Glum Estate

Fragments from the incomplete orphaned novel, the Glum Estate, by Erik Grove.

Glum Estate Fragment – Dylan

Notes: This is the last semi-complete fragment from the Glum Estate.  As I recall this piece was going to include a sword fight on a pirate ship and a Scientologist rescue plan.  I still have a lot of the story mapped out including the fourth Glum sibling, Escher, a narcoleptic lesbian amateur boxer New York city business executive.  At the time I was working on it heavily, early 2009, I didn’t have the time or ambition that I felt like was required to do the novel right but I consider this something of a diamond in the rough and I will revisit it somehow.  

Two final comments: 1) the setting of the resort here is based on the same setting as the story I’ve posted, “Orlando.”  My wife likes to think Dylan Glum and Mark Dixon might run into each other.  2) Fresh, new material is on the way! –Erik

Although he regretted it, Dylan Glum was in Florida and it was all Liddy’s fault.  Liddy Bella-LeFlange commercial agent with her pee pants sympathy, a Razzanana smoothie with an extra shot of plant sterols and flax, handed Dylan a ticket to Orlanda and told him it would only be two days, what’s the worst thing that could happen?

“Where are your shoes?”  The fake policeman with the itchy taser trigger finger asked Dylan.

Dylan wiggled his toes.  “Overboard the pirate ship,” he said.

The fake policeman’s name was Roy.  That’s what it said on his nametag ; Roy, no last name or title.  He was eponymously, simply Roy.  He was a Florida native.  Dylan could tell.  Roy gave Dylan a suspicious look over the top of his InTouch celebrity gossip magazine.   “Hrrmph,” he half grunted.

“Look, do I get a phone call in this fake prison?”  Dylan asked him.

“You can make a fake phone call,” Roy chuckled.

“My cell phone is with my things,” Dylan said and pointed at his wallet and room key card.

Roy unholstered his taser.

“Jesus,” Dylan said and held up his hands.  “It’s a Nokia, not a dirty bomb.”

“Do you have someone you need to call at 1 in the morning?”  Roy asked him.

Dylan thought if he got a running start he could bowl Roy over.  He could shoulder-check him.  “My lawyer,” Dylan said.

“I think we want to leave lawyers out of this,” Roy said.  “We prefer to handle these matters internally.  But if you insist I could call a cousin of mine at the department.  Ask him to come down here and sort this whole mess out.  Probably not the kind of exposure an actor like you needs to have.”

Thanks, Liddy, Dylan thought to himself.  In Florida, no one can hear you scream.  What’s the worst thing that could happen?  I’m gonna get Florida taser raped.

It had actually started before Liddy with that sonofabitch JT Cord and the lunch Liddy set up for them earlier in the week after the announcement broke; JT Cord, the unholy progeny of Brett Ratner, Michael Bay and Paul W.S. Anderson was going to adapt Gwendolyn Kay Ross’s Captain Romeo Nitro books.

Dylan and Cord had actually met on a few occasions before their lunch though JT insisted he didn’t remember them.  Cord directed those Macho Laundry Detergent commercials from a few years back.  Dylan auditioned but had never gotten past the casting couch for Macho Detergent or any of the other Macho cleaning products targeted to suburban men.  Cord had a vision, he’d explained to Dylan after he told him he wasn’t right for the Macho brand.  Cord was going for Calvin Kline underwear model men, Bowflex men, shirtless, sorting the laundry, ironing, plugging in air fresheners between tanning appointments and weight training classes.  The Macho brand was a devastating financial failure on the same scale as New Coke, but the commercials filled with gravitas, homoeroticism and kinetic editing launched Cord’s career.  It couldn’t have happened to a cockier piece of shit.

“So,” JT said at their lunch, carefully arranging his feathered hair so it only partially obscured his sunglasses.  “Captain Romeo Nitro, huh?”

“Yeah,” Dylan said while he examined the menu.  “Where’s the lunch menu?”  He asked Cord.  “This just has juice and supplements.”

“This is the lunch menu,” Cord said pointing to the recycled piece of parchment with every menu item handwritten.  “Liquiddity is a pure liquid diet restaurant.”

“You’re joking,” Dylan said matter-of-factly and flipped over the parchment to look at the back.

“I know,” Cord said.  “I had the same reaction at first but I’m hooked on this place.  I haven’t chewed in weeks.  I’m thinking about investing.”

Dylan ordered a Kiwi Orange Brain Blaster with extra ginseng.

“Can you believe this has the same amount of protein as a steak?”  Cord asked him, sipping at his Blueberry Nectarine Protein Obliterator.

“It certainly strains credibility,” Dylan replied dryly.

“Right, well,” Cord cracked his knuckles.  “Business, right?”

Dylan nodded.  “Business.”

“Gwendy is a big fan of yours,” Cord told Dylan.  “She said that you’ve been something of muse to her over the years.”

“I think there’s always been some good creative chemistry between us.”

“And the fans definitely know you.  You go to the conventions and things right.  Were you at San Diego this year?”

“No,” Dylan told him.  “I went to Madison and Palo Alto.”

“Palo Alto?”  Cord repeated.  “I didn’t know they had a con.”

“It’s small,” Dylan explained.  “Kind of an unofficial younger step brother of San Diego.”

“Right,” JT said.  He took another sip from his smoothie.  “So I totally respect the fans, man.  I love the fans.  I’m going to make this movie for the fans.  So, it’s really important to me that you’re involved.”

“That’s good to hear,” Dylan told him.  “There was all that speculation on the web.  Nikki Finke’s article when she put up the story about Nitro-“

“Fuck the web,” Cord interrupted.  “You can’t pay attention to any of that garbage.  This movie wouldn’t be right without you in it.  Don’t you agree?”

“I definitely do.”

“Excellent,” Cord said.  “So we want to time the announcement to go out with the next book.  Some good cross promotional synergy.”

“That’s great,” Dylan smiled.  “I’ll be doing some promo with Gwendy for the book.  Local morning shows, the book expo in Philly.”

“You’re going to need to get used to bigger venues, my friend,” Cord told him and slapped him on the shoulder.  Dylan laughed.  JT dipped his pinky in Dylan’s smoothie and sucked it clean.  “That’s some good shit,” he said.

“Yeah,” Dylan said, looking down at his drink and back at JT.  JT grinned at him and Dylan couldn’t stop wondering where exactly that pinky had been.  “I think it’s too much for me though, I think I’m done with it.”

“Take it with you,” JT suggested.  “Have a little pick-me-up with you all day.”

“Sure,” Dylan said and nodded.   “I don’t think I’m going to do that.”

Cord shrugged and put his pinky in Dylan smoothie again.  He rubbed it around on his tongue and gums then clapped his hands together suddenly.  “So we’re thinking Wartus,” he told Dylan.

“Wartus?”

“Yeah, General Cruelon’s henchman,” Cord said.  “Wartus.”

“I know who Wartus is.”

“Or we could go with the space bishop, Glob…  Glob…”

“Globnar,” Dylan said.  “Globnar the space bishop.”

“Of course, Globnar.  You’d have to wear a fat suit but there’d be a lot less face makeup.  Let time in the chair being tortured with the air brush and the lights.”

Dylan stared at Cord for a moment.  “What the fuck are you talking about?”

“Your part,” Cord said.  “In the movie.  I reviewed your clips.  There’s some not too bad stuff in there.  That cable commercial was good.”

“My part in the movie,” Dylan repeated.  “Captain Nitro.  That’s my part.”

