Fiction

Things Turned Wayward

  • -----------------------------------
  • By Nick Bruce '15E
  • nbruce13@amherst.edu
  • Volume XXXVI, Issue 2, November 1, 2013
fiction

Jehovah had been conceived on August 15th 1996 in Atlanta, Georgia. On a slow night in the Olympic Village, American sprinter Tallulah Jones sat beside ex-Soviet basketball star Sologub Dimitritov. As one Sour followed the next, Tallulah began to succumb woozily to Dimitritov’s boozy charm.

“AINT NO WOMAN TAKIN MY MAMA’S PLACE—” was Sologub’s text message auto-signature. When Tallulah found herself pregnant and texted the news to Sologub, and received back “Are you sure it’s mine? AINT NO WOMAN TAKIN MY MAMA’S PLACE—,” she found herself so unsure of the prospects of long term involvement with this man that she decided to not respond. Silence sat between them for months until the day of Jehovah’s birth.

Jehovah spent summers skiing in the Andes with his mates from ski school, but also excelled so outstandingly at basketball that the mid-major hoops programs recruited him seriously. Because his father went to Tuck, and the fact that he wanted to ski competitively and hoop collegiately—God Bless his mother’s thighs he joked—Jehovah decided upon Dartmouth. In Hanover, said the Dartmouth Athletics staff, Jehovah could ski competitively while seeing floor-time in light of the Dartmouth basketball team’s tendency to embarrass the Ivy League by competing at the level of a weak Division Two program.

Jehovah would spend time hell-raising in the Andes with his boys, who happily remember the time when they hot boxed a mountainside hut so superbly as to convince the trip’s instructor that they had procured firewood to warm their chilled bones. The instructor, strolling by on nightly patrol, chuckled contentedly at what he confused for resourcefulness. What good boys! The smoke, billowing thickly from the chimney, looked to the instructor as piney self-reliance of a variety inhaled quite differently by his pupils.

But before Burke Mountain Academy for junior and senior year, a place where graduates go if not to Ivies then the United States Junior or full Olympic ski team, it was James Hillhouse High School of New Haven where Jehovah spent his first two years of high school. Tallulah had accepted an offer from Yale to coach the Women’s Varsity Track squad on the condition that her husband received a tenure-track post at the law school. Only because the University of Oregon rested in close proximity to Beaverton, Oregon had Jackson Block’s cutting edge theories not already earned him a spot in an ivory tower. In Beaverton, Tallulah had coached the U.S. junior national prospects at the Nike campus. But when her contract expired, Yale Athletics called, and when Spruce Ackerman of Yale Law heard that J. Block wanted in at Yale, Ackerman approved the matter immediately. Jehovah was due to enter freshman year of high school when the family put down roots in New Haven. The boy’s love of blunts got him a cadre of friends who shared his passion.

Bungie Squarez spat on the sidewalk in an effortless and angry manner that required him only to open the left side of his mouth, exposing his teeth in a half-snarl. He leaned against the fence outside the Hillhouse gymnasium, legs crossed at the ankle, and spit through his clenched jaw. He did so with enough velocity to launch the expulsion far enough such that it fell neatly away from his body. Smacking Bubblicious alongside Bungee stood Jehovah, a foot taller.

Practice had just let out and no sooner had Bungie begun to complain about having to shoot three’s in practice when all he himself did was penetrate anyways. Why not just make Jehovah shoot three’s in practice because Jehovah was the only one who shot threes in games anyways—when a midnight blue Infiniti crept up the block and slid before the two boys. Bass trembled softly from the automobile. It was an alluring bass that oozed mystery and said I ride but want nothing to do with you. That said I’m in control. The car was not that of Abraham, who drove, but his mother. A week before, she’d given her fifteen-year-old son the keys. The door to Abe’s bedroom had sat ajar, open to the kitchen. Mama had sat under the light, which shone singularly, dimly, on Abraham’s sister who rested on her leg. Mama stared into space and told the baby softly, It’s okay Caroline, it’s all gonna be OK. A tear streamed down her left cheek but grit shone deep in her gaze.

“I’ve never seen her cry before,” said Abraham to his boys. “But it’s different now. She woke me up last night ‘cuz there was someone outside the house. She threw open the door to my room and goes, ‘Abe, ABE! I was just asleep and my bed started vibrating. I got outta bed and went to the window. Cracked the blind and there was a black Benz right on the street. Black tints, black mags. Could feel the bass in my toes. I dropped to the floor beneath the window so they wouldn’t see me. ABE! I can’t feel my legs.’ I go, Ma! Ma! You ight? It’s all good, Ma. And then she was like, ‘I can’t feel my legs. And I wanted to see their faces so I cracked the blind, and then they musta seen me ‘cuz the car window rolled down real slow and these two eyes started lookin’ right through me. And the driver drove away real slow like, grillin’ the whole time.’ And so I took her into my arms and she started sobbing and I said don’t worry Ma, it’s all gonna be OK.” And Bungie imagined the bass, gone with the departed stereo of the Benz, pounding just as strongly to the rhythm of fear beating up Abraham’s Mama’s trunk. Silence descended on the boys.

“They’ll getchya,” muttered Bungie.

