This is when I go out of the cabin’s oneroom into the bathroom. But first Antoinette lays on the bed, supple as a sea lion on an ice flow to wait out my toilet. Rather, she is still toying with my sticks, stacking and unstacking to get the tightest fit as I enter or exit depending on your orientation. Or perhaps I do not know what she is doing because I must necessarily turn my back to her to open and subsequently pass through the door.
Yes, the not knowing what she is doing when I cannot see her, like the not knowing what she is doing when I can see her, makes me feel fairly insane. But I have a high tolerance for insanity in myself if not others.
Besides, not knowing is my equilibrium state.
He is about to go downstairs when he thinks of Palo as a chemistry experiment. The Author writes the idea down, not a genius one he knows, perhaps even slightly embarrassing, but another link in the chain, and rehides his notebook and writing implements and opens the door and smells beans and hears the rattle of the pressure cooker releasing pressure and feels hungry and is about to go downstairs. He goes downstairs.
The only one who says anything is Lilly, Daddy! She is incorrigible. She lightly bounces a plastic baby she tries to nurse with her shirt pulled up while singing a song without words.
He knows the rest of them know where he’s been.
No, she says.
Hi, Ulster says. He draws a short-bodied animal with long legs on a piece of paper at the table.
What are you drawing?
A fish, Ulster says.
But it has legs.
It’s a lionfish. It’s king of the ocean. It says Rarrrr, he says.
Hi, Mary says. She heats tortillas on the griddle and cools the pressure cooker under the faucet and checks that the rice in the Japanese rice cooker is done because it says it’s done and cuts pale November quality tomato wedges and gets jars of salsa and yogurt to replace sour cream from the fridge. Lee is behind the couch. Allen stalks the bad guy with a guitar that is a gun.
Can I cut the cheese?
Please, she says. He cuts the cheese with a knife, knowing she’d prefer he’d grate the cheese with a grater.
That doesn’t really happen you know.
What? Allen says.
The cowboy and Indians stuff.
I know. There are no Indians, Dad, Allen says.
There are cowboys.
Where? Allen says.
We’re playing good guys and bad guys, Allen says.
There are no bad guys.
I know, Allen says.
And the guys we call good don’t chase them and catch them and make things better. It’s a fantasy.
I know, Allen says. I’m just imagining.
He tells Allen to clean the table for dinner. But I’m hunting a thief, he says. Set the table, says the Author. He broke the law, says Allen. He’s a murderer. We don’t talk about those things in this house. Set the table. Lee cheated on his test. He’s not old enough to have real tests. Set the table.
General screaming of Lee at Allen for being a tattle-tale, of Ulster at Allen for taking away his colors, of Allen at Ulster that it’s his job to set the table, of Lilly at Lee for engaging his feelings by pushing her down when he climbs from behind the couch. Mary says to the Author, If you’re going to cut the cheese, cut the cheese, else let me do it.
He does it. She lays rectangular cheese on circular tortillas to melt and lose shape. Atop which she piles line segments of rice and ovaloids of black beans and triangles of tomatoes and blobs of yogurt and scattershot salsa. She passes them to him to role into cylinders like scrolls full of wise old important and indecipherable proclamations.
Dinner! he roars into the din.
A moment of silence.
He places food on the table in the den. They sit. They eat the proclamations, which is all they’re good for. Things return to normal, which is normal. They were normal before, and continue to be normal. Lilly eats only beans, Ulster only cheese, Lee only tortilla. Everyone else eats everything else.
The Author is uncomfortable being together in silence. He prefers silent solitude. Silence together is not normal, even if it is preferable to non-silence together. Losing his mind in noise is normal. He yearns for normalcy, which he despises. A very successful and advanced and unique normalcy.
How was the soccer game?
Good, Allen says. We lost.
Allen stopped two shots, says his mother.
Good job. What about you Lee? What did you do at school today?
I picked what I was going to be when I’m a grownup, he says. I’m going to be a writer.
No you’re not.
Why not? says Lee.
Writers aren’t grownups, says his mother.
Who’s writing this conversation? I’m trying to engage the life of my children. Now, why did you choose to be a writer, Lee?
I don’t know, he says.
Come on, you can say.
I won’t be mad.
It’s the money, says Mary.
Oh, did you sell something, Dad? says Allen.
No, no, it’s the quantity of time you are justified in locking yourself up, says Mary.
Thank you for the offer, but I’m already engaged.
It’s how it frees you up to pursue the meaning of being an incomprehensible jerk, says Mary.
Thank you for dinner. He begins to clear his plate.
Cole, Mary says to him, or Coal or Kol or Koal or Kole. Then Lee says his name something more like Cold or Colt. Ulster says a word like Skol. Lilly says, Okra. He puts food away in the kitchen.
Dad, what are you writing now? Allen says.
Then what were you doing in your room? says Allen.
What’s it about? says Allen.
What’s it about? encourages Mary. He was going to be a good politician or a good author and not-say, but he chooses to engage, for Mary.
A man cheating on his wife, he says. The Author knows such a happening is no shock to Allen. Three-quarters of his friends’ parents are separated or divorced or unhappy or sleeping with their friends’ parents, if he believes the stories.
Are they going to get divorced? says Allen.
I haven’t gotten that far yet.
Divorce is a horrible thing, Allen, says Mary.
I know, Mom.
Nobody’s having real sex with anybody.
I know, Dad. Then why write about it?
That’s why you write about it.
I mean why write about it if it’s so bad?
But why write about it?
Because I’m compelled.
You told me because wasn’t an answer.
He gives his oldest a look, then gives the first answer that dawns on him, which people will say is the right answer because he hasn’t thought about it, as if instinct were the guiding light and he hadn’t thought of other answers at other times and he had not thought about this answer before and hence subverted it, but god bless, he has something to say.
I’m exploring the nature of sin.
He expects Allen to not give in. He expects Allen to ask what sin is. But Allen already knows what people say sin is, though he’s not a church-going boy. Sin is one of the great themes of western culture and cannot be escaped. He expects Lee or Ulster to pick up the trail, but perhaps they can read the look on their mother’s face, or perhaps they haven’t been listening; there’s a lot of that going around, not to mention the food smeared all over the table and the yogurt pasted in Lilly’s hair and the sounds of chewing.
Well, he says standing next to the table and eating Lilly’s food, Lilly and I went on a walk to the water today. We saw ducks and fishing boats and a raccoon. What else Lilly? That’s right, yes, a sea lion. And we got–
I want to go to the water, says Ulster.
We’re eating, says the Author.
Another day. Maybe tomorrow, says Ulster.
Maybe, says the Author.
When is tomorrow? says Ulster.
He receives a sigh in reply.
Is tomorrow today? says Ulster.
No, it’s today today. It’s always today.