Below is an excerpt from the new book by John Colasacco, THE WAGNERS, out now from Trnsfr Books. Get yourself a copy here.
I don’t know why I am shaking this gift and listening to something small bump against the insides of the box. I can tell by the way everyone is looking at me that I will never understand the properties of what it is. Whatever is in there may in fact be getting smaller, and if I had to guess right now, I would say that inside the box is a single crystal of sugar, even though a moment ago it felt and sounded heavier than that. Now I am almost ready to open it up and I am worried that if it is sugar I will be expected to eat it right away in front of everyone. And if that’s the case, I wonder if, somehow, it’s been poisoned.
I am entering through the same door I have used every time I have come into a house. It doesn’t matter which house; it’s always the same door.
Once I am inside my body feels light and even though it is late I pace around the rooms looking for something to do.
I clear my throat, “Mhm.”
I switch the light on and off.
I wait until the last possible minute to find my bedroom.
When I get there I find the door to my room ajar and see that someone other than me is in there.
I get undressed, and when I slip into bed, I am not even sad.
I feel connected by invisible threads to the outside world.
The pilot hugs a pair of gold high-heeled shoes to his heart, then exits.
A man convinces you to pay a little bit more than you wanted for a used car.
You drive that car to the beach.
You couldn’t have picked a nicer day.
Everyone you know is there, but really you just want to lie down and take a nap in the sun, and they all nod, respecting that.
You set up your beach chair, sweating already, as they leave one by one in their quiet sedans.
“Wake up, brother; I’ve thought of a new way for us to make a fool of brother Julian!”
“Well, I’m awake now, what is it?”
“First off, I’m going to give him twenty dollars . . .”
“No . . . fifty!”
“Yes! First I’ll give him fifty dollars!”
“No . . . a hundred! There’s no way can he resist that much cash!!”
“Ok all right, if you can loan me fifty, we’ll make it a hundred!”
His house is brown and mine is blue. They’re set so close that when you’re standing in the alley between them you can reach out and touch both at the same time. Recently he mentioned a bee hive that he noticed buried in the wood under my backyard window. So I went to look for it but found nothing—not even any bees. And then out by it again today, no buzzing; it was so quiet I could hear my baby giggle and say dada to his mother through that window. I even stopped what I was doing to go stand there and listen. When I got closer, I realized it was only the tv next door, not the baby. But then I was sure again it was the baby. I kept on going back and forth, making little assessments.
“I had a dream last night,” she told him. “You had something really wrong with you, and you died, and then it was just me and baby.”
Except, to be accurate, she didn’t say any of this; she signed the words, because her husband was deaf.
The sign for “baby,” (a cradling gesture,) is one many hearing people already know.
On his screen, the conclusion to an article about a Vietnamese restaurant was still loading.
The husband frowned and got up and put his arms around his wife.
He walks out into the yard and pulls on a low tree branch. The branch releases from its joint intact, like a plucked hair.
He pulls on a thicker branch and it comes away so easily that he wonders if the tree is dead.
Before he even realizes what he’s done, all the tree’s branches lie in a pile, and the bare trunk stands before him like a huge white nerve.
He moves closer to it. It’s about twice his height. He puts his hand on the smooth bark and it feels cold to the touch.
Through the flies he sees hiding underneath the pile of branches a woman.
He watches as she becomes lifelike and with some elegance rises up out of the pile, as if it were nothing.
A wild pig falls with an arrow in its side. They build a road over it, and you walk down that road demanding to sneeze already. You do not sneeze.
Suddenly here’s an old friend you weren’t expecting to run into. You smile at him and he squints slightly past you, then hurries off.
A woman’s voice asks a political question over a loudspeaker. After a pause, a man’s voice asks it, with more indifference.
A squirrel shoots up a nearby drain spout.
Still you haven’t sneezed.
And from the strange quality of air, you expect to see the town center engulfed in flames, but it’s really just the thickness of layered clouds descending, and a stifling pressure in the atmosphere.
Suddenly a relative of yours staggers ahead of you, sweating, looking at the ground.
