My Last Splurge

May 30, ‘09. My last splurge in NYC was this 30-pound slab of wax. I paid $150 for it, and made this mystic writing pad. I thought I had enough trust fund money left to buy it, but I didn’t. Turns out I spent most everything on pastry trends: Bundt cakes, boxes of rainbow macaroons, cronuts, donut holes shaken with powdered sugar, pastel mini-cupcakes. I had an Etch-a-Sketch as a kid. It did the same thing as this $150 DIY, but my therapist practices in Brooklyn so I had to use beeswax.

July 5, ’09. What I write here will stick until I push the words back down into the wax and write something else. I sometimes tilt the wax all around, in different lights and at different times of day, to see if I can read what I wrote a week or month ago because I don’t remember who I was then. Mystic writing pads were Freud’s idea. I’ve already been assigned to read Freud six times at Sarah Lawrence, no joke. I get him because sometimes I have penis envy. If I had a dick, I could say a lot of bullshit in a low, gravelly voice, and idiots would be like, “Yeah! Wow! Your dick’s so smart!” I wouldn’t mind a following of idiots.

July 20, ’09. Dave is such an authentic and original writer. His selfhood, his soul are so accurately represented on the page! What he does is pure, unmediated, a true expression of his mastery.

September 8 ’09. Dave listens to a lot of didgeridoo music…

October 15 ‘09. My mom works as a registrar and all of the books on the bookshelves in her house are alphabetized. I think I should alphabetize our books, but we don’t have any bookshelves in our apartment because it’s tiny (Prospect fucking Heights). I moved in with Dave, why why why why? BECAUSE YOU LOVE HIM YOU TWIT

January 3, ’10. I haven’t gotten my period for two months. I cut out gluten and am doing a lot of Pilates. I think that might be why??

February 12, ’10. It’s still hard to believe that this is my life at 23. If you’d asked me a few years ago what I’d be doing, I would never have imagined that I was going to be a mom. But it is my fate. Dave and I did an Ayahusca ceremony in Harlem, and I had a vision where I felt my baby kick. I found out I was pregnant a week later. When I called my mom to tell her, I said that the Amazons had come to me in a vision and planted Chullachaqui in my womb. She said, “No, Caro. Dave did that.” That’s the difference between New York and Wisconsin. I’m about to graduate, I start work at this artisanal soap distillery in Bushwick, and then, bam: here’s Chullachaqui! (That’s gonna be her name). Dave suggested it. He says it’s the name of a Peruvian forest nymph. He put it in one of his stories. It’s beautiful.

April 2, ’10. I get bad morning sickness, and sometimes I listen to the sound of the ocean on YouTube videos. The East River smells like something dead. I listen to the sound of rain on the ocean because I’m so sweaty and my stomach flips around all day. Sometimes I stumble onto videos of other people’s dead, other people’s grandparents. My grandma’s voice is only on VHS at my mom’s house, speaking at Passover, at my fifth birthday, but my mom doesn’t have a tape player anymore.

May 8, ’10. I graduated from college today. I was so pregnant I just felt nauseous and couldn’t wear stupid cute pumps like the other girls.

August 12, ’10. When I read Wikipedia after I got out of hospital, I found out that Chullachaqui is the name of an ugly creature in a Peruvian folk tale, a masculine humanoid thing with one leg that’s shorter than the other. I guess Dave didn’t read the Wikipedia page or maybe Dave can’t read. Grandpa thought we were saying Chulla’s name was “Tchotchke,” and he couldn’t get over what a terrible name that was for a little girl. He kept saying, “Caroline, tchotchke means a tacky little thingamabob! Tchotchke! A tacky thing! This precious angel is not TACKY.”

September 2, ‘10. Now that I’m back home in Wisconsin for good, I’m not sure I want to leave. My mom is rich because of the grisly nature of my dad’s death (it involved a boat and the Mosinee River Dam), and she would have paid our NYC rent if I’d asked. But Dave was too proud to take a handout, so we took my mom up on her offer of a nearly-free place to live instead. This is how she sold it to us (we who were not too choosy in the first place), basically verbatim:

“It’s cheap considering you get a clean, well-kept home, furnished,” my mom said.

