Rich Ives

A Portrait of Max Fleischer’s Final Minutes

There are some things I won’t do though I haven’t fig­ured out what they are. Except the obvi­ous, like stop talk­ing, which hard­ly counts. Sometimes I enjoy invent­ing rea­sons for doing things I thought I wouldn’t do. It’s a mat­ter of per­spec­tive, and I may be lack­ing just enough cer­tain­ty to for­get what it means to be myself, or maybe my self doesn’t want to be tied down to a rela­tion­ship with an unre­li­able per­son no mat­ter how fas­ci­nat­ing it finds the jus­ti­fi­ca­tions, which might mean I have a self ful­ly pre­pared to reject itself.

It’s true I have often won­dered if I should remain friends with my self after rec­og­niz­ing such dis­turb­ing poten­tials, but then I have also won­dered if I should stay friends with my self when no such poten­tials had been in evi­dence.

I’ve been wait­ing a long time for some­thing to hap­pen because I per­ceive my life as a sto­ry and some­thing usu­al­ly hap­pens in a sto­ry and my life hasn’t done much of that yet.

I don’t like to turn on the light when I’m read­ing. The trans­fer of the black words to my dark­en­ing mind seems so much smoother with­out it. Friendship may not have any­thing to do with it.

While I was con­sid­er­ing my friend­ship or lack there­of with my self, var­i­ous unrea­son­able objec­tives were con­sid­ered and reap­plied to the ceiling’s deli­cious sag. I often won­der if it did not con­tain a movie of my life in which the hus­band and wife were not mar­ried, but refused to have sex with each oth­er any­way. In the movie her name might have been Condolence, and I might have been dis­turbed at the prospect of los­ing her.

So I drank one side of the wine.

I have recent­ly noticed that my answer­ing machine has filled with silence. I knew it was you, but what you want­ed called sev­er­al yes­ter­days ago when I was not even myself. Of course I don’t think I’m any bet­ter than you, but that doesn’t stop me from some­times think­ing so, the same way I know you do. Perhaps I only live in Seattle because the gen­tle light and the wet air reminds me of the womb, or per­haps I don’t have a clue what a womb is like, and I stay here any­way. Maybe con­den­sa­tion is a skill.

So I drank the oth­er side of the wine.

My dear Condolence,
I have thought of your delight­ful mousy curls so often dur­ing our sep­a­ra­tion and my bor­der­less career reminds me this is what life pays you to do. There doesn’t, how­ev­er, seem to be any­one lis­ten­ing because they’re all vis­it­ing the pre­vi­ous­ly unre­al­ized. I should like to call to your atten­tion my per­sis­tent efforts to recruit my buck­et of depart­ing water­songs for a rous­ing ren­di­tion of Never Miss Your Water till the Well Runs Dry. I can’t seem to stop con­sid­er­ing the less obvi­ous aspects of your involve­ment in my well being, or more accu­rate­ly my being well, for my good taste was offered for inspec­tion and came back with a mys­te­ri­ous ill­ness. Perhaps I could con­sult with you con­cern­ing cer­tain anatom­i­cal con­sid­er­a­tions which have arisen?
With Renewed Affection,
Your Binky

Or per­haps her response might have been as unex­pect­ed as the beau­ty of the asy­lum gar­den. Or per­haps I am the cocoon and not the but­ter­fly.

My inner child ate my out­er one. Further out­side tried to come in. Sometimes I try to find myself in the linen bas­ket. My defects do not require any plat­form upon which to be exam­ined, but per­haps you’d like to assist me.

I once dat­ed a den­tal hygien­i­cist whose face was fat enough to absorb all the inat­ten­tion I gave it. I do not think I delib­er­ate­ly ignored her, but per­haps I let her think my atten­tions meant more than they actu­al­ly did, in which case I shall feel dread­ful, though I’m not cer­tain when.

I make a delight­ful­ly coer­cive soup, aid­ed and abet­ted by a col­lab­o­ra­tionist sal­ad. I am not an active par­tic­i­pant in mete­o­ro­log­i­cal dis­tur­bances. Ask the fat aunt daub­ing whale oil on her wrin­kles, her breasts’ still perky snouts snuf­fling to uncle’s tooth­less mouth while he burps and bob­bles them with cal­loused hands. Oh there were many oth­ers.

Just as I once knew a weak man with a fat miss­ing hand who dreamt of big fire­men and lit­tle fire­men sav­ing big ladies and lit­tle ladies. He also dreamt of a rab­bit drum­mer and a square-danc­ing cat, and he chased his cat into the fire­place and woke before he could deter­mine whether there was a fire in there.

Following my encounter with the dream­ing man, I was intrigued and dis­turbed to find myself in pos­ses­sion of sev­er­al dreams of my own con­tain­ing but­ter­flies and danc­ing cows, car­rot babies in a bas­ket, and a fat rat with a very fat daugh­ter named Lou Ellen who likes roller skat­ing, hock­ey and deep sea div­ing. She was stolen by a waf­fle and then in a sur­pris­ing and dan­ger­ous inter­rup­tion, peeled a wob­bly police pota­to and then she said Honeydew I give you all the kiss­es you want.

My breath is 48 inch­es long, and I look like some­one you don’t know talk­ing to some­one else you don’t know in the mir­ror alone in the bed­room. I tend to avoid women with cal­en­dars in their under­wear. There’s a slash in the sep­a­ra­tion of church and my cur­rent state of abbre­vi­at­ed inten­tions. The doc­tor said so, but a doctor’s got to get out­side the body to vaca­tion, which is hard­er when your thoughts are inside the body inside the thoughts of anoth­er in pain or unde­sir­able pos­si­bil­i­ty and worse.

