His writing lacked precision.
Certainly he was able to describe a place, a time or a face to be recognizable, but to model a sentence to unambiguously characterise one specific human being, his style left a lot to be desired. While his razor-sharp account on all the nooks and crannies in an old Spanish ladies' leathery nostrils was bonhomous and facetious, it still didn't suffice for a prospective – oh, who was he kidding, a potential, but as of yet imaginary – reader to not simply understand her as an archetype, a collection of traits to describe a subset of Spain-based elderly folks for whom the defective nose served as a mere signifier. Not by all means was this the only reason why he decided to remove this woman from his story altogether, deleting all allusions to her as he parsed through his script. Another cause he based this extinguishing on was the ease with which he was able to erase her – she served no narrative nor stylistic purpose in any passage despite having been referenced over a thousand times, an appropriate number of mentions for the main character she had been intended to be.
He had spent some thoughts on his story's worth without a protagonist, but had also quickly recognized that not a single strong passage his story contained lost any of its identity regardless whether he worked up the gumption to remove his grandmother from the text or not, and because her removal meant so little for the story overall, he now wondered whether he had ever known anything about his grandmother except for the qualities that made her an archetypal elderly Spanish lady with furrowed and sun-tanned skin. And while he, with ease, still recalled her voice, which had always sounded like a slightly rusty door hinge in dire need of lubrication, and her surprisingly keen, distinctly sky-blue eyes, nothing like the watery, fatigued, muzzy remains so many elderly housed in their eye sockets, he failed at the most basic task to translate his synaesthetic memory of her into an unmistakable reading experience that, of all things, he had intended as her biography. This short story that, like many of its kind before, in his mind was his chance to break into more interesting literary circles – however he knew from the beginning that this chance was not meant to ever manifest and that his writing most likely would have been printed, if at all, in one of these locally published anthologies that only ever had one edition, half of which would be directly sent to the authors themselves to popularise the publisher among their friends and family because the publishers themselves had no idea of marketing whatsoever, but all of those involved would think of themselves as too good for self-publishing of any kind.
He still had twenty-five copies of six different anthologies rotting in the basement. One of the only people he ever gifted these embarrassing books to had been his grandmother, who would always read them front to back and would always ask the same question on the phone afterwards: "Why are you doing this to yourself, hun?"
He took another look at his writing, read a passage here, a passage there, and realized that the story had fallen apart. While he had failed to incorporate his grandmother into even one paragraph in a way that was meaningful or interesting, without her gluing the different storylines together, he now was stuck with a fascinating description of Spain in the late 1940s, a lengthy chapter about his grandmother's studies in Italy that sounded like a particularly clichéd Bukowski short, the changing family dynamics of the late sixties and seventies, some closing chapters about a neighbor his grandmother had befriended in the early nineties that felt like a low-tier sci-fi plot mixed with an afternoon TV dramedy, and finally a few paragraphs about a family's reaction to the slow and painful death of a loved one whose name had never been mentioned before. Without her, her life lacked coherence, but other than that, apparently she had added nothing to it. The sudden realisation that his grandmother had been little more than a passive passenger in a life much larger and far more interesting than her, a life that had largely happened entirely without her, left him puzzled. Once he had overcome his initial shock, he made futile attempts at extracting a moral from this experience, as if this revelation carried any meaning on a larger scale that maybe he could hint at in the book's introduction. He was definitely a gifted writer of platitudes and with a potentially universal truth as jarring as this, he couldn't be imprecise enough, but he had never considered himself a conceptual writer by any means. Coming up with a biography without a protagonist was brilliant. He wasn't brilliant. He wanted to secure a deal with a publisher to write somewhat interesting books about things that happened in the real world without ever having to deal with the bigger questions that ailed conceptual writers. He had read them with a passion and he was terrified of becoming one of them. Also he was very aware that without a much more impressive publishing history, backed up by some critics who identified him as one of those writers, he would never be able to convince any agent that this was actually conceptual and not simply terribly written, bad and unfocused storytelling.
It was getting light outside. This didn't mean he had worked for any mentionable amount of time, as he always started writing when the night was already fairly advanced. And because it was a weekend, he didn't have any commitments that couldn't be postponed, which had led to him turning on his laptop even later than usual. No matter how dear to his heart a story was, he barely ever started working on anything before 3 or 4 o'clock in the morning, when oftentimes the sun was already rising again as he was most productive during the summer months. He had convinced his friends that he was a night owl instead of a master procrastinator afraid of his own ideas which were much too big for both his head and his ability, to a point at which he almost believed it himself.
