Order Unsaid 7 Today!

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Shipping of Unsaid 7 is now underway, and copies are available via PayPal or by contacting David McLendon at unsaidmag@gmail.com. 

Unsaid 7 is 300+ pages of innovative fiction and poetry by Masha Tupitsyn, Russell Persson, Ottessa Moshfegh, Stephen Dixon, Mairead Small Staid, Peter Markus, David Hollander, Kate Wyer, Matt Bell, Brian Evenson, Phillip Grayson, Katherine Manderfield, Kayla Blatchey, Paul Maliszewski & James Wagner, Joseph Scapellato, Michael Copperman, Elizabeth Gramm, Catherine Foulkrod, Beth Imes, Robin Richardson, Pamela Ryder, Michele Forster, Brian Kubarycz, Jason Schwartz, Richard St. Germain, Naomi Stekelenburg, David Ryan, Robert Lopez, Joseph R. Wojtowicz, Mahreen Sohail, Danielle Blau, Gary Kertis, K.E. Allen, Jordan Gannon, Robin Martin, Dana Inez, Ryan Ries, M Sarki, Tom McCartan, Russell Brakefield, Josh Milberg & Elise DeChard, and Luke B. Goebel.

Order Unsaid 7 today for just $18 (shipping & handling included). Thank you for your support!

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Etymology of Being : David McLendon

open-window

 

c. 1300, “condition, state, attrition of existence: an irritation” ; “presence, fact of existing, a room without windows or door; a so-called room of impossible weather” early 14c., “existence,” from Sense of  “that which physically exists, person or object or animal (i.e. that which can be lifted, smashed, broken ) (i.e. human, tree, bee) is from late 14c. (c.1995; Mortality i.e.  i.e. Doomed) i.e (Deleuze—line of flight—from his favorite window, his favorite view, i.e. one who jumps to fall as a form of death i.e. Suicide i.e. A room containing a window in lieu of a door.) i.e Ibid (revised) i.e  The sound hived between sky and ground, when falling i.e. an acknowledgement of silence i.e. a form of attention i.e Art i.e. a struggle against death i.e Mortality i.e Mortality i.e Mortality i.e. Mortality: Ibid: Ibid: Ibid: (Ibid in extremis): Ibid. c. (Undetermined) : “Being” : A brief duration before unbeing begins. (See Mortality: See  : See Doomed).

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Etymology of Throw : David McLendon

 

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“to project, propel,” c. 1300 from Old English ]brawan “to twist, turn, writhe, curl – to recoil i.e. to torque one’s body, through time, inward i.e. forward, in a so-called untoward manner” – past tense ]breow, past participle ]brawen, from Proto-Germanic *threw (also inclusive of Old Saxon thraian, Middle Dutch draeyen, Dutch draaien, Old High German draen, German drehen, “to turn by twisting i.e. the wringing of one’s body” – (NOTE: Displaced as a noun in Ukraine to English translation, “girl at the top of the stairs” i.e. “grief”) from PIE *tere– (1) “to rub, turn, rub by turning, turn by rubbing, bore, bored through, a pushing motion by turning from one state of misery into another i.e. to lift one’s body toward collapse i.e. to hurl one’s self into the world” (also of Sanskrit turah “wounded, cut by weather, a form of dying before one’s death” Greek teirein “to rub, rub away, to diminish by attrition,” Latin terere “to rub, thresh, grind, wear away, wear down, to be worn by the world, to acknowledge dying as a form of being alive – (n) something meant to be worn i.e. a garment, discarded” Old Church Slavonic tiro “to run on the air of the air, blown beneath the feet” Lithuanian trinu “to rub out i.e. to drown in the absence of water” Old Irish tarathar “borer,” Welsh taraw “to strike, to have a body, to be alive inside a body i.e. to be moving inside a body, moving forward i.e. dying i.e living i.e dying i.e living i.e. to strike a body i.e dying i.e living i.e to breathe i.e to lose one’s breath i.e. living i.e. dying i.e. to turn outward (i.e. untoward) from under i.e. to project what is inside one’s body out into the world i.e. to breathe i.e. to fall out from one’s breath i.e. to create one’s self by sounding out – i.e. possessing – one’s particular mortal song”)

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Bagatelles and Bell’s Exit : Russell Persson

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Mittersill

So as not to muck the sleep of his grandchildren he went to the front porch to use his cigar outside and stood there as such in night, the new quiet still unsure to settle, low dust in eddies few streetlamps are on again who put tents of light down on the. He listened to the night sounds, the bugs and whine the fucking called to in serial peeps and ticks. The ticks a period among the longer peeps drawn out as a sentence in fond repeat. Could we get by with just a sound and none other? His smoke of him goes up and off and thins into what could be silence. We thin us like this and to our kin we gather what we can and set it there for them to be with it to be with us as an ashen gray figure drawn on linen I could have it either way I could note and in so doing my notes go ahead of me as a new present. Each night is a new bafflement I strain to harbor any sense of it so the unorder of a far truck is the undernote to the tin pot hit up against an evening sink. This is him in night his smoke guylined to the weather he’s under.

