Herewith is an excerpt from Shane Jones’ new novel The No Memory. This passage comes from a section labeled ‘memoir,’ in which he uses a new style—first person and contemporary; written in longer, winding sentences, which are more introspective and philosophical than in his past work. Although Shane Jones past writing has dwelled primarily in a fantasy realm, the new book takes on a more personal reality—his own. The narrator is Shane Jones, and the character ‘Melanie’ is his wife, in real life, and ‘Julian’ in the book, is his son in real life. This short passage gives us a tantalizing first look at his new novel, and glimpses into the development of Shane Jones’ craftsmanship. —Jason DeYoung
An Excerpt from Shane Jones’ The No Memory
At my father’s house I noticed the large wooden sculpture he had added onto for years. Nick and I jokingly referred to this as the, “burial ladders,” because there was something intrinsically morbid about them, purchased from a local gardening warehouse shortly after the death of our mother at fifty percent off. The components of the sculpture consisted of long tree branch like limbs that connected to a large round base. You could switch the branches out to change the shape of the sculpture, and also, you could buy additional limbs to attach to the other limbs. My father had hundreds. The final pieces he had proudly purchased for nearly ninety percent off, the clearance tags of which were still left on.
Before ringing the doorbell the cat named Horse ran up the driveway and began zigzagging between and around our legs and we let Julian pet his first animal to which he had absolutely no response. Melanie took twenty pictures on her phone and I took another ten, most of which I later deleted not because they were bad pictures but because they were difficult to judge through the cracks in the screen. A few of the photos I emailed to Melanie’s phone because I thought they were good. I had decided to use the phone until it, “completely fell apart,” the exact words I had said to Melanie after she told me to get a new phone, that no one would use a cracked phone for more than a few days.
After meeting Julian and seeing my father tear up for the first time since my mother passing, since he told the story about being in New York as a very young man and crying in a bar in Manhattan, I asked how Nick was and he said that I needed to sit down, that something had happened, and he wanted to wait to tell me because he thought the situation would solve itself with time but it hadn’t. There was an odd moment where Melanie stood rocking Julian in her arms and I stood looking at Melanie before we sat on the couch to receive the news.
According to my father, yesterday, my brother, Nick, who lived in Washington D.C., had finished his days work as a lawyer working for a non-profit, I forgot the name, who fought larger companies on environmental issues, most recently, I remembered Nick telling me how he was working on a case involving “sky law,” that is, certain companies were buying the air above other buildings in congested cities because the only way to grow was upward, and these companies were buying up the air, most likely, illegally. He enjoyed the job and worked long hours, if I remember correctly, but on this day, according to my father, he finished his work three hours early and had told his boss, who my father had recently spoken with, that he wasn’t feeling well and left the building. He hadn’t taken a sick day in two years.
Between him leaving the building and calling his wife, Tago, my brother had experienced some kind of mental failing, not an upset stomach, which he had told his boss was the reason for him leaving, but something stranger and more troublesome involving his vision. Wandering the streets of D.C. he had made one phone call, to Tago, saying he was on his way to the hospital because while working his computer screen had become scrambled, that is, and this is according to Tago and through my father, half his computer screen, the words, numbers, and color coded Excel spreadsheet cells began falling down the screen. When my brother looked at his keyboard it was upside down and the left side, the same side of his screen that was crumbling, was also falling downward. Even when he stood up and looked around his office, the entire left side of his vision – cubicles, printers, coffee maker, stacked white boxes of paper, lawyers in suits, were dripping and vanishing into the floor. He also said he felt a tremendous tightening in his chest, but not on the side of his heart, and he was sweating so much that one of his co-workers asked him moments before he left if he had been doing push-ups in his cubicle, which he thought odd because he had never once done push-ups in his cubicle before. Outside, when Tago asked him if his vision was still acting this way, he said yes, that as he was talking the buildings in his view – he didn’t want to look down and see people cascading into the street – were trickling down the left side of his eye. Also, everything he was saying, to him, sounded like talking underwater, and before he hung up, after telling Tago to meet him at the hospital, he could walk because it was only three blocks away, he mentioned swimming in the lake as a child where he nearly drowned under the legs of my father, that the sound he was making while talking was identical to the sound he had made while struggling under water, years ago. My brother never showed up at the hospital, and after Tago contacted both the hospital and the police they had no record of him ever making it to the hospital or knew of his whereabouts.
