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from Story of a Story and Other Stories: A Novel

by Stephen Dixon

He walks to the point. When he was here two winters ago he wrote a short story about a writer who came to a similar village to get over a woman in New York who had stopped seeing him. In the story and real life she was an actress portraying an actress on a daytime television soap opera who was in love with a writer of soap operas who couldn't give up his wife for her. One night, in the story and real life, she told Paul she couldn't see him anymore as she was in love with and thinks she'll be marrying the actor who plays the writer on the show. In the story and real life he had to sit down for fear of falling down and she said he was beginning to act like one of the more unconvincing morose characters on her soap. "The writer you're in love with?" he said and she said Abe would never act so callow and doleful in real life or on the show. She asked him to leave and he said not yet. "Do I have to call the police?" and he said "Please let's just go to bed one last time and I swear I'll go." Both in real life and the story she said, "You've got to be crazier than I first thought you were when I met you and later disbelieved." He slapped her face, pushed her into her bedroom and told her to take off her clothes. In the story he had to pin her arms down and sit on her while he removed her clothes. In real life he didn't pin her down and she took off her clothes while she sat on the edge of the bed. In the story and in real life she said if he was so intent on raping her as he seemed to be, then she wasn't going to stop him. As she'd been warned by friends and in a recent women's magazine article that she could damage her vagina that way. "Irreparably sometimes," she said in real life. He doesn't remember using that last line in the story, because he thinks he felt it would have sounded too banal to be believed. Now he'd use it, if he already hadn't, and he makes a note in his scratch pad to add that line to the story if the line he might have written in place of it isn't a better one and if this line can intelligibly be put in. Both in real life and the story she again pleaded with him to leave and he said he couldn't. When she cried because she was scared of the bodily harm he might do her in bed and later, out of self-reproach, when he was through, he broke down, in real life, said he must have been temporarily insane to have threatened her like that, and left. In the story he held her down, got on top of her and tried making love. She said something like "As I said before, Perry. You don't have to force me, as I'm not about to fight. I can see you're fixed on raping me, so I don't want to risk rupturing my vaginal walls and maybe as a result restrict my childbearingness and facility for making love unrestrainedly with other men." The act was physically difficult and painful for them both. In real life, a month before that night, she would have said "It's sleeping, Paul, let's wait." In the story she later said that rape or whatever he wanted to call it, it could have been pleasurable for her if he were the man she was in love with but for her own reasons didn't want to make love tonight while he most demonstrably did, or if she was even in some small way still attracted to him. "But I'm not. In every way you're unattractive to me, no more now than before." He said he could make her attracted to him and she said that was only the insufferable hubris speaking in him again. He said hubris was one of a dozen words he'd looked up at least 20 times in the last ten years and would still have to look up again when he got home tonight. In the story he looked up the word when he got home and gave the definition. In real life now he doesn't know what the word means and writes hubris down on his scratch pad and asterisks it. In the story and real life he made a late evening call to her from the phone booth on this point a week after he left her apartment. In the story and real life he said something like "I'm calling from this point which is on an icy peninsula a mile out to sea and where I can hear the sounds of buoys, gulls, waves, bells, fishing boat motors from nearby and far off, the clinging and pinging of the halyard against the flagpole at the point's tip, and somehow it's the maddest and saddest and happiest and sappiest and yet sanest phone call I've ever made. For you see I'm both speaking to you while at the same time so totally alone and now being covered like everything else out here including the mouthpiece and coin slots and telephone wires and poles with snow." In the story she said "I hope you get buried to death and die, goodbye," and hung up. In real life she said he sounds awful and there's nothing she can do for him and hung up.

He phones Storm and says "I'm phoning from that peninsula point phone I last phoned you from and which I never would have done if it wasn't around the same time at night and so soon after seeing some of the same people and the same sea and shore sounds couldn't be heard and the point wasn't just as deserted as it was when I phoned you in what in a few fall months will be two winters ago."

"If it's snowing," she says, "I hope you get buried to death and die, goodbye."

