Monday, March 23, 2009

Nothing In The House

Here's an older attempt at a short short, not the Nair kind as in we wear, but the fiction variety. I always wanted to use the name Jim Jones in a story and to start a story where someone is weeping and holding a spork. I don't know why these became important goals, but there you have it.

Nothing In the House

Jim Jones put down his spork and started to cry. He put his hands on his temples, feigning a headache, a performance played to a mostly empty house, given that there were only two other customers in the Taco Bell, two teenagers with matching ear enlargers, the same impulse that causes couples to dress in matching outfits. Jim’s mother died two months ago and his wife, he felt certain, was having an affair. On top of everything else, there was the issue of his name. He’d just gotten his real estate license and how some people were superstitious, not wanting someone with a psychotic cult leader’s name to sell their house or help them buy one, even though that was all such a long time ago and even the movie was a long time ago, still a stigma, damn it all! He liked the movie, The Guyana Tragedy, Powers Booth as Jones with his touch of the jungle fever, his scenes with James Earl Jones, a great Father Divine, and then Jones went nutsola and he yelled at Levar Burton for being a homosexual, for having tendencies. Levar was a long way from the Reading Rainbow, doing serious art, Kunte Kinte and now this, a man at the mercy of whitey because he believed some crazy utopia bullshit. Levar, it seemed, could not get a break.

And Jim didn’t feel like he could either. He looked at the teenagers, Goths, and their tattoos and picked at his Nachos Supreme. He’d never had a tattoo -- was it too late? Was he forever past that kind of self-decoration? The last woman he’d sold a house to had been in her sixties and had several tattoos, some, she informed him, in places you couldn’t even see anymore. She’d make a joke about not drinking the Kool-Aid every time she saw him, (ha! was his bitter forced laugh, ha ha!)

He and his wife Marie had met a few years ago. He had felt a tenderness toward her, had felt happy not to have to go everywhere alone. His mother told him not to marry her -- you have to burn for each other or it’s all shit before long. He told her that she sounded like one of the teenagers Marie taught and she told him that teenagers knew about love because they had more time for it than the rest of us.

I don’t want to burn, Ma, Jim said. I want to grow up. Settle.

Then don’t tell me when she leaves you for someone she burns for.

And now she was dead and her prediction had come true.

Jim knew about the affair because Marie had lost weight and starting dressing up for work, tight skirts and all that look at me cleavage and smiling to herself like some kind of half-wit. Also, her colleague Donny’s wife had called and said, Did you know Donny is sleeping with Marie? (God, he couldn’t believe it; he would have thought that Marie would have been mortified to sleep with someone named Donny given the Osmonds, but perhaps she called him Don to mitigate the humiliation.) Me, I could give a shit, it’s a relief that he can get his needs met by another woman, but you, you might be suffering.

He wasn’t suffering, per se. He wasn’t in love anymore and not being in loved sucked, although he wasn’t very good at passion either, the oh baby, no one fucks me the way you do, the I’d walk across hell if you left your hat there and bring it back and put it on your precious little head shit. Marie taught sociology and psychology at the local arts magnet high school and while she had started out with a great deal of optimism, all color-coded folders and graphic paper grading books, her methods had devolved into making up grades to record (when she bothered) and lamenting the lack of structure in her student’s lives. She’d become the mother that claims to be her daughter’s best friend and proceeds to tell the poor child all about the blow job she just performed on the neighbor.

Jim had grown weary of all the upheaval and wanted things to return to normal. Instead of asking her what she wanted to make for dinner which elicited many moans and eye rolls and complaints about how there was nothing in the house, he’d put his hands on his temples like Johnny Carson doing the Amazing Karnac and ask if there was food in their future, trying to be funny and failing if her lack of laughter was any indication.

What the hell, he thought, after another late night at work for Marie, her supposedly helping plan the prom. It was the prom all right, if prom meant your wife putting out for some idiot special ed teacher in cheap hotel rooms by the highway with a fifth of Gordon’s gin in a bucket of ice, chilling for their sipping pleasure. Why wasn’t the spirit of his dead mother haunting Marie and Donny, breaking mirrors and shit to let them knew she meant business? Weren’t the dead supposed to be indignant?

The teenagers got up to leave, taking the remnants of their meal to the trashcan that startled him with an automated thank you every time someone dumped trash in it. The night outside had bite, springtime in Detroit. He didn’t feel like going home, but staying at Taco Bell all night didn’t seem practical either. Why was so much of life dying to get somewhere that you’d also have to leave? But what could he do? There was nothing else he wanted.