From his house a voice who comes up into a loudness and heavy bootsteps come from the kitchen and come to him through the parlor and as the bootsteps near him a child on an upper floor begins a jag and nearer now the bootsteps come to the front door where he puts his cigar away from him and exhales to send out from him another evening cloud who thins and but for the chaotic winds even low as they are tonight fend his cloud into a spreaded banner frayed into a gone threadedness and in its dissolve an added note for what maps it ends up fallen into, mixed into the endless and next, his glowed tobacco held now in front of him as if his hand was in a greeting to the night and behind him the coming bootsteps and then it is an open door his own door swung in so that a latch undone is a pluck to enact the drawn tones of a dry hinge, an opening as a whip begins the high ringing who follows it and coming through the opened door with his boots and with his anxious eyes and with his olive drab and patches who recommend him and corral him and put his name upon himself and in his hand which is also held out in front of him as if in a greeting is the pistol, the man he comes outside in such a rush he comes into the ember of the cigar who swung around to see him and lit edges of it fall down and taking the man outside for a sudden threat he tightens his pistol hand and conducts the final few notes of the man who was outside now rubbed out in night the tether now cut for good who ran down from above.

 

Mittersill

An olive egg. Embryo he’s.

He’d gone into the entrapment as a cook a lark his sergeant enlisted him in. But any break in the formal he’d become unguided and so it was on the porch in night an ember toward him was an unknown and he saved himself against it.

Debriefed the cook was told he ended what was then the life of one composer the peers of whom were few and them well upheld.

The cook was gathered in then. His body smallened by the sadness he’d took. He wept in long stretches in Mittersill and wrapped hi sarms around himself in a try to push his littled egg back to the past when he hadn’t yet put his kill in. Back into the foetusy bag he wraps him up to go beyond a mourning he’s unaware of until it deepens again and then again again.

 

Mittersill

He’s finded out who he’s offed. He’s akin to what’s done. The cook in drab has shut the life of one man in night the man a man who put down a score in compose, a man whose music he brought to into for that his notes could in their own fucked way convince an ear of how true the notes were.

Drab cook and so tied up in his own ferals he comes to try to shut himself of what he’s done. Wrapped into himself is what only one body could come to his own possible, isn’t it?

An olive drab cook his name is Raymond Bell his sentence is his own handed down a self no more jacketed to so weather what’s been doled he’s decided what he’s done is as beyond the criminal as a man could do at all and so reft he’ll keep on without hinge and without feck he’s cotted in the bunks ad hocced inside the saved end of a monastery he’s cotted there and to the limestone walls he’s any man but himself up to the walls he’s in compare a deather-man who deals in end days who rides the shoulders of well men into the fields of war and aliates his death cards to whomever, wind is what could end up spreading them and Bell he’s I and I do come to ride up on the shoulders of well men and I do come to cross out the coming days you believed you had and sack them into the neatness I’ve beheld and to the slate I’ve cut to clean it come and look at how I’ve in ease I’ve been the he who graced away your true upcoming I’ve been the one to cause an inhale when our opposite was in ask and borrowed from an ancient I could recite your ode but instead our lifted arms to you recite another knotted tome so gather and shamble in to this and then we’ve been turned out to listen and as such we’ll follow the tracks of our elders and envision what they might have beheld as a coal stove lit by these eyes alone could encause what ends are nearest and shamble in to this to lay quiet and subdue your all and allow just the sounds of wind and mussed foliage to back what I tell you of the days unlived you were verged on and those who would have followed you into the noted bog you made for them and your eldest how she stood out and brought down to her own palm the light of one star and spread that without an aim to be repaid or owed what all but in kind she gave to those who most could need it and they took the burned light and scarred wnet all into the upward and of thie days who rain could stay you inside and there with the heaven sands you’d hear the splitting of the air before the deepness who followed and as a seer is taken over by the body who speaks through him so you would commit this sound to sheets the paper staffed and soon endotted with your ear’s séance upon it I am the remover of those days and I am the one who blots out for good what will not be.

And sitted he’ll be carted soon to some room away from them. He’ll lean himself in rocking and to mutter hwo he’s an ebon agent of all men and how his initial opus is for the ages.

 

Sea

Shipped home for his fondness there was only room in the ship’s brig for him and so he locked up was under way his belted coat who kept his arms abuckle. There was no food this cook would allow in him and in his best dwindle when it seemed there could be no end to the crossing of the sea and there was no weather or sky to split up the days into the bits but only when the brig officer turned out his desk lamp in night was it able to lay guesses as to when it was this dwindle of his arm and of what sense was still left of him when a shift went across him inside and he could tell the legs of this ship were in cold dangle and each leg became ice and broke off below and left him to not know what aim was had at all but to drift and to try to picture for himself what no land in sight would look as.

 

Carolina

Mount Olive

He’s gotten back to his rooms. This is where his wife is is and his young son. His gaze does not lift up above the shoulders of them. His coming home is gathered small, some others he’d known before he left to go to war. When they leave and he is now home with his child son and with his wife he finds himself among the same chairs and side tables and the same smell and the rug who holds on to a foot print like beach sand. The quiet and the arms of his young wife and the eyes of his son he builded into the safe bay he’d imagined could be the road out of where he’d kept on.