"And if it's raining or let's say the meteors are showering as they're now but weren't then showering? Or the sun's thundering and mountains are lightninging and stars and moon are closing in and earth's fissuring and oceans are tidalwaving and this village and your city and our country and countries and continents are disappearing worldwide? Day the earth ended--a timetown title for a short story, but a workable theme for one I'd work on if I hadn't used it twice before. Remember the husband-and-wife archeological team? The last two people on earth who seek shelter in the cave they've been exhuming for years. And just as the cave's crumbling they discover an intact skull and frame and enfaced slate and stylus that are probably a million years older than the oldest bones and writing materials ever found of protohuman American, and also the skeleton's digging and cooking utensils that are very much like their own. And what about old Philly Worstwords who's awakened from a series of dreams of the successive loves of his youth and artistic successes of his middle age to find his top floor apartment walls collapsing and all the surrounding buildings and blocks plummeting. And from that hospital bed in his now towering wall-less single room, observing the dissolution of his neighborhood and then the entire city and countrywide beyond. 'Why me?' he kept asking--remember that, Storm? 'Why me, why me, why me?'"

In the studio he dials the California phone number Rose sent him last week when she wrote that she and Lucia had finally found an interim home. In the letter she also said they'd be driving east for a vacation in a few weeks and was Pennsylvania before or after New York? He hasn't seen them in three years. He wrote about that last afternoon with them in a story that opens with Rose saying she's pregnant by him though she was living with her husband at the time, and closes more than two years later with Rose and Lucia in their Volvo entering a San Francisco freeway on their way back to L.A., though in real life the cities were the other way around as he wanted that story to end with the letter A because he began it with the woman's name Zee. Nobody ever noted that alphabetic artifice or the 24 others he planted in that story, as they haven't in his story where all the men have names that could be women's, such as Robin and Dale. Or in another story where all the city names start off with Saint, San or Santa and the women are named after ores, alloys, metals, gems and semi-precious stones.

"Rose is on the property but three miles through the woods from here," a man says. "This long distance? Give us your number and we'll have her call you back on our magic telephone."

Last commune she lived on was vegetarian, Rose wrote, and so authoritarian that when they found her and five-year-old Lucia sharing a beef jerky, they forced Rose to eat six bowls of cold porridge made from organically-grown hand-ground oats and Lucia three. Lucia became so hysterical after the third bowl that she had to be injected with tranquilizers and both were evicted the next day. Always mistakes, Rose wrote in another letter, all but the last he's included in an epistolary story composed solely of edited versions of the letters she's sent him over the past five years, with all the people's names switched around and the same dates and locations other than the exact streets and RFD and box numbers reproduced.

This year she fell in love with a junkie she said in the letter and story, and the year before that with an alcoholic, and she hoped both would say, "Ah, at last a woman who turns me on, someone to communicate with, to be with, now I can throw away my junk, my gin, my jive, forget my literary critiques and satirical cartoons and go off with her and start a farm and do something worthwhile." One man she recently met at a psychodrama, which is the incident he ended the story with. "Everybody was putting him down. So I stood up and said to him, 'What you really want and need most is to mount a woman and ram and jam it all the way in there, am I right?' Everyone hooted at me, but the man said, 'Lady, you knocked the nose on the head. But no chick will let me do it because they think I'm either too horny or homely or both.' 'Well, first let's end this pressing need you have and after that we can get down to the weightier problem of why you think you're homely or have to be horny, but not in front of these unfeeling creeps.' The rest of the psychodrama participants began beating up on me when I refused to be mounted in front of them. When the man tried tearing them off me, they broke a few of his teeth. They only let us go after they had ripped, bit, scratched and clawed most of our clothes off and some of our hair and skin, and later we went to bed. He turned out to be leery, a weirdy, a bad lover and born loser, I think syphilitic and infanticidal, maybe even sapropelic and homosexual, certainly sadistic, sodomitic, satanic, scabietic, scrofulous, carious, dyshidrosic, dyspeptic, the worst. Mistakes. Always mistakes…"