“Are the police looking for him?” asked Melanie.
“Haven’t heard from anyone,” said my father. “Just the phone call with Tago. I’m sure everything will be fine. Could have stayed at a friend’s house. People leave, come back, leave again, and come back again. I really think it will be okay.”
“Have you tried calling him?”
“It doesn’t make sense. Where could he be?”
He didn’t answer this question and my first impulse was to pull my phone from my pocket and dial my brother’s number, which I did, to no answer.
That my father wasn’t more concerned or worried, or hadn’t contacted me immediately didn’t surprise me because the family consistently functioned in a “it will be fine, it is what it is, things have a way of working out” mindset for generations, and things like reflection, introspection, the emotional mining of oneself, was a last resort and rarely, if ever, used, because it was easier to imagine a future where everything worked out rather than sit with the difficult present situation, which I understood, because I was also guilty of thinking this way throughout my entire adult life.
We didn’t discuss it further. I watched my father hold Julian and in the viewing saw how he, as a father, hand interacted with me, and I felt moved by both the image before me and what I imagined.
“Before you go,” said my father. “I still need help with the window.”
Every time I visited home, and Nick and I would share similar stories, my father had a task for us, usually involving lifting furniture, putting loaned construction equipment back in his van, or moving landscaping rocks from one area of the property to the other. Helping my father install a window wouldn’t have bothered me if it wasn’t for the fact that before arriving, while dressing Julian, Melanie had asked, “I wonder what he’ll have you do this time. You always do what he tells you to do.” I hadn’t told her that he had, in fact, asked for my help on installing the window and was the original reason to visit, not Julian. It wasn’t an unkind comment, just accurate, and became even more poignant when I was in fact bending over and preparing to lift the window, my father telling me multiple times to, “life with my legs,” demonstrating by bouncing up and down while crouched and to which I said, “Okay, I’m ready.”
While lifting what was a ridiculously large window into the empty space of the older window, the two of us struggling for a lengthy time because it wouldn’t fit, I made eye contact through the window and at Melanie sitting on the couch, breastfeeding Julian, giving me a look that said yes, she was right, my family always did this, it was true, she was always right and very smart, and I thought how at a young age my brother and I had helped our father with dozens, if not hundreds, of tasks including building a greenhouse for mother’s plants, stacking rocks into a retaining wall for aesthetic purposes, and to the wonder and awe of our neighbors, installing a skylight with my brother and I unharnessed on the roof, all these details distant memories that I expanded with fantasy, and, while holding the window, I told myself to stop, just be present, look around and absorb.
After the window was put into place my father had me hold the window so he could run inside and begin installing screws around the perimeter of the frame. Through the window I watched him enter the house, brush his boots on the carpet, jog around the staircase, and before walking the three steps down to where the window sat, where I stood holding the window, he twisted his ankle and fell.
Because Melanie had Julian she couldn’t do anything but stand up, walk over, and look at my father on the floor, and I couldn’t do anything, even though I felt, for some reason, the window was sturdy enough to sit in the frame by itself unfastened, because I was holding the window, scared that if I left my place the window would fall inward and crush my father. So the three of us – Melanie, Julian, and I – stood watching my father lay crumpled on the floor, holding his ankle, grinning in pain. He said several times, “I’m fine,” before standing on one leg.
Seeing my father fall triggered a mix of emotions, mainly that I too was growing older, that my balding head, recent move into fatherhood, signaled a certain progress. I’ve always felt, and I think this is the case for other son’s as well, that growing up with a handy-man type of father gave him a sense of invincibility, a super hero like quality. A father as know-all. A father who could fix anything physically so that translated into fixing the future, which wasn’t true at all. So to see him fall, to lose control and experience hurt, was difficult to process. I was also viewing an older version of myself hobbling on one leg while drilling screws into the wood, and looking up, and through the window, viewing Melanie holding my son, a future me who would no doubt one day fall himself in a similar fashion. I felt sick to my stomach and wanted to leave as soon as possible.