“Captain Nitro’s the lead, Dylan.  We’re looking at Shia or that guy from all the Apatow movies for Nitro.”

“But I am fucking Captain Nitro, JT,” Dylan said.  “You said it – I’m Gwendy’s muse.  Seventeen books.  I’m on one in twelve bookshelves in the United States, Canada and Australia.”

“Come on, Dylan.  You’re a model.   You’re not an actor.  Warty, Space Bishop Globnar – those are good parts.”

Wartus, you shithead – the character is named Wartus,” Dylan seethed.  “Have you read the books?”

“The books are for fat horny housewives and geeks.  The Harlequin meets Star Trek set.  It’s all soft core and techno-babble.  I’m making a film for grownupsI’m not casting Sci Fi Fabio as the lead.  Do you think I’m fucking brain damaged?”  Cord shook his head.  He finished off his smoothie.  “Take the pity part, Dylan.  Use the check to get some botox and a clue.”

More or less once a year, Dylan would get a ticket to Tucson, dress in tights, fake muscles and a cape.  He’d pose with a space helmet in Eduardo Ortega Saiz’s studio.  Eduardo would tell him to push out his chest more, square his shoulders.  Dylan would struggle to pose on Styrofoam alien terrain.  He’d imagine he was Captain Romeo Nitro, space knight and intergalactic Don Juan.  A half dozen broken hearts left behind at every port.  The most desired and respected man in all of the galaxy.  The shoot would take a few hours and then Eduardo would digitize the photo, print it to canvas and paint over the top, painstakingly transforming Dylan Glum, unemployed commercial actor and mass market paperback book model into an interstellar Adonis.

Between the photo-shoots back in his normal life Dylan would sometimes wonder “what would Captain Romeo Nitro do?”  When he was recognized waiting in line at the supermarket, Captain Romeo Nitro would say “of course you recognize me, sweetheart – I’m the man of your dreams.”  And then he’d ravage her on the bridge of his space ship.  Dylan Glum would say, “well, I’m an actor.  You may have seen me playing Frustrated Satellite TV Customer or Fibertastic Laxative Guy.”  And then he’d return to his studio apartment and jerk off on his futon.

Looking across the table at JT Cord, Dylan asked himself “what would Captain Romeo Nitro Do?”  The answer was obvious.  Dylan stood up and threw a wild punch.  He was aware his mouth opened without good reason while he swung, that he made a garbled half-confused yawp.  He was aware that his smoothie tipped over onto the table and was running down onto his trousers.  He was aware of all of that but caught completely off guard by JT Cord’s Chuck Norris fast reflexes.  Cord moved like a blur, a ninja clad in acid wash blue Jeans, a faux vintage Rolling Stones t-shit, white linen unbuttoned shirt and flop flops.  Dylan’s feet left the ground, he went forward, face planted into a puddle of smoothie and the table, his arm twisted behind his back and up.

“Hap Ki Do, Dylan,” Cord said into Dylan’s ear.  “6 and a half years.”  He let Dylan go and left the restaurant before Dylan could regain his dignity.  Cord left Dylan the tab.  Thirty dollars in juice plus the cleaning bill for Dylan’s clothes.  What would Captain Romeo Nitro do, indeed?

Which led back to Liddy and her bladder control problem.  He never would have gone to Florida if it weren’t for the bladder problem.

“I’m thinking I should sue him,” Dylan told Liddy a day later at the same table in Liquiddity.  “My arm really hurts.”

“Do you know how much you’re worth to me when you don’t work, Dylan?”  Liddy asked him, raising an annoyed eyebrow.

“Or I could let it go,” Dylan suggested.

“Or you could tongue JT Cord’s asshole and balls and beg him to give you back the pity part.”

Dylan took a sip of Razzanana.  “You should really work on cleaning up your potty mouth before the bun is out of the oven, Liddy.”

“I’m not fucking around with you, Dylan,” Liddy scowled.  She was one those women that did not look more beautiful pregnant.  She looked more irritated.  If she was happy to be with child, it didn’t look like it on her small squishy face.  She was so small that the baby seemed to double her size.  Her stomach dwarfed her head, swelled more and more every day like fruit ripening just ready to fall or to burst through the skin and ooze out to waiting flies.

“I’m not sure I’d be very good at asshole tonguing,” Dylan offered.

Liddy drank from her ever-present water bottle and then from her own smoothie.  “You better practice then.”

“Fuck JT Cord,” Dylan said.  “He should fucking tongue my asshole.  There’d be no Captain Nitro movie without me.  Who the fuck does he think he is?  Macho fucking toilet paper guy, fucking CSI: Miami motherfucker.  It’s not like he’s some sterling fucking gold talent.”

Robots versus Zombies,” Liddy said flatly.

“I didn’t see that movie,” Dylan said.

“You and about 9 other people in the world didn’t see that movie.”

“It had terrible reviews, abysmal critical response.”

Liddy rolled her eyes.  “Robots versus Fucking Zombies, Dylan.  It was presold with the title.  Critical response doesn’t mean squat as long as robots fight zombies.  JT Cord is the new DJ Caruso, Dylan.  He is sterling fucking gold talent.  And you’re Sci Fi Fabio.”

“Don’t call me that,” Dylan said.  He drank some more Razzanana.  “You know I hate that.”

“A speaking role in a JT Cord movie, in a JT Cord Captain Nitro movie which already has one of the highest Q scores since those vampire book movies by the way and it’s two years off, is worth a lot of dough, Dylan.  More dough than you’ve seen ever.  More dough than I’ve seen ever.  It’s worth a thousand commercials in terms of payday and exposure.  You get this part and no one is ever going to call you Sci Fi Fabio again.”

Dylan rubbed his shoulder.  “I should be Captain Romeo Nitro.”

“Be real,” Liddy told him.  “By your logic Eduardo should be the director.  You were the model for a painting for a paperback book, Dylan.  You’re no more Captain Romeo Nitro than I am.  Do your bank account a favor and check the ego.”

Dylan finished the Razzanana.  “This is on you,” he told her.  “Cord stiffed me yesterday.  This shit costs more than a cocktail and there’s not a drop of booze in it.”

Liddy scowled.  She dropped a wad of money on the table and stood from the table.  She waddled toward Dylan as he got his coat.  “I’m going to call Cord’s people and tell them you’d like to apologize.”

“I don’t want to apologize.”

“You’re going to apologize to Cord or I’m going to fucking tear your dick out through your throat,” Liddy told him.

“Jesus Christ, Liddy,”

“It’s the hormones, Dylan,” she told him.  “I will fucking murder you.”

“Alright,” Dylan said.  “Call Cord.”

They walked toward Liddy’s car. “There’s another thing, Dylan.  I got you a gig.”

“A gig?”  Dylan stopped at her Prius.  “You should lead with the good stuff, Liddy.   Don’t make me sweat it out.  Commercial or TV?”’

“Not exactly,” she said.

“Film?”

“It’s kind of like an event.”

“An event?”

“Easy money, Dylan.  Flat rate, $10,000 for two days minus my percentage.”

“10K?  For two days?  Are you pimping me, Liddy?”

She smiled.  “And there’s a per diem.”

“Per diem?  Where’s the gig?”

Liddy shifted on her feet a little.  “A resort.   Real fancy place.”

“Resort?  Where’s the resort?  Hawaii?  Vegas?”

“Florida.  Outside of Orlando.”

Dylan stared at her, confused.  “What kind of event is this, Liddy?”

