by Mack McCulloch

Part III.


Another argument flaring up in one of the flats outside and suddenly she felt done in, suddenly exhausted – Would you turn that down, Jake! who was slow to resignation, as if he had barely heard, which in a sense he had, because for the first time in weeks he had got to level 11 and was not quite but almost at the part he most hated, when he has to face the wizard, the wizard who he has never discovered how to beat, and no one except Kobe knows how to beat, and Kobe won’t tell except for a 50, because Kobe’s a cunt, moreover a cunt who doesn’t need money because his parents are rich, and Jake’s mom is poor and his dad is a cunt too but not rich, and all through the third grade when Kobe had arrived Jake had envied Kobe’s lunch, his snacks in bright wrappers and all the other shit that Kobe would regularly pop out of his backpack to pass around but never share, not that he wasn’t generous, and anyway Kobe had his problems too, which he never told anyone because he was strictly forbidden to, but he knew that it wasn’t good and that maybe someone was sick or done in because his dad spent a lot of time striding, but sometimes slinking too, between the apartment and the pay phone booth down the alley, the top of which Kobe could see from his window at the back of the apartment block on the third floor, though barely in summer because of the plane tree and only quite well in winter because there was also a wall that cut a bit off from view, even if he stood on tip toes on his bed and leaned against the pane but then he could see his dad’s head nodding or shaking, and most of his body pacing, hand in his pocket, his thin hips slightly in front of his thin waist, and his thin shoulders above his hips, so that he looked to Kobe, at least kind of, against the dark in the greenish glow of the phone booth anyway, like a bent reed, like a cartoon character from the disney cartoon Minnie the Moocher, which he only watched because it was apparently banned but he’d ‘seen worse shit that’s been banned’ like a Russian snuff film which might have been fake and titicut follies and The Battle of Algiers, which he was proud of ’cause he was only 11 but he liked to think he knew more than most kids, which he did, but he also knew the importance of keeping discreet and of not disturbing his mother and sister, who were ladies and didn’t like to be disturbed, which is why his dad made phone calls on the pay phone even though he had a mobile and also why Kobe couldn’t tell anyone, especially not the ladies, which he never did, not even much later when everything had come out in the wash, so to speak, because by then Kobe had already integrated, wholly successfully, the lessons he started learning when he was 9, the lessons that also prevented him, despite his feeling bad at first, from sharing his secrets about the wizard, which he himself had discovered by threatening to beat some kid up, ‘so not exactly legit’ but he didn’t share this either, not only because it would undermine his claim to silence but because he liked people to think that he had cracked it by himself, that he had watched a snuff film and titicut follies and was only 11, like Jake, who couldn’t get past the wizard on level 11 to save his life, and so yes he would turn the volume down, he was resigned to it after all, but ‘just after’ this bit, where he throws a mad ball of fire at one of the aquatic gargoyles guarding the fortress, and even though Now, Jake! he could barely get the air out of his lungs he was concentrating so hard, but he did and he said ‘just – after – this’ and his eyes were squinting and he was biting his lip and leaning in so far he might fall over, and he didn’t even notice that she hadn’t replied because the door had opened and her boyfriend had come in, and he didn’t hear her hiss, what are you doing here, nor what the boyfriend said in reply, not hissing but rumbling like the engine of a good fast car for which anything less than a roar seems painful, and is, as the boyfriend himself would later intuit, the mellifluous pangs shooting from his bruised knuckles to his big arms, which he flexed so that he could feel the semi-sweetness of the pain, but Jake had not noticed the rumble, the revving, until he lost against Kobe’s wizard and cursed Kobe and called him a cunt and suddenly realised his kid sister was crying and that his mum was crying and that her boyfriend was shouting and there were other shouts coming from outside the apartment and some kids singing loudly and a siren and a crack as something was thrown out the window, and the siren going north was greeted by a siren going west, and from outside there was a woman’s scream, and from inside a woman’s scream, and the kids singing suddenly stopped, suddenly not singing, then suddenly started again and Jake ran panicky to his kid sister’s room, pangs not mellifluous but horrible, just horrible, in his chest, and told his kid sister, all of 8 months old and couldn’t do anything by herself, meaning to say that ‘she’s really hopeless and can’t even feed herself’ like he, Jake, can, told her she’s got to be quiet, that she’s got to Shut the fuck up! Isabel, you’ve got to shut up!



Part II.


