By Bud Smith

Short Story

Good Luck: Episode Fifty-Two

The man didn’t know. He didn’t know who he was. He didn’t know where he was. Or when it was. The room was dark. Someone was snoring on the other side of it. He lay there. Blankets covered him, but he had no words for what the blankets were, or the feelings they gave him, warmth, comfort. He couldn’t count that there were two blankets, or know they were made of a synthetic material. His mind was blank, his pillow thin.


The sun began to light the earth and the dark room took shape. He heard the click of footsteps outside the door, passing voices. A white curtain appeared around him. On the bedside table was a telephone with a blinking amber light. He had a message but he didn’t know what a telephone was or what a message was. He couldn’t receive the message.


A cloud passed in front of the low hanging sun and the room was momentarily shaded. He closed his eyes. He had already learned two things, darkness and light. He choose darkness. In darkness he wouldn’t have to try to name things.


The curtain moved. The nurse had come with an IV. She touched his arm, he jumped. She yipped in surprise, fell backwards. The IV tipped over. She hurried out of the room, came back with two more nurses. “Do you know who you are?” “Do you know who the president is?” “How many fingers am I holding up?” It didn’t matter what they asked, he didn’t know how to speak. He was like a baby. Drooling. They wiped his chin. The doctor ran in, bewildered and panting. The doctor told him the bad news, he had awoken in the worst hospital in America.


At lunchtime his mother arrived. The doctor explained to her the difficulties the patient faced. His brain was goo.  But even the doctor didn’t understand. The mother came into the room and she kissed the man who could not remember and she held his hand and she wept when he could not speak or did not know her. She sat in the chair and looked at him. He looked back at her, as if she was a stranger. She showed him photographs of herself many years ago holding him in her arms in a similar hospital room and she said “mama” and pointed to herself. And the man who couldn’t remember took easy to this idea and said, “mama.” She hugged him and the door opened and the rest of the family came into the room and they had brought a pizza. “Pizza,” his aunt Elaine said, and the man looked at the pizza and said, “Pizza.” They tried to give him a can of Pepsi but he would not put the Pepsi into his body beyond one sip, and then his brother went to the vending machine and got him a Coca-Cola, remembering.


He had a harder time with time. His burly father showed him a swimsuit model calendar. The days he’d been unconscious X’d out. A worried nurse said the room was too full. The sweaty family was sent away with the last of the pizza. The comatose roommate continued to snore.

So then it was just the father and the mother and the man again. She took a deck of cards from her purse. She held a card up and said it was the three of hearts. She pointed to herself, one; her husband, two; and the man, their son, three. She pointed to the number in the corner of the card, and counted on her fingers, one, two, three. She pointed to the heart, the shape, and then the real thing in her own chest. Heart, the engine of your body, but also the place where love comes from. And red, r-e-d, not only the color of this card but the color of blood which fills your heart. One, two, three, red, heart, do you understand heart? Do you understand love?

He didn’t understand shit and he didn’t know how to tell anybody shit. She could see his confusion. 

She shook her head no. She said, “No means I do not understand.” She nodded, yes. She said, “Yes means I know. Do you know? One, two, three, red, blood, heart, love, mommy, daddy, the son, Cloud, white curtain, lucky to be alive?” He blinked. Stared, dumbfounded.

The telephone rang. The father answered. It was the man’s wife calling from South Carolina. Her job had sent her to a quilt convention. She’d just heard that the man was awake. She was getting on an airplane now. She was coming, she was so thrilled he was awake!” The father gave his son the receiver. The son who did not understand said to his wife, “One, two, red, heart, mama.” His mother took the phone and said, “See you soon. He’s alive. He’s just. Just. Just prepare yourself. But he is smiling like an idiot.” 


Two days later, he was moved to a different facility. His wife was allowed to stay with him, as long as she liked, but she could not sleep overnight. There was nothing physically wrong with the man. Doctors with clipboards congregated. Hmmmm. Studies continued, they probed deeper into his mind. What was the disconnect? And why? Viral? Bacterial? Environmental? Stroke? 

