk cords to twist about one another over the fake king they were going to kill. There was music from an acoustic guitar and a saxophone, but they didn’t talk. Life’s like that. I think that’s why people invented saxophones and guitars. So that people wouldn’t have to talk. It all goes back to the Tower of Babel.
       So that was the first time I saw her. After the play had its say, I followed her and her friend inside to a pizza place that was two blocks away. I was glad that they didn’t have a car, because I didn’t have a car neither. My mother’s boyfriend said I shouldn’t be driving her car, cause it would be a temptation to me to park and do things.
       “Jan! Ashley!” some asshole jock-looking guy said as he walked inside to her from the pizza door. But he lit a cigarette and she blinked and coughed at him, so he went to talk with his two jock friends, though I guess they couldn’t be jocks and smoke, though maybe they took a lot of steroids and cocaine so that it didn’t matter, with their big lungs and all.
       “I’ve got a killer psych test at eight on Monday,” I heard Ashley say to her friend, the black-haired girl, Jan. “But you go ahead.” Ashley’s nice and polite, isn’t she? I knew which was which because I watched the jock’s eyes when he called out their names.
       I think that Jan wanted to go back and sit with the three jocks, but she said that she probably should call it an early night too. I was glad that I sat real near them, even though it made me nervous, because Ashley had the softest, politest voice. And I couldn’t believe that she was taking psychology. Maybe I would do that instead of Toyota.

+ = -
       Eight o’clock Monday isn’t hard to find, because I keep a schedule book from before when classes started. There are two eight o’clock psychology classes on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. I like those classes best because they’re shorter than the Tuesday and Thursday classes.
       In books I read, there are astersicks. That’s what I call them. I know what they are.
       But how about plus equals minus instead of an astersick? Weird, huh?
       Astersicks look like stars, and no one living in a city ever sees stars. Soon the world won’t know there are stars. When you repeat the same word, that’s called identity rhyme. There’ll be kids who will never see a star and think that people are kidding about them or maybe that we blew them up with nukes. Rebuked by nukes.
       I get to the first eight o’clock psychology class at twenty till. The janitor has just unlocked the building and is going through it unlocking rooms. It would be nice to have his keys. It would be nice to go around campus unlocking rooms for professors and pretty girls.
       Twenty-two people walk into the classroom. I tap my foot on the old green and ivory tiles and pretend that I’m a big shot gambler working a blackjack table. Twenty-two. Bust. One guy walks in at seven minutes after. Twenty-three. Double bust. The teacher came at one minute after. This is a junior level class. I didn’t think she was that old, not with her soft, pretty voice. Ashley, I mean. But she isn’t here, so maybe she isn’t that old.
       Old and mold. But Ashley is gold. I bet she could even make my name sound soft. “Eye-sach.” And she would lean to kiss me with her lips all puffed just like they were Saturday night when she ate bits of her pepperoni and muchroom pizza. I know how to spell mushroom. But muchroom is funny.
       “What is abnormal?” the professor is saying. He is sort of screaming, I guess since it’s so early he’s afraid students will fall asleep. He had thick glasses and a thicker forehead. His glasses were greasy and filmy. When he walked in, I mean. He closed the door and crinkled his stupid brow and dirty glasses at me. “A thin line, a thin line,” he now says. I could stay out here and listen to his whole stupid lecture through the stupid closed door. I think that Dr. Kiefer told me something like that thin-line stuff, too. Dr. Kiefer agrees with me—that I should move out and live away from my mother, that is. But she thinks I should get a roommate or even live in a dormitory. Dormitories are for cretins. So are roommates, unless they’re beautiful with honey, satin, chestnut, almond, creamy mead hair. Grendel tore up a mead hall. She was the mother, not the monster. It’s just like Frankenstein. He was the father, not the monster. She was there too much, he wasn’t there enough. The mother, the father, I mean.
       It’s sixteen minutes after, so I leave for the other class. Stupid, stupid, stupid. She said she was having a test, and this guy’s screaming about thin lines, so I could have left nine minutes ago when twenty-three double bust walked in late.
       The other eight o’clock psychology class is in another old building on campus. I like the old buildings because they have cubbyholes and corners and doors leading to little rooms and thin halls. Some have marble that I can lean my cheek against. And some have colored granite tiles like the last one did. It takes me a minute to find the room and I start to worry that he’ll let the class out early, but no, she’s taking a test, so that won’t happen. But what if she’s really smart and finishes early? She looked really smart. Her eyes were dark blue, and her skin was like soymilk. And she laughed a lot during Hamlet. There must have been funny things that I missed. Or maybe she was talking with her friend about something womany.
       The room is quiet. This professor’s left the door open and he stares at me like I’m doing something bad. I check my pockets, though I really want to check my zipper and see if my fly’s open. I think that this has something to do with psychology people. Staring I mean. Dr. Kiefer does that sometimes. Maybe staring rings their things.
       There are two stairwells. That could be a pun, you know. If I wanted it to be one, I mean. I walk to the nearest stare well and sit at a desk that’s in the hall. I have a math book, so I open it. I like the signs. They look like Arabic. If we ever go to war with Arabia, the signs would look like this. I know there’s no such country as Arabia anymore. I just mean in general. When we go to war we’ll be helping the Jews, even though they killed Christ. But I think the Moslems would have too, if they’d been around. I think a lot of these professors and students would have too, if they’d been around.
       What I like about math, besides all the neat signs, is that it’s like a tee-tiny puzzle when you solve a problem. It’s like Moses or Aaron tapping the rock, and water gushing forth.
       Shit. She goes to the elevator. She hugs her books close to her breasts. She’s thin, but she still has nice breasts. I look to see it’s going down. There’s only one damned floor below. Doesn’t she want to conserve energy?
       I run down the steps and am almost beside a stone lion when she walks out. I follow her to the cafeteria. She sits down with her black-hair friend and a guy who’s fat and has a head of poofy black hair like a black guy. Black, black, black. His shirt’s out of his pants. I check my zipper as I carry a Coke to a table.
       But there’s cracker crumbs and mustard on this table, so I have to move closer. The girl with the black hair looks at me. I think her hair’s really raven. I think I’m going to stop wearing black. Maybe my mother’s right.

