Clay Matthews

Chapter One

I have a heart and somewhat healthy organs and I eat
some good things and some bad things—I have a soft spot
on my love handles for chicken biscuits. We're imagining
this in the upper south, eastern Midwest, lower (and a little
bit softer, now) of somewhere else and two feet from the Mason
Dixon line if that line kept going in the hypothetical (indeed
as all lines do). I am at once your narrator and your "narrator."
This is not a postmodern novel. It wants too badly to do
something else. So as an introduction I have a name
but it's not relevant, I have a dog and a wife and a fairly
big car. I pay rent, I cook on gas, I offer you so many things
about myself as a means to breathe life into the mechanics
of my grammar. Gramophones and Emile Berliner once
kissed my great-great-great grandfather on the cheek
before opening a toy and letting some song free. There is
a disconnect between this fiction and my reality, history
and genealogy, the yes and no of who and when but I walk
over time as if it were just a map—a map set across Mud Island,
Memphis, Tennessee, where with a small show of courage
you can leap across the Mississippi at its widest, and follow it
to where it sets itself free. Freedom and redemption—my favorite
themes. I had a dream that I occupied the mansion on the hill.
I have been over a thousand people and still only one all
this time. Breakfast is served promptly at eight. Dinner begins
at six-thirty. For lunch you will have to fend for yourself,
and I must warn you there is much in this house to fear.

Chapter Two

I awoke that morning to the low, low sound of thunder,
a stripe of lightning against the sky and it was exactly
as I had read somewhere it would be, the heavens
resurrected not as heaven anymore but all of the worst
things we had ever thought, each one of us. The novel
by the nightstand, The Imperial Return of Lot, what was it
about—all I remember now is reading of a new virus
that infected the hypothalamus, and turned everyone
to rage, rage. It was not so much anger in which they looked
back but the impossibility of controlling that anger,
suppressing it, stuffing it down into the bottom of that
old tank of emotions, beginning to let the body feel
for something else. Some days my emotions get the better
of me. I know that is perhaps a cliché but that is exactly
what happens. I fight against this. I don't know why.
I haven't cried in over five years, but I'm constantly
one breath away from breaking down. There was a commercial
on television the other day, about a robot laid off
from an auto plant, it had a claw for a face but a face
nonetheless and as the robot sank into depression I couldn't
stop the sensation to reach out. It was only a robot. It was
also a robot with a face. I left the room before breaking down
in front of my guests, and wrote in my journal: Sometimes
I think there is truth somewhere, and ghosts, too. I just don't know
how to believe in some things. I hope tomorrow to go for a long walk.

Chapter Three

In the library behind a book on origami I found the history
of one man's sexual conquests, handwritten and bound together
by a rubber band. August 1—Woke with a hangover in the arms
of a woman with very large teeth but respectable-looking panties. Went out
for breakfast together—she ordered oatmeal and I lost my appetite.

No year, but the paper quality suggested these were contemporary
letters. It's important to get this straight. I took a class once
on textual studies and you wouldn't believe how serious
this all is. You're dealing with the dead, maybe. In many cases
for sure. I say contemporary, too, to denote some spatial relationship
by means of time and groups, sub-groups, movements, etc.
October 31—It has been almost a month since I last had sex. She was dressed
as some sort of feline and I had arrived as a very bad version of General McCarthy.
It lasted roughly fifteen minutes and she never for a moment removed her mask.

I feel guilty, but I read on. I am supposed to meet my own wife
for lunch, and I have the urge to make love to her in some unusual
condition, but this is not how as an organism we operate.
Out on the street a back-hoe lifts giant pieces of asphalt off
the ground, exposing good dirt underneath, dirt in which something
could thrive, I am sure, even though I know little of plants.
Once out of curiosity I looked in a co-workers glove box, where
inside was a nude picture of his wife. The lives we live and the lives
we live. I'll never say a word. Some people say that it is our own desire
that motivates every one of our actions, that every sexual act
is on some level masturbatory. I have set out today to believe
in other possibilities. February 15—She was so kind to me I didn't ask
her up. It was a nice day, the first promise of spring in the wind.

