Friday, April 10, 2020

DIPTYCH BEFORE DYING the opening of a long ago written short novel

This is the opening of a short novel which possibly in French might be considered a recite.  Two journeys I took with my father: to Newfoundland and Mexico City after his wife and my mother had died.  I think it might deserve to be in print.  But how?   Thomas McGonigle
                      DIPTYCH BEFORE   DYING
                         The Left Panel:  To Newfoundland
      My father and I went to Newfoundland in the summer of 1973. 
In the morning Dad had been up before me.  An empty beer can on the dining room table.  He had smoked a couple of cigarettes. He had changed out of his pajamas and   gone back to sleep in his day clothes.
                  [This is a transcription from that lousy source reality]
        I never met a person who knew him as a young man or even from the time he had met my mother in New York as the country was getting ready to be taken up by World War Two.  He is a solitary figure who exists in some pictures in a photo album where he is among people.  He is only a photographic representation that when I die the ability to identify him will disappear as my children will have very little interest as by way of their mother they do have grandparents who they knew and to whose funeral they will have gone, though neither of those people have a belief in such ceremonies. 
         Both of the children have been to my parent’s grave on Long Island.  For a few years when they were children Anna and I would take them along on Good Friday when we drove out to Long Island, went to the cemetery, brushed away the leaves and planted a couple of flower bulbs in front of the small tombstone and then later go to a diner near Patchogue, drive by the house where I had lived as a child, drove out on the Mascot Dock and usually stopped at a shopping mall on the way back to the city where they were delivered to their mother who lives five streets away from where I am typing this.
         I heard him snoring.  His toothless mouth was open.  He clenched a light blanket to his body.  He lay in the bed where his wife, my mother had died seven months before.
His dream would be burying the miniature poodle that had to be put to sleep.  He took the newspaper wrapped body out to Sheepshead Bay and buried it in the sand, down deep where the fresh water began to run, he said.  The vet had taped the eyes shut and bound the lower jaw to snout   with buff colored twine.  As the parcel lay in the puddle at the bottom of the hole he thought he detected movement. He ripped it open and put his hand inside.  He pulled it out covered with fleas.
         Dad, come on, you got to get up.  It’s time to go. We have a lot of driving to do.
         I don’t want to go.  Your mother can’t come with us.
         She’d want you to go.  Have you packed the rest of your things?
         I don’t want to pack.
         I’ve packed most of your stuff.  See if there is anything missing.
         I don’t care.
         I’ll check, don’t worry.  Get your razor.
         To cut my throat.
         You can’t cut your throat with that.
         You think so.
         He goes from the bedroom to the kitchen and I hear a can of beer pop.
         I have most of the stuff in the car.  You gotta help a little.  You do want to go?
         I pack his fishing pole and equipment box.  He drinks the beer.
         You want one? He asks.  It’s cold. 
         As I am drinking the beer he brings the razor and soap brush in a little plastic bag.
         We are off.  Ice chest loaded with beer.  9W to the Thruway north from Saugerties.
         Dad sleeps in the backseat, wakes up drinks a can of beer, smokes a cigarette, goes back to sleep.
         The New York City radio stations fade out.  Above Albany we stopped before crossing into Vermont so Dad could have a cup of coffee from a machine in the gas station.
         I was here once with your mother in Vermont.  The car broke down.  It was just before the war.
         Didn’t that car break down on your honeymoon?
         Yes, in Virginia.  It didn’t when we went to visit that wife of yours in Virginia.  How is she?
         Okay, she lives in the city now. 
         Good for her.  In Virginia, yes, we almost made it to North Carolina.  That is where we wanted to go. I wanted to play golf.  I had been there with fellows from work.  But this was another time.  Your mother and I drove up to Vermont, to see the leaves changing or something.  Your mother liked to do things like that.  I don’t know.  We couldn’t understand what people were saying. We had a nice time even though the car broke down.  Not like that time in the Catskills when they thought we were Jews, do you remember that?  I loved Marion, your mother.  She was such a good woman.
         O, Dad, please.
         But I did, Tom, I loved her very much and she loved me.  I’d have done anything for her.
         You can’t do anything for her now.  Maybe have a good time.
         How can I have a good time without your mother?
         He gave me his glasses and went back to sleep, cupped the side of his head in his hand and slept.
         Sentences:  He could not look at me too long as he knew I held him responsible
                           I held myself responsible in some way for her death.
                           She lived out her life for other people, she said.
                           She never really cared for herself, more selfish than any of us because she wanted us to be left with the knowledge--- you did so little for me, I gave up my life for you, I couldn’t even read the magazines, there was always too much dust… I always put all of you before myself.
         We were off to Canada, just the two of us: me and the old man.  I resisted the expression, the old man:  the old man got me this, the old man got me that, the old man was drunk last night, the old man is quite a guy.
         In the hospital she seemed like a pink stain on the white linen. 
         Go away, she said.  Go away.  I don’t want to see you… is my hair messed up… my fingers are so ugly… how can anyone… your father…
         All the time I had been with Dad since Mom died I kept saying to myself:  I have nothing to say.  What can I say?
         He sent me to Italy and Bulgaria a month ago.  I had been in Sofia on May 24 for the day of the language           
         (photo missing in this version)
         Across Vermont and stopping at a small motel and cabins within sight of Mt. Washington.
         New Hampshire was where Carol Lynley came from in RETURN TO PEYTON PLACE.  She had written a novel and gone to New York City and come back home to meet the townspeople.
         There had been floods, the guy in the motel said, keeps people away.  Back from the road were big houses at the end of drives.  The unabridged Webster’s dictionary is on a stand in the library of the house.  The mountain was green going to black into a darkening sky behind a sign selling souvenirs.
         Dad and I sat at a little table in front of the cabin drinking beer the owner had brought for us.  Each of the six bottles was on its own little napkin. 
         Tom, I’m going to sleep early.  Okay?  You don’t want me to go out with you, do you?
         No, it’s okay.  I might drive into the town, look around, see what’s going on.
         So go on then, I don’t want to keep you. 
         A concert was breaking up at the pavilion in the village park.  I wrote but do not know what I meant:  the first bar was vinyl.  I saw a woman with blue hair who had a tooth pick at the corner of her mouth.  I recorded this song lyric:       
                           I’m just an hour of time
                           And a six pack away
                           From forgetting you.