Outside a cicada went through his gradual incline to an almost electric hum and others joined him in this mad bug lunacy. It was a lunacy he’d known all along and home again it gret him in the first night and kept him awake against the rest he needed and against the long his young wife held for him. But his awayness was steady and did not ebb although he was now home but his deathing over there was a coat he could not put off. The cicada hums went on into the dusk in a way he’d known when he was young a way to tell how hot and wet it was outside and how slow a body should become inside the day to not become bothered by the day and it is a white noise a southern ear would tune into and along with the sound of them it is the summers who come back to mind and the good hours before night when a pond was swum or when a road into the town was thumbed in and then in summer it was the evening hours when a string who held a light dress on a shoulder was sided away and the untanned eyed you as a line who was off limits but until now and still a man shuttled back to his home in Carolina the loose events he’s done untold as yet for it is to him a homecoming unfinished in its entrance and unfinished in its tell of why he’s back from where he occupied but until then he makes of the cicadas and falls into this bed alone among his wife and they swim there as several ponds enflood about them.

The morning is a time when it is fit to renew and to cast a self into the coming open and to shed the what before but instead the open for all its emptiness is terrible for what it needs and he can not amount to another’s needs no matter the setting or the when. His awayness. Carried like a loaded sledge is pulled across the rotted floors of wood land. His awayness as a gift offered back to the giver.

The zinnias have come up. Your mother has been over to help with them. Her green fingers I swear.

His answer is an abstract. A sketch who plies ended trade into an exchange of a dwarf utter and truncate notes.

——————

Before it’s known to him he’s assembled a routine and his body walks in step to the guide stones laid out there for him to follow. In days he tinkers in a shop held to for just a pursuit and his young son comes with him some days to watch a man tinker on small engines and motors. His son watches close and the quiet class he’s in is what does hold fast into the days beyond these.

Raymond Bell sits himself in dusk. His ritual continuing. He puts his whiskey in him. And sits outside among an air he’s on about. Coming around him an air in night who sheds a day and a field smell of how it’s fed and kept alive is abundant and near him the zinnias live in open call to the hues God bestowed on them we all come hued by an eyed God who sets us out there among the leopards and ants and it’s for us to decide who we could suck to get by for an early on. The whiskey in him bends his eye slanting enough to go unguided across his hand and back.

 

Massig

He went in thick and without wait. A habit picked up over there wherein wine sat in with dinner and whiskey was brought out to follow. His regret is endless and in his cups it becomes a tangle of more to it added. The fiction of it gathers in him and he hauls it with him and forth when an ear would have it.

His days are doldrums strung together along a valley floor. In night his drink puts a clearing out for him to roam in and then in deeper still he’s fallen along with his drink into the room where all his voices are kept and it’s there he’s found in night to mix with them and fend and to rebut again what they’ve posed in endless chorus about the ruin he’s done and those acts he can’t undo to fend on all points from them all assembled to post about him all cases against. It is pinned on him he’s host to the voices pinned and left there for the others. An added drink and he’s on point again to ward them and not until the drink’s enough to end his up it’s then he’ll camp where God has chosen for him to rest and it could be outside or it could be on a tile floor in a sideways sitting pose his wife’ll find him in tomorrow.

——————

Waked he spends an off day in research. The Second Viennese School. Tonal scales. Brief bagatelles who disarm an ear.

He copies out the notes who mean to him few sounds but he’s sure to fill in the black ovals and leave the open ones open.


With is son in dusk they sit on the back steps of home and crickets. With two fingers he shows his son the movements of the legs of a cricket and the sound who brings itself from this and even so it seems unlikely.

 

Leicht bewegt

Tip teetering up his stoop it comes they come with it wrapped and it has a man on every corner and in time they dip down and the whole body of it sways tilting backward and they correct this and steady what they bring into the house and go slowly through the middle of the front door who’s held open with a boot this shuffle of them slow and meaty like a men’s team trying quiet for a spell and almost winning at it but for the grunts they do because a body does what it has always done and so the bag of tricks is endless in its own making so the men come up with gutters and steam engine exhales each a corner man who lobbies his angle to the men to see if it’ll carry so they shuffle loudly to the hall where on the walls a picture of a new recruit hangs who then was ready to do battle with a drawn foe and set to bring his violence into the day he sees himself then as new to war and what a tyke he was to the actual script who was in store for him all written in the dark gothic hand of the old world arranger his ignorance a blessing then and coming through the hall now the men decline rest but shuffle on up to the gates of where they intend and it’s shrunken down the width in which they get to pass with this and the shrunken door is eyed for wideness so the men on every corner shift themselves to cause a better thinness among them and they sidle through into the guest room with the school piano who needs to be held in place and sat up next to and tuned by a kind of listener who would know the way to tune such crudities as this one got for no money and the men lended by a church who looks down upon vets with a kindness and they install as far as they know how to do this school piano in a room who wants some room already the leveling of which is beyond them all and so it sits with a wooden shim below the southeast leg and stares him down as much as a thing has done before.

 

Ziemlich fliessend

The woman who lends books she also vends how to play these keys and signed up he ends days with her in his school piano room.

She keeps me from solely having at the wine alone. That touch is just enough to convince me I’ve been delegating.

They study scales and how a hand rises to the keys and posture. The dusk it reddens them and he studies and is quick to get down the new lesson and head into the next.

