Can’t Talk NowBy Frederick Barthelme
March 04, 2019
Writing my novel.
Still at it, you?
Nothing left to do.
What’s it about?
It’s about you, he said.
Oh yeah, sure.
You and me, he said.
Right. That’s right.
What’re we doing in this novel?
As they exist.
I don’t want to be here, he said.
Who does? Not me, either.
Got nothing. What am I doing in a novel?
You said it.
But us, too. I mean—
I know what you mean.
I mean we’re imbeciles, too.
Should have been scientists if you ask me.
Face down a single, definable project.
None of this broad brush stuff.
I’m waving my hand like a broad brush.
Looks brush-like, from this vantage. As on a wall, for example.
I see that.
Painting up a storm, I am.
You should’ve been a painter.
I was one. Once.
Shows and everything. Got bored after a time.
New York. Late sixties.
Color field painting.
No, that was earlier. Concept stuff.
Yeah, that’s what everyone said.
Tiny idea, just that one tiny idea. Beat to death.
Still, was an idea. Was something.
A kind of guidance. A suggestion.
Kosuth and Larry What’sit, and Hobbler, and the Spiral Jetty guy.
Smithson. He was doing something else.
Exactly, but they confused it with.
Always do that, they.
Nature of the beast.
Huebler, that was his name.
And the Brits. Art and Language.
Remember it well.
How could you forget?
A romantic period.
Bloody hash you ask me.
I did tape.
Yeah, on walls. And that stuff you put in drawers. Also on walls.
I suppose. Making a mark.
Somebody got famous for a minute doing tape.
That was later and wasn’t me. I’d moved on by then.
I remember. You sent me one.
Right. Instead of making something I did X.
Buy stuff, mostly. Pictured. TV, etc.
You bought a TV?
I said I did.
But you didn’t really?
For me to know, he said.
Don’t get it, he said. What’s a fox?
Animal, of course. Little, red, etc.
So what brings you here today.
Cookies. Wanted some cookies.
Know what you mean.
Chocolate chip, oatmeal raisin, brownie cookies.
Well, there are worse things.
Burn through ‘em.
Eat ‘em up and move on.
Better ‘n bread. Bread’ll kill you.
Don’t like fish that much.
Slice them open. I hate that.
What I mean, he said.
Down the belly.
Seems cruel, doesn’t it?
At minimum. Should be another way to attack them.
From the side would be kinder.
Sorta what they’re after anyway, ain’t?
The what you call it—fillet.
Scrape the damn scales.
It’s a mess. I give it up.
SO what happened after the concept stuff?
Returned to a former life.
Music. Had a band.
Was a member of.
I don’t want to be here.
Well, maybe I could go elsewhere.
Play music like you.
I was the worst. I was the concept guy.
Couldn’t play a lick?
That’s it. Was embarrassing.
Somehow you faked it.
They were generous toward me.
Who, the audience?
The others. Players. They could play.
Made up for you, covered for you.
Yep. I had a certain utility.
I could play dog. Get the dog riled up.
Dog was in the band.
Sure. He was the best thing in the band.
What’d he do?
Howled, of course.
Sometimes, when he had a mind to.
Scratched? You mic’d him scratching?
Precisely. Cage would’ve.
If he’d thought of it.
Friendly thing, the dog.
They are that.
Yep. Unlike some other species.
A raw nerve there.
Indeed. Flight out of Egypt.
Mary said that.
No, the other Mary. Still living in Ohio.
A similar soul to be certain.
So the deal is the wife left me again.
How many times now?
I know the thing.
They do that.
Mind of their own and all that.
I don’t mean to demean.
Of course not.
I do. Utterly.
Things get out of control.
Every time. It’s unfortunate.
There’s a limit, though.
How do you mean?
Beyond which, etc.
To be sure.
They will act, by God.
I don’t hold it against them.
A necessary escape valve.
A valve is a wonderful thing.
Lets stuff in, lets stuff out.
The ideal form.
And religious, too.
What would we do without.
That which washes all our skins.
Sins also, he said.
There seem to be fewer sins these days.
By God! You have it right!
You’ve noticed, too?
Yes! Thought it a hundred times.
All those sins we were warned about as children.
Touching, thinking sins, looking sins.
Wanting sins were the worst.
To want, Oh my God.
Seven and seven.
The Gold Standard.
Not too many, not too few.
Loved the box, though. Solace.
A great relief.
It has vanished, now.
They ought to bring it back.
I had impure thoughts thirty-nine thousand times since my last.
Last week, you mean.
The little red bulb over the door.
The diagonally crossed wire screen.
The shadow beyond.
The smell—wood, incense, candle smoke.
The fat man beyond.
His hand in silhouette covering his face,
And listening intently.
They were all different.
Some earnest, some blithe.
Saying rosaries in the catbird seat.
File it all away.
Some tried to talk to you.
Reason with you.
No, those were the worst.
Some withheld the absolution.
No, THOSE were the worst.
Kinda went against the whole deal.
They should have washed those guys out.
They were going to help you no matter what.
Click click of the big rosary beads.
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