Oyster Boy Review 07  
  September 1997
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» Levee 67


A Moving On

Kevin McGowin

It's hard to kill yourself without being self-conscious, especially on hot days. And especially when everything's actually, truthfully going well—in fact, better than one'd ever dreamed, even. There's things to think about—responsibilities one tries to forget one has. Children, an estranged wife. Friends to whom one owes money they'll never get. All the fine folks out there praying I'll stay off the coke, the pills, the homosexual urges and come unto the gates of heaven with a grin and an apology for turning out an insult to the way I was made. There's the people I'd like to think need me. There's my future. And then, there's the heat. Most of all, it's hard to keep a straight face.

And in the heat, the face in the mirror collapses into a rough composite of all the many masks we've worn, you and I—can you see the image? The way the heat moves mirages on the asphalt. The steam from the hot water in the sink, the lack of clarity. It's surreal, I tell you—bad, hallucinogenic animation. Those two thespian masks diffusing into one another and out, opposites yet the same, the mercurial, Janus-faced god of this stage on the world; interesting, interwoven. Happy, sad. Take your pick. Checkov, they say, thought he was writing comedies, and boy, don't you believe it.

—Self-consciousness, the vital imprint of vain self-absorption. The omniscient narrator is a hack who wishes he was Joyce but isn't, and Joyce wanted to be God, but wasn't. And you put this book down right now, pal, cause we're back to square one and I don't mean shuffleboard. I mean the calendar, that pseudo-Julian illusion of rectangular blocks that cross themselves out for us as the days get longer in the spring, hotter and shorter in the summer like uncaring sex, and then drop off the wall like leaves in the autumn. We're back there and you know it, and I've got something to say. It's hard, that is, to keep a shave and a straight face. It's hard, I'm telling you, to keep from snorting toot and killing people in the afternoon sun. Especially when the days get hotter as they go along and the sleepless nights get shorter, and if you weren't self-absorbed, bitter, and scared like me you'd beat a dash for the egress. That's the hardest part of it all, folks. But it means that one's still human, after all. After all.

And if you think that's tough, ducky, you should be where I am—the water's running hot in the bathroom sink, it's hypnotic like the waterfall in which Loyola saw all eternity in a splashing gush from above. My body on yours on a drunken Saturday night. My fingers, long, quick on the typewriter keys. My omniscience fading away, a shattered and impotent illusion. The sound of my own heart speeding up, then slowing down. And behind it all, your voice. Nothing but the tone of it, but full of meaning. Or maybe it's my own voice that I hear—me from some dimension where I live, parallel to this, with a Living Bible in one hand and the wheel of a brand new Saab in the other, a six of imported beer in the back and a voice in my head, lighter than my own, that says, "It's all, son, in the way you play it."

And me, this man I know and fear, is happy in this world. He's got the windows down and the stereo up, he's got the scanner on, and he's driving ninety, waiting for a call on the cellular, for his destination somewhere northeast of where I am, waiting for nothing in particular. But I'm as much his shadow as he is mine, them's the rules of the road. And I'm vaguely sorry that somewhere northeast of here I'll approach out of nowhere, coked out of my mind and driving a '74 Lincoln, and broadside him when we run a stop sign together on a dark, deserted road. His wife will cry, hysterically. I'll be put inside for life, where I'll read, lift weights, find God, and write a letter home that says, I'm sorry: but you must understand, after all. It was better him than me. I'm alive. Alive—just the way it's been, ever since I can remember. I take full responsibility for my actions, Mrs. McGowin, and I'm sorry about your husband—we'd never actually met, you see, but I just had this feeling. And it was a dark, poorly-lit road. It was late, and he was speeding. And I was confused. I was high, Mrs. McGowin; I was feeling self-conscious, insecure. I know it's hard, I know. And it'd been a hot day.