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The Second Annual Fiction Issue

Scratch - Excerpt From A Novel In Progress

I have been working on this novel for more than ten years. During those years, I have written and published other books, but this one remains unfinished. I have come to realize that this is because it is a work that comes forth from me only when...
Κείμενο Nick Tosches

Dan Colen, Untitled (Going, Going, Go…), 2005, oil on canvas, 38 x 38". Image courtesy of Peres Projects. I have been working on this novel for more than ten years. During those years, I have written and published other books, but this one remains unfinished. I have come to realize that this is because it is a work that comes forth from me only when darkness takes hold of me. Its ever-deepening, ever-darkening course nears its end, but I do not know when that end will come. The excerpt that appears here is the dusk unto night with which the novel begins. Jabbo saw himself as he had been, forty years before and more, a child, thumb and forefinger poised apart, breath bated, eyes wide with wonder and expectation, watching a butterfly dance and whirl through the air round a dandelion that sprouted between pavement and curb: watching, watching, watching; waiting, waiting, waiting for the little white wings to still. He saw the powdery white on his fingertips, like magical traces left behind, when the wings, after his enchantment, were set fluttering free. And he saw himself as he was now, a man crossing a street with madness in his mind and a gun beneath his belt, transfixed by shining black in the black of night. He had seen one of those once, one of the big black-winged butterflies, and butter-winged monarchs too. What a sweet boy, the old ladies had said. He had run from them as they reached out to tousle his hair and pinch his cheeks. Or those legs. Those fucking legs. He could never make up his mind, even in the old days, even back then. All that flesh, beckoning, maddening. Go wash your face, he told what’s-her-name, that rich bitch, that time, the two of them waking in the soft morning light, him seeing the white trace of himself caked and dried upon her face. It’s only you, sweetest, it’s only you, she said. How that had unnerved him and repelled him and pleased him so. It’s only you, sweetest, it’s only you. And Sally, the first time they made love, her words riding the suff of her heat, the deepening, hastening breath of her body’s rapt rhythmus. I want you to come in my mouth, she said, freed, if only for a moment, in that suff and that rhythmus, and he knew then that she was his, and together they could rob this world of what happiness it hid. But he had thrown it all away. He always threw it all away. For devotion worked wickedness in Jabbo. Without it, he was like a child in abandonment, insecure and vulnerable, and he craved it; but once he had it, it was as if he were compelled to destroy it, to turn away from or cast away the savioress that embraced him, as if it were not really devotion he craved, but his dismissal of it. For him, devotion was an expression of love to be treasured only in its absence, only in the longing for it. In his grasp, it became the scepter of his tyranny, a thyrsus to be wielded, to batter, to drive away, and finally to break across the broken back of love. It was that broken, butchered chine of love, and not the breathing thing, he savored, sacrificant and god unto himself, seeking and renouncing in turn, cherishing and killing, again and again, the answer to every prayer. Now the final, inevitable, unforeseen abandoning had come to pass. Amid the haunted wreckage of all that lay broken, neither prayer nor answer remained. Sam’s mouth. Dorothy’s mouth. Junie’s mouth. What’s-her-name’s mouth. The mouth of the world, open to him. The sigh of it in the wind now, the memory of it. That rising lea of nylon and Lycra and flesh, shimmering, shifting, rolling like a dune, the kid raising her hips toward Dorothy’s mouth. And Dorothy’s tongue, timid at first, as if over paten, then slaking. Yeah, he told her, eat it, bitch, eat it. And he knelt over them, and he stroked Junie’s face and turned her head toward him and eased open her mouth with his fingers. And long after the kid was dead, he had invoked the memory, the vision of that night, savoring it behind closed eyes, his hand on his flesh, his breath deep and harsh with the incantation of that memory’s spell. Yeah, he told her, commanding the ghost of her unquiet soul, which dwelt in his, suck it, bitch, suck it. The night after her mother found her, the taut line of the rope leading from the knob of the closet door, over the toprail, to the crude noose round her neck; that very night, he had summoned her, commanded her. At times, behind his eyes, only the corpse would come forth, and his flesh would wither in his hand, shrinking from the cold, decayed mouth of her. But those times were rare, and the hips that rose rolling and perfumed from the tomb were ever sweet and ever warm and ever lush. Only now and again, as his breath afterward eased, did his incantation leave a strange resonance within him. Then, as if startled by the nuzzling of a cat whose approach and presence had not been sensed, he would shake away with a start the thought that he was fucking the dead. But they were all dead. To him anyway. They were all dead. He had seen to that. Just reach out, that’s all. Grab her, stick the gun in her back, get her in the car.  He took another swig, narrowed his eyes, lighted another cigarette. Yeah, maybe that’s why him and Junie made a good couple after all: They were both dead. June Bug he called her when she was little. Shit, what was he talking about, little? She was eleven when he met her, fourteen when she croaked. Even at eleven, she was a good-looking piece of head. June Bug. It was a sin to kill one. No, that was ladybugs. The Lady’s bug, the Virgin’s bug. It was a sin to kill a ladybug. Everything he did was a sin. It wasn’t like they said in that report. “Hi, my name is Jabbo and I’m a sociopath.”

