A housewife revels in the secret world of her mind filled with historical characters and twisted love stories in this inventive sendup of Southern fiction. Mrs. Hollingsworth sits at her kitchen table, compiling her grocery list. The subject of the list is not foodstuffs, but memories that never happened, inventions of loves, and strange conspiracies peopled by men who appear in the lonely housewife’s head—men infinitely more real to her than her own husband. Confederate general Nathan Bedford Forrest gallops into her story, courtesy of media giant Ted Turner and two shady criminal types named Bundy and Oswald who are engaged in a secret experiment to create “the New Southerner.” Her prying daughters believe Mrs. Hollingsworth is losing her mind. But in truth, their mother is simply looking for love via hand-to-hand combat on the surreal battlefield inside her head. Originally published as Mrs. Hollingsworth’s Men , Padgett Powell’s Hologram is a stunning literary achievement. Strikingly unique, it is a poignant, funny, and unconventional fever dream brought to lyrical life.
|Publisher:||Open Road Integrated Media LLC|
|Product dimensions:||7.80(w) x 5.20(h) x 0.60(d)|
About the Author
Padgett Powell is the author of six novels, including The Interrogative Mood and You & Me. His novel Edisto was a finalist for the National Book Award. His writing has appeared in the New Yorker , Harper’s Magazine , Little Star , and the Paris Review , and he is the recipient of the Rome Fellowship in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, as well as the Whiting Writers’ Award. He lives in Gainesville, Florida, where he teaches writing at MFA@FLA, the writing program of the University of Florida.
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By Padgett Powell
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 2000 Padgett Powell
All rights reserved.
Mrs. Hollingsworth likes to traipse. Her primary worry is thinning pubic hair, though this has not happened yet. She is bothered that a thought of this sort could occur to her at all, let alone with some frequency. She enjoys a solidarity with fruit. She is wistful for the era in which hatboxes proliferated, though a hatbox is not something even her grandmother may have owned. More probably what she wants is hatboxes themselves, without the era or the hats. But the proud, firm utility of the hatbox requires a hat and an era for its dignity; otherwise it is a relic. She does not want relics. Her husband is indistinct. She regards friendly dogs with suspicion. Her daughters have lost touch with her, or she with them, or both; it is the same thing, she thinks, or it is not the same thing, which means it might as well be the same thing: so much is pointless this way, indifferent, moot, or mute, as a friend of hers says. Not a friend, but a friendly man whom she cannot bring herself to correct when he says "mute" for "moot," for then she might have to go on and indict his entire presumption to teach at the community college, inspiring roomfuls of college hopefuls to say "mute" for "moot" and filling them with other malaprops, and if she indicts him on that presumption she'll need to go on and indict him for the presumption of his smug liberalism and for affecting to like film as Art and not movies as entertainment and for getting his political grooming from the smug liberalism and film-as-Art throat clearing of National Public Radio, and all of this, since it would be but the first strike in taking on the entire army of modest Americans who believe themselves superior to other Americans (but not to any foreigners, except dictators) mostly by virtue of doing nothing but electing to think themselves superior—all of this would be unwise, or moot, and indeed she may as well be mute, maybe the oaf was on to something.
She wanted to summon a plumber and pour something caustic down the crack of his ass when he exposed it to her, as he invariably would when assuming the plumbing position. Drano, she thought, très apropos. She had learned recently that the British term for the propensity of the working man to expose himself in this way was "showing contractor's bottom." That was a lovely touch of noblesse oblige, of gently receding empire.