She leaves and he continues but it’s now he brings out his transcriptions and puts himself to note by the next buckwheat note cause in his room the versions he’s copied over. In night he tops himself off with the whiskey he’s kept home and as if reading the sounds of a language unknown to him he taps what he sees and it could not be so. There must be more time spent in learning it seems. There must be some shift he’s not seeing on how to bring these written notes into a room as they were intended.

He presents his transcriptions to his tutor and she causes them. They are in the air inside the school piano room and with them disbelief. She causes them again to be sure.

None of us has, she says.

Less than a minute some notes who tend to something other than a tune it’s up to wonder what at all he’s up to if the transcriptions are aligned and true.

You must have had them wrong.

 

Sehr langsam

He’s sure that he’s sure of his notes. Alone he causes them into the room and they have an awkward dance a halting rise and then sudden plucks to tell us what? It is a knocking to come in or is it a bird in dusk or just a finger in the passing of an idle when? He causes them again in their written briefnesses. He touches them into the school piano room and in there the notes place themselves around him in a shifting fug they all roam and fidget and can not wear his trust and so they feint and ebb and at once against the roof and on the floor and once upon him to best govern his hands and weigh his versions.

He’s fled into the hallway it is dark and in the kitchen his wife has left on for him a lamp he needs and his son is sleeping and his wife is. So as not to disturb them he puts no ice in his glass but instead a straight whiskey and small water and to keep his trips few he doubles and more his cup and swigs there in the kitchen a deep pull so as not to disturb them. He goes back into his room and sits again with his copied notes.

They are there still but now hiding but now waiting for him to enact them back to where they can dance and fuck him around. He plays on and touches them back to.

He pulls deep on his whiskey and an exhaust comes over him but there is no one to spell him. He plays on into the morning these odds he’s sure of and he’s sure he has them down.

But even the ending notes don’t have the body of an ending. It is the middle of a chat who gets cut off. An open door who blows a small wind through. Like an unfinish. And in this his body chills to know what has been unfinished and what his role about that is.

He pulls deep on his whiskey and there is only the keys who remain and look back to him and they do this in the dawn. There is no way to know his path out of that room and to the low chair he sleeps in. The lamp he no longer needs. The good dreams who could have a say in his forgiveness he’s too lit to read well and they go lost to him.

 

Auberst langsam

I shot him in a moment when his ember turned and met me swung up to me in its ember color in the night an ember who it seemed was up against me in a violent who would have done me in we could have been surrounded and the son in law Mattel had posted at the doors a thug each who would handle us if it all went sour and for Mattel it did go that way and on my guard and through his house with my warlong nerves who all went frayed from what a man endures in it and with my sidearm rady and with my order to return with more men to escort Mattel to the brig we had set up in what was a town bank I came to the door and drew it in to go outside and thugs were of a possible then and I stirred of it so when the dark coat swung around and brought an ember round and to me it was unknown to me it was as far beyond me as it could have been that he stood there in night to seek quiet and to enter into that room who held for him those deep tricks and where he kept those notes who went ahead of him and led him to that plucking and to the spaces in between the notes who grew into sounds themselves for all the space they builded and to the notes who felt as if they tumbled down the steps and fell out on the path to rise again stumbled off without notice or word to where it was they set off to and just before they went away into the darkness you could tell they faltered in a slant in odd routes so they led him in the room he went who held silence only altered by his own device his own adding to the dance he must have held inside him to the room who sketched him his country in which the entire of it was of his sole direction it was here he must have brought himself to in night when the sounds of the city went away to remain him with the rest of it in a study of how the rest of it fit together and the divine could assemble it but instead he swept it all up for his self to build and men go to the dirt without a country to them and without a dance at all and swung around to me was just an ember who came around his dark coat and embered there and still as if I could one day unsee this I still and tear this out please tear it out from me the wire glasses and his eyes.

 

Fliessend

Mountain Olive. Wayne County. Maplewood. Valley, Crest, and Kornegay.

Pete’s Spa. Before he shuts it down. A pocket jar to walk with.

Life a borrowed better list.

Center and Main. To look but it’s then forever crickets and the sound they rub to me. Rexall’s.

September fifteen. Do celebrate me and what I’ve done. The jar is up and we Prost! Let’s off.

East Main, East John. The flatness of us. Why can’t these train tracks just sit and mean the tracks they are? I won’t fall into that. They go on off from here.

Maplewood in night is not much. Again just what they are, marble set on end and a name cut into the sides. Dates and a dash. The hollow of that dash there, all what goes between the left date and the next.

So let’s dwell on what. Some jar it was who gave it up so early. Riddance. As an altar to you, too dark to see who you it is.

Bees in bonnets. Bustle. A quick walk back into town. Skirting the son and wife. May darkness become what it must and do it soon. What pub’ll set me up tonight. I’ll pledge to the town I won’t bring it up.

Good Mike. Whiskey and an ale back. I keep it to myself.

And what’ll become of what I wander to. She doesn’t know about the ones I’ve hidden in the arbor. Sit back to me there to mend about the way I get back to my piano and cause into this night what I’m sure of.

