Story Time with William Giraldi
The world is ending, and every page of every magazine ever printed has self-destructed – burned, BURNED! – in protest of the coming apocalypse of the newsstand because by golly the printed page is a dinosaur waiting to breathe its last breath and die in the thirsty, muddy pits of Fantasia-evocation and early childhood horror. This is, at least, what some would have us believe and what we Gophers might have started preaching (if only out of fear of the rapidly wagging index finger) if the world did not given us William Giraldi. If you google him (as if you were not going to) you will see his impressive print-record in periodicals such as “The Believer” and “Opium” and perhaps even come across his much anticipated novel “Busy Monsters” coming out in 2011 thanks to the folks at W.W. Norton. He is the Senior Fiction Editor at AGNI. He teaches writing. And his stories are maddeningly good. As we found out when we contacted him, he is also the anti-asshole. This makes him, in our minds, rarer than Sasquatch. Did we mention his stories are incredible? We are going to stop typing now and leave you with a portion of his story “Legend Has It.” Read, weep and look for the entire piece in the print issue (out soon!).
LEGEND HAS IT
Here’s where my life story goes haywire and more than a tad willy-nilly: I, Charles Homar, a middle-classy gent from New England, much in debt to those tricksters at Visa, and very much in love/lust with my onetime, awol fiancé Gillian—her name!—had found myself in Washington state on a Bigfoot hunting expedition—I’m serious—with an African American rogue/hunter named Romp. He said I could win back Gillian if I captured a creature and made headlines, and my swamp of a heart believed him. So—this admission causes me shame, but admit I must: Romp located the Bigfoot and tussled with the feral stink of it, and I, in my terror and perplexity, retreated like an anorexic squirrel. Yes, I abandoned my semi-friend Romp in the abysmal green of those woods, left him to be devoured by the jaws of some primeval abomination not known to science or the empirical data it deems proof. Call me a coward; you won’t be the first.
I had a heart harassed and was much in need of sweet kisses from a certain double X chromosome there in the Seattle area. So I retreated from those ancient woods in Romp’s slick SUV and hustled down to the suburbs outside Seattle where I knew a gal named Sandy McDougal who had once granted me a date or two when she still lived in Connecticut, before I crashed headlong into my iceberg in heels, Gillian Lee. In addition to needing moderate doses of female attention—any slob in my situation would—I needed counsel: Sandy was a psychotherapist with advanced degrees in Freudian this-and-that, knew the alchemy of an astronaut called Jung, had published papers in journals with long names. People, I was a frantic insect now at an impasse, my Sasquatch plan having failed me large. If I was going to get Gillian back—she was just then in New Zealand reveling in the spotlight after she had netted the first ever living giant squid—and calm the clamor beneath my breast, I required the acumen of this gal who once said I was cute, my whiskers Western in a Wyatt Earp way.
With technology courtesy of those eggheads from Apple I located Sandy M. in just a matter of hours after arriving at an upstanding county library, the well-funded sort that attracts the unemployed and otherwise unambitious. At the doors to the library, some bookworm on welfare recognized me from the color photos that have been printed next to the stories I scribble for newspapers and weekly slicks—all about Gillian’s quest for the giant squid, and the assault she unleashed upon the spring in me when she dismantled our engagement to pursue this legendary ocean item. The forty-year-old Seattle native—a squinting non-athlete in glasses who was also, no doubt, loyal to his mother and the pies she baked him—provided me with the much needed directions to Sandy’s homestead, just twenty minutes east of where I was standing.
“So Charles,” he said into the sun, “your Gillian found the giant squid in the gelid waters near the pole. Her life’s passion. When will you be reunited? I’m waiting for that part of the yarn.”
“Stranger,” I said, “you and me both. Right now I am in want of quick bliss and a hiatus from all things giant squid and Gillian. I am withered and just a cha-cha away from wasted, so if you don’t mind, step aside and watch me go.”
“I read this week’s story!” he yelled after me. “How could you have abandoned Romp? That Bigfoot ate him!”