Nonetheless it getting light outside meant that he had to go to sleep in a few hours if he didn't intend to thoroughly disturb his circadian clock yet again, and as he was on the cusp of feeling tired, he decided to scrap the masterpiece he had at hand, but couldn't do anything with, and extract the two genre pieces he could identify that would make for decent additions to his anthology career: Bukowksi in Italy and the sci-fi neighbour dramedy.
The neighbour story was the easier one, a side story most writers wouldn't even have mentioned in a serious biography that he could easily turn into a page turner if he isolated it from the complexities of the life it had taken place in.
His grandmother, then aged 65 and recently widowed, had befriended a young man who lived one floor downstairs. They probably had an affair as well, but his grandmother had never specified of what nature her relationship with this 22 year old man had been. Some photographs that depicted him, his grandmother and his grey parrot on her shoulder were in a photo album she liked to produce from under her coffee table whenever she retold this particular tale, but at times she had given her grandson the impression that she merely delighted in him thinking she would have an affair with a handsome, innocent-looking youngster that was still working on his B.A. back when they first met. This had kept him from being too graphic in his description of their entire friendship, as he didn't know whether their kisses should have been on the cheek or the brow or the mouth, and so he had stuck almost entirely to describing the young man and his surroundings through his grandmother's eyes, but without her intervening in any of the things that happened except when absolutely necessary. It was about fifty pages in length and the fact that it seemed simply brilliant bothered him because he knew how accidental that had happened. Written by David Foster Wallace, he would have loved this little tale. Written by him, he could barely reread a full paragraph without feeling ashamed and embarrassed at himself.
He had written that the young man never quite wanted to invite his grandmother into his apartment even though he visited hers regularly and, when questioned, answered that this was due to his roommate not liking any visitors. So his grandmother started to take a while longer to get up the stairs or when fetching her mail to somehow accidentally bump into this housemate and convince him that the nice young man couldn't just spend all of his spare time alone with him forever.
It was excruciatingly hard to find out whether she did this because she was aboveboardedly alarmed since the young man apparently denied the door to everybody, or whether it was the pure selfishness of a woman who felt sexually attracted to a man half the age of her oldest daughter. It couldn't be both because that kind of complexity in a single character was too much for any reader her grandson wanted for an audience, and so he settled for the sweet elderly woman version, wiping from his memory how devastated the young man, then over forty and well past his prime, had been at her funeral, to which he, having gone missing more than ten years ago, miraculously had shown up without having been invited. They had spoken to each other briefly, though he couldn't remember what the topic of their conversation had been.
Anyway, his grandmother never met the roommate and wondered whether something else might be going on. Maybe the roommate was a fabrication? Was some kind of secret concubinage going on, or even something illegal? Was he hiding an undocumented immigrant? A corpse of a former friend or loved one? Many pages had been dedicated to his grandmother's imaginations about what lay hidden behind this inconspicuous wooden door. Her grandson decided to delete all of them to shorten the piece considerably and make her neighbour the new point of view character.
When she asked about his roommate never leaving the apartment, the young man assured her that said roommate was, in fact, very real, and just entirely confined indoors. It took some more back and forth and a few more developments in their relationship, all of which were lovely and interesting, but ultimately didn't push the story forward quickly enough to be a pleasing read, before he finally let her in. That was when his grandmother found out that the roommate in question was a parrot. And the parrot had nothing against her being there, in fact he was very enthusiastic to meet someone new, which also amounted to be the entire problem: According to his grandmother, this young man had housed a parrot who could converse with a human being freely and maturely, having problems with grammar and pronunciation once in a while, but never with understanding. He couldn't read, but he liked to leaf through children's books and watch movies, and he liked to listen to simple pop songs and learn their lyrics.
He had never been quite sure if his grandmother actually told the truth about the parrot. Even after extensive research he had never found an animal that was able to converse with a human on a higher level than a bunch of Bonobos using Yerkish or a single infamous parrot who had learned to speak and understand around 300 words.
According to the young man, who studied to be a linguist, he had received the parrot as a gift from his parents some years ago and had taught him some words for fun to entertain himself and the parrot before finding him a mate, and only when he jokingly explained to the parrot, whom he had christened Icarus, that he would go buy him a partner soon enough and the parrot loudly and articulately cried "No", followed by a barrage of swear words, he understood that the parrot also understood perfectly well. And since an animal who preferred the company of humans to his own species and who could follow and retell the plot of the first Terminator movie – he didn't like the second quite as much – was unheard of, he wanted to spare the animal a life in a research lab and instead never invited anyone dangerous into his apartment. For reasons unimportant to this story as it concerned his grandmother's past, which her grandson had failed to form into a palatable narrative, he had been forced to consider the grandmother a threat regardless of their mutual attraction to one another. The parrot seemed to be somewhat aware of the dangers of the outside world and could play dumb in front of strangers, but for some reason, he chose to converse with the elderly Spanish lady his owner-roommate welcomed into their apartment.