She was less gentle in her apprehension that the entire world and everyone in it was showing its ass. She was not unaware, and not happy, that this apprehension linked her closely to the film-as-Art side of the herd, and she would go to a movie with a plumber wearing no pants at all before she'd go to some noir with a man in slacks, but still she found herself actually calculating the drift of things if one were to try to burn a contractor's bottom. She figured on this seriously all one morning until finally she faced it: it had come to this, had it? Her mind had gone. The practical consequences of her symbolically telling the world to pull its goddamn pants up filled up her otherwise empty head at age fifty. It had all come to this. Muriatic acid for the driveway contractor, liquid chlorine for the pool man, shot of Raid for the bug man, upgrade the plumber to a bead of molten solder. When this nonsense left her mind alone, she thought about the Civil War. How a woman could be prevented from doing anything but thinking of contractor's bottom, and of all which that represented, and of all her impotence at reversing the disposition of the human world to show its ass, was owing somehow to the Civil War. The American Civil War, arguably as silly a war as they come, she was virtually ignorant of. She was not better informed of any war, actually, save for perhaps the Second World War and Vietnam, on a very topical basis. And she knew of one man who had been in Korea. But the Civil War ... was beginning to haunt her.
She could not reckon this sudden absorption with it, given how vastly uninformed she was of it. Manassas was molasses, Sharpsburg was Dullsville; the March to the Sea was no more than Hard to Lee. Her images of the dead, which she did know to nearly exceed the dead of all our other wars combined, were not those of the bodies themselves that the wet-plate photography so in its infancy had allegedly recorded in such stunning graphic detail. She kept seeing not bodies but crows on them. To her, true torment was not death but a crow.
The thousands of baleful tears shed then now went, she thought, into laundry softener—the women threw these handkerchiefs of the laundromat into their machines as they had thrown kerchiefs at military parades. The result was every bit as good: things smelled sweet and the women felt good about themselves. Their men marched on in the perfume of goodfeeling and put their cell phones to their heads and zeroed in on the enemy and fired nonsense at him all day. They had learned from Vietnam how to drop smoke on the enemy to target him better. There was much information. It was not clear when everyone had stopped believing in himself.
A prison term was not the worst thing that could obtain in this age, she thought. Nothing was. Nothing was the end of the world. All could be surmised and survived. Death and rape were just particularly bad. We were mature. But crows could land, after all; they need not fly all day long. And you had to regard them.
She knew that the Confederate mint in Columbia had printed its worthless millions and stood today in vacant ruin, but virtually intact, for sale at too high a price to sell to whoever would turn it into a museum or a mall. She knew that Appomattox is a National Park, fully restored, visited by thousands of tourists a year. She knew that only 4 percent of the final site of the Lost Cause is original, based on the number of original bricks compared to the total number of unoriginal bricks used in the restoration. She knew that this restoration had had to commence from the very archaeological digs that had discovered the outlines of the foundation of the house where it all ended. None of the bricks was even in its original location. Only some stones of the hearth are in the same place. Beyond that, only the airspace is the original thing, where it was. Maybe a piece of furniture or two that Grant and Lee might have looked at. And she knew about Lee's ingenious battle orders that the Yankees found wrapped around dropped cigars. That business amazed and frightened her. And the name Nathan Bedford Forrest was in her head like the hook of a pop-radio tune. In her grasp of it all, he was a man who had somehow never been beaten in a war that was lost from the start. She knew more than she knew she knew.
On her kitchen table she noticed an odd, tall can of Ronson's lighter fluid. There had not been a cigarette lighter of the sort that required this fuel in this house in she would guess twenty years. It would squirt down a contractor's bottom as pretty as you please. She chuckled. She was not herself, she thought, or she was, perhaps, and she chuckled again.
Were men who could not keep their pants up a function of the Civil War? Were women who put up with them a function of the Civil War? Was having yourself an indistinct husband a function of the Civil War? Was finding a strange bottle of flammable petroleum distillate beside your grocery list a function of the Civil War? Was chuckling and not knowing what was yourself and what was not yourself a function of the Civil War? Was not really caring at this point "who you were," and finding the phrase itself a hint risible, a function of the Civil War? She sat down at the table and wrote on her grocery list, "A mule runs through Durham, on fire," and then, dissatisfied with merely that, sat down to augment the list.CHAPTER 2
Mrs. Hollingsworth wrote on:
A mule runs through Durham, on fire. No—there is something on his back, on fire. Memaw gives chase, with a broom, with which she attempts to whap out the fire on the mule. The mule keeps running. The fire appears to be fueled by paper of some sort, in a saddlebag or satchel tied on the mule. There is of course a measure of presumption in crediting Memaw with trying to put out the fire; it is difficult for the innocent witness to know that she is not just beating the mule, or hoping to, and that the mule happens to be on fire, and that that does not affect Memaw one way or another. But we have it on private authority, our own, that Memaw is attempting to save the paper, not gratuitously beating the mule, or even punitively beating the mule. Memaw is not a mule beater.