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PAMELA RYDER Paradise Field

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Let’s not futz around.  I’m old, a Jew, a man who, but for the fates in charge of the trivialities, might have been Ryder’s father.  Well, for all that, I am Ryder’s father or, anyhow, a father of Ryder and will, accordingly, go agreeably to my grave praising her name as if my doing so might work for my daughter the favor of the gods.  Let me tell you—in the matter of my thinking what must be said when an occasion such as this has come to take me by the heart:  it was with tears in my eyes that I made my way through the pages recording Ryder’s mission to bury her dead in a manner unique among the methods practiced by humankind.  Her art is water for the thirsty, sustenance for the deprived.  I ask you, which of us is not perishing from the logic of the insufficiency woven into the world’s conceivable answer to our unappeasable cries?  Ryder, her soul, her sentences, they are one thing, and this totality is given as an exception—the valedictory gesture of a mensch, this Pamela Ryder, enacting her livelong promise via the ceremonies of Paradise Field.  Listen to me—my daughter brings comfort, brings balm, brings the exhilaration of loving and kinship to al those who would, by words, be cured.
–Gordon Lish–
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Proposition : Padgett Powell

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You can’t ramble around the woods in your truck going to fish camps without drinking. You’ll meet up with an appointed manager of a landing that has one or two boats go out a day, or a week, and he’ll sit you down in a chair on the lawn and sit beside you and slap his knee and finally offer you a beer and you will have to take it or you won’t should have sat down in the first place with such a man in such a position in the fading, old world.

After about thirty minutes, a codger like this in such a position – you all sitting there reading the hydrilla-warning sign which, as much as anything else, is why he’s likely to make about only $30 from launch fees the entire month, reading that sign for thirty minutes – he might slap his knee again and say, “Boy, I could use some sex.”

“Me too,” you say, before you think very much, but you are in it now. Brace yourself a bit, maybe try to get another beer quick, but don’t run, because a man in his position is generally highly politic.

“Do you want me to suck you dick?” he says, not reading the hydrilla sign now but looking you dead in the eye like the world’s greatest salesman or priest or politician or doctor giving you the straight poop.

“Oh, naw. Thanks, but no. Thanks,” you say, and read the hydrilla sign carefully.

“No shame to it, bud,” he might say. “Nothing in the world I like better.”

Basically you are looking at a grisly, lumpy man who might have changed people’s oil for a living, unless he somehow got this job, which is watching the place for a rich person somewhere and taking the $1.00 from every party what runs his boat up or down the busted-up concrete slab that nobody with a heavy boat better go too far down or he’ll never get out.

“Naw.” You say this again and give him one of the earnest level-eyes and he’ll get your meaning and his hopes will ebb out and you’ll both be back to sign reading and stretching around in the lawn chairs and maybe you’ll be ready a little earlier than you might have otherwise to get back in your truck and ramble into the woods and drink your own beer and ramble.

It might be a good thing to stop somewhere particularly scenic – maybe some young longleaf  pines  in  clear  air  taking  a  little  breeze  in  their  rich  brilliant  silky  sappy  needles – and announce, “Perversion is pandemic.” That may be a most pleasant thing to stop your rambling in the woods drinking and do.

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Thanks to The Millions for their support of Ottessa Moshfegh and Unsaid:

 

HOMESICK FOR ANOTHER WORLD, by Ottessa Moshfegh:

“A long, dull day of jury duty in 2008 was redeemed by a lunchtime discovery of Unsaid magazine and its lead story ‘Help Yourself!’ by Moshfegh, whose characters were alluring and honest and full of contempt. I made a point to remember her name at the time, but now Moshfegh’s stories appear regularly in The Paris Review and The New Yorker, and her novel Eileen was shortlisted for the 2016 Booker Prize. Her debut collection of stories, Homesick for Another World, gathers many of these earlier stories, and is bound to show why she’s considered one of literature’s most striking new voices.”

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From the Unsaid Archives / Help Yourself! / Ottessa Moshfegh / (From Unsaid Three)

history-of-pancakes

This is me: one out of billions, not destitute, never married, not well traveled, a fan for music, like those long drawling symphonies, church songs, blind men on the piano, all that beautiful misery. My name is Bettina Clark. I live in the same city as you, in a boarding house, in the room on the top floor where a maid would sleep a hundred years ago. People always ask me where I come from: I come from a small town outside of a big one. Now I’m a person who resides mostly in what effect I can have on people’s misery. It’s a fine existence, even though I have no friends. My one true hobby is placing personal adds in newspapers put out in the countryside.

Yesterday there was a story in the news. It was a horrible story about an accident. A young woman, a crawling baby, a halfway house for the wretched. I can’t get it out of my mind. Right now it is too horrible. The objects involved are too garish. This young mother was only eighteen years old. I care because I live for horror. It’s the only thing that ties me to people. Otherwise I am completely alone.

My room is quiet and has a small window to the street. There is a narrow worn path across the floor, and the ceiling comes slanting down to one corner. There isn’t much room for monkey business. There are grooves in the wall, which is made of green-painted slats of wood. I think the grooves in the wall go along with where the mop and broom handles bumped against when that old maid slammed the door. A day doesn’t go by I don’t picture her rages. The room still smells like sweat and soap. Little treasured trinkets, darned stockings. Every day I thank the Lord.

I thank the Lord for the subtle fire in my groin, and for all the gross adventures of my imagination. When I was twelve I bent over in front of my elementary school gym teacher and he put one heavy open hand on one side of my spine, and another hand on the other side. “Bettina,” he said, and traced that gristly, calloused thumb bump to bump along my scoliosised vertebrae. When I am wrecked with age, I’ll have the humpback. You have to have something to succumb to. Because of it, I never hold a single grudge. It’s the give and take of life, I guess.