I was like, “Mom, I’m not disagreeing. It’s a great place. You’re very generous.”

“I was going to rent it anyway, but I’m picky about who moves in,” she said. “No riff raff.”

We, Dave, Chulla, and I, live in my mom’s mother-in-law apartment now, a place in her backyard that I used as a spy hideout when I was a kid. We’re supposed to pay $100 a week, but Mom’s so happy to have her granddaughter around that she’ll never collect. We don’t really have the money anyway.

September 10, ’10. Dave says he feels a fissuring between his concept of himself and the way that he inhabits this particular space. He’s like, “Brooklyn was my place.” OK, but he made like zero dollars as an adjunct, and only published one book in 1997 called A Natural Outcropping of an Internal Subjectivity, about sexy twentysomethings in crisis. The newspapers lauded him as a wunderkind. Dave says being a wunderkind was a terrible curse because he’s never published another book. I convinced him to leave New York because I wouldn’t raise a baby without green space in an apartment so tiny that even the stove was miniature. But Dave doesn’t like the Packers or Midwest kitsch or Midwest Gothic or fall leaves or parades or mock brick facades or coffee shops serving enormous frosted cinnamon buns or strip malls or regular malls. He also doesn’t like Pan-Asian restaurants because he can’t tell the ethnicity of the proprietors so he can’t say “Ni hao!” like he did in Chinatown. He said “Ni hao” to some Korean-American kids who were fucking jogging the other day.

September 15, ’10. My mission in Wisconsin is to show people that there are pencils that write so much better than the standard No. 2’s—ash pencils made from fallen trees taken out of the suicide forests of Japan that draw unsmudgeable lines, clay pencils designed in the 15th-century and made by the same Russian monk order they were back then. I’m selling Ludwig van Wodka pencils—Phillip Lopate’s favorite—for $100 apiece. When I open my pencil store, people will be able to write with these pencils, smell them, hold them. I don’t have a shop yet, just a cart that I wheel to the Saturday farmer’s market. A lady picked up the Russian monk pencil, let it weigh down her palm, and said, “It’s hefty.”

September 20, ’10. My psyche is easier to communicate now with now because, like Wisconsin, it is slow, calm, dull, palatable.

September 29, ’10. In Wisconsin, every sensation is new and precise. Pregnancy changed my eyes, I think, made them too demanding, made them expect too much of my attention. The leaves on College Avenue are crisp. They look like they stand still when I see them from certain angles, from too far away, from down the block and across the river. The dogs in my childhood neighborhood bark like they’re vicious, and when I see them, my eyes tell me that they’re moving faster than they should be, bouncing higher, even though my brain disagrees. My memories are exploding. I look at my high school and see my English teacher, the kids in my homeroom, the hairs I found twice in my lasagna. I see the first boy I ever kissed in the second-floor window of his parents’ house. I can see that the river is full of bodies and branches and car tires. I breaststroke through the stagnancy in my mother’s house. I puzzle over the pair of shoes I once threw over a phone wire. They are grey, not brown. They are Nike, not Adidas.

November 20, ’10. Dave was my writing professor at Sarah Lawrence, and when I took his introductory fiction course, he said that we were meant to be together, even though I was 21 and he was 43. I thought we should have sex, sure, but he thought we should get married, instantly, per the level of passion he felt. When I said, “Maybe later? Like, when I graduate?”, he clung to me, his fingers lingering on my arms and slipping down the sides of my shoes. He cooked me eggs and baked me lasagna, he drifted behind me with his hands on my shoulders, my back, my knees until I decided that his convictions could lift up my convictions until I had some. We didn’t get married, but I moved in.

