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Authors: John Domini

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Bedlam and Other Stories

BOOK: Bedlam and Other Stories
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John Domini

Dzanc Books
1334 Woodbourne Street
Westland, MI 48186

Copyright © 1978, 1980, 1981 Bedlam by John Domini

All rights reserved, except for brief quotations in critical articles or reviews. No part of this book may be reproduced in any manner without prior written permission from the publisher.

Published 2015 by Dzanc Books
A Dzanc Books r
print Series Selection

Some of these stories originally appeared in:
The Boston Globe, Paris Review, Ploughshares
, and
Transatlantic Review

eBooks ISBN-13: 978-1-936873-99-9
eBook Cover Designed by Awarding Book Covers

Published in the United States of America

The characters and events in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author


For Mary Ann
Your aim is true


No, I do not watch over my own sleep, as I imagined;
rather it is I who sleep, while the destroyer watches.

—Franz Kafka, “The Burrow”


: an Introduction After the Fact

Over 4000 Square Miles

The Return

Laugh Kookaberry, Laugh Kookaberry, Gay Your Life Must Be

Special Instructions, Special Instructions

Astral Projection

At the Dig

Thirty Spot, Fifteen Back on Either Side

Chasing Names

An Encounter

Some Numb Commitment

Ul 'Lyu, Ooo Ooo Ooo

: an Introduction After the Fact.

For reissue by Dzanc Books, e-format, 2015

Now, asserts the Evangelist, we see as through a glass darkly. Now our mirror's pocked and grody, and only in some better, brighter future will we see face to face. The author of First Corinthians had the story to go with it, too, the transformation on the road to Damascus. Right there on the highway, Saul became Paul, as his imagination carried him far into the future, beyond his own death and to the end of the world. Come to think, doesn't the imagination always face the way? Towards the future? Isn't it about what's emerging: a Kingdom above the sky, a story beyond the scribbles? Seems so — or rather it
so, till Dzanc Books and their generous ePrint program showed me how the imagination colors a look back, too. For a writer, even in the future to which he once looked forward, the mirror of “now” remains smudged and blemished.

The publication date for
was the start of 1982, and that edition held just nine stories. In the first months of that year, though, I completed two more, “At the Dig” and “Chasing Names.” Both landed at good quarterlies and, in light of the Dzanc offer, both look to be of a piece with the rest of the collection. They're products of the same inspiration and follow the same binary code. One is urban realism, the other another road-vision, voyaging out beyond death. So too they share the book's most common narrative tension, between the gathering grind of the mundane and the tenuous filaments of the heart.

For the collection I wrote most of the back-cover copy, and there I claimed that the stories “sooner or later come round to the subject of love.” It does appear — now — that I had in mind the two I was working on, as well as what was already in the Table of Contents. I can see how “Dig” fumbles through the same lovers' glitches as other stories here, while “Names” completes a trilogy of intimacy that extends beyond the body. That much I can discern, at least, in the distant mirror of this born-again text.

Other details remain clear, to be sure. The book appeared on
fiction international
, a magazine that was branching into publishing, the brainchild of the resourceful Joe David Bellamy. I'd appeared in the magazine, and Bellamy had circulated a request among his contributors, asking for story collections. By decade's end, I should add, he was chairing the literature division of the National Endowment for the Arts, and he'd sold the entire venture. San Diego State now publishes the magazine (the name in upper case), and for all I know, a few of
‘s first print run languish yet in a warehouse in La Jolla.

The pieces I sent Bellamy were selected from a group about twice that size. I went for unifying concerns, that balance of types and tensions, and I made sure to include the two stories with the best magazine credits:
for “Ul'Lyu, Ooo Ooo Ooo,” and
Paris Review
for “Laugh Kookaberry, Laugh Kookaberry, Gay Your Life Must Be.” The latter publication may still rank as my Greatest Hit, when it comes to fiction, and some thanks must go to Stanley Elkin. Elkin was teaching in Boston in those days, as I was, and he'd just finished a story set, like “Kookaberry,” in Hell (“The Conventional Wisdom,” brilliant stuff). The man proved generous, sitting down with my manuscript. Yet grateful as I am, I can't point to specific changes he suggested. Elkin didn't make notes, we had no more than an hour in his BU office, and once again, I see but darkly. All I know is, at the time I tended to
coaching; I wasn't in school anymore.

In the same way, I went with my own versions of the two stories edited by Gordon Lish, at
. Lish worked over “The Return” and “Special Instructions, Special Instructions,” then accepted both, telling me when each would appear and estimating I'd be paid a thousand apiece. Both were then returned without a penny — over the phone, Lish blamed his superiors, but many writers have since told me similar stories — and so for the submission to Bellamy, those stories were back the way I wanted them. “The Return,” happily, found what used to be an excellent venue, the
Boston Globe Sunday Magazine
(which paid just shy of a thousand, FYI), and that story was also the one I most often read aloud, during those years. For the Dzanc ePrint, I've gone with my “reading copy,” a version in which the drama's knuckles stand out more whitely. I'd kept the old marked-up typescript.

