NO LYDIA DAVIS
Can’t and Won’t
Anne Boyer doesn’t use contractions in her essays or prose poetry, and Lydia Davis has constructed a career—or has, at least, titled her most popular book—around the fact that she refuses to stop writing them. (She’s not considered a serious writer because of this, or she wasn’t, or so she claims in one of the pieces in said collection.)
This is a problematic point for you, a writer whose first language isn’t the English language and still aspires to produce literary pieces within its domain. Your instinct would be to not use contractions (because of the way you feel, or interpret, your literary voice to be) but when you don’t, this is consistently—and patronizingly, you feel—pointed out. Your translators have also been consistent about using them, so you’ve hence attempted (you attempt, hence) to succumb to them.
To succumb to contractions and, in general terms, to the wider aspects of the lower register to which you seem to be entitled/circumscribed to because of your dithering intonation, your imperfect use of prepositions.
Hesitancy in the search for the correct word is interpreted in different ways if you’re communicating in English. As is wonder. Repetition. Any deviation from the standard, the expected. (The whole literary realm, except for the role of interpreter/consumer, you believe.)
Mrs Mirny is lying in the bathtub, the water soapy and tepid, and she has a blue nightgown on.
Bathing with her clothes on is something Mrs Mirny has been doing for the past fifty years—since that time when she was haunted by a ghost, a naked ghost that, with the exception of a pair of brown very worn boots and cowboy hat, fully and daily exhibited itself every bathtime during that long and excruciating period of her childhood.
The faucet drips gently on Mrs Mirny's manicured toes, she's smoking, seems engrossed in the People Magazine she’s holding and, beside her—over the toilet lid, in a squared glass—rests a drink that solicits to be thought of as a White Russian but can be considered, at best, to be a vague and bad allusion.
The drink is the first thing I see when I walk into the bathroom—carrying my Colt, singing a little tune to myself. Mrs Mirny hardly looks up, barely does so when I cock, then aim—point blank.
That’s absurd, says Mrs Mirny, in a most disgusted tone.
I put the gun down, with a sigh, over the basin.
You look deranged, Mrs Mirny says. Where’ve you been?
I smile briefly, take a sip of her drink before settling in front of the mirror, and run my fingers through my hair. She has a point, I decide.
I was at school, I say, and throw a look meant to imply that she’s looking pretty silly herself.
Mrs Mirny frowns, then draws the curtain just a little.
I approve of your t-shirt, though, she says.
I look down at the plain white cotton garment, its red block letters that spell “homewrecker", and—of course she does: I inherited it from her.
How was it, then. School?
Slowly applying mascara to my left eye. A character walks into a bar, I say.
Is she wearing a bra?
Of course she’s not, Mrs Mirny says. What kind of bar?
A dive bar, I presume.
Is the jukebox on?
Seems a bit distracting. Can she turn it off? I mean—. Make her unplug it.
I stare at her blankly while trying to disregard the characteristic tingle in my hands as they are being drawn, once again, towards the comfort of my weapon.
I see her better now, says Mrs Mirny, with a nod. There she is. And you know what? That’s not where you are. It’s not a bar—that’s not it. She’s at home. And I really think she should take off those stupid boots—they make no sense. The sun’s gone down and she’s at home, she’s alone, and she’s hugging a fish that is called dinner, standing in the center of her kitchen.
Eating Fish Alone
She’s the daughter of a very picky eater. Her father will not eat fish, because it disgusts him. He will not tolerate milk—anything creamy, white sauces—butter, if distinguishable at plain sight. One fine day, during his forties, her father pompously announced he was tired of chicken (of which, up to that point, he’d conceded only to eat breasts). Mayonnaise he does like, but it doesn’t agree with him. Pork will do, sometimes: all other meat must be lean to a ridiculous extent. Once, when her parents came visit—as if she couldn’t manage, or afraid she would commit an irreparable mistake and they’d be forced to be impolite—they expressly asked her not to cook anything for the night of their arrival. Every time someone suggests meeting at a restaurant, there’s a small commotion over the issue if there’ll be something in the menu that her father can eat.
