Not for a reason.
Not with a purpose.
They just happen.
This river for example.
In 1932 there was a group that had come 100 miles for a mass baptism. They’d heard the tales of the women around here, the stories of six sisters who were powerful and old and who took water from this place. Some say these people were Christians, Baptists with people from the south. They weren’t. Neither I nor anyone else knows what or who they were, but they weren’t here to visit with Christ. They came for the power.
And the power came for them.
73 people were in this river, flooding it with flesh, if you will, when a freak lightning storm broke out. A bolt or two struck the water and killed 64 of those people in the river. The bodies floated down to and past the nearby town and were never seen again. The survivors, those in the river and the twenty on the land, disappeared too. A handful turned up in the papers, to tell their story, but within a week, the people were gone. Vanished.
What did it all mean? – people wondered.
It meant nothing.
It just was.
Same as the mother who took her three children into the woods here, hoping to find her lost husband, a man who claimed to hear voices calling him into the thick woodland. They found five pairs of shoes, all lined up neat as can be, near a clearing that no one remembered seeing before. And at the center of that clearing?
Five new trees.
What does it mean?
Just as it meant nothing when my mother left my father, or my aunt shot her husband, or like it does when it rains in Japan. Yes, there are reasons for things happening, but things just happen. There need be no grand explanation for everything.
I remember being a kid and hearing my mother and father fighting, well before they split, and I was so scared, and so upset they’d break up for good. I went to my sister and asked her what was happening, why they were arguing, and you know what she told me?
Sometimes it just happens.
You can ascribe weird reasons for any and every damned thing that exists. You can create a god, a devil, a demon, an angel, an alien for anything.
The truth is what you choose to believe it to be.
Absolute truth stands in the shadows where few of us are willing to look.
But I will look.
And in those shadows I see happenstance. I see chance. I see that there is no great deity at all but a butterfly beating its wings on Day One and today we are still feeling its effects.
Once upon a time a man and woman came here to birth their baby in this river. They believed the stories about the river being a place of power and healing. They believed the story of the man, a tramp with no home, who had slept by this very river in 1923 and had awakened twenty years younger and with an idea that became changed how we manufacture a certain thing in this country.
The world shook.
The heavens fell.
Life was changed.
So they say.
So this couple, poor and living in a rented trailer just outside of town, in the borderlands where the refuse, human and otherwise, was relegated, came to this place to change their future. To give a future to their baby.
They came to this place, the place where three tribes had tried to settle but where all three had vanished. A place where two women, lovers, came to commit suicide, yet left these woods strangers, never speaking again for as long as they lived, the only hint of their affair being a forgotten note that had been left pinned to a tree.
They came here, and they had their child.
They had me.
And what am I?
I am a man.
I had a job, I had a girlfriend, I had a kid, and once upon a time we shared a small apartment.
I am neither great nor infamous.
I just am.
I have known love, loss, pain, and joy.
I was told the story of my birth, and of how the woods became still as the water ran red and my mother had me, never once screaming, the cold river serving as a sort of anesthesia. Told me of how there was the sound of something moving in the deep parts of the woods, something large and slow that never drew near but circled near them. They told me of how dad went into the woods after I was born. Walking as if in a trance, and leaving my mother there, holding me close, the cord still linking us, and he was gone for two hours, and the woods were still. When he returned he didn’t remember where he’d been or why he’d left. He just remembered six trees.
The next day he got a job at the local mill and was foreman in two months. My mother opened a beauty salon in town by the end of the year and a year to the day I was born my sister was born, though she was born in a hospital.
And now, and now, and now.
Now I am old.
My skin is soft, my hands untouched by hard labor, and my back is straight.
I am a child of modern medicine and have outlived even my own love and child.
I am an old man, Noah with no ark.
Methuselah with no savior.
So I come here, day after day after day to these woods and this river, a place with so many stories and so much lore that it’s become almost as storied as the woods that surround its waters. Just last week they found the body of a boy who’d gone missing in Kansas but wound up here, dead in this river. No one knows how he got here, or why.
Things just happen.