The technicians injected dye into his head. They laid him down. “Relax.” The technicians pushed the button and he was drawn into the plastic womb of the MRI machine. The technicians played Mozart for him and he was overwhelmed by the glory of Mozart. He began to hyperventilate. So the technician shut off Mozart. They put on Smash Mouth instead. Hey now, you’re an all-star, get your game on, go play. Hey now, you’re a rock star, get the show on, get paid.

The man was still, arms at his side, a mummy in a sarcophagus. They took photographs of his brain and showed them to his wife and the wife was relieved to see there was nothing they could identify. He had been in a coma for seven days and had woken up with no memories, but he could learn things again, he was, every day, making progress, now he knew her name, and he kissed the same, and here was proof there was no brain tumor. The last thing she wanted was to have his head sawed open and to lose him. He could already count to 50 again. He knew blue and yellow made green. He could almost tie his own shoes. Tomorrow was a new day. He was released. The man and the wife walked down the squeaky hall, hands linked, swinging. 

They went out to the parking lot. He watched her put the key into the door and unlock it. He watched her slip the key into the ignition and turn the engine over. He looked off. She didn’t have a drivers license but drove away, slow. 

He glanced up and noticed the blue sky was real. He had not been sure when he looked out any of the windows of those hospitals. Now he knew.

She drove him home. When he learned what the word home meant, really, everything became so much easier.


Just like anyone, seeing it for the first time, he doubted the mirror. He could not believe his face in the mirror. She stood beside him, brushed the hair from his shiny forehead, and he could see that she was who she was and he began to accept that the face in the mirror which she said was his, actually was. His face was blemished, blotched red, because he had been washed at the hospital and was allergic to the soap. His nose was inflamed, too big. His brow severe, Neanderthal. But he recognized his mother’s eyes in his own. The dark stubble on his face also had hints of orange tint of his father’s. The hair on his head was peppered with silver, and maybe thinning. His cheeks were full, a droop of fat hung down below his chin. His teeth were straight on top, but crooked on the bottom. Both rows yellow. She broke his spell, she said, “You’re so handsome. I love you. My handsome man.” And he believed her, and forget how he felt. He looked from his reflection to hers. And he could tell in the reflection how beautiful she was, without knowing any comparison, without knowing Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus. Her skin was smooth and olive tan, and her eyes were bright, irises dark like his, as if a matched pair of pairs, her lips pink and full, and parted to reveal a white tooth smile. Years ago he must have dreamt her, and upon wakening, the dream had walked into his actual life. She kissed him in the mirror. And he kissed her in the mirror. Their lips smudged the glass, stayed in the reflection. Correction, maybe he had even dreamed her into his life a second time. 


They showered together. She washed him. He washed her. They climbed out. She dried him off with a blue towel. Dried herself. And while the room was full of steam she wiped the mirror clean with the blue towel, and they stood before it naked. He watched her shave his face with a new razor. No need for shaving cream because of the shower and the steam. Afterwards she put cold water on his cheeks and they went into the bedroom, and lay down together peacefully. Two days later he had to shave again and attempted it himself. Only a few little rivers of blood running down his neck, onto the porcelain. She showed him how to wad the toilet paper, placed it on each tiny wound. He brushed his own teeth. He climbed in the bath tub. She brought him a rubber ducky. A toy boat. A squirt gun. 


“A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, I, I, I.”


“J,” she said.


“I know. K, L, M, N, O, P, Q, S, R, T, U, V, W, X, Y, Z.”


“Very good! But, R, S, T.”


She wrote her name on the paper. “R, A, E.” She wrote his name. “B, U, D.” 


He nodded. “I know.”  


“Now copy what I wrote.” She spun the paper and passed the crayon across the table. But he broke the crayon. She got him another.  