= + & -
       She really is a psychology major, and I know where she lives!
       That is the plus side. The minus side is that the raven-Satan haired girl lives with her. Maybe I won’t have to rent an apartment, maybe I can rent a room. That way it wouldn’t cost as much. My mother’s boyfriend says I got to work. I don’t think he does. I think that’s called projection protection. I read up about being a psychology major. She goes to two other classes on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. One’s another psychology class, and one’s an English class just like I’m taking, with another graduate student teaching it who’s probably getting her Ph.D. in Grendel from the way she looks.
       I got to touch her this morning. We were on the elevator and some guy pushed in and she backed into me. She hit my hand, which was covering a book, which was covering my embarrassment that I got from looking at her beautiful neck and smelling her priceless proud perfume. Yes, I mean what you think I mean. I had an erection projection and the book was in front of it for protection.
       “Sorry,” she said in her whispery way, looking back and blinking. I think she recognized me. That’s good, because we can talk soon. I’ll tell her I saw Hamlet and that as a psychology major I think that Freud was exactly right. About Oedipus. She’ll know what I mean.
       I got off the elevator too and walked behind her toward her class, which was the same math class that I take. I don’t mean exactly the same like identity rhyme, but the same course and the same subject, like regular rhyme. Same name but twain. That’s odd—that she’s taking the same course, I mean—because I’m a freshman and this is my first semester here. I cooked pizzas all last summer. Maybe I shouldn’t have quit that job. I almost followed her into the class, but the teacher was there, and it was the same chalk dust teacher that I have for my real identity rhyme math class. He looked at me strange and I turned around, pretending I made a mistake thinking this was my real class because I saw him in there. That’s what I’ll tell him if he asks. But this is a Tuesday/Thursday class, and I hate them. It’s too long to sit, the room always begins to smell like people grease.