Over my shoulder I showed him a middle finger as I fiddled with the beeping hand-held thingy that was supposed to unlock the SUV. I ended up squirming in through the back hatch when the other doors refused—refused!—to open. Some passing teenage joker in a hemp getup said to me, “SUVs ruin the environment, pal,” to which I replied, “Ruin has a twin named Dread, and the despots rule the earth, you twit, so write that down and remember it.” He found me funny.
Now . . . the most prudent part of me declared that before delivering myself to Sandy’s doorstep I needed to bathe and perhaps clothe my frame in threads that were not stained with the various loam I had rolled through on the Bigfoot expedition just a few days earlier. I took a motel room near the highway and trekked behind it, through unsightly weeds and scrub, to a trusty K-Mart looking majestic in the midday sun blaze. The heat was everywhere and outrageous; I longed for an arctic blizzard that would chill me into submission and acceptance. Instead, I had the summer and the way it makes a man lonesome and romantic. That clothing I planned to purchase had been wrought by orphans in Malaysia; no matter—I needed new duds and could not afford to mimic a person with choice or leisure. I also bought a tube of sticky goo to plaster back my hair in a way that might suggest Clark Gable, and a five-dollar cologne in a plastic bottle that smelled of turpentine or birth fluid or both.
Understand: in addition to needing Sandy’s guidance, I was feeling just a smidgen sexy-like and suave, and this I welcomed as a respite from the purple melancholy that had been chortling at me since Gillian had packed up and said bye-bye, choosing her quest for the giant squid over loyal me. I looked up “fairness” in the dictionary and it was not there. Yes, I was a schmuck who entertained himself on Bigfoot expeditions and went in search of long-lost gals who lived in foreign time zones. Fine. I had recently acquired a malicious fear of sitting still, as if I might fossilize, the only remnant of me those stony bones speaking to anthropologists, far into the grimy future, who would hold me for just a minute before deeming me unworthy of study. My DNA and other vital strands chanted, “Live!” I thought Sandy McDougal would appreciate my verve and perhaps compliment me, which, truth be known, was all I required at this sharp point: a female compliment. Every man is a walking mouth after milk.
As I strutted before my motel room mirror that day—freshly scrubbed, garbed in new attire, and sporting a suntan the Aztecs would have envied—I said aloud, “Charlie, be a gentleman and quote Catholics frequently, perhaps Chesterton or, better yet, Newman”—two British clowns I had perused in college—“but above all stand erect and declare your distance from baboons.” With that I sallied from the modest motel, directions in hand, and did not think of poor Romp devoured by Sasquatch—only of my Gillian in the multiple arms of another organism and the possibility—pray—that we would be reunited before my seed stopped swimming.
Amped up though I was, with deeds to do, I still possessed sound enough mind to know that landing unannounced on the doorstep of a dame unseen or unspoken to in several years was not altogether orthodox behavior, and that my spontaneity might be met with flying spittle or else out-and-out indifference. Or perhaps fisticuffs with a new beau not pleased by another man’s mission. Imagine my delight then when I finally found Sandy’s quaint suburban homestead—after several lefts and rights down very wrong roads—and she greeted me like I was a delivery boy and she in want of what I had. For several minutes I explained and she listened: Gillian and the giant squid, our ruined nuptials, my being in Seattle, Romp and Bigfoot in the wilderness, my blood moving liquidly through each limb and digit, and the trusty advice I had come seeking from her expanded cerebellum.
“I read that you were in jail,” she said.
“Oh, that. Yes, well.”
“You tried to kill Gillian and the giant squid hunter she fell in love with? Murder with a rifle? Charlie, really.”
“Sandy,” I said, “I wasn’t going to admit all that. But since you read that installment—well, then, yes, it’s true. I’ve become an ex con. And must you say fell in love with? We don’t know that for certain.”
“Okay, sorry. But you shouldn’t write up your tales for those magazines if you don’t want anyone to know, Charlie. I’ve been reading your pieces. You have comma trouble, I believe. Plus a syntax unkind to the ear.”
