Fall and Rise

Fall and Rise

by Stephen Dixon

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781937854003
Publisher: Dzanc Books
Publication date: 04/30/2013
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 180
File size: 806 KB

About 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.     

Read an Excerpt

Fall & Rise


By Stephen Dixon

Dzanc Books

Copyright © 1985 Stephen Dixon
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4804-1732-8



CHAPTER 1

The Party


I meet her at a party. It's a large room I first see her in. I was one of the first guests to arrive and I thought I was late. The host lives on the top floor. It's a four-story building, small for what I know of most of the city but not for her neighborhood. Red brick, narrow width, low ceilings in all the apartments but the two on what was originally the parlor floor, with a steep stoop outside of about ten steps. It was raining. I took the subway down. I didn't know what to wear. I haven't many clothes. One pair of shoes I shined the previous night. A corduroy sports jacket, couple of wrinkled dress shirts, three ties—one a bow—which I never like to put on and are a bit stained and out of date. Really only one pair of what could be called dress pants if I don't want to wear my good blue jeans. Good meaning the jeans that are still reasonably new and rough and dark blue instead of light and smooth from lots of washings and wear. Black corduroys. They needed a pressing. It was too late for that now. I had thought of it earlier. The day before. Then thought if I wear these pants I can't the jacket, since the jacket's a faded olive green and of a wider wale and wouldn't go with the pants. To me if one wears corduroy pants and jacket together it has to be a suit. I also thought, more than a week before, of getting the shirts laundered and pants and jacket cleaned or pressed, so I'd have one or the other garment and either of the shirts ready for the party. I knew I was going to it, knew some interesting and successful people would be there and a few in my field or close and that most would be well dressed and some even in elegant clothes: skirts or gowns to the floor, dark wool suits with vests. I didn't know she'd be there. Nobody had ever spoken of her to me even in passing. "Oh, maybe eighty or so," the host had said a month ago when she phoned to invite me and I asked how many people would be there. And rather than meet her at the party I saw her there and later met her on the landing outside the host's front door. Diana's. One large smartly and no doubt—unless she inherited most of it, and judging from what she's told me about her genealogy and bringing-up she probably did—expensively furnished living room and an adjoining room with only an enormous armoire and dresser and big brass bed and whose lights were usually off and louver doors closed. Both rooms overlooking a small square park with joggers running around it even at night and in the rain. Even till very late, Diana had told me and several others this summer when we were having drinks outdoors and watching the sun set over some mountains or hills of upstate New York. The setting sun reminded her of the sunrise or latter part of it she can see from her apartment during the winter and spring months, and that connection led to a number of other things she sees from her windows. That sometimes she'll get up for something at three or four in the morning and see joggers and occasionally a cyclist doing several laps, or at least in the time she looks, and once even a unicyclist, though she only watched him till he reached the corner because it took him so long and she had become bored. I could see joggers and pedestrians from her windows at the party but no cyclists. It was mostly raining when I looked out her windows, raining when I left my building uptown. Black corduroys, I decided on—unpressed. Sweater instead of jacket, still smelling from the natural waterproof oils the manufacturer had left in the wool, and which I'd take off at the party when I took off my coat. I had no iron, though could have asked the landlady on the first floor to loan me one. She's loaned me things like that before. Vacuum cleaner, dishes and candlesticks when I was having eight people for dinner once. That was a year ago. May was there, slept over, made the pastry and bread in my stove. But I didn't want to go through the chore of pressing the pants without an ironing board or carrying the board up and down two flights if I also borrowed that, and thought the pants being black wouldn't look too unpressed. Long-sleeved blue cotton shirt, in the rugby mode, with a tan collar that didn't look quite right with the rest of the shirt or the pants. The shoes were the best-dressed part of me, only a month old so still with good heels and soles. I took an umbrella. Not the one someone had left behind several months ago. A woman I'd met at a PEN symposium on the rights of the translator and minimum rates he should receive, and who stayed the next night at my place. Came when it rained, left when it was sunny and mild. I cooked us dinner, made her breakfast, phoned the day after and she said she'd changed her mind and would rather not see me again if it was all right. I asked was it anything I did or didn't and she said no, everything was great in every way. I said I'd call back in a couple of weeks and maybe she'll have changed her mind. She said I shouldn't bother to call, nor even bother her with my phone rings. I said then how can I get the umbrella back to her, since it wasn't the contractible kind that were fairly simple to mail. She said she had plenty of umbrellas that people have left behind at her apartment so why don't I keep it for a rainy day. Used those very words. What was my reply? I said goodbye, though wanted to say "You think I'd use an umbrella that has a gilded mermaid handle and a canopy that's hot-pants