They happen and I hate it.
I hate the dark shadows of truth that lead me to this place, like Lucifer with his lies. I believed, for as long as I lived, almost I think to defy my father, that there was no magic in a world long past dead. A planet and its people waiting to die.
I was wrong.
I was wrong and I know that now.
Know that as I see my face in the waters and see a man of thirty who is dancing into seventy-five.
I know this as I hear the voices now, louder than they were at ten, at twenty, at thirty, louder than they have ever been and calling me. Calling me here, to this place. Now even I hear the sounds of the things in the woods, and the singing of the sisters. And I wonder what terrible price my father paid with my birth. My mother bearing myself and my sister after being told she could bear my seed to fruition, and my father a man with no healthy seed to give.
Yet here they came to create me, one moonlit night I found out on the deathbed of my father, as he screamed that the woods were coming closer, and now I wonder if we didn’t live amidst them all along.
My daughter and lover dead, killed in a car crash among these trees. My sister disappeared when she was twenty-one. Depressed and mad and gone one night that was like the night I was conceived. My life better than it should have been, my parents turning from paupers to lords of this small town in a matter of a year. The world changed with my birth, and I don’t quite know why. But I am a man born with a borrowed future and a bloody past and no understanding of my here.
And now, and now I happen to be here.
And I don’t believe anymore in happenstance.
All I hope, is that, if I walk a little way into this river, if these rocks in my pockets keep me low, and I can stay down and dream for a bit, then maybe this curse will die with me.
The trees tell me different though.
And I happen to believe them.
The air chills quickly as the sun slowly makes its way from its throne up high in the heavens toward the darkness far below and then a fleeting sleep. An old man groans and stretches himself as the sun slides away – his legs lifting up and moving out from under his rocker and over the porch’s steps, slippers loose on his feet and dangling in mid-air a moment. He raises his arms high and his shoulders pop as his fingers claw at the flaking paint of the porch’s ceiling and they too crackle. He pulls his arms and legs back in, scratches absently at his crotch, and smiles to himself.
“You look just like a pussy-cat there Trev. Just like a big kitty. Like that old cat them folks down the street used to have but lost a few years back. ‘Member that old kitty Trev?”
“Yup. Ain’t that that old tom that was always sniffin’ ‘round here after yer little Fluffy while she was still around right? Yup, I remember it. Used to pee in the garden didn’t it? Yup… Got its little tom-self killed didn’t it? Yup…”
“Yes, poor dear… Such a pretty kitty; had that big fluffy orange tail. Looked like a little tiger it did. Just like a little old tiger. You warm enough there hon?”
“Yup, don’t need no blanket yet. Not yet… Gonna need it soon though. Yup… Old sun’s goin’ down the mountain again. Goin’ back to sleep for a turn. Gonna get real cold tonight, real cold, I can feel it in my knees… Frost everything up real good. Old Fall’s comin’ ‘round again – can feel it in the air, smell it in the wind, see it in the stars. Gonna be a cold one this winter, ya can feel it comin’. Yup. Gonna be a cold one. Remember back in, when was it, sixty-eight? Had that old winter storm that kept us in the house for a week straight?”
“Remember? How could I forget? Spent most of the week in the bedroom trying to make us a baby we did…good times those were. Good times…”
“Yup. I’m…I’m still real sorry ‘bout that…”
“Sorry? For what? Oh, oh sweetie I know it wasn’t your fault. Some people just ain’t meant to have little ones is all hon. It’s God’s Will, and ya just can’t question God’s Will. Besides, we have each other…and our little visitors, we don’t need nothin’ else.”
“Yeah, we gots them visitors, I know, but a man should be able to give his woman his seed so they can make them a baby. It’s the way it was meant to be. Ain’t fair is all. Couldn’t give ya no child and then…and then that goddamn disease took…took my sight from me. Left me all but a goddamn cripple and it, it just ain’t right. I can’t give you no child, and now ya gotta take care’a me like I was some goddamn infant. Ain’t no way for a man to live. I mean, without no sight, and no way to give his woman a baby what is there for a man?”
