Cover & Opening Excerpts from Marsupial: Our Mother for the Time Being by Derek White
Back in '94 I had the opportunity to work on a film in Nice, France called Mr. Stitch. The film ended up being a complete goat rodeo, but for me it was all the more interesting in that respect. It was written and directed by my cousin Roger Avary. It was a good opportunity to spend time with my brother Kevin who was the art director on the film. I was a stand-in for Wil Wheaton and occassionally did some stunts. I had a bit part in it, sharing the stage (the inside of a helicopter) with Ron Jeremy of all people, though the scene was cut. Mostly I stood around and observed the drama on the set. A few years later when I was living in Savannah, Georgia, I was working as a land surveyor, so I had a lot of time on my hands sitting in the hot sun on GPS points. I wrote a draft of a novel called Our Mother the Fish loosely based on these experiences. Last summer I resurrected it and rewrote it, calling it Marsupial: Our Mother for the Time Being. It's due back from the printer any day now [AVAILALBE NOW]. In anticipation, here's the cover and opening chapters to wet your beak...
There’s a procession scene in it, Troy told me, before he was written off. “A scene where the vulva bed folds in on itself and you are trapped inside. In a coma of sorts.” He demonstrated with his hands, forming the inside of a church we made when we were younger. “You can play that part. Our cast of degenerate pigs will carry you along in utter darkness. They’ll take care of you. You won’t really be in a coma or dead, but actually, you will—you can make whatever you want of it. This is your truth. You’ll be comfortable, and you’ll be compensated accordingly. I’ll see to it.”
“Why does anybody need to be in the coffin to begin with?” I asked. Marie-Yves had the logical answer, her role on the set being Continuity. You’d be able to tell by the pattern of sweat staining the shoulders of the pallbearers. The strain on their faces showing real exertion, carrying the weight of an actual human body in the black vulva coffin, along with the knowledge of it. “I’m not scripted to pop out and dance like a stripper from a birthday cake. Why don’t they carry the same weight worth of something else? Sand bags? Dead fish?”
Leave it to Troy, his hands now curled back in claw formation, to turn the question back on me “You should be grateful. What if you never had the opportunity to be in the vulva bed to begin with? Then you’d never be born. And you’d never beget.”
“On film,” I said.
“You’d be optioned but never made. Your existence would be hypothetical.” He lifted a bowl of coffee to his lips with his clawed hands, blew off some steam and took a sip, shaking his head. “We never were into the same things.”
Before this scene even had a chance to happen, I was worried about falling asleep. My mind was preoccupied with the prospect of dozing off on the job when I needed to be conscious of being dead or comatose, all while being carried along in the procession. Would I be able to connect the before and after of that lost gap of time? How would I know I was the same person afterwards? I had the same healthy fear of being operated upon. I’ll take being diseased over a disjointed gap in my space-time sequence any day.
In this event, it was all scripted. And I would be entombed in a black box so there would be no one but myself to verify this discontinuity. But still. It was the idea of it that preceded the act.
The first light penetrates the living room, illuminating my brother’s girlfriend’s interior decoration job. A second light particle impinges, ricocheting around this foreign chamber. I am no longer in Savannah. This is all I can ascertain, even after pretending to sleep in the dark last night, in a room foreign and unfamiliar. Here is the part where I would log my dream, but the only evidence scrawled in the night was:
I was late getting to the rehearsal for a war, ad infinitum.
I’m not certain what I meant by it. I had twenty minutes to get to a “rehearsal for a war” and I didn’t even know where or to whom I was supposed to report. I was assuming the war would take place on a battlefield. Waterloo came to mind, but I might have made that up to have a word to attach to the battlefield. For that matter, it was the words—“I was late getting to the rehearsal for a war”—that kept scrolling by, not the actual act of being tardy for a war rehearsal. I’m not even sure what a rehearsal for a war is. Maybe some sort of re-enactment before the fact. The mood of it resembled a wedding rehearsal. And come to think of it, the rehearsal was scheduled to be in Notre Dame.
My sentence kept repeating, over and over, all to the sound of a clock ticking and an hourly cuckoo—there was always twenty minutes to get to the rehearsal for a war. I was perpetually preparing for this sentence—reloading and checking my gun, polishing my saber, buffing my shoes—but the sentence never materialized. Then again, I didn’t sleep so I’m not sure how I could have dreamt this. Now that I’m awake, I can’t be certain of anything except this: My older brother John is an actor that summoned me to be his stand-in/double in a cinematic production with the working title Crawdaddy-O & the Heroine Heir to Notre Dame.
This pretense of sleep took place on his girlfriend Marie-Yves’s conch-shaped couch. I’m not making this up—this is how John referred to it before I had even set eyes upon it, using it as a selling point to get me to come. “My hot French girlfriend has this conch-shaped couch for you to sleep on that is an actual prop from the movie we’re working on. Before they killed the fleshcolored conch-couch in favor of the more refined black velvet vulva bed. You’ll see.” He kept saying that, “you’ll see.” And now I was seeing.
The material of the flannel shirt I’m wearing looks like it was cut from the same cloth as these half-ass sheets that barely cover the conch-couch. I can’t tell what’s what, especially sleeping on sheets that are five feet long when I’m 6’2”. Even for John, who the bed was built for, it’s short. He’s 5’9”. Which might make you wonder how I can be a stand-in for him. You might wonder why I’m documenting all this to begin with. Maybe you think it’s vain. Why does this guy from Georgia think he’s so important? Why does he deserve my time? Those are the very questions I’ve always asked myself. While I haven’t found incriminating proof, I’ve had a sense all along about this conspiracy that everyone is in on except me. Even my brother and Marie-Yves are in on it. He might be the star of this movie, but I’m cognizant that this is really all a vast production to keep tabs on me. Standing in for him is just a distraction. It’s all to establish an alibi. The second I’m out of sight or sleeping, like now, you all convene and compare notes. For what purpose? You tell me.
