Short Story of the Day – A Bruise the Size and Shape of a Door Handle by Daisy Johnson

Until Salma turned thirteen the house was just a house. It was too big for the two of them, an up-and-down warren of rooms neither of them had the compulsion to fill. She did not have friends to invite round, did not like those girls at school, their careful observations of one another, the way they moved and talked. Sometimes she wondered why her father did not bring back dates, long-legged women filling the house with the smell of bacon and eggs, wearing her father’s dressing gown and slippers, their thin lips purple from the cold. She liked to think it was because he could not imagine there being anybody other than her mother. She liked to think he thought of her by the minute, her dark hair wrapped around his fist, her angry words in the crevices of his mouth.

—-Daily Johnson, A Bruise the Size and Shape of a Door Handle

House Being Remodeled, The Cedars, Dallas, Texas

A Bruise the Size and Shape of a Door Handle by Daisy Johnson

from American Short Fiction

About the Author:

Daisy Johnson

A British novelist and short story writer. Her debut novel, Everything Under, was shortlisted for the 2018 Man Booker Prize, and is the youngest nominee in the prize’s history. For her short-stories, she has won three awards since 2014.

About the Story:

This short coming of age tale does not end like you think it will, although you are warned… you don’t pay attention. Delicately written, fine turns of phrase conceal the evil and power beneath.

It reminds me of one of my favorite (even if it is unnecessarily twee and gimmicky) novels – House of Leaves. One of the interwoven stories is about a man that discovers that the house he lives in is a few centimeters larger on the inside than on the outside. Then all hell breaks loose.

A section of the book is used in the Poe song “Hey Pretty” (the author, Mark Z. Danielewski, is the singer, Poe’s brother).

Kyrie suggested we go for a drive in her new 2-door BMW coupe In the parking lot, we slipped into her bucket seats, Kyrie took over from there.

At nearly 90 miles per hour she zipped us up to that windy edge Known to some as Mullholland, that sinuous road running the ridge of the Santa Monica Mountains Where she then proceeded to pump her vehicle in and out of turns Sometimes dropping down to 50 miles per hour, only to immediately gun it back up to 90 again Fast, slow, fast fast slow Sometime a wide turn sometimes a quick one she preferred the tighter ones The sharp controlled jerks, swinging left to right before driving back to the right

Only so she could do it all over again until after enough speed, and enough wind, and more distance than I had been prepared to expect Taking me to parts of the city I rarely think of and never visit…

I can’t remember the inane things I started babbling about then, I know it didn’t really matter, she wasn’t listening She just yanked up on the emergency brake, dropped her seat back, and told me to lie on top of her On top of those leather pants of hers, extremely expensive leather pants mind you, her hands immediately guiding mine over those soft, slightly oily folds

Positioning my fingers on the shiny metal tab, small and round, like a tear Then murmuring a murmur so inaudible that even though I could feel her lips tremble against my ear, she seemed far, far away Pinch it, she said, which I did, lightly, until she also said pull it, which I also did, gently parting the teeth, one at a time, down under and beneath, the longest unzipping of my life…

We never even kissed, or looked into each other’s eyes, our lips just Trespassed on those inner labyrinths hidden deep within our ears, Filled them with the private music of wicked words Hers in many languages, mine in the off-color of my only tongue, until as our tones shifted and our consonants spun and squealed, rabbled faster, hesitated, raced harder Syllables soon melting into groans or moans, finding purchase in new words, or old words, or made-up words Until we gathered up our heat and refused to release it, enjoying too much the dark lane which we had suddenly stumbled upon

Prayed to, carved to, not a communication really, but a channeling of our rumored desires, hers for all I know gone to black forests and wolves, mine banging back to the familiar form, that great revenant mystery I still could only hear the shape of Which in spite of our separate lusts and individual prize, still continued to drive us deeper into stranger tones, our mutual desire to keep gripping the burn Fueled by sound, hers screeching, mine… I didn’t hear mine, only hers, probably counter-pointing mine A high pitched cry, then a whisper dropping unexpectedly, to practically a bark, a grunt, whatever, no sense anymore, and suddenly no more curves either, just the straightaway

Too bad dark languages rarely survive…

 

 

Pot Bouille

“When younger, he had been fun-loving to the point of tedium.”
Émile Zola, Pot Luck (Pot Bouille)

Pot Bouille, by Emile Zola

In September of last year (2018) I began the task of reading all twenty novels in Emile Zola’s Rougon Marquat cycle. There was a three month gap in this reading plan as I plowed through Gravity’s Rainbow with a reading group. But now I’m back at it – though not in too much of a hurry… I am reading other books too.

