Geektastic: Stories from the Nerd Herd Page 19


“No one.”


“Is it someone you know?”


“It’s someone I went to high school with.”


“You went to school with R. P. Flint?”


“Yes.” She started to leave the room.


I said, “He’s the most amazing writer. I read him all the time. Everyone thinks he’s the best. You know him? Actually?”


“Sure. I know him. Never mind.”


“You know R. P. Flint?”


“I went to high school with him. He was called Dickie.”


“I can’t believe you really went to school with him.”


“Someone had to.”


I asked, “What’s he like?”


“Can we not talk about this?”


“Can I meet him?”


“No.”


“Can you get him to sign an autograph?”


“Forget it.”


“Can I see the letter?”


“No.”


“Mom, he’s my favorite.”


“You’re never meeting him.”


“You don’t understand.”


She yelled, “No, Jim. You don’t understand, see?” She whacked the door frame so hard I jumped. She stared at me, real angry. She said, “I never want to hear his name again.” She walked out of the room, slamming the door after her.


Then there I was, stuck alone in my parents’ room, like it was my room.


The next day, I sat on the sofa reading the tales of Caelwin, called the Skull-Reaver. I held up the cover of the magazine clearly. My mom watched me but she didn’t say anything. At dinner I brought up an interesting question from one of the R. P. Flint stories—if you were falling down a bottomless pit, would you die by some kind of altitude sickness or by starving to death? —and my mother said she didn’t want to hear another word about those stupid codpiece-and-saber stories, and my dad frowned, real uncomfortable, like he knew the name R. P. Flint, Author, better than he should, but he didn’t want to talk about it.


I left the magazines and the book around the house so that no one could ever forget about R. P. Flint, but the arguments between my mother and father were never about that, they were always about the car or the rug or the weekend. Watching my parents closely like a gumshoe, I noticed how my mother always said angry, mean things about everything my father did and how my father came home from work as late as possible and looked hurt into his soup. I tried bringing up R. P. Flint one more time at dinner, and my mother told me his stories were for perverts, and asked me whether I’d ever noticed that all of those serpents rearing up and dragons to be ridden and those huge swords wielded in battle perhaps were kind of symbolic, and whether they might be the kind of thing that men who were worried about themselves would read to make themselves feel better. That made me angry because she knows R. P. Flint is one of my favorites so I said that he was the greatest author I had ever read, and she went up to my room and grabbed all my issues of UtterTales and SongoftheSkull-Reaver and she poured bacon grease all over them.


What I didn’t think about until later was that she knew a lot about R. P. Flint’s stories—about the swords and the dragons—and she knew where I kept my copies.


Not too long after, I found another letter from R. P. Flint, recently arrived, this one torn up in eighths and in the living room wastepaper basket. I took it up to my room and put it on my desk and I fit it together. Then I read it all.


Dick Flint said he was glad he and my mom had met again and how beautiful she was. He talked about the rhapsody of entry and my fingers felt numb on the paper. Mr. Flint talked about how doing that with her made him feel young again, and we can’t let a good thing die, honey, and then a lot about her breasts in the hotel room and lying naked while the evening fell, before she had to skedaddle like a nymph, I’m telling you, viewed by some burly hunter espying her through a thicket in the gloaming. O, the radiant copse, etc.


I just stared at the letter for a long time. It told a story of a world in which even the falling light on telephone wires was beautiful, and a man and a woman were in love, and it had sat torn up in eighths in a wastepaper basket in a room with two plants and three vases and a painting of horses.


I went downstairs.


My mother was polishing in the kitchen.


I went in and sat down.


My mother kept on polishing.


Finally she looked at me. “What’s wrong?” she asked.


I couldn’t say anything. I shrugged.


“Well, why have you been crying?” she asked.


“You’re cheating,” I said.


“What am I doing?”


I didn’t want to repeat it so I kept quiet.


“Don’t twizzle up your legs like that,” she said. “It’s just like your father. Don’t twizzle them up. It’s pathetic.”


I said, “You had an affair.”


She was surprised. She stopped polishing for a minute. “Who told you that?” she asked me. “Have people been talking?”


I didn’t say anything. She kept asking me questions. I didn’t tell her a word.


Finally, she said, “All right. Fine. That’s the past.”


