An excerpt from the novella “Sarverville Remains,” published in The New Valley.
I want to say right here what I am sorry. I am sorry for where you is at and how you got there and I am sorry for calling you to the scene of the crime, as they say, and for the crime, and for if I hurt you something what’s took too long to heal. Most off I am sorry about your wife.
You is most like thinking sorry ain’t no excuse. Ma B says Excuse is just Use with a big X in front of it. So please do not think I do not know. It was just what your wife wasn’t like any of the others at Eads High. I want you to know that cause that was why at first. Though why wasn’t just what she was a full adult woman, or what she’d knowed so many jobs, or what she smelled like this or weared her hair like that or put her smoke behind her ear to free up her mouth. Please know at first she wasn’t your wife. She wasn’t even her. She was just the woman the guys knowed to do it.
If you is wondering why I’m writing to you it’s just to explain so you’ll know how it happened and won’t hate her or hurt her when you get out. Which once I’m done showing you, you’ll understand the fault ain’t on her. It’s on me. Sometimes I lie on my mattress in my hall and listen to Jackie and the baby scream at each other on the house end, and on the glass end the big coon scratching to get in at Roy’s Bahamas. Scratching and talking, scratching and talking. The rest of the street all quiet. I think about what you must think about. You and me, if Roy was here he’d say, You guys are like a pair of tits. Which is just the kind of mouth he’s got and not my way of talking. But he’s right. After all, you knowed her as your wife. I knowed her as your wife. It was only who was doing the knowing what made the difference. After all, it’s because of her what you is there and I am here and everything.
It’s most like not okay for me to tell you how much I felt for her, so I will not disrespect you, though it was very very very strong. It’s also most like not okay for me to use the word Love. You most like think it’s a husband’s word.
Plus there’s the fact what we’s the only ones who knowed her through that kind of love. It’s most like not okay for me to tell you how much I felt for her, so I will not disrespect you, though it was very very very strong. It’s also most like not okay for me to use the word Love. You most like think it’s a husband’s word. But now what she’s gone from you as much as me we’s even more two of a kind, as they say, so I will just use it. I want you to know I never called her your Love words of Peach or Sugar Puss or your Hate words neither, not even Whore. The guys called her Whore, but to me she was just Linda. Linda I will guess is what you call her if she makes a visit. The guys say she don’t even and Fuck off Geoffrey, but even if she don’t visit do you call her Linda in your head? In my head I call her Linda. But here out of respect to you I will call her Missus Podawalksi.
Nobody is making me write this. Not Roy or Jackie or the cops or nobody. Do not even think for one iota what it’s Linda. What it’s Missus Podawalski I mean. Never erase is what Ma Wasco always said. Never cross out. She was a art teacher before her accident and she teached me what was sloppy and what was presentable to look at, so I am sorry also for any mistakes I’m due to make. But Missus Podawalski has nothing to do with this, rest assured. Truth be told, as they say, I ain’t seen your wife since you ain’t seen her. It is just one more way what we is like a pair of tits, you and me.
It’s hard to put a handle on where to start. Jackie would say, Start at the beginning Nimwit. But it’s hard to put a handle on what’s the beginning. Get on with it Nimwit, is what Jackie would say. Well she may be older and have charge of me, as she says, but I’ve heard her style for telling stories and she don’t got it down, believe me. Like Dad Kreager liked to say, she don’t know her butt from her boobs. If you ain’t seen her, she’s so skinny there ain’t no difference anyhow. ‘Sides even a Nimwit knows what’s got to be told. You don’t got to be smart to see I’m the only one who can tell it. Me and Missus Podawalski. But she’s gone.
Mister Podawalski, believe me I didn’t even know Missus Podawalski till the night I met her. It was Russ made the hellos. This was weeks and weeks and weeks before you found out, but I just thought it was like any Monday done with work. Hanging out on the curb by the Sunoco. Waving at vehicles. Waiting for Vic and Russ to come by in the Party Van and pick me up. But that night, after supper and our practice time and near midnight when we was putting away the band tools, Russ said he had a surprise. Let’s hustle, he said. Fifteen minutes later we was taking 502 for Crigger’s Den at top speed. Top speed in the Party Van ain’t much for highways, but on them curves how Russ takes it I was layed out in the back on the big bed hugged up with Mister Bean Bag.
