Mary South’s You Will Never Be Forgotten is an excellent collection of high concept short stories, usually having something to do with the intersection of technology and being human—energetic literary fiction that sometimes collides with sci-fi, or something even more interesting that I can’t put my finger on; I just think of them as Mary South stories. A clone named Keith, being harvested for his internal organs, is also an object of love; a person who works as an online content scrubber lashes back at a venture capitalist who sexually assaulted them; a devastated mother resurrects a deceased daughter with new tech. I loved this book. I read it on an airplane right before Covid-19 quarantine happened and was in awe after every story, “Oh this one will be a movie someday.” “Oh this one could, too.” “Oh they should make six movies out of this one.” Mary South has big ideas but cares just as much about her sentences and her characters. There’s a big heartbeat, a big pulse of life running though the veins of her writing. She’s an idiosyncratic, singular voice out there, telling radical stories about normal people thrust into a strange changing world. What else can I say? When I finished You Will Never Be Forgotten and got off the airplane, things were beginning to shut down for the coronavirus. I wanted to know more about Mary South and how she creates her unique stories. Instead of meeting up in person in the city, like I’m sure we would have done, and recording the conversation over a few beers, the questioning turned to telephone calls and emails and google docs and on and on, at least we didn’t have to do any Zooms. All right. Well, I’m always interested in where artists come from, so I guess we’ll begin there. The first thing I learned about Mary South is that she grew up in a small town called Rosemount. There were a lot of woods, she says. It was quiet.

 

Mary South: My mother is from Northern Minnesota, another small town called Starbuck. She has the strong accent and everything. She comes from a long line of farmers. She’s told me both some pretty harrowing and funny stories about farm work.

 

Bud Smith: What happened on the farm?

 

MS: When she was a child, my mother became attached to this calf, which she named Velvet because its coat was so soft. She still brings up sometimes how she showed up after school one day on the farm to see it, but Velvet had been shipped off to the slaughterhouse for veal. This anecdote will often segue into how my great-great-grandmother walked heavily pregnant behind a covered wagon for weeks until they reached northern Minnesota and started farming back in the 1800s.

My mother’s uncle Claude managed the farm for decades until he died and it was finally sold. He could toss a bale of hay with one arm into his tractor even when he was very old. Those bales are heavy, a hundred pounds or more. We would visit him on occasion when I was a kid; on one such trip, he whispered to me that he believed aliens were living underneath the surface of the earth. I told my mother about it later, and she said, “Oh, Claude was just messing with you.” I think he had a bit of a diabolical sense of humor.

 

He asked me if I made it home okay in such a caring, fatherly tone I got turned on. We met in a writing workshop. He critiqued one of my stories by saying, “You’re very good at individuating based on the desires of other people.” The night before, we got drunk together at a bar near a reading with a thrown together group of acquaintances, and now he was closing in on me in the corner kitchen of another reading inside someone’s Bushwick apartment. I told him, “Yeah, I got home fine” and not “I spent two hours walking around Brooklyn near-blackout last night alone, took blurry pictures of buildings on my phone, and then masturbated about you until I fell asleep at 6AM.” I noticed him staring at me as I walked back to my seat to watch the rest of the reading. When I left he texted me, Where did you go? I couldn’t believe it. 

 

I read Paradise by Donald Barthelme as an excuse to text him. Then I bought the Harold Brodkey book of short stories he recommended right after. The first edition hardcover with a ripped jacket was $7 at The Strand.

 

I’m a sucker for ‘Innocence.’ I read it as a kind of metaphor for the reader/writer relationship, he texted me.

 

I read the story immediately. It is explicit sex for 30 pages. It is hot. I overlooked the narrator’s misogyny and the laughably written female dialogue because I loved the weirdness of the prose. There are times the oral sex pushes past the point of consent. He wants to give his girlfriend her first orgasm and she’s afraid to have it. Right before she comes he says she’s Good

 

We met at the Family Forever Noodle House in Riverhead in 1983. Does the name ring a bell? Despite the suburban setting, in those days it was not actually a place for families, nor was it family-owned or owned by someone who had a family. A series of divorces and emancipations convinced the original owners to sell, and all communal feelings went with them. By our time it was the good-for-nothing sort of eatery, a shrug of a building, kept up without a semblance of pride, with walls once white turned gray-green from monthly fumigation. More ambitious and expanding establishments shouldered us from either side, and sometimes so aggressively I thought I could hear a voice behind the walls ordering others to push. I might have preferred to work in one of those places, with their handshakes and napkins and general rule of respect, but then who knows what that would have meant for me. 