That is what they said in that report. They said he was a man without a conscience. A man without guilt, a man without remorse. A man who felt little genuine emotion but had the ability to gain the confidence of others and appear to be very rational, sincere, and calm. A man capable of presenting and manipulating an emotional facade to satisfy the exigencies of whatever situation arose. This confidence man’s facade was so convincing that even experienced psychiatrists had difficulty penetrating it. That is what they said. But they lied. Those assholes with their reports and their fucking recidivist rates and their mumbo jumbo and their ugly fucking cheap suits, they didn’t know a fucking thing. He had a conscience. He knew what sin was. He could feel it in his bones, like rain. Never hurt no ladybugs, not old Jabbo.  “Hi, my name is Jabbo and I am one rehabilitated son of a bitch.” That’s right. He’d been a victim. A victim of his environment. He’d made his amends. Seen the fucking light. Yeah. Get this man out of general population. This is a new man, a Christ-like man, a treatment-receptive man, a Michelangelo of Yam Crafts. Get this man a bed-date! Yeah! Let great Jabbo enter the world again! Give him a meeting card and a PO and a counselor with nice legs! A bottle of booze and a blow job! Yeah! Once he be blind but now he do see. So rise up, you rat-cunt cocksuckers, and let old Jabbo free. Fuck it. Rehabilitated. Redibilitated. Whatever. Shit, he’d beat them at their own motherfucking racket. Saw right through that fucking light; saw right through them and fucked them where they breathed. Yeah. Just like he saw through Harry and fucked him too. Oedipus and Elektra sitting by a tree. Up popped the Devil, and the Devil was me. What he could’ve done with a fucking shingle, man. Doctor Jabbo. PhD. Doctor of Psychiatry. Rich broads a specialty. He would’ve made out better with a shingle than with the rackets. Not that that was saying much at this point. But what did it mean if you wanted to keep the tit in the bra? Maybe it meant you didn’t want to get too close to your mother. Which was good, not wanting to suck your mother’s tit. Maybe it meant you didn’t want to get too close, period. No, bullshit. What it was—here’s what it was—a naked tit just wasn’t as dirty as a tit in a bra. It was a matter of aesthetics. He was a man of refinement, that’s all, a gent of finesse and taste. But why would a grown man want a titty anyway? Why would he want to kiss and suck and bite and chew and nibble and sniff and lick and fondle a titty or a bra? Why would he want to fuck tits or baptize them with spratz or hold them in his hands and not let go? It made no sense, none of it. Enough already with the fucking thinking. I don’t do thoughts, your honor, I don’t do thoughts. Worse comes to worse, you get some fucking Grecian Formula, tie a sweater around your fucking neck, and that’s that. Yeah, Jabbo did that sometimes: went to sleep clutching the tit of a loved one. Hold on, Jabbo, don’t let go. The tit of a significant other. Hold on, Jabbo, don’t let go. The tit of a stranger. Hold on, Jabbo, don’t let go. It was nice. Real nice. Better out of the bra then. Nice and warm, soft but not too soft, the nipple nestled in the palm. With both hands on the wheel, Jabbo lay back his head, closed his eyes, and sang like a hillbilly. A hillbilly from Brooklyn. Ah’ll be yer braa-zeeer tuh-night. But now he liked to sleep alone. It was better that way: nothing in the hand, away from any other beating heart. Remember? That night? He was all fucked-up, his gums were bleeding, he didn’t know it. He got blood all over what’s-her-name’s tit. In the morning, she saw it. Told him how excited it made her, seeing it there, as if he’d bit her open, clawed her. She had him bite her hard then while she jerked off. Harder, she said, harder. Him biting her, sinking his teeth into her, his mouth parched, filled with the metallic taste of his own caked blood, and his tongue swollen, coated with the bilious scum of booze and smoke, and him dying for a drink, sick and shaking, tasting her blood and hearing her like something from hell and something from heaven at once. And she never spoke of it or asked him to do it again. Julie. Yeah. That was around the time of all those J’s. Two Julies. Janet. Judy. Sometimes he got confused. Grecian Formula. They even had that spray-paint shit now for the baldies. The highway narrowed to two lanes, a deserted ribbon of road that ran straight to the horizon through open fields of cold muddy ground and bleak dead grasses: a Lazarus earth, upon which light and shadow fell in violent passing waves from the wind-swept movement of billowing clouds across the sun. Jabbo bore down on the gas and wondered where the fuck he was. Copyright © 2007 by Nick Tosches, Inc.