Another story in the news: a stranger from another city threw himself in front of the subway and survived. Pinned and severed, he lay on his back and spoke to the emergency medical technician. He moved his head like a dying dog. “It doesn’t hurt,” he said. There are some people on this earth, I swear. Any one you pass on the street just might be an angel, you have no idea.

I work in an office and by now I have earned a window and a shorter walk to the bathroom. My doctor says my little problems are worsening. I don’t like to swallow pills. My employer is a drunk with a pair of spoiled twin-looking children. “Strong genes,” he says, “are the backbone of our great society.” His name is Frank Marotta. When he hands me something to type or mail, he likes to hover next to my desk and spit into my hair. “Bettina,” he says, “Don’t you want to quit this? I still pay you seven dollars an hour.”

“Nothing doing, Frank,” I say. Poverty is one way to heaven, doesn’t everybody know that? But what Frank doesn’t know can’t hurt him. Every day I do my part to sabotage his operation. He’s too drunk to notice, and the guy who keeps the books is a drunk too. They go for long cheap Chinese lunches and come back stinking of gin and let it out in the ladies’ toilet, hiding it from one another. Which brings me back to the horrible news from yesterday about the young mother and her dead baby. It’s all just too much to do any more than just mention it right now. I have a fragile, grotesque grasp on current events.

Where does all this put me in the world? I ask myself daily.

Today is Sunday. I don’t have a kitchen. Just this dead maid’s room and a key to the toilet. But I have a little porcelain sink next to my bed, and if the others are out in the hall late at night, I just go in there. Whenever I pass one of the young men tenants on the stairs they do the same thing: rub up close and push their hot breath into my ear.

“What gives, lady?”

Don’t they know I’m old enough to be their mothers?

This morning I woke up and had the same thought I have every morning: who am I and what am I doing here? Then I remember my one greatest joy and it is that I generally expect the worst from people. I keep my purse beneath my pillow because those young men on the stairs and in the hallway like to snoop. If I’m not careful to lock up on my trip to the toilet, I can be sure to find one of them sitting on my bed or pawing through my small chest of drawers. I paw through their things too when they are using the phone downstairs. Human beings are curious animals. And we all want to be found out.

I wish the worst for people because I think every man, woman and child ought to be humble and fight the good fight. And I’m a terrible liar too. But I do it in the kindest way.

Here’s an example: while waiting for a bus, I might chat up an old man or lady. We talk about the change in the weather, and I’ll say, “It will rain today, no question. . . . Don’t you read the papers?” And they believe me. I’m no great beauty full of mystery or anything: why would I lie? But just think of their great relief when the sun keeps shining all day long! They might never appreciate such a gift as a sunny afternoon. We have got to be grateful for what we have.

At some point in history, someone said something I think is very stupid and other people keep repeating it over and over again.

“When God gives you lemons, make lemonade.”

I really can’t think of what this means. If God gives you a lemon, why can’t you just be satisfied with a lemon? And if you aren’t satisfied with the lemon, why not bury the lemon in the ground and practice some patience. One day you might have a tree—tall and slim with silvery smooth bark. You could admire the look of the tree. You could lie on the cool ground in the shade of this tree and gaze up at the sky and think how lucky you are to have these pretty lemon tree leaves pitter-pattering their moonshaped shadows across your face. And if you were very patient and a little lucky, your tree might bear fruit. Maybe then you could think of lemonade. Maybe if you had a thirsty guest who had traveled a great distance in the dust down the treeless road just to see you, you could use a few of the lemons for his lemonade. Maybe he came to wish you a happy birthday. If God gave you a friend, would you squeeze the life out of your friend and throw the rest of him away just to quench your own thirst a little? It’s not very forward thinking.

Occasionally I lose track of time and lean my ear against the door of my dead maid’s room and listen to the young men talking. They have those big burly voices that carry through walls. They’re like the men you see in movies: tall and their faces perfectly match their personalities, and each of them only slightly differs from the next. Sometimes all I listen for are the curse words. I like it when they say, “Fuck!” and call each other “Bastards!” It really makes me curious. Sometimes when they stop me on the stairs I say the words back to them. Like “Fuck you bastard!” but I do it in the same hot whispery voice they use on me with their thighs pressed up against me on the stairs. I don’t know where they get the nerve but I try to play along. I see no point in making enemies in the home.

My mother and father were deaf and stupid. When I was a child they acted like everything they did was a favor to me. The bread was always moldy and when they put on the radio it boomed and kept me up at night. For deaf people they really liked music. It always killed me how much time they spent together with their secret codes. They wrote me a few notes after I moved out and that was it. I’ve been living here for seven years. Some nights I come home from work and plan to do some awful things, but I rarely have the wherewithal to carry them out. I like it when bad things happen to people, but I’d rather stay out of it. Sometimes just planning to do something awful is enough of an awful thing to do. This is not to say I haven’t tried. I have tried several times to do something so awful I can hardly mention it here. But if you are sitting there thinking, “This lady is so awful,” or “This lady’s marbles have been whacked a bit too hard by impatient children,” I’d like to remind you of how much my heart went out to the young mother and her drowned baby in the halfway house. Remember how disturbed I was and what a point I made in addressing what a tragedy this has been, especially considering the mother’s youth and the graphic, stinky details. So I hope you bite your tongue after you open your mouth to damn me.

