There is No Year

By Blake Butler

Harper Perennial
April 2011
416 pages



What the Mower Found

The mother mowed the yard again. She mowed the yard, the yard, a prayer. The mother was slick with sweat. Her skin was red in certain places from sun and where she’d scratched herself to keep the ants and bees off. The insects swarmed her head no matter how fast she moved. They had wings and teeth and eyes. They swarmed the yard, the street, the long horizon. The mother had mowed the yard twenty-seven times in the last week. Sometimes she’d go on for hours. Her biceps and pectorals were getting meaty. The grass was going dead around the edges from where the mother had pushed the mower so much. The mother kept her eyes wide and turned her head back and forth from side to side. Where was the man who’d fixed the mower? What else could he put a hand to? All those surrounding lawns on all those houses.

The father was still gone. That morning he’d left sometime just after 4 a.m. and he would probably not be home till after midnight. His face seemed to be sinking into his features. The mother tried to think of the father’s name. She could think of lots of other names it might have sounded like, but not quite the right one, she knew. She mouthed out things she’d said before—she reversed her rehearsed vows, teasing her tongue toward the father. She mowed the yard in wicked zigzags, reckless with her aim. The mower devoured her newer flowers—begonias, ivy, mums. They were dying anyway. She ripped up one long sod piece, spurting mud off on the walk. Underneath the sod, the insects hung, spaghetti. The mother kept pushing, head up, chest out, scrunching her face best into something someone watching could sometime want.

The mother did not see the son watching through the window on the second floor where there may not have been a window once before.

The mower soon grew heavy. The handle hurt her hands. The mother went on garbled grunting, as if trying to push something from her insides. Around a corner by the chain fence, she felt the mower suck something up. Metal clanged against the blades. There was a whirring, choke and smoke. It spat something out its side. The mower whirred a little longer and then got tired, then was gone. The mother squatted on her haunches in the trampled mud-mushed grass, her eyes stung with gasoline and sweat, the sky behind her slightly hulking. In the grass there, slushed with clippings, scarred, the mother saw the egg.

The Copy Egg

The egg was made of a smooth dark polymer with several seams and edges, though the mother could not make them open, try as she might with nail or hammer. Several hours of such tinker caused a burning at her eyes.

The mother found with effort how the egg did other things.

The first night she slept with the egg under her pillow, hugging. She woke with the huge toy in her mouth. Her chest felt funny and she could not remember sleeping. She later found the garage filled with an inch of liquid. The liquid stunk and had to be scraped out. The mother watched the father on his knees for hours scowling with the trowel.

The second night the mother hid the egg inside a lamp. She wasn’t sure whom the hiding was meant to be against. She’d bought the lamp from a garage sale run by the neighbors. The stuff was left out on the front lawn with a sign. No one was watching. The mother left a dollar. She went back and left a dime. Later, she couldn’t get the lamp to work. She liked the lamp—the look and stink of it, the pattern. She called it Bill. She sat it at her bedside. The egg seemed to fit the nodule where the bulb went just exactly. In the morning the lamp was on. The mother carried the lamp and egg into the bathroom and used the light to read while in a bath. The light made her feel younger, but not enough.

The third night the mother felt very tired and did not have time to touch the egg at all—instead she dreamt she ate it. She dreamt it had a job that paid for all. She dreamt it became a full-grown boy who sat beside the son and kept him clean.

The fourth night the mother stayed up late alone and held the egg against her chest. She found by lengths and rubbing how the egg could steer the house. When she touched the egg in one location, the downstairs bathroom toilet flushed. When she knocked with her left thumb knuckle on its one small gray abrasion, the egg nudged the kitchen off an inch. Other sorts of routine made the egg do other kinds of things, most of which would go unnoticed unless one knew exactly where to look. The mother found it difficult to remember which trick did what. She tried to write down notations, but her hand shook scribble. One thing the mother knew for certain was when she kissed the egg a tone would sound inside the shell. The tone triggered something in her brain that made her shake with vast orgasm. It erased all previous tones. Her body shuddered reeling, clobbered taut. The mother felt guilty and enormous. Her certain veins clenched into bouquets. It had been more than several years. The mother could hardly keep herself from squealing through the small house in the night—she had to bite a wooden spoon. She bit through it. She kissed the egg until her eyes went bloodshot and her brain swam fat with glee. The next day she could not stand up. Nor the next day nor the next. Her lower muscles scored and knotted. The mother hid the egg inside her nightgown. She moaned with ache with ache late into evening. The father went to sleep downstairs.

The mother cursed the egg. She called it Bastard. Inside the egg the egg changed colors. The next time the mother found the chance to kiss the egg it just sat and gleamed for hours. The mother spit. The mother put the egg inside a closet, covered, and closed and locked the door.