What’s the rush? Vic kept asking and Russ saying Who’s rushing? and me from the back through Mister Bean Bag saying I gotta barf, and Russ saying, No you don’t we’ll be there in a sec you can barf then.
I don’t do so good with vehicles.
Vic said, I don’t like it.
Ho you will, Russ said. You gonna want to go back tomorrow and get more.
He wouldn’t tell us more what, just pulled in out back behind Crigger’s Den.
Why we going out back? I asked him.
I mean you have seen how Crigger’s Den is Monday night midnight, just hardly no vehicles even on the road and the ones parked in the front lot under the beer signs pretty much just them’s who work there, so seeing how we was going around back instead, Vic said, Geoff’s got a point.
I got a point, I said.
I don’t want to buy no shit off no fucker I don’t know, Vic said.
I’m not talking about weed, Russ said.
Well what the fuck, Vic said.
This is better than weed, Russ told him and turned the engine off.
I opened the door and got out to puke.
Don’t go nowhere, Russ told me, Or do nothing stupid.
When I was done I got back in and asked him, Like what?
Like fuck this up, he said.
I made the point, How can I futz it up if I don’t know what it is?
You mean how can you avoid fucking it up, Vic said.
You’ll know it when you see it, Russ said and put on the music. He put it on low. It was House of the Rising Sun. We sat there nodding to it.
I said, Is it gonna drive back here? Russ shook his head. I asked him how we was gonna know when it got there then.
It’s gonna come through that door, he said.
I knowed he meant the screen door back the kitchen. For the next I don’t know how long I tried to guess what it was, kept on till they was both laughing. Not atchya laughing, like Ma B says, but wichya laughing what’s the only kind I oughta give my allowance to. Then the door opened and she come out.
She pushed the screen door open with her hip. That was the first nice thing. She was carrying the trash out in a bag near big as her. Her hair was come undone and stuck funny on her forehead. Her eyes looked punched. Russ turned the headlights on and off quick. She looked at the Party Van. She nodded, not like Hello but like OK, and chucked the trash bag in the dumpster and held up a hand with her fingers spread to five and gone back inside.
So? Vic said.
So we wait five minutes, Russ said.
And? Vic said.
And then I get to go first.
Who gets to go second? Vic said.
You want to go second, Geoff? Russ said.
Hey, Vic said.
Okay, I said.
You want to go third? Vic said.
Okay, I said.
That was how we got straight on the order. The radio was on ads. I listened to the Ripplemead Hardware one what they do that Ch-ch-ch-chainsaws like David Bowie.
I don’t know, Vic said. I don’t want my first to be a whore.
She’s not, Russ said. He asked me, She look like a whore to you?
I told him I thought she looked tired.
Well it’s the end of her shift, Russ said.
How old is she? Vic asked.
I don’t know, Russ said. Forty?
I’m not paying for no forty year old whore, Vic said.
Dipshit, Russ told him, She doesn’t charge. She gives free blow.
Vic was quiet like he gets when he’s trying to keep what he’s thinking hid.
When was the last time you got some head? Russ said.
When was the last time you did? Vic said.
Last week, Russ said. Exactly about now. How about you, Geoff? When was the last time you got blowed? You know. Blowed. Like a blow job. Sucked off. You know what a blow job is don’t you?
Yeah, I said.
He’s never had one, Vic said.
You never did neither, I said.
Yeah, Vic said, but I just turned fifteen.
You really never had one? Russ said. Man the shit in your balls must be fucking fermented. Seriously fucking beer.
Fucking beer balls, Vic said.
Russ said, When it’s your turn Geoff, tell her you got it on tap.
With good head, Vic said and they was laughing it up.
Sometimes when I don’t get what’s funny I just laugh along anyhow. Like Ma Wasco said, you fool them so they think you understand and how damn smart is their asses then hm? Mom Kreager used to swear up a storm, as they say. But I learned better from Ma B. Ma B always told to just stay quiet and let them laugh. Lying don’t make no one look good in The Eyes of the Lord. The Eyes of the Lord is especially upon me since I’m one of them what needs extra care. Ma B says them Eyes of the Lord is the only eyes what matter and they’s especial on all the diminished ones what’s why I don’t never lie.