If you step on my foot in the hallway or on the stairs, you can be sure that the sweet angel in me will save you from being turned over the banister to tumble to your certainly crunchy death on the foyer floor. So just thank your lucky stars.

Sometimes your lucky stars appear to you not like stars at all but glossy plastic buttons on a lady’s coat or two little freckles on a child’s knee. Or sometimes your lucky stars are two tweaky roaches crawling out of the drain when you are standing there naked. You never know. Sometimes I stay late in the office and go through the bookkeeper’s ledger. I have a very good pencil with a perfect eraser at the end of it. I just go through it and make small changes. I make sure to change the important sums and figures which he’s done up on his greasy calculator. And I add a line or two to the letters he or my boss asks me to type up and drop in the mailbox on my way home. I might write something like, “Cut the shit, Charlie. We all know you’re desperate as hell.” Or when it’s a letter to a lady, “Barbara, baby, everyone knows your silly husband goes with little boys.” When I answer the phones, I put on a special voice, the voice of a secretary with lots of secrets. I like to put people on hold and then just sit there breathing into the phone. When Frank’s wife calls, I never give Frank the message. I think the phone is an odd element in our civilization. It’s hard to tell the lies.

And this brings me to my most beneficial pastime. I keep a jar of dimes under my bed and every Sunday I take two pocketfuls and get on a city bus with my purse tight in the crook of my elbow. I take the bus to a bad part of town where there are no public libraries or pharmacies, just dirty movie houses, corner stores that keep all their inventory behind bulletproof glass, liquor stores with blinking pink and yellow neon signs, an elevated railroad for cargo trains, a dark coffeeshop full of sleeping bums and drunkard women, old men with faces as wrinkled as the brown paper bags they keep their bottles in, the fetid, stimulating smell of shit.

I have a little ivory-handled handgun that I keep in my purse along with a wad of twenty-dollar bills rolled into a flesh-colored nylon sock. I wear my sunglasses and an unfashionable suit. People take me for a church-lady or social worker, I guess. I don’t get many concerned looks. When I get off the bus I hold my purse in the crack of my armpit. Sometimes I buy a newspaper and hold that against my chest like a worried woman. Nobody pays me any attention.

Next I go into the coffeeshop and sit at a table in the corner from which I can see out the greasy, dull windows on to the street. I also have a good view of the counter. I can see who walks in, what they do, where they choose to sit, and how they address the waitress who is a portly older woman in a smock with poorly managed graying hair. It is on these trips which I thank God for my crooked spine. Being invisible as I am to these people, it’s nice to have a little secret evil snarled inside, just to smarten up my attitude. Some people are shy and can easily fade into the background. Not me, though. I’m always looking for that fine line.

When the graying waitress comes by, I order breakfast for two.

“One high stack of pancakes, one cheese omelette, grits, two boiled eggs, ham, one oatmeal, and french fries.”

She writes it down and brings the coffees. She doesn’t ask if I’m expecting anyone to join me, just sets out an extra pile of napkins. I listen to her yell my order to the cook through the hole in the wall behind the counter. I watch to see who turns around. Usually no one is eating, just drinking coffee and maybe having a donut. Inevitably someone will spill something or break a glass. Nobody cares. The next person to walk by will just kick the broken glass to one side. Most people here are too dumbed down by life to make much effort, to harness the power of their minds. I think it goes without saying that these people are all lowlifes, down on their luck since birth and not making any steps towards a brighter future. I like to see their slumped necks and dirty collars. The women are like maimed dogs: quick to jump and full of nicks and looking for someone to lick their open sores. A few men throw them angry glances and then remember themselves and try to beat the dust off their pantlegs with an old hat, grunt like cows. Or they return their sad head to the crook of their arm set up on the counter. You’d think they should be weeping but these people do not weep. They just sit around. They do not talk animatedly or disturb the air much when they move. They drink and spit and get up to use the toilet. They go outside to throw dice or get sick in the garbage can. They motion for the waitress and nod and sneer at her. They look for something to wipe their hands on. The smoke from their cigarettes looks like the wavy lines people draw to 16 mean a stinky smell. Sometimes I open the paper and read the Sunday funnies while I wait for the food. When it arrives, I let it sit there and wait for someone to come over to beg.

I will tell you something: I like to believe in things, but I don’t like phrasing them the way other people do. I tell you this because it’s just now occurred to me. At first I wanted to tell you, “I believe that patience is a virtue.” But when I heard the words sound themselves out in my mind, they sounded so stupid. It incenses me when things sound stupid. I really do believe in virtues, and I believe patience is a good one of them. But a person just really shouldn’t repeat stupid phrases. Really a person should never repeat any few words put together by another person who has used those words in that way before. When you copy words you are really saying to the world, “I am simply too dumb to think this out on my own,” and “I am a person who would rather be accepted than be understood.” It takes patience, and a bit of imagination to put your words together correctly.

