Wherein Molly Ringwald’s “When it Happens to You” is given the once over by this week’s guest, Mr. Raymond Carver.
Can we please get one thing clear, please? Minimalism is dead. Long dead. I’d know, since I killed it. Or hell, at least marinated it in enough Cutty that it went up in its own blended fumes. Short, unadorned sentences? No, thank you. Can we all just take a collective vow to never write another goddamn faux-Spartan story ever again? This world needs more color! More neon light! More exclamation points!
Honestly, it’s been kind of a shitty day. Donna started hitting the sauce at noon, even before I dropped her at work. We both pulled shifts and then met for drinks afterwards. I left the bar to get something to eat, but she wouldn’t come. By midnight, I hustled her to the sidewalk and held open the door of the Olds. She got in, looked out the window. Wouldn’t say a thing.
“Listen, we’re dead,” I told her. “I think. No point getting bent out of shape.”
“I just thought there’d be…more.”
I drove slow. Even slower than usual.
“I don’t know. This? Us? God, my neck aches.”
I reached over to rub it, but she pulled away.
“That’s just it,” I said, taking a left on Ecclesiastes. “There is no God.”
“So this isn’t heaven?”
I wiped my mouth as an ivory PT Cruiser gunned around us.
Donna took off her raincoat and threw it in the back seat. It hadn’t rained for months. The clouds were fluffy and perfect. Gates gleamed in the distance, cul-de-sac after cul-de-sac. Leviticus Heights. Numerology Grove. Eventually we pulled into the driveway of our little bungalow. I killed the engine. We were the only place on the block where the grass had gone brown.
“What are we going to do?” Donna asked.
“Have a drink,” I said, then took a long walk up the front steps.
On the table by the fire, Molly Ringwald was waiting. I swept her into my arms, cracked her spine. The words leaped off the page, the rhythm, the cadences, the nuance. Like a dozen candles burning, before lighting four more.
I made a scotch and milk with a sliver of ice, thumbing the pages of When it Happens to You. I knew Donna was still in the car, staring at nothing, waiting for me to beg her to come in. Instead, I ran my hand along Molly’s binding, fingered her delicate frontspage. I smelled her paper, inhaled deeply. And then began to read the first story for the fourth time.
She was good. She was very, very good.
“Who are you talking to?” Donna asked from the doorway.
I’d been reading aloud, savoring the words.
Donna laughed her nasty laugh. She was wearing the raincoat again.
There was an old sugar donut on the counter. She took a bite of it, puffing cigarette smoke through the powder on her lips.
I pretended to read, the same sentence over and over again. It was: “she could almost feel it cutting her body from the inside, as if she had swallowed a handful of broken glass and the shards were struggling to work their way out.”
Shards of broken glass. An unusual, gorgeous image. But what could it possibly mean?
“I don’t know what’s wrong with me,” Donna said. “I really don’t.”
She dropped her drink. It exploded across the floor. I went back to the book. The next line to hit me was:
“It all became a toxic muddle of fact and fiction, and he was no more able to stop confessing than a bulimic teenager could withstand the call of purification following a slumber party.”
Yes. Oh yes. I knew that feeling well.
“Is she good?” Donna asked. “Does she give you what you need?”
There are those of us who can put a pretty sentence together, and there are others who can carry an entire movie with their porcelain skin and vermillion lips. For years I was sure the former was of value, bullshitting over cocktails at professor’s parties, at editor’s shindigs and book release yawners. But I was wrong. An insouciant red-haired prose-dervish is worth more than a thousand Where I’m Calling Froms. Or a million dying suns.
“How would you know what I need?”
Neither of us said anything, even though we both knew the answer; a tall, cool drink of Ringwald. And possibly a reacharound from Duckie.
The truth is that short stories are nothing but poor man’s prose. They’re simply not strong enough to stand on their own without a linking device with which to market them more effectively. I wish I had thought to write “a novel in stories.” I wish I had thought at all.
Donna walked to the door, then turned and hissed. “What do we talk about when we talk about James Spader?”
This time she raised her voice. “I said, who the hell do you think you are?”
The screen door slammed. A minute later, the garbage cans went over, one after another. The Olds started up. Must have left the keys in the ignition. Dumb.
I held When it Happens to You to my breast and wept.
And then a little while later, went to bed. But not before composing a note and leaving it on the table in case she came back in the middle of the night:
Who am I? I’m exactly who you think I am. You see me as you want to see me…in the simplest terms, in the most convenient definitions. But what I’ve finally found out, at long last, is that I am a brain…and a poet…and a basket case…and a princess…and a writer…does that answer your question?… Sincerely yours, Ray Carver.
A special thanks to this week’s author-channel and celebrity medium, James Van Praagh.
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