I guess you’re thinking that’s a whopper right there. What Russ said. What Vic said. How I put it down exact. Just like a novel, I bet you think. Ma B said either a story’s true or it’s called a novel, what’s just another word for fiction, what’s another word for false, what’s another word for pack of lies. She didn’t allow it in the house. But when Jackie and me was small, before Mom Kreager took The Ride On High, Dad Kreager used to read us lies. He did it on the one about Narnia and the one about the boy and his coon dogs, and on My Side of the Mountain, what was my favorite.
Jackie liked it fine up till that one. It wasn’t the story what was the problem. It’s a good story about this boy Sam what runs off from home and makes hisself a life all alone up on a mountain. It was how it was told, the whole thing from the first page like I did this or I did that, what was too much for Jackie.
Oh come on, she said, Like a lie can tell itself.
Well maybe it’s true, Dad Kreager said. Maybe it’s writ down by Sam hisself. Bullshit Jackie said and Dad Kreager said, watch it, and Jackie pointed out the name of who writ it right there on the cover. Jean Craighead George.
Well maybe Sam’s growed up and changed his name, Dad Kreager said. You ever thought of that?
I told her, Maybe it’s a fake name so’s he can stay hid up there on that mountain and nobody come and bug him.
Whatever Einstein, she told me and showed the picture on the back. It was a woman.
You think you’re so smart, Dad Kreager told her. You got no more brain’s than your brother. That’s the editor, smarty pants. She’s just the one who found all this how it was writ and put it in a book to make her some money. You think Sam even needs money? No sir. He got no taxes to take it, no woman to spend it. What’s he need it for? Right? And he winked at me to let me know it was him and me what seen the truth.
That night Jackie said to me from the bottom bunk, Try not to be such a retard, Geoff. Even if it was Sam wrote it, how’d he remember all what this one said or that one said exact enough to put it down as truth. Hm? No one remembers that good. So even if some of it was true, which it ain’t, the details is all lies.
When you think Jackie’s wrong its best to keep it to yourself. I just stared at the glow stars we’d stuck on the ceiling and thought out what she just said. Thought it out exact. Thought it out to what I said before. Thought that out to what she said before that. All the way back through story time, exact, and then supper and then school and what everyone said. All exact and I could hear all of it perfect.
Ma B says the Lord makes everyone good at something and its up to you to make sure you use it the way He meant. After church, when she had the guests, she would sit me by her side and let me eat cookies and taste her coffee and when they was done talking she told me stand up and say back what was said and who said it. All them thought it was a blast. But Ma B never laughed at it. She just said quiet when it was done, Now there’s a child who tells the truth like the Lord Himself was checking notes. She took me to a doctor once who named me a photo memory but he didn’t know what he was talking about. I don’t do so good with seeing the color of this or size of that or details like a picture. Its in my ears what I remember. I can play it back just like rewinding to that part of the tape.
Just to show you, how about this?
Someone’s gonna get hurt. We’ve known that from the beginning.
Remember when you said that?
And she said, You’re such a coward. And you said, Is that so? And she said, A pussy. And you said, Okay that’s it.
Or the time you told me, Get off her.
See? This ain’t a novel, Mister Podawalski. There ain’t no editor like there was for what Sam writ from his mountain. There is just the Lord checking his notes. I am going to play it back just like it was a real tape and even if there is cuss words or ungodly acts to come I hope you will agree speaking the truth is what counts in The Eyes of the Lord. Everything I put down here is just what my ears remember. It is how it was.
Josh Weil is the author of The New Valley (Grove, 2009), a collection of novellas. A former Fulbright Fellow and winner of the Dana Award in Portfolio, Weil has written for the New York Times and Poets & Writers, and published fiction in Granta, New England Review, and Narrative. He has received fellowships from the Sewanee and Bread Loaf writers’ conferences, and is the Tickner Writing Fellow at Gilman School in Baltimore. In 2009, he was selected for The National Book Foundation’s “5 Under 35” award in fiction.
Read Josh Weil’s November, 2006 nonfiction piece in Guernica, The Last Jews of Cairo.
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