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Norman Mailer Is Dead

By Charles Dodd White


My literary baby-daddy is gone. Sucked under by the sink of his time-smacked heart. The long pull toward greatness is done. I read it this morning over organic eggs and Soy milk. My son, ten, picks up the carton and shakes it, making a face when he gages its empty rattle.

“Mom,” he calls upstairs. “We need more Silk. Dad drank it all.”

I hide my loathing in a paternal tousle of his sandy hair. I wonder if he can tell it is rougher than normal. He is wearing soccer cleats in the house, dinting the laminate appliqué with each careless step, but I say nothing.

The Wife sweeps down the staircase, her teal robe loose at the neck so that her cleavage is bared. The place where one might plant a knife is marked with the tattooed initials of an old lover's name. She considers removing it occasionally, but I insist that I like it there as a reminder of a life without domestic attachments.

“Check the top shelf,” she says. “It's behind the Yoplait.”

I read the obituary while the bellies around me fill with Special K.

“You're eating eggs an awful lot,” The Wife says. “You should be conscious of cholesterol at your age.”

To punctuate her censure, she advances a platoon of vitamins across the table. They rattle from her touch.

“Don't be stubborn, Dad. We're only trying to take care of you.”

I can hardly believe a little boy says this to his father. I want to smash my fist into his eye. I pick up the pills dumbly, smelling mulch and sweetgrass as I swallow them.

“Are you going to work today?”

“Work?” I ask.

“Are you going to write?” The Wife asks.

I see this as an avenue of retreat. “Oh, yes. I'll take my coffee in with me.” The thought of this buoys my mood as I carry my dirty dishes to the sink and deposit them with an impotent clatter.

My office is just a crowded wedge in the cheerless corner of our bedroom. The bed is unmade, the bunched sheets like some diaphanous creature of the sea coughed up on the beach to asphyxiate. My bookshelves are erected from cinder blocks and scrap lumber. The paperback volumes lean into one another like lightweight drunks braced shoulder to shoulder for the long, stuffy cab ride across town.

My books aren't alphabetical, but I have devised a particular system. Names converse with one another. My Vidal intersects my Capote and Mailer, a triptych of rivalry, forgiveness and tabloid anecdote. Even here they need one another to stand upright.

I touch the button on my second hand laptop, coaxing my machine from digital hibernation. The glow in the shadows is the color of lights at the bottom of a swimming pool. There is no throaty purr of mechanical keys in a tripping rhythm, no virile hammerstrokes of runaway type bars. I'm nostalgic for those things I've never known.

I was young once, and believed in the sweet slip of words running like coded whispers over the surface of unfamiliar minds. I know now that no one cares about these things any longer. Or, if the do, they are only other disappointed souls like me, drilled to the quick and drained of the hypothetical magic that passes for potential. We are an army of apostates, wandering about in a country that doesn't recognize our rejected faith. Oh well.

I confess. I covet a literary enemy. An antihero to prove my creative genius, but no one is disposed to such a role when there are so many better qualified adversaries. The room I am in is empty.

There are no Norman Mailers anymore. If there ever were.

 

Charles Dodd White has been a Marine, a newspaper reporter, a flyfishing guide, and a college teacher. He currently splits his time between Toronto, Canada and Western North Carolina. His stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Night Train, Pequin, Sein und Werden and Wandering Army.
 
 
Photo of Norman Mailer by Carl Van Vechten, Sept. 13, 1948, from The Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, via Wikipedia.org.

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