!² = Δ + Σ ط ق א ה
       That first thing might look like an exclamation point to you, but it’s a sign used in probability. I’m not sure that the squared sign after could really work, like would it make things squared probable? Life is cubed probable, I think. A dumb show. And then the next sign, after the equals, is from calculus. It means change. A tee-tiny change. And then the plus is plus, and then the screwed-up looking E means Sum. It’s from calculus too. The rest is Hebrew and Arabic horseshit.
       And today is Tuesday, September 11.
       I saw her crying in the cafeteria when they showed for the life-cubed time the second plane crashing into the twin Manhattan towers. I had to walk up behind her when she was crying, even though her Satan-haired roommate was standing with her. Raven-Satan.
       “Terrible, horrible, audible,” I said, standing behind her.
       She turned. Her soymilk face was red under her blue eyes, and so was her nose. I was going to give her something from my pocket to wipe away her tears, but her Satan-haired roommate stared at me.
       “Audible?” Raven-Satan said, and before I could answer, she said, “Why have I seen you so much lately?”
       “My father works in the Tower A,” I said.
       Several people turned to look at me.
       “He and my mother are divorced. He doesn’t work on Tuesdays.”
       Ashley was blinking at me, and a tear ran down her cheek like a leak on an old sink. The porcelain and all, I mean. But there wasn’t any rust on her face, because her face was like soymilk and maybe cherries. Because it was so red, I mean.
       “That’s good,” Ash said.
       “Let’s go home,” Raven-Satan the roommate said, giving me a bare-bear-glare. I know her roommatey name, but I don’t want to use it.
       It’s Jan, okay?
       When they were at the steps, I started to follow them, but the Satan-haired girl looked back, so I turned around and said, “Terrible, horrible, audible,” to some guy whose mouth was open. He just nodded like a Venus flytrap plant, so I guessed that they were showing the plane crashing into the building again.
       I walked by an old house that had a rooms-for-rent sign. I stared at the sign and wondered what it would be like to crash a plane into a building. Would your head burst first, or would your chest? Could maybe your whole body shove through the cockpit glass and scoot across the building’s shiny waxed white floor, by a row of twenty computers and knock over a rolling swivel chair because it’s going so fast that it doesn’t know what it’s doing, and then maybe blast through a window on the other side of the building to sail over New York City skyscrapers and people before the burning jet fuel caught up with it?
       “The room costs ninety dollars a month.”
       I was staring at a bedroom that was next to the communal bathroom. It smelled musty, but for once that was nice because it was better than cigarette smoke and cum. There were both males and females living in the house. I knew that because I could smell perfume from the first two doors I passed. One was watermelon and one was hippie patchouli. There was a sink in the room, and I wondered if I’d be able to hear the bathroom, since the room she showed me was next to it.
       “Isn’t it horrible, terrible, and abominable what happened this morning?” I asked.
       “What happened?” the woman said. “I’ve been upstairs reading my mysteries.”
       I liked her, and I told her that I was going to take the room, but that I had to get my checkbook. She said she’d hold the room for two hours.
       “No smoking in the rooms!” my happy sappy future landlady called out when I was on the sidewalk.
       “I’m a Christian,” I answered.
       “They smoke just like the rest of ’em.”
       Horrible, terrible, audible, I thought.

+ = -
       That’s still the best one. Plus equals minus, I mean.
       My mother’s stupid boyfriend broke my CD player, he was so happy hurry hasty to get me moved. He passed me his stupid orange-labeled half pint of Early Times in his stupid green pick-up and I shook my head. “Suit yourself,” he said. I thought how stupid that saying was: are you supposed to dress yourself? Is that what it means? Everyone but Prince Charles does that.
       Every time I pass a TV at the university I see towers burning and black smoke. I hate TV because it reminds me of flies and mosquitoes and gnats. There’s a space in the communal kitchen, which is across from the communal bathroom and the steps leading upstairs, a place that has a TV, but it’s broken. That’s good.
       The boarding house is three-and-a-half blocks from her house. I walked by it five times the first night. Her house, I mean. Wednesday, I mean. She and Raven-Satan rent the top floor, and I can look into two of the windows just walking down the street. I saw her twice. Once she was carrying a book, and once she was talking on a phone. I wish I could see her feet from the street. I saw her feet when we went to eat pizza, and then once when she walked out of the psychology class and I was sitting beside the lion. It started to rain, or maybe I would have talked to her that day.