The paper is Memaw's money, perhaps (our private authority accedes that this is likely), which money Pawpaw has strapped onto his getaway mount, perhaps (our private authority credits him with strapping the satchel on, but hesitates to characterize his sitting the mule as he does as a deliberate, intelligent attempt to actually "get away"); that is to say, we are a little out on a limb when we call the mule, as we brazenly do, the mount on which he hoped to get away, and might have, had he not, as he sat on the plodding mule, carelessly dumped the lit contents of the bowl of his corncob pipe over his shoulder into the satchel on the mule's back, thereby setting the fire and setting the mule into a motion more vigorous than a plod. A mule in a motion more vigorous than a plod with a fire on its back attracts more attention than etc.
Memaw, we have it on private authority, solid, was initially, with her broom, after Pawpaw himself, before he set fire to the satchel behind him, so the argument that Pawpaw might have effected a clean getaway without the attention-getting extras of a trotting mule on fire is somewhat compromised. Memaw, with her broom, has merely changed course; she wants, now, to prevent her money's burning more than Pawpaw's leaving, though should Pawpaw get away with the money unburnt, she presumably loses it all the same. That loss, of unburnt money, might prove temporary: unburnt money is recoverable sometimes, if the thieves are not vigilant of their spoils, if the police are vigilant of their responsibilities, if good citizens who find money are honest and return it, etc. But burnt money is not recoverable, except in certain technical cases involving banks and demonstrable currency destruction and mint regulations allowing issue of new currency to replace the old, which cases Memaw would be surprised to hear about. And it is arguable that were she indeed whapping Pawpaw and not the fire behind him, her object might be not to prevent his leaving but to accelerate it.
So Memaw is now whapping not the immediate person of Pawpaw but the fire behind him. It is not to be determined whether Pawpaw fully apprehends the situation. He may think Memaw's consistent failure to strike him with the broom is a function of her undexterous skill with the broom used in this uncustomary manner. We are unable, even with the considerable intelligence available from our private authority, to hazard whether he knows the area to his immediate rear is in flames. Why Memaw would prefer to extinguish the fire rather than annul his escape or punish him for it is almost certainly beyond the zone of his ken. We have this on solid private authority, our own, our own army of private authority, in which we hold considerable rank. Pawpaw is maintaining his seat, careful to keep his clean corncob pipe from the reach of Memaw's broom, errant or not. Were the pipe to be knocked from his hand, either by a clean swipe that lofts it into the woods or by a glancing blow that puts it in the dirt at the mule's hustling feet, he would dismount to retrieve it and thereby quit his escape. It is likely that Memaw and the burning mule would continue their fiery voyage, leaving him there inspecting his pipe for damage.
The mule is an intellectual among mules, and probably among the people around him, but we, the people around him, intellectuals among people or not, as per our test scores, our universities and degrees therefrom, and our disposition to observe public broadcasting, and with the entire army of private authority we command, cannot know what he knows. It is improbable that he knows of Pawpaw's betrayal, of Memaw's hurt rage, of the accidental nature of the fire, of the denominations of the currency, of the improbable chance that among the money are dear letters to Memaw before she was Memaw that she does not want Pawpaw to discover, even after he has left her and might be presumed to be no longer jealous of her romantic affairs. It is not certain that he, the mule, knows his back, or something altogether too close to his back, is on fire. It is certain, beyond articulated speculation, that he senses his back is hot and that the kind of noise and the kinds of colors that make him hot and nervous when he is too near them are on his back. He has elected to flee, or is compelled to flee. Nervousness puts him in a predisposition to flee. A woman with a broom, a two-legger with any sort of prominent waving appendage, coming at him puts him in full disposition to flee, which he does, which increases the unnerving noises and colors and heat on his back, confirming him in the rectitude of this course of action, notwithstanding certain arguments that he has almost certainly never heard and might or might not comprehend were he to hear them that he'd be better off standing still.
That is Memaw's position: if the bastard would just stand still, she could save him and the money. She could get Lonnie Sipple's letters out of the money, get the money out of the bag, then get Pawpaw, as he stupidly yet sits the mule guarding his pipe, which she could verily whap into the woods with one shot, and then get Pawpaw and the mule on down the road, where they are fool enough to think they want to go. She knows the mule is not fool enough to want to go down the road—the mule would appear to be a faultless fellow until caught up in human malfeasance and crossfire and dithered by it; plus he is on fire—but she is going to uncharitably link him to Pawpaw during the inexact thinking that prevails during domestic opera of this sort. This is precisely the kind of inexact thinking in which it does not occur to one that burnt money can be replaced at a bank under certain technical circumstances which make one nervous to speculate upon in the event that the money concerned is one's own. But now that the army of our private authority has revealed the further intelligence of the existence of personal letters, also in the satchel, we know that the money was never Memaw's first concern in her zealous whapping of the fire on the mule. And we know that Memaw, no matter how inexact her thinking during domestic opera of this sort, is not inclined to think that letters, like money, can be replaced, under certain technical circumstances, after they are burnt. Letters of the sort she is protecting now, in fact, are themselves but the thinnest substitute for, papery vestiges of, the irreplaceable tender emotions they recall, tender emotions that she held and that held her in a state of rapt euphoria some thirty years ago, emotions she can but vaguely recollect when she holds the letters in her rare few moments of calm, tired tranquillity. She and Lonnie Sipple are only nineteen years old, they kiss without the nuisances of whiskey and whiskers and malodorous thrusting, without the complications of bearing children, and Lonnie Sipple has not yet been found with the pitchfork tine through his heart.
Pawpaw is, in contrast to Lonnie Sipple in this recollected tender tranquillity, and in the loud, mean, prevailing domestic opera that surrounds her small tranquillities like a flood tide, a piece of shit what thinks it won World War II and thereby earned the right to be every kind of shitass it is possible to be on earth, and then some, if there is any then some. This, his single-handed winning of WWII, is inextricably and inexplicably a function of his people's collective losing of the Civil War eighty years before.
Memaw did not become Memaw until she allowed herself to be linked to Pawpaw via a civil ceremony during the postwar frenzy of imprudent coupling that wrought more harm to the country, she now thinks, than Hirohito. She had a normal name and was normal herself. She was Sally, and a fond uncle had called her Salamander, which now, against Memaw, sounds charming. And Pawpaw had been Henry Stiles until two minutes after the ceremony, when people seemed to come out of the woods and the woodwork all calling him Pawpaw and her nothing, ignoring her for a full two years, it seems, until slowly addressing her, tentatively at first but then unerringly, as Memaw. She was powerless to stop this phenomenon; it was not unlike a slow, rising tide, unnoticed until it is too late to escape. There she had been, first on a wide isolated silent mudflat of wedding-gift Tupperware and their VFW mortgage, and then in a sudden full sea of Memaw and only a thin horizon of sky and water around her. It stunned her to hear "Memaw makes the best cornpone," stunned her into hearing it again and again, and then Sally was never heard of or from, and she was not a Salamander but a Hellbender.
Excerpted from Hologram by Padgett Powell. Copyright © 2000 Padgett Powell. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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Table of Contents
Mother of Father, Flat of Knife,
First Breast Not of One's Mother,
Prevaricating & Procrastinating, Shuckin & Jivin,
Queers and Cigars,
Forrest and Bobby Lee,
Frugging with Forrest,
Nor Nurse nor Need,
Intruders in the Fog,
About the Author,