Staring into the darkness of these foreign surroundings, on my first night in Paris, I try to make sense of this Marie-Yves Curie, who I’m already in love with. The idea of anyway—I haven’t even laid eyes on her. I’m going on the way John says her name and the fact that she’s foreign and my brother’s first fuck. That he’s bothered to mention. You’d think with his fame would come more. The first shafts of light are slipping between these mustard curtains and I’m trying to make sense of Marie-Y by the décor of her “habitation,” as John calls it. This habitation is the first I’ve seen of Paris by daylight. For that matter, it’s the first dwelling I’ve slept in that belongs to a woman other than our mother.
The dissolving blackness goes unnoticed unless I close my eyes for a few moments to reference the change. A shaft refracts through a warped pane of glass and stabs me dead in the eye, inducing me to sneeze. I’m allergic to light, at least when I’m first getting used to it. Light here must be the same as it is back home. It sets off a battle with my immune system. Bodies of water trigger the same response, when I’m first getting into them, in the bath or swimming pool. People say it’s the chlorine, but it happens when I immerse myself in lakes or even the ocean. Swamps I’m okay with. I’m used to them.
I suppress the sneeze despite warnings that it kills brain cells. What they don’t tell you is that living kills brain cells. Normally, when I’m in my own element, I derive great satisfaction from sneezing out loud. But when it’s this quiet and I am this unsure of my surroundings I don’t want to attract attention to myself. On the third sneeze my head comes clean off, then quickly shrivels and evaporates in the sunlight like cotton candy on a wet tongue. To clarify, it’s the shell of my head that comes off. The core remains intact. When this happens, it’s just a superficial layer that is already dead. Like the exoskeleton of a molting bug. It doesn’t hurt. And it all happens so fast that no one else notices, so I can’t prove that it happens for real. It’s just something I sense.
What’s left of my refreshed mind stirs to attention, as do the molecules in the air. It’s all coming back to me—my older brother will be a crawdad. He said so himself. And I am going to be his stand-in, though I am not entirely sure what this entails. That’s what this is all about—why I’m here. I wiggle my toes to see if they’re there and something pounces on them. I crane my neck to see—an orange cat, a rather fat one with tear-duct markings like a cheetah. I’m scared at first before I remind myself it’s just a house cat and I’m a human. Sometimes I have to remind myself of my place. A cat is a cat, even if I don’t know the word for it in French. I swipe my leg beneath the sheet and knock the cat on the floor next to a drain. I’m noticing now that there are a few drains on the floor, even though the floor is carpeted. The carpet is a felt material that is itchy on the feet. Maybe it’s waterproof and the drains are for hosing the room down. Or maybe it’s in case of floods, though we are five flights up. The cat jumps back on the conch-couch, purring. I swipe my leg beneath the sheet and knock the cat back on the floor. I suspect there are microphones or some sort of recording device in the drains, but why would they make it so obvious? Maybe it’s a diversion. If I suspect I’m being monitored, that would be the obvious place I would look. The cat jumps back on the conch-couch, purring even louder. I knock the cat off again. This happens over and over until the cat is smart enough to jump over and settle in the space between my legs. I’m too tired to care about the cat or check on the drains.
My wristwatch is next to my wallet—the only familiar objects in the room. They are lying next to a few used syringes and a ruffled script. My suitcase is in a closet somewhere and my pants are on the floor, but right now I can’t see them so they don’t exist. I have an unhealthy fear of pants that aren’t being worn that probably stems from being on the receiving end of John’s hand-me-downs. Once my pants are on I’m fine, it’s just when they aren’t being worn—when they are laying crumpled on a floor or hanging in a closet. Gives me hives just thinking about it. In the mornings I have to reach for and put my pants on with eyes closed. John and Marie-Y don’t exist either. Maybe Marie-Yves Curie does by virtue of the things in her habitation. John exists through collected memories and our shared genetics. We share the same mother: Mary X. White.
Going off just her name, it’s only natural that I project Marie-Yves into the immediate surroundings of her habitation. There’s the cat, and a pigeon roosting on the balcony. There are some torso/boat-shaped objects mounted on the wall. I asked John about them the night before and he said they were discarded prototypes of what would be his girlfriend-heroine, “towards the end of the film when things start to get dicey. It won’t make sense until you’ve read the script.” Each “torso boat” is 31 inches high, to match John, and at the bottom, in the stern, are 5 finger holes that look like they came from a bowling ball. These holes were sized to John’s hand, “to keep me human, to keep my hand from turning back into a claw. This will all make sense later, you’ll see.” Not that it even needs to make sense. I’m just standing in for him, not acting the part.
Squinting to read in the dim light, I grab the shuffled script off the table. The title is Crawdaddy-O & the Heroine Heir to Notre Dame. Beneath the title is a handwritten note:
On the next page are “distribution instructions” that all theatres showing Crawdaddy-O & the Heroine Heir to Notre Dame must strictly comply to: Before the “beginning of projection,” the lights in the theatre must be gradually dimmed over a period of no less than ten minutes so that the transition to total darkness is imperceptible to the open eye. On the next page begins the actual script…
(c) 2008 Derek White