His brother William came over, stayed in the spare room. Told stories from their childhood. Told him things they’d done together when they were in high school. Things that had happened at the bus stop. William opened the bag he’d brought and set a notebook on the table, a crimson velvet pouch containing two figurines, and an assortment of many-sided dice. They began to play Dungeons and Dragons. A simple quest. Roll of the dice to fight the treasure-hogging dragon. But the man could not comprehend how to play the game and grew frustrated again. So the brother packed up the board and packed up the dice and the pewter figurine of the knight, and the pewter figurine of the black dragon, and walked down the street and bought a six pack of beer, and some lottery tickets, and gave it all to the man, and the man calmed down, even though he hadn’t won the lottery. He was an animal who didn’t care anymore, and his face become pink with joy from the alcohol. His brother called a car, and they went to the taqueria, where Rae was, and they sat together and drank margaritas, ate chips and guacamole, and nothing much mattered. It was Sunday night, and whatever war was going on could not be perceived in that place with the blinking hot pepper lights and the vibrant streamers and the mariachi band. The man pointed to the wall. “What’s that?” “That’s Mexico.” The world got bigger, fatter, stranger.


A letter came. He’d lost his health insurance benefits because he had not worked enough hours in the last quarter. He didn’t understand. She told him no one could and that was the way the people liked it at the insurance company. 

He asked what his job had been. She told him he had a few jobs, but the one that had given him health insurance was in heavy construction. The man welded at oil refineries, and power plants of all sorts, and he put together steel, and repaired the guts of machinery that made energy somehow, she wasn’t sure exactly. Sometimes he demolished these facilities when they got too old or people decided they were just tired of them. 

She showed him the address of the current refinery he worked at, half hour south on the turnpike. She showed him an aerial view on Google maps but the government had blurred the aerial view because of terrorism. 

He asked why, and then she had to skirt around the concept of terrorism. That was a discussion for another night. 

Other things to skate around because she was exhausted: The birds and the bees, God, politics, Time, the afterlife, gravity, the theory of relativity, evolution, extinction, hurricanes, traveling at the speed of light, mind control, ESP, UFOs, units of measurement and how they differed around the world, money, race, class, royalty, dreams, hallucinations, prison, Christmas, the Easter Bunny, natural death, insanity, paralysis, murder, suicide. 


She told him the bosses at his work still didn’t know what had happened to him. They thought he was on some meandering vacation. All that would have to be squared away soon. She would help him apply for disability. 


She showed the man his work badge, the security card with his name and his photograph from when he was even fatter. He asked, “Do I like my job?” She said that he did. He always came home happy, sometimes even whistling. 


She explained that he had other jobs too. He was a writer. Every year they made some money from the sales of his books. She touched his shoulder. “That’s another thing, people seem to really like your books. Your stories and your poems.” She said here and there he’d been paid a few hundred dollars for a single short story and his work had even been translated into other languages. “Mexico?”  he asked. She said, “Iran. They love you in Iran.”


“What do I write about?”


“Yourself, mostly,” she said. When the man looked down at his shoes, she said, “You write about you and me. Your family. Your friends. Your job. You should be proud. You should be proud of yourself. I am. I’m so proud of you.” 


“Do we have any of my books?”


He said it as if he didn’t believe her. He didn’t believe he had written anything. He looked around, there were bookshelves on most of the walls. Hundreds of books.  He didn’t see Bud Smith on any of them. She shook her head. “You hate having them in the house. If you get too drunk, you always threw yours out the window, into the street, especially if it’s raining. You really hate them.”


“I wouldn’t hate them now.”


“Maybe you’ve changed.”


At this moment, he wanted her to stop talking, to stop telling. If he never learned anything else about himself, maybe he could be someone else. He could come up with something new. What he knew so far made him suspect he wasn’t the type of person who stood out, who was destined for real greatness. Who wouldn’t invent anything. Or discover anything. He put his finger to his lip and said, “Sssssssssssssssssshhhhhh” but it didn’t work. 


She said something that upset him. She told him he was a teacher. He taught people how to write stories. He edited their stories. He had always been on the phone talking with someone about how to write stories, edit stories, publish stories. She saw tears well in his eyes. How could he teach? He couldn’t read. Who was the cat in the hat and what did he want? What were his cat dreams?  His hat dreams? Why were the eggs green? Why was the ham green? This moon, why had it been leapt over by that cow, and where was the dish going with our only spoon?