On the drive home I had Melanie call Nick again but still no answer. She asked what I was going to do and I said I wasn’t sure, maybe call Tago and ask her for an update. Melanie said she was worried about me. It caught me off guard, but she stated, with specific examples, how I had recently not been present in our life, including aimlessly walking around the apartment, entering rooms only to stand there, opening the refrigerator dozens of times a day and never grabbing anything, not talking for entire days, and withdrawing completely in social situations, my facial expression comparable to a “computer on standby,” she said. I assured her I hadn’t felt better in years and internally, keeping the words far inside, watching the clouds fill the windshield with a feathery gray, thought how she and the birth of Julian had saved me from a life of fantasy, a life I could never quite grasp because nothing was solid when living inside it. I told her I was aware of my surroundings and not mixing the ideas inside my head with what I was truly seeing. She looked at me, unimpressed. I assured her I was present; that I cherished and understood every moment with her and Julian, and this was the life I wanted to be living.
That night I gave Julian a bath for the first time. Melanie had done it every night since his birth, but I wanted to do it now. He was small enough to fit in the sink. I ran a trickle of water onto his stomach and in tiny circles, with just my fingertips, I applied soap to his arms. I couldn’t grasp the fact he could fit in a sink and at the polar opposite imagined my tall and hairy form in the shower, mindlessly moving through another cleaning. But this bath, so simple and innocuous, a task he would never remember, to Julian, was astonishing. He smiled and trembled and we made eye contact.
Using my thumb, I traced a horizontal line across his chest because I was born with a skeletal defect and I wanted to see if Julian had it but I couldn’t tell. His chest felt even, normal, flat, with a hummingbird heartbeat. I wondered, not for the first time, if Julian looked more like Melanie or more like me, and in this moment, felt one hundred percent positive he looked one hundred percent like Melanie, that, in fact, there was no resemblance of me whatsoever in his face or body, which wasn’t as depressing as it first seemed, that he had inherited her genes, mine too weak to take hold while he formed inside Melanie, that he wouldn’t inherit my body or mind, because it gave me a sense of relief.
“Son’s become more like their fathers as they grow older,” Frank, my co-worker had told me while we both ate pizza during our lunch break. “If you have a son, just wait and see, it’s something I can’t explain, but they come out looking like girls, and acting like girls, but then they start resembling you, and even, acting like you. Is your father alive?”
“Yes,” I said.
“Are you like him?”
“I am. We cross our legs the same way. We forget things. Sometimes, when I’m just sitting and eating and watching television, I imagine him sitting and eating and watching television in exactly the same way, just in a different setting, ten miles away.”
“Yeah, that, that’s what I’m talking about,” said Frank.
“I wonder how many people are eating pizza right now,” I said. “Like, if you removed the walls and windows from all the offices, how many people would look just like us, eating pizza in an office break room.” I said this lightly, and in what I thought was a joking fashion, but Frank answered seriously and in rapid-fire, “A million.”
The defect: on the left side of my chest, above and near my heart, my chest bone has a slight eruption, a protrusion of bone that is only noticeable from certain angles. Around other children, during the summer, I spent my days with my left forearm glued over my heart. There is no medical name for this from what I can tell, but once, as a child, I sat in a hospital room, at Samaritan Hospital, the last place my mother wanted to be, with two doctors and half a dozen medical students who said it was a, “retardation,” and I remember the crinkle paper under my legs and I remember holding back tears as they took turns touching and measuring the bone between their C shaped fingers. I kept thinking, I’m a retard now, and how if other kids learned this, saw my defect, they would call me a retard forever. One of the doctor’s said they could, “saw it off” and my mother said, “You mean just ground it down?” and the doctor replied, rather meanly, “We aren’t butchers here.”