The fifth night the egg woke the mother up. Its voice rattled the bed frame and the mirror. A man’s voice, deep and meaty. The father slept right on. The egg said things about the son—what he’d done and what would happen. The egg would not shut up. The mother found herself arguing with the egg aloud. The mother took the egg downstairs. She immersed the egg in high ice water. The voice bubbled upward, even louder. She got house paint and coated the egg’s face in a new white—the same color as her bedroom. The egg started hissing. It melted through its outer layer with new blackened creamy flesh. It went on and on not only about the son now, but about the mother—who she’d been, what she’d wanted, how she felt about the father, what she would do given the chance with certain other men or even just for money. The mother’s nostrils made little outlets, waiting for a plug.

The mother carried the egg out through the front door down the street past other houses. She searched for a sewer, but could not find one, no other holes into the earth. The mother ran, her sternum shaking. She became afraid others could hear what the egg said. She went back and got in the car and sat the egg on the seat beside her. The egg’s voice super-boomed now, shaking the fake upholstery and the dash.

The mother drove the egg out to the coast. It was a sixteen-hour drive. The mother had never seen an ocean. The waves were flat and spackled, thick with old foam and floating geese. The mother lugged the egg into her arms. It seemed to weigh several times what it had, still growing. Halfway down and squeaming the mother had to stop and roll the egg in sand, its voice susurrating all the way out to the ruined dock.

At the smeared lip of the water—gassed and pudgy, melon yellow—the mother heaved the egg as hard as she could manage. It landed three feet from her feet. It fell in through the seahead spurting, as if in grease. Beneath the lip, it seemed to spin a minute, steaming. The mother watched the egg go down. There was a stutter on the surface. Overhead a troop of gulls quickly gathered fast—hundreds of them, enough to clot the sky. They dove in shifts at the egg’s indention. Their beaks were long and weird and curvy. Their eyes spun in hungry loops. As they came up, they lunged for the mother, squawking. The mother did not flinch. The mother watched for quite some time to make sure nothing could be done. In the house somewhere far behind her were the father and the son.

What the Son Did With His Information

The son was in the kitchen when the mother came back in. The mother had grass clippings all clung to her body stuck in the glisten of her sweat. She left a trail behind her on the carpet. She had it in her teeth too, where she’d licked the clippings, where several gulls had nipped her neck. She looked slightly like another person. She weighed nine pounds lighter than that morning.

The son had emptied the refrigerator. On the kitchen floor he’d spread the milk, juice, eggs, several cheeses, tortillas, bacon, cold cuts, margarine and butter, ketchup, lettuce—all the other things the mother had just bought. Everything had already either wilted or gone sour. Some had grown a slight rind of mold. The son had also cleared the freezer. He’d dumped the popsicles, waffles, yogurt, ice cream, ice in massive slushing piles. The veal cordon bleu and veggie medleys and tiny cheesecakes in countless stay-fresh packets, an off-brand box of frozen dinners bought in bulk some evening for the son at his request. The melting had made a puddle that spread across most of the kitchen floor and turned the edge of the carpet leading into the dining room several shades of color deep.

The son had taken out the plastic and glass shelving and the drawers that held the food. The fridge was now one large empty box with two tiny light bulbs gummed with glow. The son was standing in the freezer part of the refrigerator. His shoulders fit the width precisely. The back wall seemed to stretch so deep. Just as the mother came into the room, the son moved his hand and closed the door. Their eyes met briefly in transition, like electric light. A shutter shut. The room was still.

Later the mother would wonder what would have happened if she hadn’t come in at that exact moment. She would consider it a sign from god. She would seal the fridge with tape and bring another smaller fridge to sit in the parents’ bedroom so that the son would not feel the urge to repeat. She would not think about how the son could just go climb into the freezer in the garage, or in the magic trunk stored in the attic, or how everywhere there were roads and overpasses, and cars driving under, piloted by whomever.

The mother went to the freezer and pulled it open and saw the son. The son looked tired, the same way everyone else she’d seen looked tired. Everyone everywhere at every moment as tired as they could be. The mother asked the son what he was doing. Her voice came out much higher than it did most days. The son said something wadded. The son had something in his mouth. The mother asked him to repeat. It came out more off. The son was trying to talk in the same voice as the voice that had called him on his cell phone, but the mother couldn’t know that. The son had abrasions grown in beneath his hair that the mother would never find.

The mother did see, though, how the son now had long brown streaks worked under his eyes—so brown they looked like makeup. She rubbed one with her thumb and made a smudge. The son looked like a tiny warrior, or a linebacker. The son’s eyes were whirling, as had the gulls'.

Hey, the son said, staring at her. Hey. Hey. Hey. Hey. Hey. Hey. Hey. Hey. Hey.

The mother clasped her grass green hands.