The next morning he got dressed, slipped his security badge around his neck, scooped the keys off the hook, walked out of the apartment, into the predawn of his city.


He walked in front of the building. To the left. To the right. To the corner next to the trash can. He looked all around. An ambulance blasted by. The streets were otherwise empty. He didn’t remember which car was his.  He began his search. At each car he stopped and stuck the key into the driver side lock and turned. 


He worked all the way to the other corner and still had not discovered his car. He made a right on Fairmont and stepped through fallen leaves in front of the CitiBike rental station. The key worked in the sixth car on that block. Black, crashed up. Cracked windshield with a parking ticket on the hood because it had not been moved for the street sweeper. He climbed inside, put the key in the ignition and turned the engine over, as he’d seen his wife do.


He put his hands on the wheel and pushed the gas pedal down, the engine roared but the car didn’t move. He let off the gas and slammed his fists on the wheel. He stomped down on the gas again. The needle went into the red. 


He was parallel parked tight, between a blue Honda with New York plates, and a white Kia with New Jersey plates. 


A woman with frizzy hair and a tall brown dog knocked on his window. “Are you okay?” “No,” he said, “I can’t make my car move.” She seemed to know him, thought he was joking around. She laughed and told him he needed to put his car in gear. She made a motion with her arm to demonstrate. He began to yank on the rearview mirror and the ash tray. Now she thought he was severely intoxicated. “You shouldn’t be driving.” Her dog whined. She pulled the leash. 


The man slipped the gearshift down, pushed the pedal. His car lurched forward into the car in front of him. “Oh shit,” she said. “Back up. Stop. No.” He moved the shifter. The car shot backwards into the Kia. He yelled out. He slipped it back into drive. Wham forward. Wham reverse. The woman slapped her hands on the roof of his car.


Somehow in his panic he jerked the wheel and made it out of the parking spot. And the dog was barking and the woman screamed. He careened down the street, smashed through the CitiBike rental station, crushing three bicycles and then struck a fire hydrant, so it snapped violent off its post and became airborne in a geyser of powerful white water. The hydrant landed fifty feet away. The water struck the power lines, and knocked a huge Sycamore branch onto the sidewalk. The wind helped send the water into the stained glass windows of a church that look like a collapsing castle. He was stopped dead in the street, car hissing, terrified, hands over his eyes. The woman opened the passenger side and turned the engine off, took the keys. Her dog sounded like it was trying to explain something important to him.


When he could not produce identification to the police, he was handcuffed, and dragged into a squad car. He was brought to jail. They couldn’t figure out how to get him to stop weeping. They were even more annoyed when they found his wallet in his back pocket, his ID in it. There was no telephone number listed for his address, so an hour later, they were at the apartment door, knocking, but his wife could not hear. Her alarm had not gone off yet. It wasn’t even 7 AM. The police went back to the jail house, and the man babbled. The police shouted. The man wept. The police said he was lucky he hadn’t killed anyone. He should not have been driving. The man hung his head and shivered. They brought him a cup of coffee. He cried into his hands and the tears fell into the mug. The mug said, “Property of Jersey City Police Department Hahaha”. They put him in a holding cell until they could figure out what to do. The theory was that he had escaped from a mental hospital, but which one? They called them all. 


A sloppy cop came down the hallway and stood at the edge of the cell and tried to cut the man’s drivers license with a pair of dull scissors. It was a lot of work for the fat cop, his hand cramped. His friends heckled him as he struggled. No shock, the man in the cell did not understand. He lay on his bunk. The sun was up but he couldn’t tell, there were no windows. Everything was a shade of muddy custard.