“Sugar, oh, oh no hon, don’t say that, I hate to hear you be so down on yourself. God works in mysterious ways. You know you were always more than enough man for me. Here, take my hand, what do you feel? Remember these? Hmmmm, I bet you do. I bet you do…We may not be able to have children, my husband, but we can still try for the fun of it…”
“Ha, dammit woman yer still the vixen ain’t ya? Still wantin’ this man meat, heh. I never could resist these soft lovelies, or you. Not even after all these years. I’m still under yer spell. Tell me, sun gone down yet? I can’t feel it on my face no more so it has to be close to gone. I hate this, god do I hate this…the darkness in my head.”
“Mr. Sun is just puttin’ his head down for a nap dad. Do, do you miss it much old pop? The sun?”
“I miss all of it mother, I miss all of it. What I miss the most is seeing your face in the morning. I can still remember the first time I got to see that. You were lyin’ next to me on the floor of your mama’s place, naked, asleep, this beautiful, silly grin on your face and both of us still out of breath from the night before. God, I loved you as soon as I saw that grin, and I knew you were the one.”
“Oh, oh hon, you still remember that? Why we was still kids then. I remember that night too. My ma came home from her boyfriend’s and found us lyin’ there on her rug, our clothes all in heaps around the house and my lord was she furious. She beat the livin’ daylights outta you with that old broom of hers, you remember that? Chased you outta the place still naked if I recall. She never did like you…that I wanted you…”
“Eh, old witch that she was, heh. She was just jealous you was getting’ some action when she couldn’t even get a man to look at her unless she had her dress over her head and was sittin’ in the middle of the road.”
“Hello? Hey… Sara? Sara you still there? Where you go woman?”
“Yeah, I’m still here, just, just thinkin’…”
“’Bout what woman?”
“My ma. You. Us. Kids…”
“I’m sorry. Sorry about my shootin’ blanks, sorry that some goddamn disease took my sight…Sorry about a lot of things I s’pose. But I’m sorriest that I could never give you a child. You woulda been a great mama…”
“Oh love, all I ever needed or wanted was you. You know that don’t you? I never needed no baby to make me happy. I just… I always wonder if things woulda been different if we’d have had us some kids. Maybe God is punishing us. I dunno. But it ain’t you though sugar, it ain’t nothin’ you coulda done. Here, gimme yer hands, can you feel this, this smile, these lips, these cheeks, this throat, these breasts, this heart? It’s all for you. Because of you. I exist for you…”
“And I for you…”
She leans over to him and places her head on his thin chest. He runs a hand through her hair and puts his other arm around her shoulders. The sun falls further and the sound of crickets rises from around the small house like a siege. She smiles and her hand slips from his chest down to his belly, still smooth as it was when he was seventeen, and then lower and then he too smiles. He kisses her on her head softly and imagines her as she looked at seventeen. A life still ahead of her. A heart full of dreams, eyes full of wonder, and hands full of magic. And now, now it was all passed them both. All passed.
Suddenly there is a piercing shriek that comes from the back of the house, breaking his memories and bringing him back. And then there is another scream. And another. One that of a girl, the other that of a boy. Both very far from home and very scared.
“Now, now, don’t get yer dander up hon, I’ll see to ‘em. You just stay there and keep yer soldier at attention…”
“No, I’ll do this. Yer just gonna have to help me. There’re some things I can still do though and this is one of ‘em. Here, help me up…”
She stands slowly, her hips popping, joints grinding, and her wrinkled face closing in on itself as she grabs his arm and struggles to help him out of his rocker. He stands and stretches himself out, his arms rising high, and he shivers as the cold of the coming Fall bites at his bare ankles. Another scream cuts through the chill of the night but quickly gives way to crying and then to wheezing and coughs. He stands still a moment, the old rage building and building as the coughs finally give to the familiar mewls and whines.
“What them children need is some discipline, and I can do that father. Let me do it hon, set yerself down and I’ll be back in a jif, ‘kay? I can get myself back there and take care of this and will be back so I can finish what I started.”