- = +
       In some ways that works as well. Putting minus first, I mean. It’s like physical anthropology and Darwin. Growing from a mistake. Survival of the furriest. I know what he said. What he wrote. Fittest. I know.
       I’m supposed to see Dr. Kiefer every Friday. This is the first time my mother won’t be coming with me, even though she never comes in to talk. She takes off for a long lunch. Sometimes she stops at a bar and doesn’t go back to work. I think that’s where she met her smoking boyfriend, who pours concrete for a living. He smells like a.) cigarette smoke, b.) Early Times whiskey, c.) limestone from concrete, d.) cum.
       “Wai-ellll,” Dr. Kiefer says when I sit down and stare at a bright red cardinal in the window behind her. “Some big news, I understand.”
       It figures that my stupid mother would tell Dr. Kiefer. I don’t see why my stupid mother doesn’t come and talk to her instead of me.
       “It’s terrible . . . and awful.” I don’t rhyme anymore when I talk to Dr. Kiefer, because last June I noticed that she always put a checkmark in her notes whenever I rhymed. She tried to do it so that I wouldn’t see it, but I did. “It’s cowardly and dastardly.” I felt okay with that, since everybody else in the damned country was saying it. Me, I couldn’t see how flying a plane full of jet fuel into the side of a skyscraper was cowardly. Dastardly, yeah, but that’s only half the rhyme that isn’t really a rhyme.
       “You mean what happened Tuesday?”
       “Yeah, sure.”
       “What’s your reaction?”
       “It’s cowardly and dastardly,” I repeated, looking at the cardinal behind in the window again. Its female mate had flown nearby, so it hopped off. They do that, you know. Cardinals, I mean. They look out for one another. One will eat and the other will keep watch. I’ve seen them do it.
       “Is that why you moved out of the house? What happened Tuesday in Manhattan?”
       “It was on all the TVs everywhere. I can’t help but see it. It’s like the Tower of Babel.”
       “How so?”
       “All those people in two tall buildings . . .” I stopped to think of two hard-on dicks standing next to one another instead of tall buildings. I think I thought this because I was talking to a psychiatrist. I mean, I don’t think it’s my fault that I thought this. “All those people talking and then gone. In the university cafeteria I stood behind a girl—” I could feel my heart beat here when I thought of Ash’s neck  “—who was crying when the second plane crashed into the second tower.
       “I . . . no, her friend took her down the stairs, away from the TV.”
       “What were you going to say?”
       Both cardinals had flown away, so I stared at the bit of blue sky I could see through the trees, whose leaves were already turning a pale yellow.
       “I was going to say that I wanted to touch her neck and tell her it would be okay.”
       “Her neck?”
       “She had a long neck. But then her friend took her away.”
       “Gray, what do you think she would have done if you had touched her on the neck?”
       “I really wouldn’t have touched her there. I meant maybe on her shoulder.”
       “What do you think she would have done if you had touched her on her shoulder?”
       “I don’t know. She was sad and crying and all.”
       I know you don’t touch people on the neck. It was horrible, abominable, and audible. I would have said this, too, because it was, except that I didn’t want to watch Dr. Kiefer write checkmarks down.
       “Have you seen her anymore?”
       “Around,” I said.
       “How many times?”
       I had to stare at Dr. Kiefer’s boobs so that I wouldn’t have to look at her eyes that are so gray and straight.
       “Just twice,” I said. “She gets out of psychology class the same time that I get out of math.”

- = +
       Dr. Kiefer never got me to say that I had moved out. I know she wanted me to tell her that, but since my stupid mother had already told her, I didn’t want to Tower of Babel. I already Tower of Babelled about how many times I’d seen Ash. It’s been 47 times.
       Just before I finished up business on Friday, Dr. Kiefer told me that I should make some friends. Maybe join a campus group.
       “There’s a Baptist group,” I said, thinking that I could get her to move her bra strap that supports the two guppy tanks she carries around. She’s an atheist, I can tell. Even if she doesn’t wear black. There’s a foot-tall Mexican statue of a blood god behind her. It’s made of red clay that probably has twelve dead virgins’ blood in it. I know it doesn’t have dead virgins in it. I don’t think those guys that flew that plane into the building are going to have ten virgins waiting on them in heaven, either. And if they did, they wouldn’t be virgins long, would they? That was a joke. The clay’s probably from Georgia. There’s probably some goon hillbilly from the Tennessee mountains making those foot-tall statues. He probably thinks ten virgins are going to play his fiddle for him in heaven.
       “That’d be fine,” Dr. Kiefer had said about the Baptist group.
       Which scared me. Because she didn’t even pause and because she meant it, I mean. Maybe I’ll go to the Catholic group. My mother would hate that.
       Ashley sometimes goes to the cafeteria after her two o’clock Monday, Wednesday, Friday anthropology class. But she wasn’t there by the time I got back. I went to my room and smelled it. I could hear girls flushing the toilet, which was all right.

