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Vice Blog

FRIDAY TYRANT - EUGENE MARTEN'S FIREWORK

by VICE Staff
Sep 24 2010, 4:08pm

You know when you get shit-faced drunk and start going down on your girl and you're going in and out of consciousness, in and out of dreams, until you get sick and barf all up in her snatch? Hate when that happens. Here is that scene rendered by Eugene Marten. You might have heard of Marten before from his books Waste and In the Blind. Marten's most recent novel, Firework, was published by Tyrant Books this summer and this piece should be enough of a catalyst for you to pick up a copy. Without any further introductions, here it is. Enjoy.

The girl Jelonnek lived with asked him what he was doing. He wasn't sure. He couldn't see her. Something he hadn't done before. He couldn't taste or smell, he'd had enough. They were in the way. His neck hurt from holding his head just so. He tried to move them with his tongue. Maybe there was a better way. Something he didn't usually do.

It scratched, she said. She wasn't cooperating. He was doing all the work, but didn't he want it that way?

What was he doing? she asked. She really didn't seem to know. He passed out. He passed out with his face in her cunt and as if seeing it there saw the house he grew up in, the bleak fortress of hate it had become. Fenced, curtained, overgrown, painted a dull green even his dreams could not refine. A car drove by out front. A man was pitched out of the car, bleeding. His leg had been cut off at the knee. They threw his hat out after him but kept his leg. The man got up on one foot and Jelonnek asked him if there was anything he could do. His voice was thin, weak, like he really didn't mean to be heard. The man didn't answer. He put his hat back on and hopped off toward the store at the corner as if this were remedy enough.

The old man had sold the house to the people across the street. They weren't going to live there, they would rent it out. It was said they were doing this to prevent a certain element from moving in.

Jelonnek had taken the girl he lived with there just before the old man sold it, when he'd announced he was leaving. At first they sat in the kitchen. "You know about the Siegfried Line?" the old man kept asking her. He kept touching her arm. His hands were claws, his hair synthetic fiber, brand-new. The old one had been made of actual human hair, Asian or Indian, but they stripped it before they dyed it and it wound up looking faker than the fake. Beneath this gaudy fiction the curve of his skull had broadened, his spine had settled, barrel-trunk thickened, legs now skinny and hairless. His hands were claws. They got away from him sometimes, emphatically tapping words like nails into the tabletop, touching her arm.

They'd mixed mortar and dug trenches for the Germans, fired the turret gun of a tank for the British. Worked in a bayonet factory.

"She don't know what's the Siegfried Line." The old man grinned at Jelonnek with satisfaction. With mortar, cinderblock, barbed wire. Escape.

There was an aura of permanent flatulence about him. Grease stains on the kitchen walls. He washed dishes in cold water, never turned on a light before sundown.

"Artrytis," the old man said, and told them he was retiring to Florida after thirty years of cold-rolling steel, thirty winters in this notch of the Rust Belt. The sun would straighten his hands; they'd unfolded the brochures. They'd knocked down bearing walls, raised the roof and added rooms till no one seeing the house from the street could believe the space inside. Laid the red deep-pile in the living room, tore down a garage and built another one, planted pear trees, apple trees, plum trees in the backyard. Build a go-cart and a crossbow at Christmas when money was short or he was just reluctant to part with it, slaughtered the rabbits his children thought were pets.

They'd use whatever was handy. Board, pipe, hose, strap. Themselves.

"But just think if I was a Jew."

He was born Catholic but a bomber crashed into the morning Mass his parents were attending on the first day of the invasion. Religion, he told her, touching her, was as useless to him as professional sports. Or art. His brother had been a painter. One of his oils hung in the living room: a boy and girl gathering mushrooms in a forest. Wolves lurking. Across the room the sun always setting, a blazing orange wallpaper mural hung by the hands that had installed the imitation fireplace, devised tinfoil armatures to simulate the crackle of burning logs, anchored the chandelier so securely in the ceiling it had supported the weight of his wife when she hung herself from it.

She was a small woman. When he spoke Polish he was still talking to her.

It was too cold to go outside. The old man could barely read or write. He lived alone.

"You know about Monte Cassino?" he said. He asked Jelonnek again what it was called when you chased Black Velvet with beer.

"How about let's have a boilermaker?" he said, and they went back into his kitchen. The bottle came out then, the cans, the photo album with the yellowing pictures and their quaint scalloped borders. The old man leaked stories, tears, gas; he couldn't help himself. It was nothing Jelonnek hadn't smelled before. He knew the stories that made the pictures and were made by them, and the old man would tell it till he was wet-eyed and wordless, then resolved with yet another shot, another chaser, what passed for a happy ending, and this was the only part he and Jelonnek still shared.

Monte Cassino. Mussolini hanging upside-down with his mistress. Wrecked fuselage of a German dive bomber--they had whistles in the wings to terrify. Some of them hand-tinted, the old man and his brother in red berets. They'd crossed the ocean together but Jelonnek's uncle had stayed up north to pursue painting and an early death from alcohol poisoning. He was still twenty-seven, had left Jelonnek nothing but his first name.

The picture had slipped under the table, and then things got tricky. Jelonnek on his hands and knees. He hit his head. He wasn't sure how he'd ended up alone. He must have crawled under the table to retrieve the picture of his uncle. Unless it was the real estate brochure, the booklet on synthetic fiber. He looked for her legs. He remembered kind of liking it where he was, but not whether he'd hit his head crawling under, or getting out of there when he heard the girl he lived with scream.

He ran upstairs. The sun porch was a narrow box of afternoon light. The heat was off but it wasn't cold.

"Why something has to happened?" The old man sounded like he really wanted to know, but why was he standing so far from her? The wig slightly askew, the part aimed off at an angle as if to divert. Jelonnek's voice throbbed in his skull.

"The sun just felt so good," she said. "All these windows."

The old man put the bottle on a sill. That sound a corner of liquor makes. The light in the rest of the room the same color.

"He just startled me. I just didn't her him coming."

"See? She even says."

Jelonnek touched his scalp where the pain was, feeling for a bump or a cut. He felt both.

"So what the big deal is about?" The old man produced glasses out of nowhere. "What's about a boilermaker?"

"Oh my God," she said. Something trickled down Jelonnek's temple.

"What you did to yourself?" the old man said.

Synthetic fiber, the booklet said, though lacking the body and tensile strength of pure Caucasian, is not only cheaper and more durable, but also colorfast; protected from excessive moisture, light, and other agents of time, its subtle shades and natural tints will neither blend nor fade.

"Is there any iodine?" the girl who lived with Jelonnek said.

Then she was no longer asking him what he was doing, but "What the hell did you do?"

He lifted his head, tried to pull himself up. She put her foot in in his chest. He felt himself pushed up, back and out, tried to grab her ankle but was already falling backward off the bed, landing hard and loud on the floor in front of the headboard while the guy downstairs yelled and she pounded down the hall to the bathroom to clean his retched dreams out from inside her.

Click here to order Firework.