“What them bastards need is to learn to behave, mother. These parents today are too damn easy on their kids. Treat their kids like they’re made of glass. They need to learn suffering. Children need to learn about suffering and what it means to respect your elders. God brought these children to our door for a reason, and that reason was to learn them what He showed us Himself. They ours now, they our children, just like the thirteen before them, and if these fail to learn then we show them the well, like the others, and we wait for God to grant us His wisdom. Now gimme my cane…good…now gimme the knife.”
“No, hon, let me…”
“Woman, gimme the knife, I’m gonna show them what suffering is…”
“Then I’m goin’ with ya father ‘cause this was a duty the Lord and Jesus gave us both, so let’s go.”
The woman grabs a long and rusty butcher knife from the windowsill and handed it to the man, the furry orange tail tied to the end of the knife sliding across his wrist. He runs the blade across the palm of one hand and feels a warm sensation run down the length of it and smiles as it drips to the porch. He was going to have to teach them a lesson. Like the others before them and the others that would come after them. Teach them manners. Suffering. Like he knew. Like they both did.
“Time to do the Lord’s work.”
She takes his arm and guides him to the door, through it, and towards the back of the house and the cellar where their students were waiting.
Apple Sauce and Rodeo Clowns
This wasn’t my dream.
This wasn’t my fantasy.
This wasn’t what I spent hours thinking about and planning for when I was a kid.
Who wants, who dreams of being a dentist. Who dreams of years and years of college so you can become a dentist.
There’s no glory in dentistry.
There’s no honor here.
There’s no fame, no fortune, there is nothing but teeth, rotten, fucking teeth.
No, I didn’t want to be a dentist.
I wanted to be a contortionist, or a wrestler or a fucking rodeo clown. Yeah, a rodeo clown. I can’t even imagine the sort of action those guys get.
It’s just, it’s sexy.
It, it just, ok, here’s what it is, you’re the star of the show. No one goes to a fucking rodeo to watch the bullshit with the cowboys. They go to watch those assholes fall on their asses so the clowns can come save them. They go to these things, and watch these rodeos to see the danger, to see the action, and to see the clowns.
Me, I’m a dentist.
I spend my days getting up early to go to work and root around in people’s filthy, disgusting mouths. I tell them to brush and floss so they won’t get cavities. What do they do? They go out for pizza and ice cream as soon as they leave my office. Some of these people’s mouths are like sewer holes making me wonder how it is that they’ve taken something meant for speech and pleasure and done this to it.
I don’t get it.
I don’t even know why I am a damned dentist. I remember being in tenth grade and we had some speaker come out to the high school, some jackass that made a million bucks after he left our area and he became some big shot business man. He went around asking people in the audience what they wanted to be, basically patting them on the back, smiling like a patronizing prick, and then telling them that sure, sure little Billy, you can be a banker some day. So he got to me and I told him what I wanted to be – a rodeo clown.
And he gave me the most shocked and appalled look I’ve ever seen. It was a full ten seconds before anyone started laughing, not sure if I was serious or not but deciding that no, I had to be fucking with them. For a full minute I sat motionless and silent as my heart broke. That was the day, no that was the moment that I made my choice, and I started laughing with them, laughing with everyone, and that was that. I became a dentist. People didn’t laugh at dentists. They didn’t stare at them. They didn’t talk about them. And while a dentist might not be the star of the show, he could still meet a respectable woman and start a family.
If he could get it up.
If he wasn’t impotent.
If he was a man.
That isn’t me though, I’m a dentist.
Sure, people need me, but they don’t love me.
They’ll never love me.
It’s like, fuck, America is all about apple sauce and rodeo clowns, we love familiarity and danger, but me, I’m a car wash on a rainy fuckin’ day.
I sold my dream. I gave up on it. I turned my back on it, and for what, for an American dream that was a lie. I turned my back on happiness to take comfortable, to take safe, to take average.
And I hate it.
And worse, I hate myself.
Ah, but that isn’t to say that I don’t have my moments. I am no wrestler, and I am no contortionist, and no, I am no rodeo clown, but I do have my moments.