“It’s a conference.”

“Conference?”

“Like a convention.”

“A sci fi convention?  Outside of Orlando?”

“It’s a sales convention.”

“I’m confused.”

“They want you to do the entertainment.”

Dylan was still confused.  “For a sales convention?  What the fuck do I know about selling things?”

“You know that your agent is going to have a baby to support and you need to work,” Liddy told him.

“Come on, Liddy,” Dylan said.  “I’m supposed to what, sing and dance like a monkey for some stuffed suits?  In Florida?  The population of Florida is roughly one third senile retirees, one third white trash alligator fuckers, one third retarded brain damaged cretins and one third incredibly hot Cuban women who won’t fuck me.”

“That’s four thirds, Dylan.  If you’re going to use math, you need to use it correctly.  And if they want you to dance and sing, you ask them what style.  You ask them if you should wear a jaunty cap.”

“I hate Florida, Liddy.  You know this about me.”

“You keep telling me you’re an actor,” Liddy reminded him.  “Act like you don’t hate Florida.”

Dylan shook his head.  “They want me?  For this sales thing?”

“They must be fans of your Fibertastic spots.”

“I don’t know, Liddy.”

“Two days, Dylan.  What’s the worst thing that could happen?”

In his head Dylan had already turned the gig down but before the words got to his mouth Liddy peed herself.  Dylan was shocked silent.  Liddy began to cry.  People on the sidewalk slowed down around them and spoke in hushed whispers.  Dylan took off his jacket and quickly wrapped it around Liddy’s waist.

“It’s the baby, Dylan,” she said.  “It’s so big pressing on my bladder…”

“Shhh,” Dylan said.  “You can hold onto the jacket, Liddy.”

Liddy nodded.  Dylan opened the car door for her.  She wiped some of the tears away from her cheeks.  Liddy climbed into the car.

“Are you sure you can drive home okay?  I could give you a ride?”

“I’m pregnant, not drunk,” she said.

“Sorry.”

Liddy started the car.  “I’ll get the ticket for you, Dylan.  Window seat right?”

“Window seat,” Dylan repeated.  He was a sucker for incontinent women in public.  “That’ll be good, Liddy.”

Outside of the security gates at the Orlando airport Bryson Cromwell stood holding a sign saying “Captain Nitro” with a blown up cover from one of Gwendy’s books.  It was the bare-chested Martian battle cover.  Dylan knew it well.

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Dylan said to himself as Bryson waived at him enthusiastically.  Bryson Cromwell was middle-aged, not-too-portly, bearded but well trimmed, wearing slacks with a nice long sleeve button up shirt.  He had a fifty dollar belt that matched two hundred dollar shoes.  He had a wedding ring around a pudgy finger.  He could have been a perfectly normal person.  But he wasn’t.

“Captain on deck!”  Bryson called out as Dylan neared him.  Dylan stopped ten feet away.  Bryson chuckled.  “I’m sure you get that all the time.”

“Sure,” Dylan said.

Bryson blushed and put the sign down.  “I’m sorry,” he said.  “Couldn’t resist.”

“Yeah,” Dylan said.  “Sure.”

Bryson stepped forward and reached his hand out.  “Bryson Cromwell,” he introduced himself.  He had a big, enthusiastic smile full of white wholesome teeth.  He had the smile of a man that drank plenty of milk.  “Founder and President of FaithWorX.”

In Bryson’s rental car on the way to the hotel, Dylan learned that FaithWorX was a business consulting company.

“We’re LDS,” Bryson explained.

Dylan turned to him and stared blankly for a moment.  “Dentists?”

“Oh gosh!”  Bryson shook his head and smiled his big milky tooth smile.  “Latter Day Saints,” Bryson told him.  “Mormon.  We help LDS companies work with other LDS companies and we help businesses balance their economic and spiritual commitments.”

“This is a religious convention?”  Dylan asked feeling worse and worse about the whole arrangement.

“Oh no, no no no,” Bryson said.  “This is an employee and family getaway for FaithWorX and business associates.  Little bit of business whole lot of letting our hair down.”  Bryson turned to Dylan.  “Just because we live our lives in service to Heavenly Father, doesn’t mean we don’t take vacations every once in a while.  It’s a networking thing.  For LDS businessmen.  This is our third year doing it.”

“Ah,” Dylan replied.

Bryson’s smile disappeared.  “I should come clean about something, Dylan.”

“Yeah?”

“I have a confession to make,” Bryson told him.  Dylan thought of four or five hundred terrifying things the confession could be all at once, they fell all over themselves bubbling up to his consciousness.   The possibilities ranged from sexually deviant to psychopathic.  They almost all ended up with Dylan debating whether or not it would be better to leap from the moving vehicle and take his chances on the freeway.  “I’m kind of a big fan,” Bryson said finally.  He blushed.  “Captain Romeo Nitro.”

“Oh,” Dylan said, still waiting to see if there was something more to the confession like that Bryson wanted to wear his skin like a suit and try to sodomize lunar rocks or something.

“I have all the books.  First editions.  All of them but Venus in Springtime are in mint condition,” Bryson said.  “My wife, she dinged a corner.”  He frowned.  “But I’ll find a replacement on eBay soon enough.  To err is to be human, right?”

“Sure.”

“It would really mean a lot to me if – I mean, you don’t have to but if you had some time I’d really like it if you’d autograph one or some of them,” Bryson stammered.

“You have them here?  In Florida?”

“Of course,” Bryson said.  “There’s the hotel,” he said, pointing out at a monstrous multi-domed compound.  “It kind of looks like the space Amazon compound in From Rigel Kintarus With Love, right?”

“Little bit,” Dylan said.

“It has its own environment inside,” Bryson said.  “It’s the largest fully domed resort in the world.”

“That’s… wonderful,” Dylan managed.

Bryson pulled up to the valet.  “Did you bring the Captain Nitro suit by chance?”

Dylan opened the car door before the car was fully stopped.  “Do you have my room key?”

Gaillard Sands, the largest entirely domed resort in the world was like a strip mall had been eaten by a ravenous biosphere.  There was a massive “mariner themed” hotel, four restaurants, a half dozen bars, a Starbucks and a full sized chain fitness center linked with “natural” landscaping and cobbled streets.  There were four waterfalls of varying heights.

Dylan politely separated from Bryson and went to his room.  He dropped off his bags, checked for a mini bar without luck and then went back downstairs to the nearest bar.

“Hi Liddy,” Dylan said to his agent’s voicemail.  “This is Dylan.  You should call me.  Now.  Call me now, Liddy.”

The closest bar must have gotten confused and thought it was in a domed resort on Hawaii.  The Blue Maui was a Tiki bar decorated with coconuts, mermaids and palm leaves.

“I’d like something wet and alcoholic please,” Dylan told the bartender.

“What kind of alcoholic?”  The bartender, a bored kid in his mid-twenties asked.

“What the fuck am I doing in Florida with a bunch of Mormons alcoholic.”

“Got it,” the kid told him.

“FaithWorX, right?” A woman down the bar asked him.  He turned to see her.  She had freckles and a real sitcom leading lady in twenty-something comedy show thing going on.  She tapped her FaithWorX convention badge.  “We’re in it together.”

The bartender delivered Dylan’s drink; something with pineapple juice and more booze than a Long Island Iced Tea.  “Nicely done,” he told the kid.  He looked back at the woman.  She was a different kind of beautiful than the beautiful women in LA.  Maybe she was from Phoenix or Las Vegas.  What would Captain Romeo Nitro do, Dylan thought.  He moved closer to her.