So now he’s home, nothing in the liquor cabinet, not like he couldn’t stand a night without drinking anyway. Don’t want to turn into some sad Lifetime movie where he becomes an abusive prick because he doesn’t get what he wants and turns to the bottle for his solace. Nabbing one of Marie’s Valiums, Jim gets into an unmade bed that night, wishing it were not so, wishing that he had the strength and foresight to have made it, to anticipate the moment when it would have been nice to have something to pull down and arrange instead of something in which to crawl and swallow the tiny blue pill that would give him some relief. But wishes don’t come true and maybe that’s a good thing. He can be anyone in this bed -- the man of someone’s dreams and maybe some kind woman will love him all of his life. Ha, he thinks, the bitter laugh choking his throat. He misses his mother, even if she did name him a stupid name. It wasn’t her fault! She just liked the name Jim.

For the first time, he understood that she wasn’t coming back and that while Marie would find her way to the bed late tonight, she wouldn’t be coming back either. After taking the pill, he tried to focus on what he’d learned about selling houses, what would be the next part of his life, the life without his mother or Marie. But the ideas kept getting jumbled, and he couldn’t remember if he were supposed to do the hard sell first or the soft one, pretend like nobody was interested or if he had another buyer that was threatening to put down money in the next hour. He did remember the other guy in the class, a loud confident type who should have been named Jim Jones, leaning over to him during the test and saying, What bullshit. All you need to know to sell a house is to pretend that it’s the best fricking deal the people will ever get and it won’t last long. Jim didn’t agree with him at the time, but now he thinks he was onto something.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"There is no beauty without strangeness." Karl Lagerfeld

Cocktail Hour
Drinking short story collection suggestion: Refresh, Refresh Benjamin Piercy

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Monday! Thanks for all the thoughtful comments on the taser protection jacket post. For some reason, it definitely grabbed my interest -- as Lana pointed out, it says a lot about the world. As for the rape/lust issue brought up by Whitenoise, I think I see sexual violence as about power, anger, and violence and not desire.


Cheri said...

What a story, Michelle. Reminded me of Carver just with less left to the imagination. God I miss your classes!

jodi said...

Hi Dollface, you are completely correct in your expression of rape motivations. Hate and control/domination can also be factors. And doesn't it seem that people with 'those' names always bear an additional burden? Your Jim Jones was just too complacent to overcome this. xoxo

Sheila said...

what a story. I miss being in your classes! They were always so much fun. I broke the middle prong off a black spork at Oakland... I stared at it for a while and busted out laughing. I tied a napkin around it and said look, my spork thinks he's BATMAN!

Anonymous said...

Marilyn Turner and John Kelly replaced us today in Detroit TV. Where's the Kool Aid when you need it?--Regis and Kelly

Anonymous said...

Kool Aid is available in the soda and candy aisle at your local KROGER!!!! The right store at the right price!!! Look for the fabulous yellow tag sales!!!!--Mr. Whipple and Artie the bagger

Anonymous said...

Come on out to Oakland University tomorrow. It should be quite a show!!--Bill Ayers

Scott said...


Nice story! Always good to read your work.

I agree with your assessment of's not about desire, it's about power and violence.

Hope you had a good Monday...oh, lest I forget to mention it, love the pic! :)

the walking man said...

I didn't have that "moment" in a Taco Bell with a spork surrounded by goth kids but rather an all night now out of business restaurant on W. 7 mile in Detroit surrounded by black men who's best advice was "to hell with it find some pussy and forget about it."

That was the night (early morning)in '83 when I went to bed and said; fuck it. I give a shit less if I ever "sell another goddamn house," have another fucking wife and give less than a shit what moms thinks.

that was the night when shit started to work out to be alright. Me and Jim Beam fought our way through to the light. No Kool Aid for me.

Anonymous said...

What we choose to drink can reveal more about us than, say, our astrological sign or whether we prefer Elvis or the Beatles. If I had to guess, I'd say that many of us aren't drinking what we'd truly like to drink. A friend of mine frequently orders Pimms to remind people of her stints abroad, though I suspect she longs for vodka tonic. If I had my druthers, I would probably drink strawberry daiquiris all the time. But I don't. Sure, they're delicious, but the strawberry daiquiri is a youthful drink, the drink of a girl on spring break in Cabo. Much like skinny jeans and flashdance tops, I can't pull it off anymore. These days I'm compelled by circumstances to act my age and order a nice Bordeaux and pretend I know what I'm talking about.--Anna Fricke

Anonymous said...

Pimms!!!!!--Doris Diana Rimington

Heff said...

The "Nair kinda short short" would have been o.k. too, lol !

Robin Konarz said...

Great story, Michelle. Love the ending.