“When?”


“During the war. And your father’s no saint. Don’t twizzle up your legs.”


“I’m not twizzling up my legs.”


“I mean when you wrap them around each other,” she said. “You have to claim the chair as your own. Spread out a little. You sit like nothing in the world belongs to you.”


“Well, you threw away all my magazines.”


“Forget the stupid magazines.”


“Tell me about the, you know, affair.”


“I will not tell you a word. Neither your father or me wants to talk about it.”


“I want to know about the affair. Tell me what happened in the affair.”


“Stop saying ‘affair.’”


She wouldn’t talk about it. My dad came home pretty soon after that. At dinner, my mother started crying. She slammed the salad across the table and walked out.


My father tried not to move, like he was terrified.


I watched them both.


My dad, he watched the table.


A few days later, without telling anyone, I got on the bus for Maine.


“They’re stuck inside their little houses,” said R. P. Flint as we walked past cottages on the bay. Mr. Flint and I were going for some grub and a man-to-man. Mr. Flint cupped his hands around his mouth and repeated loudly, “STUCK INSIDE THEIR LITTLE HOUSES.” He told me, “When people say, ‘I don’t get out much anymore,’ they don’t just mean out the door. They mean outside their own skin. They’re sewed up in their hides. They’re trapped in there. Kid, they need to go out on the town. They need to take their spirit out on a date.” He cupped his hands around his mouth again. “YOU NEED TO GO STEADY WITH YOUR SOUL.”


He was wearing a normal white shirt and a plain suit and I wondered whether that was what he had been wearing when he espied my mother through a thicket in the gloaming and they went to a hotel.


Flint asked, “Is she coming up?”


“Who? Mom?”


“Sure, your mom.”


“I don’t think so. I didn’t tell her I was coming. I just called before I walked to your house. She only just found out I was here.”


“I haven’t seen her in a while. Is she still the fairest vixen to ever sweep across a glade?”


I shrugged, thinking: the gem of her womanhood.


“Let me tell you something that won’t cost you a nickel. A great love is necessary for a great art,” Mr. Flint explained.


I told him I didn’t write or anything.


“But you have a lyrical soul,” he said. “I can see it. People don’t understand you. But that’s because you haven’t spoken yet. I mean, spoken in the voice that echoes off cliffs and mountaintops.” He grabbed my arm and stopped the two of us from walking. He said, like a prophet, “You will speak in that voice, ere long.”


I didn’t know what he was talking about, and I didn’t want to look at his eyes. I wanted to keep walking. But Mr. Flint wasn’t letting go. I figured he was waiting for something but I didn’t know what he wanted. Maybe thanks or something. So I said, “Thanks.”


Mr. Flint let go of my arm and smiled and we kept walking toward the village. The water was real quiet in the bay. Some lobster boats drifted out between the isles. It was a bright day, and the wind blew over the church steeples and the warehouses on the docks.


I asked Mr. Flint whether he ever got lonely up in Maine.


“Why’s that?”


“I thought writers lived in New York or Hollywood. And they had all kinds of friends who are other writers and movie stars.”


“I’ve stripped my life down,” he told me. “I don’t need much. I have all the company I want to keep right in here.” He shot himself in the head with his fingers. “People don’t understand about the need to live simply. They make appointments all day. They even schedule their own deaths. The first time they’ll have freedom to really be themselves is when they no longer exist. But up here, there’s nothing but me and the sky. A million billion stars.”


I looked out where the sun glanced along the harbor and I could kind of see what Mr. Flint meant. It looked heroic, with all the ocean and the coves and their pines. Everything seemed big.


That’s one of the things I love about R. P. Flint’s stories: They make the land feel huge. Even though they’re set on an ancient, strange Earth, there’s the feeling of a huge America in them. They have the pioneer spirit. The sea with the fishermen, and the fields of wheat to the west. The frigid north, where roams the wolf, and the sands of the desert south. The white marble cities and the little farms lost in the hills.


Looking out at the sea, I felt something cosmic in the nation and older than the settlers.


And I guess maybe that’s what he’d made my mother see, how huge everything was, and I pictured them standing in some high place, and for a moment they looked out on the world together, the height of space, and maybe they felt like they were falling through it, but holding each other.

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