I was simply glad, at this juncture, that sweet Sandy didn’t mention the time I drove down to Virginia and attempted to kill Gillian’s ex boyfriend, a man not good and venal with his intent. Perhaps she had missed that story.
“Sandy,” I said, “I am in want of guidance and perhaps a lobotomy. I have come to you because I have no one else. Please help.”
Sandy had neither added blubber nor altered hair styles; she looked remarkably as she did the last I saw her several years earlier in the ice of Connecticut. Those tight auburn locks still curled down to her shoulders; and her eyes, well—one was still stuck to the wall, like Sartre. No mind: her skin and figure (bosom and buttocks both), good girl’s Mormon voice, and the multiple gigabytes of psychoanalytical data packed up in her skull—they were all enough to compensate for that indolent eye. It felt exhilarating to be that close to her again, as if my soggy will had been dried out and reanimated.
The above exchange occurred on her front porch, the dinner-time sun about ready to begin its drop. “Charlie,” she said, “I will help if I can. But right now I have supper inside and someone you must meet. Follow me.”
Someone? I must meet? But what of my blueprint for Gillian’s immediate retrieval, and maybe some one-on-one sultry cuddling to jumpstart my man-parts? As she led me inside by the wrist I glanced behind me and noticed that indeed there sat parked in her driveway a testosteroned pickup truck that had recently slogged through some angry mud. Lord.
Supper was no more than a bucket of chicken from KFC—so decidedly unromantic, not to mention acid on arteries—and the “someone” who needed my meeting was—I’m not lying—a Mexican UFO scholar so dwarfish he looked as if he had just climbed out of a test tube. I had no time to take in the house’s interior—the décor, the clean or filth of it—but I did have time to put this together: after Sandy introduced Casey Gonzales as the preeminent UFO scholar in all of Mexico City, I understood that Sandy’s hazel summer dress, clanking bracelets, and crystal pendants were the mystical sort that hippies and weirdos everywhere call their own. Could it be? So this was how she had altered then: not in weight or hairdo, but in her affiliation with the Great Pyramid of Giza and the various spins of Orion. Please tell me she did not forsake her intellect in favor of hocus-pocus and awful clothes. The air conditioner in the house droned so well I felt the drips of sweat freezing to my forehead. Also, I felt my enthusiasm melting into a pile in the center of me, that too ready to freeze.
“Casey,” I fibbed, “a pleasure to meet you. I as well once spotted a flying saucer, but this came from scorned Mrs. Millbury next door, throwing all the dishes out the window. That woman drank unholy quantities of bourbon. Plus took pills.”
“Ah yes,” he said, releasing my good handshake, “Charles Homar, the chronicler and memoirist. You are fatter than your photo.” His voice had no inkling of Mexican in it but was, rather, part homosexual, part Houston. Those M&M eyes squinted my way as if I was dawn and he newly awakened.
Sandy said, “Casey is here tracking the recent phenomenon.” We were all seated at this point around the dining room table, the center of which contained a disorganized display of plastic gizmos and other bubblegum machine junk, including those green midget aliens with the exaggeratedly Asian eyes, the kind you’ve seen twenty-six times too many via the travails of Fox Mulder and Dana Scully.
With a mouthful of chicken leg—and listening to the hope fizz from my innards because I saw that Sandy was ga-ga if not goo-goo on pop culture conspiracy notions—the bookshelf behind her stood as an affront to the cranial capacity of the averagely educated, all those fluorescent spines published by places called Nebula Press and ET Books and Shock Editions on subjects such as Atlantis, the Loch Ness Monster, and Easter Island—and this from a woman with the gall to criticize the punctuation and word order of my prose—I said, “And what, pray tell, would that phenomenon be?”
Read “Legend Has It” and ANOTHER story by our beloved Billy in the first issue of The Gopher Illustrated, in newstands soon. For more on William Giraldi, click here.