Lightning, God, rocks, an eternally smouldering corpse, and a giant mother are the furniture of this spectacularly macabre and hilarious short story from R. W. Gray’s first collection Crisp, which I discovered just a couple of months ago while reading books for the Danuta Gleed Literary Award (Crisp was a finalist). First, the coincidence: I actually met Rob Gray two years ago in Mark Jarman’s house in Fredericton, New Brunswick, but it did not register with me at the time that he was a writer of such gifts and charm. (Goes to show, I guess, but what?) Second, the literary refs: I love the giant woman, the smouldering car. Obviously, we are not in the world of the real, possibly the world of the Real (in the Lacanian sense). The giant mother is, of course, a descendant of Rabelais’ giants, also a relative of the mysteriously enlarging giantess in Robert Coover’s novel John’s Wife (gorgeous novel: the giant woman saves the sheriff from a forest fire by peeing on him) and even the giant pig that takes over the house in Flann O’Brien’s amazing little book The Poor Mouth. This story has, as Mark Jarman writes, “verve and swing.” It’s a pleasure to present it on Numéro Cinq. (And you can buy the book here.)
R. W. Gray was born and raised on the northwest coast of British Columbia, and received a PhD in Poetry and Psychoanalysis from the University of Alberta in 2003. He is the author of two serialized novels in Xtra West magazine and has published poetry in various journals and anthologies, including Arc, Grain, Event, and dANDelion. He also has had ten short screenplays produced, including Alice & Huck and Blink. He currently teaches Film at the University of New Brunswick in Frederiction. Crisp is his first book.
By R. W. Gray
It’s Tuesday and our father has packed the trunk of his rusty blue car. I am seven, my brother Randy is five, and we’re both standing on the porch and what neither of us says out loud is that we’re relieved. We watch him load the last of his stuff in the car. The lamp with the tassels from the living room, and his dining room chair, the one with the arms. Now there will be only three chairs left. I think to myself that the lamp and chair are signs he isn’t coming back. He’s taking everything he could need. Then I see a storm in the South bunching up where the highway and the horizon meet and I worry this is a sign he’s going to stay. I tetherball back and forth this way.
Randy stands and stares. He grips a rock in his right hand and I wonder if he’s going to throw it. I say nothing to him. I’m not a very good older brother. Mom pushes the screen door open and stands between us. Her left hand is over her mouth, her right hand props her elbow to keep her mouth in place. I can hear the thunder now. I want to call to Father as he opens the door, say maybe he should wait out the storm. But he nods before I can and gets in. The car shudders, a plume of blue smoke erupting towards us on the steps. He doesn’t wait for it to warm up, just backs up then the car moves forward and away. His left arm reaches out the window and waves a slow wave. Thunder again, and I look up to the rain suddenly falling on my bare face, the storm here already, like it just remembered it should rain and is making up for lost time. She starts to cry then, our mom. Maybe she thinks the rain will hide her tears, the telltale red of her run-ragged eyes. Or maybe she doesn’t care.
We watch him drive the half-mile down to the end of the driveway, driving into the storm, the clouds mud grey and the lightning cracking in the big sky. His car stops at the highway. He doesn’t signal. The car idles, long enough for me to think maybe he’ll turn around and come back. Maybe he’s thinking about Randy and me. How we need a father. One one thousand. Two one thousand. What’s he waiting for?
A bolt of lightning rips through the air above the highway, smites Father’s rust-pocked blue car and it explodes as the gas tank turns electric. Mother’s hand flies off her mouth and she lets out a strange animal shriek; she starts to laugh, everything tumbling out of her mouth at once. She had been nagging him for weeks to get the gas tank fixed. It was leaking gas everywhere. The back seats, the carpet, were wet with it. So it could have been the car cigarette lighter that pops clear of the dash when ember hot. But I prefer to think it was the lightning, that God has something to do with it. Because only God can smite things.
Mom’s face clinches red and raw in the rain, the laughter spilling out of her a little angry then a little sad then a little angry, and on and on. I see Randy look down. Yellow liquid running down her legs from her short denim shorts. She’s peeing herself, a yellow puddle forming around her bare feet on the deck. The rain’s falling harder now, splashing the urine. Randy looks like he’s going to say something but I give him a full force look. I give him the look that he and I both understand means just look at the horizon, look at the smoldering metal of our father. We are rocks, Randy, just look at the horizon.
What if he’s still alive? I take a step forward, a lurch.
Continue reading »