As an unfortunate inheritance, she will not eat anything that once inhabited the sea. The faintest hint of algae will make her nauseous, as can the memory of that night in which she saw herself in the position of needing to swallow a slice of pizza that had been contaminated with anchovies. (She was eighteen.) As opposed to her father, this idiosyncrasy is not something that she’s proud of, and, rather than running the risk of being rude, would choose to anticipate she is “a vegetarian”. She even tried to get over it, for a brief period in her twenties: that party in which she’d managed to pass a cup of tiny shrimp and announced joyfully with every spoonful that she was “eating fish!” to standing—it was a cocktail—if very brief ovation.
Her son will eat anything, some fish included. Two snapshots of a childhood: a five year old nonchalantly forking a plate composed entirely of greens, and her son at ten, master of the fine art of chopstick picking, beaming over a hot bowl of katsu karē. He once confessed to have heard himself wholeheartedly repeating a mother’s sermon: every food is an acquired taste. (Would you eat them in a house? Would you eat them with a mouse?) You should try anything at least four times—and repeat, at different stages of your life. Her son had been breastfed, by demand, until the age of two and a half.
An unflattering inclination that she’s, of late, trying to come to terms with: she’s way more partial to swallowing than she is to chewing. Perhaps for this reason, she would probably be wise to make peace with that other invidious proclivity: she would, much rather, eat alone.
The Fish Tank
Doesn’t know a thing about digesting salmon, but often remembers that time when she told her therapist she’d attempted suicide by empanadas. He didn’t laugh.
Zero Atlantic bluefish tunas have been killed on her behalf, still marshaled funeral arrangements for the whole series of venerable goldfish that her son got, as party souvenirs, during his preschool years. RIP Bobby Fischer. Sherman. Big Fish.
She’s never been on a fishing trip, but can be indefinitely quiet and was trained, during her early pregnancy, in the dexterity of patience. Punctuality is the courtesy of kings. Better an hour early than a minute late.
She smokes, is either too lazy or too intense for sports, but in one of the last meetings at her prenatal course—when asked to take a very long very deep breath—the midwife asked, as if in shock, if she swam on a regular basis. (But the ocean is filled with predators, and pools are stressful: as anything that requires special clothing is, and there’s always the danger of hitting your head against a wall.)
Both her parents are lawyers and the only poem she’s written—that she’s vaguely proud of—addresses her fear of sharks. “Stretching Farther, Stretching Faster (Half a Sestina and ≃ 7/12) or Oulipan (S)Leaps: When You Say One Thing, But Mean Your Lawyer(s)—Marxian of the Beautiful In-Law”.
She’d considered the lobster, but way before, and decided against it. Her pursuit of crustaceans, if at all discernible: to the astrological inquirer alone.
(/) (°,,,,°) (/)
But you’re not Lydia Davis: such an important reminder that the words had jumped directly from her husband’s lips to the small whiteboard on their kitchen wall. (Blue ink, block letters, her hand.)
It’s the genre that refuses to tell a story, she tells her students on week 7. Silent bovine eyes stare back, while a few furrowed brows pretend to be writing this information down.
Self-consciously subversive! Creates a certain expectation while demands to be read in a completely different manner! It was Gertrude—and don’t let anyone suggest otherwise. Narratology, as law, is complicit to the patriarchal state of affairs.
(All of this in a very heavy accent.)
She’s very passionate, you can tell that she’s very ambitious, time was occasionally taken from class to push politics. Or so the anonymous feedback she got from her students claims.
So what we’re saying is that we’d like to hear more about this character. What’s the relationship between them? At times your use of pronouns seems confusing. People from her workshop suggest.
Lolita Copacabana is a writer, editor and translator from Buenos Aires, Argentina. They are the author of Buena leche, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, and Ministry of Labor. In 2017, the Hay Festival included them in Bogotá 39, a list comprehending the thirty-nine best Latin American writers under the age of forty. They hold MFAs from the University of Iowa and the University of Texas at El Paso. They live in Ann Arbor, Michigan.