so for richard locke's fiction lecture we had to write a 5 page response to two of the authors we read over the semester. i did this. he liked it.
Grace Paley in a tree, Donald Barthelme beside her.
Grace Paley and Donald Barthelme sitting around in the backyard, having themselves a chat.
Grace Paley is sitting in a tree. This is not so odd, as they are in the backyard.
“The drinks” Don says.
“We did not want for drinks.”
“I have been known at times to confuse the present with the past, Donald, you know this about me for it is a fact and one certifiable by indeed even the City of New York itself.”
“The library” begins Don, and the whole world sighs. We say begins because the sentence is not finished. It is, in fact, not a thing that needs to be finished. There are you see moments wherein we begin a thing only to remind ourselves of it, because it in fact already exists, it is a fact, it has been certified by time and inscribed on our bones and only in the cold hard light of the reminding do we maybe even remember it.
Other times we go to Sweden. Other times we find some young thing to bury our sadness in for a time, until it too grows in them, and we are once more reminded of the certified fact we have carried along with us.
“Phooey” says Grace, in the tree.
They are in the living room now. Red bright leaves strew themselves about the carpet. It is a nice carpet. It is certainly not a shabby carpet. It has seen its share of spills and slips. It is the sort of carpet that likes it when you play old blues records. It prefers when you read aloud, preferably from Great Literature. It understands when certain words are capitalized.
It is a pretty great carpet we are talking about.
Grace says again “Phooey” as the children gather with their rakes to pile up the leaves.
“Now don’t jump in those piles,” Grace goes, “You never know what is hiding in them.”
And it is true, they do not.
Again in the living room. Drinking their drinks.
“Grace,” says Don, gesturing, “if you could ask the child to fetch me another drink,”
“What child?” Asks Grace. “No child of mine I will tell you that much. No sir, buddy.”
To this, Don can only scream.
Grace is on the roof, in a tree. Don entreats her to come down.
“Grace,” he says, “There is someone here to see you.”
I would not mind seeing someone thinks Grace so long as he had some sort of poise. Some sense deep down somewhere of the very realness of the world. And a fatherly figure of sorts for the boys. Ideally I think he might be the Lone Ranger. I think horseback would be best. For traveling. For so many things.
“Grace,” Don says, “He is Mexican. He has a mustache. He has known suffering, I can see it in his eyes. He seems gentle. He entreats you.”
“I entreat you,” entreats the Mexican, looking more and more like the Lone Ranger with each passing breath Grace holds within her, testing the waters of hope once more.
It has grown chilly in the winter. Grace has been briefly imprisoned. Wars are being waged and children set on fire. Don reads about this every day. What can he do? He is uncertain. He considers writing something of war. Each time he writes another sentence the previous sentence folds itself into a bird and flies away. That seems ridiculous he thinks, and he is, in all likelihood, not at all wrong.
“Grace,” he says, “We missed you so.”
“I should think you would, what with the cold weather, and the cold water, and the creaky pipes and the leaky faucets. You, Don, seem to be leaking from the eye. No matter. We are all sad, Don. We all suffer. If you need to take the time to do so you might as well do it. I myself have preferred never to speak openly of suffering. What I have done is known as is what has been done to me. The world is like a big radio, like a tin can phone, like a newspaper you can read, and it’s printed on our hearts. Don I don’t care.”
Grace tosses the other half of a tin can phone line to Don.
“For your heart,” she says.
They are not certain what to do, so they order in. Their children and spouses have taken to adjacent rooms and have also ordered in. The merits of ordering in have been discussed. Some insist upon family recipes. Upon pot roasts left to roast all day long, gently simmering in the juices of history and tradition. Others feel differently. Sure, it’s delicious. And who doesn’t like to eat it? But let’s face it, some days we don’t have time for that, so what, so we should go without? Without food? Some of us balk at such things. We wrangle our courage and hunger up like wild stallions and we use these wild stallions we have wrangled to trample everything in our path. We will not be stopped. We will be fed.
Donald Barthelme proposes a contest. They will take a younger lover. They will not tell their spouses. Their spouses will no longer be their spouses. In the night, when they cry out, their spouses will be there. The world will be a comforting place. Donald Barthelme proposes they get drunk. He proposes they maybe screw. He does no such thing. He says nothing in fact of the sort. They sit down and play a game of cards. They cannot decide between Go Fish or several other games involving cards. They play them all. At the same time. Grace Paley’s father dies of disappointment. Then he gets better. They all get better. Their game improves. The sun rises. The children are fed and bathed and sent off to school, where they learn all sorts of things, many of them good and sound and wondrous. They learn of hardship and defiance. They learn of terror. Of horror. Of pain. Of the wounding of brother by brother. Later, at night, in the dark, the children practice this. And then they cry. Then they too are held tightly by the parent, who calmly explains that this was just a dream, and that it may also have been real, and that there are many terrible things in the world, and that sometimes we cannot help these things, that we cannot assist them and we cannot resist them, that sometimes the world is a bitch and a god damned half. The child reminds the parent that it is but a child and should not hear such things and the parent of course apologizes. The parent, distraught, begins to wonder if they are doing a good job here. If they are just repeating and revisiting the horrors of their own parents. The child assures them that they are not. That this is different. That we make our own beds. The child does make its own bed. Every morning before school. The child was taught to tuck the sheets in under the mattress, and to fold the corner of the blanket at an angle approximating 45 degrees, to better invite one to pull back the sheets and to come on in.