Chapter Four

If I could lose just ten more pounds I would be happy.
But pound cake, the quarter pounder, five pounds
of crawdads add up—at the linguistic level, anyway.
We were out to lunch and because we had time and nothing
better to do we ran through the whole spiel—appetizer,
entrée, dessert and coffee. A man next to me was reading
some business magazine that had the following title
on the cover: "How to Invest Like a Hippy." I just don't
understand the world anymore. But I do understand
the evolution of a good meal, and good company,
and good for you if you understand other things because
this gives us something we can teach each other.
Some studies say that television will rot your mind
and I agree that maybe some of it will, but television
has also been one of my greatest teachers. I don't know
if this is necessarily a good or bad thing. I don't want
televisions to take over the world, or robots either, but I
also don't want robots to get fired and depressed. This is how
I think about politics. And that sometimes, despite all my
ambivalence, it is necessary to act. When? I have no idea.
But we have our best interests and the interests of others
and the interests of lobbies and the interest rate which seems
to control the universe. Or if not the universe at least
the real estate market. We're looking at houses. It's a big step.
It's one of the many steps people take in getting from one point
to the next, and to the next thereafter and again, etc.

Chapter Five

At the airport everyone was walking around talking into headsets
and sometimes they would look right at me and say something,
but it was to whomever was on the other end. I used to love airports.
Now I just pretty much hate those headsets. I was busy with
a book of crossword puzzles. Across, 21. Popular Star Trek phrase
(four words): Beam me up, Scotty. Down, 21. Wheel of Fortune category
(three words): Before and After. I can occupy myself in this way
for a long time. I had a dream once that crossword puzzles were
strategically placed in airports and contained secret codes
for all the secret people. I've met some former secret people.
They never said much about their former secret lives except
that they used to work for a secret department in the government.
I've also met some other people who I think secretly thought
they secretly worked for the government, but between you and me
(our secret), I think they were crazy. I guess that's not the right
word to use anymore. And who's to say whether I'm right or wrong.
All of the other people in the airport could have their own secret
lives, and all of them do. I think it would be beneficial for a novelist
to compose an entire book in an airport terminal, at one specific gate.
They could call the book Gate 13, or Gate 11 might be a little less
obvious. You owe me nothing for this, novelists—free of charge.
Only to put a man in one scene watching all the people on their
cell phones, scratching secret words into a book of crosswords,
secretly, as if he had an entirely different story to tell.

Chapter Six

Wind chimes, wind mills, alternate sources of power. In the town
in which I grew up (was raised, was born) they built the power plant
directly on top of the New Madrid fault. One day the big one's
gonna come. We've been saying this for thirty years. I read today
that in 2036 an asteroid may or may not strike the earth. The chances
are slim but it could happen, sending a tidal wave across
the ocean large enough to destroy at least one major city. So many
things could happen, when you think about it. It's remarkable!
Macro and micro, different ways to discuss change. The store
at which I used to buy my khaki pants has changed the design.
The new ones aren't nearly as good, and so I have to look elsewhere.
I hate that the market does this. But what of my adaptation skills,
what of my instincts. They're buried somewhere, and I guess
that's often a good thing. Several novelists have thematically approached
love and sex, which is to say in the more general sense passion,
animal passion, and what to do with it and how not to bury it
and embrace it or not embrace it and spend a lifetime debating which.
So the same wind that tears down a house can make a light turn on.
The same action that can repulse one human can turn another on.
And on and on and on. Because you can't, you won't and you don't
stop. The dam tour of the dammed river where people come out
to see the dam water turned into a dam lake, and it's all just so
damned beautiful and a little sad, too. What is and what is not
necessary. Illumination can mean so many things. We bought a new
night light, and I generally don't care for night lights, but this one
is warm, or appears to be, and so I have something to calm me
when I awake to some sound in the night, and listen closely,
getting out of bed to walk the quiet floors, and look out the windows
hoping only there's nothing looking back, wondering what kind
of animal I would be best to become if I see another pair of eyes,
and I wonder what exactly I'm capable of, and hope I never have
to find out. I have had at least six conversations in my life
that have dealt with how to dispose of a body, if god forbid, I
somehow, accidentally killed someone. We go on playing out
the perpetual "what ifs." But what if none of it ever even happens.