When his wife woke up, she ran through the apartment searching for him. She called his cell phone. The police answered. She came down to the station, in her purple pajamas. The police screamed at her. It was 11:30 AM, Saturday, November 8th. The earth was 4.5 billion years old. Humans had been around for something like 3 million years. In 3 million years, cops had not learned any manners. The police kept her from him. She ripped the fingerprint book off the chain and threw it across the room. They made her leave. Things were quiet. No more shouting. He spent the afternoon in the cell. They gave him a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and a Pepsi. He refused the Pepsi so they brought him a Diet Pepsi. He drank that to solve an emergency in his throat. He was having trouble breathing. The peanut butter and the bread had blocked his airway. He choked down the Diet Pepsi, disgusted. After that, he had his first temper tantrum. The police wanted to tranquilize him but before they got the chance, she came back with a side-burned lawyer, gold framed glasses, mango dress shirt. The police were pressured. They released the man on steep bail.


That night the man who didn’t remember was a man that could not sleep. His wife told him over and over again that everything was okay. He wasn’t in trouble. 

They lay in the semi-dark and out the window he could see a marble statue of the Virgin Mary lit up in the courtyard of a Catholic school. He asked her who the statue was. She said some people believed she was the mother of God, and other people believed that she was just a friendly lady. It was up to him to decide. He decided, friendly lady. 


And the city was so loud. Firetrucks. Sirens. Car horns blared. Someone yelled in a foreign language to someone else shouting back in what sounded like an even more obscure and complicated foreign language. “Why do we live here? It’s so fucking loud?” She was surprised. She said, “Where did you learn that word?” “Cops,” he said. 


The next day she stayed home from work. She called an Uber and they went to his favorite restaurant which he mistakenly believed he was visiting for the first time ever. She ordered him bacon and eggs and rye toast and orange juice with champagne. “Mamosa,” he repeated back. She pointed at the fork, he said “Ferk.” She asked the waiter for ketchup for his eggs. The man looked disgusted, “Ketchup on my eggs?” “You like it. You really do. It’s nasty. But you like it.” The man tried the ketchup on his eggs, and discovered he did like it. Oh well. He was a loser, he learned, for sure. 


She felt this meal was another win. He no longer needed a bib. His shirt remained spotless. Maybe next time he would be able to order for himself.  


The bill came. Her Visa was declined. She tried another card.  That was declined too. A bent credit card in his wallet worked. The mortgage was due next Thursday, she said, and he said, “It’ll be all right.” Her lips trembled. He stood up and moved to the chair next to her and held her, consoled her, while she choked back tears. “It’ll be alright,” he said, over and over, and over.


The next morning he got up and got dressed and it wasn’t dawn yet. He put his shoes on and walked down the hallway and took his keys off the hook, and put his work badge around his neck. He put the address of the oil refinery into his phone, and pushed the button, and hailed an Uber. The car picked him up in front of the collapsing castle church. Yellow crime scene tape streamed in the wind. The hydrant was on its side on the lawn of the church, a fluorescent traffic cone balanced on top. 


The driver didn’t speak. The man didn’t speak. They drove past the Statue of Liberty. The man’s curiosity got the best of him. “Who is she?” The driver said, “Sexy babe. Tall. Big legs. Martian. You funny funny funny man.” The driver seemed completely bonkers. The man wanted out of the car. There was still so far to go. 


They drove past the dark windows of one million sleeping people. They passed the airport. He saw a line great big jets descending down from heaven, their head lights piercing the last of evening’s darkness, angels on board, he hoped. 


Mile markers flashed by. He saw the refinery. It loomed in the distance. The air began to smell like sulfur and doom. A glowing hell-structure of fire and steam and trembling lights. The man was terrified. His jaw hurt, he’d been unconsciously grinding his teeth. 


The driver said, “Sexy Martian. Sexy Martian,” for no reason, as he took the exit, and navigated through the sad town. Sweat dripped down his collar. They pulled into the contractor lot. He got out of the car and followed other men as they lumbered through the blue stone, feet dragging, shoulders slumped. He did what they did. He badged in at the card reader, passed through the turnstiles, followed. 


