Posted by: Harold Knight | 12/20/2009

Bette Davis meet Lynn Rosetto Kasper meet Uncle Edwin

I’m pretty ordinary. 

My TLE (if that’s what it is—it’s so nebulous I’m never quite sure that’s what’s happening in my brain) is controlled by drugs (doses hefty enough to kill a horse, I think). I’ve had only two blackout seizures (perhaps recently a third, but I’m not sure about that one) since I began taking the drugs. Even were I to be in the middle of a seizure, you would never know it. Two regular activties ground me so my sense that nothing is real is philosophical rather that physical. In truth, three, but I’m not going to talk about the third in public. The first is playing the organ or the piano. The second is what I am doing at the moment—sitting in front of this screen (which probably causes seizures itself) and typing as fast as I can. 

The first day I tried my hand at this blogging nonsense was September 19. I wrote then I thought this would be a good way to try to do something worthhile with the writing I’m going to be doing at 5 AM anyway. I have missed posting two days since then. And I wrote on the two days I missed here. 

My Bipoar disorder (if that’s what it is—it’s so nebulous I’m never quite sure that’s what’s happening in my brain) is supposedly contolled by drugs. But whatever it is that causes me to break out sobbing over Lynn Rosetto Kasper’s radio cooking show seems to be alive and well in my brain. 

What I’m saying is I think most people would think I’m pretty normal. A bit eccentric or something (what almost-65-year-old who has lived alone for eight years isn’t?). I think I’ve made all of this up. I don’t have anything like Temporal Lobe Epilepsy or Bipolar disorder. And then there’s this close to unbearble experience I have in rooms lighted by fluoresecnt lights and full of people I wish would just shut up and stop making so much noise. And those rare but scary blackouts (which cause my neurologist to suggest I not drive). And crying over Lyn Rosetto Kasper talking about how to make a soufflé. 

And then there’s this writing. 

Gobs of it. Pages of it. Most of it senseless, grandiose, incomprehensible. Certainly nothing like Arthur C. Inman, but roughly of the same genre. I’m not going to produce 17,000,000 words (I was too drunk for too many years to be able to write). Think how much he would have produced if he had had a computer (he died in 1963). 

So last night I casually mentioned my novel to a friend. (I lied a bit; I have three novels-on-the-shelf.) He asked if he could read it. I said I’d see if I could find any of it. Of course, it’s all on my desktop. So I copied a section and emailed it to him. 

And then I woke up this morning ready to write a novel. I don’t think so. I’m not disciplined enough to go through that again. And besides, I don’t want the rejection. But if people will read and enjoy (at least I enjoy it) John Kennedy Toole (my brother recently reminded me of the conspiracy), then maybe there’s hope for something I might write. His is, after all, a wildly imperfect novel, but no one I know who’s started reading it has not finished it. 

So I’m going to write a novel. I already have the place and the two main characters. So I thought I’d put a tiny piece of my novel-on-the-shelf here and see if anyone notices. It has no title. This is the beginning: 

Lone Oak, Texas

On the day I became an official Dallas resident, Cousin Judy, my first cousin once removed, told me that once real summer had started here—once live oak trees had turned from deep green to phantom dusty gray, once the heat index had topped one hundred degrees, once an ozone watch had been put in place, once daily watering of hanging plants had become necessary—but the North Texas Municipal Water District announced that the level of the water table was “grave,” once leaving air conditioned spaces had become not only an insult but a danger, once “comfortable” had taken on meanings that raised suspicion in the mind of any Iowan—once any of those realities had taken hold in a given year—we’d be hot and miserable until October. That was the day, of course, old Johnston Cade, unscrupulous antique dealer and, for all I knew or imagined, felon, died. He died leaving me the sole beneficiary of both his will and his reputation, with the inherited task of disposing of a warehouse, a fine warehouse in the most exclusive part of the Dallas Design District, full of antiques brought from upstate New York and the Connecticut Valley of New England, from hamlets in West Virginia and manor houses of Devonshire, from Iowa auctions and the black markets of Eastern Europe, from absolute junk to his prized Syrie Maugham white sofa. Of course, I had to dispose of his reputation before anyone would buy the antiques.
            That afternoon Cousin Judy perched on the rail of the deck high above her garden in North Dallas. At the back of her property—one of those deep lots sloping away from the street, so the front of the house opened at street level and the back opened onto the level below, built in the sixties when no expense need be spared—a row of forty-foot Eastern Redbuds, the Judas Tree, was in bloom, the row purple except for one rare white, a surprise to Judy and the landscaper when it finally blossomed. In front of the Judases, three or four multi-trunked Texas Redbuds, smaller but more intense, with deep salmon flowers and waxy green leaves, one of those Texas trees I’ve always thought should be able to grow in some moderate place like Iowa. My family knows trees.
            Judy sipped a drink in a way that made me think of Bette Davis. I don’t know why. Judy certainly didn’t then and doesn’t now look anything like Bette Davis. Judy wore black silk pants and a starched half-sleeve white shirt and black flat shoes, and she looked more elegant than I thought a Mueller could look with her blond hair pulled back in a roll held in place by a silver comb. But then, I’d always thought of her that way. She threw back her head and laughed, almost as a caricature of herself. I guess that’s what made me think of Bette Davis. Her laugh. Her I-dare-you-to-take-life-seriously self-assurance. I thought I’d never get used to Texas women. Even my relatives. The idea that a relative of mine, someone I’d known all my life, had actually been born in Texas instead of Iowa and spoke with a Texas accent unnerved me. It still does when I think about it. She said, “You’ll have to be the grown-up tonight.” We all knew Cade would be drunk when we got there.
            “I guess.” What else could I say.
            Uncle Edwin—when I started writing, I thought I was writing about myself, but he’s the center of this story, from beginning to end—wore his usual black shirt, a golf shirt with a collar for dress-up instead of his usual t-shirt, with tight khaki Dickies workpants, also for dress-up. His costume. Either he knew and didn’t care that the way he dressed exuded his obsession with sex, or he was so preoccupied with himself that he didn’t know. I didn’t know then, and I don’t know now which it was. He gawked at Judy with his blank stare that somehow penetrated everything and everyone around and, at the same time, looked totally disinterested, his frown that made me want either to run and hide or to backhand him across his face and tell him to stop pretending to be a sociopath.
            “Grown-up?” he said.
            Edwin circled his fingers around a branch of a Cockspur Hawthorne—or Hog Apple, or Newcastle Thorn, or whatever name we were calling it that day—the only tree close enough to the house to touch, growing up from the garden so the top was level with the deck. He slowly pulled his hand to the end, loose enough so the thorns did not scratch him, but tight enough to crush a few of the leaves. The familiar feeling, the feeling I got only in Edwin’s presence, the feeling that never associates itself with anyone or anything else, the feeling of revulsion and attraction, of

Lake Tawakoni

fondness and pain, of admiration and disgust, of fear and love, mushroomed through my body and blossomed in my head. © 2009. Harold A. Knight


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