“I’m Haley,” she said and pointed to her name on the lanyarded badge.

“Dylan.”

“Don’t I recognize you from somewhere?”   She asked him.

Dylan smiled his best bar smile.  “If you want to,” he said.  It was the smoothest thing he’d said to a woman since he turned thirty.  It must have been the jetlag.

“Oh shit!”  Haley said.  “You’re that guy from the satellite commercial.”

“Among other things,” Dylan said.

“You’re an actor?”

“I am.  I have a SAG card and everything.”  Dylan didn’t actually have a SAG card.  He’d joined an upstart competing commercial actor’s union/medical marijuana club in the late nineties and even served on the board of directors.  He still got Arbys coupons in the mail as a perk even though the union had technically been dissolved pending a DEA investigation.

“You were up on the house during that thunderstorm, “ Haley recalled.  “Trying to get the satellite dish to pick up your favorite shows.”

“If only I’d had cable,” Dylan said.  He looked down at her drink.  “What are you drinking?”

“Cranberry juice.”

Dylan picked up her drink and smelled it.  “Virgin?”

“Not at all,” Haley said and gave him her own bar smile.

“Hey chief,” Dylan flagged down the bartender and offered him the cranberry juice.  “Let’s try this one again with some vodka in it.”

“It’s not even 7 o’clock,” Haley said.

“It’s happy hour in Hollywood.”

Haley laughed.  “It’s four in Hollywood.”  She reached out and took her cranberry juice from Dylan.

Dylan’s pants started vibrating and sang out “I don’t waaaant anybody else when I think about you I touch myself.”  Dylan jumped up from his stool and spilled half of his drink onto his crotch.  “Ohhhh, I don’t want annnnybody else when I think about you I touch myself.  I touch myself.  I touch myself.”

Haley laughed and braced herself on the bar.

“What the fuck?!”  Dylan spat.  He stuffed his hands in his pockets and found his cell phone.  Liddy.  Of course it was Liddy.  “Just a minute,” he told Haley.  “This is just going to be a minute.”  He flipped open the phone, ending the vibrating and the ringtone.  “Liddy,” he said.  “Apparently you found some time alone with my phone.”

“You never answer your phone, Dylan,” she said.

“I hate my phone,” Dylan reminded her.  “I turn off the ringer.”

“This is what I’m saying.”

Dylan pulled the phone away from his ear and searched the phone menus quickly.  “Liddy, how do I stop this?  How do I turn it off?”

“You’ll never figure it out,” she said.  She was right.  Dylan was an avowed Luddite.  He hated computers and phones and Twitter like a grumpy old man.  He’d dragged his feet for as long as possible before Liddy finally forced him to get a cell phone because she was tired of never being able to contact him.  He still hadn’t figured out how to use all of its features.  Apparently his phone could tell him the current temperature when he was outside.  It was a mobile fucking weathervane.  “It’ll be an incentive to answer the phone quickly,” Liddy told him.

Haley handed the bartender some money and smiled at Dylan.

“You’re going,” Dylan said to her.  “You can’t go.  30 seconds.”

“Maybe I’ll catch you later tonight,” Haley told him.  “At Captain Ahab’s.”  She pointed to the other side of the biosphere courtyard.

“Yes,” Dylan said.  “Ahab’s.”

Haley waved and slipped out of the tiki hut.

“You wanted something, Dylan?” Liddy asked on the phone.

Dylan took a drink from his pineapple-y booze concoction.  “I did,” he said.  “You just completely cock blocked me, Liddy.”

“A woman was talking to you?”

“It happens.”

“Prostitute?”

“Fuck you, pee pants.”

“You called me, Dylan.  You wanted something from me.”

“Yeah,” Dylan sat back down at the bar.  “This guy – Cromwell.  He’s LDS.”

“And?”

Dylan paused.  “That doesn’t mean he’s a dentist.”

“I know what LDS means, Dylan.”

“You should have told me,” Dylan said.

“I should have told you he wasn’t a dentist?”

Dylan shook his head.  “Damn it, Liddy.  You know what I mean.”

“Thank God I rarely do,” she said.

“Well, he’s a Captain Nitro stalker,” Dylan told her.  “Did you know that?”

“You’re a paperback back book cover model,” Liddy told him.  “You don’t have stalkers.”

“Someone didn’t mention that to Cromwell.”

“Can you just do what you’re told and not piss off the man paying for your nice Florida weekend?”  Liddy asked him.  “Is it possible for you to not fuck this up?”

Dylan scowled.  “Dancing, singing monkey.”

“That’s right.”

On cue, Bryson appeared in the courtyard, scanning the businesses for Dylan.

“He asked me if I brought the Captain Nitro costume, Liddy.”

“Two days, ten grand,” Liddy reminded him.

“You’re a pimp,” Dylan said, waiting for Bryson to see him.  “And I’m your ho.  Except I think hoes get more for a weekend than ten large.”

“If I was a pimp, I’d get a bigger percentage and I’d slap you a whole lot more,” she said.  “You know I’m very pregnant, Dylan and I’m trying to rest before this fucking baby tears its way out of my tiny fucking vagina but here I am babysitting you and leaving a half dozen messages a day for JT Cord saying how sorry you are.  I have hemorrhoids Dylan, like burning kisses from Hell, and I’m pacing around here cleaning up your goddam messes.  If he wants you to dress up like a fucking leprechaun I will FedEx you a costume.  DO YOU UNDERSTAND ME?”

Bryson waved and smiled at Dylan.  He started to approach.

“It’s good talking to you too, Liddy,” Dylan told her.  She started to scream more but Dylan hung up the phone before she started using human words again.  “Hey there, Bry,” Dylan called out to Cromwell.

“I was thinking if you’re not interested in the pirate ship, there’s a steakhouse,” Bryson said.

“A steakhouse sounds excellent,” Dylan lied.

Bryson looked around and when he seemed certain no one was looking pulled out a Captain Nitro book in a fitting protective plastic box from under a man purse hung on his arm.  “Shhhh,” he said.  “Meet Me on Saturn 9.”

Glum Estate Fragment – the Prologue

Notes: This was to be the prologue to the Glum Estate.  Unlike every other project I’ve ever worked on, I was writing the Glum Estate out of order so it makes some strange sense to post it out of order as well.  — Erik

Two days before she died, Cordelia Glum painted it, bare footed in her drafty studio, spinning on her heels and smudging with her thumbs.  She slashed color across the canvas with an arsenal of brushes and a pair of palette knives.  A line of menstrual red, a curve of saffron yellow, isolated pools of Aegean blue, lush equinox green, the faded somber gray of Hadrian’s Wall.  She smoked brown paper cigarettes to bitten filters, held her numb stained hands in front of a portable heater, laughed and then cried and then smiled and then closed her eyes.

When the fall turned colder and dark, Cordelia had begun to feel the maddening in her bones, the manic shivering paranoia that her hands wanted to flee her arms and her spine wished to tear loose from her thin pale skin and slither away on flailing nerve endings into the mountains.

She bit pills in half and swallowed them with wine.  She pressed pasty hash into a slender glass-blown pipe and smoked in a bathtub of steaming water, gluttonously smelling and tasting the residue from her fingertips.  She wrote books in made up languages while curled up in windowsills or when concealed under a canopy of sheets.  She grew thinner from unconscious fasting, forgot to sleep for days and methodically disassembled electronic devices and buried them in frozen earth.