You say hello but it’s too late.
Then after a few more clumsy paces you sneeze forcefully, and you spot the original old friend, who waves to you out of a far window, then floats right up to fucking heaven.
His daughter has taken her shoes off and is being led somewhere by girls whose skin appears to be changing from brown to red.
When they get where they are going one of them says to the other, “I couldn’t taste it, I couldn’t touch it,” over and over.
His daughter brushes her hands against the front of her pants, feeling them shed the fine sand that had been covering them.
A minute later the three of them are looking down on themselves from a vantage point hidden in a cloud of mayflies.
There’s a red house standing in front of them now, with thick smoke rising up from underneath.
With all your strength you take a few steps toward the center of a brilliant little town.
On your way through you drop something and don’t notice it’s gone until you’re miles away from there.
You come upon a tree with what looks like red bark but is actually just sediment from a terrible flood.
Someone from the crowd attaches themself to you, wanting to know if you have any memory of a place called Mirror Lake.
You hear some lost part of you say, “I like these evening walks through the neighborhood when you can smell people’s dinner cooking . . .”
Wagner comes to the end of his sentence. There’s a pause. “There’s more to the story but I have to go be hanged later today,” he says, under his breath.
She held his glasses in her left hand, trying not to touch the lenses, even as she prepared to clean them for him in the sink.
The glasses had been lost since the movers packed up the old place.
In a kitchen drawer she’d found them, and this made her anxious to hear the story of how they got there.
Her husband was still out at the time, so she had to wait to ask him about it, but then later when he came home she could tell right away some terrible person had been bad to him.
Wagner was on his deathbed. Phone calls kept coming, and very often I was the one to answer them.
Once, he sat up in bed, shook with rage, and threatened to tell me something that I would not believe.
My aged grandfather crouches down to inspect the inside of a municipal drainage pipe. There’s no standing water in it today, but the smell is there. A white cottony nest clings to the inner roof of the concrete. He shouts into it a few times. The black circular mouth of it is wide enough for a man, so he gets down on all fours to crawl in, and I follow him.
He’s just a young boy, wearing short pants, hurrying to clear the last of the brush at the end of a long workday determined by Mediterranean sunlight.
He thinks that if he chops fast enough, the rest of the brush he’s collected will be kindling soon, and then the sun can finally go down, and he can go home.
He puts his hand in his pocket and after a moment feels a warm stream of blood running down his left leg.
He has cut off the tip of his thumb.
He stares at the cross-section of the thumb, pumping out blood.
“FABIO!” he yells.
“FABIO, FABIO!!!” he screams, to my father, who has not yet been born.
I return to the parking garage and find it has collapsed, with my car inside it. And then later, my car restored, (and even newly cleaned,) I am driving on a dirt road where I used to live, and I’m kicking up a huge cloud of yellow dust, when I see a young mother jogging behind a blue baby stroller.
Now if that’s not my wife and boy, then who are they?
In the dim, working heart of the city, Wagner finally comes home.
Immediately his wife presents him with a plate of macaroni.
“Here, have this leftover macaroni,” she says. “The rest I’m giving to the baby.”
“What baby?” he asks.
“Let me guess,” she says, handing him the plump male child.
“Well look at this sack of beans!” Wagner shouts, supporting a terrific weightlessness between his hands.
I’m walking home from some errands one night and I think I hear someone behind me murmur my name. I turn my head slightly, like I’m going to just look around at the storefronts or the passing cars. I see an older man, wearing a maroon sports cap, and a bushy gray beard.
I keep walking.
“Tony,” he mumbles.
That’s not me, so I don’t turn around.
“Tony,” he says again, under his breath.
So I turn a little now, as if to reexamine the street behind us, to casually get across the fact that I’m not Tony.
Except now we’ve passed through the center of town, and there’s not much to pretend to look at anymore.
It doesn’t matter though; he catches up to me and pulls me aside.
“Listen, Tony,” he says, “it can still work out the way we wanted it to…”
“Is that so?” I say.