Peace. Suddenly, a small seemingly insignificant argument about who drank the last of the milk and didn’t buy anymore, because that morning, opening the fridge door, suddenly realising that there was only enough left for one, he thought, Well, it may as well be me – and suddenly, another thought – I’ll get some more later – and just as suddenly – Because why should I give up my breakfast, it’s not my responsibility to make sure we have milk and Why can’t she keep any order, as, suddenly, almost but not quite without thinking, he reached for the bottle, opened its neck and poured it out, where it suddenly splashed cold and white like absolution, and suddenly an image of him riding the milksplash through the galaxy, black as night and marble white like the tombs of Charles V, made him smile, which he had not done suddenly for a long time, but had so slowly and under the growing social pressure at the dinner table, the lunch table, Thank god not at the breakfast table he suddenly thought, Thank god I have breakfast alone, and he thought he heard Ophelia stir and winced, suddenly imagining the giant milk splash that he had been riding through the galaxy turn into the lake where Ophelia dies and suddenly in his head he’d drowned her, suddenly-no-longer-waking Ophelia in cold white milk, in a liquid winding sheet more beautiful than any John Everett Millais painting, and suddenly he felt nauseous and the milk lining his mouth tasted thick and stale, and feeling guilty and slightly ashamed, suddenly and simultaneously wondered whether the milk was off and whether if someone was watching his thoughts he would be thought deviant, but just as suddenly realising the milk was fine and good and cold and that no one was watching his thoughts, which was, he hastily concluded, not only ‘a pretty dumb idea’ but also that ‘it’s too early for this sci-fi bullshit’, and suddenly realised that of course, if someone was watching – and controlling (which he suddenly mistook as mutually inclusive) – his thoughts, of course the first essential and sudden implementation would be a dulling of the mental faculty – ‘decrease paranoia, increase mild discomfort’ would likely be the slogan – so that incrementally in the sudden and swift atomic nano-seconds that were already and always beyond grasp and reach, tiredness and unease would ensue, until suddenly he ‘can’t for the life of me remember where I left my keys’ and ‘can’t be bothered, babe’ to go out, to have sex, to read a novel – he’s exhausted, until one day suddenly he can’t even smile at the old lady hobbling into the lift, moving at so glacial a pace, so very wound down, taking each inch – by – raised – foot – inch as it came, that is to say quietly, without fuss, and above all slowly, so slowly that each noticeable incremental movement on the variable scale seems a triumph, suddenly ticking over to the next inch and suddenly the next, each inch a triumph over time and space, and ever closer to the lift, but he can’t smile because just as she was breaching the threshold of the metal box he suddenly realised he was late, but really late, here in the kitchen holding the milk container staring blankly at the wall as he had been doing for ‘god knows how long’, he suddenly realised mind control or no, little old crone or no, milky way or no, he the holder of the container and the container for other dreams, was late. Peace, in the wind. Peace, in the bar. And just as suddenly, Did you get milk, Xavier? Ah, I forgot, sorry babe. You forgot? You didn’t leave me any and now you forgot? There was none left and anyway why didn’t you get some? Me? It’s my job is it? Oh, Ophelia, not this shit again. I don’t have the energy. You have the energy to go to a bar but not to have a conversation? Yeah, I can smell it Xav, you always smell of it. Enough, Ophelia, what are you fucking Sherlock Holmes, and suddenly he thought of her drowned in morning milk, a misty glade, green fronds disappearing cleanly into the matte white liquid, which almost reflected nothing but was tinted with the shade of flowers, purple, orange, red, or flecked with yellow and black, colours which glowed barely from the silent barely-absorbant white. Peace. Suddenly, war.



Part I.


Part I is about a note I found about another note, which was an advice note retyped and then photocopied from a writer who, the writer of the second note informed me, “I’d heard of but never read”, he apparently being one of those essential American writers about whom people who have read him say, Yeah, I love this guy, or This guy made me want to be a writer. It wasn’t Vonnegut, “that’s for sure”, whose name is, according to the second note “shall we just say, unforgettable.” The first note read something like a Don’t column, which is generally easier than a Do column, but which the second note felt had something to do with the “very Americanness” of this writer and because freedom in the liberal tradition means freedom-from and “we all know about America and neoliberalism” – the writer of the second note at this point requested that I disregard any sweeping generalisations, adding – “not to mention American writers.” Apparently it wasn’t by Kerouac either, because “he’s so freedom-from he’d never write a Don’t do list”. I was told that Kerouac would serve as “exhibit B in irony indication” if we were in a court of law (I was not told what exhibit A would be), although in a court of law, I was told, the writer of the second note would probably have to admit to not reading Kerouac much either, “probably because no one handed me On the Road when I was 15 and by the time I finally opened it at 20, it tasted wrong and foreign, like Holden Caulfield, who also could have tasted so familiar if I had read him when I was 15.” What the second note remembers about the Don’t list, which he did not reprint in full and which I, having not seen it, cannot verify, was that after not a very many but a substantial prime number of reasonable requests, which were “so reasonable as to be forgettable”, this writer – whose name the second writer can’t remember now and who is confused in “my swiss cheese” with the Chandlers and the Austers and “the guy who wrote I Bought a Little City” – asked the reader of the note – “which was me at the time” – being the writer of the second note, to on no account use the term suddenly. The second note ended with the phrase, “‘Suddenly, a tornado broke out’ was I’m sure what the guy meant, or ‘Peace. Suddenly, war.'” In the same pile of notes as the second note were other notes labelled Parts, although the note itself was not labelled. Part II and III were there, as were Parts VI, VIII, XI, as well as an XIb, two XXXIIs and Parts XXIII-XXIX. It is unclear whether this first note was intended as a Part or was completely, if not completely, unrelated.