I worked behind the counter, U-shaped, if you remember, with a cold metallic surface in which one could find their reflection, at least where it was clean and not dented from customers reminding us of their absent meals. There were twelve stools around the counter, and most were put together so poorly by Mr. Davies—the cross-eyed owner who knew nothing about noodles, knew nothing about any cuisine, as far as I could tell, and who never had a family and bought the place so he could ruin it for everybody that did—that they consistently tipped one way or another when someone sat down. One was drilled into the floor a foot and a half from the counter, and whoever sat there had to count on themselves to balance their meals. It also happened to be in the direct path of the restroom. Of course, this was all to Mr. Davies’ liking, and not only did he refuse the simple work of unscrewing the stool from the floor and bringing it in, he even laughed at those who sat there and threatened not to serve them. But enough about Mr. Davies, the cross-eyed owner who never had a family and still has none. 

 

“Can you describe a time when someone betrayed you?” This question is posed to me by Jan during a round of The Ungame, which I play over lunch with a group of colleagues in our architecture firm on the 92nd floor. The Ungame looks deceptively like Candy Land but is described, in its product materials, as a game without winners. Or losers. What is the narrative of this game? “To know one another,” apparently. “To create a story together of who we are, alone and apart.” I’m reminded of long adolescent evenings, with Stacey and Joe and Shane and Steph, slowly beginning to feel the idiosyncrasies of our tiny lives, how we gifted each detail to one another without knowing their value, and for the first time in years, I miss them. I think about the question. About who has betrayed me. But cannot think of anyone. Other than myself, of course. Ha. Am I lucky? I giggle and believe for a moment that I must be winning the game. The Ungame.

 

I open my mouth to share this revelation with my colleagues, but Jan interrupts, waving me aside and directing our attention out the floor-to-ceiling window, freshly cleaned and gleaming. “What is that,” she asks, pointing into the clear blue sky. We all turn to look, some swiveling in office chairs, others shifting to peer around shoulders. “I don’t see anything,” Eric squints, leaning forward. But it’s there. Unmistakably it is there. 

 

An airplane. Large. Suspended, sort of hovering, or just barely moving, some distance off from our building, waiting in the air, paused far above the Hudson. “It’s not moving,” someone states or asks.

 

Utterances of disbelief and questions of whether or not this is possible—a jumbo jet floating motionless in the sky—give way to alternate explanations. “It’s not an airplane, it’s a helicopter. See the rotors on top?” But it is an airplane, undeniably. We can make out the wings, just barely see the turbines, the long row of windows. “It’s an illusion, an advertisement,” someone offers. But it’s there, in 3D—patient, and not selling us a thing. “A blimp, a hoax, a conceptual art prank,” someone offers, or pleads really. This is the angle that gets the most traction, if only briefly: a joke, a gag. But even that explanation falls away when the news reports start rolling in, confirming our suspicions: a large passenger plane—a real one, with an origin and destination and ferrying actual passengers—floats immobile in the sky above the river, impossibly still, somewhere between New Jersey and Manhattan.

 

Below is an excerpt from Mark Gluth’s new book, Come Down To Us, available now from Kiddiepunk. Order your copy here.


 

 

I.

The night sky hung above the sea with arrant darkness that the water’s surface reflected so that the sky may well have just  been some other sea, with a packed in pitch enveloping the both of them like what inkiness would be found in a closed off cave sunk under a forest that was buried beneath an avalanche  and hidden within some other night, one whose sky was  so thick with unlitness  that it just came off as loaded with the stuff which  it pressed on the planet that splayed beneath it so that  the landscape was some long thing which ran featureless and so fucking black that it seemed to be  some still sea upon which this night sky that’d been emptied of its moon and stars swaged it’s absent form.

 

