** Bring me your tired, derivative, overwrought dead manuscripts, yearning to be erased from memory… This is the sixth in an ongoing series where authors get to share a piece of a novel/writing project that died long before it ever could have proven its worth to its parent, its master: the author. Instead of letting the maybe-horrible, maybe-unbearable Word doc remain untouched in some far off and forgotten file folder, why not let the readers at ENCLAVE have a look? Think of it as closure. They won’t laugh, I swear.
This time we have David James Keaton, author of The Last Projector.
If you are interested in having an excerpt featured in the “From the Grave” series, be sure to email me at michael @ coping mechanisms dot net. **
…you know, you hear things that remind you of stuff, and you see things that make you nostalgic, but it’s the smells that are absolutely heartbreaking because if you know what annoyed her the most, it’s driving with your windows down, and you might think it’s a burn barrel or food or skunk, but what you’re smelling is really all the green, of course, so I stuck my gum next to hers on purpose, but when I’d tell her a story I’d always say, “For a second there, I thought I saw…” and that drove her fucking nuts because you’d think, “What do you mean? I’m changing,” which is why I told that teacher I was watching the mailbox everyday and asking it to please save my life and why the gum never moved when I wasn’t looking and why that didn’t mean anything and why there are worse fates than that though, like how she could be accidentally strangled by too many rubber ducky Mardi Gras beads when the only thing she hates worse are puns, the last refuge of the weak-minded, as she called it, beacause the ones with the ducks are the ones that the drunkest girls demand after debasement, but it wasn’t like I was waiting for an acceptance letter to anything, but I was, you know, agent, college, girlfriend, just to find out if she’s dead so that I could imagine going to the funeral, not remembering what she looked like, having to open the coffin to make sure and how much her friends and family would love that because they remember and I remember her asking me why I didn’t read my breakfast boxes like she did, so what do I care when I’m already asking if sarcasm works when you’re talking to yourself and I know for a fact that it sure doesn’t sound like it, so don’t ask me what the hell I’m doing because everyone hates jokes, no matter how much they laugh or how much truth is in them, and everyone hates quips, even if they killed your dad, so consider how angry I get when a kid spits in my path or a volunteer fireman cuts me off the road or a cop pulls me over for no reason and how often I daydream these murderous thoughts because it may have been closer to the truth would be if I’d have asked that mailbox to save someone else’s life instead or if I had grabbed that cereal box and pouted while I read the ingredients to her out loud or if I had any idea that’s how sarcasm sounds of if this has anything at all to do with thumb wrestling, but I thought she was angry because she was reading it, too, only it was just because she could see the full bookcase looming behind me with that mysterious buzzing making me wonder how many phones I actually own when we hit the road and he turned into duck, duck, indiscernible by the time I’d circled over him the third time, and okay, yeah, I had a book on thumb wrestling book, hoping to strengthen the one that remained in case of a comic-book confrontation over a beach blanket, but in truth, I lied, and I’d shot a revolver twice before I knew there really was a book with two holes all the way through for each of the thumbs, and each page was an arena, like a baseball diamond, a boxing ring, a basketball court, and the hardest one, because the edges of the holes dug into your skin, a football stadium where you had to push the other thumb across a goal line, which is exactly like playing with all the crab claws on the roof top of our vacation home in South Carolina where the seagulls dropped them when they were finished eating, but as a kid, I had no idea what they were or how they got up there, just as I didn’t know if he left his phone in this car before he was thrown out, the same way he left that book, called “Thumbstruck,” but Jay called it Cuntstruck, and said we should play the games with everything but our fingers, but they should have called it thumb “stuck” because the holes were way too small for anything and bullets move slower than you think they do like when we were at that shooting range and I felt like I could reach out and grab every one of them, but just like there’s less stars above our heads, bullets aren’t as fast as we think, officer, Sergeant, whoever, and I’d like to enter this text message as evidence, please, Your Honor, so remind your lackeys that cops shouldn’t carry Tasers for their nonlethal alternative and they should carry ice scrapers, not the little ones, but the ones with the brush, the serious ones, and you probably think that I once said that might be crossing a line and my girlfriend wouldn’t appreciate it, but come on, even though his thumbs were strong from the hitchhiking, it would be a draw if you just look at it or look at that or look at me, so even though he could probably punch a hole in a truck tire with that left thumb after so much thumb wrestling all his life, he wouldn’t win, and this is why I should have taken his thumb with me because that’s what a hitchhiker is doing, trying to offer it to you, and everything would come right off in our hands like it was meant to, so, if you’re ready, one, two, three, four let’s declare a thumb war, especially when someone’s touting my neighbor’s dad’s gun, a weapons shot at least twice if you count those seagulls over the cornfield, three times if you could all the Mexican food we ate and how, later in bed, my fingers burned the hell out of her insides, but it’s better if you stop before you hit something, which, not coincidentally, is exactly the