Every so often (weekly at the moment), I’ll be writing a commentary about a story from EMPTY ROOMS LONELY COUNTRIES. I’ll tackle the stories in the order they appear in the book. Given the nature of this exercise, I cannot guarantee that I won’t spoil specific details from the story. So you may want to return to the commentaries here when you’ve finished reading the book. If I don’t address an aspect of the story you were interested in, by all means leave a question at the end of this post and I’ll do my best to answer it.
“ONE DEAD (POTTED) PLANT”
We are now in July of 1999. By then, I have moved from Tampa, Florida to Pitman, New Jersey, where I would be living (it’s hard to say that considering I’d seldom be there) for the next year before moving to Philadelphia. Also by then, after much deliberation and acceptance, I finally had to come to terms with the fact that The Phantom Menace was not good. There was heartache at every angle.
This particular story details the first of many trips I’d be making to Washington, DC for the weekends. Because I was away from everything I knew, I was starting to make more conscious decisions regarding my writing. I was getting better at keeping a notebook (having a laptop also helped) and I was becoming more aware about what I wanted to accomplish with my stories. A lot of this had to do with getting a “real job” that was going to eat up 40 hours a week, plus travel time. And I was more than a little nervous about losing touch with my writing in the process.
With that said, when scenes like this were happening:
Jenny tells me that I have to help her water the garden in the back. She fills up two jugs of water and hands me one, and then we step from the chill of the kitchen and into the stickiness of the backyard.
She points to a potted plant: “Do you see that one, Christian?”
I nod my head. The plant is black and its tentacled arms hang from the edges of the pot like dead snakes.
“It was hanging over there by the gate. It was doing fine until the other day; then it just died.” She finishes pouring the last of her water. “I think the neighbors killed it.”
“Why would you think that?”
“Because they’re mean and they’d do something like that.”
I picture two ogres with humps, uneven eyes, reaching over the wooden fence for the plant with cold, blackened fingers. And when nobody is looking, they cast spells on the cats, forcing them to stumble in front of moving cars.
Jenny tells me that they are two old gay men, apparently quite bitter about something.
Her version of the neighbors disappoints me.
I tell Jenny about my thoughts regarding the fairies. She nods her head very slowly and smiles politely.
“Do you think it can be saved?” Jenny asks.
“No. The plant.”
“I don’t know…maybe,” I say, pouring the last of my water on the potted corpse.
I knew that it would make it into a story.
The story’s main symbol wouldn’t be known until I started to sit down and write it out, but I loved being in a moment knowing that, yeah, this needs to be written.
The man we met at the bar who ended up being one of the most terrifying dancers I’ve ever met (Lovecraft would’ve written a story about how the specific combination of his dance moves would wake the Old Ones and cause insanity to all who witnessed his inchoatical twitches) was one strange guy:
His movements were like those of a man with a fire hose up his ass, and turned on at full blast…horrible in every way. Other people on the dance floor were pausing just to watch him, and soon, there was a circle of gawkers all around him, clapping their hands and crying, praying to some demented god, one that supported depravity and shame, to never let the music end.
We still don’t know why he gave us money. It felt like he was paying us to be his friend. And considering the few times we’d see him again, that might’ve been the case. My most vivid memory outside of his dancing was him in Jenny’s kitchen telling us a story about how he was on a date with his girlfriend and went to the bathroom to masturbate. “I whacked off – INTO THE SINK!” he said casually, slapping my shoulder in that way guys do to suggest that it’s, you know, something we all do. I just looked down at my feet and wondered why Jenny had invited him over. Anyway, as for the dancing part, there really was a large crowd of people watching him. It really was that horrifying.
Damn my eyes.
Jenny’s friends were all very nice people and tremendously gracious, but I’ve always had a hard time getting comfortable in DC. I find it interesting that people who live in the capitol, no matter what job they have, feel this sense of self-importance, and it was a vibe I wasn’t prepared to respond to. There would be a few times where Jenny would kick me under the table from the things I’d say. A lot of it, on reflection, probably had to do with my own insecurities.
It should be noted that this story would be published a few years later in the June 2002 issue of Crash Test Magazine. I need to get a copy to scan here.
To wrap this up, I like this one, especially the way it ends. This is the beginning of a new stage for my writing, and while I can still catch some of my influences (at this point, I was studying comics by Brian Michael Bendis to create more natural sounding dialogue) my voice is starting to show through.
Jenny says, “I was once in Hell and there was nobody there. Then these men came in…they were loud and…and they ruined it.”
She releases a steady sigh, and then we leave it at that.