Dreamt JEHOVAH, one snowy January afternoon on the bus to Hanover:

“Eyes locked onto him as he strode, swaying from side to side in rhythm with the rocking bus, down the aisle to the restroom. He unzipped his fly and threw his other hand against the wall for stability. His mirrored reflection caught his eye. If he’d observed the world outside the bus as much as his own inner recesses, Frankie would have noted the likelihood of a grizzly bear crossing around nightfall. Anyone standing during a grizzly crossing would be thrown off their feet.

It was thus only a mild surprise to the travelers when the driver slammed the breaks and swerved violently into the breakdown lane. Passengers stood and snapped photos of the twelve-foot grizzly who reared up and roared to their right. Frankie lay conspicuously absent from the melee, unconsciously laden face first in the metallic bowl that he’d seconds before coated with urine. Waves of candy blue lavatory fluid, jolted to life by the quick stop, lapped at his lips. Above the unconscious man hung the mirror, shattered by the impact of his skull. Its missing shards coating the sink and the floor upon which Frankie’s frozen body lay. When an hour later the shriek from the lavatory far outdid the first, it took the rest of the passengers half as much time to turn with cameras in hand to what was surely not a single bear, but a mother and her cubs owing to the intensity of the exclamation.

Frankie woke swathed in a blanket. Dabbing his forehead with two fingers, he added, “Which of you perverts hit my head? Whatever, fuck you.” With a wave of his hand, he turned his body from the driver and small crowd in his midst. Frankie’s eyes closed and he descended back into the dream from which he’d been awakened. He found himself in Houston at the gift shop of the NASA campus asking the cashier for astronaut-grade personal cooling apparati—the type worn by the Challenger crew.

“God Bless them,” said Frankie, crossing his chest in the shape of the cross. And when the cashier pointed to the powder blue children’s full body zip-up, Frankie exclaimed “NO.”

“You see, I need the real one—and where can I buy cooling fluid, and a lot of it?” said Frankie, whose eyebrows elevated themselves, his eyes glowing with an inquisitive kindness, a complement to the naivety with which he understood, or rather failed to understand, his reality.

‘You see, it’s my mother,’ said Frankie. ‘She’s menopausal. In the summer the heat flashes are too much. If she sticks her head in the freezer all the air escapes and the ice cream melts. Mama always said ice cream was the height of our joy. And the landlord won’t replace the wiring, which isn’t built to accommodate air conditioning units. I figured I might as well get one ‘dem suits for Ma to cool the flashes.” Frankie’s eyes dipped downward as he spoke, darting upwards to meet the gaze of the cashier.”

Jehovah woke, his neck stiff, wondering as to the insidious sort of stuff Frankie might do next. Harness the cat and attach a stick so as to use the cat as a mop? Get on his hands and knees in front of a diplomatic cabal of Haitian dignitaries and drink mop water from the yellow bucket, while simultaneously placing the cat in the wringing device and squeezing the liquid from its fur into the bucket from which he lapped? Did his father’s literary namesake cultivate, somehow, a propensity for boundless imagination? Did imaginative liberty, or liberty period, independent of imagination, cultivate misery? Who cares, thought Jehovah of his aching heart. But he knew he cared no matter how hard he tried to not. Sometimes he’d wake in the morning to a tear streaming down his cheek. Inside he would feel nothing. The fuck is wrong with me, the boy would wonder. And however much Jehovah didn’t respect his stepfather—soft, liberal, a pushover—Jehovah wanted to believe in the worldview promoted by Block—the material psychology of Deleuze and Guattari. What an escape the postmoderns offered in contrast to Freudianism, which challenged him to dig, ever uncomfortably, into the murky caverns of his psyche.

Jehovah admired Sologub. Daddy. The Mr. Dimitritov, who in spite of his ostensible Soviet allegiances, had spent most of his time in Peru chairing the board of a multinational copper-mining firm tucked deep in the Andes. The Mr. Dimitritov who had taken a liking to Pisco Sours and the thick thighs of the Peruvian national team’s female sprinters. The Sologub whose involvement in his son’s upbringing had tapered from one extreme to another. He had taken Jehovah on ski trips to the Andes and to metallurgical exposés on fine copper sculpting at Lima’s finest hotel ballrooms. Here Coppartini, Inc. paid for open bars and spreads of Chilean sea bass tempura. Here the floor to ceiling glass walls overlooked the mountains and reflected the shimmering beauty of the ballrooms’ female guests, surreal to the boy’s youthful apperception. Sologub had taken his boy to meet Gorbachev. Sologub and his son had together, Jehovah but four at the time, toured Afghanistan and met Bin Laden’s mainstream brother at a business dinner between Coppartini and the Saudi family’s contracting firm. Yet God, or Tallulah’s womb, or some combination of both had crafted Jehovah’s psyche such that he could never, perhaps would never, experience satisfaction.

Beyond what Sologub did give his son, loomed the years after Sologub had suffered a terrible testicular contusion on a ski slope in the Cordillera Blanca. Daddy had tumbled, spread eagle, self-sterilizingly into the stump of a felled tree, finding himself no longer in the graces of what turned out to be the pregnancy-hungry Peruvian hundred meter four by four quartet. Neither could he turn down the slopes nor run the floor for pick-up without a waddle that sapped him of lateral quickness. Sologub’s entrance into depression was as instant as his exit from the emotional life of his son. Jehovah uncrossed his legs and sprawled them as far into the aisle as his yawning flexibility could muster, pushing his cornrows deep into the headrest. Flakes of snow fell outside like feathers from Heaven. Jehovah smiled at the simple beauty. He had much to be thankful for.

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