30 Pieces of a Novel

30 Pieces of a Novel

by Stephen Dixon

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In 30 Dixon presents us with life according to Gould, his brilliant fictional narrator who shares with us his thoroughly examined life from start to several finishes, encompassing his real past, imagined future, mundane present, and a full range of regrets, lapses, misjudgments, feelings, and the whole set of human emotions. All of Gould's foibles-his lusts and


In 30 Dixon presents us with life according to Gould, his brilliant fictional narrator who shares with us his thoroughly examined life from start to several finishes, encompassing his real past, imagined future, mundane present, and a full range of regrets, lapses, misjudgments, feelings, and the whole set of human emotions. All of Gould's foibles-his lusts and obsessions, fears and anxieties-are conveyed with such candor and lack of pretension that we can't help but be seduced into recognizing a little bit of Gould in us or perhaps a lot of us in Gould. For Gould is indeed an Everyman for the end of themillennium, a good man trying to live an honest life without compromise and without losing his mind.

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30 Pieces of a Novel

By Stephen Dixon

Dzanc Books

Copyright © 1994 Stephen Dixon
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4804-3448-6



THIS IS SOMETHING that comes back at moments that for the most part don't seem to have anything to do with the incident. When he was standing in the bathtub yesterday taking a shower. Well, now that he refers to it he sees where it could sort of be explained why it came back there: the incident happened when he was walking back to the house he was staying at, after swimming in a public pool, and also his nakedness in the shower and no doubt washing his genitals during it. Another time: when he was walking across Central Park on his way to the Whitney Museum. The museum couldn't have had anything to do with it, but the park certainly might have, if he really wants it explained why the incident comes back at certain times: it happened in a state park, and of course he was walking through it when it did. Other times? Plenty, but he forgets, except one when he was making love with his wife in the daytime when the kids were in school. Why it came then is easily explainable, even if he was in almost the exact opposite mating position as the guy in the incident, though who knows if with a little more thinking that couldn't be explained too: for instance, the girl with the guy was in the same mating position that he was in with his wife when the thought of the incident came to him again.

He was walking—this is the incident—taking a shortcut through the state park to the house of the woman he was spending the weekend with. But now he remembers he got there Saturday night after work (so the incident could only have happened on a Sunday, not that this adds anything to why it comes back to him so often), after not seeing her for five days—he was a salesman at the time in the Little Boys Shop in Bloomingdale's and always worked Saturdays, the store's busiest day, till closing around six—and would usually stay at her place till early Monday morning when he'd get a ride back with one of her friends or neighbors in her village: most of the people she knew there worked in Manhattan. He'd been seeing this woman for about a year now. In fact, shortly before the incident, though he doesn't think this has anything to do with the frequency with which he recalls it, he'd lived with her a couple of months and commuted to the store: car ride with one of her friends or neighbors to the city, usually public transportation back, and on Saturdays public transportation both ways—subway to the 175th Street station and the Port Authority bus terminal upstairs, Red & Tan bus to her village, and then the long walk up a steep hill to her house if she didn't meet him in her car at the stop. She was a high school teacher in Nyack, her house a few miles south of Nyack in Piermont, near where the state park and pool were. Her house was once one of the small workers' row houses owned by a huge paper mill on the Hudson in Piermont. Now the mill only made paper bags and all the row houses were privately owned. It was summer, July or August, so the woman was on vacation and her daughter was either at sleep-away camp, if it was July, or with her father in East Hampton for the weekend, if it was August. But the point is he was taking this shortcut on a park service road that connected the pool with a gate about half a mile away in Piermont. He'd swum in the pool, walked on the service road to get to it. If he'd driven the woman's car he would have taken a much longer way to get to the pool, though shorter in time, since no vehicle but a state park one was allowed to use the service road. There were the same two or three park trucks, with nobody in them, parked off the road when he walked to and from the pool, and the car of the incident parked on the road when he walked home. If he'd taken her car he would have parked in the pool lot, swum, showered—showered; so that's possibly another reason why it comes back to him while he's showering in a bathtub or stall—then driven back to her house and never seen what he saw that afternoon, and it was the afternoon. After a quick light lunch around two or so she asked what his plans were and he said, Why, what does she have in mind?—nothing suggestive in the remark, as sometimes when he said something like that, with a smile or leer, it meant does that mean she wants to have sex?—and she said she was going to do some errands in Nyack and, if she didn't find what she wanted, then at the Nanuet Mall. Not the greatest thing to do on a hot day, but does he want to come along? and he said it was much too hot—both the temperature and humidity were in the nineties—and he thinks he'd like to go swimming in the park pool. She said she'd drop him off if he wanted to go now, as she was leaving in a few minutes, and he said he didn't mind the walk—what was it, a mile, maybe a mile and a half? and it could be more peaceful—and also he wanted to have another iced coffee before he left and read the paper a little, which he hadn't even opened yet. He knew that as much as he'd cool off at the pool, he'd get heated up and sweaty again walking back to her house, since he'd have to climb that steep hill, most of it in the sun. She said she'd probably be here when he got back, if he wasn't going to leave in the next half hour and just take a quick dip and hustle right home, and she'd see him then, and they'd talk about what they were going to do for dinner, or maybe he wants her to pick up something special on the way home. He said they shouldn't worry about dinner now—too hot and sticky to—and if the weather stays the same, with no breeze or anything, he doubts he'll want anything for dinner but a beer and some celery and carrots and a slice of bread. But he wished she'd change her mind and come to the pool with him. It could be crowded, but they'd find a relatively quiet place in the shade—most of the people who go there like to bake in the sun—and read, relax, chat, even nap, and she said that she never cared for public pools, and the horsing around and all the other things that go on there, and that these errands were essential.