Though she had disappeared for many months in sanitariums or detox clinics in small European countries during her storied life, Cordelia felt no alarm or trepidation as the rational control of her mind faded.  She eased into torpid delusion willingly, paced for nights without rest, imagining that she was not losing her mind but instead approaching a perfect state of mindlessness, a kind of numinous epiphany that she had only barely glimpsed before in the fugue of drug induced desert wanderings or in catatonic psychotic blurs bound by leather straps into beds that smelled too heavily of bleach.  She recalled psychedelic poetry, fractal images, exiled Tibetan wisdom, whirling Dervish lovers, patchwork philosophies and an ecstatic nomad vagrant that told her once as the Brooklyn sun set into a halo behind his wind tangled hair: “life is a war that your soul fights against your mind and body.”

Cordelia had started the war preemptively when she was barely a girl, thirteen in the backseat of American cars, fumbling toward angst ridden nothing in a haze of Canadian whiskey and Canadian boys and never relented.   She abused chemicals and hormones and danger and intimacy and grief, addicted to the suddenness of it all, afraid of nothing more than stillness, peace.  She hurtled headlong through her teens and twenties, creating and destroying with a primal abandon.  She was always going to be legendary; it was all that she could be.

It was after the magazine cover stories and late night talk show appearances, the honorary degrees, galleries, opiates, shock treatments, installations, performances, students, decades, lovers, children, biographers, ovarian tumors (bronzed and titled), confessions and Helsinki bar fights that Cordelia Glum’s life ended in the Green Mountains, two days after she stood in timid approval of her final painting in a barn turned studio, in the winter.  That untitled final work encapsulated for Cordelia all of her fifty-four mad and provocative years in the swirl and bend of color and lines, a dense spiritual understanding stripped, exposed in muddled disorder, in perfect chaotic serenity.  She saw the expansive, unknowable cosmos of supernovas and white dwarf stars and vast nihilistic vacuums, the aching desperate ascetic communion with divinity yearned for in every small or massive land, prayed for in every broken Babel tongue, the organic mysteries of her every fleshy cell, the significance of her arbitrary or autonomic thoughts and impulses arcing from one wrinkled labyrinthine corner of brain to another, Platonic forms, light broken and reconstructed, laughter.  She saw all of it and knew all of it, communed with all of it and became it, her body and mind anticipating final defeat, solemn surrender.  Her soul triumphant.  The war nearly concluded.

Cordelia Glum’s final work would be considered and misunderstood.  It would be revisited but ultimately remain enigmatic and unsatisfying; the clarity within it withheld for mad women and prophets.  To all others it would stand only as an abstract tragic gathering of color that gave nothing of an explanation, said nothing of regret or goodbye.

Cordelia Glum let the palette knives fall where they would one last time.  The morning broke over the mountains in the distance, reflected up cool blue from snow blanketed ground.  Cordelia, the artist, the feminist battle cry, the mother, junkie and pop culture saint left her studio and the smell of drying oil paint.  She let the smoldering half smoked spicy Moroccan cigarette fall from fingers to the snow with a step, the smoking tip hissing as it hit the ground.  Her brushes were left unwashed, the heater and lights left on to keep vigil to the tall empty space.  She walked into the snow in unfaltering steps, arms uncovered, calmly, leaving tracks in the soft fresh snow that would soon be covered and disappear.

Glum Estate Fragment – Lowey

Notes: Another fragment from the Glum Estate.  This one is obviously much shorter.  It’s been almost 5 years since I worked on this but I assume I intended this fragment to go on longer.  — Erik

On the plane for too many hours listening to a deliberate mix of obscure Canadian indie rock music on a cherry red sliver of an MP3 player, the youngest, Marlow, Lowey, the wunderkind rolled it over again and again; Mom’s dead.  It became her mantra.  “Please fasten your seat belts.”  Mom’s dead.  “Would you like a beverage?”  Mom’s dead.  Mom’s dead.  Mom’s.  Dead.

Lowey drew hanged men on the white space of her airline branded barf bag.  She drew little “x”s for the eyes.  Mom’s dead.  She asked for just ice, please.  She chewed frozen blocks, breaking them to a crushed pulp and swallowing them, still sharp.  Mom’s dead.   She squirmed in her seat, looked out the window. 

One of the stewardesses said, “excuse me – I think I follow you on Twitter.”  She could have been Marlow’s mother.  Most of the women on the plane could be her mother.   Lowey thanked the stewardess for her dedication and asked if she could please have a small bottle of Stoli and some more ice.   The stewardess paused.  “How old are you again?”  She asked.  The stewardess had crow’s feet.  She covered pock marks, blemishes and old acne scars with a spackle of foundation just slightly too dark to blend in to her face.  Lowey shrugged.  “Spirtually?”  Lowey gave the stewardess the barf bag.

“This is really yours?”  The stewardess asked excitedly.  Lowey asked for two bottles of Stoli, please.  Hurry.

It was Whitman on the phone.  “Lowey, I’ve left you twenty messages,” he told her on the phone a half dozen hours earlier.

“I do things, Whitman,” Lowey explained.  She was standing naked in the studio.  She had painted her left nipple yellow.  She had thrown a handful of mixed color every few minutes onto seven carefully arranged epoxied fast food fish sandwiches.

“Mom’s dead.”

Lowey imagined the words would eventually lose any semblence of meaning.  She imagined that she would forget the placement of the phone against her cheek when Whitman told her, the smell of the paint, the texture on the tips of her fingers, the distant grumble of her empty stomach that had nagged at her since she encased the fish sandwiches in plastic.  It would take days or weeks or months.  A million Mom’s dead.  But then she would forget it.  They would just be words.

“You need to come home, Lowey,” Whitman told her on the phone back in her studio.  “We need to come home.”

Lowey hung up the phone.  She dropped it.  She sprayed down the rainbow colored plastic enshrined fish sandwiches with lighter fluid.  She dropped a match.  Dark smoke rose, the scent toxic and revolting.  Then the alarm screamed and sprinklers showered her.  She washed the paint from her breast.  She ran her fingers through her short hair.  She let her head hang down from the weight of water.  It was cold and turned her skin to gooseflesh.  She held out her arms wide as if to accept an embrace.  The flames smoldered.  The smoke slowed to wisps.  The water stopped.  She stood in an inch of paint muddy water.  Marlowe Glum shivered.  Mom’s dead.

On  the plane, headed across country from light to dark, back in time zones, with her MP3 playlist and her two bottles of Stoli and her ice, Marlowe wondered why she hadn’t cried at all.  She wondered why the feeling had been like a cold sucking emptiness, a black hole opened in her heart.  She wondered when it would feel real.  She wondered when it would stop.  She thought in words and in colors.  She felt numb.  Mom’s dead.  Was it supposed to feel different?  Mom’s dead.  A koan.  A prayer without ceasing.  A post traumatic shock.

The captain put the fasten seatbelt sign on.  They announced that it was time to turn off all portable electronic devices.  Lowey pretended she hadn’t heard.  She closed her eyes and turned up the volume.  The barf bag stewardess, the Twitter follower, crow’s feet, shook Lowey’s shoulder.

“Please,” Lowey told her.  She felt tears seeping out, uninvited.  “Please don’t,” she said.  “I need it.”