So when I sit and wait for a bum to come and beg at that coffeeshop table, I am exercising the most difficult virtue of them all. I am waiting for pride to break down. Think of how much that bum must hate me. He hates me. And because he hates me, he will beg of me. This is how it works. Nobody dares stoop to someone they love. While I’m waiting, I reach into my purse and finger the glossy ivory handle of my gun. I do it to complete the situation. If there were not a weapon involved such as this one, I’d just be a desperate woman.

I know the young men in the halls at home think I am a desperate woman. It’s the same game with them. They beg of me too because they know I am a woman neglectful of marriage. They know I was never beautiful or had a father who bought me pretty things. They push up against me on the stairs and catch my hair in their mouths while they lean into my ear. I keep a rigid neck and grit my teeth. I think of Moses parting the seas. I think I could do it if I really put my mind to it.

I had a baby once. It came out like a monster and sat breathing like a huffing furless goat in its glass cage. It wasn’t anybody’s fault. As far as I know it is being cared for by a thankful pair of human beings somewhere in this city. It seems ridiculous, I know.

You see, I’ve always had a trouble when it comes time to trust. If there were someone I could trust in this world, let it be someone in this shit-stink diner, let it be that young man—the runaway, the whore—who will break out of the din and ask if he may join me.

“Good morning, ma’am,” he might say.

“Good morning, young man,” I’ll say.

He motions to the empty seat with what is in his hand—a sweaty handkerchief, a battered hat, a soiled newspaper. It is at this time I see he is a good actor. He grins shyly, now holding his hands together humbly in front of him. He does the slightest shuffle of his feet. When he lifts his eyes they are kind, bulging, hungry, appeasing eyes. I decide to look him up and down and squint just to see what he thinks about that. He doesn’t mind. I nod at the empty orange booth across from me. He does an awkward, manly move and scoots in.

“I don’t cook,” I tell him. “I’m not that kind of woman.”

“Mmm hmm,” he turns his head mechanically to the window, thinking of words.

The plates of food sit and steam. Someone at the counter yells something in his direction.

“Help yourself,” I tell him.

While we are eating, I set my fork down on the table and pull out my gun. Nobody notices. It’s just a little game, just to see.

I could have some expansive thoughts while this boy tries to eat like a civilized person in front of me. Bits of food get caught in his spotty beard. His lips are glistening with the grease in the soft sunlight. His silence paints over the situation and it is easier to ignore everything else around and focus more on the evenness of his jaw working, the delicate skin around his eyes, a soft down of blond hairs picked up by the sun. His eyes are a honey brown. I want to kidnap him. I think about walking out on the street with him and hailing a taxi. I imagine leaning back against the warm leather seat and giving directions to the driver. The boy would be nervous and excited. Or maybe he would be all business as usual and roll down the window to spit. Maybe I would hold the gun on him. If he refused to come with me, I would pay him a dime every ten minutes. Every five minutes if he looked forlorn. We would go to the art museum. In the hallway with pewter and bronze relics from early America, I would point at what I like and make him look at it. The reflections of our faces in the curved and polished silver cups and pots and plaques would twist and swirl us into a kind of two-toned monster, symmetrical and complete. In the high-ceilinged galleries of portraits, we would stand absorbed together, staring up into the eyes of dead kings and queens: men and women who sat for hours, days, weeks, years maybe, just so that their faces would show up somewhere in the world.

Back in the maid’s room, I put on the radio and let the music do to me what it will do. I think of myself as a great oriental carpet in an elegant banquet hall, and I crawl around it, and trace every pattern, designs like dreams spreading infinitely, on and on.

Knock knock knock.

Three times means someone is on the phone for me.

“Long distance,” says the booming voice of the boy in the hall.

It’s not what you think: a long-lost twin, my drunk boss, a police officer, a distant relation announcing a death, my child, nothing like that. The payphone in the hall is strangely sterile, an ugly mauve color with hardened little buttons. Next to the phone, a legal pad is stuck on the wall with a hanging ballpoint pen to keep track of the bills.

“I’m calling in answer to your ad,” says the man on the phone. “I have a daughter and a dog.”

“Tell me more,” I say.

When we pull up to the small wooden house in the forest, the dog is smaller than I imagined. Just a little raggish gray thing that skulks around the porch and does not come when I put my hand out.

The daughter is well-groomed and sets the plates carefully on the table.

“My girl likes to draw, don’t you honey?” says the man.

If I feel like letting you in on any privacy about this man, I say to you that at his finest moments, he’s just as adaptable to tragedy as to triumph, and that he looks away when I do my nasties.

After dinner the daughter spreads out her drawings. And there it is, the crystal clear vision of youth. The curling yellowed paper, the lines delicate and perturbed, each self-portrait truer than the last. And she keeps them coming. “This is me, and this is me, and this is me again.” Announcing all the silvery sketches, each with that same brilliant phrase: “This is me!” The father sweats luminously across the table.

“I do one every day,” says the daughter, her uncharacteristic big gripping hands smoothing over the edges, moving over the world she knows with a certainty that makes me want to weep. She puts one of these hands on my shoulder absentmindedly.

“If I do one a day, by the time I die I’ll have thousands,” she says. “And then I’ll hang them up in a line and walk past them while I’m really sick and dying. And so the last thing I’ll see before I die is the picture I drew of myself when I’m dead.”

“Everyone has a few great ideas,” she says restfully.

And then she says to me, “What do you do? What is your great idea?”

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