After the medical students exited the room, for another patient, in another room, who I could hear vomiting through the wall we shared, the doctor explained how I wasn’t completely retarded, more of a defect in my growth, a kind of partial retardation. This backtracking didn’t help. My mother, defensive, asked if it was her fault, was it a birth defect because she ate sushi once on a date with my father in New York. He said no while grinning, I could tell he was still irritated by the butcher comment, and said that although the defect was seeded in birth, the defect itself grew as I grew into a more adult version of myself, so it wasn’t noticeable at a young age, say three or four, but as a twelve year old my body had undergone enough spurts to form the protrusion and become unavoidable.
Sitting on the hospital table, I was terrified to learn that as I was growing so too was a non-uniform skeleton. I felt alone, and later that week, during school, one of my friends asked if my heart was too big and I said what, no, why, and he pointed to the bone. It was the first time anyone other than myself standing in different angles before the bathroom mirror, or my mother, or the doctors, had pointed it out, and from then on something changed, a kind of new viewing of myself and how I moved through my life.
Julian looked perfect in the sink, happy to discover the feeling of water dripping on his belly. I tried not to imagine any fault in his body as a result of what was inside me, and in that thought, I imagined the damages one occurs over a life, both mentally and physically. I imagined how everyone was once a baby with zero fault whatsoever inside them and how over the years life became a series of defects, bumps and zigzags and unfamiliar footing in a world both dream and nightmare. I thought about all the drab faces in an office or public transportation, and as a way of dealing with the images, I imagined everyone as babies riding the 10 bus along Western Ave, to downtown Albany, how each person would be the baby version of themselves, sitting in a narrow seat looking out the window, laughing or crying, not holding anything in, several of the babies attempting, and failing, to eat slices of pizza. I grabbed a towel and carefully lifted Julian from the sink.
Before trying to sleep I silenced my phone and in doing so noticed my father was calling. I walked back into the bathroom, closed the door, and answered it. I had left the faucet on, from earlier when bathing Julian, and quickly turned it off. My father told me he had put out wet cat food but Horse hadn’t appeared, that he waited nearly half an hour, calling “here kitty kitty kitty” in what I could hear, there in the bathroom, as a high-pitched motherly tone, but the cat hadn’t responded. He said he had walked inside, drank a glass of milk and ate five cookies, and before bed checked the cat food again to find it empty, but no sign of Horse. He had walked past the food, into the driveway, again calling “here kitty kitty kitty.”
“What do you want me to do,” I whispered.
“Why are you whispering,” he said, and in asking, whispered himself.
“Because, Julian and Melanie are trying to sleep in the back room.”
“Oh,” he whispered. “Anyways, there’s no Horse, he’s gone missing now too.”
“Okay,” I whispered. I was watching myself in the mirror, making sure I held the phone at my ear and my mouth, not eye level. I rolled the skin back and forth over my heart bone. I stood facing myself, then sideways, then again facing myself, talking to my father, my son in a room directly two rooms behind the mirror. I watched myself talking on the phone, how my mouth moved, and the way my eyes randomly widened and narrowed depending on what word I said.
“I wonder if he’s still working on those sky law cases. What a world. Listen, I think you should go down there. Talk to Tago. Get some answers.”
“Get some answers?”
“I have a feeling something awful is going to happen.”
“Okay,” I whispered. “Let me think about it.”
“Thanks. I’m sure he’s fine.”
“But how can you say that if you think something awful is going to happen?”
“Because, I just can.”
“I can understand that,” I said.
I would travel to D.C. at the wish of my father to understand what was happening. I thought how ridiculous and unbelievable it was to be alive in the world, and wondered how other people did it, how they woke up and lived each day, what was it like for them? I walked to the sunroom where I peeked in to see Julian, unblemished and clean, wrapped in a red towel, asleep and on top of Melanie who was starring out the window at the stars, her chest, Julian, rising and falling, rising and falling, in a system of life.
Shane Jones is a novelist, short story writer, essayist, and poet. He has published three novels, two books of poetry, and one novella. His books include: Light Boxes, The Failure, Six Daniel Fights a Hurricane, Paper Champion and Crystal Eaters. Two of Shane Jones’ novels have been review in Numéro Cinq. Those reviews can be found here and here.