Issue 5: Independent vs. Representative Voice
A Publication of the USF MFA in Writing Program


Jay Barmann

"Well, aren't you a funny little man!" the woman says.  
And because I am neither a man, nor especially funny — not funny like Dad, certainly, or the misappropriation of cultural memes, or monkeys — I hold firm to the tray rim of my high chair and shake my head vigorously.  
"Didja hear that, Lucille? He doesn't think he's little."  
And to this idiocy I shake my head with even greater vigor and a growing look of disgust because the woman has once again chosen knee-jerk assumption over inquisitive analysis.  
"What do you have for us today?" she asks with an expectant, moronic grin.  
I lower my eyes to the floor. She does not expect much of philosophical worth to emit from these lips. But today I'm not tapping to her tune. "This," I say, holding out my palm.  
She leans over to examine my small, stubby hand and I slap her squarely across the mouth, a dollop of spittle arcing across the room and smacking against the china cabinet door, which, in turn, shudders and creaks. "Ha!" I say.  
"What on earth was that for?" she says, mock-appalled.  
"That was for every time you have reduced the astonishing complexity of human life to one of your bored clichés, and found comfort in it."  
"But I'm not a thinker, you know that. It scares me when I'm forced to navigate gray areas by myself."  
"Case in point: gray areas. Couldn't you have come up with some more original phrase than 'gray areas.'  The portent of our very existence is threatened every time you rely on stock phrases instead of plumbing your imagination for a unique perspective."  
"But honestly, do you really expect that there are enough original perspectives to go around? How many perspectives do we need? I'm happy just to listen sometimes, you know? You have such a way with words. We can't all be so lucky."  
"You're right on there, sister," I say. "Will you pass me my smokes?"  
She plucks a cigarette from the pack of Luckies on the counter and hands it to me. "I suppose you want a light, too."  
"I don't see myself getting out of this high chair."  
She digs through her purse, which clanks like a junk drawer, and removes a lighter.   
"Now you know how I feel about the slapping. Was that really necessary?" she asks, sparking me up, trying her damndest to sound motherly and succeeding in only a whiff of Mildred Pierce.  
"Yes," I say. "There is a moment when violence is all that will do. We're only human after all."  
"Yes, but isn't all violence of a kind, violence begetting more violence, etc?"  
"That's a bunch of hippie shit if you ask me," I say. "Have you ever been forced to watch your own child raped and gutted?    
"No," she says, "but what comes out of that little bum of yours can get pretty violent. Sometimes I wonder if it will ever end."  
"There are acts of cruelty for which there is no rational response possible."  
"You want a drink?" she asks. "It's almost cocktail hour."  
"It's one-thirty," I say.  
"Your point?" she says, and I trace a U in the air with three fingers in a gesture of surrender.  
Then through the open back door saunters my only companion worth his weight in semiotics: Rufus, tail a-wag.  
"Well, hello Rufus. Did you do your business?" she asks, and Rufus and I roll our eyes in tandem.    
"Yes, woman," he says, heading for his water bowl, "I closed three deals today and exposed a City Councilman as an extortionist and pedophile."  
"Oh my," she says. "Big day."  
"Fix me a drink, will you?"  
"I'm making Fuzzy Navels."  
"Make mine a Cutty Sark. Where's my lunch?"  
"You can't talk to me like that, you know. We're living in an age of reason and equality."  
"Equality my ass," he says. "Were you looking for equality when I fucked you like a dog last night?"  
"Please…not in front of the baby."  
"Oh, like he isn't aware of our little arrangement."  
"There is such a thing as a mutually agreed upon code of silence between family," I say, not sure whether it matters but making gestures today, for the sake of whimsy, in the direction of conservatism.  
"Well, anyway, I fucked your mother like a dog last night, and so did George, and the whole time she begged me to call her a monkey-humping slut."  
"Since when did George start showing up for favors at three in the morning anyway?" I say, referring to our simian neighbor with the tree-house.  
"He gets curious. He can hear your mother's noises and he swings on over to join the fun. Monkeys got no morals."  
Thoroughly amused and titillated as I always am by Dad (he likes it when I call him that), I sip my Fuzzy Navel and contemplate how best to begin my latest project: a treatise on the distinction between the surreal and the absurd in contemporary American letters.  
"How's about we all go to a movie," Rufus suggests, and I nod enthusiastically.  
"I was thinking of an 'art' picture," I say. "Some leaves and twigs taped to celluloid with a dissonant score. Or something high camp. Perhaps involving Patty Duke."  
"Oh, I loved her on that show," mother says. "Where did Lucille go anyway?"  
"She disappeared out the window around the time you lit my cigarette."  
"Her loss," she says. "I was supposed to fix the hinge on her headgear."  
"I think we should spend more time together," I say. "Family life isn't dead and I propose a sort of performance piece in which we skewer the idea. What some call the accelerated loss of innocence I call the fast track to wisdom."  
"Yeah. You. Wise. I get it," Rufus says, and tosses back his Cutty. "I don't know about you guys, but I could go for some pizza and porn."  
"That sounds like a marvelous idea," mother says. "Should we order in?"  
"Nah, I like to go to the cinema, the one with the one-legged roper at the door and the sticky floors. The experience is somehow richer there."  
"I agree," I say. "Will someone please just change my diaper first? I've been wallowing in my own excrement for the last half hour."  
"Your turn," Rufus says, and the woman looks at me like she didn't know this was coming.  
"We all need to be a little more accepting of these inevitabilities," I say. "You know, dark matter. The larger order, or lack thereof."  
"I believe in a god called chaos," she says, and flips me over for a satisfying wipe.  
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