So he swam, then the walk back. But swam several times, read parts of the book review and magazine sections of the paper in between swimming, and once rested on his stomach and closed his eyes for a few minutes and, he thinks, fell asleep. And occasionally just looked at the other people at the pool, especially some of the younger better-built women in swimsuits, and maybe even fantasized about them, but that he forgets. It was mostly shady on the service road, tall trees with overhanging branches above almost the entire area. He was about three-quarters of the way to the gate when he saw from a distance a car parked on the road. There seemed to be plenty of room off the road for it to park, and why they chose there he's never been able to figure out—immediacy of the moment, perhaps? Doesn't make sense. They could have, he's saying—the couple in the car—parked almost anywhere off the road. But maybe they were afraid of possible ruts or mud or something, when there really wasn't that much and nothing a car couldn't drive out of. In fact, the ground was pretty hard, if he remembers. Maybe they thought—or the guy did and the girl went along with it or was persuaded to by him, or the girl did and the guy thought, What the hell, if she thinks so then he's not going to protest, for all he wants is to get to it: the action, the sex—that no other cars would drive by. After all, it was Sunday, they could have reasoned, so wouldn't most of the park's service vehicles be idle for the weekend or just for the day? Actually, probably not, for the weekend could be when they worked the most, Sunday being the park's busiest day by far, but this was a remote area, so how often then would a service vehicle pass by or a police car check it: every two hours, three, even four? And what they wanted to do would take ten to twenty minutes, or for the guy maybe not even that. They might have done all the preliminaries somewhere else—in the parking lot or under a towel or blanket at the pool—and had only come here to finish up because it was so far out of the way. And maybe they didn't know that walkers used the road as a shortcut between Piermont and the pool—they wouldn't if they didn't live in the area—or even that someone from the pool or town might want to take a long walk on it for exercise or because it was so quiet and shady or maybe it was a good spot to watch birds. Or they knew all that or some of it but thought, What, one or two walkers or hikers or bird-watchers every hour or so? Anyway, the car was parked in the middle of the one-lane dirt road, so if a service vehicle or police car was coming from either direction it would have had to go around it off the road. And if one was coming from the pool area it would have gone around the passenger side—or that's the side he would have gone around if he'd been driving a car—and the person in the passing car would have seen the couple doing what they were doing, if they still were, and then what? The couple could have been arrested if it was a police car that passed, and who knows what would have happened if one or two park workers caught them at it? Getting closer—he was about a hundred and fifty feet away now—he thought, Maybe the driver's a bird-watcher and is out with his field glasses somewhere or even looking for birds from the car. Or he could be hunting for wild mushrooms—he'd heard that the Palisades, which this area was part of, had some pretty good edible ones—or went to a nearby spot he knows from previous years where mushrooms are. Or he could be collecting firewood for the winter—lots of spare wood in these woods, and they were woods—but then he'd almost certainly have driven off the road to park out of sight so he could gather the wood secretly, since you're not supposed to take anything out of a state park except maybe berries and mushrooms, if even that. Then he saw a human figure—he was about a hundred feet from the car now, and his eyes were bad from any long distance—a man, and as he got closer he saw him facing the opened front passenger door and looking as if he was peeing. If you are going to pee in the woods along a public road, he thought, better to do it that way, with the door blocking anyone coming from the gate direction from seeing you do it and your body blocking anyone from seeing you peeing who was coming from the pool. And if it was a walker coming, even a jogger, since joggers probably ran on this road too, the man would be able to see that person from hundreds of feet away, if his eyes were good from that distance, and by the time the person got close, unless the jogger was really moving, his peeing would be over, though the man didn't seem to be stopping for him. Now he was maybe twenty feet away and not knowing which side of the car to walk around—the one he'd normally take would be the right, but he didn't want to pass the guy peeing—when he saw legs hanging over the seat, no pants or skirt or shoes or socks on, though the person might have underpants or a swimsuit on, since all he saw was from the knees down. And the man did seem to have his hands on his fly, or one hand on it and the other extended into the car toward the seat, but he couldn't see if his penis was out of his pants. What the hell's going on, he thought, this guy harming or killing someone or dumping a body or what? Gould stopped, didn't know if he should turn around and go back or just walk quickly past the car on the left side and keep going, but wanted to get away from here, a few hundred feet away, at least a hundred, and then look back at it from there, not that he'd see much with his lousy eyes, for he'd left his distance glasses at the woman's home. But then he thought maybe someone was being hurt, though he doesn't hear anything: cries, pleas, things like that. By now he'd walked backwards to the pool about fifteen feet, stopped, and didn't know which way to go now or what to do. Then the legs started moving, it seemed, the feet a little, and the man, who hadn't looked this way once, moved in closer till he was between the legs and up against the seat, with both his arms in the car now looking as if they were pressing down on something, and Gould thought, My God, that's a woman in there and they're fucking; what a schmuck I've been! And right here; who the hell does that? Well, screw them, I just want to get home—and started to walk past their car, since why should he go back and around the long way and all that just because they chose here to do their humping? As he got to the right of the door, walking on the side of the road in some weeds and clumpy dirt, so that he had to look at the ground a couple of times to make sure he wouldn't trip over anything, and ready to say, Excuse me, if the man suddenly turned around and caught him looking, he saw the woman, shirt on but almost up to her breasts and her legs spread apart, lots of black hairs on the side of her vagina that he could see and even a little of that outer lip folded back or some part like that, back flat on the seat and head raised a few inches and staring warily at him and then sort of dopily with her eyes almost closed as she was jammed hard by the man but giving no sign she was in any harm, guy with his tank top on and pants up but belt and pants buttons undone and going in and out of her slowly now and for a moment all the way out by an inch, and then after a few seconds straight in again, hands splayed on the seat on either side of her waist, bracing himself perhaps or just a place to put them, girl with her head on the seat and eyes totally closed now and smiling. Something cool blew through Gould, where—maybe because of the humidity too but probably at just seeing what he'd never seen any two people do in front of him and just the open and eventually oblivious way they were doing it and the point they seemed to be at in the act, or he would be, and the forest air—he had to catch his breath and really felt dizzy for a few seconds and stumbled back onto the road once he was past the car and for a while walked with his hand clutching his neck. He turned around when he was about fifty feet away, thinking that if the guy was looking at him now he'd just quickly turn around and continue on, and only saw the guy's head through the window, still moving back and forth like before and never glancing at him, but nothing of her. It could be, because of all he'd taken in, that he'd stopped for half a minute or so by the car, but he wasn't aware of it. But Jesus, he kept thinking as he walked, never saw anything like it even in the few pornos he'd seen; just two kids, the guy maybe seventeen, eighteen, the girl fifteen or a little more, blank to everything else when she stopped staring at him, for then she looked as if she was doing it out of duty or for money or just for the sake of the guy or maybe she was high. Thought of them the whole way back, her bush, shine on the guy's penis, vagina lip or skin or whatever it was folded over, and her dreamy-to-transported look and smile, sometimes feeling his penis through the pants pocket and pulling it, rubbing the head, knowing if he stuck his hand inside he'd find it wet, wanting to tell his woman friend what he saw but she wasn't back, realizing when he got to her front steps that he hadn't worked up a drop of sweat.

