He gets all his best ideas from those of his children who are five years old or younger. In four years he will have nonesuch. The choices, then, if the trend maintains itself or whatever maintains the trend continues to maintain it, and there is no reason that it won’t:
In the next four years write a widely regarded successful masterpiece, not that good ideas or execution have much correlation with wideregard, wideregard not being why he does this, exactly, let alone success, success in the conventional sense, whatever that is, not being why he does this, exactly, or even what’s considered a masterpiece, masterpiecing not being why he does this, exactly, either. But he has less than four years to write something good. He can’t define good, except that it has one more o than god. o O 0. One zero more, he writes. Ha, he thinks, that’s better and did not originate in a toddler, except originally. He begins to doubt whether good having one more 0 than god is better than good having one more O, then realizes he’s being clever without any substance and that is a bad idea and not a good way to live.
Have more children, which would presumably involve Mary and her consent. She does not want more children, nor does he. But she is invested in his career or its absence. And part of life is doing things we don’t want to do.
Be a failure forever. It does not escape him that it doesn’t take very long of being a failure before you are a failure forever, and it doesn’t take very long of being a failure forever before you are nothing.
He has neither the intention nor the ability to choose between the three. He will continue to live much as he has and one of them will happen. That is such self-protecting bullshit; he’s trying for one, which is by far the least likely, the odds for one being even worse than the ones for two, no matter if he has been snipped and Mary’s tubes have probably been tied, perhaps because one is the least reflective of what he meant and the poorest worded and the worst written.
But trying is different than choosing.
But he started writing the list to start writing it, not to reach a conclusion. He started writing to get around to Palo because every time he starts writing it comes to Palo eventually. Palo consumes his thoughts. No no, Palo is his thoughts. So he writes in the bathroom. He writes in the bathroom in the master bedroom. He writes on the toilet. He writes with his pants around his ankles. Pretense. Not solely pretense. He farted, nothing solid, a while ago, in the past tense. Beans, an explanation for farting. Except he is always farting, beans or no, though he always eats a lot of beans. Present tense. He writes in the present tense for immediacy. He writes in the present tense to dispense with memory or authorial intrusion or artificiality. He writes in the present tense because that is how he eats and farts and writes and ignores the tumult of children preparing for bed and lives, in general. In the present tense. He does not expect to fart more, but he never knows, let alone anything solid, though that is the pretense of sitting on the pot, that in the future tense he will produce, you never know, you have never known, you will never know. Shit, he thinks, a present perfect slipped through the crack and splashed into the pot in place of the past. You never knew. What folly, tenses, what for? Sometimes he strains, because he never knows, but it usually comes to nothing.
A grammarial continuum of temporality. He walked. Definitive. Nothing is that definitive. He was walking. Continuing. But done. Also implied is he was at one time not walking. He had walked. The time before the time before, though fuzzy on when that was. He had been walking. Continuing and completed before the time before. The confidence is comforting, but a little removed, temporally, from reality. Also explanatory, which means it’s not as smart as it sounds. Which could also be indicated by its using more words to say almost the exact same thing as He was walking. He has walked. He’s a toddler now, or was. This tense knows something about He, or about who He used to be, or what He’s done, if only once. A nebulous distinction as one of the present tenses. He has been walking. It’s present and past and probably done. Though at least it’s been going on for a while. He is walking. Implied is the existence of a state without walking, but it could instead be interpreted as a statement of being. He walks. Unspecific temporally. Could have always been walking, could always be walking, no implied other state, other than the conditional. For now he is walking. Rather, he walks. He walks is what he does and therefore who he is. He knows not; he walks. Active. He will walk. How do you know? So confident. Inactive. Hopeful. Also known as waiting for who knows what, when. He will be walking. Will this just keep going on and on repeating itself? He will have walked. What? It will have happened in the past in the future. He doesn’t understand this. You have to understand something to write it. He will have been walking. What’s with the need to cram all time and meaning into one sentence? He doesn’t trust a tense that knows more than he does. The tenses then are a parabola of knowingness. The origin, which is the nadir of knowingness, being the present. Perfect. No, present. Tense. Legs spreading upward infinitely in either direction to the knowingness of the simple past and the future perfect progressive. Spreading infinitely even though there aren’t infinite tenses, only infinitives, which is the mother of all tenses. There are only twelve tenses or thereabouts, and they form a kind of circle – no, he’s sticking to the parabola; he will focus; he will not bend it however pleases him; you can pick your geometric device but you can’t pick its nose. What’s the slope? Low, gentle, reasonable, a fraction. The slope is inviting; the legs spread wide; it takes a long time to climb out of the hole to a future knowingness that is not and will not be steeply approached. But man is young yet. There is hope. On the other hand, the tenses perhaps form an inverted parabola of usefulness. Statements about the future are made in the non-knowing present, which perhaps make them useless. And what use, the past? Let alone the past in the past or the past in the future. In which case there is no hope; the present tense is the apex of usefulness and there’s nowhere but down to go. But it’s always the present. Is it the present tense when the present is buried in a contraction?