Typescript, yes. That's part of the shadow that falls between the first
and this one. These stories were all composed longhand, and even when I took the drafts to another technology, it was a clumsier device by far than my MacBook Air. Now, typewriter nostalgia does sweep me away from time to time (ah, the roller bar), but nostalgia always, so to speak, whites out some part of the reality. What matters is the change in
, while writing. Myself, I still occasionally go back to paper and pencil, I muck out the channel between the tips of the fingers and the back of the brain, but even then, I can only wonder at how the flow has changed. About that change, I've seen what others have to say. Robert Coover, Geoff Dyer, others. The light they shed on storytelling and its machinery, though, doesn't reach in where my thumb used to throb, as I scratched and scrawled.

also affords a glimpse or two of my masters, sure. The piece that most smacks of Donald Barthelme, wouldn't you know it, was first composed while in Barthelme's seminar. Yet I revised “An Encounter” several times more, and though Barthelme remained a friend I never shared it with him. I sent him the issue of
Transatlantic Review
in which the piece appeared, and he told me he heard John Hawkes in it. So too, while one story may carry an echo of eloquent John Barth, and another a strain of streetwise Richard Price (both close readers for a while, each kind enough to commit blurbs), the noises I notice most are personal.
came out of bedlam, a citified hullabaloo that suited a scatter-shot career and, in a fitting touch of the aleatory, launched a long marriage. Love wore frayed corduroy and Truth arrived smeared with cheap ink, in the pages of a so-called “underground newspaper.”

It was such a paper, the
Boston Phoenix
, that gave me my most thorough review. The author, Kathleen Hirsch, liked “Some Numb Commitment” especially (indeed, she went on to publish a book on the mad and homeless). Other praise appeared in places like
North American Review
, and the book helped me land some good jobs. But what really came to matter, as the glow of publication dimmed, was the private approbation.

An outstanding case concerns a grim ‘90s birthday. My latest career had gone off the rails, that same early marriage had fallen into its dying spiral — and a letter arrived, happy birthday, from a West Coast writer who'd loved the book. A letter as long as the
review, it mattered to me more, by far. The same goes for the woman who showed up at an L.A. reading in 2007, an event to launch a very different book. She had
with her, this woman, and she told me she was there because of how much “Kookaberry” meant to her. In exchanges like that I recognize, through the murk of everyday, that the collection amounted to more than a stray shared “now,” in which my stolen hours dreaming on paper overlapped Bellamy's luck with state and university funding. Something in the text proved durable and nifty enough to last, to reach an occasional stranger who sampled the text, through the ever-more scattered and unruly decade and a half before my next saw print.

The imagination may be built for looking ahead, but you can't pretend it's got no influence when you're looking back. Gilbert Sorrentino observed that art was “the act of smashing the mirror,” and so when it comes to
, finally I have to give up on tracking down sources and meanings. I have to trust in its power to break through my own mirror, scuffed and pitted, and get clear. Dzanc Books, thanks for the smash.

Des Moines, IA 2014

Over 4000 Square Miles

What Hartley couldn't take were the Town Halls. Up the coast from the Everglades the limousine carried him, cutting through Fort Lauderdale to reach the ocean. Then it was one resort after another, places where most of the buildings had been put up since 1975, getting wealthier as they headed north. Deerfield Beach, Boca Raton, West Palm Beach. And in each town Hartley would be amazed by the Town Hall. They were dinky, flattopped, single-story jobs, a slap in his face it seemed. They were painted effeminate seashell colors, with stucco walls that looked like wrinkled paper. Even the lettering on them looked like paper, like something Hartley's kid could do. The one in Boca Raton had obvious plastic flowers standing lamely around the front door.

“Are you kidding me?” Hartley complained. “You call
a Town Hall?”

Garbeau, sitting beside him, right away cracked up. She was from Vermont originally and knew what he was talking about. The limo driver meantime lowered the divider between the front and rear seats.

“What's the matter with that, man?” the driver asked. “Ain't they got Town Halls where you come from?”

Garbeau laughed even harder, putting her head in Hartley's lap. Hartley felt her throat trembling through his swim trunks.

“What they make 'em like where you come from, man? Your Town Halls got reefer on 'em or something?”

Garbeau had brought along a cigarette pack filled with joints. Hartley cupped his out of her reach now and concentrated. The driver was a big middle-aged black man, with a classic serene expression, like soggy jungle leaves.

“I'm quartered at Fort Devens,” Hartley said. “That's in Ayer, Massachusetts.” He tried to make it clear he was still complaining. “And up in Massachusetts a Town Hall is serious business. A Town Hall up there has got a plaque for the war dead. It's got a
on the front lawn.”

“That so?”

“Hartley, God.” Garbeau tweaked the inside of his thigh as she sat up. “Sometimes I can't believe you're a soldier.”

Hartley nodded; he'd heard it before. But with that he fell silent. He moved his eyes from the rear-view mirror, where he'd been watching the driver, and he took a couple nervous tokes.

“Not in Florida, man,” the driver said finally. “A cannon on the front lawn is way too heavy for Florida.” The car was in cruise gear and the driver's voice had changed. “This here, man, this the
world. Don't you know that? All these fine new buildings, don't let 'em fool you. Florida Indian land, pirate land. It's
land, you dig?”

The driver's voice was rounder, more hushy. Easily he fell into his tall tale. It seemed President Carter—“that's President, Jimmy,
, you dig”—had to wrestle an alligator in order to win some important endorsement from the Seminole Indians.

“I heard that story,” Garbeau said, suddenly businesslike. To Hartley it seemed like she hadn't spoken in twenty years. “I did research for that story, in case we were going to use it. Carter had to send a couple Secret Service down.”

Hartley started to regret his last couple tokes. Too much grass made him anxious.

BOOK: Bedlam and Other Stories
3.27Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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