pink?" Took my regular folding umbrella to Diana's party. Looked out my window, saw there was rain. Couldn't see how much rain because I live in back and all my windows face either an air shaft or alleyway and are two stories down from the roof. So I dialed Weather and a man said periods of heavy rain tonight and possible sleet and snow but no measurable accumulation. When I got outside it seemed as if the rain was coming down in printed periods. Hundreds of them every square foot per second. It rained buckets of periods except beneath the streetlamp where it poured cats and dogs of diagonals and double primes, and I was glad I'd also worn my fake fleece-lined raincoat. Not nippy enough yet for my muffler, I thought upstairs, or watchcap or double socks. I don't have rubbers and the rubber boots I have don't take shoes. I should get one or the other and will this week if I remember to and the price isn't too high. In the meantime I applied, half an hour before I left, mink oil around the shoes' stitching and seams and hoped they wouldn't get too wet. I headed for the subway. The periods and diagonals drummed my umbrella homophonically. Theoretically, the party had started. "Eight," Diana had said when she invited me and I said "Eight? Seems like an in-between hour to start a party: so soon after most people have just sat down to or finished their dinners." "No, when I say eight, people will know I mean nine and that's when they'll start coming, only a little after because no one likes to be first, and to only eat a light supper beforehand because I'll have lots of food there. Now if I had said nine, they'd begin coming at quarter to ten and then the party wouldn't end at one when I want it to but around one forty-five, and I have to be at work noon Saturdays." It was now half-past eight. Entire trip to her place shouldn't take more than forty minutes if there isn't an inordinately long subway station wait. There are good bookstores down there so if I get downtown too early to be late I'll browse around in one and maybe even buy a book I've wanted a long time and was only recently remaindered to a dollar or two or turned into a moderately priced paperback. Insert my umbrella into one of those stands or leakproof cans by the door, for I worked part-time in a bookstore this year when I couldn't, in spite of my various salaries, honoraria and advances, pay for both my rent and food, and know what damage a leaking umbrella and umbrella can can do to the books and floor and salesperson or customer who slides along it and maybe sprawls and then what that customer can do to the store. But finally outside, showered, shaved and brushed, perfectly hairless face except for the long graying sideburns and one or two hairs curling out of my nostrils and also the small clumps in my ears, which seem to get a bit thicker each year, stiff straight still-wet mostly ungraying side and top hair so right now not a filament or strand out of place. Raining tadpoles and diagonals, sheets and dogs. Three-block walk to the station, salute to the ornate neighborly Central Park West doorman who tips his hat to me with a white-gloved finger while he whistles with a whistle for a cab. Flower stall under a Sabrett's frankfurter stand umbrella by the subway entrance and I think Why not? and ask how much and for two bucks no tax buy five chrysanthemums and a fern frond, which he wraps in paper and then staples the top and bottom of when I say I'm going to Jersey by way of Amtrak. Downstairs, get two tokens and change and give my thanks and get skeptical eye contact back, though most times I don't. Second flight down, shaking the closed umbrella as I go and spattering the graffito on the tile wall that's calling our attention to the forthcoming carnage and war in Puerto Rico and El Salvador and how we must drive out all Hispanics and Semitics and gigolos and whores from New York. Not many people on the platform so could be a good ten-minute wait. Space for a slim-hipped and almost no-buttocked person on the one bench there and I almost sit. But the young woman I'd be sitting next to on one side is cracking and snapping gum which I can't stand the sound, smell and sight of and the man I'd be sitting thigh to thigh to seems asleep and the type who might take offense at our nearness if he suddenly awakes and thinks it's because of my dripping flowers or umbrella or something libidinous I did. Farther along the platform a man walking a ten-speed bike to what will be the first car, woman pacing back and forth carrying a typewriter case with I suppose a typewriter inside judging by her shoulder slump from the weight, a midget or someone I think would be considered a midget with that kind of forehead, hairline, face and height and whom I know as the efficient but sometimes belligerent cook of a Columbus Avenue coffee shop I've gone to on chillier days for coffee and soup, leaning against a pillar reading a weekly newsmagazine. The last person on the platform alternately looking at her wristwatch and the continually pouring whiskey clock above the bench that's about twenty minutes late, till she sees me stick the flowers to my nose for a sniff and smiles to herself and drops her watch hand. Nobody looking potentially menacing, a thought I've had here before since the night two years ago I was mugged for the first time in my life under the same squeaking clock. I start to pull a book out of my coat pocket, but with two cumbersome things I'm carrying and both wet, push it back, look to see if the train's coming, with my foot break up the puddle my umbrella's making till it takes on the shape of a dinosaur, walk along the platform reading some of the things scrawled on the wall ads: "Lenin is the tool of the Marxistplace—Free the Soviet Block 11!!"