Chapter Seven

"Did you ask her about the shoes?"

"I did"

"And what did she say?"

"That her name was not Cinderella."

"And what did you say?"

"That my name was not Prince Charming."

"And what was her response to that?"

"That my name was neither George nor Romeo nor Titus neither, but that doesn't mean she can't pretend."

"And you?"

"And me."

"Yes, you?"

"I had nothing else to say. I was preoccupied with a hundred other fantasies."

"Such as?"

"The death fantasy."

"Which was?"

"I don't know, exactly. Only that it was about wanting to live."

Chapter Eight

The heart as it heaves and high blood pressure. I still don't understand
how it's not a good sign. For two years I took a pill to lower the pressure,
and these days they have pills for all sorts. I was at the doctor's office
reading an article about the effects of chocolate on the heart. I don't know
if this really has something to do with love. I don't know if chocolate
is a metaphor for love, but they've spent a long time trying to make it so.
One day I woke up and my body had righted itself. It does this for me
more often than not. I used to watch the television show Highlander
and although I know it sounds silly I sometimes believe I'm immortal.
In the show the only way in which an immortal can die is if another
immortal chops off their head, and takes their energy. I don't know
the rules exactly, but for some of the actors they translated the taking
as some sort of cosmic orgasm. The problem for immortals was living
so long—many chose not to love because it was too painful to watch
as one lover died after another. My wife and I sometimes discuss who will go
first. She hates those conversations, but sometimes we can't help talking
about it. There are green pills and blue pills and white pills for the blues pills.
I'm trying to stay clean, these days. I take vitamins and smoke a little pot
now and then. In the novel some people can live forever. All you have to do
is say it: happily ever after, p.s.: forever! How long is too long? How long is not
enough? More time we need, more time and better tickers. Tick, tock,
a day, another day. They're all adding up so quickly. I'm always caught
between what I find as living in the moment versus living long term.
I generally don't think my doctor knows much. I need a new doctor,
I guess. I've always loved that Huey Lewis song, "I Want a New Drug."
Because the new drug was the drug as "ideal" for what it might be,
as that pill that returns us to life at its fullest, which after all only life can do.

Chapter Nine

The end of the rainbow is a terrible place to end a story, unless it be
a story about the end of rainbows. No gold and no need for gold.
I awoke one day and walked west, and west. I walked past my
childhood, past my memories, past my parents and past all of human
history. I'm not even sure I have the direction right, but I carried with me
a small pad of paper, pencil, and pocket knife. This is all one enormous
fiction. A lie, some might say. A falsity for the purposes of truth.
I couldn't say one way or another. Once watching Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid,
I rewound the section where Bob Dylan was reading off food labels
three times. Three times I just sat there and listened to him say beans, corn,
beans, potatoes,
and so on. I don't know why but that felt like immortality,
and I thought that I might have destructed the universe insomuch as I
was able to rewind immortality. I eventually went on with the movie,
the larger narrative drawing me onward. Onward! to our own demises,
to a border hotel room, a bed, a back and a gun. There will never be another
story like this one. A teacher once told me to begin a story with a joke,
that it was one way of drawing your reader in. Of course I think that's
a terrible way to begin a story now, but I figured I might as well end
with a joke, and thus make the beginning the end. You tell it to anyone
you know who will go for this sort of thing, and you tell it with a perfectly
straight face. You say to them: Ask me if I am a tree, and when they say
Are you a tree, you say, No.



I wanted to try and write a novel (this being the second attempt), but each time the first chapter seemed to truncate itself, break itself into lines, etc., and "get small" like Steve Martin. Maybe I'm just lazy. Also, I like the idea of the abridged, as nearly all of my writing is to some degree.