Made himself coffee, sat on the porch in the swing chair and opened the newspaper, unconsciously began playing with himself through his pants, went inside and sat at the kitchen table and unzipped his fly and started jerking himself off to get rid of the tension and stop thinking of them, but then thought, Don't throw it away, save it for when she gets back when maybe he can get her to make love soon or even right away. Story about what he saw won't hurt. Maybe even just coming right out and saying it's made him hot, remembering and then telling it, so would she mind much if they did it now, as a favor or just because he's almost never felt so rutty, and thinking of the couple isn't all there is to it, for of course there's her too, on the couch or floor or bed, though he'd love, even if he knows this is screwy and a silly thought and there's no chance they're going to do it this way, on a car seat in a remote grove with all those forest smells and sounds around, or in a different position than them if she can come up with one, for though he knows it's being done in cars all the time he's never till now known for sure how. Anyway, convincing her that it would be better now or an hour or two later than after her daughter comes home, if it was August, when they'd have to be more inhibited and could only do it in bed, with their usual last sex before he left the next day, unless she's just started her period and thinks she's already too messy, as she's sometimes said.


Excerpted from 30 Pieces of a Novel by Stephen Dixon. Copyright © 1994 Stephen Dixon. Excerpted by permission of Dzanc Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Stephen Dixon is the author of fifteen novels and fourteen short story collections and has published hundreds of stories in an incredible list of literary journals. He’s twice been a finalist for the National Book Award and his writing has also earned him a Guggenheim Fellowship, the American Academy Institute of Arts and Letters Prize for Fiction, the O. Henry Award, and the Pushcart Prize.        

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