Her grandson always had found it troubling to include this story in his grandmother's biography, and now it was one of just two pieces left and divorced enough from his grandmother – also, completely unbelievable – that he felt secure enough to tell as the story of a young man finding a great friend in a parrot, never allowing anyone to enter his apartment until one day, he is found out and has to leave the country overnight. A story about friendship in unlikely places with a dark twist. This dark twist originally had been his grandmother reassuring him that no one would take Icarus and ruin his life and that he needed to learn to trust people more and him following that advice, leading to him being reported to a slightly above-local newspaper by a friend who worked there and felt that this might be a breakout piece, and once the slightly above-local boulevard journalists had cornered him whenever he left the house, he, with the help of the grandmother, had vanished over night, taking the parrot with him.
He wondered whether he had the parrot with him when he showed up for the funeral some years ago, or whether the animal had finally died. Parrots could grow to be quite old.
The vanishing didn't seem like a good ending for the story though, and so the grandson decided to have the young man neck the bird to spare him a life in the spotlight of science and tabloids. Now that was an ending a tad too dark, and he changed it again by including a passage in which the parrot asked to be killed, drawing similarities between himself and the legendary Icarus. This meant he had to allude to Daedalus and Icarus a few times in the story to transmutate the parrot's final speech into a good pay-off. Additionally, he deleted the last allusions to his grandmother to reduce the number of characters – the young man would befriend and welcome in the friend who worked for a newspaper, and that friend would betray him for a good story, and years of secrecy would be out the window in mere minutes. Just like this, the grandson had gotten rid of the entire middle arc in which trust was slowly built and rewarded instance after instance. He figured readers wouldn't benefit much from it as the ones reading the shorter and the ones reading the longer version would have the same initial suspicion: That this wasn't going to end well.
Should he include a few more sentences to allude to where this man's life now was leading? His grandmother never gave an answer to that question. She preferred to reminisce the lighthearted conversations between her and her neighbour-friend-lover and Icarus, the parrot who spoke English, told her that her voice sounded like a rusty door hinge in need of some oil, an instance the grandson and the parrot happened to agree on so much that this metaphor for his grandmother's voice had been etched into the grandson's mind for decades, and helped his roommate-owner win at poker by sitting on her shoulder and screaming out her hand.
The grandson did some mild research on linguistics to include some standard vocabulary used in the profession and to create a link between the young man being a linguist in training and the parrot being the most well-spoken animal in the history of mankind.
Having finished a rough rewrite, he figured that probably he could introduce this to a local publisher as a nice little moral piece. It wasn't exceptionally original, and he knew that originality was what had hindered his first few shorts from being included in alternative anthologies that valued more recognizable edge.
The second story, second to Bukowski only regarding the lack of mentions of alcohol and inebriation, was much harder to form into a workable piece of literature, wherefore he just outlined what he was planning to do the following night. This was his grandmother's time in Italy, when she had befriended another young man, this time a genial young socialite who worked for the Spanish embassy in Rome, but who went on vacation with her in a much more rural area of the country.
With his grandmother erased, what her grandson was left with was a story about a man in the late nineteen-fifties who frequented a certain street market in a certain village – its name had escaped his memory – where incredibly bodacious, boisterous and sweaty Italian macho men sold freshly grilled, boiled or dried horse meat in an overwhelming selection of shapes and forms. A few streets away, close enough to the country road for outsiders to join the spectacle, every other night illegal horse races took place, largely ignored by an indifferent, but, for safety's sake, nonetheless bribed police. It was an unreal legend – unreal in the sense that legends can only be partially true to be real legends and any legend that turns out to be entirely true is not a legend at all, but just a truth that sounds less visceral and appalling when given the status of a folk tale – that the horses that wound up injured or defeated one too many times on these races ended up on the rotisseries and in the saucepans of the streets the young embassy clerk liked to frequent to pick up meat and new lovers – because, as he told this lovely Spanish exchange student who would later tell this to her grandson, he never found it easier to pick up a mountebank or one of his listeners to take home together with a bag of sausages made from the losers of the night before than in this musky, hyper-masculine environment, an established, yet little known cruising spot in this part of the country.
His grandmother had gambled away a lot of money on the racecourse and bought bags of raw horse meat to turn into only slightly less raw steaks that she then would spitefully devour when she had lost a considerable amount. As she had been cut from this story as well even though he really liked the mental image of her angrily eating race horse steaks, her grandson decided to model one of the friend's lovers after her. His style was inaccurate enough to muddy the identity of a person he intended to portray.
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