Lineage (5)

Jaydn DeWald


My early stories are action-packed, more action-packed than (as one friend, swirling wine with half-closed eyes, put it) my "reflective middle period," but less action-packed than my current stories, which are chock-full of car chases, explosions, shootouts, swordfights, wild sex, the works. Still, I admire the naïve, even vulgar, audacity of my early stories: lead characters tumble down elevator shafts or vanish in snowstorms, their Oldsmobiles idling bluely on the sides of roads. Now sensible reasons underlie all of my decisions—my pencils are ruminatively teeth-marked—so that the action of writing is, despite the excitement on the page, rather unexciting. At this very moment, in fact, gazing out from my study window at the dark birch woods across our road, I consider the weapons (dagger, derringer, throwing star) most quickly secreted into a leather boot, and I grow nostalgic for my middle period: the woods are so much more meaningful, more mysterious, than little (or big) weapons; I ought to stand before the darkness in my red silk dragon-print kimono, imagining this or that character sloughing through leaves and underbrush, loping over rocks and fallen branches, hacking with a machete through ancient emerald vines, drawn inexorably toward a moon-silvered chalice from which he or she (throwing off an enormous hiking pack) would drink—deep amber wine dribbling down his beard or between her breasts—and sink at last into a deep amber sleep wherein his or her entire life, soft-edged, in slow-motion, begins once more amid the quiet birch trees . . . Or something like that. The inescapable problem of such stories, the reason I stopped pursuing them, is that nothing outside of a character's mind actually happens; the virtual supplants reality; the reader, twice removed, is like a woman watching a woman watch an autobiographical film at the back of an empty theatre, dust motes floating celestially in the projector's beam—a woman who will, I now imagine, walk home in the rain in her flesh-colored stockings under a lemon-yellow umbrella thinking about her life, about her film, pausing for a spell before an illuminated bakery window to follow with her eyes the glistening braided swirls of cinnamon rolls and Danishes. But where, dear reader, is the action in that? My life is already actionless enough. Pick up a book. Write. Take a snoozer. Watch a sitcom. Whip up a stir-fry in my tattered sockfeet. Hence, my stories are action-packed: The woman will enter their bedroom, find her husband's face buried between the deep amber asscheeks of a housemaid, and in a shriekingly dissonant instant of mindless rage reach down into her bootleg and grasp her derringer—I'm right now gripping my pencil over a blank page as though it too were a weapon, as though I too could inflict pain—and raise it and fire point-blank into their chests in quick succession: first the husband, who flails backward, still erect, spouting blood from his neck, and then the maid, who simply crumples to the floor like a dropped trench coat (with a blood-red rose in its lapel). Yet it occurs to me now that both action and "reflection" are, at root, just two different ways of searching for the same—well, something. I can go downtown and carelessly or methodically search for it in the smoke-filled, neon-lighted bars; or else I can sit up here at my desk and, slurping my cold sour metallic coffee, search for it in the mind. What difference does it make, finally? Ohh, hell, it makes a world of difference: reflection cannot poach my eggs, for example; neither can action interpret or examine or at all comprehend any other action, like the late June night in which I, after a sublime blues concert, clambered with a bunch of strangers into a graffitied, black-windowed sedan. Perhaps my stories, my late stories, will cease their searching altogether—as Kafka once said: "My stories are a kind of closing one's eyes"—and instead center around the derringer in the bootleg, moonlight trickling through the birch leaves, wine in the chalice, nothing at all on the page, dust or darkness or silence, faint piano music from another room, faint wind billowing the curtains, the blood pooling over the rustic pinewood floor, seeping into the crevices, into the fibers, seeping deep down into the earth.