But once the men were inside the gate, they scattered in every direction and he did not know who’s steps to trace. He stood at the roach coach, while a Spanish woman in a puffy coat made sandwiches, sold coffee and cigarettes, and shrieked at people’s dirty jokes. Later, when the crowd died down and the birds trotted in, squawking, he watched her threw a cup of boiling water at a gang of seagulls. He stood for a long time like that, not knowing what to do. 


He called Rae, she didn’t answer. He left a voicemail saying he had gone to work, and asked her not to worry, please please please with sugar on top and a cherry. 


A rusted school bus full of men in hardhats and flannel shirts of every conceivable shade drove by. He waved. No one waved back. The sun appeared over the skeletal fingers of the distant cemetery trees. He saw a gray cat perched on a tar roof. More men passed on foot. They were wearing coveralls and work boots and looked like killers on their way to kill. He waved. No one waved back. He was about to turn away and retreat, but a white Chevy pickup truck came to a screeching halt in front of him. 


“Hey fucker. What are you doing?” Someone in the back of the truck rolled down a window and leaned out, “Where have you been, dipshit?” The man said, “Vacation.” He climbed in the truck. The men didn’t say much more to him all day. He sat silently. They sat silently. They worked silently. He mimicked what they did, in silence. Asked no questions. When someone reached down to pick up something heavy, they said, “Yo fucker, grab the other end of this.” He helped lift the other end. Simple as that. When it was time for him to leave for the day, he was covered in grime  and grease, and tired as he’d ever been. No one had noticed his incompetence. He’d fit right in. Mind of a child.


All that week he went to work and faked it. All that week she went to work and worried about him. At night they watched inspirational clips of gray wolves who had been reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park, and whose renewed presence at the top of the food chain had brought about incredible balance to the once wrecked ecosystem. He woke up early, did seventy five pushups and sixty pull ups, went to work and pretended to know how to signal a crane. One day he was interested in dinosaurs and race cars and army men. The next he graduated to rock ’n’ roll, Sophia Loren’s breasts, and half a dozen oysters. They sat at the kitchen table and worked on his cursive. 


A paycheck came. Another letter from the insurance company came. He had reached the required hours for insurance coverage again. They celebrated. She unzipped his pants. He was surprised how good what she did felt. Getting laid was all he wanted to do after that. He unzipped his pants and showed her. She put a algebra problems on the table and said, “Every time you solve for X correctly, I will remove another article of my clothing.” 


Another paycheck. A fun jaunt to court. The juggernaut judge. A goliath bailiff. The side-burned lawyer who chewed gum loudly, and boomed, “Yes, your Honor, my defendant pleads guilty. Yes, your Honor, he will complete the community service. Yes, he understands. He will pick up garbage, he will scrub toilets, soup kitchen, or whatever.” Fines were paid. Paperwork signed. His car was released from impound, towed to his parent’s house in the suburbs. Maybe next year he could pass his driver’s exam again. A learner’s permit seemed possible in the spring. 


He watched a YouTube video, scared shitless. He had to learn how to weld by Tuesday, there was a big job and he was the only one on the site certified to do it.


Another box of photographs. Lunch with his mother. She told him what he was like as a child. She told him what he was like as a teenager. She told him how his wedding had been. He had a hard time believing any of it. His brother William visited again, told him about a road trip they’d taken across America the previous summer, how they had camped in Death Valley, and walked the rim of the Grand Canyon, and how the man had eaten a lot of cold beef barley soup in the redwood forests just outside of Big Sur. And like that, little by little he remembered the bullshit that defined his existence. But he felt the bullshit wasn’t coming quick enough. And if his mind went totally blank once, and no one knew why, it could it happen again at any moment. He put the photographs on the table. Tried to remember what each one was. Flipped them over. Tested himself that he could remembered each one, as he flipped to reveal them. Was satisfied when he got most on the first try. 


The apartment was empty. She was confident in his newly developed maturity. He could be trusted alone, unsupervised. She’d taken a bus from Port Authority, to visit her friend Marcie in Doylestown, Pennsylvania. 