I finished The Conquest of Plassans (book number six) a week or so ago. It was an interesting read – especially how it began slowly as a story of small-town gossip and intrigue and built into a climax of madness, horror, and death. Now I am onto the seventh (in the recommended reading order), Pot-Bouille.

That title doesn’t translate to English very well. I’ve seen it as Pot Luck and other things. From Wikipedia:

The word pot-bouille is a 19th-century French slang term for a large cooking pot or cauldron used for preparing stews and casseroles and also the foods prepared in it. The title is intended to convey a sense of disparate ingredients, the various inhabitants of the building mixed together, to create a potent and heady mix like a strong stew. The impression is to hint at the greed, ambition and depravity which lies behind the pretentious façade of the outwardly well behaved bourgeois apartment block. There is no equivalent word in English to convey this. The closest English term would probably be an expression such as melting pot.

In the film The Life of Emile Zola, the novel’s title is rendered as Piping Hot.

So, I think of the book as being called “melting pot.”

It seems to be a complicated story about numerous residents in a multi story rental house in the center of Paris – most related to each other in one way or another. To help with the book I spent a few hours and complied a list of characters I could refer to… then discovered somebody else had already done it.

I’m on the road and working hard for the next week, but I should be able to find some slivers of time and finish the book. Then on to the next, Au Bonheur des Dames – a direct sequel to Pot-Bouille.

 

It’s On

“SEAL, I have a problem,” I say to him. “I didn’t bring any extra underwear.” “So what?” “I can’t run without underwear.” “Nah, bro, you can’t run without legs. It’s on.”
Jesse Itzler, Living with a SEAL: 31 Days Training with the Toughest Man on the Planet

The Block, Richardson, Texas

 

The other day I was surfing the interwebs and came across – I don’t remember how – the story of some rich dude that hired a lunatic Navy Seal to live with him for a month and help him train.

I know it sounds silly and contrived – but the guy kept saying things like “stuck in a rut”, “drifting on autopilot” and “doing the exact thing day after day”- despite being a billionaire. That resonated with me (well, except for the billionaire part). So, throwing caution to the wind, I spent six bucks on the Kindle book. I usually read (at least) two books at once – one fiction (finishing up The Conquest of Plassans) and one non-fiction – so I started Living with a SEAL: 31 Days Training with the Toughest Man on the Planet.

Not sure if I can recommend the book unequivocally – but it is interesting and an entertaining read. I went for a nice bike ride in my hood and stopped for coffee and a quick read.

The first chapter has an interesting idea. The SEAL wants the guy to do a hundred pull-ups at the gym. The author is in really good shape, but is a distance runner without a lot of upper-body strength. He can do, say 15 or so.

The SEAL says, “Wait forty-five seconds and try it again.” So the guy does and does six. The SEAL has him wait another forty-five. He can do one, barely. At this point the guy is ready to go home.

“Nope,” the SEAL says, we’re not leaving until you do a hundred. After a minute of rest, the guy can do one. Over and over again. Until he hit a hundred. I guess it only took a bit over an hour or so.

I am fascinated by that concept. Not in terms of pull-ups – but on goals in general. Say, I will ride my bike fifty miles today – even if I have to stop and rest ten times. Or, I will write two thousand words, even if I have to stop and think twenty times.

It would require some time… but it’s an interesting concept.

My folding bike at The Block, Richardson, Texas

The Conquest of Plassans

Félicité kissed Marthe on the forehead as if the latter were still sixteen. She then extended her hand to Mouret. Their usual mode of conversation had a sharp edge of irony.