He’s not sure how to follow this revelation or if it is a revelation or what a revelation would feel like if one were to happen to him, and so he is about to throw two sheets to the wind in pursuit of forward motion and embark on a detailed description of the bathroom via Palo, but is waiting for he knows not what inspiration or impetus or impulse when he jumps at a knock on the door. His legs hurt where they mate with his ass from sitting on a hole. His bathroom is a typical bathroom: dirty toilet, cluttered counter, mildewed shower, slimy sink, overflowing cabinet. Nowhere to hide in other words. Dust bunnies behind the toilet, clothes piled behind the door, a see-through shower curtain, which makes him think of movies and women showering in silhouette, or it did before the sheen of mildew. In the floor, a vent register he could fit his arm in to the elbow, which is better than nothing. No window. He makes sure he locked the door.
Are you going to say goodnight to your children?
Of course. What time is it? Sorry, not feeling well, the beans you know, I think, nothing wrong with your cooking, it was good, just my stomach you know. Weak, gassy.
They’ll be asleep soon. In her words he reads her tenseness. That she is growing tense. Rather, she is tense and tensing. Him too. He can’t produce under these conditions.
I’m almost done. He waits. Nothing. Then she says, You should say goodbye to them. She doesn’t say that. That is what he made up for her to say. To fill the nothing she says. She says nothing. She may have left, or be leaving, or leave, or will have left soon. Mary?
You’re still here? Or there, I mean?
I’m out of paper.
Do you need more?
Would you like me to get you some paper?
Mary, would you please bring me some paper? He reaches across the small bathroom and unlocks the door. He is glad at least he did not describe the bathroom, which would have been tiresome and stupid and self-indulgent and used up a lot of words he could better use otherwise or maybe not but they would have most explicitly not moved the story forward. She opens the door just enough to roll in a roll of paper without seeing anything. He hopes she saw his pants around his ankles. One part of him hopes she whiffed his stagnant rot; one part of him does not. His other parts are in between or elsewhere; he is not just two parts. She could say something like Thank God I don’t have to shower, so as to say it without saying it, but still it would have the desired effect of making him self-conscious even after all these years. He hates being self-conscious, which makes him self-conscious of his self-consciousness.
He wipes just to be sure, nothing, and for the sake of his own legitimacy, not nearly so much as nothing, and to justify his conspicuous consumption, a smear, and augment his perpetuation of an untruth with the flavor of veracity, good god what a mess. He drops the used paper in the toilet and wipes and drops and wipes and drops until he can bear it no longer, at which point he flushes, does his pants, hides his writing tools under the sink behind the extra rolls of toilet paper and pauses briefly to consider how toilets work without elucidating or clarifying or actually thinking through how they work. When he opens the door Mary is not there. He goes to tell his children he loves them.