everybody always thinks i’m lying about this dream but i’m not: the dream is me standing next to a long pole that looks like those things on the boardwalk with the bell on top and the weight on the bottom and you have to bring the hammer down on the bottom part and depending on where you get the weight to go, you’ll know how strong you are. that’s what it looked like but instead of the words very weak, weak, strong, or very strong appearing up the pole, there were the words comedy, romance, adventure, drama. i knew i could choose which genre of dream i’d have and i’d get whatever i wanted. i couldn’t choose and i woke up. anyway. i’m not always lying. it’s just that…you know that phrase “he lies like he breathes”? it’s what people say about someone who lies a lot. you could maybe say i lie like i sneeze; there are just certain situations i’m allergic to. mom is one of those situations. out of the goodness of her heart she overwhelmed me. as a boy i was her buddy for every unnervingly tedious thing—i remember sitting with her at the dmv with a grocery bag in my lap while she haggled with our health insurance on her cell phone—these “activities” were the shape the love between us took, as vases, dog bowls, and beakers are to water. to this day the most romantic thing i can imagine is helping a woman move, taking apart her bed frame, waiting together for some maintenance guy to show up and do something. these things are related—in some way it doesn’t make any sense to say out loud. what i mostly remember isn’t anger that i was stuck with her or boredom at the objectively boring things we did. i remember being jealous. glowering at the valet when we went to the hospital for my physical therapy, the ache to strangle him when mom handed off her keys and fingered his palm; hating the fact we were “regulars” at the town diner, the smiley way the waiters already knew what to bring her (onion rings and russian dressing); and of course the boys at school. being aware of how people saw her was an entirely slimy thing. so i talked. to distract mom (and to distinguish myself) from the persistent idiots who wanted to take my place. and if you only talk to get what you want, sooner or later you’ll end up lying. you can only say so much as a kid before you see an adult escape into the sweet daydream of shooting themselves. even if the adult denies it (they will), it’s true. so, lying. for me it started small—feigned interest in her job, which turned out to be maddening, jealousy-wise, because she taught special ed and a lot of times she’d tell me as if it were a funny story that so-and-so “accidentally called me mom today” and i’d imitate some sort of kind son’s smile that i’d probably seen on tv while crushing a complementary cracker over my cup of diner soup. that agonized smile is the other bigger kind of lie. i don’t have to describe it because you’re probably doing it right now to someone you love, or someone you love is doing it to you. unlike the small lies which basically say i’m interested in the real you, the bigger ones do something darker which is say what a coincidence it just so happens that the real me is exactly who you want me to be. in those ways and for those reasons i lied to mom a lot. but to actually understand what happened with me and jasmine, it’s only important to tell you about the worst lie.

 

Tie a Tie

 

Russell cannot tie his tie and cannot accept that he cannot learn it, that this part of his brain is just gone. In the bathroom mirror, I watch his fingers fumble with the tie as the upturned scar on his forehead purples with tamped down rage. 

“Drape, wrap, repeat, push, pull through the loop,” he says. 

I respect Russell’s perseverance, that despite his traumatic brain injury Russell does not acquiesce into helplessness and rely on the assistance available to him, like some other residents tend to. 

But after so many Sundays, I must admit, I am not optimistic. After so many Sundays, I know that this episode only ends one way: with him asking for my help. 

“Russell,” I say, hoping to move things along. His half-sister hates when we’re late. “There’s plenty of stuff I can’t do, either. I can’t do calculus or knit sweaters. I can’t eat dairy products or peanuts or watch Christmas movies without crying. I can’t roller skate.” 

Russell ignores me. “Drape, wrap, repeat, push, pull through the loop.” 

 “I can’t think about the deep ocean without existential dread,” I say. “Or sleep without draping a heating pad over a pillow and pretending it is another human body. I can’t volunteer at the humane society.” 

 “Drape, wrap, repeat, push, pull through the loop.” 

And as Russell’s fingers fumble, I continue listing my shortcomings. I list them and the list grows long and painful. But I do not stop. I keep listing because I want Russell to understand that we are all deficient in some fashion.

Below are links to all sixty episodes of Bud Smith’s Good Luck serial.

Good Luck: Episode Sixty

 

So we set off to demolish my house of memory. I drove the bulldozer. Rae squeezed in beside me. Jackson rode in the bucket of the machine, laid sideways, head on a pillow. 

Joey followed, at the wheel of a four door dually pickup. Everybody else in the hit squad was loaded tight in the cab. An air compressor on a hitch was towed behind. And in the bed of their truck, our tools of destruction were piled high. 

As we drove through Jersey City, I got a panicked phone call from my brother William, who rode shotgun in the pickup. “Don’t worry,” I said. He said, “But we are headed towards the Holland Tunnel with a bunch of explosives. I’m going to worry.” 

I heard the chatter of the other five voices in that truck. There must have been three other conversations going on all at once. “Chill out,” I told William, and hung up.

Soon I began the big detour away from New York City and its police and pestering hammering of reality. 

The traffic petered out and then vanished. Sprawling country soon opened up. Marshland and then farmland. We drove past rolling green hills. Crashed across a silver river. Crushed our way through a dark maze of Hansel and Gretel forest. I stopped the bulldozer at the edge of the trees. Across the field I saw no movement except the grass and endless colorful wildflowers moving on a gentle breeze. 