November 27, ’10. Dave might apply at Lawrence down the street for a teaching job, but those liberal arts professors all have doctorates. He just has an MFA. If he did get the job, the girls there would probably swoon for him like I did at 21. I didn’t swoon, I guess, I coalesced. Midwestern girls might be easier to seduce because we’re, on the whole, fatter. It seems so insane that I have a boyfriend who lives in my old super-spy hideout with me and wants girls to cream at his thoughts and a little daughter who is named something unpronounceable and incomprehensible and an expensive writing pad that I talk about as a metaphor for my mind and a converted hotdog cart that I sell expensive pencils out of, but that’s the life I’ve got. Until I press my hand into this wax to make it go away, I guess.

December 4, ’10. Dad died almost 10 years ago and Mom is online dating. She is! We made her profile. She looks beautiful in a string of blue beads in her picture. She wrote that her three essentials in life are as follows: 1. Family 2. Food (guilty pleasures: chocolate and pizza!) 3. Long walks on sandy beaches. There are no sandy beaches here. “It’s winter in Wisconsin, Caroline,” she said. “I’ve gotta give the guys something to dream about.”

March 8, ’11. I told my mom about the pickers who had all gotten lupus in Apopka, Florida, about how they’d sued but the state wouldn’t pay them anything anyway. She said she knew that part of Florida, that it was rough there, that they were probably all illegals anyway.

March 17, ’11. Dave sometimes writes his stories with the suicide forest pencil, even when I ask him not to. He doesn’t think that I know he does it, but I do. He re-sharpens the lead with a penknife, but I can see the shavings on top of the apple cores and spoiled rice in the garbage can, and I can tell the pencil is getting shorter. I tell him to stop using it, but he always shrugs, grins by only lifting up his one side of his mouth. I think he thinks it makes him look like Harrison Ford. He’s always shrugging, grinning like someone who’s recently had a stroke. Always always always always He doesn’t look like Harrison Ford. Dave is probably writing with the pencil, his stories, his thoughts, on pieces of paper that preserve them, rather than on a piece of wax that isn’t supposed to.

April 9, ’11. Dave says that my work, like his, should be my heritage to myself, and our daughter’s life should be an expression of our essential beings, a continuous, reasonable, and natural outcropping of the truthfulness of our love and our union. Chulla is a little baby who clings to my sweater in a way that makes her feel like insulation.

June 21, ’11. Dave believes in relating the particularities of local experience and the specific to a larger cosmic order. “More precisely,” he said once as he put his fingers to his chin.

“I would label this concept ‘tradition.’” Chulla was asleep when he said it, and I just wanted to watch Gordon Ramsay yell at some poor schmo on the TV and discover new pencil brands on obscure, poorly-translated international websites. Just pencils, nice, precise, and easy. But Dave wanted to talk about the linkage between locally-based creations and universally-relatable lineages. Dave likes to pretend. He knows he’s really only interested in good food and malleable women, not in serious intellectual pursuit. Dave hates himself really.

August 11, ’11. Dave’s moving to California. I MUST I MUST I MUST he said over and over again like he was Juliette Lewis playing that retarded girl in The Other Sister. I must I must I MUST He says he wants a new place to write, a place that isn’t mired and stagnated in the traditions of the past. LOL. California’s not a place of its own, I don’t think, but at least he won’t be here. I bought a new pencil today. It has a white gold cap and is carved from repurposed wood from an abandoned country church on the Saskatchewan plains. The lead was mined piece by piece, separated from the dark mud of the Appalachian forests. The man I bought it from was a Christian, he said the pencil was supposed to make Jesus write through you. I laughed on the phone, but I bought it anyway. I might sell it at the farmers’ market this weekend. Or I might write with it myself.

Alicia Bones

Alicia Bones is a second-year MFA student at the University of Montana. Previously, she earned her master’s degree in literature from the University of Iowa. Her work has been published in Maudlin House, Spry, Hello Horror, Matador Network, and elsewhere.

Contributions by Alicia Bones