I have my fun.
I wait until the patients are out, the gas seeping into their brains and turning the world to darkness, and then they’re mine. They’re so helpless, so weak, and I love it. No matter what they need done I try to insist that I put them under and usually they agree, happy to have the gas. Happy to have oblivion. At first I gassed them so I didn’t have to look into their stupid, glassy eyes, but then I realized how much power I had when they were under, and how they had none.
Now I am a performer, now I am a rodeo clown, and they, they’re my cowboys.
I get out a video camera when they’re sleeping and I perform dangerous feats with them, all while they sleep. I take off my socks and lay them on their faces. I slap them to see if they’ll wake up. I drill and fill teeth that don’t need it and charge them for it to see if they’ll notice. I’ll take small items, usually of metal, and tie them to a piece of floss, then will drop the thing down their throats and cut it free so it enters their stomachs. I let my pet snake play upon their bodies. I make them my puppets and act out plays. I turn up the gas to see how close I can get to sending them into sleep forever. And sometimes I just talk to them and they have to listen. They have to hear.
The best was when that business man from my childhood came in for a check up a few months back. He has fallen on hard times and lives in our home town again and wasn’t so high and mighty as I gave him a root canal. Oh, I cleared my schedule for him. I took my time with him. I wanted to make sure he got the best treatment. That’s the best part of working in a small town – you can be your own secretary.
I have my moments.
I never met the good woman. I never found the American dream. I never became a rodeo clown. I do have my moments though, and now I can re-live them, over and over again, while I decide what comes next.
Bring on the bulls.
Silence was our bond.
Nothingness was our partnership.
Loss was our lover.
Yet here we were.
The silence has become a weight between us that neither seems strong enough to carry or move.
The silence is an ocean neither of us can swim across.
This silence is an umbilical cord wrapped tightly around our throats and suffocating us and all I can do is stare, stare, stare at the flowerpot my mother gave her on our third anniversary.
A flowerpot for the love of god. A flowerpot to the woman I was going to marry.
My eyes fell from it and the weight on me got heavier.
What was it she’d said, what was it my mother had said to me then, when I had told her about us?
Good, she’d told me I didn’t much care for the notion of a girl like her in our family.
The sick thing is I let her say it.
I let her say that sort of thing without even uttering a sound. Was it any wonder that she treated Melanie this way? Was it any wonder Mel seemed almost like an unsavory animal to her?
That flowerpot was our relationship. It was me.
Mom got it at a garage sale, almost proud she’d paid next to nothing for it and grinning like a shark as Mel unwrapped it. I remember how red my face went, out of embarrassment and rage, and hating my mother more than ever. My mother the great magician, who could disappear and appear into my life at will, always expecting applause when she returned.
That flower pot. That goddamned fucking flower pot.
I hung my head and stared at the table. It was more worn than when I’d lived here, but it held the lemon smell of furniture polish I had always loved. I wonder if it was on here that we made it, that we made our…
I pull my mind away from that thought, that avenue and try to focus. Mel clears her throat and I look up at her and she’s looking at me and I feel like a stupid kid who got caught doing something he shouldn’t have. I realize I am slumped over in my chair and sit up straight.
“You never could sit up in these chairs, could you? It’s like the seats were made of banana peels.” She laughs and my mouth breaks into a smile. I forgot how much I loved her stupid jokes.
I had forgotten how much I missed her.
But five years is a long time.
Five years is a lifetime.
The weight grows again and it’s getting hard for me to breath. A headache forms in my temples and it’s this place, and these smells, and these memories.
I wonder if everything is still the same here. I wonder… I wonder if I went into our, no, her bedroom and went to the dresser, the antique her father had given her when she’d moved out at seventeen, if her underwear would still be in the third drawer down. Not the scandalous stuff, oh no, that underwear she kept in the bottom drawer on the left, in case her dad or someone else decided to look for something. That underwear was the stuff only she and I ever saw…oh, oh, I guess that’s not true anymore.
The weight falls and I am left hanging there, sitting at a scarred table, with blistered hands, looking at a withered love.