Glum Estate Fragment – Whitman

Notes: This is a fragment from a project I worked on several years ago called the Glum Estate about a group of siblings that return home after their famous, eccentric, insane mother dies. I have a lot of material for it and expect that someday I will revisit the concept but when I do, I will probably re-write most of it. I’m left with several orphaned fragments that are perfect for this site while I continue to polish and post more current material. Hope you enjoy! –Erik

When the call came Whitman Glum was staring at a blinking cursor, an expanse of white space, in dark blue flannel pajama pants, a t-shirt, midnight stubble and nothing to write. Whitman Glum, the acclaimed author of Penelope’s Lesson, After Louisiana and other Stories, heralded as a “bold new voice” in a 1997 issue of Atlantic Monthly, profiled in Vanity Fair, Harper’s and Rolling Stone, a Rhodes Scholar, and a brief tabloid sensation during his 6 week courtship with post-Pulp Fiction Uma Thurman; peaked in his mid-thirties and increasing terrified of his own creative obituary. He imagined the words “redundant” and “gratuitous” in scathing reviews. He imagined literary mediocrity.

It was Emily that answered the phone and padded in bare feet to Whitman’s study to tell him the news. With one hand on her pregnant belly the other holding Whitman’s cell phone, Emily said, “it’s Cordelia, Whitman. It’s your mother.”

“I’m working,” Whitman lied.

“She’s dead.”

At breakfast that morning Whitman folded a cloth napkin on his lap expectantly, looking across the table at Abigail Minerva, Joseph Pritchard and Horace DeWitt and insisted it was not a writer’s block. He didn’t believe in writer’s block.

They were at Le Table, a white gold and silver slightly French restaurant and wine bar. The three deans sat on the inside of a C shaped table, leaving Whitman on the sharp outer edge looking in at them, huddled and ready.

“Let’s not quibble over terminology, Whitman,” Pritchard said coolly. They had intimidating names, names that could have been picked from a long lost rum soaked Fitzgerald manuscript. They had premeditated mannerisms and looked nearly identical to their portrait photographs framed and on display in Kniesley Hall. Narrow Joe Pritchard in his tweed three piece suit sipped from his tea. He dabbed his napkin against his pale hairless upper lip. He drank everything like it was a fine scotch.

“The fact remains that we have expectations that are not being met,” Abigail continued. She was a cruel caricature of an academic woman; brilliant, competitive, brutal. She was small, dark haired and never laughed in public.

“I have produced work,” Whitman responded defensively. He had not been sure what would await him when the three deans invited him for breakfast but imagined the topic of his sophomore novel would be broached.

“Shit,” Horace spat.

“Excuse me?” Whitman turned his attention to the youngest but most imposing dean. Horace DeWitt was built like a professional football player and got literary awards and honorary degrees for his essays, novels, notes to the gardener and shopping lists. He’d been invited to the White House to discuss literature with two presidents and had once stopped a mugging on the New York City subway by breaking the mugger’s arm with his bare hands. He was a physical and intellectual titan. His skin was a rich coffee black and had long hair falling past his shoulders. During Whitman’s first year at the Hollister Academy he’d heard the story of an instructor that found Horace in flagrante delicto with his wife. The instructor apologized to Horace.

“Shit,” Horace repeated. “You’ve produced shit.”

“The academic essays, the vignettes-“ Abigail began.

“Short stories,” Whitman corrected. “Short fiction. Published in popular and significant journals. That will be collected, anthologized.”

“Yes,” Pritchard said. “But of more pressing interest to us is an overdue full length manuscript.”

“You see, Whitman, Hollister has made an investment in you and we are becoming concerned,” Abigail continued.

“Brilliant novels can’t be produced overnight,” Whitman defended.

“Eight years,” DeWitt said. “You’ve been at Hollister for eight years and in that time you’ve published a book of self indulgent essays and a half dozen stories.”

“You’ve been given sabbatical,” Pritchard reminded him, referring to Whitman’s six month journey through Mongolia and two years later the eight months he lived in Athens.

“An assistant,” DeWitt added.

“In addition to your 4 months of vacation annually, we have reduced your class load and adjusted your schedule so that you would have one additional day a week for your creative pursuits,” Abigail told him. “And we have been nothing but disappointed by the results of this generosity.”

“I’ve been working on it,” Whitman told them. “I have.” He felt like a small child confronted the morning after wetting his bed.

“You need to work faster,” DeWitt informed him.

“Whitman, this will be your last academic year at Hollister if you are unable to sufficiently live up to the profile expected of you,” Joe Pritchard said bluntly.

“That’s six months,” Whitman said. “That’s impossible.”

“Hollister Academy is among the most prestigious and renowned college preparatory boarding schools in the world. Our student body includes the children of senators, congressmen, cabinet members, foreign dignitaries and the presidents of Ivy League universities,” Abigail said. “There are expectations the parents, students and alumni have of our faculty. If you are unable to meet those expectations there are other candidates that will.”

“If you are able to present to us a manuscript draft and details on an upcoming publication date by July first, you will be retained,” Pritchard advised. “Failing that…”

DeWitt stood up abruptly. “Maybe you can find a position at a nice state university.”
The three deans were not the first to demand Whitman’s sophomore opus. He had been given similar though less direct demands from his agent, his publisher, the webmaster of his fan site, two of his assistants, the owner of a favorite local bookstore and an angry fan in the Pittsburgh airport that threw a half eaten gyro at him before yelling, “where’s the fucking book at?”

On the phone ten minutes after the deans left him with his cold fennel egg white omelet and pomegranate juice, Emily tried to reassure him. “Whitman, I don’t care where we live and where you work. I just want you to be happy. I support you unconditionally.”

“It’s not about that,” Whitman tried to explain to her. Beautiful pregnant supportive Emily.

“What’s it about, Whitman? What do you want to do? We can do it. Together we can do it.”

“They’re right,” Whitman said. “About me. That collection of essays was self indulgent, terribly self indulgent.”

“I don’t care what they say,” she told him. “I love you.”

“I know,” he said. He tossed the napkin onto the table and stood up. “I love you too.”

“I have hot yoga at 8:30 but I can skip it if you need me,” Emily said.

“No,” Whitman headed for the exit. “You go. I’ll be fine. I just need to think through this.”

“Okay,” she said. “You should call Landon. For thinking.”

Whitman considered it. “Maybe,” he said.

“I love you very very very very much.”

“I love you too. I’ll see you later.”

“Landon is the problem, Whitman,” Yuki told him as he slid into a booth at Benny’s Diner later that morning. Yuki took a tin out of his winter coat and put it in the center of the table. Silas sat next to him, Whitman across from him and Dennis took the last spot next to Whitman. They were an eccentric cabal: Yuki, the expatriate Japanese-Canadian albino performance artist and poet; Dennis Craig, the bearded novelist of modest repute; Silas Wertham, the abnormally short and bald playwright and drama critic in exile from New York City; and finally, Whitman Glum the literary failure.

“Landon,” Whitman repeated. “Would you care to elaborate?”

Yuki opened the tin and took out a hand sanitizing wipe. He opened the package and quickly wiped down his alabaster hands and cheap silverware.

“You know how Yuki feels about mental health,” Dennis interjected.

“I’m against it,” Yuki said. “Mental health and or happiness are the worst things that can happen to an artist.”

Their waitress, Kimberly, got to the table with their waters. “Hello gentlemen. When I checked my calendar this morning it wasn’t Thursday. I’m surprised to see you.”

The four of them had been holding weekly informal meetings at Benny’s for six years. The four of them flipped over their coffee cups. “Emergency meeting,” Silas explained.