—shouted out of the mouth of a once-famous jockey who's promoting smart betting at OTB; "This ad makes asses of women by exploiting their asses"—ballooning out of the behind of a young woman modeling skin-tight designer jeans. I hear the rumble, look up the tunnel, see the beam, step behind the pillar the cook's leaning against on the other side. As the train pulls in, my mouth makes the motion of a hello to him while his fingers are in his ears and he acknowledges me with a vacant nod. We get on. Sleeping man's awake but stays on the bench. I keep the closing door open for a man running downstairs yelling "Wait, important date, hold the doors." Stand till the express stop and though there's an express waiting, catch the time on the cook's watch and sit rather than change since I'll spend the extra minutes I can afford to waste on this slower train. Across from me a woman's bawling out two young girls. Nothing they do is right. The older one puts her finger on her nose and tries to look at it cross-eyed: not right. Younger girl plays with her shoelaces without untying them: not right. Older girl skims her fingers over the woman's knuckles and then twirls the woman's pinky ring—slap, "Act your age, you're so pitiful dumb!" I'm reading one of the books of the Japanese poet's poems I'm to collect and translate from but with all that commotion I can't concentrate. Then the woman orders the girls to stand and they hold her jacket pocket-flaps and all go to the door as the train pulls in at Thirty-fourth and the woman sticks her head past the door and yells "Red." A man says "Way to go," and runs to the door and jumps on just before it closes. The woman's smiling, kids look sullen, man's laughing and shaking his head. She presses two hands of fingertips to his lips, man says "You're all looking good," and points to some seats and they sit, girls perpendicular to the woman and man. She says "I thought I'd miss you." He says "I told you I know how to work the subway. How the beauty queens been?" "Fine," "Fine," the girls say. "They been awful and don't let them convince you different, but now that you're here they're really going to be fine. Isn't that so, girls?" and they say to him "Yes," "Yes." She puts a hand on his knee, other hand holds his two, her thumb rubbing into his bottom palm. He laughs and says "I know, me too. What's it been, a week?" "Three days," she says. "Three? Shoo. Miss you so much, feels like three weeks." "Don't exaggerate." The older girl's looking at my flowers and says "Mommy, can I ask that man what he has in his paper?" "It's flowers," she says, still staring at the man. Train goes. "I know, but what kind—live or dead?" Woman looks at me. "No, honey, you don't want to be disturbing him. He's studying." My book's closed and in my lap. "Mister," the girl says, "what's in there, flowers or a plant?" "I told you," the woman says. "Now be good and be quiet and sit up like a grown girl," and looks back at the man and rubs his palm. "Six weeks," he says. "It's okay," I say to the woman. "They're cut chrysanthemums," to the girl, "so I suppose you can say they're dead though they're still very fresh." "I know that, but what color are they?" "Yellow and red." "Can I see them?" "Can I see them?" the younger girl says. "Tell them no," the woman says. "Those kids will hound you till you hand them over to them." "It's okay—And I'd like to show you the flowers," and they leap up, oldest one first, and come over to me and sit on either side, "but I'm going to a party and they're for the host and I want the paper to stay stapled so when she opens it she'll be surprised." "What's a host?" the older girl says, touching the paper on top, and I say "The woman or man—" "You don't have to explain to them," the woman says. "Don't worry, I like children—The woman or man, though a woman can also be called a hostess, who gives the party, such as the woman who's giving the party tonight." "Can I come?" the older girl says. "Can I?" the younger girl says. "No, but"—"Did you hear that? Can they come," the woman says to the man—"maybe if I open the paper a little you can smell the flowers even if you can't see them." I tear open a hole on top and they put their noses in it and take deep breaths and the older girl says "It smells real good, just like yellow and red flowers would." "They do," the younger girl says, "—real good." "Do something to get them back here," the woman says to the man. "I have no control over them sometimes." The man takes out a roll of mints and says "Look what I got here, girls." The girls run to him and each takes a mint he's unrolled, sticks it into her mouth and puts a hand out for another. "So soon?" he says and they smile and nod and he starts peeling some paper back on the roll and the older girl says "No, I want to do it for you. What kind are these?" as she peels the paper back. "Mints," and she says "But what kind?" "Why why why, what what what," the woman says. "You always want to know so much till you wear everyone out including that nice flower man. Just accept they have a flavor and a hole in them and that should be enough." "But there's lots of kinds. There's kinds I don't like." "Do you like these?" "Yes." "Then these aren't the kind you don't like." "Manure mint," the man says to the older girl. He seems annoyed. "What's manure mint?" she says, giving the second mint she's unrolled to the younger girl. The train's pulling in to the Fourteenth Street stop. "No more questions," the woman says. "We have to go." She stands, grabs the girls' hands, man says to her "I'll shoot upstairs and look first. Wait for me at the bottom here."


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Fall & Rise by Stephen Dixon. Copyright © 1985 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.

Table of Contents

Contents

Chapter One: The Party,
Chapter Two: The Park,
Chapter Three: The Bar,
Chapter Four: The Street,
Chapter Five: The Car,
Chapter Six: Helene,
Chapter Seven: The Apartment,

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