‘Well,’ she asked with a smile, ‘have the police not been to arrest you yet, you old revolutionary?’

‘Not yet,’ he replied, also with a laugh. ‘They are waiting until your husband gives them the order.’

‘Oh, very funny, ‘ Félicité replied, her eyes blazing.

Marthe appealed to Mouret with a pleading look; he had certainly gone too far. But he was off and there was no stopping him.

—- Emile Zola, The Conquest of Plassans

The Conquest of Plassans, by Emile Zola

Looking back, I started in September of last year – started an ambitious reading project – I set out to read the whole Les Rougon-Macquart cycle by Émile Zola   – all twenty books.

I started out cranking through them with some regularity

 

But then, as I walked out of The Wild Detectives (bookstore, coffee, beer) near the end of December, I saw this sign:

Sign at The Wild Detectives bookstore, Dallas, Texas

And that was all she wrote for Zola for three months. I fell into a group that met weekly and read Gravity’s Rainbow. That took up all my reading energies until the last week of March, when we finished and gave out trophies.

Then, after that was finished, I suffered from some allergy-related conjunctivitis and discovered that the inability to see puts a serious crimp in ones reading schedule. But now, my eyes are full of acceptable levels of goo and I turn back into the Zola books. I didn’t really like the last one, The Dream, and am happy to report that this one, The Conquest of Plassans is back in line with most of the other books in the series.

It feels like a return to a comfortable home. Plus, while a twenty volume French series from about a century and a half ago doesn’t sound like light reading – compared to Gravity’s Rainbow... it’s like reading the Sunday Comics. Will be done with this one in a couple days.

 

 

The Scope And Structure Of Our Ignorance

“Everybody gets told to write about what they know. The trouble with many of us is that at the earlier stages of life we think we know everything- or to put it more usefully, we are often unaware of the scope and structure of our ignorance.”
Thomas Pynchon, Slow Learner: Early Stories

Swedish Edition of Gravity’s Rainbow

I have never been much of a costume person. But it was time for our final party – our celebration – of the group that started on January 2 of this year – to read, together, Thomas Pynchon’s ridiculously difficult book, Gravity’s Rainbow. After that much work (not only reading the book, but taking the train to Bishop Arts every Wednesday after work for three months) I wanted to celebrate. I wanted my trophy. And it was to be a costume party. So I spray-painted a three dollar straw hat to simulate a White Stetson, bought a brace of dollar store dart guns to simulate a pair of 45’s, and put on an old army uniform top… and I was Major Marvy – one of the most odious characters in the book. He did come to a very, very bad end, after all. I packed the getup into a paper shopping bag and headed out across the city to The Wild Detectives on the DART train.

The party was fun. One woman wore a cardboard basket with a large helium balloon floating over her head and carried fruit pies – she won the costume contest. There were a couple Pointsman in white lab coats carrying stuffed dogs (one guy applied some paper saliva to his dog) and two Brigadier Puddings. A lot of Hawaiian shirts, harmonicas, toilets, bananas, and octopi (named Grigori). One rocket, serial number 00000.

And I got my trophy.

Trophy from the Gravity’s Rainbow Challenge. Yes, I read the whole thing.

We took turns giving a short summary of our opinions of the book and reading a short quote. Two people (including me) thought the book was great. A handful came to like the book as they came to accept its weird and unique nature. The majority didn’t like the book, but enjoyed the process of reading it, especially in a group. A few absolutely hated it and wished they had never read it (which I, although I disagree, can fully understand). I asked one person that hated it with a passion what their favorite book was and they said, Harry Potter. If that’s your favorite book, you will never, ever like Gravity’s Rainbow.

My quote was the third of the Proverbs for Paranoids:

If they can get you asking the wrong questions, they don’t have to worry about answers.