“Must be nice not to have work or anything interfere with these emergency meetings of yours,” Kimberly said.

After talking with Emily, Whitman had walked through campus aimlessly for forty-five minutes and then told his assistant to run his classes for the day and called the others.

“This is our work,” Yuki told her.

“I’ll be back with your coffees-“ Yuki held up his hand to interrupt her – “ and your hot water,” Kimberly finished.

“Now,” Yuki said, replacing his newly polished silverware down on the table, “where were we?”

“You think my counselor is interfering with my writing,” Whitman said.

“I think your counselor is part of the problem, certainly,” Yuki said. “I’ve warned you before, Whitman.”

“You warned against taking a job, against getting married, having children,” Whitman said. “Essentially, you warn against everything that isn’t whipping myself and writing a story about it.”

“Anxiety, depression, seething anger; these are the foundations of creativity,” Yuki told him. “Trying to whitewash it away with a quaint little job, with a family and regular psychoanalysis it’s just going to suffocate your artistic voice.”

“Yuki supposes that the only good writer is a miserable one,” Silas interpreted.

“Not just writers, Silas,” Yuki said. “This is across the board for poets, novelists, essayists, painters, actors, musicians, what have you; misery is the soul of man, the evolutionary force that drives us. Without suffering, a man will succumb to the basest comforts. He will grow fat from the abundance of the land and wallow in the complacency of his own meaningless existence. He will die with a smile on his face and fertilize weeds and fungus.”

Kimberly returned with two pitchers. She poured coffee for Silas, Dennis and Whitman and filled Yuki’s mug with hot water. “Do you need any food for your emergency meeting?”

“No,” Yuki said. “Just privacy.”

“We’re fine, Kimberly, thanks,” Whitman told her.

“Another round of coffee in twenty, twenty two minutes,” Silas told her.

“Sure,” Kimberly said. “Twenty-two minutes.” She left the table.

Yuki opened his tin and took three sugar cubes from folded wax paper and dropped them into his hot water. He stirred in alternating clockwise and counter-clockwise motions. He was affecting obsessive compulsive traits, Whitman noticed. It was new.

“You realize that you’re full of shit,” Dennis said after his first sip of coffee. He dragged his fingers down through his full beard. He had not shaved his face since Kurt Cobain’s death when he was in college.

Yuki smiled. He wore thick prescription sunglasses. His moppish white Andy Warhol hair covered his forehead. “Except that you know I’m not.”

“You’ve been working on that novel, Whitman,” Silas said, changing the subject. “That one about the veterinarian.”

“The animal insemination technician,” Whitman said.

“That one. It sounded interesting. Where are you with that one?” Silas asked.

“It’s shit,” Whitman said. “Complete drivel, unsalvageable. I gave up on it last spring.”

“What about that modern safari piece?” Dennis suggested. “You sent us fragments.”

“Unworkable,” Whitman said. “Nothing I have, none of the old stuff, has any potential. I get an idea, maybe a few lines of dialogue or a description of a scene but the deeper connective tissue, the substance that keeps all of it from just being a gimmick peppered with allusions, metaphors, flowery speech – it’s not there. If I produce anything short of revelatory I’ll be crucified critically. I worked on something for weeks that I thought was groundbreaking until I realized I was rewriting a section from Finnegan’s Wake from memory. I need something more.”

“You could try free writing,” Silas told him. “Unconscious association. Just start writing and wait to see what comes out. I do it every time between projects.”

“All of your projects are about repressed homosexuality and religious guilt,” Yuki said.

“That’s neither an accurate nor productive statement,” Silas replied bitterly. “Thanks anyway.”

Dennis dragged his fingers through his beard and cocked his head to the side thoughtfully. “I can see it,” he said.

“Fuck you,” Silas hissed.

“It proves a point,” Yuki said. “Silas writes about the conflicts of his homosexual yearnings and his deeply orthodox Jewish background and his physical shame from being small in stature.”

“Small in stature?” Silas fumed. “What the fuck does that mean, Yuki?”

Dennis smirked. “He’s talking about your cock, Silas.”

“Crude and completely narcissistic, Yuki,” Silas spat. “You’ve taken Whitman’s very real problem and transformed it an opportunity for you to put your armchair psychology on display.”

Yuki sipped from his sugar water. “It’s evident, Silas. Our flaws and insecurities inform and permeate our greatest works. It’s in the scripts, on the stage and it proves my point. It’s because of how fucked up you are in the head that your work has any real merit at all. If you found peace with the internal turmoil – you should resign yourself to writing romantic comedies for Hollywood or directing GAP commercials.”

“We’re not all as dysfunctional as you’d like us to be, Yuki,” Dennis said.

“We’re not?” Yuki said. He shrugged. “I’m a bi-sexual albino sleeping pill addict with bipolar
tendencies. You’re an alcoholic misogynist sex addict, Dennis.”

“What?” Dennis said.

“Porn addiction is synonymous,” Yuki told him.

“I’m not a porn addict,” Dennis objected.

“You masturbate a dozen a day and whisper to yourself while you do it,” Yuki said. Dennis’s face contorted
incredulously. “I was going through a manic phase in Pittsburgh and was not asleep when you thought I was.”

“This is just mean spirited,” Silas said. “We should change the subject entirely.”

Whitman held up his hand. “No,” he said. “I want to hear this. Do me, Yuki. I want to hear it.”

Yuki shrugged. “You’re happy, Whitman,” he said. “You love your wife. You like your job and respect your coworkers. You eat well and exercise. You play squash. You go to Unitarian church and it’s just right for you. You used to have so much all tangled up. Penelope’s Lesson was a twisted dense novel stuffed with mother issues, sibling jealously, sublimated anger, lust, fear, liberal guilt and raw hungry need for approval and acknowledgment. You had it all, Whitman. You had Cordelia fucking Glum for a mother but you let it go. You forgave her. Now? Now, you’re happy and that’s pretty much the kiss of death.”

Whitman stared at Yuki for a long silent moment. He remembered those nights writing Penelope’s Lesson, remembered the visceral process of it. Drinking heavily alone, pacing his shithole Brooklyn apartment in the coldest weeks of winter with the heat turned off, destitute and hopeless but for the book. He remembered typing until the tips of his fingers felt bruised, forgetting if it was day or night or what month it was and not caring, not eating, collapsing in his bed, chain smoking and crying, hating himself for not being able to tell the story the way it felt, ignoring calls from his sister, from Dennis, writing notes on the back of his hand on subway trips, hating the city, jacking off in the cold shower and not shaving for days, turning pale and gaunt but finally emerging. Finally, finishing the book and reading it from start to finish over and over again like exorcising a demon, a legion of demons. There had been times he had thought of dying. There had been days he couldn’t get out of bed. It seemed so long ago. It seemed like ancient history. He missed it terribly.

“You have no idea what you’re talking about, Yuki,” Whitman finally said. “You’re right – I am happy. I’m shitting happy. And it doesn’t have any impact. Silas is right- I need to free write. I need to go back to the well on some of those ideas. I can write a fucking novel in a weekend that’s ten times better than anything Horace DeWitt could write in a lifetime.”

“Hell yeah,” Dennis said and raised his coffee cup in a toast.

“I hope so,” Yuki said.

“I just needed the fire,” Whitman told them. “Give me a deadline and I’ll blow your goddam mind.”

Yuki dropped another sugar cube into his water and smiled knowingly. Whitman imagined breaking his hands. He decided he’d free write about it later.