This was my love.
This was our home.
This was what dreams lead to.
She looks up at me.
“A lot more awkward than I had expected, ya know? And it shouldn’t be. It fucking shouldn’t be, but it is. Ya know?”
Ya know, her favorite expression and one which I had come to both love and hate at once.
“I know. I know. I hate that it’s this way. I hate that there’s this, this silence. God, do you remember how much we used to talk? How easily it came? How…”
“Well, then things changed.”
And here, saying it without saying it.
All the pleasure, all the joy, all the pain, and anger, and arguments and fucking and on and on and it all came down to that…things changed. Only, they didn’t just change, did they? No, no they didn’t. His eyes fell from her face, fragile and too thin, to her stomach and she caught him looking and he immediately flushed. Things changed.
“It isn’t your fault.”
And who said that, she or me, or was it both of us at once? Maybe it was god.
It wasn’t our fault.
“I wish things had ended differently for us. I wish…”
“I know. And I am sorry. I needed time. After, after I had it…after I had it done I just hated you. I hated me. I hated us. There wasn’t anything else for me to do. I am sorry, I am sorry I locked you out and pushed you away. I am sorry that, for the month afterwards, the month we lasted, that I tortured you. I am sorry, god…”
And I don’t know if hers came first or mine but I know it was my hand that reached for hers, and hers that took it. Five years never felt lonelier than they did now. Seeing this woman, this ghost of who I was and who I loved, yet, there, in the cave of my heart, the echo of her heartbeat. The echo of us.
“I still love you.”
Again, who said it? Or was it said at all? I can’t tell and there’s a different weight now. A weight on my tongue that was making it hard to swallow. I looked at her, searching her face and saw nothing, no, not nothing – I saw the woman I had loved so deeply, had wanted so badly to become my life but who had made a decision that killed us, that had ended us utterly and completely, but in her face I saw that no one had spoken. I had imagined those words.
Those three words with that dangerous quantifier.
More awkward silence and she released my hand and I felt suddenly cold. I looked over at the flowerpot and realized that the flower in it was dead, its body broken, its petals wilted. I remember hating Melanie so much afterwards. Hating her for her action, for her silence, for her coldness, and finally for the ending. Hating her so much that all I wanted was to erase her and by god I did. Or thought I did.
I guess I was wrong.
It was me that had called her, finding her number in some papers I was throwing out. Finding it as I packed to move across the country and away from my past. Running away from it. And I called, and she answered, and here I was. I needed to see her. I needed to say goodbye. I needed this.
I deserved this.
Oh, but what does she deserve?
Facing her, seeing no pictures of other men, no ring, and sensing no joy in her, I was shamed at my anger. Shamed at my rage. Shamed at all of it and now I wondered if she’d seen me because she needed to or because she felt she owed me this.
“So you’re moving?”
“Yeah, I need a change. I just can’t seem to find my place here. I have a buddy out West and he says I can crash with him until I find some work.”
“Good for you. You’d always wanted to move out there, it’s good you’re getting the chance. Heck, I kinda thought you had moved out there.”
“No, I wanted to Mel, I did, but I wasn’t ready. I don’t know if I am ready now. I dunno if I will ever be ready, but it’s time. I have to go. I just can’t stay here.”
And do I tell her why? Do I tell her – because I love you. I love us. I haven’t been the same person since we ended? Do I tell her that the anger burned away and in its place there was an emptiness that only she could fill? Do I act like this is a stupid goddamned movie and that we’ve earned our happy ending?
“I just had some stuff going on here. It wasn’t the right time.”
No, this was no movie.
I searched for something to say but found no words. It was time to go.
I cleared my throat but she spoke first –
“I hate you, you know.”
“What?” I felt cold sweat start rolling down my sides.
“I hate you. I wish I didn’t but I do. I needed you for so long, I needed you to call, to write, to do something, and nothing. I got nothing. And that’s fine, I guess it’s what I deserve, I guess it’s what the price of my choice was, but goddammit, I wasn’t ready, you weren’t ready, we were not ready. I am sorry if you didn’t see it then, but I saw it and still see it. You can’t start a life together with that kind of baggage. Why didn’t you call me? Even if just to see if I was ok?