In the distance, the house of memory looked crooked, odd, distorted in some way, as if it were wearing armor.

 

In front of me, stands a man that looks exactly like I do. Behind me, is another man who looks exactly like myself. In fact, stretching before and behind me, as far as the eye can see, are men who bear the same identical features. The line moves slowly, excruciatingly so. Since we’ve been here we have inched forward only three times. Occasionally, other men who look like us pass by to ensure we remain as we are, in the line. They are armed and wear different clothing. We can hardly remember a day that has passed where we weren’t standing in this line, wondering what’s up ahead. It’s been so long that we’ve forgotten, likely all of us, what lies behind us, passing it so long ago. We must have passed something at one point, but all we can remember is the line. There must have been movement–a history–for we are where we are. All of us, I mean. But for the very life of me–of us–we can’t remember. But surely men are not born in a line. Are men born in a line? I shout. The me behind myself elbows me in the ribs, urging silence so as not to attract the guards. The me in front of myself glares at me, as if he’s somehow better than me. I open my mouth to respond but feel a firm hand on my shoulder. I turn around to see myself, dressed in olive fatigues and a face like ice. Ah I say, I could just–before I can finish, he raises the butt of the gun and drives it into our shoulder, bringing us to our knees. Shut up, I say to myself, then continue on down the line. I look up to my comrades in protest, but I–they–remain silent. I wonder if we were trained–I mean the guards. Probably not, I think. Probably just slapped a uniform on us. I’m fed up with standing in this bloody line. It is said that the lines in which we wait are vast and imperceptible at times. Excuse me, I ask myself (the one in front) but am elbowed in the ribs. Undeterred, I continue. Do you have any idea why we’re–I’m cut off by a more jarring blow now from the butt of my very own (man in uniform) rifle. The sky is so grey it’s hardly worth mentioning. 

Good Luck: Episode Fifty-Nine



My good memories and I were still in that house, hiding out behind the velvet curtains of the theatre where I’d gotten married. Any minute the doors would burst open and the last of my pleasant, fine, joyous memories would be slaughtered. 

I was trying to be quiet. We all were. Except four memories of my brother William kept forgetting, and were soon arguing too loudly about what was the best Final Fantasy video game. And my fathers were annoyed they were missing some important detective show on TV. And the many memories of my mother were taking turns holding a memory of an infant William, which wouldn’t stop fussing, crying out. My aunt Elaine had found some weapons to use in our defense, but they were just props. Foam swords for productions of Hamlet. I started to think I should walk out and abandon all my memories, good or bad, head back to the hospital. Check myself in. Start over. 

But then I heard engines. A great clamor. Machines rammed through doors and walls. Guns going off. Through the wall I heard a great stampede of bodies running and falling. And I looked at my few remaining good memories and told them to come out from behind the curtains, onstage, and out of the theatre. We better go, whatever was making their enemies run was good news for us.

We crept into the memory house proper. I saw the front door of the house had been ripped off its hinges. A great mass of bodies was seen running across the field. Four men on ATVs chased them down. Jean bib overalls, hunting caps, shotguns at their sides. The sun was just coming up. Everything was purple and gold.

I knew of these shotgun men. They’d come from Woodland, North Carolina. A town with a population of 800 people. The town’s lone police officer had quit, and then criminals had begun to rob gas stations and pharmacies and Sunday buffets. A vigilante squad formed. This vigilante squad. However it was they’d arrived here, I was thankful for them.

“I’m taking you all back with me,” I said. I led the survivors into the tunnel the grandmothers and invalids and children had used to escape. We walked through that narrow tunnel (lit up by the many memories of my father who each carried a pen light flashlight at all times). One of the memories of my brother, thirteen years old, made the comment that the men on ATVs–who’d come in at the last second and saved us all–reminded him of the giant eagles at the end of The Hobbit. “Okay, yeah sure,” I said. My brother William said, “You know, the ones who valiantly ended The Battle of the Five Armies, eradicated the army of goblins.” “Sure.” My other memory of my brother said, “Actually they were more like the Riders of Rohan at the end of The Two Towers.” And then they began to argue over the names of Tolkien’s eagles. “The mighty winged messengers of Manwë.” “Sure, messengers at first, but they became the guardians of all animal life, much as the Ents were the guardians of plant life.” “Great, eagles, that’s all that matters.” “They’re actually Buteoninae, not eagles. Closer to relatives of red-tailed hawks in species, just ginormous. Stupid big. Whoa.” “Gwaihir and Landroval, lords of the birds that saved Gandalf’s ass, how’s that?” I turned around and shouted at them to please be quiet. Thirty other memories clapped.