Whitman managed to free write for forty-five minutes before deciding he should check TiVo to make sure it was still recording all of his favorite programs. He wrote about the curtains Emily put up in the living room. They were peach colored or maybe it was just the light. He didn’t recognize them. He wrote about the pubescent breasts of a Palestinian American student and used them as a literary device to analyze the Arab Israeli peace process. He wrote a haiku about baby carrots and hummus and discovered that some of his favorite BBC America shows were not on the Season Pass list. Whitman watched Fawlty Towers. He wondered if there was any new porn. He knew that there was certainly porn he hadn’t seen but wondered if they’d come up with any new kinds since the last time he checked. He imagined they had, that there were new kinds of porn he didn’t even know about.

Emily came home before lunch. “Hey there,” she said. “Do you want me to make you a fresh fruit smoothie? I got feijoa.”

“I’m working, Emily,” Whitman snapped. He paused Fawlty Towers.

“I’m sorry, sweetie,” she said.

Whitman wanted her to not be sorry. He wanted to get into an argument with her although he knew it would never work. “Well, pay attention,” he said.

Emily smiled. “I’ll try.”

“Goddamit, Em,” Whitman said. “Could you just… you know? Like we talked about?”

“Oh!” She said. “Right.” She shook her arms and legs a little bit like an actor preparing to go on stage, lowered her head and brought it back up again. “Why don’t you pay attention, Whitman?”

“Because I’m working, remember,” he said.

“Oh yeah,” she said. He could see she was struggling to continue. It was foreign to her. All kinds of verbal sniping, spats, screaming fits were something she didn’t do, had never done and faked poorly. “Well, well, shut up then,” she said finally.

Whitman turned the television off. “This isn’t working.”

“I’m sorry, sweetie,” Emily said. “I can keep trying.”

“No,” he said. “This is ridiculous.”

It was Landon’s epiphany for Whitman to talk to Emily about the fighting.

“You need to be honest with her, Whitman,” Landon had told him in a session early in the pregnancy. “Trust and love have a foundation in honesty.”

“I don’t know,” Whitman told his therapist. “It seems strange.”

“There’s nothing strange about owning your needs,” Landon told him. “Feel them,” he said. “Right here.” Landon put his fist against Whitman’s heart. “In your heart, Whitman. Feel.”

That night over dinner Whitman told his wife that not fighting made him feel insecure, that her serenity and willingness to compromise without surrendering her own needs to his, was a little condescending.

“So you want us to argue?” She asked him.

“Yes,” Whitman said with a nod.

Emily scooped up some quinoa and eggplant. She shrugged. “I’ll try.”

And she did. She watched movies where couples bickered and she took notes. She even told him that she didn’t like watching the Charlie Rose Show with him but her heart wasn’t in it. They hadn’t consummated a successful argument and it only left Whitman feeling more frustrated.

“How do I know that you really love me if you don’t yell at me or play guilt trips or give me the silent treatment – just something so I knew you were really angry with me and I’d done something wrong?” Whitman had asked Emily in desperation after a particularly unsatisfying attempted argument about properly sorting the recycling.

“FUCK YOU, YOU SHIT RAPING PISS BAG!” Emily screamed at him loud enough that her voice was hoarse. She coughed afterward and trembled. She dropped a coffee cup onto the kitchen floor but it didn’t break. She finally lowered her head in defeat. “Maybe we need a marriage counselor.”

“No,” Whitman told her. He embraced her and ran his hands through her silky wonderful hair. He put his hand on her swollen pregnant breast. “We can get through this.”

“We could have sex,” Emily offered him after it was clear that their argument about his not working was not working and her offering him a fruit smoothie was going to go nowhere. “To get your mind off the stuff with the deans this morning.”

Whitman thought about it. “I don’t think so. I really need to write.”
Emily put her fresh produce on the counter and flipped her stripper switch. She couldn’t argue but she could move like a cheap exotic dancer. She had taken classes when Whitman told her that he thought it was kind of sexy. She moved around the phantom stripper poll. She tucked her thumbs into the elastic of her yoga pants. She spanked her ass, kissed the air, squeezed her full milky breasts together.

“I shouldn’t,” Whitman told her.

She gave him her sad school girl pout. She kicked one foot back and twirled her hair.

They coupled in the kitchen. Right there. Downward Praying Porn Star. The Tibetans had a special kind of
pregnant tantric sex yoga, Emily told him. At least he thought she said it was the Tibetans. Someone had it and Emily learned it. Reverse Bodhisattva 69. She twisted and moved elegantly like a very pregnant spiritual sex river lapping across his fleshy shore. Her arms and legs, her belly, weightless, supple, warm and limber. Double Mockingbird Sex Lunge. Somehow he was holding an ankle, somehow he was kissing the back of her neck. She made koan sex sounds. Made a hum like a bell that he could feel vibrate through them both.

Whitman screamed out in spiritual muscle earthquake ecstatic orgasm with one of his feet on the counter and the other pressed against the refrigerator. Feijoa rolled out of the bag to the tile. Feijoa; pineapple guava. Sweet pulp. Screaming Tiger Fuck Triumph. Whitman helped his wife get back on the ground.

“I could really go for a fucking smoothie now,” Whitman said.

Meanwhile, Cordelia Glum died. It would have happened when Whitman was in his office he calculated. It would have happened sometime after he told Emily he was skipping dinner to work, maybe she died at the same time he called and left a message for Landon.

“Landon, I need help.”

Was he depressed or just lazy and settled? He hoped he was depressed. Had he felt all he could feel? Had he said all he could say? Cordelia died at home. He could have been there if he’d known, if he could have known. He thought he should have been there but didn’t know why or what he would have done.

Emily sorted out the plane ticket while Whitman made the calls. “Mom’s dead.”

Whitman emailed the deans and explained he would be going on a brief leave to make arrangements.

The first story Whitman ever wrote he wrote with colored pencils in a blank journal he’d stolen from his mother’s room. It was about space pirates and a dinosaurs and a little boy with glasses. He drew the characters with his colored pencils. He labeled them. He was 9.

“You read it,” Whitman said when he came home from school to find his mother holding the journal on the porch.

She smiled. “I did.”

“I’m sorry,” he said

“Come here,” she said and motioned for him to come to her. She was smoking a thin cigar, she was still in a summer dress even though the autumn turned cold weeks before. “Fuck them,” she told him. “Whatever they say to you- fuck them. God is dead and nothing is real or true except what you manage to piece together when you’re alone and the only honesty you have is your own shit and fear. Look at me,” she insisted. She squeezed his arms tightly, bruising him. “You’re made of something absurd and rare. My blood. The only thing you’ll ever need to apologize for is being ordinary.”

Maybe the memory was embellished but it remained remarkably clear. Her words couldn’t have been exact but they were somehow entirely authentic.

“Whitman,” his mother said to him when he was 9 and she had his purloined journal with his dinosaur space pirate story. “Go in the house and call your brother. I’ve taken pills, Whitman. Tell him that I’ve taken pills. Go.”

She pushed her son toward the house and walked down from the porch. She walked toward the road and Whitman just watched her. She stared down at approaching traffic. As a car approached she screamed.

“Mom’s dead.”

This is going to be complicated, Whitman thought. This is going to hurt like boiled over hell all over again. Emily was packing his bag. The cursor was blinking on the computer screen.

“I prayed for this,” Whitman said out loud. Emily stopped packing. “Jesus Christ, I needed this.”

And Whitman screamed.