Gary Lutz has the uncommon gift of being able to dig really damn deep into our vocabulary. But not too deep, or so deep that you have to rest a dictionary on your belly during a read.
It’s been awhile since we've had any new Lutz. We've had a lot of those who've learned from reading Lutz, but that's not the same thing. You can spot those who try to draw a worship bead on Lutz and it's like, "Thanks, guy. We miss that shit too, but we'll wait for him to put out a new one himself." You know? Lutz has the uncommon gift of being able to dig really damn deep into our vocabulary. But not too deep, or so deep that you have to rest a dictionary on your belly during a read. I don't think his point has ever been to make anyone feel dumb, a mistake many writers make who are showing off just for the sake of showing off. Lutz will take an unfamiliar word and place it in a context where you will know it by its neighbors. Or he'll put hints within the word itself. Or no, more like he uses words with hints already inside of them. Right? Yeah. Anyway, I just took a hit of something called… let me look… “sage sour” and am having some very strange thoughts. I’ll just tell you that the story below is from Divorcer, which is out now from Calamari Press, Derek White's fantastic venture of art and literature, and leave it at that. Oh yeah, I should also mention that it first appeared in Agricultural Reader #4, a DIY lit journal put out by Justin Taylor and Jeremy Schmall. It’s great too.
"Middleton" by Gary Lutz
For one reason or another, my wife, a baby-talking, all but uninterpreted woman only a couple of years older than I, died in one of those commuter-plane crashes that reporters were never sure what to do about. It happened on a day when the third of three famous people in a row had finally died, in this case some moody entertainer, and no one aboard the plane could have been anything other than worn out and morbid to begin with, and anyway my wife was not even a commuter: she had been flying across state to visit a stepsister, somebody more sturdy, who had taken sick after some apparently recreational uncertainty about a newly glued upper tooth.
The call came while I was on my own in the men’s room again at work. I had been relieving myself of some seed, something it no longer ever occurred to me to do at home, and after that, I remember a weekend of customized, ethnic condolences, soaked bouquets dropped off on the doorstep, then two nights of viewings that showed her off as a contented, slugabed beauty of a pierced and bony sort. The burial was put off to a Tuesday, a morning rounded with cloudages and gleams in a single packed but unclarifying hour. The minister, I thought, might have struck too possessive a note, and there was a banquet afterward in a rented hall where the stepsister, newly recovered and unruly, told me there were whole sides to my wife I had been blind to.
“I knew the core,” I said.
But by now I’ve forgotten whatever she said in return—something, I don’t doubt, about the core being the least fruited part, or the part least rotten, but the part you were going to be throwing out regardless.
My wife’s brother had been there, too, with those inexplicit teeth, that hair that looked knitted on, and dirigible aunts of hers, and the gushing but refusing arms on them, and the cousins in teasing sleeves, and fuller-witted meekling uncles, some nieces and trivial, bejeweled nephews sinking even further into excusable youth.
“You’re how old again?” one of them, legs milky in low-reaching shorts, said to me in the men’s room. He was angular over a sink.
“Fifty-fifty,” I said.
Death didn’t have any of the detergent effect I thought I had been led to expect. Things that had looked violently dirtied before looked even dirtier now, and there was a marital malodor to our place, but make no mistake: we had been lovers, my wife and I, meaning mostly that we had coated things and people with love, had used our love to cover things up, to see to it that layer after layer got put over everything. Not even once had we ever had to resort to any of the alarms and tender belittlements of sex. There had in fact been talk of divorce, but we talked about it the way other people talked about getting a pool or maybe just a pool table, even just the miniature kind that rests atop a regular table, even a card table. But the pool table would not have been for me, I always had to make clear. (I preferred brochures of things over the things brochured.) It wouldn’t have been for my wife, either. (My wife had gone in for besetting excellences of chocolate, and porcelain figurettes of comfortable-looking tomboys, and certain of those befrilled, hypoallergenic dogs that had to be addressed just so.)
So it was a clumsy way to go about living it up, maybe, and little of her had ever drained all that greateningly into me.
I had been making myself scarce by dozing away the morning she drove herself to the airport. The last thing I could remember from the night before was treating her to a foot-rub that must have felt practically abstract through the thick woolen socks she could not be brought around to taking off.
The Saturday after the funeral, some sort of small-business carnival was still going on at the county’s exhibition hall. I drove out to have a look at urgeful suburbal humanhood, stood in line at the ticket shanty. Ink from a stamp pad was splotted redly onto the back of my fisted hand. “Keep coming back all weekend,” the woman with the stamp pad said.
Inside, I made my way from booth to booth and looked for anyone who might have looked anything like my dead wife. My wife, thank goodness, had been merely a type, her body just another of many brightening recurrences of a fixed repertoire of feature, limb, and bone. (It had forever pained her to keep coming face to face with so many depleting forgeries of herself.)
So: loads of persons, mortals, existents, whatever you will, in undooming circulation under exposed beams, and in no time I found her, my wife, an unrelieved reinvigoration of her, in an accurate young man in perspiry repose behind a bug-bomb booth.
His hair an aloof dark uplift, but shortened to an incoherence around the ears.
One earring looking more like a button, the other like a cuff link.
The nose in overfleshed revolt against the rest of the flat, coping face: an even complexion requiring no adjustive tints or enlivenments, unbalancing brown eyes suddenly ablink, a suddenly opening mouth.
“I’ve known you?” the mouth must have been said to say, the voice coming out of the lukewarmth of a life obviously already padded with involvement, fulfillment, fatiguing praise.
I had to break some ice, the same ice, over and over (e.g.: “Sick yourself?”; “Life pointing you away from yourself?”; “Father still living at home?”; “Must it always look as if everything in creation has been positioned just to see whether you can keep your fingers off it?”), then brought him out to the house, fed him funeral fruit humbled into wedges and cubes, welcomed him into her wardrobe—first a shirtwaist that he drowned in just a little around the knees, then the cocktail thing in which he popped seam after seam. Things just got muddier and muddier in my heart, and then he must have found his way to me in some life of ours from there on out, every hour of it getting razored into ever keener minutes that could barely cut anything away.