He opened a slim book and began to read. The day dissolved into night and he was still reading. Cannery Row, by John Steinbeck. She’d told him it was one of his favorite books. When he finished the book he texted her, “Having a good time. Cooked a grilled cheese. Reading. I like it! I like reading.”

“Told ya!” she texted back. 

“Finished this novel, actually. What other books do I like?” 


She sent him a small list. 


He began to read another. In Watermelon Sugar.


The next day, there was another unexpected visitor. A long-haired young man was at his door. Blue jeans. Carhartt coat. Adidas sneakers. He held a large cardboard box. The man who couldn’t remember let him in. He was surprised to learn that the long-haired man was his editor of some kind. The editor was surprised to learn the man did not remember him at all. He had heard a rumor that he’d lost his memory, but he hadn’t totally believed it. Now he saw it was true. They sat in the dining room, and the man and the editor drank coffee. The editor asked what happened to the man. Was he in an accident? The man said he was not sure, no one knew why his memories before Halloween were gone. 


The editor looked sick. He admitted he might know the man’s problem. He reached in the box, removed a thick stack of papers. “This is your latest manuscript. The answer you need is probably inside. It’s almost done. We were working on it together. But… We stopped.” “Did I fire you? Was I cruel? My mother says I used to be cruel.” “Occasionally. But I quit. I’m not an editor anymore. But you should have this.” The manuscript was 700 pages long. It was called Good Luck


The editor drank his coffee. The man drank his coffee. The editor said, “It was good to see you. But I have to go. I’m doing an interview.” “Who are you interviewing?” “Oh, no not like that. They’re interviewing me. New job. Construction actually, funny enough. I don’t want to sit down anymore.” “Nice.” “Residential. Framing. Sheet rock. I’m in Baltimore now, by the way.” “That’s great. But dumb question, what’s a Baltimore?” The editor showed the man on the map. It wasn’t too far. The editor shook his hand. The man who couldn’t remember said, “I’m sorry.” “For what?” “I don’t know.” “If you ever figure it out, call me.”


He began to read Good Luck that evening. It was a book about his life. All his life. Where he came from and where he was going. He flipped the pages, one after another. Fevered. 


He learned about his father, where he was born, what he was like, and he learned about his mother and where she was born, what she was like. And he learned about his first girlfriend, Melissa, and about the movie The Apartment with Jack Lemmon and Shirley McClain and he learned about the town where he had grown up. He learned about Jersey City, and his neighbors, and his apartment building, and his friends. He learned what he thought about haircuts, and the afterlife, and Willie Nelson. 


He learned about a house of memory that was in his mind where all his memories lived. 


He read on, and learned his favorite color and some dogs he had known. He read about his wife, and he understood her even better, and loved her even more. And he read about his doubts and fears and experiences, successes and failures. His ego was a cracked egg and the yolk leaked out in bright sunshine and sizzled on the concrete. Steadily grew to like himself. Then love himself, what the fuck. And he laughed at his own jokes. He read on. A cloud lived, a cloud died. A bird joined flight school to try to become a jet pilot, and didn’t make it. He turned a page. His manuscript was weird as shit. Unpublishable. Again and again, Alec Durak showed up. Who was Alec Durak? Just a character in the stupid book. This mess of a book, he thought. But he kept reading. 


He turned the page, and turned the page and felt like a writer, which baffled him, because he did not know how to write, but he had written this book. He thought he could do better. 


About halfway through, he became embarrassed of himself, as he read things he had done. He’d pressure the editor into taking part in some kind of convoluted scam. There had been a story contest, and lots of people paid to send their submissions in. But he had declared himself the winner of the contest and kept their money. There was a riot. His memories revolted. He was advised to evict them. He had. Such a dumb thing to do. 


Now up was up, and down was down, and left was left, and right was right. He’d come to the end. The man closed his own book, and understood. He began to write all of what you’ve just read. When he was finished with that, he kept on going. 

BUD SMITH lives in Jersey City and works construction. He is the author of the novel Teenager (Vintage, 2022), among others.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *