Light without Heat: Stories

Light without Heat: Stories

by Matthew Kirkpatrick

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Matthew Kirkpatrick’s debut, Light without Heat, is an inventive, surprising collection of short stories full of odd, marginal characters rendered with surreal humor and lyrical, often beautiful language.
  Formally playful, these stories take the shape of biographies, instructions, glossaries, and diagrams, all ultimately in the service of depicting characters with emotional intensity.
  Stories in the collection explore the flawed nature of memory, workplace malaise, the isolation of home, and the last throes of ending love. No two stories in Light without Heat are the same, yet all of them work toward sharing human experience in new, innovative ways.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781573668309
Publisher: University of Alabama Press
Publication date: 03/07/2012
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 192
File size: 8 MB

About the Author

Matthew Kirkpatrick’s fiction has appeared in the Notre Dame Review, Web Conjunctions, DIAGRAM, and elsewhere. He lives in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Read an Excerpt


By Matthew Kirkpatrick


Copyright © 2012 Matthew Kirkpatrick
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-57366-166-9

Chapter One

Different Distances

Conceived in a canopy bed in the Waldorf overlooking the wet black street along Central Park at dawn Sunday morning after an exhibition of my father's artwork at the Grace Gallery downtown. Warhol was there. Everything sold. Even the charcoal sketches tucked in Dad's black portfolio. Fabulous. Cocaine piled on silver trays and cases of Dom and Mylar pillow balloons. Best night of their lives.

In the bathroom at a Denny's on the long drive home from Piscataway, NJ. Dad had a job interview to paint houses.

In a Red Roof Inn at the juncture of three major highways ribboning into different distances, each with catastrophic, traffic-stopping accidents miles away. Dad never painted. Painted the walls of our first apartment canary-yellow, dreaming of landscapes and latex splattered from a ladder onto an enormous canvas below.

In a tent behind a condemned Lutheran church in Pittsburgh on the way back from six straight Dead shows. He had visions.

On the living room floor on a school night while my grandparents slept upstairs. It was their first date, my first experience of love.

It was the best night of their lives.

Born in the backseat of my father's Buick.

In the backseat of a taxi stuck in rush hour traffic. Stuck behind an accident. In two feet of snow.

In the backseat of a NJ Transit bus stuck in the Holland Tunnel, three weeks too soon.

In the lobby of a downtown hospital and named for my grandfather, dead in the war. For my Uncle, dead in the war. For Warhol.

In the backseat of my father's Merc. Olds. Cutlass.

Named for the war.


Meteors destroy my grandfather's house in Fayetteville, Arkansas. We spend the summer rebuilding. At night Mom thumbs dusty letters sent to my deceased grandmother during the war. Hail dimple-dents the hood of my father's Cutlass.

Mom dreams Dad painting plums, painting over plaster cracks, painting an orchard.

Mom dreams the night sky. Dad paints meteors. Climbs the steep slate roof of somebody's beach house on Long Island and paints the brown shingles midnight blue.

Learning to walk.

A record April snowfall blankets the East Coast. My first childhood memory.

Falling from the top of basement stairs cutting forehead. Despite the blood, my parents decide I can tough it out.


My father's Merc bursts into flames.

Dad painting all night, Mom walking me by the hand slowly upstairs at seven, putting me away for the night so she can get down with some low funk (thumping up through the floor from below) and a tall glass of rye while Dad splashes paint across canvases in the cold, wet basement.

Led Zeppelin, Clapton. The Who.

Dad in the mirror combing my wet hair back with the black comb from his breast pocket.

Eno, Bowie, Reed, Blondie. The Dead Boys.

The first of many conversations my father will have about lenses and mirrors. He drops a salad bowl on the kitchen floor and slashes open the palm of his right hand. Wraps the wound in an old plaid shirt and watches it fill with blood.

Donna Summer. The Bee Gees.

Dad falls down a narrow well in the backyard. Lost for a day, Mom discovers him in the old hole sobbing. After 58 hours, rescuers lift him alive from the well surrounded by flashing bulbs and microphones and cheers.

Kindergarten. Drawing devils with black and blue crayons and asked to stand in the trash can when I refuse to select another color from the crayon box.

Asking Mom for a baby brother.

Mom dropping ice cubes freshening the drinks.

Dad painting black holes.

Sent home with a note.

The smell of my father's black comb.

Dad douses the door of my elementary school with gasoline and lights it on fire. Somebody pulls the fire alarm and we're evacuated out the back door while firemen flood the building.

Warhol visits and Mom makes meatloaf.

Warhol calls and says he's going to visit but never does.

Liza Minnelli sends my parents a postcard from Japan. Dad shows it to me and tries to explain the joke, why she'd sent it: an enormous lobster, claws poised open above its head, menacing tourists on a Tokyo street corner. They can't figure out how Minnelli got their address. Pour themselves drinks and turn up the stereo.

The Go-Gos. Public Image Ltd. The Birthday Party.

First recollection: shooting at other neighbor kids with toy pistols.

Gallery fire destroys a year of Dad's work.

He never paints again.

This Heat.

Picked last for recess kickball. Hunger strike: hoard peanut butter sandwiches in locker. First fat lip. Shot twice in the stomach by classmate with a concealed pellet gun.

Dad phones bomb threats from area payphones to cancel school. Gives me tubes of paint and names them as he squeezes each onto a clean wooden palette: umber, ochre, sienna.

Titanium, cadmium.

Draws my fingers through each and pulls my hands across canvases carpeting the living room floor. Cleaning our hands together in the basement basin. Turpentine still burning my nose, we hang our paintings together, covering every black wall.

Dad phones Mom twice and hangs up.

Poised at the wheel of the Merc pointed toward the distant border. Telling me we're leaving. Telling me we're going home.

Drawing secret maps during recess. Composing elementary manifestos. Declaring daily skirmishes and minor wars.

Dad sulking in the basement, surrounded by nude models posed on pedestals with hot lights shining on them from the floor. With a wet brush in each hand, standing paralyzed in front of five white canvases. Mom getting down to Grand Funk upstairs while I sit in bed. White Russians in a tall glass. Black Russians.

Dad painting a portrait of my head on the naked body of a thin, elderly woman.

Little League.

Black bombs red on canvas stretched across the backyard.

The taste of Warhol meatloaf every Wednesday, a hardboiled egg hidden in the middle.

Painting in the rain and drawing his fingers across his cheeks, streaks of umber and sienna like the war. Shouts through the rain at the lightning, at the house, at the puddles flooding the world.

In New York, Mom tells the story of how I was almost born in the backyard. Almost born in a taxicab. Almost born at the bottom of a forgotten well. Three weeks too soon.

Breakfast at Denny's Dad feeding me fries reading Parade wearing sunglasses inside.

Helicopter ride over the Falls.

Dad brings home a paper sack full of GI Joes, some headless and some with twisted, broken arms and the hands chewed off. None of the guns match. Wounded in the war.

Dad drawing maps on the back of Mom's old dresses, wearing headlamps around the house. Tunneling into City Hall, into the Water Authority, into Toys R Us.

Tunneling into the A&P for a loaf of bread, a dozen eggs.

Too old for toys.

Mom packs crafty care packages for prisoners: knitting needles, thick skeins, rubber cement, scissors, magazine stacks, glass beads, glue guns, gum. Packs love letters on handmade paper scented lavender to shine light into their lives. Light shines into their lives.

Vacation at the Cape: Dad and I fly a kite on a wet, black morning, the wind whipping the kite across the dark sky. Storm clouds on the horizon, lightning flaring, the gray ocean always falling away. Running barefoot through the frigid water and laughing when the kite takes a dive into the surf. When the string breaks, Dad in clam diggers goes in thigh-deep to save the ruined kite and I run after him, try to tackle him into the cold silver ocean, drag him down with me.

Martha B: the blond girl who sits in front of me in Reading class. She wears a sundress almost every day and I stare at her soft back, imagining constellations in her freckles.

Crystal R: the blond girl who sits in front of me in English class. She wears a sundress almost every day and I stare at her soft back, imagining constellations in her freckles.

Beautiful blond girl in math class in a sundress, constellations across her back.

Buy a paper sack full of cigarettes and smoke five Marlboros in the school parking lot. I am in love with the cigarette butts arced around me on the black asphalt.

Parents divorcing. Dad telling me Nico from the Velvet Underground fell off of her bicycle in Spain and died.

Dad drunk paints the walls blue and pours red paint like a rug on the floor beneath the dining room table. Says he will never die.

High on glue.

Chess club, Archery, Student Council, School Newspaper, Bird Watching.

Softball, football, basketball, swimming, track.

Ski club, skateboarding.


High on cough syrup sitting in the cemetery.

Parents divorcing. Dad telling me Stiv Bators from the Dead Boys was hit by a bus in France and died.

Losing virginity in back of Dad's LeSabre.

Sent into the world.

Major in Film. In Journalism. In Agriculture. Major in Riflery.

Binge drinking.

Meet Sandy G the girl of my dreams at the pistol range blasting black stars into paper targets.

Dad starts painting lessons after painting houses for years. Fills the house with green mountain landscapes and frozen lakes. Mom leaves for a month, checks herself into some place.

Dad opening manhole covers longing for darkness.

Her neck smelling like gun powder.

Running over mailboxes with the Merc.

Her hands. Her arms wrapped.

Lighting fires on the neighbor's lawn.

Dad tunnels into the mall and paints wolves onto sweatshirts at the Gap.

Major in

My parents dying in the Olds: black ice, tree stump, cliff. Dad electrocuted slicing through the orange extension cord connecting his circular saw to the house. Cutting wood for a canvas, a sculpture, a sandbox, a sieve through which he'll push the dry dirt in the backyard looking for something lost. Asleep in his bed one-hundred-years old.

Burned in a fire. Crushed in stadium collapse. Shrapnel.

Mom moving to Arizona to study with a spiritual healer.

A spaceship flying in the tail of Comet Hyakutake comes for them. Leaves their sneakers.

Dad tells me Mom fell from her bicycle in Spain and died.

Fall in love with Angela C making intricate books from twigs in the art department. Smoke cigarettes all night staring at stars on our backs on the golf course.

Dropping out of college with nine credits to go. Working at chain bookstore five miles from campus. The books stop speaking.

Lower East Side. Carroll Gardens. Astoria. Hoboken. Jersey City. Skyscrapers a black comb obstructing the sky.

First job answering phones at a downtown punk club. Sit at a plywood desk with a growling dog at my feet. Answering phones at a book publisher midtown. Answering phones at a Chelsea medical publisher.

Answer phones. Live in a brown box on a mattress on the floor. When it rains, my ceiling sieves brown water onto my bare chest, soaks deep into the damp mattress. Pray for the drowning death of all horrible things.

New Year's Eve: end of the century. The streets so full, we are chest to chest and sweat and hands. I lose my friends.

Wake in a ditch off highway 404 in Jersey City. Wake on a sidewalk on Avenue A. Avenue B. Fifth Avenue. Wake in my cold wet bed surrounded by the smell of mold. Wake warm in the arms of someone who will fall in love with me if only: a job, clean clothes, better home-baked bread, cowboy boots.

Fall in love with the girl of

Eating pickles wrapped in wax paper, eel rolls, falafel dripping yogurt over our fingers, leftover fries on the floor drinking scotch, bourbon burning through paper cups, splitting a can of beer, a box of red wine, fortified wine.

Dinner at midnight a view of

The paint peeling from the ceiling falling like thick yellow snowflakes.

Rainy vacations: Pittsburgh, Detroit, Albany.

Mom telling me about the streak of light across the sky and how the earth looks like a blue marble from space.

Miami, Vancouver.

Married to the girl of my dreams. To a blue cubicle facing a wall. To my old face above the dining room table. To unread books. To Martha B, Crystal R, to a ring of cigarette butts on the ground. Married to the war.


In Spain. In Mexico. Iceland in February.

In the kitchen hiding a hard-boiled egg in the middle of a meat loaf.

In the break room, old meat spinning in the microwave.

Spending the day on a green hill above the Hudson watching sailboats and helicopters.

Watching sweat through sundresses in this heat, sleeping in the weeds, raking fingers through her hair, cutting coupons at the kitchen table, cutting cantaloupe for Sunday breakfast guests, raking dead leaves with Dad careful to avoid the piles of soil, piles of damp canvasses rolled and gray stacked beneath the apple tree, the sun, the freckles on her bare back the zodiac.

Best year of my life.

Promotion and a good chair in sight of

Cat. Dog. Bird. Argentina. Barbados. South Africa.

Waiting for a flight, for the bus, for a taxi home late with a bag full of black binders. Waiting for Mom to call, for Dad at the emergency room his hands burned black from a brush fire in the field behind the house, the place across the street, a bonfire in the backyard, burning bramble, stiff brown canvases, the drought dry gazebo lighting the night sky, sparks like comets.

For the next

New chair, new car, dreaming of water and kites and

Trip away from this place.

The girl of my dreams slips listless

Seattle, Los Angeles. Niagara Falls.

Wake in each others' arms, the air conditioning cold across our

Painted glass.

Cooking breakfast the smell of bacon and biscuits baking coffee brewing waking up

Naked the sheets thrown on the floor the air conditioner out kicking me away my body too much heat

Dad sending me a thick envelope of Polaroids of paintings he did not paint.

We begin to run in the mornings that summer but the

Trains seize in the airless tunnels.

The landlord downstairs dies.

Kites grounded in the brown grass at the park by the river.

The smell of her sweat.

Dad missing Mom checks the well. Dad at the golf course, the cemetery. Dad singing slow songs walking along the highway out of town. In the backyard with the metal detector digging holes.

The smell of her three days gone.

Move to the country. South. Suburbs. Home. Mom's blasting Sabbath, Dad out back building an addition, a gazebo, a bonfire. Building a studio in the old garage clearing away Christmases and ladders and broken toys.

The bird is dead and the cat claws at my hands. Something escapes.

The smell of her asleep. Her neck. Hands.

Estrangement. Separation. Divorce. Girl of dreams.


Will move into a bright, cold

Divorce from heat, divorce from

Photos overexposed, photos of families cropped from magazines, photos of snow falling in the park at night.

And I am on vacation from love.

Will fall down the stairs drunk with Dad and break collar bone.

Will break toe. Fall down a well.

Down a mountain. In love with the girl of

Will break a bowl of ripe red fruit. Will watch Mom guide Dad by his old trembling hand down black stairs to the empty basement freshly painted gray where I'll cradle thick glass shards.


Excerpted from LIGHT WITHOUT HEAT by Matthew Kirkpatrick Copyright © 2012 by Matthew Kirkpatrick. Excerpted by permission of FC2. 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

Different Distances 1
Instructions 13
Light Without 15
Pennsylvania 39
The Saddening 41
Crystal Castles 47
Pineal Gland 61
Throw Him in the Water 63
Nevada 77
The Celebrations 79
The Most Amazing Attic 93
The AuralSec Story, A Corporate History,
Chapter 7: Our Dependable Grampy 97
Animal Attacks 113
Glossary 115
The Board Game Monopoly 123
The Sodding 141
Pastoral 143
Iceland 151
Some Kirkpatricks 153
Acknowledgments 177  

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