I was at that time mak­ing the same progress a seag­ull makes fly­ing into the wind and return­ing just as fast as the seag­ull is leav­ing, only the earth turns under­neath at an unob­serv­able rate that means there is progress where there appears to be no progress.

I had a small ner­vous emo­tion in my head that want­ed to get out. It was not a cause for great con­ster­na­tion, but it want­ed to get out. I decid­ed not to lis­ten to it. I don’t believe heart­felt pleas are for for­give­ness any­way.

Svevo wasn’t inter­est­ed in explain­ing how to fix the prob­lem, so I told him how seduc­tive I could have been with the right advice, and Svevo went to a monastery to acquire a selec­tion of warts for his exper­i­ment and found a bewil­der­ing array of wens, pus­tules, boils, chan­cres, skin tags, and uniden­ti­fi­able appendages to com­pli­cate his exper­i­ment, but some of the monks refused to part with their growths while many returned to the rivers and ponds from which they had emerged.

We seemed then to have been nib­bling on a crea­ture with legs. We believed this crea­ture was rather tasty, but we couldn’t agree on whether or not the rea­son for this was the inclu­sion of the legs, and we dis­cussed it enjoy­ably at great length; how­ev­er, Svevo was not forth­com­ing with the right advice.

I’m cer­tain only that the begin­ning was end­ing again, but the end­ing was not begin­ning. An errant con­cept of the monks was chas­ing me down the grav­el road to overindul­gence, but it had too many human legs to dis­suade me from my lone­ly porce­lain thirst.

A riv­er and a wood­en goal post live here dur­ing the last min­utes of con­fes­sion, but no sports addict­ed teenagers. This tem­po­rary mar­riage could be com­pared to a schol­ar­ly crazed priest inor­di­nate­ly cer­tain of his ambi­tions or the lenient part of the hate­ful mum­bling of ice pol­ished with wind. The monks might have tried to read the leaves but found the lan­guage too dif­fi­cult. It wouldn’t shout and it wouldn’t cry.

At least one world is still hold­ing under the tan­gled flanks of first one then the oth­er son of the day­light mourn­ing. Everything I knew about time has advanced and begun eat­ing, and a kind of father won’t stop call­ing out from his perch deep inside night­fall.

When I was young enough to for­get, the Japanese navy attacked my foot after hours cross­ing the linoleum waves and lost all pre­tense of dig­ni­ty, as pris­on­ers who know only con­fes­sion in ret­ro­spect are wont to do

There was so much that I couldn’t have said that she wouldn’t have under­stood any­way. It was a good thing we weren’t com­mu­ni­ca­ble.

Someone once told me that I ate like a mole, which isn’t very much, but all the time, and always alone. I thought it was a com­pli­ment, but with­out the invi­ta­tion.

How can you say a man is dead when to speak of him in the present is to deny that he is not, at least in some way, alive? Perhaps you could speak of his body, which is at least present for a short peri­od of time while he is not. Perhaps you could speak of him only in the past tense, which belonged to him at least as much as it belonged to any­one else.

Hers had a beau­ti­ful meat and mine a face like a slapped opos­sum.

You need him. You want that tragedy repeat­ed, so our hero lives to fall anoth­er day. He’s near­ly dead again already, and you don’t want to under­stand why he needs you.

We break up the night into blocks and load them into the ele­va­tor and push the but­ton for the pent­house, which doesn’t exist in this build­ing, and we can’t see that, so it gets dark­er, and the blocks fall out of them­selves and meld with the idea of what we’ve been doing that falls like a micro­scop­ic feath­er from the rooftop that must exist some­where above the pent­house, beyond our uncer­tain­ty and our desire to have its parts avail­able to us in pieces, no mat­ter how dark they might be.

If they ask you to stay, say your moth­er is drown­ing, you have to go home.

It’s hard to have a the­o­ry for every leaf that falls out­side your imag­i­na­tion, but it’s not so hard to rec­og­nize the age-old desire to be small­er than your­self.

It’ s a lit­tle like a sto­ry of a chair that just sat there and held on to a sto­ry about a chair that just sat there. It’s the same chair you could use to study the sin­cer­i­ty of an embrace.

Sometimes I wish not to be found in my body, the durable world still out­side the right kind of adven­ture after adven­ture, and the air always full of itself, and nev­er any place bet­ter to go.

It’s a place where sor­row is philo­soph­i­cal and pain is mere­ly a sketch for some greater real­i­ty, where what you know, final­ly, is what you don’t know, and the only thing inar­tic­u­late is speech.

~

Rich Ives has received grants and awards from the National Endowment for the Arts, Artist Trust, Seattle Arts Commission and the Coördinating Council of Literary Magazines for his work in poet­ry, fic­tion, edit­ing, pub­lish­ing, trans­la­tion and pho­tog­ra­phy. His writ­ing has appeared in Verse, North American Review, Massachusetts Review, Northwest Review, Quarterly West, Iowa Review, Poetry Northwest, Virginia Quarterly Review, Fiction Daily and many more. His sto­ry col­lec­tion, The Balloon Containing the Water Containing the Narrative Begins Leaking, was one of five final­ists for the 2009 Starcherone Innovative Fiction Prize. The Spring 2011 Bitter Oleander con­tains a fea­ture includ­ing an inter­view and 18 of his hybrid works.