+ = -
       Outside her English class on Monday made 48 times. That’s 11 more than our ages added, because Ash is a year older than me. I planned to talk to her at time number 37, but I was on a bus and she was walking down the street. I pulled the cord three times, but the stop was a block away and when I went back I couldn’t find her. A fate date that didn’t mate.
       “My dad’s ok,” I said, looking up when she walked out of the class.
       She stopped, then started backing away.
       “We met on September 11,” I said. “I was watching the—” she was a psychology major, so maybe I shouldn’t rhyme, I realized— “the airplane flame.” I bit my tongue.
       “I remember,” she said, sort of coldlike. “I’m glad that your dad’s okay.”
       “Would you like to—”  
       “I’ve got to meet my boyfriend for lunch,” she said.
       It was just 9 o’clock and she didn’t have a boyfriend. Don’t you think I’d know that after 48 times?
       “That’s okay. I just wanted you to know that my dad’s all right.”
       “That’s good. I’m glad.” And she walked away. I didn’t follow her because I knew she’d look back. And she did. I pretended to be reading my math book against the lion. She almost bumped into someone because she was looking back. It was a male, and she jumped.

+ = -
       Halloween was coming. 134 times. I decided that whenever glass was between us it only counted half. I decided that I was a like a cardinal, watching out for his mate whenever I walked by her second-story apartment. We’re hunting Bin Laden down. I think of him running from cave to cave at night when the sky spies can’t see him all that well. He wears black, I bet. When he’s not talking on TV, I mean.
       135 times, and I couldn’t believe my luck. It was just like the bus time, but better because I didn’t have to pull a cord. She finished one line in the cafeteria just when I finished another. I couldn’t believe that I hadn’t seen her across from me. And she hadn’t seen me, either. Fate never abates.
       “Hello, hello,” I said. That’s a rhyme I sometime sneak in on Dr. Kiefer. It’s called identity rhyme. Did I tell you that already?
       “Hello,” she returned in that quiet voice of hers and then began looking for a table. There was only one anywhere near, because the place was packed because of a sudden rain. I took a deep breath and heard a bolt of thunder. I know thunder doesn’t bolt, but it really does, if you think about it. Lightning is frightening, thunder is a wonder.
       “There aren’t any seats,” I said, following her. “Can I sit with you?”
       “My boyfriend is meeting me here.”
       I had seen two different guys inside her apartment. And neither of them had come back. “Tower of Babel,” I said.
       “The Tower of Babel. From the Old Testament. You’re a psychology major, so you should know about that.”
       I was still standing, waiting for her to invite me to sit.
       “How did you know that I was a psychology major?”
       “You told me when we first met, watching the World Trade Center.”
       “Tower of Babel,” she said, looking at me accusingly. “I never told you that.” Do you see what I mean? I could tell just from her neck and her blue eyes that she was very intelligent. And then she said, “I’d rather eat alone, okay?”
       “Okay,” I answered. Two people were getting up four tables away. Only one of them took her tray. French fries and bloody ketchup were left on the other tray, with a piece of lettuce that looked like it had cum on it. The cretin guy was probably a bastard son of my mother’s boyfriend. I forced myself to sit in the empty spot and not look back at Ash. She needed space.
       When I turned around, she was gone.