One eagerly awaited part of the party was the announcement of the next book in the Difficult Book reading series (they have already tackled Infinite Jest and Ulysses before Gravity’s Rainbow) which will start in September. In a bit of a departure, the choice is a Trilogy rather than a single book. It’s the “St Ives Trilogy”by Virginia Woolf – Jacob’s Room, To the Lighthouse, and and The Waves. I think I’ve read one of these – though it was a long time ago and I don’t remember very much. These aren’t books I’d ordinarily read – but that’s the point of a group like this, isn’t it – so I’m probably going to do it. If you’re interested (remember, it isn’t until September) get with me.

So:

There is time, if you need the comfort, to touch the person next to you, or to reach between your own cold legs … or, if song must find you, here’s one They never taught anyone to sing, a hymn by William Slothrop, centuries forgotten and out of print, sung to a simple and pleasant air of the period. Follow the bouncing ball:

There is a Hand to turn the time,
Though thy Glass today be run,
Till the Light that hath brought the Towers low
Find the last poor Pret’rite one …
Till the Riders sleep by ev’ry road,
All through our crippl’d Zone,
With a face on ev’ry mountainside,
And a Soul in ev’ry stone….

Now everybody—

A Streetcar Named Slothrop

Displaced Person’s Song

If you see a train this evening,
Far away, against the sky,
Lie down in your woolen blanket,
Sleep and let the train go by.

Trains have called us, every midnight,
From a thousand miles away,
Trains that pass through empty cities,
Trains that have no place to stay.

No one drives the locomotive,
No one tends the staring light,
Trains have never needed riders,
Trains belong to bitter night.

Railway stations stand deserted,
Rights-of-way lie clear and cold,
What we left them, trains inherit,
Trains go on, and we grow old.

Let them cry like cheated lovers,
Let their cries find only wind,
Trains are meant for night and ruin,
And we are meant for song and sin.”
― Thomas Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow

Dallas Streetcar

 

I enjoyed the initial meeting of the group that was to read Gravity’s Rainbow. My only problem was the distance. The drive, on a Wednesday evening, from my work, across town, fighting traffic all the way and back – was no fun at all. It made me doubt my commitment. Plus, one of my goals for the year was to reduce my (for me) already low driving mileage. A there-and-back-again trip across town every week would add to (maybe double) my driving.

But after thinking about it and then a good consultation of the Dallas Area Rapid Transit website I realized that I could leave from the LBJ/Central DART train station near my work, ride downtown on the Red line, and then after walking a couple short blocks, ride the new Dallas Streetcar across the Trinity River Bottoms to Bishop Arts – only a couple more blocks to my destination – The Wild Detectives.

So that’s what I did – I filled my book bag with my tabbed copy of Gravity’s Rainbow and my copy of Zak Smith’s Pictures Showing What Happens on Each Page of Thomas Pynchon’s Novel Gravity’s Rainbow (for reference and grins) and headed for the station.

LBJ Central DART Train Station, looking at my book while waiting for the train.

The ride was enjoyable – or at least better than fighting the million other cars that are going somewhere at the same time as I was. Something about sitting in a train, relaxed, looking out the window at the miles of cars sitting still, on freeway and cross streets, all the white lights lines up on the left and the red ones on the right.

Woodall Rogers Expressway, Dallas, Texas

The streetcar is pretty cool. It crosses the river where there are no overhead power lines, so it is the first streetcar to rely on batteries to bridge an unelectrified stretch.

The trip isn’t fast – it took an hour each way… mostly spent waiting on a train or streetcar. The walks at each end or between stations weren’t bad at all, though.

Oh, and the discussion was enjoyable and cool. And someone brought banana bread.

Go From Dream To Dream

“You go from dream to dream inside me. You have passage to my last shabby corner, and there, among the debris, you’ve found life. I’m no longer sure which of all the words, images, dreams or ghosts are ‘yours’ and which are ‘mine.’ It’s past sorting out. We’re both being someone new now, someone incredible….”
― Thomas Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow

Gravity’s Rainbow, marked for reading goals (one marker per week)

So I sat down with my Penguin Paperback edition of Gravity’s Rainbow and put in little tabs for each week’s worth of reading for the Wild Detectives Reading Challenge that I’m doing now. My bookmark is an old Ten Cordoba Note that I laminated.