“Because I wanted to, Melanie. I didn’t call because I wanted to. I needed to. I made myself hate you, I made myself forget you because I had to or I would have died. Christ, I wanted to die. The sad fucking truth Mel? I never stopped loving you. I probably never will stop. That’s why I am moving. That’s why I have to leave – because I can’t live in an emotional haunted house, always hoping you’ll come back to me, always hoping it’d be you who would call me.”
She held her hand out and I took it and I looked again at the flowerpot and saw that yes, the flower in it was dead, but beside it, almost hidden from view, was the beginnings of something living and green. She squeezed my hand and I looked back to her and she was smiling. It was a sad smile, but it was there, and I returned it.
“I am ready to stop hating you.”
“I’m ready to call.”
I reached out and laid my hand against her cheek and I felt the smile against my skin. I wanted to look at her belly again, the habit of the past pulling me, but I kept my gaze on her eyes and hoped for something green to grow in me, over the small grave I had tended for too long.
Yeah, so if you’re a writer I guess that you are supposed to chase after this grand notion of a Super-Fab novel that is going to change the city, state, world and the whole damned space-time continuum. Eh, count me out.
It’s not that I don’t want to write the sort of a story or novel or whatever that will be important and all that but it’s sort of a deadend path to follow, if you ask me.
Here’s the deal, how many books are written and released every year? Rhetorical question but, really, think about it for a sec. Of all of those books, how many will reach the sort of mass audience that it takes to do the whole changing the world thing? Ok, and from those how many will actually be received well and read by the masses. Then you have to filter it further into the scant few books that will be both good and profound and, there, my friends, you can take it on and on and the path splits into half a dozen directions.
See, it isn’t enough to write a good book, it’s getting it TO the bloody world, that’s where the pitfall is. There are thousands of books written a year and while a great deal of those are going to be crap, or mass marketed fluff intended to make a dollar and not change the world, some will be good. Some will even be great. However good those books are though, unless you have the backing, and the support, no matter how good that book is, people just won’t see it.
I can’t imagine the pressure of deciding that I was going to write that book. The ‘greatest book ever’. And sure, a lot of that sort of mentality is just bravado. It’s a challenge. A hope. A goal. But some of that is a wish, as well.
A wish for greatness.
No, not just greatness, for legendary status.
The hell of it is this, nothing lasts. Nothing. I worked in a used bookstore and there are shelves of books from people who, in another time, shaped the hearts and minds of that era yet, now, are nothing but names in a lit class.
The Great Country Name Here Novel is a myth.
It ain’t just a myth, it’s a ghost, and you don’t get very far chasing ghosts.
Each piece of art, written, drawn, painted, played, or whatever, has its merit and value and each piece can touch someone. If you are lucky, and good, then that piece touches a few people, and that’s how you become a legend, even if it’s only to a few people. You change the world a person at a time and that’s the best you can do. Sure, there are writers, Dickens, Austen, Hemingway, King, Joyce, and many more, who have written stories that have outlived them or shall. These are the greats of our era. And if you go back, you have the likes of Plato, Shakespeare, and the great poets. Time is forgetful though, and, in time, anything can be forgotten.
Even the greats.
Sure, every so often you’ll read a book review, or hear someone say that this or that is the Great Novel of that time, and maybe it is, and maybe it ain’t, but for every great work, there are a basket of people who’ll tell you different. For me, it’s about writing the stories, and after that it’s a bit of hope that people will read them and get something out of them. I won’t tell you I wouldn’t love to be a writer whose stories reach beyond me, beyond my life and death, but that’s not something I can worry about. All, I can do is write what I write, do what I do, and keep on working to get it out there.
The rest will work itself out.
As for this great old humdinger of a book though, well, dammit, didn’t you hear? I wrote it. Now I have to work on the Great Mexican novel and work my way around the Atlas.
Well, back to work, time’s a’wastin’.