+ = 1
       I thought that I would try that, something different. I skipped all three of Ash’s Thursday and Friday classes. But I had an obligation as her cardinal to walk by her apartment each night, though she left on Friday night, and I think that Raven-Satan saw me walking by. They do have a car, a red one that Raven-Satan drives. That fits.
       Saturday was a football day. Go Big Blue.
       Her house was on the way to the library. I got a job cooking at the pizza place where we met for the second time. I like to look from the oven to the table where she sat. Her house was on the way to that too, if I walked catty-wampus just a bit. So I was walking back after working there during the day. If I went home and took a shower in the same stall that three girls took a shower, I wouldn’t smell like onions and mozzarella, and maybe we’d meet on a high rate fate date.
       I tripped a bit on the sidewalk when her house was coming near, just like I always do. It was nearly dark, but not as dark as in a cave with Bin Laden.
       “I want to talk to you!”
       An old guy who had a beer tummy and a guy in his twenties who probably still played on some high school football team stood in front of me.
       “I don’t know anyone about anything,” I said.
       “What the fuck does that suppose’ to mean?” the semi-high schooler said.
       But the beer gut man just raised his palm. “I want you to stay away from my daughter. Do you understand?” He punched me hard with two fingers, just like a coach did on the only team I was ever on.
       “I don’t know you! Keep your creep hands off!” I was carrying a sack with two pieces of pizza, and I threw it at him. The semi-high schooler hit me on the cheek good and hard and I fell back, then started swinging and kicking, but they grabbed me and the gut rut began hitting me in the stomach and face and I felt snot come from my nose, so I kicked him and then I was on the ground where my head hit a tree root.
       “Stop it! Stop it! You said you were just going to talk to him!”
       It was Ashley. Even though I’d never heard her scream I knew it was her. She was acting just like a cardinal and watching out for her mate. I looked up and could see her standing in yellow jeans and a dark shirt. I could see the veins on her feet, too, because she was wearing white-strapped sandals.
       “You goddamned pervert!” the fat gut yelled and he kicked me.
       “Stop it, Daddy, stop it!”
       “I’ll stop when he stops looking at you that way!” And he kicked me again, and then the semi-high schooler kicked me again.
       “Tell them that you’ll stop. Tell them you’ll never follow me again,” Ashley said. Raven-Satan was standing beside her. Even in the near dark I could see her eyes glaring staring at me. But I really only saw Ashley, and I thought that maybe she was crying for me like she’d cried for the World Trade Center people. I blinked and then someone kicked me again.
       “Stop it, or I’ll call the police, Daddy. He won’t follow me anymore. Ever. Tell them!” she said, chirping like a cardinal and squeezing her wings together.
       “Mom,” I said, looking at Ashley’s bright cardinal sigh-eyes. “Mom.”

Why is this excerpt so emotional for you as a writer to write? And can you describe your own emotional experience of writing this specific excerpt? Because Gray is so single-minded. Gray is likely a paranoid schizophrenic, with some obsessions thrown in for good luck. I found his personality amazing.

Were there any deletions from this excerpt that you can share with us? And can you please include a photo of your marked up rough drafts of this excerpt. This excerpt came pretty much as is. Which I guess might be scary to those who know me. I really don’t think I made any substantial changes at all in it.

Other works you have published? Recently, a story collection entitled Ghostly Demarcations. A comic novel in rhyme entitled Pineapple, some other story collections and novels.

Anything you would like to add?
I’m not Gray. Honest
I’ve had stories published in over 100 literary magazines. Pineapple, A Comic Novel in Verse, has just been published by Sagging Meniscus Press. I have a novel forthcoming this fall from New South Books entitled, The Theoretics of Love. Sagging Meniscus will also be publishing a second comic novel in verse of mine, entitled Back to the Wine Jug, next spring. A previous novel of mine, Oldcat & Ms. Puss: A Book of Days for You and Me, was published several years ago by the now defunct Black Belt Press, and it was reviewed in Publishers Weekly. I have three story collections published, and I’ve edited several anthologies, notably, Belles’ Letters: Contemporary Fiction by Alabama Women and Tartts One through Five. I recently published a novel with the imposing title, Let There Be Lite, OR, How I Came To Know and Love Godel’s Incompleteness Proof.  I am the director of Livingston Press and have been for 26 years.
JoeTaylorzorba (blog); (email); 


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