reason most gun laws were necessary, and the reason we kept that squirrel, even though, if anyone would have seen it the first day, we would have been in trouble, just like when I was busted for having 73 cats and a praying mantis for pets, all in this car, and, yeah, se swore I did it on purpose, but you have to do it twice to do it on purpose because the first time is always a learning day if you look real close at that truck, a vehicle that is the 33rd saddest thing I’ve ever seen in my life, besides that turtle in the veterinarian’s office, but that first month, it had to be hidden really, really well, until it’s just bones and then it was okay to put anywhere, so ask yourself whose shit is bigger and I’ll always swear that when my shit stops at a red light and a hundred clowns jump out, a joke I only make because I thought you hated jokes, so that’s a message I’ll save on the machine, reminding me that this why you can’t save certain things and why flesh bad, skull good if you’re a collector and why if I run out of gas and have to siphon, it would be worth everything and why if I spill it all over me and can’t get rid of the smell, and why I will know he was wrong and why the truck drives through that tunnel with less than an inch to spare and why do I imagine myself lying up there in that inch between the truck and the tunnel every time and why I had already heard the lecture about how reptiles tend to shut down during surgery, so because of all of the friendships I made in the waiting room, I did get to see the x-rays of a turtle bursting with the eggs it couldn’t lay and listen to someone decode its last words, “five, six, seven, eight, don’t trust a thumb to masturbate,” if you remember that I still love the smell of gasoline it’ll give me a reason to tell him this when I drive over his legs again, like you saw at movie theaters, that popcorn sizes are now labeled Large, Extra Large, Family Size, and That Shit I Just Took, which I know is silly out loud, but I’m talking about the big ice scrapers, officers, and I should know because I got hit with one of those by a girl, and it was no joke, mostly because it was so big and it had that damn brush, which I also know this because I found the list I made when I was a child when I followed her into the room to say goodbye to her turtle and there it was in the center of a bed with an EKG flatlining behind it and she laughed and turned it off, telling me that without that noise that people would mistake it for alive for at least another week, something that is as sad as that guy who came outside and found a last. lonely car that looked like his, then discovered his key worked in every car door, something that happens a lot more than you think, something that happens about as often as me driving over you or him, but I must have stumbled headlong through a soup can pyramid in the grocery store that day, and that cinematic shit’s as foolish as you can look out in the wild, and that’s why the miserable stock boys stack them that way, obviously, to impress the girls at the register, like when you say things like, “My shit was so big, it blows bubbles when I swallow gum,” but I don’t get that at all, but I believe you when you say bean soup is good as long as I don’t chew it and that the last words of Dutch Shultz were similar to this and also involved bean soup, and that I enjoy girls with numbers on their shirts as much as I hate them on boys and that baseball caps are neutral ground, sure, like the church in Highlander, but only if you’re wearing headphones, ’cause you need to wonder what she’s listening to if you’re pretending you’re in an indie movie, but you pretend you’re her if you’re in an indie novel, and a scratch on her hand will make you wonder what happened in both, just like an 8-ball in her fist will make you wonder what game she stole it from and if they’re still chasing her, and how everyone should be eyeing the stop sign instead, as long as it’s the right stop sign, not this stop sign, but that stop sign, the one where stealing it would cause a real wreck, not make a cool necklace, so you keep walking with a gas can if you ever get up, not because she ran out because the can she’s carrying is tipped too low, as if she’s leaving a trail of fuel behind her on the road to ignite, as if a turtle is a pet with few rewards, which it is, as if maybe, just maybe, I’m getting ready to ask her where that trail of gas starts when she asks me for a light, if I wasn’t talking to myself, but there’s just no way to organize a discussion when the turtle won the race like it says in the Bible, next to the passage that explains that, even alone, we structure it all as if someone is listening, like when I pick another thumb off the road to replace the ones we’re losing, the ones that are weak, but you do know you can’t make me sick, and if you think so, you should try the impossible and gross me out, like describe when you’ve ever taken a shit but it doesn’t quite come out and you’re flexing your asshole and it feels like it’s chewing it instead because that shit is nasty, nastier than me asking where you’re headed when I don’t care or what’s that in your hand or do you thumb wrestle or where did you drop the quotation marks out the window and what’s that in your hand, even though I know it’s a frog I found on the side of the road that looks more like a spider, making that shit about judging a society by the nature of its frogs all the more compelling than judging a society by the nature of its prisons, but look at the damn thing, a frog with eight legs is something you can’t tell me is normal, and you can’t tell me things aren’t changing out there on the road, just like you can’t tell me it’s the frog’s fault or the turtles fault or we all have thin skin, which means we’re too easily affected by our environment and the thumbs fly right off, but it’s okay if you don’t see us growing eight fingers to replace them all because you’re going to need all the fingers you can get when I let you out just as soon as I’m going fast enough…