 

 

Pop-Tart Guy

 

 

Look I get Giving people their space.

Being respectful of communities you entering.

Not imposing.

But that don’t mean don’t engage.

Or it could mean: Not engaging, out of fear of committing the above, can be worse. More dehumanizing.

Like say you kicking it out back and homie pulls up, crouches, and hits the rocks feet from you. Other side of the fence but flagrantly visible. Adjacent to where kids be hooping. 

Is the move really Do nothing?  

To flat-out ignore him? 

Deny he exists?

Like Oh. That’s that dude. That’s what he do.

 

 

So call me crazy but when this happened one morning, what I did was, I went up to the back gate homie was crouched behind. Crouched. Went Bro, you good?

And when he ignored me: You got a spot to crash out?

And when he still ignored me: You need food or anything? A pop tart? I got pop tarts.

He lowered the pipe he was about to torch. Stood. Went Sure, I’d hit a pop tart. 

Yeah? I said. Sit tight!

When I came back with my last Brown Cinnamon Sugar, unopened in case he wanted to stash it, he looked at it. At me. Went It’s not toasted. You can’t toast it?

I started laughing. Bro you serious?

He shrugged.

Bro take your fucking pop tart.

Still feel bad about not toasting it.

 

I’d been watching prices on Car Guru for a few weeks. Waiting for used Fords to come down, waiting for dealers to put some up. Waiting and just looking at pictures of trucks while sitting on the toilet. That sort of thing. This was around when Linda called me and said her irrigation system wasn’t working. 

“All the plants are dying,” she told me over the phone. “The arbor vitae is crispy.”

Couple summers ago I rigged her this simple sprinkler setup that runs off her garden spigot. It snakes all around her yard with these tiny sprayers every five or so feet. Even hooked a battery timer to it so it’d run on its own. I told her she wouldn’t have to touch it. Ever. It’d just do its thing. Easy peasy.

Over the phone I asked her, “Is the system on?”

“Think so.” 

“Is the faucet handle turned all the way to the right or to the left?” 

“Oh I don’t know, let me go look.” She put the phone down and I heard her screen door slam. 

She was gone awhile. I got bored and started munching on some potato chips I didn’t know I had. Finally she came back and said “Left.” Some potato chips shards went down the wrong pipe and I started choking and coughing a bunch. I ran my mouth under the sink and took a big gulp of tap water.

“Are you dying?” Linda said. 

“Not yet.”

“Well, then get over here and fix my sprinklers.”

Budwulf

By Bud Smith

Short Story

Good Luck: Episode Fifty-Eight

translated from Old English by Frances B. Grummere & Bud Smith



LO, praise of the prowess of people-kings

of spear-armed New Jersey, in days long sped,

we have heard, and what honor the athelings won!

Oft Scyld the Scefing from squadroned foes,

from many a tribe, the mead-bench tore,

awing the earls. Since erst he lay

friendless, a foundling, fate repaid him:

for he waxed under welkin, in wealth he throve,

till before him the folk, both far and near,

who house by the whale-path, heard his mandate,

gave him gifts: a good king he!

To him an heir was afterward born,

a son in his halls, whom heaven sent

to favor the folk, feeling their woe

that erst they had lacked an earl for leader

so long a while; the Lord endowed him,

the Wielder of Wonder, with world’s renown.

Famed was this Bud Smith: far flew the boast of him,

son of Scyld, in the Scandian lands.

So becomes it a youth to quit him well

with his father’s friends, by fee and gift,

that to aid him, aged, in after days,

come warriors willing, should war draw nigh,

liegemen loyal: by lauded deeds

shall an earl have honor in every clan.

Arrows

By Bud Smith

Short Story

Good Luck: Episode Fifty-Seven

 

Now I will get to the battle part. I hope I tell it all right. I am not very good at writing action scenes. How are you at reading them?

Earlier this year, I was thinking about how I needed to try and write down this event in my life, and I was absolutely dreading it. I thought to read and study War and Peace to see how Tolstoy handled Napoleon and all his friends at Austerlitz, and the horses and the sabres and the cannon fire and all that, but I never got around to it. It’s probably fine. 

This battle had no horses, or sabres, or cannon fire. There was only one gun.

We had it. 

But we were outnumbered, ten to one.