         Right here: stopped. 
         Do I recount a conversation in another bar, part of a big resort, where I went, go into a crowd and being told it was a party for the employees and asking if I could stay, seems like the people are having fun, and being asked what I was doing and saying I was going to Newfoundland with my father.
         Distraction   in November we gathered at my mother’s hospital bed.  She could not eat.  She did not want to eat.  Don’t let the food go to waste.  I’ve never had Thanksgiving dinner out.   The next Sunday I had to cook a Turkey.  Dad took a sip of Mogen David wine.  She was just in for tests, really.  Maybe she could try to eat some cranberry sauce and some of the white meat.  It hurt too much.  When she got home… yes, she had gotten home.  Everything was going to be okay.  It had always been like that.  The Fanellis next door left her cut flowers in a vase with a statue of the Infant of Prague attached to it. [gathered= a linguistic attempt to avoid reality]
                  I heard a bottle cap come off a beer.  Dad was shaving and drinking.  How do you feel, he asks.
         You got in late, I heard you.
         You can drive he told me and I asked if he could help me and he said, maybe.
         The intake of the smoke and then the sip of beer.
         We didn’t talk during the rest of the day.  Drove into the Maine.  Didn’t see anyone around and not a lot of traffic.  Forest on either side of the road.  An occasional church on a hillside and tombstones around it.
         Stopped at a crossroads store and got two six-packs and a bag of ice.  He didn’t want an infrared ham sandwich even though they had the hot mustard he liked.
         Across the border at St. Stephen.  Just waved us through.  On to St. John.  Union Jacks in the breeze.  Easy to love England with an ocean between.  To the Loyalist City.
         Another day—as is always sometimes said.
         Benedict Arnold tried to make a go of this imitation Glasgow, from my experience.  We had a drink in a nice bar.
         I’m tried, he says.  Let’s find a place for the night and you can come back later if you want.
         But you slept all the way
         I’m not as young as you are.
         A little less beer.
         Let’s find a place
         The motel with a newspaper.

            Do you need anything, Dad?
         I’ll be okay.  Go into the city and have a nice time.      
         I transcribe my first version of what happened next in town:  “There are no good times in this city.  At night the bar where we had been won’t let you in unless you have a tuxedo on.  Walk around and find a bar.  A big room with a couple of old men sitting in chairs watching the television.  An ante-room to a flop house.  I walk across the room and there is a smaller carpeted room.  Again a television but at least there are some women to look at.
         You can’t sit here.  The waiter is standing next to me,  He has a beard and jeans on. 
         You have to have a woman with you to sit here.
         It’s the law.  Now no trouble now, you know the law.
         Where can I sit
         Outside with the men.”
         Found in a plastic bar [ plastic, a slang word whose meaning is obscure but which it seems everyone had a definition for it] near the motel.
                           GANGLAND SHOOT OUT
                                    THREE WOMEN DIE
                                             TEN YEAR OLD BOY HELD

         Drink a little of that protestant Moosehead beer.  Two bottles make you sick and swear to give up the drink for an hour of faithful resolve. 
         Dad was sleeping.  I have  FOR MEN ONLY to read and a new novel ALL THE LONELY YEARS and from St. John we went to Moncton to Sydney in Nova Scotia for the ferry to Port aux Basques, Newfoundland.
         However, in the morning:  slice of well-done bacon, scrambled eggs, coffee, no orange juice, just two eggs sunny side up, whole wheat toast with butter, a glass of milk
         The history museum:
                           men go down to the seas in ships
         My brother, Dad says, was a ships radio operator and president of the Wireless Operator’s Association

Yeah. I remember that funeral and knowing he drank himself to death and I  saw kids tearing  apart the mourning wreaths at the grave a few over to collect the metal frames, a sort of deposit on each one.

         I’ll drive a bit, Dad says
         Up a long hill
         A far river drinking a bottle of Pepsi
         I’ll have a 7UP, Dad says.
         A cabin outside Moncton
         Lot of French people around here.
         Let’s go to the movies.
       CLASS OF ‘44
              the Dad dies
                  kid sees the old man’s shoes in the closet
                  his empty eye-glasses case
                  I don’t even know what he looked like
                  his girl was waiting for him
                  silly happy ending…
         It was pretty accurate, Dad says. Made me sad.    That’s the way it was.
         We have a drink in the bar in the mall where we saw the movie.
Picture missing in this version
         We stop at another bar off the road to the motel.  Rock being read from the music sheets in front of the muscians.  Dad smiles at the waitresses.  We drink cognac and beer.  Dad has a cognac over the rocks. Likes the place
         The waitresses smile at the old man. He must have some sort of secret
         See maybe the emptiness in the heart, my heart, a sewer for a heart
         Dad has a love of some sort
         I went out and threw up in the bushes.  Dad was worried, should I do the driving?  No, I’ll be okay.  I sat in the car and he went back into the bar. Came back in an hour.  I liked that place.  Good to get out but your mother woudn’t have liked that place.  Something like the bowling alley in Times Square that the CANCO used to use on Monday nights… a long time ago,
         So you’re set for Newfoundland, he says and I say, I am.

        Copyrighted 2020 Thomas McGonigle